Five Surprises from Opening Weekend in the ACC

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 14th, 2017

Although the competition was mostly uninspiring over the last several days, it was a very busy weekend of basketball around the ACC. This week will bring an improvement in competition for the league, beginning with Duke taking on Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic in Chicago tonight. Just because the opposition wasn’t great, though, doesn’t mean we should ignore opening weekend. Here are the five biggest surprises from the first weekend-plus of the brand new ACC season.

Wake Forest Fell Hard to Georgia Southern on Friday Night (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. Wake Forest loses to Georgia Southern. This was a mild surprise but certainly not shocking to anyone who follows the mid-majors. Georgia Southern features two excellent guards in Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, both of whom played well on Friday night. Wake Forest, in its first game without all-ACC star John Collins, showed just how much they will miss the big man this season. In a game with ample opportunity to show their value, junior center Doral Moore battled foul trouble and finished with just two points, while sophomore center Sam Japhet-Mathias played just seven minutes without a point. Danny Manning’s small-ball, backcourt-heavy lineup is workable with Bryant Crawford leading the way, but not if they don’t even have the best backcourt on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Preseason Predictions and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2017

While it’s true that the season is already several days old, it is not yet too late for the ACC microsite to present you with our humble preseason predictions and superlatives. Before season tip-off, the four microsite writers ranked all 15 ACC squads by predicted order of finish, made some all-league selections and projected the player and coach of the year. Should you choose to not take my word for it, none of the panelists — Brad Jenkins, Matt Patton, Mick McDonald or myself — picked Duke’s Marvin Bagley III as our ACC Player of the Year. After his first two collegiate contests, I would already like a mulligan on that.

Bonzie Colson is the ACC Microsite’s Preseason Player of the Year (USA Today Images)

That honor instead went to Notre Dame senior forward Bonzie Colson in unanimous fashion. Diminutive for his position, the 6’5” Colson is coming off an all-ACC first team selection in which he averaged a double-double, and finished 10th in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings.

Preseason All-ACC First Team

  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame (40)
  • Joel Berry, North Carolina (30)
  • Grayson Allen, Duke (29)
  • Marvin Bagley III, Duke (28)
  • Bruce Brown, Miami (FL) (24)

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ACC Burning Questions: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 24th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Pittsburgh avoid the ACC basement?

After suffering an inordinate number of player defections last spring, Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings is now left with only two players who scored in a game last year — and that pair combined to produce a grand total of only 179 points all season. The Panthers finished the year with a 15-16 record, the first losing mark for the program in nearly two decades (1999-2000). It’s difficult to be overly optimistic about this squad either, a group that will almost certainly be picked near the bottom of the league. For some measure of hope, Stallings can look to the achievement of Josh Pastner at Georgia Tech just one season ago. Pastner’s first team in Atlanta likewise featured no returning starters and an unheralded crop of newcomers, but somehow, he turned that bunch into a surprising bubble team by the end of the year. Those Yellow Jackets featured a former role player who became an all-ACC caliber center (Ben Lammers) and a rookie (Josh Ogogie) who well surpassed his high school ranking. For Pitt to pull off that kind of season in Stallings’ second year at the helm, it will need to find similar production from several unexpected sources.

Pittsburgh needs Ryan Luther to make a big leap in production as a senior (Pittsburghsportsnow.com)

Of the Panthers’ two returning scholarship players, only one has the potential for a breakout senior year. Forward Ryan Luther has battled through some injuries —  he missed 12 ACC games last year with a stress fracture — but he has also shown a number of spurts of good play. The 6’9″ Pennsylvania native has contributed nine career double-figure scoring games and has proven to be a capable rebounder and defender — with greater usage, he could easily double last year’s season averages of 5.7 PPG and 3.9 RPG. The other holdover from last year, guard Jonathan Milligan, has not yet proven that he can play at this level — he went a ghastly 29 percent from the field in 27 games last season. Stallings also added another experienced player via the graduate transfer route in small forward Monty Boykins (Lafayette), who missed all of last year with an injury. But don’t expect the newcomer to add much — in 2015-16, Boykins posted just a 91.3 offensive rating for a terrible (6-24) low major team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pittsburgh’s ACC Slump: Where Does It End?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2017

Just one short month ago, Pittsburgh was coming off an overtime win over Virginia that evened its ACC record at 1-1. Since then, the Panthers have dropped eight straight contests to take a position of solidarity at the bottom of the conference standings. The fact that Pitt’s last two defeats were highly competitive affairs only enhances the sting as North Carolina and Duke beat the Panthers by a combined margin of only 10 points. Considering the team’s good work in the non-conference portion of its schedule — a defeat of Maryland on the road, as well as a win over Marquette on a neutral floor — Kevin Stallings’ squad has been among the most disappointing teams in the nation since the new year. Is there any hope going forward?

