Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 23rd, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

A lot has happened the past two weeks, so let’s tackle it in chronological order and we’ll sum things up at the end.

  • Duke and North Carolina lived up to the hype.  Last year just didn’t feel right with the games being lopsided.  Kendall Marshall is probably the best passer from halfcourt I’ve ever seen.  He’s not fast, but he pushes the ball up the court just as fast as Ty Lawson or Raymond Felton but he dishes from halfcourt instead of right around the basket.  Marshall looked terrific in the first half against Duke, killing the Blue Devils on long rebounds which turned into quick points in transition and in halfcourt sets.  Duke finally managed to neutralize him by playing the passing lanes in the second half and forcing him to score first and pass second.  The other Carolina player that impressed me is John Henson.  I’ve never been huge on Henson: he’s always struck me as a soft player that you should just back down.  Why face up against him and allow him to use his length to alter your shot when you can back him down?  But the more games I watch, the more shots I see Henson affect.  The infusion of Kendall Marshall’s lobs has also made Henson much more dangerous on the offensive end.  On Duke’s side of the rivalry, Seth Curry deserves some props for his recent play.  Curry has been outstanding lately, becoming a legitimate third option and giving Nolan Smith some valuable time to work off the ball.  This Duke team definitely has flaws, but if it plays like it did in the second half against Carolina, there aren’t many teams in the country that could keep pace.

Bubble Trouble: With only Duke and North Carolina representing the ACC in the “lock” category–though I’m inclined to put Florida State in assuming it wins two of its remaining four games (11-5 in the ACC with a win over Duke has to be enough, right?)–there are a lot of teams still working towards at-large bids.  Perennial bubbler Virginia Tech leads the way, closely followed by Clemson, Boston College and Maryland.  Only the Seminoles and Hokies managed a winning record during the last two weeks.  Here’s a recap of those on the Bubble:

  • Florida State went 3-0 against arguably the worst teams in the conference.
  • Virginia Tech went 2-1, slaughtering Georgia Tech and beating Maryland at home, allowing Virginia to complete the sweep on the season before dispatching Wake Forest.
  • Clemson beat Boston College (a huge game, bubble-wise), barely lost in Chapel Hill, inexplicably lost at NC State before beating Miami on the road.
  • Boston College lost at Clemson, beat Maryland and barely lost at North Carolina.
  • Maryland slaughtered Longwood in a meaningless nonconference game, lost at Boston College, lost at Virginia Tech and barely beat NC State at home.

Add all of that up and you get Florida State sitting at 9-3 in ACC play, Virginia Tech and Clemson suffering horrible losses, Boston College avoiding marquee wins and Maryland continuing to avoid any wins that might be described as decent.  Ouch.  Not a good week for the ACC bubble.  Past Florida State, I think all of these teams need a significant ACC Tournament run (Maryland and Boston College might need to win the whole thing at this point).  Conceivably, the ACC could have three teams in the tournament if no one steps up down the stretch.  That’s pathetic for a conference that prides itself on basketball greatness (or really any major conference aside from the Pac-10 or SEC).

As for injuries, Chris Singleton hurt his foot in the game against Virginia.  You can’t overstate Singleton’s importance for the Seminoles: he’s one of the best on-ball defenders in the country and he’s their primary scoring option.  His versatility allows him to shut down the opposing team’s best player at the two, three or four.  This gives the selection committee a lot to think about with Florida State.  Without Singleton, this is a very different team.  At the same time, a favorable schedule will mean it probably closes out the season at 11-5 in conference play.  Personally, I think the Seminoles will squeak by barring a collapse of epic proportions, but the injury certainly opens the door for a lot more questions.  Kyrie Irving is back in the news after a couple of optimistic tweets about his injury: from Saturday: “Rehab going really well…I’m getting that feeling back!!! Yessir”; from Monday: “I’m definitely op(toe)mistic!!”.  Jeff Goodman of FoxSports.com later tweeted: “Getting mixed reports on whether he [Irving] will return. Tough to say yet.”  Essentially, no one knows anything (largely because Duke has been so quiet in the matter), but things are sounding much more optimistic.

Player of the Week: Nolan Smith has been tremendous in ACC play.  Currently, he’s averaging almost 22 points per game with more than five assists and just under five rebounds.  He’s on pace to be the only player ever to lead the ACC in scoring and assists for a season.  Against North Carolina, he had 34 (22 in the second half), good for his season high.  He also put up 18, 22 and 28 points in wins at Miami, at Virginia and against Georgia Tech.  Smith puts up gaudy tempo-free numbers too, posting the fifth-highest offensive rating among players used in more than 28% of their team’s possessions.  You might recognize a couple of household names right below him: Jimmer Fredette (8) and Kemba Walker (9).  I suspect we won’t see a unanimous national player of the year like last year, but Smith has certainly put himself in that top group (that should probably include Arizona’s Derrick Williams too).

Team of the Week: Duke.  I just can’t give the award to a Florida State team that beat Georgia Tech, Virginia (at home) and Wake, so that leaves the Blue Devils.  Ever since the St. John’s beating (which doesn’t look nearly as bad now), Duke has played at a much higher level–especially on the defensive end.  Duke did get off to a very shaky start against North Carolina, but good teams make adjustments and win games (which Mike Krzyzewski did).  My one concern with this team right now is its consistent struggle stopping penetration.  That’s going to be crucial during the NCAA Tournament.  Mason and Miles Plumlee need to be better at coming to help stop the drive (and I don’t mean by committing stupid reaching fouls).  But other than that, Duke is one of the best teams in the country with the top spot in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings to prove it.  Side note: the Blue Devils also sport top rankings in both polls, though their current resume lags behind Pittsburgh and Ohio State.

Bizarro Team of the Week: Maryland.  Frankly, the Terps are trying to steal the season’s award out from under Wake Forest’s feet.  Watching a Maryland game is one of the most frustrating things you can do: there’s clearly a good deal of talent on the roster, but they fold in the second half of every game.  It’s unbelievable.  Only two of Maryland’s losses have come by double digits (against Virginia Tech and Duke), but the Terps don’t have anything resembling a good win (best two are against Penn State and College of Charleston).  Jordan Williams can’t do everything, but I could’ve sworn Gary Williams would have found a way to win close games by now.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (25-2, 12-1) is in a real battle for a one-seed with Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Texas, Kansas and the winner of BYU and San Diego State.  With only four to go around, two of these teams are going to make very dangerous two seeds.  I think Duke is in control of its own destiny in that if the Blue Devils win out, I think they’re a lock for the top line (wins against Temple, Virginia Tech and at North Carolina plus whoever they face in the conference tournament would dramatically improver its resume).  I think Duke can probably get away with losing at North Carolina, provided that’s the only slip-up.  Any more than that and Duke will need some major help from the other contenders.

2.  North Carolina (20-6, 10-2) showed it’s not quite all the way back to contender status after coughing up a huge first half lead at Duke.  But I think the Tar Heels have a great shot to get revenge when Duke comes to Chapel Hill if they play with the same tenacity.  The UNC that barely beat Clemson and coasted to a home win over Wake can’t show up, though.

3.  Florida State (19-7, 9-3) needs to keep winning.  I think 2-2 is enough in these last four games, but it definitely couldn’t hurt to steal one either at Maryland or home against North Carolina.  Derwin Kitchen is going to be the key player for the Seminoles moving forward without Singleton.

4.  Virginia Tech (18-8, 8-5) needs to learn to win games it’s supposed to.  The Hokies had no business losing to Virginia to start ACC play, and they had no business losing to them last week.  Those are the games that force Seth Greenberg to sit through sweaty and heartbreaking Selection Sundays.  A win against Duke could help make up for the bad losses.

5.  Clemson (18-9, 7-6) took a feather from Virginia Tech’s cap by losing at NC State last week.  Brad Brownell has done a great job in his first year, but the Tigers will be on the wrong side of the bubble with any more losses like that.  I think the final game against Virginia Tech will be as big as any game for the Tigers this season.  Clemson has a similar problem to other ACC bubble teams: no real marquee wins.  No offense to College of Charleston and Florida State, but the Tigers need to find another one before exiting the ACC Tournament.

6.  Boston College (16-10, 6-6) is close to cooked between too many bad losses and just not that many good wins (Texas A&M can only carry you so far).  This roster looks better on paper than in person right now, although Reggie Jackson is one of the best players in the conference.

7.  Maryland (17-10, 6-6) is a team with tons of potential, but very little execution.  If Jordan Williams doesn’t declare for the draft, though, look out for the Terps next year.

8.  Virginia (13-13, 4-8) would’ve been a much scarier team without Mike Scott’s injury.  This team will never be the most fun to watch, but Tony Bennett looks like he’s got the program moving in the right direction.  And they did sweep Virginia Tech.

9.  NC State (14-12, 4-8) is one of my biggest disappointments of the season.  I thought the Wolfpack had the talent to compete for second in the ACC with Florida State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.  I still do.  But for whatever reason, Sidney Lowe can’t capitalize.  This team shows flashes of brilliance that make you wonder what might have been.  I don’t blame Lowe entirely, but someone has to be held accountable for his thus far underachieving tenure.

