ACC M5: 01.14.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 14th, 2015

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  1. Seminoles.comFlorida State has posted a list of current alumni playing professionally. After going down the page, looking at all the different places around the globe with ex-Seminoles on pro rosters, one notices that there is a fairly prominent league that currently features no former players from Florida State. In a bit of a surprise, despite having put together a solid ACC program over the last decade, Leonard Hamilton has no former Seminoles on NBA rosters right now. I thought for sure Al Thornton, just 32 years old now, would still be in the league and when he wasn’t on this list, I figured it was a mistake. After a quick search it was found that the former 1st Team All-ACC performer recently signed with a club in Puerto Rico. Perhaps this shows that the difference between having a solid college program and one that is a national title contender is having future NBA talent on your roster. Interestingly, the only other current ACC member with no current NBA players is Notre Dame, a similar program success-wise. Like Florida State, the Irish have been pretty consistent winners, but never have had enough star power to make a deep NCAA postseason run. At least in Notre Dame’s case, the Irish have a likely future NBA-baller this year in Jerian Grant.
  2. Clemsontigers.com: While Mike Krzyzewski is getting plenty of attention on his approach to 1000 wins, Clemson’s Brad Brownell just recently reached a coaching milestone of his own. Saturday’s 71-62 Tiger road win over Pittsburgh was Brownell’s 250th career victory. That brings his record at Clemson to 83-64, and while he is well regarded by the media and fellow coaches, eventually Brownell needs to get Clemson back to the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t been since 2011, Brownell’s first year at the school. Despite’s Saturday’s upset win over the Panthers, making the Big Dance this year may be a reach for this Tiger team, which would be four straight seasons with no NCAA bid. Just ask Steve Donahue and Jeff Bzdelik how that same streak worked out for them.
  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: This article looks at a surprising weakness of this year’s Pittsburgh squad: rebounding. Toughness on defense and on the boards have been the cornerstones of Jaime Dixon’s program for years, but that has certainly not been the case this season. In Clemson’s aforementioned win Saturday, the Panthers were thoroughly whipped on the glass by a margin of 17, the most of Dixon’s tenure at Pitt. On the season, the Panthers now rank #236 in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage. Undoubtedly, that has a lot to do with Pittsburgh’s current #162 ranking in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is eerily similar to the performance of Pitt’s 2012 defense, which ended up #149, the only season that Pitt’s defense was not ranked in KenPom’s top 65. Not coincidentally, that was the only year Dixon’s team missed out on the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: In this piece, the consequences of Rick Pitino’s short bench are examined, namely in the form of late game fatigue. Against North Carolina, three Louisville starters played almost 40 minutes and possibly wilted down the stretch in the Tar Heels’ 72-71 comeback win. It’s certainly not Pitino’s preferred way to play, but at this point in the season he obviously just doesn’t trust his young reserves enough to give them meaningful minutes. One wonders if this means the Cardinals will have to dial back some of their famous pressure defense just to keep their core guys fresh. Pitino certainly isn’t coddling his young players and perhaps is trying to send them a message with his public comments, saying, “This is a very unusual group because they’re weak physically, they’re weak emotionally and they’re weak basketball-wise.” Coaches know that the players hear every public word spoken by their coach, but it remains to be seen if they are capable of earning Pitino’s trust anytime soon.
  5. Ramblinwreck.com: Georgia Tech is trying what they call an innovative pricing program for their final two home games this season. They call it the Ramblin’ Rates program, and describe it as a descending-price auction that makes sure that fans pay the lowest market price for the games. The two games in question just happen to be versus Louisville and North Carolina, obviously the two biggest drawing events of the season to be held at McCamish Pavilion. While the plan tries to paint itself as a great benefit to the fans, it’s pretty obvious that the school thinks the demand for tickets for those attractive opponents will drive the “lowest market price” above normal game pricing and bring in extra cash by getting their patrons to bid-up the cost. I don’t think it’s a scam and if the tickets all sell, then the market will have been responsible and that’s OK. But one could legitimately ask, why doesn’t the market get to decide things when Alabama A&M comes to town?
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RTC Weekly Primer: Hilton Magic, Yum!, and Battle Out West