Kevin Stallings still believes in his Pittsburgh squad despite eight straight defeats.
(Joshua Lindsey – USA TODAY Sports)

Former head coach Jamie Dixon put together a strong 13 years at the helm after his predecessor Ben Howland had re-established the program in the early 2000s. Despite making 11 trips to the NCAA Tournament over that span, a clear downward trajectory that included two NCAA misses in the last five years led to a move to his alma mater, TCU, last offseason. Pittsburgh raised some eyebrows by hiring longtime Vanderbilt head coach Stallings to replace him, but he inherited some experienced talent in senior forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis — currently the ACC’s top two scorers. The issues that he has struggled with is that there is no true point guard on the roster — at least one good enough to compete at an ACC-quality level — and the Panthers have the ACC’s toughest conference schedule, including two games each with heavyweights North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville and Syracuse.

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ACC M5: 01.26.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. The Players’ Tribune: Every year there’s at least one story out of the league that puts everything into perspective. Basketball, after all, is just a game. Sure, there’s future money and fame at stake, but stories like this from TPT highlight the contradiction of the game’s impact on those who play it while also shedding light on how little a win-loss record means next to personal relationships. Duke interim head coach Jeff Capel‘s post on his father’s ALS diagnosis is beautiful, funny and gutting.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Welp, it was good while it lasted. Florida State was in pole position to take the ACC regular season crown until the Seminoles suffered a hideous loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. Florida State isn’t the first team to get caught slumping in Atlanta this season, but a drubbing by 22 points will raise eyebrows for those who are rightfully labeling the Seminoles as legitimate ACC contenders. Andrew Carter’s article here is still worth highlighting since Leonard Hamilton‘s team has a favorable schedule from here on out (at least compared with the other contenders). For the record, I probably would put my money on North Carolina or Virginia, but Hamilton arguably has his best team ever in Tallahassee.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: So close to equaling his predecessor’s ACC road win total in just one season, Danny Manning‘s team came up just short of knocking off Jim Boeheim’s roller coaster team at Syracuse. The improvement Manning’s team has shown this year might be more impressive than what Hamilton has done at Florida State (even if the Demon Deacons are fighting an uphill battle to get to a .500 conference record). Bottom line: Wake Forest is good. A lack of quality non-conference wins will hurt their chances on Selection Sunday, but they may ultimately find their way on to the bubble thanks to sophomore forward John Collins‘ outstanding efforts.
  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: I hope no parents turned on the Pittsburgh vs. Louisville game on Tuesday night, as it was an X-rated woodshedding by the Cardinals — in Pittsburgh, no less. As Craig Meyer writes, Kevin Stallings publicly called out his team for lacking leadership on Monday, and his team responded in kind by completely quitting on him. Stallings was always something of a head-scratching hire after Jamie Dixon found greener pastures in Texas, but this season is going much worse than even his biggest doubters could have imagined. The Panthers have far more talent than their 1-6 ACC record indicates, but that necessarily falls on Stallings. First years in a new job are always tough, but Pittsburgh can’t afford to slide toward basketball oblivion while the rest of the conference continues to improve.
  5. Backing the Pack: Dennis Smith ended NC State‘s multi-decade losing streak in Cameron Indoor Stadium with a show for the ages on Monday night, capping it off with a dunk that didn’t count but could be heard over the silent Crazies crowd and all around the Triangle. That game could be a serious turning point for both teams. Is this the confidence boost the Wolfpack needed to salvage what was looking like a lost season? Is this the wakeup call for Duke‘s band of talented freshmen who often play much worse than the sum of their parts? Truthfully, I don’t know. The Blue Devils missed a lot of open shots and were probably the better team for much of the night, but NC State had the best player on the floor in Smith (and Abdul-Malik Abu played a tremendous game too). Don’t read too much into one game, but it’s clear that Duke has chemistry issues and Smith is an amazing talent.