10. Miami (16-11, 4-8) have had all of its conference games decided by seven points or less, except for two double-digit losses to Duke (by ten and eleven points).  Miami’s record looks far worse than it should, which is why I think they could be very dangerous come the ACC tournament and next season.  Durand Scott, Malcolm Grant and Reggie Johnson are only getting better.

11. Georgia Tech (11-15, 3-9) has three conference wins including one against North Carolina and one against Virginia Tech?  The Yellow Jackets have talent, but right now it doesn’t fit together.  The biggest problem is a total inability to win away from home (literally zero road wins this season).

12. Wake Forest (8-20, 1-12) is officially the worst major conference team, according to Ken Pomeroy (number 249 as I write this).  The good news is things can only go up from here.  The big problem with the Deacs right now is defense.  When they hold opponents under a point per possession, they generally win (only one loss comes with a defensive efficiency rating of less than 100, and that’s a 99.1 against Gonzaga).  This team is still very young.

A Look Ahead

Wednesday, February 23:

  • Temple at Duke (7:00 PM, ESPN2) – Duke gets a shot at another top 25 opponent when the Owls come to Cameron Wednesday night in Coach K’s annual “strong mid-major we could see in the NCAA’s” game.  Look out for Lavoy Allen and Ramone Moore, who are both outstanding players in the A-10.
  • Florida State at Maryland (9:00 PM, ACC Network) – This game features the country’s fourth and 11th best defenses according to Ken Pomeroy in what is probably Maryland’s last gasp for an at-large (interestingly enough the ACC has defenses ranked 2, 3, 4, 11 and 18 in Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, Maryland and Clemson).

Saturday, February 26:

  • Duke at Virginia Tech (9:00 PM, ESPN) – This is a huge chance for the Hokies to pick up a marquee win and close to seal their trip to the Big Dance.  Jeff Allen will be key, as he should be able to have his way with Duke’s often soft interior.  The best match-up will definitely be Nolan Smith and Malcolm Delaney (who is right behind Smith in scoring and assists).

Sunday, February 27:

  • Maryland at North Carolina (7:45 PM, FSN) – In another match-up featuring excellent defense, Maryland takes on North Carolina.  The most interesting part of this game will be to watch Jordan Williams take on Tyler Zeller and John Henson.  North Carolina’s bigs have looked soft, and Williams is liable to put up a monster night.
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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 8th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A Look Back

You probably know this by now, but the biggest news of the week was Larry Drew II leaving North Carolina.  He was immediately ripped by fans and experts alike (the word “quit” and phrase “addition by subtraction” probably started trending on Twitter) largely–in my opinion–because he didn’t tell the team his decision, instead letting his father do it for him.  It’s hard to tell if this is a case of “selfish kid” (as most have interpreted the story) or “overreaching parent.”  My guess is it’s a combination of the two, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter was the deciding factor.  Everyone from college professors to recruiting analysts will tell you that parents are the hardest to deal with because they have a tendency to only see one side of the story.  The transfer was still very surprising based on timing (he has to sit out a year anyways), and Drew was coming off a career game (in assists) against Boston College. Regardless, Drew’s transfer may show why Roy Williams was so hesitant to start Kendall Marshall in the first place, if he suspected a delicate situation.

On the other side of Tobacco Road, Duke picked up its first commit from the class of 2012 in Alex Murphy, a 6’8 wing player.  The comparison that has been tossed around most frequently is Kyle Singler, though I think that’s a somewhat lazy comparison.  The other name I’ve heard a little is Mike Dunleavy, which seems a little more accurate in terms of skill sets based on the very limited video I’ve seen of Murphy on YouTube.  There are rumblings that Murphy may reclassify and join Duke next year, as he’s in his fourth year of high school, but I don’t think he’d gain a considerable advantage by coming a year earlier based on Duke’s talent-laden 2011 class.

And last but not least, NC State’s CJ Leslie was suspended for violating team rules and missed a romping at the hands of Duke.  He certainly wouldn’t have made an appreciable difference in the outcome (Duke was up by thirty at one point in the first half), but his suspension is just a microcosm of NC State’s disastrous season.  For a fun (but depressing read), I highly suggest checking out Backing the Pack’s Profile of a Possible Savior series on current coaches that might make a good replacement for Sidney Lowe (currently they’ve profiled Old Dominion’s Blaine Taylor, Missouri State’s Cuonzo Martin and Richmond’s Chris Mooney, South Carolina’s Darrin Horn, Providence’s Keno Davis, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall, Dayton’s Brian Gregory).  My favorite “Important Question” by far: “Does he run the Princeton offense?”  Even if you’re not a State fan, I highly suggest checking these out as the Wolfpack probably won’t be the only team on the lookout for a new coach and it’s a nice group of successful, under-the-radar coaches.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alabama’s Anthony Grant gets profiled soon after the season he’s put together this year.

Player of the Week: Kendall Marshall wins after tossing 22 dimes in games at Boston College and against Florida State.  If anything, Drew’s transfer highlighted Marshall’s outstanding play.  Harrison Barnes was also in double figures for the seventh straight game (he is averaging just under 23 points a game in his last three outings), which brings us to our team of the week.

Team of the Week: North Carolina, without a doubt.  I briefly considered pushing the Tar Heels to the top spot in the power rankings, but Duke also had two dominant wins this week, so I held off.  But the Tar Heels are playing their best basketball of the season right now, having reeled off five straight wins (only one in single digits) after the embarrassing loss to Georgia Tech.  Everything is clicking right now: Barnes, Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and even Reggie Bullock (even if he still hasn’t found consistency).  This is the team that was picked in the top ten before the season.  This team is capable of beating Duke in Durham Wednesday night.  It’s also capable of losing by 20, but I’d put my money on a close game.  So far this season, Carolina has been an elite defensive team (ranked eighth, right behind Duke, in defensive efficiency according to Ken Pomeroy), but in their last two games, they’ve put up unfathomable offensive numbers.  Against Boston College’s admittedly porous defense, the Heels put up a gaudy 139.5 offensive rating (100 is average) on the road.  More impressively, Carolina followed its dismantling of the Eagles with a 122.7 offensive rating against Florida State.  The previous best offensive efficiency mark came against the Seminoles: only one team prior to North Carolina had been able to break a 101 offensive efficiency rating.  Long story short, Wednesday night’s game at Duke just got a lot more interesting.

Bizarro Team of the Week: NC State, though Wake Forest and Georgia Tech also had dogs in this fight.  It’s safe to say that losing seven of your last eight followed by a suspension for your second best player is not really what Sidney Lowe had in mind.

Power Rankings

1.  Duke (21-2, 8-1) barely held on to the top spot in the power rankings after taking it to Maryland in College Park and unsurprisingly cruising to a big win at home over NC State.  Nolan Smith is playing like one of the best guards in the country, but he’s not the one that should scare opponents.  Mason Plumlee put up two double-doubles in Duke’s wins this week, notching 12 and 11 against Maryland and 16 and 12 against NC State (don’t forget Maryland and State have two of the strongest post players in the conference).  Plumlee has quietly become one of the best rebounders in the conference, with double-digit board totals in his last seven conference contests.  Keep an eye out for how the Plumlees handle John Henson and Tyler Zeller this week.

2.  North Carolina (17-5, 7-1) had its best week of basketball of the past two seasons last week and is finally living up to expectations.

3.  Florida State (16-7, 6-3) ran into a buzzsaw in Chapel Hill, but beat up on Wake at home.  Thanks to non-conference struggles and a weak ACC, Florida State could get a fairly bad seed come Selection Sunday.  But away from Tallahassee, the Seminoles have an offensive inconsistency that will make it nearly impossible to succeed in the one and done format of the tournament.

4.  Maryland (15-8, 5-4) lost to an angry Duke team at home before beating up on Wake at home.  Discounting the Duke game, the Terrapins have won four of five and have winnable games (other than at North Carolina) the rest of the way.  They’ll need to win most of those to lock up an at-large position.

5.  Boston College (15-8, 5-4) stopped the bleeding with a huge home win over Virginia Tech.  I was at the game, and the Eagles are very lucky to have come out with the win.  The Hokies could not buy a jump-shot in the first half (they literally had nothing but paint points and free throws) despite getting numerous good looks.  The game was a must-win for Boston College, and it can thank Reggie Jackson’s great final eleven minutes for the win.

6.  Virginia Tech (15-7, 5-4) lost a tough game at Conte Forum, but the Hokies were in less trouble than the Eagles.  That’s no excuse for how Virginia Tech lost the game, though.  First, Malcolm Delaney was sent to the foul line with a chance to tie with under thirty seconds left.  Then the Hokies decided it was a good plan to drop the ball off to slumping Erick Green, who hadn’t hit a single shot all game, for the final hurrah.  Regardless, I don’t think the Hokies’ at-large hopes are crushed by the loss.  They still have a couple of chances for good wins–home against Maryland and Duke–left on the schedule.