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 13th, 2015

The first two months of the college basketball season are all about landmarks. Okay, they’re not all about landmarks, but they are about building up to something more important, and landmarks help us track the progress. First there are Midnight Madness and the season’s opening weekend. Then, the Champions Classic followed by all the holiday tournaments. More recently we’ve celebrated the return of conference play and the first full Saturday of games. Now, we’ve got one final landmark to pass before we hit full stride: the return of ESPN’s College Gameday. The festive travelling Saturday pregame show is back for good this weekend when Rece Davis and the crew travel to Ames for Iowa State’s match-up with Kansas, and it returns with some tweaks. First of all, Seth Greenberg replaces Digger Phelps as one of the three studio analysts; but more importantly, flex scheduling has been introduced, which means ESPN can choose its destination a week in advance to ensure it relocates to the most intriguing game of the weekend (just like the football version). With the eyes of the college sports world now fully trained on the hardwood, a more interesting Gameday experience is just another of many things to look forward to in 2015.

Three for the Money

This Was the View the Last Time These Two Teams Met

This Was the View the Last Time These Two Teams Met

  • Kansas at Iowa State | Saturday, 9:00 PM EST, ESPN. If Kansas and Iowa State are worthy of Gameday’s attention, they’re certainly worthy of ours. Assuming that the Jayhawks get past Oklahoma State at home on Tuesday – by no means a foregone conclusion – they’ll have successfully shrugged off questions and will have started Big 12 play 3-0 for the ninth consecutive year. On the other side of things, Iowa State is one of the most enigmatic teams in the country. On some nights the Cyclones look offensively un-containable, but on others, they look completely out of sync. One thing for which they can be counted on though is a healthy sprinkling of Hilton Magic. Iowa State has only dropped two games over the past three calendar years in their building, but both, however, came against Kansas. Both were also barn-burners. Count on another one this Saturday. 
  • Duke at Louisville | Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN. The Jayhawks and Cyclones got Gameday, but this early tip-off between the Blue Devils and Cardinals should garner just as much attention. NC State played the role of narrative-killer on Sunday when its upset meant Coach K won’t have an opportunity to win his 1,000th game here, but perhaps now the game will take on a little added importance. The key will be how Louisville’s guards keep Duke out of the lane and how well they recover to the three-point shooters. Jahlil Okafor will clearly be a factor underneath, but if Terry Rozier and Chris Jones can make things uncomfortable for Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones, the Blue Devils could fall short of their customary offensive output.
  • Utah at Arizona | Saturday, 7:00 PM EST, Pac-12 Network. Saturday could go a long way to deciding the Pac-12 crown this season. And while it’s a shame that this game is buried on the Pac-12 Network, it’s a huge occasion. Utah is the insurgent, rising to power from the ashes, while Arizona is still king until proven otherwise. The Wildcats’ throne will be seriously threatened on Saturday. After a stunning loss to Oregon State — coming only three games after a defeat at UNLV — there are some issues in Tucson. Sean Miller still hasn’t found consistent enough offense from his talented group, and one worry is that he must sacrifice defense to get his best offensive five on the floor. Delon Wright, Utah’s do-everything combo guard, will look to take advantage of a physically underwhelming Arizona backcourt. Find this one on a stream somewhere.

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ACC M5: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 13th, 2015

