Dreams of an ACC First Weekend

Posted by Matt Patton on March 18th, 2015

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The ACC’s six NCAA Tournament teams have a lot on the line this weekend. Let’s take a look at each to determine how their current status projects in getting through the first weekend and beyond.

  • Duke: The Blue Devils look to avoid another early exit after suffering two huge round of 32 upsets in the last three years (Mercer – 2014; Lehigh – 2012). The 2013 team advanced according to seed, losing to eventual national champion Louisville in the regional final, but that Duke squad was led by three seniors. The makeup of this year’s group — with only one senior — is very similar to those two young Duke teams that were bounced by double-digit seeds. But don’t expect another opening game debacle this year since Duke has earned the advantage of a #1 seed for the first time since 2011. Just getting out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament unscathed is not the goal for this team, however, as anything short of an Elite Eight appearance would be a major disappointment. Duke has won several games in tough environments already this season, but the finality of the NCAA Tournament could cause Coach K’s inexperienced team to tighten up. If it can handle a potential grinder on Sunday, that may be enough to loosen up the Devils for a much deeper run.
Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Anderson is the key for the Cavaliers. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Virginia: All eyes will be on Justin Anderson when the Cavaliers take the court in Friday’s opener against Belmont. For Virginia to make a Final Four run, they’re going to need to have Anderson (and his offensive game) back in shape quickly. Assuming they handle the Bruins, Michigan State looms as the likely third round opponent in a rematch of last year’s Sweet Sixteen meeting in Madison Square Garden. The Spartans won that tightly contested game and come in to this year’s NCAA Tournament probably playing better than Virginia is right now. Good defense and a revenge factor will not be enough, though – the Cavaliers need buckets, and a healthy Anderson gets them easier than anyone else on the team. If Virginia makes it out of Charlotte, it will likely mean that Anderson has regained his effectiveness and that means bad news for the rest of the East Region.

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Bracket Prep: West Region Analysis

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 17th, 2015

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Throughout Tuesday, we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: East (10:00 AM), South (11:00 AM), Midwest (1:00 PM), West (2:00 PM). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region

Stanley Johnson And His Arizona Teammates Have To Be Considered Co-Favorites In The West Region. (Getty)

Favorite: Arizona, #2, 31-3. Wisconsin fans won’t like this, so let me first cover my butt: The Wildcats are the second-best team nationally according to KenPom and the Badgers are the third-best. Still, for my money, they’re co-favorites and the spread will likely not be larger than a point if they meet in the regional final. The other advantage that the Wildcats will have in a potential meeting with the Badgers is that their fans will make the easy drive from Tucson to Los Angeles and pack the Staples Center, giving Arizona a relative home court advantage. And then there’s this: Arizona is very, very good. Senior point guard T.J. McConnell is Aaron Craft with an offensive game. Junior power forward Brandon Ashley is finally back at the top of his game after breaking his foot last year. Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson is among the best first-year guys in the nation and is a grown man physically. And his fellow wing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a dynamic individual defender capable of taking even the best offensive players – from point guards to power forwards – out of their games. If the Wildcats have a weakness, it is that they can at times go for long stretches at a time without scoring. UCLA held them without a single point for six minutes at the start of their matchup in mid-February. It’s certainly true that the Wildcats have improved since then, and even given that handful of struggles, they are still rated as the 11th-most efficient offensive team in the nation. It will take a near-Herculean effort for anybody in Arizona’s half of the bracket to beat them prior to the regional final. But assuming the two favorites get there, it is a toss-up.

Should They Falter: Wisconsin, #1, 31-3. Let’s throw out the Badgers’ head-scratching loss to Rutgers without National Player of the Year favorite Frank Kaminsky in the lineup. Aside from that, the Badgers lost at home to Duke (another #1 seed) and at Maryland in late February. On Sunday, they were taken to overtime in the Big Ten championship game by Michigan State before turning it on in the extra period and taking out the Spartans. Beyond that, they’ve been on cruise control throughout most of this season. Kaminsky has put together one of the most stupendous offensive seasons in recent history. Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker have taken huge leaps forward. And even after losing senior point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury in that same mid-January loss to Rutgers, sophomore Bronson Koenig stepped in and may have even improved upon Jackson’s level of play. The senior could be back for the Badgers as early as their opening round matchup with Coastal Carolina, providing quality veteran depth. But even if that never happens, this is the best offensive team in the nation and a group, as Michigan State learned on Sunday, very capable of turning into a very tough defensive team at the drop of a hat as well.

