ACC Weekend Preview: February 17-18

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 16th, 2018

Somehow, there are just three weekends of play left in the ACC regular season. While Virginia appears to have the regular season title locked up, there is still much to be decided below the Cavaliers in the standings. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 17

Not Even Jim Boeheim is Sure Where the Orange Are Headed (USA Today Images)

  • Syracuse (#50) at Miami (#37). The Orange suffered a home loss to NC State on Wednesday, one they may very well regret they let slip away on Selection Sunday. Syracuse currently has just one Q1 win (a road victory over Louisville) on its resume, so it still has significant work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. The good news? Plenty of opportunities remain, beginning with a trip to Miami tomorrow. The Syracuse defense has been stingy against ACC foes, as usual, allowing ACC opponents to shoot just 39.9 percent from the field (second in the ACC). The issue has been on the offensive end, where the Orange are making just 42.3 percent of their own shots. If they want to score enough to win key games down the stretch, they need Tyus Battle’s sidekick, Oshae Brissett, to continue his recent scoring pace. Over his past three games, Brissett is averaging 18.7 PPG and shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.
  • NC State (#55) at Wake Forest (#84). Ask any Wolfpack fan what comes after an important win? The answer would be a loss to a bad team. It has certainly been that way in much of NC State’s past, and has even reared its ugly head in Kevin Keatts’ first season at the helm in Raleigh (e.g., beat Arizona, lose to Northern Iowa.) So, forgive them if they aren’t exactly looking forward to a trip to Winston-Salem this weekend after an important road win at Syracuse earlier this week. NC State handled the Demon Deacons in Raleigh in mid-January, thanks to 22 points from Omer Yurtseven. And while the sophomore big man has been outstanding for most of this season, he has also begun to slow a bit. In his last four games, Yurtseven has averaged just 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field (down from 59.5 percent on the season). Keatts will need his big man to have another big night if the Wolfpack are to avoid yet another letdown.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 3rd, 2018

While all eyes will be on Minneapolis tomorrow, the ACC gives us some important action for its bubble teams today. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 3

Are the Pack Back? (USA Today Images)

  • Notre Dame (#35) at NC State (#65). The Wolfpack are riding high (as our Matt Auerbach outlined this week) after their huge overtime win in Chapel Hill last weekend. If NC State hopes to snag an eventual NCAA Tournament bid, it still needs to pick things up on the defensive end. In nine ACC games, Kevin Keatts’ defense is allowing teams to shoot a healthy 49.2 percent from the field, the worst such mark in the conference. In fact, NC State does not have a single rotation player with a Defensive Rating below 108.0. It’s uncertain whether the Wolfpack will be able to fix this issue, especially given that the cause of it is also what has made them so effective offensively this year. First, the blossoming of Omer Yurtseven into an offensive star has resulted in more minutes, but he is hopeless when pulled away from the basket and forced to guard in space. Secondly, Keatts has been playing two of his three smaller guards (Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Lavarr Batts, Jr.) on the floor together. This leads to defensive mismatches, specifically against the less-physical Beverly. It will be interesting to see how the Pack perform against a Notre Dame team that will be deliberate and wants to limit possessions without injured star Bonzie Colson.
  • Miami (#32) at Virginia Tech (#39). The Hokies have won three straight games to surge back into the NCAA Tournament discussion. The key all season for Buzz Williams’ team has been making threes, and his guys have gotten their shooting stroke back lately. During this three-game winning streak, Virginia Tech is making 42.2 percent from long-range and nailing nearly 13 threes per game. In their eight prior games, the Hokies made just 30.4 percent from distance and correspondingly went 4-4. They’ll look to stay hot against Miami, who will be without star Bruce Brown for the foreseeable future. The match-up to look for  in this game is down low — can Miami’s Dewan Huell (116.6 ORtg, 54.8% eFG) get the offensively-challenged Hurricanes some easy baskets against a Virginia Tech front line that only features Kerry Blackshear?

