A Quick Whip Around the ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 16th, 2018

The real-time eulogies for Duke on Monday night at Miami (FL) were erased as quickly as they were written. The consensus preseason favorite shrugged off a listless opening 12 minutes of the second half, saving its energy for a scintillating four-plus minute stretch of 18 straight points, swinging the margin from down 13 points and in trouble to up five and in control. While just a snapshot on a canvas of maddening inconsistency, what Monday’s game-changing run proved, once again, is that Duke’s best is still better than anyone else’s. The Blue Devils’ intoxicating freshman class was on full display during the surge, most notably the pure shooting stroke of Gary Trent, Jr. The 6’6” shooting guard knocked down a trio of triples during the decisive run, on his way to a career-high 30-point evening. Wendell Carter, Jr. added 15 points, 14 boards and four blocks; Marvin Bagley contributed a quiet 13 points and 12 rebounds; and point guard Trevon Duval (17 points; eight assists) navigated Miami’s generally stingy defense like a seasoned veteran. The issues with this team remain legitimate: its man-to-man defense is an atrocity (its zone, however, stagnated Miami and helped to swing the game) and Grayson Allen’s needs to find his stroke, but the height of the Blue Devils’ ceiling with all cylinders firing re-entered our collective consciousness last night.

Duke’s Comeback Kids Did It Again Last Night (USA Today Images)

Left for dead in the wake of the manhandling Kentucky put on the Cardinals to close out 2017, Louisville has recovered nicely from that 30-point defeat in Rupp Arena. After splitting a pair of games with Pittsburgh and Clemson, the Cardinals then halted Florida State’s 28-game home winning streak in Tallahassee with a second half comeback victory that nobody saw coming. Next, David Padgett’s team followed that up with an impressive 94-86 home win over Virginia Tech, featuring 13 three-point field goals from a team that typically doesn’t shoot or make many. While Deng Adel’s career-high 27 points was the most notable performance, sophomore Ryan McMahon’s contributions of 21 points in the pair of victories seemed to inject some life into a bench that has been noticeably devoid of offensive spark. It was convenient and perhaps even justified to dismiss Louisville as an ACC or national contender given the backdrop of an ongoing FBI investigation and the loss of its Hall of Fame head coach. But with only an overtime road loss to Clemson keeping the Cards from sitting atop the league standings, now is the time to remember that this roster was always considered NCAA Tournament second weekend good.

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 6-7

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 5th, 2018

Conference season is underway and this weekend does not lack for intriguing action around the ACC. Duke looks to show it can win on the road; Miami hopes to bounce back; and there’s a heavyweight match-up to consider in Charlottesville. (All statistics through games of January 4 and all rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, January 6

Virginia Just Keeps On Keeping On (USA Today Images)

  • North Carolina (#12) at Virginia (#3). In one of the best games of this weekend, Virginia welcomes North Carolina to Charlottesville. While the Tar Heels play a fast tempo that produces 84.9 points per game (26th nationally), they are also aa solid defensive team, allowing just 43.5 percent from two-point range (29th). Combine that with Virginia’s normally excellent defense (allowing 40.9 percent from two-point range and 39.4 percent from the field) and this should be a rock fight. We know Devon Hall and Kyle Guy are Tony Bennett‘s scorers this season, but finding a third option has been solved. In his last four games, point guard Ty Jerome has averaged 17.8 PPG while shooting 57.8 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three-point range.
  • Louisville (#39) at Clemson (#18). Clemson put together a solid non-conference resume last year but the Tigers were done in by close loss after close loss in ACC play. So you can imagine what Tiger fans were thinking as Clemson played in yet another tight game at Boston College on Wednesday night. However, Brad Brownell’s bunch kept it together down the stretch this time and left Chestnut Hill with a win (which is more than Duke can say). Senior Donte Grantham continued his impressive campaign, scoring 23 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in the victory. The Tigers will need both Grantham (67.7% eFG) and Elijah Thomas (64.0% eFG) to be precise around the rim against Louisville’s stellar front line defense of Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding. After a rough start to the season, Cardinals point guard Quentin Snider is coming on, shooting 41.7 percent from three-point range over his last nine games. Louisville will need Snider to continue his hot shooting given that the team makes just 33.7 percent of its attempts from long range (232nd nationally.)