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  1. Syracuse.com: The Orange received crushing news yesterday that freshman Chris McCullough will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. While his season had been inconsistent to this point, there’s no denying that this is a huge loss for Jim Boeheim’s team. His potential has been well-documented and he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of at times this season. Perhaps the biggest development from this news, however, is how much his loss further depletes Syracuse’s depth. Syracuse may be the rare ACC team with an easier start to the conference slate, but its overall chance of a promising season took a big blow with this injury.
  2. ESPN.com: North Carolina’s thrilling victory over Louisville on Saturday had to do wonders for the team’s confidence, and more importantly, may have finally given the Tar Heels the early signature win they needed. One of the more interesting items from this article, though, is that Marcus Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot for several weeks. This could help shed some light on the reason for his inauspicious start to the season, and also lend some credence to how impressive his heroic second half against the Cardinals really was.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: NC State’s pummeling of Duke on Sunday is one of the biggest headlines of the young ACC season to date, but what the Wolfpack accomplished in the paint may be the real storyline here. While it has been Mark Gottfried’s perimeter players who have gotten most of the corresponding attention, Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya were the keys to the big upset win. NC State’s post players’ abilities to hold their own against Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow bode very well for the Wolfpack as the season progresses. This is a team that has been on a roll since conference play started, and it looks to continue its hot start in another rivalry match-up with North Carolina on Wednesday.
  4. Streaking The Lawn: A suddenly vulnerable-looking Kentucky team is no longer a unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, as Virginia wrested two votes from the Wildcats in this week’s rankings following its big win at Notre Dame over the weekend. The Cavaliers appear to be a legitimate title contender and threat to capture the ACC crown despite all the preseason hype about Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. According to KenPom, Virginia is the only team in the country ranked among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (sixth-best offense; fourth-best defense).
  5. ESPN.com: Duke’s loss to NC State could be attributed to a number of different things — namely defensive lapses and poor three-point shooting — but C.L. Brown keeps it simple: They’re led by freshmen. Despite Okafor’s big game, there were many signs that the youngsters leading this Blue Devils’ team still have much to learn about life in the ACC. Point guard Tyus Jones has not contributed nearly the gaudy numbers he posted prior to conference play, and Okafor and Winslow did little to slow the Wolfpack’s frontcourt (with Winslow eventually fouling out). It’s probably a good time for everyone to remind themselves that they’re watching a Duke team that hasn’t started three freshmen since 1983 for a reason.
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RTC Rewind: Sunday Bloody Sunday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 12th, 2015

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, there is nothing to be said. After a weekend like the one that just transpired, this is probably one of those times. You saw the games. Or at least you saw the results. I didn’t even see much of it because life gets in the way, and because, let’s be honest, who would mark their calendars to make a point to catch a late Sunday night Arizona vs. Oregon State game? Or Wisconsin against Rutgers at the same time that Peyton Manning is perhaps playing his last football game… ever? I hate to be repetitive, but man, crazy stuff happens in college basketball. And the craziest part is that that crazy stuff often happens at crazy times when you least expect it.

Upsets, Upsets, and More Upsets!

It Was That Kind of a January Sunday in College Basketball (USA Today Images)

It Was That Kind of a January Sunday in College Basketball (USA Today Images)

The strangest aspect of Saturday and Sunday was that all of this happened on a weekend without many marquee match-ups. Sure, we had two headliner games in the ACC, but many of the results that ended up leading SportsCenter weren’t the focus of the weekend previews. Wisconsin was matching up against arguably the worst team in the Big Ten; Arizona was playing a bottom-four team in the Pac-12; and Duke was playing a middle-of-the-pack ACC squad. All three left with losses, and it didn’t stop there. Kentucky, everybody’s #1 team in America, was pushed to the brink by a Texas A&M outfit that nobody thinks all that much of; and Oklahoma, which might have succumbed to the RTC Podcast jinx (if such a thing exists), looked bad in a home loss to Kansas State. Huh? Overall, six of the USA Today top 10 went down last week – five over the weekend – and two others came very close to dropping their first games of the season. For some – Louisville (at UNC), Texas (at Oklahoma State) maybe even Duke (at NC State) – the losses were reasonable enough for conference play. But for others – we’re looking at you, Wisconsin and Arizona – the upsets were completely confounding. A little less than two weeks ago, Rutgers lost to Northwestern at home, scoring only 47 points; not long after that, Wisconsin beat that same Northwestern team in Evanston by 23. How do you explain that? Some will try by point to the absence of Frank Kaminsky. But you just don’t… you just can’t.

The ACC Bloodbath Has Commenced

It began last Monday night when Notre Dame went to Chapel Hill and knocked off North Carolina and it spilled over into the weekend. There are five ACC teams among the top 20 of the polls, and there really could be five in the top 15, maybe even top 10, but of that group, four already have a conference loss. How do the five stack up? After Virginia’s impressive win at Notre Dame, the Cavaliers have established themselves atop the pack for now (for analysis from South Bend, check out Walker Carey’s postgame takeaways). Duke is probably still a close second despite giving NC State students another insane court rush. But realistically, any of the trio of Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame could be third. It seems harsh to punish the Cardinals for a one-point road loss, but Rick Pitino’s team only has one top-40 win at this point (over a puzzling Ohio State team). Then there are the Tar Heels, which just knocked off Louisville but are exhaustingly erratic. Notre Dame of course won at UNC but struggled with Georgia Tech and only has one other quality win on the entire season (Michigan State). For now, I’ll rank this group as such: 3. Louisville, 4. Notre Dame, 5. North Carolina. But I’d be willing to bet they’re in a different order this time next week.