Grossly Overseeded: Oklahoma State, #9, 17-13. Okay, the RPI is flawed, that’s a given. But the Selection Committee uses it. And at #48 in the RPI with an 8-11 record against top 100 teams that includes losses to sub-100 RPI teams in both TCU and Texas Tech, the Cowboys are one of several examples of major conference teams with lousy records getting in over mid-major teams. Sure, the fact that the Cowboys were able to sweep Baylor and handle Kansas at Gallagher-Iba Arena means that they’re still a team that probably deserved to be in this NCAA Tournament. But their resume looks a lot more like a team that should have been headed to Dayton rather than in an #8/#9 game with a very favorable geographical placement.

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Rushed Reactions: Notre Dame 90, North Carolina 82

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Mike Brey celebrates Notre Dame winning its first ever conference tournament. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

  1. Holy Run, Batman! Down nine with less than 10 minutes to play, Notre Dame looked like its goose was cooked. But the Fighting Irish rolled out a 26-3 run over the next seven minutes of action, scoring on 11 of their next 13 possessions (for those keeping score at home, their offensive efficiency over the run was a ridiculous 200 points per 100 possessions) to take control of the game and win its first ACC championship. Five players scored during the run, and Jerian Grant, who had carried the team to that point, only made one shot. The Irish’s only empty possessions were a Bonzie Colson travel and a missed three from Grant, and don’t forget that this went on in front of a crowd that looked and felt much like the Smith Center. Mike Brey’s team hit its open looks but their ball movement was impeccable and North Carolina’s offense simply couldn’t keep pace. No team could have kept pace tonight. Notre Dame’s offense was one of the most efficient in the country all season long, but this was the first stretch that inspired true fear. The Irish looked like a championship team ready to beat anybody in college basketball, and given the context, that run was the most impressive display of team basketball that I have seen this season.
  2. North Carolina Panicked. Not that you can blame them. As soon as I had a chance to tweet that the Fighting Irish were in trouble, the Tar Heels were already down by three. North Carolina had a lot of success in the first half by just putting up jumpers and letting Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks clean up the glass. Brice Johnson was also virtually unstoppable whenever he caught the ball within 10 feet of the basket. But here’s how North Carolina’s possessions ended when Notre Dame mounted its blistering comeback: Hicks free throws (made one, missed one); Joel Berry turnover; Hicks turnover; quick missed layup from Marcus Paige; Justin Jackson turnover; Meeks turnover; and Brice Johnson turnover. That’s five turnovers in six possessions after leaving a point on the board. The Heels only committed eight turnovers for the entire rest of the game. Just as Notre Dame’s run wasn’t the result of a single player’s play, the Tar Heels’ meltdown was a team effort.
  3. This Really is the New ACC. When the ACC completed its most recent expansion by snatching several Big East members for the second time, it was thought that Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville were best equipped to challenge the ACC bluebloods. But with this remarkable tournament run in Greensboro, it is Notre Dame that has become the first of the recent league additions to break through with an ACC championship. In fact, this is the first conference tournament title in school history for the Irish, a program which first joined a major conference in basketball some 20 years ago. Notre Dame’s title has some other historical significance as well. To capture this year’s trophy, Notre Dame had to beat both ACC bluebloods on back-to-back nights, and do it in the heart of Tobacco Road — a fact not lost on Brey, who mentioned it in both of his postgame press conferences. Only two other teams have ever beaten both Duke and North Carolina in Greensboro in the same ACC Tournament, exhibiting just how rare and difficult this feat was to pull off. This also marks the fourth consecutive year that neither the Tar Heels nor Blue Devils have won the ACC Tournament — the longest such drought in conference history. Interestingly, three of those four other champions were schools that are not part of the traditional ACC membership. Maybe we really are seeing a subtle changing of the guard in this conference, and with the next three ACC Tournaments held outside of the state of North Carolina, this is a trend that is likely to continue.