7.  Clemson (16-7, 5-4), otherwise known as the fourth team in the conference at five and four, lost a killer at Virginia before flirting with disaster against Georgia Tech.  As much as I like Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, I’m not sure either is cut out to be the go-to guy on an ACC team.  Unfortunately, I think Clemson is going to be the odd man out (or one of two odd men out from the five and four bunch) unless they can grab two of North Carolina (home), Boston College (home) and Virginia Tech (home).

8.  Miami (14-9, 3-6) turned the tables this week, winning two more excruciatingly close games at home over Georgia Tech and Virginia.  Not that home wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia are that impressive, but this Hurricane team really needed them.  If Reggie Johnson can find a way to commit less fouls, he’s going to be an immovable object in the post.  Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott both have some work to do before becoming primary playmakers for a team in conference contention (also known as not disappearing during important stretches), but this team will only get better next season with nearly everyone coming back.

9.  Virginia (12-11, 3-6) almost blew a huge lead to Clemson, but somehow managed to hold on in the final seconds.  Tony Bennett has done a great job with what’s been available for him and his team the past couple of years, but he’s still decidedly in the “rebuilding” process at Virginia.  Give him two more years and Virginia should be back in the top half of the conference.

10. Georgia Tech (10-12, 3-6) has lost three of their last four, including losses to Miami and Clemson this week.  Things aren’t going to get any easier from here as the Yellow Jackets have to face Florida State (home) and Virginia Tech on the road this week.  In stark contrast to Tony Bennett, Paul Hewitt has struggled mightily getting the most out of his normally quite talented players.  Hewitt seems like a great guy, but he’s just a level too high in coaching.

11. NC State (12-11, 2-7) is discovering how it feels to have the bottom fall out.

12. Wake Forest (8-15, 1-7) already knows how it feels to have the bottom fall out: if having the bottom fall out is losing 11 of your last 13 games.

A Look Ahead

Welcome to Rivalry Week.  The best rivalry in all of college basketball–if not all of sports–opens the first game of the season in Durham Wednesday night at 9:00 PM on ESPN (or the ACC Network depending on your location).  North Carolina seems to be peaking right in time for the big game, while Duke looks like it has bounced back from the ugly loss at St. John’s.  Really, this should be a phenomenal game: the atmosphere and emotions will be off the charts, and these are the two best teams in the ACC (by a very solid margin).

The other two teams with a very big week ahead are Clemson and Boston College–who both look dangerously close to the wrong side of the bubble right now.  The Tigers play at Boston College Tuesday in a must-win for both teams (9:00 PM, ESPNU).  After that, Clemson gets North Carolina at home Saturday in what could be an epic letdown game and a great chance to get revenge for what transpired in Chapel Hill (1:00 PM, ACC Network).  Boston College gets another chance to boost its at-large resume when the Terrapins come to town Saturday (1:00 PM, ACC Network).

Needless to say, this should be one of the more exciting weeks in the ACC.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 25th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

Things are starting to take shape for the conference with a few games under our belts, so this will be a Power Rankings combined with A Look Ahead that includes NCAA Tournament projections.

The biggest news out of this week probably comes out of Chapel Hill, where Roy Williams finally decided to heed the analysis of countless fans and writers by starting Kendall Marshall over Larry Drew II.  Marshall had seen a steady increase in playing time (even if Williams did blame Drew’s fatigue) over the last few weeks, and after the drubbing at Georgia Tech, Williams finally decided to make the change.  Ironically, Drew responded well with his third-highest point total of the season.  Kendall Marshall may be a little slower laterally, but he’s a much better facilitator, which is what Williams’ offense requires.  Not to be outdone, Sidney Lowe made a very similar move to start Ryan Harrow against Miami.  Harrow had a tough day offensively, but he sealed a Wolfpack victory with his clutch steal in the final 30 seconds.  In other point guard news, Tony Chennault is finally suiting up for Wake Forest and played some valuable minutes in the loss at Duke.  I don’t think his presence makes Wake’s season outlook any better, but he’ll be a big part in rebuilding this program.

On the injury front, big news coming from Kyrie Irving’s father.  Per Jeff Goodman, Irving will not have surgery, which would have ended his season.  Irving’s father also asserts that the cast will come off February 4, so look for news around then about his prognosis.

And say hello to the newly-ranked Florida State Seminoles, who joined the AP top 25 at number 22 this week!

  • Player of the Week: This week, I’m going with role players.  Ryan Kelly will get the spotlight, but Erick Green and Richard Howell are getting shout-outs, too.  Last week, Ryan Kelly went a perfect 10-10 from the field including 6-6 from beyond the arc.  He also collected 14 boards over the two games.  He’s been criticized for being soft, but when he’s scoring in double figures, Duke is awfully tough to beat.  Erick Green got the job done for Virginia Tech at Maryland.  The sophomore has steadily seen his playing time increase with injuries, and he paid his dues with 24 points and four steals (on an efficient 12-16 from the field).  Finally, Richard Howell led all scorers for NC State with 17 in their win over Miami.
  • Team of the Week: Virginia Tech jumped back into relevance this week with a commanding win at Maryland and a less impressive home win over Longwood.  The Hokies stumbled a bit early this season, but they’ve found their groove of late: Seth Greenberg’s squad has won nine of their last ten (barely losing to North Carolina on the road) despite major injury issues.  They’re still not out of woods (read: off the bubble) yet, but things are definitely looking up.  I still think they’ll need to win 11 or 12 games in conference play or have a strong showing in the conference tournament, but they’re off to a solid start.  As to why, credit Seth Greenberg for playing Malcolm Delaney off the ball where he excels, and really getting the most out of his entire roster.  They may lack depth, but they make up for it with scrappy play.
  • Bizarro Team of the Week: Miami lost two games by a total of four points–and yes, things are looking up when the Bizarro Team of the Week only sports close losses.  First they lost to “bad Florida State” (the team that lost to Auburn) after holding the Seminoles to no field goals in the first 9:49.  It should be noted that Florida State only managed one jumper; the rest of their points came from the free throw line, layups and dunks for a vast majority of the first half.  However, after Miami hit a three to extend their lead to ten early in the second half, it was all Florida State.  Miami attempted to right the ship at NC State when they chewed up a 17-point second half deficit and drew within one in the final minute.  Unfortunately, fate stood strong and left the Hurricanes just short.  With the losses Miami falls to one and four in conference play but appears to be a much better team on paper (with three playmakers).  They could deal some brutal losses to teams looking for an at-large bid as the season progresses.

Power Rankings and Bracket Projections:

Lock It Down

Duke (18-1, 5-1) could totally tank from here on out and still expect to make the field (see Texas last year).  That said, they’re looking like they finally may have found their sea legs after the loss at Florida State.  Different players have been stepping up (this week, Kyle Singler and Ryan Kelly).  The Blue Devils will need some consistency from their interior to really be a complete team, and if Kelly can remain a scoring threat and Mason Plumlee keeps up his rebounding and defense they’ll have it covered.

Projected seed: 1-2

Should Be In

Florida State (15-5, 5-1) still has major offensive issues, but ten conference wins looks like a lock given their schedule (which I think would get them a decent seed).  Derwin Kitchen needs to continue being a factor on offense, and every win from here on out will make Auburn look like more and more of an anomaly.

Projected seed: 4-5, although they’re drawing very close to the 2010 Maryland resume for a three-seed if they can finish with three or less conference losses.

Need To Keep Winning To Go Dancing

Virginia Tech (13-5, 3-2) looked dead just a couple of weeks ago.  But Jeff Allen and Malcolm Delaney have really stepped up to the plate recently.  A win against Duke would seal the deal, but the real key is to keep winning and don’t look back (also known as don’t repeat losses like home to Virginia).

Projected seed: 6-9

Boston College (14-6, 4-2) has a historically large gap between their offense and defense.  Unfortunately, the Eagles have some tough losses on their resume, and they definitely haven’t looked infallible.  That said, they’ve already played Florida State and only have one game against Duke, so most of their games are winnable.  There’s not a whole lot of margin for error with the perceived (rightly) dearth of talent in the conference though, so the Eagles probably need to split their series with North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Projected seed: 8-9

North Carolina (13-5, 3-1) has a brutal conference schedule the rest of the way: two games against Duke, Florida State and Boston College, with a little Maryland (home) on the side.  This team has struggled on the road (and at home for that matter), but I think they’ll get better with Kendall Marshall running the show.  Their strong non-conference win over Kentucky (and close loss against Texas for that matter) give the Tar Heels a little more wiggle room than the rest of their ACC brethren, but they’ve got to win some road games.  A win over Duke would be nice too.

Projected seed: 6-11

Fighting To Survive

Maryland (12-7, 2-3) should almost be in panic mode.  The Terrapins have zero good wins, two conference home losses and seven total losses.  There’s no room for error, and Gary Williams is going to have to find a way to basically win out (i.e. beat Duke and Florida State at home, and win two of three from UNC, Boston College and Virginia Tech on the road).  There’s still a very slim chance for the Terps, but they’re looking more and more NIT-worthy by the day.