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What’s Trending: The End of 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 2nd, 2018

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Georgetown’s double-overtime loss to Butler last Wednesday was the second overtime loss of the season for the Hoyas. Those are also the only losses Georgetown had at the time — something worthy of consideration by the committee…?

Depaul fell short in its upset bid against Villanova, but “What’s Trending’s” favorite bench player Pantelis Xidias got some tv time regardless!

Saturday afternoon featured a pair of thrilling finishes at the same time. Duke and Florida State were flying up and down the court on one channel while TCU and Oklahoma were trading late leads on another. At Cameron Indoor Stadium, Marvin Bagley missed a free throw but managed to turn it into a wild bucket and foul.

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Inside the PK80 From a Fan Perspective: Heaven & Hell

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on November 28th, 2017

It’s raining. No surprise there. Oregon in late November seems a bit odd for a destination basketball tournament, but when the King of Sneakers lives down the road, what better place to be, eh? For three days, you’ve called the Rose Garden home. No, it’s not the Moda Center; it’s the Rose Garden. One sounds like a classic hoops venue. The other like a place you get your pancreas checked out.

With this simple piece of plastic, three days of hoops madness was upon you.

It’s Day 3, and again you and your cager-obsessed cohort play seat roulette, scouting for lower-bowl seats with much better views than your upper-bowl budgets allowed. A winner! Row N, Section 101. Just behind the home bench. You avoid the usher by hiding behind your bag.

Sweater-clad North Carolina fans stroll in late, hands full of outrageously priced snacks. Chicken fingers (a cool $13), pizza (just $7 a slice!), and tacos ($13 for two. Seriously.). How anyone could get tipsy on $12 beers is beyond you, but then again you drive a 1997 Saturn, so what do you know?

You look across the floor and Bill Walton is calling the game for ESPN. You wonder what he could be saying. Because he could be saying anything. “Have you ever taken a trip down the mighty Deschutes river?” “I met the chief of the reservation when I was lost, in 1971, and he changed my life.” “When you’re struggling you have to think of life as a single stream and find your way upriver.” You ponder whether Walton actually remembers playing here in 1978 or not.

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On a Different Kind of Duke Team So Far…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 22nd, 2017

Most of the Duke teams of recent vintage have been known for talented perimeter scorers and three-point shooters. With the exception of the 2015 National Championship squad anchored by freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils have often been relatively weak defensively and particularly soft on the interior, resulting in several early exits from the NCAA Tournament (e.g., South Carolina, Oregon, Mercer). So far this year, things are looking different in Durham. The strength of Mike Krzyzewski’s current #1 team appears to be in its overall balance — great options in the post to go along with a solid backcourt and a somewhat improved defense. However, there are still a few areas of concern that Coach K will need to address in order to feel good about making a run at his sixth national title next March.

Star big men Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter have given Duke a different look this year.
(Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

Over the past two decades, Krzyzewski has mostly utilized a four-around-one offensive scheme that was heavy on floor spacing and light on post touches. However, with the frontcourt size and talent at his disposal this year, he has adopted more of an inside-out approach. In most of the Blue Devils’ half-court sets, they first look to feed freshmen Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter on the blocks. Both Bagley (19.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 62.1% FG) and Carter (13.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 61.5% FG) are off to fast starts this season, and Bagley’s numbers would be even better if he hadn’t left last week’s game versus Michigan State with an eye injury. In that 88-81 win over the Spartans, Carter came up huge in Bagley’s absence, tallying second half marks of 10 points and 10 rebounds. Even more talent exists on the perimeter, and perhaps for the first time since the championship season, the pieces seem to fit well together. Grayson Allen (18.4 PPG, 50.0% 3FG) and Gary Trent, Jr. (11.6 PPG, 37.9% 3FG) have been very effective on the wings, and freshman Trevon Duval (13.6 PPG, 38 assists/7 turnovers) is running the point guard position like a seasoned veteran. But not everything with the new-look Blue Devils is rosy — after five games, Duke is shooting a measly 61.7 percent from the foul line, and Bagley (50.0%) in particular is leaving too many points at the charity stripe. Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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ACC Weekend Preview: Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 10th, 2017