Player of the Game. When North Carolina went up by nine points in the second half, Jerian Grant was the only reason the Tar Heels’ lead wasn’t more than that. Of Notre Dame’s first 17 points in the second half, Grant was responsible for (directly or indirectly) 12 of them. He attacked the basket, going to the line three times in the first 10 minutes of the second half (and assisting on two of Notre Dame’s made field goals). His activity ensured that the game would not get out of reach, setting the stage for the game-changing run down the stretch. Grant finished with 24 points, 10 assists and just two turnovers. That’s outstanding. If you want to know why North Carolina only finished with 12 fast break points, you should credit Grant and backcourt mate Demetrius Jackson — other than one Brice Johnson dunk, North Carolina never managed to get out on its patented secondary break. Pat Connaughton also deserves some credit here. He ended up with 20 points on just nine shots. But with Grant’s heroics, Connaughton felt more like a supporting cast member who shone just outside of the spotlight.

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Notre Dame Looks for History Against North Carolina

Posted by Matt Patton & Brad Jenkins on March 14th, 2015

Notre Dame takes on North Carolina tonight in Greensboro for its first conference championship in program history. The game tips at 8:00 PM ET on ESPN. If the previous matchup — a 71-70 Irish win in Chapel Hill — was any indication, we’re due for a great game. Both teams are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

Jerian Grant needs an All-American performance for Notre Dame to beat North Carolina. (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

Jerian Grant needs an All-American performance for Notre Dame to beat North Carolina. (Grant Halverson, Getty Images)

Brad: In the first meeting, North Carolina held a 21-6 edge in offensive rebounds. How can the smaller Irish avoid Tar Heel domination in the paint?

Matt: I’m not sure they can. North Carolina will have an even bigger size advantage than Duke did last night. Zach Auguste has to stay out of foul trouble and the Fighting Irish will need to send all five players to the glass on every North Carolina shot. The fact is that the Tar Heels are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Notre Dame needs to take care of the ball and try to force the Tar Heels into jump shots with long rebounds. On the other end of the floor, the mismatches may swing the other way. Auguste and Bonzie Colson are both much more comfortable playing away from the basket than any of North Carolina’s bigs. They should try to spread the floor to open up the driving lanes for Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson.

Notre Dame really limited Duke’s three-point shooting Friday night. Can the Tar Heels continue their hot shooting from behind the arc? 

Brad: The game plan will obviously be to attack the Irish interior, so Roy Williams hopes the Heels continue to be selective when taking shots from deep. By selective, we mean only open looks for Marcus Paige and maybe Justin Jackson. Unlikely to make 50 percent of its threes again tonight, North Carolina should probably keep its attempts in the 10-to-12 range.

Back in early January, Notre Dame prevailed in the Smith Center primarily due to its 10-of-23 shooting performance on threes. Can they repeat such accuracy when playing their third game in three days?

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Rushed Reactions: #19 North Carolina 71, #3 Virginia 67

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 13th, 2015

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ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

Three Key Takeaways from North Carolina’s ACC semifinal win over Virginia.

Justin Jackson leads North Carolina to the ACC Tournament finals with 22 points (USA Today Images)

Justin Jackson led North Carolina to the ACC Tournament finals with 22 points (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina found some toughness. For the second day in a row, the Tar Heels faced an opponent that had previously manhandled them down the stretch. But in Greensboro this week, North Carolina stood up to an aggressive Louisville squad and then followed that up by fighting off a spirited comeback attempt from the top-seeded Cavaliers. Both games were close but the Heels were able to make more big plays down the stretch to prevail. Virginia had all the momentum when Malcolm Brogdon nailed a three-pointer to cut the Tar Heels’ lead to one with just under three minutes left in the game. But North Carolina responded by getting some crucial stops the rest of the way, sealing the game by knocking down its last six free throws to ice the game.
  2. Malcolm Brogdon has the heart of a champion and the game to match. After a cold shooting first half that saw Brogdon only score three points, Tony Bennett challenged his all-ACC junior to step up and Brogdon responded in a big way. He brought Virginia back from a 13-point second half deficit — scoring 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting after intermission. With Justin Anderson still ineffective in just his second game back in the lineup – zero points in 14 minutes of action, the Cavaliers’ offense seemed out of sync until Brogdon took it upon himself to take over the game. The primary concern is if Anderson doesn’t return to his old form in the NCAA Tournament, Brogdon alone will not be enough to carry the Cavaliers to the Final Four.
  3. Shooting is no longer a weakness for this North Carolina team. For much of this season, the Tar Heels have been inconsistent with their shooting but it appears they are heating up at just the right time. Against the stout Virginia defense, North Carolina shot 54.8 percent from the field and made half of its threes (7-of-14). That’s the highest field goal percentage allowed by Virginia in over four seasons. It’s not just a one-game occurrence though, as the Heels came in to this contest having made 50 percent of their twos and 42 percent of their threes over the last seven games. With that kind of balance inside and out, this team will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. Now, if only they can take care of the ball — 18 turnovers almost ruined tonight’s great shooting performance.