EXTRA: The ACC announced its Basketball Legends class for this year, highlighted by late, great NC State coach Jim Valvano.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 17

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 17th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

  • Notre Dame. As expertly diagrammed by our Brad Jenkins last week, winning on the road in the ACC is quite the chore. So when a team can win a pair of games over likely NCAA Tournament teams away from home in the same week — as Notre Dame did with victories over Miami and Virginia Tech — it will result in a “Stock Up” spot on our list for the second consecutive week. Irish point guard Matt Farrell has made so many big plays down the stretch for his team that, according to David Peel, head coach Mike Brey referred to Farrell as “his Aaron Rodgers.” Now that’s some high praise, indeed.

Donovan Mitchell is becoming the leader of a very talented Louisville team. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell, Louisville. When you think about the great Rick Pitino teams, you think about terrific guards — players like Peyton Siva and Russ Smith from Louisville’s 2013 National Championship team or Tony Delk and Wayne Turner from Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship squad. Pitino’s best teams have always had outstanding athletes in the backcourt leading the way. Sophomore Donovan Mitchell is the next name on that list. In the Cardinals’ last five games, Mitchell is averaging 19.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His ascension to stardom will become even more important in the short term as news broke last night that starting point guard Quentin Snider will miss 2-3 weeks with a hip injury. If Mitchell can continue to play at a very high level, Pitino could be headed back to another Final Four.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ home win over Florida State on Saturday was an important step for Roy Williams’ team if it wants to win the ACC this season. After also beating Syracuse during Big Monday last night, North Carolina has now won five straight games after an ACC-opening hiccup at Georgia Tech. The key to the streak has been Williams’ offense, as the Tar Heels, riding stellar three-point shooting to the tune of 40.5 percent, have scored at least 85 points in each of those five games. When they miss, extra opportunities abound, with North Carolina also averaging nearly 17 offensive rebounds per game during the stretch. A combination of an offense that is clicking, domination of the offensive glass and a favorable schedule over the next few weeks could give the Tar Heels an early advantage in the ACC title race.

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Is Cameron Johnson the Key for Pittsburgh?

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 14th, 2017

When Kevin Stallings took over the Pittsburgh program last spring, it wasn’t the typical rebuilding job most new coaches walk into. Rather, Stallings inherited seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young, who at this point in the season are the top two scorers in the ACC (Artis – 22.8 PPG; Young – 22.0 PPG). While the first-year head coach surely feels lucky to have two excellent players on hand, he also knows that they alone cannot get Pittsburgh back to the NCAA Tournament. The dynamic duo needs help, and perhaps the most vital piece to solving that problem is redshirt sophomore wing Cameron Johnson, who has become a strong third contributor this year. With so much defensive emphasis placed on containing Artis and Young, Johnson has been able to feast on a steady diet of open looks, shooting a career-best 38.9 percent from three-point range and producing a team-best Offensive Rating of 123.1.

Cameron Johnson knocking down shots is critical for Pittsburgh’s success (Pitt Athletics)

The ACC has illustrated Johnson’s importance to the Pittsburgh offense. In an overtime win over Virginia, he scored 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting from three-point range and grabbed eight rebounds in the Panthers’ biggest victory of the year. However, in Pittsburgh’s three ACC losses — road defeats at Syracuse and Louisville in addition to a home loss to Notre Dame — Johnson shot just 3-of-21 from three-point range. Young and Artis are excellent shooters in their own right — both well over 40 percent from distance — but when Johnson is also knocking down shots, it makes Pittsburgh much tougher to beat. Against the Cavaliers, Johnson nailed four threes and the Panthers won. Against the others, he didn’t and Pittsburgh lost.

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 22nd, 2016

In Part I of this series published earlier this week, we examined the latest stylistic change in college basketball: a substantial surge in three-point shooting. Players in both the NBA and college basketball are hoisting and making more long-range shots than ever before, a trend we expect to continue growing into the future. With that in mind, we decided to gauge how the 15 current ACC head coaches may be willing to adapt to such a shift in style of play. To make that assessment, we must first look at recent history.Coaches3s-ImportanceThe graph above shows the relative importance of three-point shooting for ACC coaches over the past five seasons, both offensively and defensively. This rating is simply an average of how a coach’s team has ranked nationally in three areas concerning three-point shooting: three-point accuracy; three-point attempt percentage; and the percentage of points derived from three-point baskets. With only one exception — Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has only four years under his belt — we used data from the last five seasons for each coach, including seasons at other schools (i.e., Josh Pastner at Memphis and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt). Read the rest of this entry »

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Do-Everything Seniors Supporting Transition Year at Pittsburgh