Projected seed: 11-NIT

NIT-Picking

  • Clemson (13-6, 2-3) is off to a strong start under Brad Brownell, but I can’t see this team heading to the Big Dance.  They lost a couple of brutal games this week (at North Carolina and at Maryland) that would have put them right in the mix, but both times the Tigers went cold down the stretch after being in a good place to win.  Still, the NIT is not a bad destination after losing Trevor Booker and Oliver Purnell.
  • Virginia (11-8, 2-3) will always be a “what might have been” story after losing Mike Scott to a season-ending foot surgery.  I was a huge doubter coming into the season, but the Cavaliers have a couple of very good wins and play almost everyone tough (this week they lost a close one at Boston College and beat Georgia Tech).  With Scott, they could definitely have finished in the top half of the conference.  Without him I think they’re looking at a trip to the NIT.
  • NC State (12-7, 2-3) should have made the tournament this year.  There is no denying they have the talent.  You can argue Tracy Smith’s poorly timed injury was the problem, but truthfully they just haven’t gotten it done.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Sidney Lowe loves the NC State program, but it’s time to part ways.  He’s just not cut out for coaching at this level.  Unless the Wolfpack put on a spectacular finish, I don’t see Lowe keeping his job.  This week they got beat badly at home by Duke and eked out a home win over Miami.

Rebuild For Next Season

  • Georgia Tech (9-9, 2-3) absolutely blitzkrieged Wake Forest in Atlanta this week.  The Yellow Jackets would have won by forty if not for a scoring drought in the final minutes.  This team really misses the inside void left by Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal, and struggles with inconsistent play out of the backcourt.  The good news is everyone important is coming back.  The bad news is that probably includes Paul Hewitt.
  • Miami (12-7, 1-4) at one point looked like a contender for second in the conference.  On paper, the Hurricanes still do.  Malcolm Grant, Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson are all great players.  Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to put it together yet.  The great news is they’re all coming back, and I can’t imagine they won’t be in the top half of the conference.  In the meantime, Johnson should really practice not fouling so he can stay on the court for longer.  Truthfully, they should be much higher than this (and probably have a good shot at the NIT), but one and four is too much to overlook right now.
  • Wake Forest (7-13, 0-5) needs to keep looking ahead.  Tony Chennault showed some positive things (beyond the box score) against Duke.  Hopefully he’ll be able to cut down on the team’s turnovers as the season progresses, and maybe run a little bit of offense.  Right now the Demon Deacons should really just shoot for winning a couple of conference games (and hope to fill some roster holes with new recruits).  The good news is there’s nowhere to go but up.

A Look Ahead

Keep an eye on the teams in the mix for the NCAAs, as Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Maryland, Boston College and Florida State all start the week on the road.  Duke also has an interesting nonconference matchup against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden on January 30 (1:00 PM, CBS).

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Set Your Tivo: 01.20.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 20th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Thursday’s slate is considerably lighter than the rest of this week in terms of good games but make sure you tune in for a couple of important conference battles. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

Virginia Tech @ Maryland – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)

Maryland has whiffed on every opportunity for a quality win and with arguably only one or two more opportunities to pick up that signature victory, it is imperative that the Terrapins take care of business against teams they should beat, starting this evening with depleted Virginia Tech.

Take Advantage of This Chance To Watch The Gifted Maryland Big Fella

It’s been a tough go of it for Seth Greenberg, his team struggling with injuries and less-than-stellar play even before everyone started going down. Virginia Tech is barely hanging on at 11-5 (2-2), but four of their next six are on the road, starting tonight.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 18th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back:

And then there were none.  The biggest conference news of the week was Duke losing at Florida State (as called by yours truly in last week’s Look Ahead).  All the speculation to whether Duke could finish ACC play (and the regular season) undefeated was squashed thanks to a fantastic effort from the Seminoles.  They popped Duke right in the mouth from the get-go, playing physical defense that negated any potential presence inside and forced the Blue Devils to take low percentage contested jumpers.  I would say this is the formula to beat Duke, but I’m not sure how many teams in the country are super-tall, super-athletic and defensive-minded.  The Seminoles were helped by a career effort from Derwin Kitchen (or a runner-up career effort: he had 29 in a game against Maryland last season) who led the way with 22 points on nine of 13 shooting with ten rebounds to boot.  His contributions went beyond the box score, as Kitchen took over the game when Chris Singleton was forced to leave with four fouls.  The question about Florida State this season has always been “can they score?” and they answered with a resounding yes.  Singleton also deserves much of the credit: he played lock-down defense on Kyle Singler the entire first half and seemed to come up with a basket whenever the Seminoles needed one.  Hats off to the Seminoles, who looked absolutely abysmal the past couple of weeks.  It looks like the ACC may finally have a runner-up candidate.

Film Session:

Unfortunately, the ACC Vault does have limits.  This isn’t the first time Florida State has knocked off #1 Duke in Tallahassee.  It’s the third.  Duke fans will have to forgive me for rubbing salt in the wound, but the Blue Devils won’t be short of any praise this season.  Unfortunately, the Vault doesn’t carry either of the past two big time upsets out of the panhandle, but YouTube provides a decent recount.

  • 2002: Duke had a 22-game winning streak.  They had Carlos Boozer, Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy.  Florida State somehow forces Williams to go 0-6 from the free throw line (including two that would have put Duke up three in the final 20 seconds).  Monte Cummings then took the ball straight at Williams (I’ll let you debate whether it was a charge or a flop; I think it was a fine no-call) and over Mike Dunleavy to put the Seminoles up one.
  • 2006: Duke was led by JJ Redick and Shelden Williams.  Duke entered the game 27-1, and even with 50 points from Redick and Williams, the Blue Devils couldn’t withstand the dominant game from Al Thornton who finished with 26 (including a ludicrous 15-16 from the line).  You might remember this as the game with the “controversy” about rushing the court.  Coach Mike Krzyzewski expressed his concern that his players would get injured (largely because I think in the 2002 game Dunleavy and Williams almost got trampled as you can see they’re lying on the ground when the students come sprinting onto the court).  Rushing the court is still a huge part of college basketball upsets, but I’d stress not running over 6’4 elite athletes for your safety as well as theirs.

Bizarro Team of the WeekNorth Carolina wins the award after playing four of the ugliest halves of basketball lucky enough to be televised this season.  To be fair the Tar Heels beat Virginia Tech, but it wasn’t pretty.  As Jay Bilas put it during the broadcast: “this is the kind of game you put the film in a time capsule and lose the map.”  Little did anyone know that the Heels would come out with an even worse performance at Georgia Tech Sunday.  UNC’s starters went a smooth 9-33 from the field, while Iman Shumpert finished with 13 field goals himself.  The team did no better, finishing a nauseating 16 of 58 from the floor (good for 27.6%) in a drubbing at the hands of a mediocre Yellow Jacket team.  In addition to shooting woes, North Carolina turned the ball over 18 times.  The silver lining was John Henson went five of eight from the free throw line, his second best performance on the season (well above his season average of 36.8%).  But really Roy Williams summed it up in the post game presser (I suggest reading everything): “No. We just didn’t come in frickin’ ready to play. Overconfident? How the crap … I’m mad at the world. We stunk. My coaching stunk and we stunk. I’m tired of saying we’ve got to build confidence. It’s easy to build confidence, by God, play better, then you will get some confidence. We’re not overconfident, we just weren’t as intense as we needed to be to start the basketball game.”  Sounds like echoes from last year, which isn’t good for Carolina fans.

Team of the Week: Florida State. In addition to the huge upset over Duke, the Seminoles handily took care of NC State 84-71.  If not for the inexcusable loss at Auburn a couple weeks ago, I think the Seminoles would’ve earned a spot in the top 25.  That game just shows how inconsistent this team is from night to night.  Hopefully Leonard Hamilton has everything together now.  It would be nice to see the ACC with at least two decent seeds come March…

Player of the Week: A tie between Derwin Kitchen and Iman Shumpert, who both led their teams to home wins over Tobacco Road this week.  Both are very talented yet inconsistent upperclassmen who need to do well for their respective teams to succeed.