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Red Hot NC State Charging Toward an NCAA Bid

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 31st, 2018

While Virginia’s victory at Duke last Saturday afternoon deservedly dominated conference headlines, NC State was busy continuing its underpublicized midseason renaissance just nine miles down the road in Chapel Hill. The Wolfpack, winners of five of their last seven games, now own an NCAA Tournament resume that boasts equity in a trio of quality wins (Arizona on a neutral court; Duke at home; North Carolina on the road) that few bubble teams will approach.

All Smiles for NC State in Chapel Hill on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Kevin Keatts’ team looked dead and buried just a few short weeks ago. After a 30-point drubbing in South Bend dropped NC State to 0-2 in league play, the first-year coach has in the interim engineered a significant reversal of fortune. Playing an up-tempo, unselfish brand of basketball, the Wolfpack to date are taking exceptionally good care of the basketball (49th nationally in turnover percentage), sharing the wealth (six players average more than eight points per game), and have developed into a team-first bunch of veterans who believe that they can play with anybody. That shift in culture has not only made the Pack a joy to watch this season, but it has also been the impetus to yielding results that have exceeded expectations.

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Christmas Wish List for ACC Head Coaches

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 21st, 2017

What’s on the Christmas wish list for each coach in the ACC this holiday season? Let’s take a look.

Jim Christian May Have Already Gotten His Gift With a Win Over Duke (USA Today Images)

  • Jim Christian (Boston College): A healthy Deontae Hawkins. The Eagles pulled off a surprising upset of Duke thanks to red-hot three-point shooting, but they won’t be able to sustain it without some help on the interior. Hawkins was averaging 12.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury on November 29 at Nebraska. Sadly, Santa can’t fix knee tendons.
  • Brad Brownell (Clemson): Some luck in close ACC games. The Tigers appear poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Brownell’s first season, but they will need to avoid being snake-bitten like last year’s team that lost nine ACC games by six points or fewer.
  • Mike Krzyzewski (Duke): Trevon Duval’s jumper to improve. Teams like Boston College are leaving the freshman point guard open for jumpers in favor of helping on Marvin Bagley III, and Duval is falling into the trap, making just 5-of-33 three-pointers on the season.
  • Leonard Hamilton (Florida State): Somebody makes a free throw. The Seminoles shoot 65.8 percent from the line (295th nationally) and M.J. Walker (13-of-16) is the only regular making over 78 percent this season.

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ACC Burning Questions: NC State Wolfpack

Posted by Mick McDonald on October 26th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can Kevin Keatts compete in his first season in Raleigh?

Former head coach Mark Gottfried managed to get NC State to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons in Raleigh, but life on the bubble proved very stressful. After logging back-to-back losing seasons the next two years, Gottfried was fired following last season. His replacement, the highly impressive Kevin Keatts, will begin his fourth year as a head coach. After three seasons as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville, Keatts wasted no time in turning around a UNC-Wilmington program that had experienced six straight losing seasons. The Seahawks won 18 games in his first season on the bench en route to a share of the CAA regular season championship in 2014-15, and followed that up with two more conference championships and corresponding trips to the NCAA Tournament. UNC-Wilmington came away from those experiences with an 0-2 record, but not without putting serious scares into ACC powers Duke and Virginia.

Can Kevin Keatts compete in season one in Raleigh? (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Turning the Wolfpack around won’t be easy, as NC State loses its top three scorers from last season. Still, the cupboard for Keatts is hardly bare. The returning core is led by 6’8″ senior Abdul-Malik Abu, who averaged 12.0 points and seven rebounds per game last season. The athletic big man improved his effective field goal percentage (52.9%) for the third straight season and should benefit from the guards attacking the rim in Keatts’ system. Sophomore Markell Johnson will take over point guard duties from lottery pick Dennis Smith, Jr., but he will be pushed by incoming recruit Lavarr Batts, Jr. (who originally committed to VCU but ended up in Raleigh after Will Wade took the LSU job). Keatts will ask a lot of both players, especially on the defensive end in becoming a nuisance for opposing point guards. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #5 Virginia 76, #12 UNC-Wilmington 71

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Orlando this weekend.