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On This Season’s Gonzaga Dilemma

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 9th, 2015

Two years ago, the debate raged. Did Gonzaga, the #1 team in both polls on Selection Sunday, really deserve a #1 seed? It was a question rarely faced by teams towering over the polls at such a late juncture, but the Zags’ 31-2 record didn’t impress everyone. Critics brought up the weak WCC. They pointed out an unflattering RPI ranking of #8. More anecdotally, they looked up and down the Gonzaga roster and asked — other than Kelly Olynyk — where all the pros were. The Zags claim to a #1 seed was as energized a debate as any on Selection Sunday in March 2013.

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zag's Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team's Spot Within The Bracket?

Mark Few, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Are Steering Gonzaga Towards Yet Another Dominant Regular Season Finish. Will The Zags’ Disappointing 2013 NCAA Tournament Showing Impact This Team’s Placement Within The Bracket?

That story’s ending shouldn’t have escaped memory yet (Cliff Notes: #1 seed granted, but Sweet Sixteen appearance sold separately) and it may have more damage to deliver the Bulldogs. This season boasts an equally dominant Gonzaga outfit and a similarly helpless WCC, which puts Mark Few’s team on a crash course for a familiar Selection Sunday predicament. After easily knocking off San Francisco on Thursday night, the 15-1 Bulldogs look as poised as ever to rip through a soft WCC and reach Selection Sunday with just one loss, an overtime defeat at Arizona (who is kind of good!). Early results indicate competition for the four #1 seeds is likely to be even fiercer this season than it was two years ago, but this Gonzaga group also looks to be stronger as well. Dominoes in the race for a #1 seed will be falling from now until March — in both Spokane and elsewhere — but round two of the great Gonzaga debate is coming. There’s no reason not to begin considering the question now: Will the kings of the WCC deserve to be on the bracket’s top line?

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ACC M5: 01.08.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 8th, 2015

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  1. Miami Herald: Miami is off to the greener pastures of apparel company Adidas. While that means more money for the school, it’s no secret that Nike is considered more hip and arguably more structurally sound with their basketball shoes. There’s also the corollary fact that AAU basketball is run by the shoe companies. While recruits are in the habit of regularly switching allegiances, the move could affect who Miami recruits in the future. The Hurricanes will join NC State and Louisville under the Adidas brand — the other ACC non-Nike schools are Notre Dame and Boston College, which are with Under Armour, and Georgia Tech, with Russell).
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Syracuse guard Ron Patterson has been told to “keep shooting” despite his early struggles. He definitely wasn’t alone in that struggle against Georgia Tech last night (the two teams combined to go 33-of-109 from the field), but Jim Boeheim needs Patterson to contribute this year because Kaleb Joseph isn’t an instant standout like Tyler Ennis last season. If the Orange’s shooting woes continue, Syracuse will be looking at a very uncomfortable Selection Sunday.
  3. Louisville Courier-Journal:. Their playing styles couldn’t be more different, but Louisville, Virginia and Duke have a lot in common in that all three are top-five teams nationally that have recently put up questionable performances. While the bottom of the ACC isn’t very good, there aren’t any free games where you can mess around for 30 minutes before hitting the gas and winning easily. Wake Forest just missed pulling off a couple of upsets over the Cardinals and Blue Devils, and Virginia has gotten a bit too cute against Miami and NC State. All three teams are assuredly works in progress, but the coach who can get the most consistent effort from his team will likely wind up on top of the league this season.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Six ACC teams currently have more turnovers than assists on the season. That’s… not good. The better news is that four of those six teams have an assist/turnover ratio above 90 percent and could still improve (because your stats usually get better in conference play?). Unsurprisingly, Clemson clocks in with the worst such ratio (0.85) and Florida State – a team that has struggled with turnovers the last few years — brings up the rear (0.87). But Louisville (0.94) and NC State (0.94) both need to improve if they want to make something of the postseason.
  5. Deadspin: Ken Pomeroy took a look at the odds that Virginia or Duke will finish as the last unbeaten team in college basketball (instead of Kentucky). Kentucky is the favorite to turn the trick by far, but the results were closer than I expected (although Kentucky’s chance at an undefeated regular season is currently at 18 percent, which is much higher than Virginia or Duke’s). Through the lens of efficiency margin, Duke and Virginia offer pretty similar profiles, so the Cavaliers’ advantage is likely from getting to play Duke at home and avoiding Louisville until the last game of the season.
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RTC Weekly Primer: An Ode to the Big 12