Power Rankings:

  1. Duke (16-1, 3-1) remains atop the power rankings despite the loss at Florida State.  Duke flirted with falling in their home win against Virginia. The Blue Devils trailed by seven at the half and looked totally out of sync.  This team is a long way from being dominant without Kyrie Irving.  Until they find a facilitator, that’s how it will stay.  I still think they’re the best team (by a long shot) in the ACC, but whether they’re a true championship contender is still up in the air.  For now, Blue Devil fans (and the Plumlees) should hope for either rapid development of Tyler Thornton or Irving’s toe, so Nolan Smith can go back to his natural two guard position.
  2. Florida State (13-5, 3-1) skyrockets after a great week.  Now if they can only show some consistency.
  3. Maryland (11-6, 1-2) still can’t close.  They had Villanova on the ropes with a lead in the second half, but a few missed shots and turnovers later and the Wildcats were back on top for good.  Jordan Williams is still a year away from being a shut the game down type of player (and he may never be one if his free throw shooting doesn’t improve).  Someone in the Terrapin backcourt needs to step up soon, or the team will find itself looking at a nasty ticket to the NIT.  The good news is that Jordan Williams hit some pretty nice 15-footers, which would make him truly impossible to guard.  Right now, he’s playing like the best big man (and probably the best player in the conference).  Now if Gary Williams can just find a suitable sidekick (my personal guess is Terrell Stoglin).
  4. Clemson (14-4, 2-1) dominated Georgia Tech at home 87-62.  Jerai Grant led the way with a career-high 20 points and eight rebounds.  Grant is one of the most overlooked players in the conference, largely because he plays at Clemson.  He’ll be the key if Clemson wants to stay out of the conference cellar this season (well, not the cellar because Wake Forest has it booked for the season, but you know what I mean).
  5. Boston College (13-5, 3-1) got a good win against NC State before losing a heartbreaker to Miami on the road.  This team is better than I expected, but that’s not a very high bar.  Reggie Jackson is quietly averaging nearly 20 points a game, but they’re racking up some losses that look bad on an at-large resume (Yale, Harvard and Miami to name three).
  6. Miami (12-5, 1-2) edged Boston College out at home.  This team feels on the brink of being decent, but they just can’t quite make the leap.  Frank Haith certainly has the personnel to field a strong team, but something seems to be missing.  This week they’ll get a shot at Florida State at home and NC State on the road for two solid wins.
  7. Virginia (10-7, 1-2) almost shocked the world by almost beating Duke in Durham.  Unfortunately the Cavaliers couldn’t sustain the defensive effort after holding Duke to only 25 points at the half.  Duke went on to put up 51 in the second half.  Losing Mike Scott really took an entire dimension out of this team, but they’ve made the best of it so far (even if they’ve come up just short).
  8. Georgia Tech (8-8, 1-2) got pummeled at Clemson before handing out a beating of their own against Carolina.  It’s pretty simple: when Iman Shumpert and Glen Rice Jr. are playing to their abilities Georgia Tech is a tough team to beat.  When they aren’t, the Yellow Jackets are subpar.  I’m not sure Shumpert is capable of going off for 30 any given night, so I feel pretty safe in saying that the Yellow Jackets are still looking at the bottom fourth of the ACC come the end of the year.
  9. Virginia Tech (11-5, 2-2) barely lost at Carolina after just dominating Wake Forest 94-65 at home.  The Wake result says far more about the Demon Deacons than it does Seth Greenberg’s squad.  They’re going to need to win close games like the one at Carolina if they want to finally have a happy Selection Sunday.  Right now they still rely far too much on Malcolm Delaney (though playing him off the ball has helped tremendously), and they’re just too shallow to perform night in and night out.  Injuries have really lowered the potential for this team.
  10. North Carolina (12-5, 2-1) fell apart this week.  See above.  This team is looking more and more similar to last year’s NIT squad.  Too soft; not enough effort; dumb turnovers; no leadership.  They show flashes of brilliance accompanied by halves of ineptitude.  It’s slowly killing Williams, who was just beginning to sound like he enjoyed coaching again until this week.  At this point (though it has always been my stance), it’s time to hand Kendall Marshall the reins.  If he loses a few along the way, so be it.  He’s the future of this program.
  11. NC State (11-6, 1-2) lost a couple of road games this week.  I think it’s safe to say the Wolfpack are a major disappointment.  Tracy Smith is still the man, but they have a similar point guard crisis to Carolina.  Sidney Lowe still insists on playing Javier Gonzalez despite Ryan Harrow’s talent.  I know Harrow is small and a little bit of a defensive liability.  But let’s face it: State’s defense isn’t that good with or without Gonzalez.  Lowe needs to make some major changes and get this program moving back in the right direction.
  12. Wake Forest (7-11, 0-3) had a rough week, losing to Maryland by 19 at home and 29 to Virginia Tech on the road.  Yikes.  Not much positive to say here.

A Look Ahead:

The ACC prognosis is very weak.  Unfortunately only Duke and Florida State (when they come to play) stand out as even consistently “good” teams.  That means spreading the conference losses around a lot (as seen by the fact that no team has played five games and no team is unbeaten).  This is going to make getting at-large bids really difficult.  Maryland is definitely good enough to deserve a ticket, but they still don’t have any marquee wins (unless they can beat Duke).  UNC has a pretty strong resume, but it won’t matter if they keep getting blown out by the likes of Georgia Tech.

This week’s important games:

  • Tuesday Tiger History (8:00 PM, ACC Network): Can Clemson get that elusive win in Chapel Hill on the 55th try?  No joke, as founding members of the ACC Clemson has never won a game in Chapel Hill.  This looks like the perfect time to give it a run, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
  • Thursday: Virginia Tech at Maryland (9:00 PM, ESPN2)
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ATB: Ow, My Eyes!

Posted by jstevrtc on January 14th, 2011

The Lede. Thursday night was angry because it had to follow Wednesday night’s ridiculous bounty of hoops and the Florida State upset of Duke. Still, there were some compelling storylines to follow on tonight’s slate, including a streak on the line at Minnesota, some serious glare coming off the Jackson Pollock painting that is Oregon’s new floor, and whether or not Seth Greenberg and Virginia Tech would have enough players to finish their game at North Carolina.

Your Watercooler Moment. For those in the East who stayed up long enough to see it, here’s a look at what people saw on the broadcast of the debut of Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena:

The glare you see is not a product of taking a picture of a television with a camera. In reality, it looked even worse than this. The central part (the “non-tree” portion) of the floor is comprised of very light-colored wood, and as you can see, the light from the long strip of lights along the ceiling bounces right off of that wood, through the camera, and onto your screaming retinas. In high-def it was atrocious, and if the game was shown on HDTVs in sports bars around the country, it could aptly be described as a civic danger. During the game, everybody from Sports Illustrated writers to ESPN personalities were commenting on it through Twitter; one friend even said he had to wear sunglasses while watching the game. The hot shots who came up with the design for this court should be able to figure out some lighting scheme that will provide sufficient illumination for basketball while also letting home viewers enjoy the floor in all its, er…glory. Let’s hope so.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.13.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 13th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Last night’s games didn’t disappoint as #1 Duke went down and a host of other competitive games made Wednesday a night to savor. The schedule is lighter tonight but a few important conference matchups are on tap. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#8 Purdue @ #21 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

Purdue Obviously Misses Hummel, But Johnson and the Boilermakers Have Proven They Can Hang Without Him

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 22nd, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

A Look Back

  • No news on Kyrie Irving or his toe, but Sidney Lowe did pipe in on Tracy Smith’s injury: per Brett Friedlander of Star News Online, Lowe said, “It’s a tough deal… It’s very frustrating, but I think it’s frustrating for Tracy as well.  This was a big year for him, a big year for us.”  Now, I don’t want to read too much into a coach’s postgame interviews following a tough loss to Arizona (who had their way with the Wolfpack inside), but it sounds like Lowe is starting to feel some hot seat pressure.  He continued: “I just think it’s one of those things where Tracy is going to have to decide he can play with a little bit of pain. That’s up to him… Certainly we don’t want him out there limping and everything. I think his biggest thing is getting over the fear of the injury itself…Structurally, everything is okay, but it’s his first real injury, so we have to be patient with him. The doctors say he’s okay, but they can’t feel his pain. So we have to go with what Tracy is saying.”  While I can feel his pain, Lowe really should stand by his players (read: not make it sound like he thinks they’re soft or faking injuries).  His job might be on the line, but Tracy Smith could have declared for the draft last year and never given Lowe the opportunity to complain about his injury.
  • Mike Scott of Virginia, Demontez Stitt of Clemson and Tony Chennault of Wake Forest are all out with injuries.  Scott underwent ankle surgery and his return time is still to be determined; Stitt required arthroscopic knee surgery and should be back before the end of the month; and Chennault is out for another month or so while his foot heals.
  • In other news, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski tied Dean Smith at second on the all-time win list with 879 after Duke soundly beat Elon in Durham Monday.  This is obviously a testament to the job that Coach K has done over his career at Duke, and there are sure to be plenty more wins for the Blue Devils as the season progresses.
  • Team of the Week: Virginia Tech sneaks past Georgia Tech for the award this week.  This is partially because I’ve ripped Virginia Tech the past couple weeks for being totally out to lunch.  But the Hokies got a very impressive (and much needed) win over Mississippi State on a neutral court.  Mississippi State was supposed to be the pride of the SEC West, but has come out with a slow start.  That said, a dominating win is a dominating win, and the Hokies won 88-57 with five players scoring in double figures.  Seth Greenberg should take note: his team is a whole lot better when Jeff Allen, Erick Green, Dorenzo Hudson and Manny Atkins produce on offense.  Malcolm Delaney only took 11 shots.  So when Virginia Tech starts back with losing ways because Delaney is the only one with any interest in trying to score, don’t be surprised.  However, if this team has finally figured out that they have the talent to win real games and they just need to utilize it, look out.  There’s a reason (albeit a somewhat misguided one) that this team had so much hype in the preseason, and they finally lived up to it.
  • Bizarro Team of the Week: Wake Forest – It was actually a fairly good week for the ACC overall.  But Wake Forest continued their epic struggles.  I really do hate choosing them week in and week out, but the only other losses in the conference came against good schools (Central Florida, Arizona and Texas).  Meanwhile Wake, almost lost to UNCG (yes, the 0-9 school out of the Southern Conference that hadn’t lost within double figures of an opponent all season).  Wake followed one almost loss with an actual loss at Xavier, which is much more excusable as the Musketeers are probably a Tournament-bound team.  Wake has to find some answers and find them fast.  Two of their next four games (Richmond and Gonzaga) are going to be very tough.  Wake legitimately has a strong case to be one of the top five worst major conference schools (along with Auburn, Oregon State, DePaul and South Florida).  Tony Chennault may hold the key for Wake to establish some decent guard play, but that remains to be seen.