London Perrantes Led His Team to a First Round Victory Today (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. London Perrantes took over the game after UNC-Wilmington’s hot start. Virginia got off to a slow start this afternoon. After UNC-Wilmington guard Denzel Ingram knocked down a three with 7:25 to play in the first half to build a 26-11 lead, it looked as if the Cavaliers were primed to become the first upset victim of this NCAA Tournament. That turned out not to be the case, though, as Virginia clamped down defensively and made enough big shots to advance to the next round. A major reason for the change in fortune was senior point guard London Perrantes, who grabbed control of the game and made big play after big play to ensure his collegiate career didn’t end today. A theme throughout NCAA Tournament history has been that veteran guard play is very important in determining who moves on and who goes home. If that continues this year, look for Perrantes to lead Virginia deep into the bracket.
  2. While Perrantes was Virginia’s most valuable player, Marial Shayok’s scoring outburst was essential to the winning effort. It quickly became apparent in the second half that UNC-Wilmington was not going to fade away and allow Virginia to coast to the easy victory. The Cavaliers were going to need to score to emerge with the win. To get those points, they turned to junior forward Marial Shayok, who turned in a career-best performance of 23 points (8-of-14 FG, 3-of-5 3FG). Tony Bennett’s teams have a well-earned reputation for comfort with slow-paced games played in the 50s or 60s. With UNC-Wilmington mostly dictating the pace today, Shayok led the scoring charge necessary to get to the Second Round.
  3. How much longer will Kevin Keatts be at UNC-Wilmington? Even with today’s result, it is difficult to not to be impressed with what Kevin Keatts has built at UNC-Wilmington. The Seahawks have won 72 games over the last three seasons, and both of their NCAA Tournament losses – this afternoon’s defeat along with last year’s eight-point loss to Duke – have been closely contested games. That much success makes it reasonable to question how long Keatts will remain at the helm in southeastern North Carolina. Successful mid-major coaches are poached by high-majors every spring, and with several good jobs already open, it is safe to assume his name will be brought up in at least a few conversations. It will be interesting to watch where Keatts opens the 2017-18 season.

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Balance and Efficiency Taking UNC Wilmington to New Heights

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 18th, 2017

Perhaps no box score better encapsulates UNC Wilmington this season than its 101-77 drubbing of William & Mary last Wednesday. By night’s end, six Seahawks had reached double figures—three with 18 points, two with 14 and one with 11—as the team shot a blistering 70 percent from inside the arc and forced 17 turnovers. It was the second straight game in which five players eclipsed double-figures, and the fourth time this season that UNC Wilmington had scored 100. Put simply, Kevin Keatts’ unit pushed the pace, created good looks and capitalized more often than not. Now 17-2 and ranked #43 in KenPom‘s ratings, the Seahawks seem destined to surpass last year’s record-tying 25 wins and first-round NCAA Tournament appearance. With one of college basketball’s most balanced and efficient lineups, they have legitimate second weekend potential.

Devontae Cacok has been a revelation for UNC Wilmington this season. (Photo by John Crouch)