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 2nd, 2016

When Pittsburgh hired Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt last March, some were skeptical of how it would work out. Stepping into a new program in a much tougher conference, Stallings faces numerous long-term challenges. The one area where he found an immediate advantage is that he inherited the 22nd-most experienced roster in college basketball (per KenPom), led by two of the ACC’s best players: seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis. On the backs of their leadership and talent, the Panthers have begun the Stallings era with a 6-1 record against a good schedule, including a decisive win at Maryland in this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young have lifted coach Kevin Stallings to a hot start to his Pittsburgh career. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young have lifted Kevin Stallings to a hot start to his Pittsburgh career. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Almost everything Stallings’ team does begins and ends with the senior duo. The pair uses a combined 58.3 percent of the team’s possessions while playing over 80 percent of the available minutes. At 6’9″, Young anchors the team down low while the 6’7″ Artis acts as a point forward. The two highest ACC scorers thus far, Artis and Young combine to average 43.3 points per game while converting at high rates from the field (51%), three-point line (37%) and foul line (83%). Stopping just one of these two scorers is difficult enough, but teams are finding that limiting both is a near impossibility. The pair have gone for 20+ points in five of Pitt’s seven games this season and have made or assisted an astonishing 77 percent of Pitt’s field goals this season. Young also ranks among the top 500 players nationally in offensive (8.0%) and defensive rebounding (18.6%) rates as well as block percentage (4.2%); whereas Artis ranks among the top 300 nationally in turnover rate (10.7%).
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SEC Team Capsules: Middle Tier (#9-#5)

Posted by Keith Hatfield on November 7th, 2016

Every league has teams that are more talented than those fighting to stay out of the cellar yet not quite poised to challenge for a spot at the top of the standings. Some of the squads situated in that position are rising programs looking to take another step forward. Some are programs rebooting to attempt to recapture past success. What they all have in common is the goal of getting into the conference’s upper echelon and contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. On Friday, we published capsules on the SEC’s bottom tier of teams (#14-#10). Today we tackle the middle tier.

AT A GLANCE

#9 Alabama Crimson Tide

Avery Johnson has a long way to go to get anywhere near Nick Saban, but he has Alabama basketball headed in the right direction (Credit: AL.com)

Avery Johnson has a long way to go to get anywhere near Nick Saban, but he has Alabama basketball headed in the right direction (Credit: AL.com)

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) 18-15 (8-10)
  • Key Returnee: Shannon Hale 10.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG
  • Key Newcomer: Braxton Key 6’8″ forward
  • Team Analysis: Avery Johnson’s initial season has to be viewed as a success. Energy was restored to the program and the team was surprisingly in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid down the home stretch. The loss of Retin Obasohan makes a repeat of last season’s performance, however, a tall task. The return of Shannon Hale and the presence of a healthy Dazon Ingram gives the Tide a nucleus upon which to build. Johnson will have to coax significant production from freshman Braxton Key and Memphis transfer Nick King to match or surpass last season’s record.
  • Burning Question: Can Avery Johnson maintain the early momentum he has created in Tuscaloosa? Avery Johnson has rekindled interest in basketball at Alabama — no small feat at a football-mad school. His first team performed better than expected and he has significantly elevated the program’s profile on the recruiting trail. The trick now is to maintain the interest that has been manufactured and continue to improve the roster’s talent level. Early indications from the classes of ’17 and ’18 indicate the recruiting piece will be covered. Making Coleman Coliseum a winter destination for the Tide faithful will be much easier if Johnson continues to haul in quality talent.

#8 Ole Miss Rebels

  • 2015-16 overall record (SEC) 20-12 (10-8)
  • Key Returnee: Sebastian Saiz 11.7 PPG., 8.7 RPG
  • Key Newcomer: Deandre Burnett 6’2″ guard
  • Team Analysis: Andy Kennedy‘s program has been a model of consistency for several years. The Rebels are perennial 20-plus game winners and find themselves entrenched in the top half of the conference. With the departure of all-SEC star Stefan Moody, though, meeting those standards might be difficult this season. Sebastian Saiz provides some inside punch and transfer Cullen Neal will bring some experience in the backcourt, but the development of Donte Fitzpatrick-Dorsey will be a key to this team’s success.
  • Burning Question: Can Andy Kennedy strike jump-shooting gold again? It seems as if Ole Miss is always able to find a gunslinger through the transfer market. Over the last four seasons, Rebel transfers such as Marshall Henderson and Stefan Moody lit up scoreboards across the SEC. Kennedy now turns to Deandre Burnett in the hopes of capturing similar magic. While 20 points per night might be a bit ambitious, 15 PPG from Burnett would go a long way toward pushing the Rebels’ win total near its customary number of 20 or more.

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