ACC Burning Questions, Part 3: Clemson, Miami & NC State

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) looks at the middle of the conference, with Clemson, Miami and NC State

Clemson Burning Question: After last year’s surprisingly successful season, can the Tigers repeat that performance?

Clemson returns one the nation’s top backcourts with seniors Shelton Mitchell and Marcquise Reed. (TheClemsonInsider.com)

Last season was a breakout year for Brad Brownell’s program in many ways: a school-record 25 wins; a program-most 11 ACC victories; a top 20 finish in the AP poll; and, a trip to the Sweet Sixteen that included a resounding victory over fellow power conference upstart Auburn. With a veteran squad returning this season, Clemson is poised to build upon that success and perhaps even improve it. Last year the Tigers were consistently solid on both ends of the floor, using a three-guard lineup to shred opponents from the perimeter combined with a stifling defense (KenPom’s seventh-best nationally). Another key for the Tigers’ unprecedented success was that they finally learned how to win close games in league play. After a gut wrenching 2-9 performance in contests decided by fewer than seven points two years ago, the Tigers went 4-3 in such games last season.

Leading the charge this year will be one of the nation’s top backcourts, featuring two fifth-year seniors — Marcquise Reed (Second Team All-ACC, 15.8 PPG) and Shelton Mitchell (12.2 PPG, 3.6 APG). Also returning for his final campaign is Elijah Thomas (10.7 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 2.3 BPG), one of the best two-way big men in the league. We agree with fellow RTC-ACC writer Mick McDonald, who lists the Tigers’ 6’7″ sophomore Aamir Simms among his top breakout candidates in the ACC this year. A key for Brownell will be replacing the production of departed guard Gabe DeVoe — a dangerous three-point bomber, DeVoe helped spread the court, allowing Reed and Mitchell excellent driving angles. But even if Clemson’s offense slips a bit, its defense should be good enough to keep the Tigers in the upper half of the ACC with another trip to the Big Dance.

Miami Burning Question: Will the Hurricanes’ guard play be good enough?

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ACC Non-Conference Games: Ten Worth Watching

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 23rd, 2018

Even in the face of fervent anticipation, the start of the college hoops season has a way of sneaking up on us. Now only two weeks away and with the brutal gauntlet of a full conference slate coming seven weeks after that, it feels like a good time to preview the 10 most compelling non-conference match-ups that ACC members will encounter during the upcoming campaign. This list excludes preseason tourneys (Duke heading to Maui, for example, among others) and the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which we will preview in more depth ahead of those events. Here we go, in calendar order, starting with the Champions Classic on opening night.

It’s Always Must-See College Basketball when Duke Meets Kentucky (USA Today Images)

  • November 6- Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Indianapolis). In a very off-brand, sensible decision, the NCAA has stopped burying the season’s annual tip-off on a pedestrian Friday night and instead will utilize the grand stage of the Champions Classic to get things going. In the nightcap game of the Indianapolis event, two teams with legitimate championship aspirations and talent galore will meet once again. For Duke, the nation’s top-rated incoming class features do-everything wing R.J. Barrett along with explosive man-child Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus Jones, the 2015 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player). In an unusual turn of events, it will be Kentucky that is armed with the more experienced roster, as the Blue Devils’ leading returning scorer will be junior big man Marques Bolden (3.9 PPG), while the Wildcats retained sophomores Quade Green, P.J. Washington and Nick Richardsfrom last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad.
  • November 6: Florida at Florida State. This annual tussle will serve as the rivals’ season opener this year, as the Gators look to avenge a home thrashing by the Seminoles last season. Florida State returns seven of its top nine scorers, including leading man Phil Cofer, from a squad that was within a whisker of the Final Four a year ago. The cupboard is not bare for Mike White, either, as Florida features a dynamic, experienced tandem on the wings in seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson. Numerous explosive athletes on both sides of the floor will make this game worth flipping to during the commercial breaks of the Duke/Kentucky tilt.
  • November 15: Connecticut vs Syracuse (Madison Square Garden). Two old Big East foes will rekindle their long and storied rivalry at a familiar venue in New York City. The Orange return all of their top pieces from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, including the ACC’s third-leading scorer, Tyus Battle. He will be joined by a pair of exciting rising sophomores in Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, giving Syracuse a roster that should easily result in a top-half ACC finish. New Connecticut head coach Danny Hurley will begin the process of getting this proud program back on track after consecutive sub-.500 seasons that led to the ouster of onetime championship coach Kevin Ollie.