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 6th, 2015

Money talks. It’s an unavoidable and unfortunate truth. In almost any facet of life, money is persuasive. Whether indirectly or directly, visibly or otherwise, it influences the decisions we make, creates irresistible motives, and causes things to happen that are otherwise undesirable. It’s an unparalleled force. A few years ago, the Big 12 was a victim of the almighty dollar’s faculties. It succumbed to money’s authority. Between 2010-13, while the league went about its business playing collegiate sports in the midsection of America, it was relentlessly under siege. Driven by economic motives, the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 ravaged it, pilfering four of its 12 members and rearranging the landscape of college sports. During this period of extreme uncertainty, there were thoughts of dissolution. There appeared to be a significant chance that the Big 12 would soon cease to exist. At the very least, it had been weakened as it’s BCS brethren had beefed up. These were times filled with worry; with concern; with fear.

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

Several years later, with all of that uncertainty now in the rear view mirror, money seems somewhat irrelevant. It still talks, and the economic side of Big 12 sports might not be as lucrative as that of the Big Ten or SEC. But money doesn’t automatically result in good basketball. And in 2014-15, while the Big Ten and SEC are crammed with mediocrity, the conference that once looked in serious danger is thriving. Seven of the 10 conference teams currently rank in KenPom’s Top 25, while only eight from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC collectively make the cut. In an age where money increasingly steps to the forefront of any discussions on college sports, there remains a majestic purity about this sport. And as conference play gets underway in the Big 12, that purity will be as enjoyable and as evident as ever. It’ll also produce night after night of high-quality basketball.

Three for the Money

Kansas at Baylor | Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPNU

Where else to start but with the Big 12? As will be the case many times this year, there are multiple mouth-watering match-ups in conference play, but any game that involves Kansas still draws extra attention. It’s an annual tradition around this time of year to pose the question, “Is this the year that somebody finally unseats Kansas atop the Big 12?” But this year, such an inquiry might just have a little more merit to it. Baylor isn’t necessarily one of the teams that could knock the Jayhawks from their perch — that responsibility should fall to Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State. But the Bears are an outstanding example of the depth of the league. Picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, Scott Drew’s squad has been steadily improving this season. Led by a physically imposing front line that pounds the offensive glass as well as anybody in the country, Baylor won’t be an easy out for anybody. And especially not for a Kansas team that, despite only two losses and several good wins, hasn’t looked vintage. It is important to note that we’ve seen the stage set like this before only to have the Jayhawks hit their stride in early February and run away from the pack. But the backcourt of Frank Mason and Wayne Selden is a far cry from what Self has had in Lawrence over the years. The interesting match-up here, however, is down low, where Kansas’ forwards, specifically Cliff Alexander, will have to brandish their Big 12 title winning credentials and show some requisite toughness.

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RTC Top 25: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 5th, 2015

Conference play got off to a frenetic start last week, and no team took better advantage of the start of league place than #19 Seton Hall. Playing both conference-opening games on their home court, the Pirates dispatched #16 St. John’s on Wednesday and #8 Villanova on Saturday. The Big East looks to be a little deeper this season than many anticipated, and the emergence of teams like Seton Hall are one of the major reasons why. #13 Oklahoma also did an admirable job of distinguishing itself in its first conference game on Saturday, as the Sooners took care of #21 Baylor, making it clear they will be a force to be reckoned with in Big 12 play. With conference play now in full swing in nearly every league, expect teams to continue to distinguish themselves from the pack in coming weeks. It is going to be a fun couple of months.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump….

rtc25 w7

Quick n’ dirty Analysis.