(ed. note – following the submission of this week’s check-in, Wake dropped a game to a team known as the Presbyterian Blue Hose to continue its nightmare campaign)

A History Lesson: In case you hadn’t heard, the ACC and Raycom Sports teamed up to produce the ACC Vault.  We covered the Vault on its official opening last week, and I highly suggest you spend some time perusing the website.  It’s very easy to use (whether you want to find a specific play or a game).  I’ll be promoting one game a week with a few of my thoughts.  This week, I’m going to stick with the 1997 ACC Championship between North Carolina and North Carolina State.  You can see most of my thoughts on the game in the article on the site’s release, but the game has some historical significance.  It was Dean Smith’s last ACC game, and one of Herb Sendek’s first.  The Tar Heels brought star power with Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and Shammond Williams, while N.C. State countered with a more deliberate offense that led to far more open looks than one might have expected in such a David vs. Goliath game.  Please feel free to comment if you have any suggestions for great games too!

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (11-0) beat Elon handily in their one game of the week.  Offense still lacks a real flow without Irving, and Coach K might need to investigate switching Nolan Smith back to the two guard.  Seth Curry would take some time but has a point guard build, or he could try running the offense through Kyle Singler.  Not sure either is ideal, but it’s definitely worth trying a couple things out before getting too deep into conference play.
  2. Florida State (9-2, 1-0) beat Stetson and Loyola Marymount this week to continue their winning ways.  They have games at Hawaii and Auburn (go ahead and chalk that one up) before heading to Virginia Tech to continue conference play.
  3. Boston College (9-2, 1-0) beat Bryant 93-77 in their lone game of the week.  Should be interesting to see how this team holds up in conference play.
  4. North Carolina (8-4) gets a boost in the ratings for playing a talented Texas team very close.  After watching the game, I literally have no idea why Roy Williams continues to play Larry Drew II at point instead of Kendall Marshall.  Marshall played much better than Drew II, but still only saw significant playing time when Drew II was sidelined with foul trouble (it’s no coincidence that the Tar Heels lost the lead when Marshall went out).
  5. Georgia Tech (6-4) got a much needed win over Richmond this week.  The Yellow Jackets still look like they’re very much on the wrong side of the bubble, but beating a team that looks like a contender in the A-10 is a quality victory.  Now a win this week against Siena would give Paul Hewitt another good win against decent mid-major competition.
  6. Virginia (8-3, 1-0) soundly beat Oregon and eked out a win over Norfolk State without the aid of Mike Scott who is averaging team best 16.3 points and 10.4 rebounds a game.  For the Cavaliers to be relevant, they desperately need Scott’s production.
  7. Virginia Tech (6-4, 0-1) took care of business in the Bahamas this week.  Now they need to sustain this level of play.
  8. Miami (8-3) lost a tough game against Central Florida this week.  The Hurricanes struggled with foul trouble inside with Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble fouling out in 16 and 25 minutes, respectively.  Central Florida is undefeated so far, but the Hurricane defense was vulnerable with Johnson and Gamble playing very limited minutes.  Keep an eye on their foul trouble in ACC play.
  9. Maryland (7-4, 0-1) didn’t play this week, but they have three cupcakes before continuing conference play at Duke.  The Terrapins really need Sean Mosley to step up and give them a more consistent second option beyond Jordan Williams.  They are still a leaderless team right now, so winning close games (or games on the road) will be pretty difficult.
  10. N.C. State (7-4) missed out on a huge chance to add a resume victory over Arizona this week, and Tracy Smith’s absence in the paint was evident.  The Wolfpack and Sidney Lowe really need Smith’s production and ability to open up the floor for jump shooters.
  11. Clemson (7-4, 0-1) won two creampuff games this week with Demontez Stitt in recovery. Jerai Grant had two excellent games off the bench.
  12. Wake Forest (6-6) continues to struggle.  Here’s to hoping that Tony Chennault has the answers.

A Look Ahead

Finals are over!  That’s good news for everyone–especially college basketball fans.  We still have a couple more uninteresting weeks before conference play really begins.  Probably the best chance for good games comes from Florida State, who will probably take on Butler (or Utah) and then most likely Baylor or Washington State in the Diamond Head Classic, a tournament that should give the Seminoles an opportunity to build their at-large resume.  All three match-ups are very intriguing because each team has shown significant defensive strength so far this season.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2010

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

A Look Back

The biggest news this week (in the country) was Kyrie Irving’s injury.  Here’s what we know: it’s a “complicated” ligament injury that will have him out for an undetermined period of time.  Initial estimates pointed to him coming back in three to four weeks, but Mike Krzyzewski noted that he could be out all season.  I’d be surprised if Irving sat the whole season, but obviously I don’t know exactly what the injury is.  What I do know is Duke has one of the best medical staffs in the country.  Rather than speculate on the nature or duration of the injury, I’ll try and address the effect of the injury on Duke.

Kyrie Irving was Duke’s best player (so far) this season.  If you watched the close games, he totally took over for long stretches.  While he struggled a little making decisions in the halfcourt offense, Irving was phenomenal in transition.  Without Irving, Nolan Smith will be expected to step into the point guard role (a place he struggled last season).  His production will definitely take a hit, and Duke will not be as effective out in transition.  Audacity of Hoops had a very interesting statistical view of Irving’s plus-minus (expounded out to forty minutes) on the floor versus on the bench.  The sample size is small, but the point is clear: Duke is a very good team even without Irving.  Are they number one?  Probably not.  Only time will tell.  Coach K is one of the best “adapters” in the land.  For example: in 2001, he navigated Duke around Carlos Boozer’s broken foot, and Boozer came back just in time for the Big Dance (where they then won the national championship).  Regardless, Irving’s injury is huge, so I’ll keep you posted on any updates (which should be coming in the next week or two).

Team of the Week: Boston College – With a solid road win over Maryland and topping a streaking Providence, BC takes the honors this week.  The Terrapins led late in the game but couldn’t score for the last two and a half minutes.  Maryland did not score a single point down the stretch.  None.  Still, Steve Donahue and his players deserve the credit.  They took advantage of Maryland’s lack of a leader when it counted.  The Eagles have a solid team that has the talent to finish second in the ACC.  Do I think they will?  Probably not.  But Donahue is a good coach, and the players look like they have bought into his system.  The Eagles have won their last five games (losing to Wisconsin on a neutral court), and they have a very winnable nonconference schedule extending into January.

Bizarro Team of the Week – Wake Forest: I’d like to give this to Maryland for coughing up the game to Boston College.  Unfortunately, Wake Forest took note of the Maryland effort and outdid them by losing to UNC Wilmington –by 12.  Really?  UNCW.  Ken Pomeroy ranks UNCW as a solid 234th in the nation.  Defensively, they’re even worse (304th out of 345 teams).  But Wake couldn’t manage to score 70.  I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but Wake is terrible.  They’ve dug a cellar under the ACC and are camping out.  I would not be surprised if they didn’t win one game in conference play (they certainly won’t be favored in any of them).  I really hope Jeff Bzdelik gets things turned around soon (I have faith he will once he gets some of his recruits into the system).  Wake lost a lot of talent, but they’re still much more talented than UNC Wilmington, Winthrop or Stetson.  Those losses are unacceptable.

Player of the Week: Jordan Williams, Maryland – Williams is the obvious choice, but I hate giving this honor to someone who couldn’t get up a bucket in the last two minutes of a close game.  But in truth it wasn’t his fault (at least directly).  As a big man, he requires someone to get him the ball.  Long story short: that didn’t happen.  Still, I’d like to see him get a little more aggressive down the stretch.  But you can’t argue with his numbers: 23 points and 13 rebounds in 26 minutes against UNC Greensboro and 27 points and 13 rebounds against Boston College.