Star of the Game. Justin Jackson, North Carolina. The freshman wing came up with a huge game, scoring 22 points on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. Despite being only a 26 percent three-point shooter coming into this game, Jackson connected on 4-of-5 from deep tonight. Considering the magnitude of the game, and the quality of the opponent, this has to be his best performance of the year.

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Rushed Reactions: #19 North Carolina 70, #14 Louisville 60

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina struggled early against the Louisville zone. Roy Williams pointed to better movement in the second half by the North Carolina bigs as a reason for its game-winning 38-23 performance, but it also helped that the Tar Heels were shooting the ball much better. North Carolina isn’t known as a good jump-shooting team, but it has shot over 40 percent from deep in the last few games. In part that’s because they don’t take many threes (Williams noted that his team finished last in the ACC in three-point attempts this season), but even though they only converted two of five attempts in the second half, it felt like much more. That speaks to the Tar Heels’ patience. Even more important than that was that Williams’ team knocked down 15 of 17 free throw attempts. That’s how you close out games — something North Carolina struggled with this season. Stay patient and make free throws. The last time North Carolina beat a higher-seeded team in the ACC Tournament was way back in 2003, so don’t underestimate this win from a confidence standpoint.
  2. North Carolina needs better rebounding to feed into its offense. North Carolina never got any flow going in the first half, not only because it struggled against Louisville’s defense, but also because the Cardinals’ shooting and rebounding took the Tar Heels out of their secondary break. The Heels only ended the game with eight fast break points, but even the threat of the secondary break stops opponents from adequately setting up their defense. Brice Johnson runs the floor as well as any big man in the country, and Paige should be a shooting threat on the wing. If this team makes a run in this tournament or later in March, it will be because they do a better job of playing to their strengths over the next few weeks.
  3. Louisville is liable to take a loss during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament if they can’t solve these zones. Rick Pitino intimated that the Cardinals would try starting Mangok Mathiang at the five to get more offense, but that won’t help with simply making wide-open jump shots. The Cardinals were 4-of-22 from three and 1-of-14 if you remove Wayne Blackshear. That won’t beat anyone. Louisville played well in the first half with Terry Rozier carving up North Carolina’s defense, but Louisville never controlled the game. Some of that was due to the Tar Heels never getting too far behind, but there was also a sneaky suspicion that Louisville’s jumpers would eventually stop falling.

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Wednesday ACC Tournament Roundup

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2015

ACC Tournament Wednesday is in the books. Brad has you covered on North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and NC State’s Cat Barber. In other games, Clemson and Florida State played a compelling final few minutes as Leonard Hamilton’s team held off a furious onslaught (see below) from a Tigers team that had been down 20. Despite the near-comeback, the story of that game was the Seminoles’ Xavier Rathan-Mayes (30 points on 11-of-19 shooting). I mistakenly left him off my players to watch this week even though he boasts the most impressive performance of the year. He’s fearless (sometimes to a point of fault), but he’s capable of putting up huge numbers when his shots are falling. The freshman has his work cut out to score against the pack-line defense of Virginia (12:00 PM, ESPN), but if he’s making his threes, Rathan-Mayes should be just fine. Still, to beat Virginia, the Seminoles as a whole need to play a great game. Their biggest problem will be limiting the Cavaliers’ possessions, so Florida State’s tendency toward turnovers (21.9%) must be addressed. The bottom line is that the Seminoles will need everything they can get from Rathan-Mayes and still need the relatively inefficient Virginia offense of late to show up in Greensboro. It’s still undecided whether Justin Anderson will play today, but don’t expect him to immediately return at the level he was at the time of his injury.