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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 11th, 2018

With the 2017-18 season in the books, here are a few ACC storylines to follow over the next several months. 

FBI Investigation / NCAA Action

Last September the college basketball world was rocked by news that the FBI was sticking its nose into the seedy underbelly of the sport’s recruiting practices. Several prominent programs were identified as involved in pay-for-play schemes, with ACC members Louisville and Miami experiencing significant subsequent fallout from those allegations. The Cardinals, for example, fired Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino right before the start of practice, leaving inexperienced assistant coach David Padgett to lead the team to a disappointing NIT berth. Furthermore, the NCAA is expected to eventually revisit its sanctions against the Louisville program from the stripper scandal to determine if more penalties are warranted. At Miami, head coach Jim Larranaga saw his integrity questioned for the first time in his lengthy career, which may have affected his team’s performance on the floor which culminated in a forgettable 0-2 postseason. The greater impact of the FBI probe on the two schools has unquestionably been in recruiting – neither team has yet to sign a newcomer for the 2018-19 campaign, leaving incredibly thin rosters in place heading into this offseason.

Jim Larranaga has to rebuild his reputation as well as Miami’s roster in the wake of the FBI’s investigation into NCAA basketball recruiting. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After the FBI case was initially made public, the implication was that many more schools and athletes would eventually be caught up in the government’s web of wiretaps, plea bargains and confessions. We didn’t hear any more information from the FBI until this week, however, when the government claimed that at least one member of the N.C. State coaching staff was allegedly involved in a cash payment to the family of Dennis Smith in late 2015. So far, all of the allegations involve schools and players tied to the shoe company Adidas, but if shenanigans related to Nike are also exposed, expect a number of prominent other schools (including ACC heavyweights) to be affected. While we wait on further developments in this expanding case, it’s already worth noting that the credibility of one of the FBI star witnesses as well as the conduct of one of its chief investigators has been called into question. Stay tuned.

Rule Changes – On and off the Court

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Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: Virginia 64, Clemson 58

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

They’re Not Brand Names, But All They Do Is Win (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia can flip a game quickly. Trailing 20-13 midway through the first half and looking like anything but the overall #1 seed heading into next week’s NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers held Clemson without a field goal for the final 9:33 of the first half in converting a seven-point deficit into a nine-point advantage. The 19-3 spurt was sparked by De’Andre Hunter on both ends and punctuated by a pair of Kyle Guy triples, but it was the trademark Virginia defense that was most responsible for the game-seizing run. Clemson missed its last 10 field goal attempts of the half and was coaxed into a period in which the veteran team appeared both flummoxed and demoralized.
  2. De’Andre Hunter is a game-changer. Hunter, despite being on floor for less than half of the game, is the only other Cavalier besides Guy who qualifies as a major contributor, per KenPom, with a team-leading usage rate of 25.4 percent. After a Mamadi Diakite floater cut the Tigers’ lead to five, Hunter singlehandedly put the lead back in Virginia’s possession for good. A made three, a steal and hit-ahead to Guy for a dunk, followed by another bucket, gave the Cavs a lead they would never relinquish. A lethal combination of size and athleticism with a rapidly improving set of skills, Hunter’s presence on the floor presents a unique problem for opposing defenses. While Virginia’s offense generally is predicated on crisp ball movement and screening action to get a shot for the open man, Hunter provides a wrinkle that can wreck a defensive game plan, with the ability to score or create in pick-and-pop and isolation sets.
  3. Clemson will be fine.  No need to panic if you’re a Clemson fan. The Tigers will hear their name called on a Selection Sunday for the first time since 2011, and while this game will leave a sour taste in Brad Brownell’s mouth, the hard acceptance here is that Virginia has done this to just about all of its opponents this year. And while it is not debatable that the ceiling for this team was significantly lowered with the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham seven weeks ago, Clemson has the grit, experience and defensive aptitude to find its way into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament with the right draw.

