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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ACC Burning Questions: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

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

Burning Question: Who will replace James Robinson as Pittsburgh’s point guard?

Before departing for his alma mater TCU, Jamie Dixon put together a solid 13-year run as Pittsburgh‘s head coach, taking the Panthers to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances along the way. The best years of Dixon’s tenure occurred in the Big East, with two Sweet Sixteens (2004, 2007) and an Elite Eight (2009) coming on his watch. Since joining the ACC in 2013, the program has experienced a slight but notable drop in both wins and recruiting. But that doesn’t mean that new head coach Kevin Stallings has a complete rebuilding job awaiting him in Pittsburgh. The squad he inherits has plenty of talent and experience returning at all but one position. Unfortunately, that one deficiency is at perhaps the most crucial spot on the floor — point guard. With no obvious choice to replace James Robinson — a four-year starter with an outstanding 3.4 assist/turnover ratio in his career — to whom is Stallings going to give the keys to the Panthers’ offense?

Kevin Stallings claps for the Pitt band as he arrives at his introductory news conference as the new head coach for the Pittsburgh basketball team on Monday, March 28, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Kevin Stallings has a veteran team to clap for as the new coach for Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A look at Pittsburgh’s roster reveals several players listed as guards, including three newcomers. The lone holdover to see much backcourt duty is 6’5″ sophomore Damon Wilson. Wilson arrived at school as a four-star wing, but Stallings’ hope is that he can further develop the point guard skills he showed in limited minutes last year backing up Robinson. Among the incoming guards, three-star freshman Justice Kithcart is the only one viewed as someone with the potential to run a high-major college offense. Crisshawn Clark and Jonathan Milligan each sat out last year after starting their careers in junior college, but both are more highly regarded as natural scorers than distributors. They join an already deep wing core that features veteran Chris Jones, a starter in nine games last year, and talented redshirt sophomore Cameron Johnson — a 37.5 percent three-point shooter. Of course, none of the options available sound like a solution to the problem at hand — replacing Robinson. Based on comments made in the preseason, it appears that Stallings will try a position switch to solve his point guard dilemma. Read the rest of this entry »

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Top Quotes and Moments from ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

Coaches, players and members of the media all gathered in Charlotte on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of ACC Operation Basketball. It was a long day for all and a fun day for most. We camped out in Salon I in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and witnessed press conferences for all 15 coaches – yes, after staying home last year Rick Pitino came too. We also heard from 30 players — two from each school — and observed commissioner John Swofford’s ‘State of the League’ address. What follows are a smattering of some of our favorite quotes and quips from the day.

PLAYERS

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

One of the interesting parts of the morning session was hearing various players’ responses when asked to describe their head coaches.

  • Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame – On Mike Brey: “He brings energy to practice every single day. He keeps the guys loose, which I think is really a benefit for us, and helps us play loose on the court.”
  • Sheldon Jeter, Pittsburgh – On his impressions from his reunion meeting with Kevin Stallings: “It was just kind of like the same stuff I did my first time meeting him at Vanderbilt. A very genuine guy. Very truthful.”
  • Matt Jones, Duke – On the annual adaptability of Mike Krzyzewski: “It’s been different each year. Coach K does a really good job of figuring out what guys respond to and how well they respond to it.”

Of course there were some light-hearted moments as well, and here are three player comments that brought laughter to the room.

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Five ACC Storylines to Watch this Offseason

Posted by Matt Patton on April 11th, 2016

With the long offseason ahead of us, let’s take a look at five key ACC storylines to keep an eye on over the summer.

  1. NCAA Sanctions: After investigations that surrounded both programs in different ways this season, there should finally be some closure for Louisville and North Carolina. Louisville is still trying to get in front of NCAA sanctions by self-imposing its own (in addition to this year’s postseason ban, the program also recently added recruiting penalties). This strategy has worked well for other schools, but predicting eventual NCAA punishments is an exercise in futility. North Carolina is the more interesting case — the Tar Heels may not receive any sanctions or they may get the book thrown at them. What remains unclear is whether there will be administrative fallout from either scandal. I would not be shocked if Rick Pitino ends up stepping down from his post — especially if the NCAA deems the Cardinals’ self-imposed penalties insufficient. But I would be shocked if Roy Williams did.

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

  2. Coaching Carousel: This is a slow year for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover. Pittsburgh lost Jamie Dixon to his alma mater, TCU, and Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory. The Yellow Jackets were initially spurned by Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel and Bryce Drew (who went to Vanderbilt instead), and after reports that Cal’s Cuonzo Martin was their top candidate, athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Josh Pastner away from Memphis. Pastner is far from a sure thing in this spot, but he should be able to put more talented teams on the floor. Whether those teams will have more success than what Gregory mustered (two teams with winning records; no NCAA Tournament appearances) remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh, many fans were upset with the hiring of Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt (ironically, the response from Commodores’ fans mirrored Dayton fans after Georgia Tech hired Gregory). Stallings will have his work cut out for him in the Steel City, but he was a solid coach with several very good teams in Nashville. Like Jamie Dixon, he may have stuck around the same place a little too long, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do reasonably well there. Read the rest of this entry »
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