The other games today also feature plenty of intrigue. Lots of eyes will also be on North Carolina‘s rubber match with Louisville (2:00 PM, ESPN), as the Cardinals are still looking to prove they can consistently compete without Chris Jones, and North Carolina will again be without Kennedy Meeks. Personally, I’m still interested to see if Louisville’s win against Virginia was a fluke or if Rick Pitino has found the answer for his team’s late-season swoon.

The most compelling game of the day will be the rematch between NC State and Duke (7:00 PM, ESPN). Trust me, a lot of teams invited to the NCAA Tournament will be watching this tape if the Wolfpack win. On paper, NC State has the primary pieces that give Duke’s defense fits: dynamic guards and inside length. Both teams look to be playing better than when they first met and the crowd will be heavily for NC State. Can Barber, Trevor Lacey and Ralston Turner carve up the porous Duke defense a second time this season? Or will the more talented Blue Devils run away with things?

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UNC’s Marcus Paige Getting Healthy at the Right Time

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

This season has been one of ups and downs for North Carolina, and much of that volatility can be attributed to the rash of injuries and illnesses that have beset the Tar Heels. Roy Williams’ team was without starting center Kennedy Meeks (illness) and guard Theo Pinson (still injured) in its opening round ACC Tournament game against Boston College, but it still handled its business in easily winning by a score of 81-63. A big reason for the comfortable margin was the all-around performance of junior point guard Marcus Paige, who appears healthier than he has been all season.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige is getting healthier and more productive with each passing game. (AP/Bob Leverone)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige is getting healthier and more productive with each passing game. (AP/Bob Leverone)

Back in October, Paige was selected as the preseason ACC Player of the Year and a member of the preseason All-America First Team. While he has played well for most of the year, his performance has not been to that level. There’s no question that part of the reason he has not lived up to expectations is that his plantar fasciitis has caused continuing pain and has hampered his quickness. By his own admission, Paige’s last three outings have been his first pain-free games of the season, and the results are striking. While his scoring is only up marginally — 15.7 PPG over that stretch — his efficiency and all-around play have been especially impressive. When asked after yesterday’s game about what was benefiting most from his healthy foot, Paige cited an ability to finish two-point shots and be more active defensively. The stats clearly back up that notion — Paige has made all eight two-pointers he has attempted and has recorded 11 total steals in those three games, not  to mention six rebounds and nine assists in his latest outing. This increase in his production really bodes well for the Tar Heels as postseason play continues, assuming Paige’s foot ailments are behind him for good. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 6th, 2015

Another week, another slate of terrific basketball from the ACC. While some teams seemingly riding high got a dose of reality this week (hello Virginia and Notre Dame), others showed their ability to overcome adversity (Duke), while others flew under the radar entirely (Clemson). This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils showed the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon was not going to be a distraction for them, as they went into John Paul Jones Arena Saturday and knocked off previously unbeaten Virginia. Avoiding a letdown after that big win in knocking off Georgia Tech at home was nice to see from such a young squad, too.
  • Louisville. The Cardinals had an impressive week, exacting revenge on North Carolina in an impressive comeback fashion at home and emerging victorious from a road trip at Miami. The offense is coming around, making Rick Pitino’s team look as if it may be peaking at the right time.
  • Clemson. How many casual ACC fans realize that the Tigers have reeled off four straight wins? Their demolition of NC State in Raleigh was particularly impressive on January 28th, but taking care of two teams they should defeat in Boston College and Florida State this week showed the team is still battling for a ticket to the Dance for Brad Brownell.
Sidy Djitte and Clemson smothered NC State on their way to another solid week (AP Sports)

Sidy Djitte and Clemson are riding a four-game winning streak in the ACC. (AP)

  • Wake Forest. Danny Manning’s team, so close in so many defeats this year, had a nice week in dispatching of Virginia Tech and defeating a talented (but hard-to-figure out) NC State team. More importantly than that is that the Demon Deacons may be regaining some of the home-court edge they lost during Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure.
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville. Rozier has four straight 20-point games, but his matching 22-point performances this week were huge for Louisville in overcoming the Tar Heels in overtime and winning the tough road test against the Hurricanes. He and Chris Jones continue to make life easier for Montrezl Harrell down low, and some argue Rozier is the Cardinals’ most dangerous offensive threat.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke. Whether or not it was accurate that Winslow was hitting the “freshman wall,” he broke out of it in fine fashion this week. With Jahlil Okafor hounded by Virginia’s double teams, Winslow willed the Blue Devils to victory with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance. He matched that effort with another stat-stuffer against the Yellow Jackets: 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals. Some believe he’s the key cog in the Duke machine going forward.