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Non-Conference Scheduling: How Does the ACC Stack Up?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2015

While watching a Virginia Tech football game this year — or at least as much of it as I could stomach — I was reminded of head coach Frank Beamer’s reputation as a special teams guru. As the Hokies’ head coach back in the 1990s, Beamer’s approach to emphasizing special teams play was quite effective — he coached the kicking units himself and used his best athletes to cover, return and block kicks. After a few years of using this innovation, the media caught on and his teams’ reputation as great on special teams was established. About five to seven years ago, however, and despite announcers’ best efforts to remind us, it became apparent that Virginia Tech no longer had that same advantage. Crossing over to basketball this winter, any time Michigan State plays a November or December game, an announcer will inevitably say something like, “Tom Izzo ALWAYS plays a brutal non-conference schedule.” But is it actually true? As the Beamer example shows, once a public narrative is established, it’s very difficult to break.

Recently we looked at the ACC’s non-conference schedules and declared North Carolina the clear winner of the ACC’s competition for the toughest slate this season. Today we will examine how the Tar Heels and the other traditional ACC powers stack up in non-conference scheduling when compared with several of the other national programs. For this analysis we chose the 15 winningest college basketball programs of the last 10 years from the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and Big East. The underlying assumption is that top programs from each of these conferences should be fairly comparable in terms of scheduling opportunities to play whichever teams they want, including various made-for-TV contests and routine invitations to the major early-season tournaments. Teams like Gonzaga from the West Coast Conference were removed from the data set because their non-conference scheduling agendas are far different than those of the power conference schools. The full table, including five ACC schools — Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh — is below.

NonConf 10YrsWe ranked schools based on the average ranking between two metrics — KenPom strength of schedule (SOS) and Top 25 opponents. For overall SOS, we averaged the last 10 years using Pomeroy’s end-of-season non-conference schedule strength rating (which does not include postseason or non-Division I opponents). We also counted the number of Top 25 opponents (using KenPom’s final season ratings) each school played in the 10-year span, showing it as a per-year average. As you can see above, both Duke and North Carolina perform very well in both metrics, while recent ACC additions Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh struggle. Among non-ACC schools, Kentucky, Arizona and Kansas are clearly the other national programs willing to play the best non-conference opponents on an annual basis, and surprisingly, Michigan State ranks more in the middle of the pack despite what we are led to believe from most media members. How do things look when we feature the same ratings categories over the last five years instead?

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ACC Stock Watch – New Year’s Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 2nd, 2015

As we welcome 2015, the ACC’s 15 teams have all concluded their non-conference seasons. In the New Year’s edition of this week’s ACC Stock Watch, we’ll examine the league’s trending players and teams based on how they were predicted to finish in conference play (you can view the preseason ACC media projections here) and how they’re playing now.

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils are on fire to start the season. Their veterans have ceded major roles to the star freshmen without complaint or drop-off in production. Their 12-0 start includes good wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Temple and Stanford.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke. Taking over the reins of a national championship contender is difficult enough, but unseating a senior in Quinn Cook and maintaining harmony on the floor is really something else. Jones has emerged as a true revelation and has made the Duke offense (the most efficient in college basketball) hum. Even his high school coach didn’t think he’d be this good so fast.
Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he's been a revelation for Duke (Lance King)

Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he’s been a revelation for Duke (credit: Lance King)

  • Virginia. Everyone knew the Cavaliers would be good again, but possibly better than last year? They’ve already held two teams to single-digit points in a half, and Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris have been capably replaced. Hopefully the recent defensive showing against Davidson was an aberration (72 points allowed by a Virginia team that had holds opponents under 50 per game on the year).
  • Notre Dame. A 13-1 start is great and this team is rolling on the offensive end. The Fighting Irish currently rank third in the country at 86.0 points per game and are shooting an otherworldly 55.4 percent from the field (best in the country). However, questions exist about the strength of Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule.