Power Rankings

  1. Duke (10-0): Duke didn’t have any trouble with Bradley or Saint Louis this week.  Andre Dawkins looked especially good, scoring a career high 28 points against Bradley in Irving’s absence.  All that talk about the effects of Irving’s injury applies more to Duke’s national hopes than their conference aspirations.  Without Irving, Duke is still the class of the ACC.  They’ll be much more susceptible to a couple of losses, but they still have a lot of offensive weapons.
  2. Miami (FL) (7-2): Miami took care of Stetson this week.  Not a whole lot more to say.  But I encourage you to check out Miami’s game against Central Florida, the only unbeaten squad left in the Sunshine State.  The game is on Fox Sports at 1:00 PM EST Saturday.
  3. North Carolina (7-3): The Tar Heels beat Evansville decisively but weren’t ever able to put Long Beach State away.  The game never felt like Long Beach State was going to win, but Roy Williams probably wanted more separation.  However, two major pieces of good news for Tar Heels fans came out of the game: Harrison Barnes had his first double-double (19 points and ten rebounds), and Larry Drew II hit six of seven from the field to finish with 13 points and eight assists.  That’s the kind of production most expected Barnes to showcase from the start, and the Heels will be thrilled if he can keep his numbers at those levels.  As for Drew, that’s the first competent offensive performance he’s had this season (and more critical fans might suggest in his entire career).  Chapel Hill point guards aren’t known for scoring in bunches, a product of Williams’ system, but a starting point guard needs to be able to hit shots.  He had some particularly important shots late in the second half when Long Beach State was trying to mount a comeback.
  4. Boston College (8-2, 1-0): See “Team of the Week.”
  5. Florida State (7-2, 1-0): Florida State continued their painful offense, but they did get strong contributions from Deividas Dulkys (17 points), Derwin Kitchen, Bernard James and Okaro White (nine points each).  The Seminoles need to find a way to repeat that production night in and night out rather than relying on Chris Singleton for everything.  If they can score 75 every time out, they will win the majority of their games.
  6. Virginia (6-3, 1-0): Mike Scott is a player.  So far, he’s averaging 16.3 points and 10.4 rebounds per game.  He had an off night against Radford, but finished with ten points and 13 boards.  He’ll be crucial if Virginia wants to keep from sliding back down into the second half of the ACC (where everyone picked them in the preseason).  A lot of credit goes to Tony Bennett for getting this team ready to play and picking up a couple great wins already.
  7. Maryland (7-3, 0-1): This team can’t win close games unless someone steps up.  Sean Mosley is having an awful year (his numbers are down significantly from his sophomore season).  If I had to guess, I’d say his decreased production comes from more pressure in Greivis Vasquez’s absence.  His offensive efficiency rating has dipped from 116.6 last season to an ugly 89.0.  I think Terrell Stoglin may need to be the one to step up down the stretch.  It’s tough being a freshman leader, but someone has to do it (or at least get Jordan Williams the ball).  Otherwise, this team is going to lose a lot of close games.
  8. N.C. State (5-3): Not much to report here apart from a win over South Carolina Upstate.  Although the close loss to Syracuse is looking better after the Orange totally dismantled Michigan State this week.  Once Tracy Smith is healthy, this team could still make a run for second.  Keyword: could.  I’m totally disenchanted with Sidney Lowe’s coaching, so I don’t expect it to happen, but they should at least get to the middle of the pack.
  9. Virginia Tech (5-4, 0-1): Life is tough for Virginia Tech basketball fans.  They get built up and let down season after season.  This week’s win at home against Penn State was nice, but it’s not going to help the at-large resume a lot (Maryland beat the Nittany Lions on the road by a much more convincing margin).  The good news for Hokie fans is that Malcolm Delaney didn’t have to beat Penn State solo: three other Hokie players scored in double figures (Jeff Allen had a double-double, while Terrell Bell and Erick Green added some help).  Seth Greenberg is going to have to find a way to get that sort of production against better teams too.
  10. Georgia Tech (5-4): Georgia Tech blew a lead to in-state rival Georgia to lose a heartbreaker.  The Yellow Jackets bounced back with a win over Savannah State, who is admittedly very bad (1-10 to be exact).  This week, Paul Hewitt can add a real resume booster with a win against A-10 contender Richmond.
  11. Clemson (5-4, 0-1): Brad Brownell got off to a quick start, but they’ve dropped their last three games–most recently choking away a lead at Florida State.  Demontez Stitt is having knee troubles, but luckily for the Tigers, they have two very winnable games ahead of them in Savannah State and UNC Greensboro which they should be able to handle even if they’re without their leading scorer.
  12. Wake Forest (5-4, 0-1): Ugh.  See “Bizarro Team of the Week.”

A Look Ahead

It’s exam time, ladies and gentlemen!  That means the good games are few and far between.  There are a couple of gems coming up.  Saturday is definitely the best day:

  • Central Florida vs. Miami (1:00 PM, FSN)
  • Texas @ North Carolina (4:00 PM, CBS)
  • Georgia Tech vs. Richmond (5:00 PM)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State (8:00 PM)
  • Wake Forest @ Xavier ** (8:00 PM, CBSCS)
  • Arizona @ N.C. State (4:30 PM, FSN) on Sunday is also one to keep an eye on because Arizona’s Derrick Williams is a beast in the paint.

**OK, so that probably won’t be a great game unless Wake makes some major adjustments.

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It’s a Love/Hate Relationship: Volume II

Posted by jbaumgartner on December 13th, 2010

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor.  In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball.

The Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…..a good comeback story, in this case Notre Dame’s Carleton Scott. Here’s a guy who didn’t play much his first three years and had an issue of some sort last season that caused him to leave the team for a bit. Well he got his chance this year, and the bouncy 6’8 forward has showed big-time versatility while putting up solid numbers in Irish wins against Georgia, Cal and then Saturday against Gonzaga (a career-high 23 points). It’s nice to see someone with obvious talent taking his final chance, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on an NBA roster somewhere next season.

Carleton Scott Deserves a Strong Senior Year

I LOVED…..teams who know how to schedule tough. I’m looking at you, Tom Izzo, and you, too, Bruce Pearl. Game after game you send your guys into hostile environments. This week it was Syracuse in New York for the Spartans, and Pitt in Pittsburgh for the Vols. Yes, MSU has struggled thus far, but these tough games are exactly why that team always wins the close ones in March and makes it to the later rounds. Repeat after me: SOFT SCHEDULERS OF THE WORLD UNITE AND CONFORM, you have nothing to lose but your inflated records, media detractors and early tournament exits.

I LOVED…..the creation of the Champions Classic. Much like ESPN’s little 24-hour marathon to start the year, matching up four elite programs gets fans amped up earlier in the season. No complaints here.

I LOVED…..Illinois using the women’s basketball. Loved might not be a strong enough word. It was hilarious, golden, priceless, whatever adjective you want. If you’re like me, your reaction was something to the tune of: no way…..how…..for seven minutes???…..drop on the floor in laughter. In this day and age of increased replays and greater official oversight in sports, it’s nice to know the zebras can still give us an unthinkable gem like that one. And if you’re  Oakland coach Greg Kampe, you’ve gotta wonder what it says about your team that you were significantly more effective with the women’s ball.

I LOVED…..the disparity between some of the nation’s top freshmen. You have the Jared Sullingers who come out and produce from the first game (props for the 40-spot against IUPUI), but then you have the country’s #1 recruit, Harrison Barnes, struggling to have a big impact. It just shows again that at least one year in college can be an extremely valuable tool for this young talent.

Five Things I Hated This Week

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The Week That Was: December 4-10

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC Contributor

Introduction

As far as TWTW is concerned, December is one of the worst months of the sports calendar, just edging out July when all there is to watch is baseball and a couple of golf tournaments. In December, you have the end of the NFL regular season and the potential of teams tanking for draft picks or teams resting players for the playoffs. You have about a 30-day break until college football becomes interesting again. And a lot of the time you have uninteresting college basketball matchups. December’s the time of the year that coaches schedule easier opponents to make sure everything is in order before conference play begins.

Yet this week, there’s plenty to talk about. We had the Jimmy V Classic featuring Michigan State-Syracuse and Kansas-Memphis. There was a basketball experiment at Illinois. And oh yeah, Duke just might have lost Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season.