Taking care of (and simply taking) the basketball. If stellar guard play is the mark of a true Cinderella, then UNC Wilmington certainly fits the bill. Keatts starts four guards—Denzel Ingram, Ambrose Mosley, Chris Flemmings and CJ Bryce—three of whom are seniors and all of whom can handle the ball. All that experienced ball-handling has helped the Seahawks post the second-lowest turnover rate in the country at 13.8 percent, a level of mistake-free prowess put on full display last week: In 143 combined possessions against William & Mary and Hofstra, UNC Wilmington suffered just 11 turnovers. Conversely, its defense has been especially aggressive this season, forcing turnovers at its highest rate ever (23.2%, 13th nationally) under the Rick Pitino prodigy. On top of all that, the Seahawks don’t seem to care who shoulders the load. Bryce, the team’s best player (17.8 PPG, 3.2 APG), Flemmings (16.1 PPG) and Ingram (15.6 PPG) have each led the team in scoring multiple times this year, and UNC Wilmington remains the CAA’s only unit without a player who takes more than 25 percent of his team’s shots while on the floor. Combine balanced, mistake-free basketball with easy buckets from turnovers, and what do you get? One of the 20 most efficient offenses in college basketball. Read the rest of this entry »

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O26 Power 13: New Year, New Order, Same Teams on Top

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 4th, 2017

With 2017 now upon us and conference play ramping up, let’s take a step back and reexamine the best of the best across the O26.

1. Gonzaga (14-0) West Coast. Despite its cast of untested newcomers, chemistry and balance have not been an issue for Gonzaga this season. The Bulldogs have cruised to a 14-0 start behind a lineup whose top six scorers all average between 9.3 and 13.8 points per game. In fact, only two players—Nigel Williams-Goss and Przemek Karnowski—get more than 30 minutes per night, thanks largely to the effectiveness of bench players like Zach Collins (10.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Killian Tillie (4.6 PPG). Mark Few’s club has been equally excellent on both sides of the ball, ranking among the top 12 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. That well-roundedness helped the Zags notch three neutral court victories over KenPom top-30 opponents, giving them a non-conference resume that should hold up very well in mid-March. A win or two over Saint Mary’s would only strengthen the cause. The Zags are once again a legitimate Final Four contender.

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary's opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

UT Arlington surprise win at Saint Mary’s opened eyes across college basketball. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

2. Saint Mary’s (12-1) West Coast. Since its jarring, 14-point home loss to UT Arlington on December 8, Saint Mary’s has held five straight opponents under 0.90 points per possession. That’s a positive sign for a unit that has often struggled to win games when its offense goes cold. The Gaels—with victories at Dayton and Stanford—have also proven their ability to win on the road, which is not something they could claim last season (the NCAA Selection Committee took notice). With one of the nation’s elite point guards (Emmett Naar) and a center, Jock Landale, who currently ranks second in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings, it’s hard to imagine this team slipping much in WCC play. January 14, Saint Mary’s first tilt with Gonzaga in Spokane, can’t come soon enough.

3. Wichita State (12-3) – Missouri Valley. The Shockers’ 100-66 dismantling of Bradley on New Year’s Day perhaps best captures this team’s identity. Sixteen different players saw action (Wichita State leads the country in bench minutes); ball movement was crisp (25 assists on 34 made baskets); and the physicality was unrelenting. Put simply, Wichita State is going to pummel a whole bunch of inferior opponents in Missouri Valley play. With an already-tenuous at-large resume, however, one major question remains: can the Shockers avoid losing more than one or two games in the conference? With Illinois State and Missouri State both surging, nothing is guaranteed.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Duke 93, #13 UNC-Wilmington 85

Posted by Chris Stone on March 17th, 2016

Rush the Court will provide immediate reactions to each of the 63 NCAA Tournament games from the First Round to the Championship.

Three Key Takeaways:

Brandon Ingram goes up for a layup during the first half versus UNC-Wilmington. (Credit: AP / Charles Krupa)

Brandon Ingram goes up for a layup during the first half versus UNC-Wilmington. (Credit: AP / Charles Krupa)

