ACC Weekend Preview: December 15 Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 14th, 2018

Although the basketball slate has been very light during finals week, there are several intriguing ACC match-ups coming our way on Saturday. Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) previews your Saturday. (all rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, December 15

Roy Williams Will Be Ready for Gonzaga Saturday Night (USA Today Images)
  • #87 Old Dominion at #16 Syracuse. The Orange have won five straight games since back-to-back losses at Madison Square Garden last month, but they still have legitimate concerns on offense. Most pundits thought the return of Tyus Battle and the addition of transfer Elijah Hughes, along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, would result in an improved three-point shooting team this season. They’ve been anything but, however, making just 29.0 percent (308th nationally) from long-distance. Luckily, Syracuse, as usual, boasts the 10th-best defense in the country, anchored by 7’2” center Pascal Chukwu (87.0 DRtg, 15.8% blk), who makes it very difficult to finish around the rim. Jim Boeheim‘s group will be tested by a very solid Old Dominion team that is led by two senior guards. Ahmad Caver (18.5 PPG, 5.1 APG, 23.1 PER) is one of the top point guards in the country and B.J. Stith (18.0 PPG, 8.8 RGP, 23.8 PER) is as tough a two-guard as you’ll find anywhere. This pair certainly won’t be intimidated by a raucous atmosphere in the Carrier Dome.
  • #27 NC State vs. #42 Penn State. This game will take place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and offers a great opportunity for NC State to pick up a quality win over a Big Ten team. So far the Wolfpack have played only two games against top 100 opponents, with a neutral court win over Vanderbilt their lone victory. Kevin Keatts’ offense has been led by point guard Markell Johnson (12.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, 72.9% eFG), who is the engine that makes the uptempo offense go. That offense will face a top-10 Nittany Lions’ defense on Saturday. NC State likes to play small-ball, but it will have to be ready for Lamar Stevens (20.1 PPG), Penn State’s go-to option with a 30.2 percent usage rate.
  • #11 Virginia Tech vs. #52 Washington. How about an ACC double-header in AC this weekend! Virginia Tech will follow behind NC State, a team that of which it is very similar: Both clubs have fantastic offenses that have feasted against mostly inferior competition. To get another notch in its growing belt this weekend, Buzz Williams’ team will need to light up the Washington zone from long-distance. The Hokies are shooting 44.9 percent (fourth nationally) from long-range, with every playing averaging at least 20 minutes per game converting at 40 percent or better. When a team shoots the ball that well, they want to avoid turnovers to get up as many shots as possible. This means that point guard Justin Robinson needs to improve on his 21.3 percent turnover rate if the Hokies hope to make a run in the ACC.
  • #6 Gonzaga at #7 North Carolina. This Saturday evening tilt has a chance to be the best game of the entire non-conference slate. Gonzaga has already played a pair of classics with Duke and Tennessee (splitting), but both of those contests were on neutral courts. The Chapel Hill crowd should be fired up to provide an amazing atmosphere for a mid-December college basketball game. Given how deep both of these teams are, it will be fascinating to see how they match up with each other. Will we see five-star freshman Nassir Little (96.1 DRtg) or senior Cam Johnson (95.1 DRtg) defend Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura (26.5 PER & 121.9 ORtg)? Will star freshman point guard Coby White, who missed the Tar Heels’ last game with an ankle injury, suit up? Can Luke Maye get any shots off around the rim with Brandon Clarke (94.3 DRtg, 11.9% blk) lurking nearby? If you are a college basketball fan and aren’t watching this game, what are you doing instead?

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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 Weekend Preview: February 24-25

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 24th, 2018

With just two regular season weekends remaining in ACC play, there is still much to be determined. Teams are battling to finish among the top four and receive the corresponding double-bye in the ACC Tournament, and there are a handful of bubble teams that need wins to boost their resumes. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 24

Louisville Might be in Trouble (USA Today Images)

  • Louisville (#38) at Virginia Tech (#28). This is an absolutely monster game for David Padgett‘s Cardinals. Louisville has exactly one win — at Florida State — worth bragging about, and if the season ended today, the Cardinals would be headed to the NIT. They had big chances to add important wins in their past two games, but Louisville responded with one of their worst defensive performances of the year (122.4 Defensive Rating against North Carolina) and one of their worst offensive performances of the year (77.8 Offensive Rating against Duke). In their 94-86 victory against Virginia Tech earlier this year, the Cardinals posted a (non-Pitt) season-high effective field goal conversion rate of 63.6 percent. If this team wants to make the NCAA Tournament, it will need similar offensive performances down the stretch, beginning this weekend in Blacksburg.
  • Boston College (#82) at Miami (#40). Boston College is much improved in Jim Christian’s fourth year at the helm, and much of that improvement is from the absolutely incredible year junior guard Jerome Robinson is having in Chestnut Hill. Robinson, presumably a unanimous First Team All-ACC selection next month, is the second-leading scorer in the league (20.5 PPG). He’s been even better in ACC games, averaging 24.7 points per game and putting up a 123.4 Offensive Rating. Most importantly, Robinson and running mate Ky Bowman have made Eagles basketball fun to watch. If both return next year, this team will be in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 3rd, 2018