Off we go …

What We Learned

Boeheim Has a Lot to Be Pleased About

  • Tom Izzo is not happy with his Spartans right now. Izzo had strong words for his team after MSU’s lackluster effort against Syracuse at Madison Square Garden, in which Michigan State looked soft and tentative against a physical and charged-up Orange squad and lost 72-58. Here are a few of Izzo’s money quotes from the postgame presser, courtesy of the Detroit Free Press. “I’m as disappointed in that performance as I’ve been in any since I’ve been at Michigan State. …We turned into a pretty-boy jump-shooting team instead of the blue-collar, fist-fighting team we should be. … I feel like the New York Jets.” On the bright side, Izzo at least was sensitive enough to compare his team to the Jets and not the local team — no child should ever be talked about in the same sentence as the Lions. Izzo’s concerns are justified, though. The Spartans have gone 1-3 in their four biggest tests to date with their one win being a five-point triumph over Washington in Maui. And against Syracuse, MSU got decimated in the paint as Rick Jackson exploded for 17 points and 16 rebounds. That’s not a good sign for a team that has to face Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson several times in Big Ten play.
  • If Izzo is disgusted with his team’s play, then Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim has to be ecstatic with how quickly his team has adapted to life without Wesley Johnson. For anyone who thought the Orangemen were just getting by after close calls against Georgia Tech and N.C. State, their beatdown of Michigan State confirmed their legitimacy. Syracuse is 9-0, and its vaunted 2-3 zone is as effective as ever. Opponents are only hitting 37.6% of their shots for the floor (222-515) and are shooting a paltry 28.1% (68-242) from downtown. If freshman Fab Melo (2.3 PPG, 2.3 RPG in 13.4 MPG) ever gets going, then Syracuse should compete for a Big East title.
  • Apparently Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings and Missouri’s Mike Anderson hate timeouts. They think they’re worthless exercises, and there’s no reason to talk to your team during the game — even to, say, draw up a final play of a tied game. That’s the only conclusion that could be made after watching the Tigers-Commodores rock-fight of a game Wednesday night. Both coaches left two timeouts on the board during regulation, and Anderson didn’t call a timeout once the Tigers crossed halfcourt down 72-71 with about 25 seconds left to draw up a possible game-winning play. Ricardo Ratliffe bailed out his coach when he hit one of two free throws after drawing a foul. In overtime. it was Vandy’s turn to neglect to talk things over on the sidelines. After Michael Dixon tied the game at 82 with 33 seconds left in the game, Vandy took the ball and decided to freelance a play. It didn’t work. Dixon stripped Brad Tinsley with about eight seconds to go, and his layup and free throw won the game for the Tigers. You know who didn’t win, though? Anyone who appreciates competent end-of-game coaching.
  • Is Notre Dame a fraud? Time will tell as the Irish’s uneven performance against Kentucky did not validate their inclusion into RTC’s top 25 (The Irish checks in at #23) nor did it show that they will fade from the national scene once conference season starts. When the Irish are hitting their outside shots, they can light up just about any team in the nation. ND hung 40 points on Kentucky in the first half when Ben Hansbrough buried five 3-pointers. But in the second half, the outside shots stopped falling and the offense sputtered. Without a great inside presence, the Irish are too dependent on their perimeter game and vulnerable to shooting slumps. When Kentucky amped up the pressure, ND went 6-30 from the field. Checking in with our friends at KenPom, there are reasons to think that the Irish’s early success was a mirage. Notre Dame isn’t a great defensive team. The Irish rank 81st in adjusted defensive efficiency, and the defense isn’t forcing turnovers. According to KenPom, Mike Brey’s team forces TOs on only 15.6% of opponent’s possessions — good for 341st in the nation.
  • Kansas is doing just fine without Josh Selby. Yeah, the Jayhawks just barely got past a frisky UCLA squad last Thursday, but they had no problem dismantling Memphis by 13 points at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. Eight Jayhawks scored at least six points in the win, four scored at least ten and no one finished with more than 16. That’s balance, the kind of balance that makes you believe Kansas’s 57.1% night shooting wasn’t a fluke, in fact the Jayhawks are the #1 team in the nation in effective field goal percentage (62.7%) according to KenPom. The only area in which Kansas failed to impress Tuesday is turnovers. The Jayhawks committed 22 turnovers against Memphis, but we think that problem will fix itself with the addition of another capable ball handler in Selby.

Pour This Man A Gin

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Set Your Tivo: 12.10-12.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 10th, 2010

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Friday’s schedule is barren but Saturday has a bunch of terrific matchups. Two ACC conference games highlight a soft Sunday to close out the weekend. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#13 UNLV @ Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPNU (****)

Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are a surprising 7-0 but when you really look at their schedule you realize they haven’t played top teams. Louisville’s best win is over Butler, a team clearly not even near the level it was last year. Including Butler, Louisville’s opponents have an aggregate record of just 25-31. That changes on Saturday when 9-0 UNLV heads to the KFC Yum! Center. The Rebels have already played five games away from home so they’ll be ready for a tough environment. UNLV is a strong team on both sides of the ball but they’ve really piled up the numbers on offense. They’re in the top ten in effective field goal percentage behind Chace Stanback and his 59% shooting. Stanback is a 6’8 wing/forward type player who can cause a lot of problems for the opponent matching up with him. His game extends to the three point arc as well, hitting 41% of his treys this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Pitino puts Rakeem Buckles (10/9) or Terrence Jennings (56% FG) on Stanback. Buckles is the better rebounder so Louisville may not want him drifting away from the basket trying to defend UNLV’s leading scorer. Buckles has made significant strides in his sophomore season, a theme seen throughout Louisville’s starting lineup. Pitino’s top five scorers have increased their scoring by a total of 31 PPG, making up for a lot of what they lost from last year’s team. We recall Pitino saying he’d have a bunch of guys averaging 8-15 PPG and that’s exactly what he has so far. Louisville is a strong defensive club, rated eighth in defensive efficiency. UNLV gets a lot of points from two point range (#5 in two point %) so Louisville will have to live up to their defensive billing in order to win. The Cardinals rank in the top ten in three point defense and effective field goal percentage against so UNLV point guard Oscar Bellfield (53% from three) has to have a good game controlling the ball and getting quality shots for himself and his teammates. Louisville will look to use their pressure defense to push the pace and create turnovers. Pitino said he’s been using a 24-second shot clock in practice so expect Louisville to really get up and down the floor looking for extra possessions. The Cardinals like to shoot a lot of three’s but they aren’t very good at it (32%). Mike Marra should hoist the most, averaging nine three point attempts per game while converting just 30% of the time. With Tre’Von Willis back in the fold, Lon Kruger can go nine-deep if he so chooses. Fresh legs will be needed against Louisville and could play a role late in the second half. UNLV should look to get to the free throw line to stop the flow of the game and take advantage of a Louisville team rated just #252 in opponents’ free throw attempts per field goal attempts. The Cardinals should have an edge on the boards (42 RPG) as UNLV struggles to keep opponents off the offensive glass. This is going to be a really good game, one that may come down to the very end. Louisville will probably be favored to win at home but we wouldn’t be surprised to see the Runnin’ Rebels pick up a key road victory, either.

Wisconsin @ Marquette – 2:30 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

This annual rivalry is one of the most underrated in the country. Wisconsin holds a 63-53 edge but there’s an added twist this season. Marquette freshman Vander Blue originally committed to Wisconsin before signing with Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles giving Marquette a valuable piece for the future. Each team has a star player going at it in this one, Marquette’s Jimmy Butler and Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer. They’re similar, but Leuer is taller and has a better three point game. The UW big man shoots 48% from deep and is the key man in Bo Ryan’s deliberate offensive system. With Marquette giving up 39% shooting from three on average, expect Leuer and his Badger teammates to have a big game from long range. Wisconsin’s tempo is one of the slowest in the country but they run their offense well and take terrific care of the basketball with Jordan Taylor running the show at the point guard position. Taylor has a stunning 3.92 assist to turnover ratio and teams with Leuer to provide Wisconsin with just under half of their points. Taylor is also a strong defender who will look to disrupt Marquette’s offensive flow. With Dwight Buycks questionable for this game (he did not play Tuesday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi), Buzz Williams will turn to the inexperienced Junior Cadougan who missed most of last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Wisconsin is solid just about everywhere but they’re vulnerable on the three point line. Unfortunately for Marquette, they shoot just 31% as a team from three and that’s where Darius Johnson-Odom comes in. When hot, the dynamic junior can be one of the best shooters you’ll see. He broke out against Milwaukee on November 27 (29 points, 5-7 from three) but struggled in the two games since. For the year DJO is shooting just 29% from three, down almost 20% from last season’s 47% mark. He can get it going at any time though and that’s what makes this game unpredictable. If Johnson-Odom is on, Marquette has an even better chance to pick up a home win over their rival. Tuesday night’s Marquette game saw Vander Blue break out, scoring 21 points on 9-13 shooting. However it also included the loss of Joseph Fulce, an important glue guy for Marquette. The 6’7 Fulce went down with what appeared to be a serious knee injury, the same knee that had been giving him problems before. How Marquette responds to the loss of one of their emotional leaders will be important in this game. Don’t expect Wisconsin to get to the foul line much at all so they’ll have to make up for that disadvantage with strong defense and efficient offensive sets. Marquette is third in the country in keeping opponents off the line while Wisconsin is near the bottom of D1 in getting there. The Badgers are a very good rebounding team and they should hold an edge there against smaller Marquette. Though inexperienced, Cadougan is a talented player who’s capable of replacing Buycks at the point if necessary. Look for Marquette to use Butler and fellow forward Jae Crowder inside the arc, trying to penetrate the stout Wisconsin defense. Rivalry games are usually close and this one figures to be no exception. There are a lot of unknowns on the Marquette side in this game but it would be a very big resume-building win if they can get it in front of the home folks at the Bradley Center.

SEC/Big East Invitational: #11 Tennessee @ #3 Pittsburgh (CONSOL Energy Center) – 3:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (*****)

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