  1. Brandon Ingram has arrived. For much of the season, college basketball’s focus has understandably been on the incredible number of talented seniors in the sport. Duke’s Brandon Ingram is ready to take back some of that attention. Ingram has a legitimate shot to overtake LSU’s Ben Simmons as the #1 pick in June’s NBA Draft (with Simmons sitting at home during the NCAA Tournament), and he showed why this afternoon against the Seahawks. Ingram scored 20 points and displayed an array of dribble moves that weren’t in his arsenal even back in November. If the Blue Devils can put together a strong NCAA Tournament run this month, Ingram will remind everyone that the one-and-dones aren’t going away that easily.
  2. Grayson Allen needs to find his shooting stroke. Allen finished with 23 points on 12 shots, but he was just 4-of-12 from the field today against UNC-Wilmington after making 41.7 percent on the season. Allen was quick enough to beat the Seahawks’ guards off the bounce, but that likely won’t hold for the remainder of the Tournament as more talented opponents are tabbed to defend the sophomore guard. The Blue Devils will need to Allen to find his range to make the best of March.
  3. Duke’s defensive woes aren’t going anywhere. The Blue Devils allowed 85 points to the 75th best offense in the country, as UNC-Wilmington scored 1.15 points per possession. This is a concern given that the Seahawks only created 10 turnovers, one of their primary methods of producing points this season. UNCW also made 11 three-pointers and shot 44.1 percent from the field, with an enormous 79 of their points coming in the half-court. If Duke makes that run, it probably won’t be a product of its defense.

Star of the Game: Marshall Plumlee. Ingram showed why he’s NBA-ready, but Plumlee’s presence changed the game for the Blue Devils. The senior blocked two shots and altered a few more during Duke’s 16-2 run to open the second half. Plumlee delivered a huge all-around effort, scoring a career-high 23 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and blocking three shots before fouling out with 2:01 remaining. Marshall Plumlee cares not for your Cinderellas.

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CAA Breakdown: Four Teams Still Vying for Top Spot in Final Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 25th, 2015

The Colonial Athletic Association could just as easily be called the Chaotic Athletic Association this season, considering its level of parity and unpredictability. Currently, four of the league’s 10 teams – William & Mary, Northeastern, UNC Wilmington and James Madison – are tied atop the standings with just two games left on the schedule. And since only two of those squads play each other this week, the CAA’s top seed will likely be decided by tie-breakers. Let’s examine the four teams in contention, several possible scenarios from this week’s action, and why William & Mary is in the best position heading into next week’s conference tournament.

The Top Four

William & Mary has its sights set on the CAA's top seed. (TribeAthletics.com)

William & Mary has its sights set on the CAA’s top seed. (TribeAthletics.com)

  • William & Mary – 17-10 (11-5). The Tribe boasts the league most efficient offense and one of its most lethal offensive players in senior guard Marcus Thornton (19.3 PPG). He, along with do-everything forward Terry Tarpey (11.5 PPG, 8.2 RPG) and a cast of dangerous shooters, should handle both Towson and Drexel at home this week, which – as explained below – will be enough to earn the top seed in Baltimore.
  • Northeastern – 19-10 (11-5). The preseason conference favorite downed William & Mary at home last Wednesday before squeaking by Drexel over the weekend. It lacks depth – ranking 344th nationally in bench minutes – but is balanced offensively and possesses the CAA’s premier big man in Scott Eatherton (14.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG), a 6’8’’ center who has fouled out just once this season. The Huskies get the league’s two bottom units this week – Elon and College of Charleston – but both games are on the road and both opponents have proven peskier than their records show.
  • UNC Wilmington – 16-11 (11-5). First-year coach Kevin Keatts has done a remarkable job in Wilmington, taking the Seahawks from last place a year ago (3-13) to first place this season. All that stands between them and a share of the title is a home game against James Madison tonight and a trip to Elon on Saturday.
  • James Madison – 18-11 (11-5). Since dismissing embattled guard Andre Nation in mid-January, James Madison has gone 9-3 and put itself in contention for a share of the conference crown. Unfortunately, of the four contenders, the Dukes have the most difficult route: an elimination game at UNC Wilmington tonight and a tough home game against Hofstra (18-11 (9-7)) on Saturday.

Tie-Breaking Procedure – William & Mary in Control

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