Star of the Game: Ty Jerome, Virginia. It is the ultimate compliment for a team like Virginia when the task of choosing just one player as the star seems equally as impossible as it is to consistently score on its defense. While Guy led the team in scoring and Hunter’s surge flipped the game, arguments could also be made for the efforts made by big men Diakite (10 points, four rebounds) and Jack Salt (eight points, eight rebounds). Ultimately, though, it was the defense in holding Clemson to 34.7 percent shooting from the field, led by Jerome and Devon Hall, in limiting the high scoring backcourt tandem of Marcquise Reed and Gabe Devoe to 14 points on a combined 5-of-23 shooting. Jerome, being the primary point of attack defender, and for dishing out a career-high 10 assists, gets the nod here — but again, it could’ve been any of this entire squad.

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ACC Weekend Preview: March 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 3rd, 2018

It’s the final weekend of the ACC regular season, which means we not only get DukeNorth Carolina, part II, but we also have sevearl bubble teams fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives in addition to the return of a superstar hoping to lead his team to a late renaissance.

Saturday, March 3

Once Again, It’s On… (USA Today Images)

  • Virginia Tech (#33) at Miami (#35). It felt like both Virginia Tech and Miami were already in good spots with their NCAA Tournament resumes coming into this week, but then the Hokies vanquished Duke and the Hurricanes won at the buzzer in Chapel Hill to completely lock things up. Both are headed to the Dance this season partly because of consistently superb point guard play. For the Hokies, it’s been junior Justin Robinson, who is averaging nearly 15.0 points, 4.5 assists and fewer than two turnovers per game. He’ll match up with Hurricanes’ freshman Chris Lykes, who has become the heart and soul of a Miami group with Bruce Brown still on the shelf.
  • Clemson (#17) at Syracuse (#52). Syracuse dropping a game to Boston College while fighting for its NCAA Tournament life means the Orange need to beat Clemson to make the NCAA Tournament. To do that, Syracuse needs to lock down on the defensive end. Its normally sure 2-3 zone defense has allowed the three worst Defensive Ratings of the season (115.6 vs. North Carolina State, 114.7 vs North Carolina and 130.8 at Boston College) over the past five games. They’ve been torched by quick guards like Markell Johnson, Joel Berry II and Jerome Robinson. If the Orange cannot shut down Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe, they could be in “ACC Tournament Title or Bust” mode before they even get to Brooklyn next week.

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 20-21

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 19th, 2018

The slate admittedly feels a little light this weekend around the ACC, but that is usually when chaos reigns. We’ll take a look at a monster game in Blacksburg and the team at the top of the ACC standings trying to win its second road contest in a row.

Saturday, January 20

Can the Close Game Maestro Keep It Going?(USA Today Images)

Florida State (#27) at Virginia Tech (#49). This is exactly the kind of game Virginia Tech needs to win if it realistically wants to make the NCAA Tournament this season. The Hokies’ best win so far this year is… Washington? At Ole Miss? At Wake Forest? There is basically nothing very compelling on a resume that also includes a neutral court loss to Saint Louis (#170). The key for Buzz Williams’ team in this game is for the Hokies to find their shooting stroke from three-point range. It was their identity earlier this season, but they are making just 31.3 percent from long distance through five ACC games. No player has seen their shooting plummet more than senior Justin Bibbs. The normally sweet-stroked southpaw has never shot worse than 41 percent from distance during his career, but he stands at just 23.1 percent in ACC play so far this season.

Notre Dame (#25) at Clemson (#13). The Irish have now dropped three straight games, including a brutal, double-overtime home loss to Louisville on Tuesday night. While the team is still without the services of star forward Bonzie Colson, they did get point guard Matt Farrell back in the lineup on Tuesday. If the Irish are going to rally through the rest of the ACC schedule without Colson, Farrell has to be the star for Mike Brey‘s team. This weekend he will match up with another star guard who doesn’t get enough recognition for his excellent play: Clemson’s Marcquise Reed. The junior is shooting nearly 41 percent from three-point range this season and 86 percent from the line. He was excellent in the Tigers’ recent close loss at North Carolina, scoring 21 points on 7-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-6 threes. With both teams playing excellent defense throughout, the gunning guard that gets hot down the stretch could decide this game.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.08.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 8th, 2018