While all eyes will be on Minneapolis tomorrow, the ACC gives us some important action for its bubble teams today. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 3

Are the Pack Back? (USA Today Images)

  • Notre Dame (#35) at NC State (#65). The Wolfpack are riding high (as our Matt Auerbach outlined this week) after their huge overtime win in Chapel Hill last weekend. If NC State hopes to snag an eventual NCAA Tournament bid, it still needs to pick things up on the defensive end. In nine ACC games, Kevin Keatts’ defense is allowing teams to shoot a healthy 49.2 percent from the field, the worst such mark in the conference. In fact, NC State does not have a single rotation player with a Defensive Rating below 108.0. It’s uncertain whether the Wolfpack will be able to fix this issue, especially given that the cause of it is also what has made them so effective offensively this year. First, the blossoming of Omer Yurtseven into an offensive star has resulted in more minutes, but he is hopeless when pulled away from the basket and forced to guard in space. Secondly, Keatts has been playing two of his three smaller guards (Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Lavarr Batts, Jr.) on the floor together. This leads to defensive mismatches, specifically against the less-physical Beverly. It will be interesting to see how the Pack perform against a Notre Dame team that will be deliberate and wants to limit possessions without injured star Bonzie Colson.
  • Miami (#32) at Virginia Tech (#39). The Hokies have won three straight games to surge back into the NCAA Tournament discussion. The key all season for Buzz Williams’ team has been making threes, and his guys have gotten their shooting stroke back lately. During this three-game winning streak, Virginia Tech is making 42.2 percent from long-range and nailing nearly 13 threes per game. In their eight prior games, the Hokies made just 30.4 percent from distance and correspondingly went 4-4. They’ll look to stay hot against Miami, who will be without star Bruce Brown for the foreseeable future. The match-up to look for  in this game is down low — can Miami’s Dewan Huell (116.6 ORtg, 54.8% eFG) get the offensively-challenged Hurricanes some easy baskets against a Virginia Tech front line that only features Kerry Blackshear?

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Red Hot NC State Charging Toward an NCAA Bid

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 31st, 2018

While Virginia’s victory at Duke last Saturday afternoon deservedly dominated conference headlines, NC State was busy continuing its underpublicized midseason renaissance just nine miles down the road in Chapel Hill. The Wolfpack, winners of five of their last seven games, now own an NCAA Tournament resume that boasts equity in a trio of quality wins (Arizona on a neutral court; Duke at home; North Carolina on the road) that few bubble teams will approach.

All Smiles for NC State in Chapel Hill on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Kevin Keatts’ team looked dead and buried just a few short weeks ago. After a 30-point drubbing in South Bend dropped NC State to 0-2 in league play, the first-year coach has in the interim engineered a significant reversal of fortune. Playing an up-tempo, unselfish brand of basketball, the Wolfpack to date are taking exceptionally good care of the basketball (49th nationally in turnover percentage), sharing the wealth (six players average more than eight points per game), and have developed into a team-first bunch of veterans who believe that they can play with anybody. That shift in culture has not only made the Pack a joy to watch this season, but it has also been the impetus to yielding results that have exceeded expectations.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.29.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 29th, 2018

This weekend lived up to the hype around the ACC with a trio of exciting finishes on Saturday afternoon. In the marquee match-up of the day, Virginia picked up a rare win in Durham, edging Duke to remain unbeaten in league play (9-0). It took overtime to decide two intrastate rivalry contests, as NC State surprised North Carolina in the Smith Center and Florida State won a shootout against Miami. In other ACC action, Louisville blew out Wake Forest to remain alone in second place in the standings, a resurgent Virginia Tech squad picked up a nice road win at Notre Dame, and Clemson got back on track with a tight victory at Georgia Tech. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Kyle Guy celebrates Virginia’s big win at Duke that leaves the Cavaliers in total control of the ACC regular season race. (Lance King/Getty Images)

  • Best Win: In the highly anticipated match-up of Virginia’s stifling defense and Duke’s potent offense, the Cavaliers held the Blue Devils well below their normal output (63 points) to pick up their first win in Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995. Virginia dominated the first half before Duke rallied to seemingly take control of the game midway through the second, but Tony Bennett‘s team was simply tougher down the stretch, with sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome each making important threes in the closing minutes to secure the victory. Duke managed to only score 0.97 points per possession for the game, and committed 16 turnovers against the Virginia pressure. Even the best defense in the land couldn’t control Duke’s star freshman, Marvin Bagley III (30 points, 14 rebounds), but the Cavaliers made up for that by holding Duke’s three starting guards to a total of 19 points on 8-of-26 shooting. Virginia now has a two-game cushion over Louisville in the league standings and appears poised to capture its third regular season title in the last five years.