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ACC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

This week was an eye-opening one for ACC teams, with several marquee match-ups that shed greater light on the haves and have-nots of the conference race. Now moving into February, the teams with staying power are starting to emerge and those that are disappointing are showing their true colors as well. This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish keep beating good teams and are a stellar 8-1 in ACC play at the turn. They withstood a 10-point deficit from Duke on Wednesday night and never lost their composure. This is starting to look like a team that has major potential come NCAA Tournament time.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ six-game winning streak has put them in the thick of the conference race through four weeks. Marcus Paige seems to have regained some of his missing star power, and some timely shots falling for Justin Jackson and Nate Britt make the team more dangerous from the perimeter. Don’t forget Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are expected to return before year’s end, too.
  • Virginia Tech. Hokies’ fans had been waiting to see some early returns on Buzz Williams’ hiring, and this may have been the week they got a glimpse of what he’s building. Virginia Tech nearly knocked off undefeated Virginia last weekend before bowing out by just three points, then procured an overtime win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday for Williams’ first ACC win. Progress, people.
Adam Smith's game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams (USATodaySports)

Adam Smith’s (far left) game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams and reason for hope in the future (USATodaySports)

  • Nate Britt, North Carolina. After learning of the emotional state Britt was in prior to North Carolina’s ESPN Big Monday match-up with Syracuse, his performance became that much more admirable. Britt set a career high with 17 points, but perhaps more importantly for Roy Williams’ team was his 4-of-5 shooting from three. Could he finally be the long-range complement to Paige the Tar Heels desperately need?
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. No need to talk too much about how outstanding Grant’s season has been as the national media has that pretty well covered, but anyone who watched his performance live against Duke had to be amazed. He was the best player on the court in that game (yes, including Jahlil Okafor) en route to a stat line of 23 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, three steals and two blocks. Yes, he’s for real.
  • Louisville’s Backcourt. The much-maligned Cardinals’ offense has shown signs of life, largely because of the clearly improved shooting of their guards. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones had an especially dominant week in wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College on the road; combined, they scored 94 points in the two contests on 65 percent shooting from the field and 67 percent from three.

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ACC Stock Watch: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 23rd, 2015

Some of the ACC’s squads righted the ship in a relatively quiet week, while still others affirmed their descent to the cellar of the conference standings. With six weeks remaining in the regular season, there is still plenty of time for teams to ascend or plummet, and we’ll continue to track their progress on a week-to-week basis. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • North Carolina. While the Tar Heels’ win over Virginia Tech was less than enthralling, their more impressive road win over a Wake Forest team that was competitive with both Duke and Louisville at home lends credence to the notion that they may be hitting their stride. However, mounting injuries in the backcourt are a concern for Roy Williams.
  • Duke. After the entire college basketball nation wondered what was wrong with the Blue Devils with consecutive losses to NC State and Miami, Duke responded with an impressive road win over Louisville and an easy dismantling of Pittsburgh on Monday night. Coach K may have found some defensive relief with the zone he’s employed much more heavily in the past two contests.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Jackson’s emergence over the last week has finally given everyone a glimpse into the player he can become: an efficient offensive threat to complement Marcus Paige on the perimeter. In wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest this week, he scored 33 points on a combined 11-of-18 shooting (3-of-6 from three).
Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. The Blue Devils’ freshman point guard endured a rough initiation to ACC play but rebounded with two strong efforts this week. His 10-point, eight-assist performance in a hostile environment at Louisville was steady and important, but he really broke out with a 22-point effort against Pittsburgh, including four three-pointers. Jones made his recent freshman jitters appear to be just that, rebounding individually very nicely along with his team.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. His week began by being named ACC Player of the Week on January 19 and ended with a demonstration on just how important he is to this Syracuse team. Riddled with foul trouble and available for only 23 minutes, the Orange’s big man still contributed 12 points and seven boards against Boston College. His absence made it possible for the Eagles to hang around in that game, showing once again that Jim Boeheim doesn’t have many options outside of his star center.