After the second full weekend of league action, three ACC teams have surged to the top of the standings with identical 3-0 records. Virginia handled North CarolinaClemson edged Louisville in overtime; and Notre Dame staged a frantic rally to overtake Syracuse. While the two ACC preseason favorites — Duke and North Carolina — have struggled to 1-2 records, their misfortune has given other teams an opportunity to make early claims to the league crown. On Sunday night, Miami defended its home court by defeating intrastate rival Florida State to cap off a wild weekend. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Duke suffered another road loss and court-rushing at NC State’s PNC Arena on Saturday night.
(Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Things were looking bleak for Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon. The Irish were without their two injured senior stars — Bonzie Colson (broken foot) and Matt Ferrell (sprained ankle) — and they came out ice cold early. But Mike Brey‘s team hung around as it always seems to do, pulling out the tough road win thanks to Rex Pflueger‘s putback basket moments before the final horn. The Irish won with defense and hustle, holding the Orange to 39.1 percent field goal shooting and capturing seven steals. Notre Dame also held a huge edge on the boards, including a +13 advantage in offensive rebounds. Considering all of the injuries he is dealing with, Brey has already emerged as a front-runner for ACC Coach of the Year honors.

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Clemson Looks to Reverse Its Bad Fortune

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 19th, 2017

This article was supposed to be written a year ago. With the non-conference season winding to a close and the usual suspects proving themselves to be heavyweights, Clemson had the look of a squad ready to pose a viable threat to the conference elite. Except things did not go according to plan. Even with a preseason all-conference selection in Jaron Blossomgame and an 11-2 start heading into the new year, the Tigers proceeded to lose their next six games en route to a 6-12 ACC finish. As RTC’s Brad Jenkins has explained, many of those defeats came in excruciatingly close fashion — 12 of Clemson’s 16 losses a year ago came by fewer than six points. The biggest problem with that team was that there really wasn’t a big problem — Clemson was just exceedingly unlucky in close games, finishing 315th in KenPom’s luck metric.

Is Clemson Finally For Real This Season? (USA Today Images)

While bad luck certainly is attributable to last year’s failings, it’s not unprecedented for the head coach to take the fall in a season where expectations were elevated in both the preseason and heading into conference play. However, much to the surprise of many, Clemson opted to retain Brad Brownell for an eighth and presumably final chance to drag the program into fringe Top 25 and consistent NCAA participant territory. To this point in the season, things looks promising, but the Tigers have certainly been here before.

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Projecting the ACC’s Breakout Juniors

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 1st, 2017

Every preseason we take a hard look at the rosters around the ACC and wonder which returning players will make the leap from role player to key contributor. Lately we have watched many of those returnees come from relative obscurity to full stardom in just one season: players like Jaron Blossomgame (Clemson, 2015-16), Matt Farrell (Notre Dame, 2016-17), and John Collins (Wake Forest 2016-17). In most instances, few outside of the specific program expected such a drastic improvement. For example, raise your hand if you had Collins pegged as one of the ACC’s top three players last October. Thought so. Still, sometimes we can project significant leaps in production by looking at advanced statistics for players who are poised to see an increase in minutes and/or usage this season. For instance, Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson surprised many observers by becoming a First Team All-ACC member as a junior. But if you closely examine his sophomore campaign statistics — 122.0 Offensive Rating, 58.7 percent true shooting percentage — it’s easy to see why his contributions shot up with a corresponding increase in playing time. In the first of this two-part series, here’s our list of potential breakout juniors in the ACC this season. The breakout sophomores will publish tomorrow.

Junior Jumps

1) Terance Mann – Florida State – 25.0 MPG, 8.4 PPG, 120.1 ORtg, 61.1% 2FG.

Florida State’s Terance Mann is a prime candidate to have a breakout junior season.
(Melina Vastola/USA TODAY Sports)

With the departures of Jonathan Isaac, Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes from the Seminoles’ roster, there are going to be a lot of available possessions for the remaining players this season. We would advise head coach Leonard Hamilton to give as many of those touches to Mann as he can handle. In addition to the 2016-17 statistics listed above, the versatile wing also excels on the boards (8.6% offensive rebound rate) and at getting to the foul line (45.0% FT rate). Read the rest of this entry »

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