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Kentucky’s Perfect Dream: Is 40-0 Really Attainable?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 30th, 2014

On days like last Saturday, they tell you to throw out the records. Rivalry games like Kentucky-Louisville are supposed to occur in a vacuum, a place where bragging rights supersede any other consideration. At leas that’s how the thinking goes. It’s a quaint notion, indeed, but this latest installment of the Bluegrass State rivalry turned out to be all about the records. To be more specific, Kentucky’s record. With all due respect to Louisville’s previously unblemished loss tally – and even more respect to a stacked ACC – the Cardinals were never going to chase a perfect season, even if they had found a way to take down the Wildcats. But for Kentucky, with its stiffest test now in the rear-view and the zero in its loss column unchanged, dreams of an undefeated season have begun to transition out of fantasy and into reality. It was all anyone wanted to talk about after the game: Is 40-0 really possible?

The Young Wildcats Have Had Plenty Of Fun So Far; Are They Capable Of Crafting College Basketball's First Perfect Season Since 1976?

The Young Wildcats Have Had Plenty Of Fun So Far; Are They Capable Of Crafting College Basketball’s First Perfect Season Since 1976?

It is hard to look at the Kentucky schedule and find a single remaining game that it is likely to lose. This much is true. Using KenPom as our basis, the Wildcats are predicted to have at least an 89 percent chance of winning in 15 of their 18 SEC games. The three exceptions are visits to South Carolina on January 24 (84% win share), Florida on February 7 (77% win share), and Georgia on March 3 (84% win share). Florida’s best win this season is over Yale; the Gamecocks have beaten only one team in KenPom’s top 125 (Oklahoma State); and Georgia has two top-70 wins (Seton Hall and Colorado). Do we really expect any of these teams to prove capable of toppling one of the most dominant college basketball teams of the 21st century? I don’t think so.

Getting through the SEC unscathed – conference tournament included — is definitely possible for the ‘Cats. But is it likely? As difficult as it is to look down the schedule and find an SEC foe capable of beating them, winning 21 straight games against major conference teams is not as easy a task as many are suggesting. Even KenPom gives Kentucky just a 24.3 percent chance of ripping off the next 18 in a row. Avoiding a road trip to Arkansas on the schedule this year helps the cause, but won’t there be a night – most likely away from Rupp Arena — where the shots just aren’t falling for Coach Cal’s young bunch? They are shooting just 32.1 percent from three-point range and 66.2 percent from the line; imagining a 40-minute offensive drought is not too difficult, particularly in a foreign environment. Of course, you could use those same percentages to make a different but equally compelling point. Kentucky has been utterly dominant to this point, despite those inefficiencies — why even worry about them?

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RTC Rewind: Kentucky Flexes Muscles, Rough Pac-12 Weekend, More…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 29th, 2014

Never a dull week… Never a dull week, I tell you. The holiday season was supposed to be the last down time for college basketball, but this past weekend – the last without wave after wave of important conference games – was anything but silent. From a clash at the summit in Kentucky to another stunner from Texas Southern – yes, really – it was another fine weekend on the hardwood.

Weekend Headliner: Kentucky 58, Louisville 50.

If it was going to happen, it was going to happen here; at least, so it seemed. Only one game stood between Kentucky and a feeble SEC slate. Only one major challenge remained. Only Louisville. And thus, there’s no place to start but here when rehashing the final 2014 weekend of college hoops. Because it – a Kentucky loss – didn’t happen.

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

It Was Another Defensive Masterpiece From the Wildcats (USA Today Images)

John Calipari’s team further cemented itself atop the collegiate basketball landscape with an ugly but effective victory over its bitter rival. The most striking thing about Saturday’s game was the difficulty Louisville had finding shots and scoring on the offensive end. If a top-five team with an All-American forward and an electric home crowd looked overwhelmed, how must other teams feel? The Wildcats’ smothering defense held the Cardinals to an ice cold 26 percent shooting and 0.85 points per possession. Most importantly though, Kentucky was able to do exactly what makes its defense so special: It forced Louisville to take an inordinate number of contested mid-range jumpers. A whopping 34 of the Cardinals’ 58 field goal attempts (58.6 percent) came from between five and 20 feet from the basket, an area from which they’ve shot 29 percent on the season. This was a significant departure from Louisville’s standard shooting distribution, and its a big reason why they had such trouble with Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

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