Flat

  • Clemson. Holding serve against Syracuse at home was nice, but losing to Florida State was something the Tigers couldn’t afford. Clemson still appears to be a team trending towards the bottom of the standings as its inconsistent offense remains a major issue.
  • Syracuse. 5-1 in the ACC and not trending up? Get back to me when the Orange actually beat a good team. While it was nice that Jim Boeheim’s team held on against Boston College with Rakeem Christmas barely on the floor (see above), this team had better improve dramatically before it enters the final phase of a lopsided schedule (its final seven games include Duke twice, Louisville, Virginia, and Notre Dame). Having one of the least productive benches in the country doesn’t bode well for the Orange’s NCAA Tourney chances.

Trending Down

  • Louisville. Perhaps the loss to Duke wasn’t unexpected with the Blue Devils coming off of consecutive defeats, but the Cardinals’ continued offensive struggles is a major concern. They’re still only shooting 42.7 percent as a team, and Rick Pitino can’t seem to find consistent shot-making from Chris Jones or Wayne Blackshear. Their admittedly outstanding defense can only carry them so far in a conference this loaded with offensive talent.
  • Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ 8-10 overall record and 0-5 ACC start aren’t a surprise, but with the recent announcement that leading rebounder Joey Van Zegeren is leaving the team, their outlook for the remainder of the season became even more bleak. The notion was that Buzz Williams could perhaps coax some surprises out of this roster, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • Georgia Tech. Now 0-6 in the ACC. And yes, Virginia is a great team, but scoring a mere 28 points for an entire game (12 in the second half)? Brian Gregory’s team may not be able to recover from such an awful start to the conference season. The Yellow Jackets are at or near the bottom in the ACC in both scoring and stopping their opponents from doing so. That translates to 0-6.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. As we noted last week, it’s not just that his shots and productivity are down; but now the junior has been stripped of his captaincy by Rick Pitino (later clarified, to some extent, by Pitino on his radio show). Even if this maneuver was a mutual decision or some kind of motivational ploy, it’s not a good sign for the Cardinals if their star needs to tone down his act. Coupled with his earlier suspension for throwing an elbow, Harrell is on the precipice of becoming a bit of a malcontent to the detriment of his team’s success.
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ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2015

Conference play got under way for the ACC roughly two weeks ago, and the early games have lived up to their lofty billing in providing us with valuable insights. Some teams are clearly playing up to their potential and possibly even beyond it, while several others are already searching for answers for disturbing trends. Welcome to this week’s ACC Stock Watch, the first since the ACC’s teams started beating up on each other.

Trending Up

  • Virginia. It would be hard to imagine that a team entering ACC play at 12-0 could be trending up after just two weeks of action, but the Cavaliers have the look of a serious national title contender. The only team boasting both a defense and an offense among the top 10 in efficiency metrics, the Cavaliers have shown a keen ability to win games in a myriad of ways. It’s not just an elite defense carrying Tony Bennett’s team, as it showed in its awesome 89-80 double-overtime win over Miami two weeks ago. Virginia has already toppled the Hurricanes and Notre Dame and have shown no signs of slowing down.
  • North Carolina. With the best of the Tar Heels’ non-conference wins losing some luster (Ohio State, Florida), North Carolina badly needed a marquee win in conference play. Last weekend’s victory over Louisville qualified as such, and holding on to beat NC State in Raleigh on Wednesday night showed the team may have regained some of the toughness that was so sorely lacking. Could a 3-1 ACC start propel North Carolina to bigger things?
Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

  • NC State. A 3-2 start in the ACC may not blow anyone away, but the Wolfpack’s demolition of Duke and their near-win over a surging North Carolina team shows Mark Gottfried’s group is capable of making some noise this year. Add in a blowout win over Pittsburgh an is there a reasonable argument that NC State belongs with the heavyweights?
  • Miami. There were plenty of questions about the direction in which the Hurricanes were heading when they closed the non-conference schedule by losing three of four. But Angel Rodriguez and company have answered the bell in the ACC, pushing Virginia to double-overtime and handling Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Notre Dame and NC State up next, we’ll know even more about Miami by this time next week.

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