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Morning Five: 12.21.17 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 21st, 2017

morning5

  1. We all had been waiting for the fateful day when the NCAA would bring down the hammer on UNC basketball for its academic fraud and it happened last Friday to little fanfare. Of course, the reason for the lack of interest was that the NCAA’s sanctions were against Northern Colorado (a case we were unaware of as opposed to the much-publicized one against North Carolina). In its decision (full 45-page PDF here) the NCAA placed the men’s basketball program on probation for three years for academic fraud and recruiting violations. In addition to the probation, the school was given a one-year postseason ban (already served), pay back the money it received from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance, restrictions on scholarships and recruiting, and vacating records. They also gave seven coaches “show cause” penalties including a six-year penalty for B.J. Hill with the assistant coaches receiving penalties ranging from three years to five years. Despite his 86-98 record (the NCAA Tournament appearance was in his first year at the school), we would not be surprised to see Hill return to the sidelines after his show cause is up since he is only 44 years old.
  2. Kansas is off to an unexpectedly slow start this year, which some have attributed to the fact that they have been missing two key players–Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa–as they await word on their eligibility. We tend to agree with Brian Goodman’s analysis that the team’s problems are more than just the absence of a few players, but we may start to get part of the answer for that as it appears that De Sousa could be eligible to play as early as the team’s Big 12 opener against Texas on December 29. De Sousa, who reclassified from the class of 2018 and is trying to get the necessary test scores to be eligible, is a top-30 recruit who will give an additional inside presence. Preston’s status is more uncertain as the school is still sorting out issues related to an incident in November that the school is investigating to get a “clearer financial picture specific to the vehicle”.
  3. Speaking of Kansas, given the way that things seem to function around college sports in college towns we are not surprised with the news that no charges will be filed over a report that a 16-year-old girl was raped at a Kansas dorm. The District Attorney stated that they did not have enough evidence to prove that the sexual assault occurred. It does not appear that any Kansas players were implicated in the alleged assault there, but five players listed as potential witnesses although that does not mean they were eyewitnesses to the alleged assault just that they were reportedly in the vicinity of where the girl/assault reportedly happened. Perhaps the only noteworthy thing to come of this case was that the investigation led police to find drug paraphernalia that they tied to Carlton Bragg Jr, who subsequently transferred to Arizona State before taking a leave of absence from there for personal reasons.
  4. On Friday, North Carolina State suspended starting point guard Markell Johnson indefinitely for violating the school’s student code of conduct. We still are not sure what Johnson did to merit the suspending and based on the response from Kevin Keatts so far (not giving any additional information and not acknowledging that Johnson’s absence hurt them in Saturday’s loss to UNC-Greensboro) we doubt will get more clarity any time soon. Until Johnson’s indefinite suspension is over (already at two games, which is two more games that other ACC coaches would keep their starting point guard out for an indefinite suspension), the Wolfpack will have to find a way to replace Johnson’s 8.7 points, 6.6 assists, and ACC-leading 2.4 steals per game.
  5. Texas A&M will be without junior guard Admon Gilder for 2-3 weeks as he recovers from a knee injury he suffered in last week’s win over Savannah State. Gilder is averaging 12.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game and although the Aggies have depth at guard that comes primarily in the form of freshman, which will make it will be hard to replace those numbers and Gilder’s defense consistently. Despite the absence of Gilder and Robert Williams the Aggies were able to win their first game without Gilder with a 6-point win over Northern Kentucky. Fortunately for the Aggies they have almost a week and a half left before they begin SEC play when Gilder’s absence will be more signifcant.
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ACC Burning Questions: NC State Wolfpack

Posted by Mick McDonald on October 26th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Kevin Keatts compete in his first season in Raleigh?

Former head coach Mark Gottfried managed to get NC State to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four seasons in Raleigh, but life on the bubble proved very stressful. After logging back-to-back losing seasons the next two years, Gottfried was fired following last season. His replacement, the highly impressive Kevin Keatts, will begin his fourth year as a head coach. After three seasons as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville, Keatts wasted no time in turning around a UNC-Wilmington program that had experienced six straight losing seasons. The Seahawks won 18 games in his first season on the bench en route to a share of the CAA regular season championship in 2014-15, and followed that up with two more conference championships and corresponding trips to the NCAA Tournament. UNC-Wilmington came away from those experiences with an 0-2 record, but not without putting serious scares into ACC powers Duke and Virginia.

Can Kevin Keatts compete in season one in Raleigh? (Rob Kinnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Turning the Wolfpack around won’t be easy, as NC State loses its top three scorers from last season. Still, the cupboard for Keatts is hardly bare. The returning core is led by 6’8″ senior Abdul-Malik Abu, who averaged 12.0 points and seven rebounds per game last season. The athletic big man improved his effective field goal percentage (52.9%) for the third straight season and should benefit from the guards attacking the rim in Keatts’ system. Sophomore Markell Johnson will take over point guard duties from lottery pick Dennis Smith, Jr., but he will be pushed by incoming recruit Lavarr Batts, Jr. (who originally committed to VCU but ended up in Raleigh after Will Wade took the LSU job). Keatts will ask a lot of both players, especially on the defensive end in becoming a nuisance for opposing point guards. Read the rest of this entry »

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