Teams around the ACC tip off their regular seasons this weekend with a host of games that will start the canvas to what will undoubtedly be a competitive and unpredictable conference slate. Here are the key games this weekend that will whet your appetite for the season ahead:

Friday, November 10

  • Northern Iowa (KenPom #129) at North Carolina: The Tar Heels begin the season without star point guard Joel Berry II, but the senior point guard is expected back for the PK80 event in Portland, Oregon, later this month. Until then, games like these are good opportunities for some of the younger guards like Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods to gain some experience. Keep an eye out for freshman Jalek Felton, especially in Berry’s absence, to leap onto the scene. Northern Iowa is part of a wide-open Missouri Valley landscape that no longer includes Wichita State, but a meticulous style of play and 6’10” senior Bennett Koch (57% eFG last season) could give a young North Carolina front line some issues.

Can Bryant Crawford and a talented but crowded backcourt ease the loss of John Collins? (AP)

  • Elon (KenPom #106) at Duke: Our first chance to see Duke’s highly-touted freshman class comes against an Elon team expected to compete for the CAA championship. How will Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter co-exist in the frontcourt? Is Trevon Duval the point guard Mike Krzyzewski has been searching for since Tyus Jones left campus? Will there be any further Grayson Allen drama? Tonight gives us our first opportunity to overreact wildly. Keep an eye on Elon’s Tyler Siebring, a 6’8” forward who led the Phoenix in scoring a year ago and shot nearly 40 percent from three.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 8th, 2017

With the season tipping off on Friday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2017-18 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Jalen Brunson, Villanova – There are few things more daunting in college basketball than a talented team with a heady, veteran playmaker at the point guard position. Brunson certainly fits that bill, as he enters the season with great expectations following a sophomore campaign where the point guard earned unanimous all-Big East honors while averaging 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game. Villanova is the preseason favorite to win the Big East title — and if that prediction comes true, it will be Brunson’s third in three years running the show for Jay Wright’s squad. Factoid: Many players with Brunson’s pedigree would at least test the NBA Draft waters either after their freshman or sophomore seasons, but Brunson is different, stating, “The NBA is not going anywhere. I can wait. I can still get better. I can still get my degree. That’s the approach I had. I talked it over with my parents, and they’re just 100 percent fully supporting me. So that’s where I am.”
  • Allonzo Trier, Arizona – Arizona experienced some offcourt drama late in the offseason when longtime assistant Book Richardson was arrested by the FBI on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiracy, and fraud stemming from improper conduct on the recruiting trail. That news figures to overshadow much of Arizona’s early season — which is a real shame, as the Wildcats are projected to be among the nation’s best teams. A major reason for that is the return of Trier for his junior year. The talented wing returned from a 19-game performance enhancing drug suspension during his sophomore season to lead the Wildcats to the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles. Many were surprised when Trier opted to return to Tucson in lieu of entering the NBA Draft, but he has acknowledged that last season’s suspension definitely factored in his decision to come back to school. Factoid: Trier was the subject of a New York Times Magazine feature when he was in sixth grade that highlighted his precocious basketball ability at a young age with an introduction to the AAU scene.
  • Michael Porter Jr., Missouri – A coaching change can often make a massive difference in a program’s fortunes. That was definitely the case with Missouri when the Tigers fired Kim Anderson in March after an underwhelming tenure and replaced him with Cal’s Cuonzo Martin, a coach who has long enjoyed a sterling reputation for his ability to recruit at a high level. Martin hiring paid off almost immediately when he secured the services of Porter, who was listed by 247Sports as the third-best player in the Class of 2017. The 6’10” forward will provide Missouri with scoring on the wing and has the versatility to defend a variety of positions. The Tigers are projected as one of the most improved teams in the country — and with Porter now in the fold, it will be intriguing to see just how far they can advance in the postseason. Factoid: It is a family affair for the Porters in Columbia this year, as Michael Porter, Sr. is an assistant coach, Jontay Porter reclassified to play with his brother, sisters Bri and Cierra Porter play for the women’s team, and aunt Robin Pingeton is the head coach of that women’s team.
  • Miles Bridges, Michigan State – Michigan State was the recipient of one of the best offseason surprises when the sure-fire lottery pick Bridges decided to return to East Lansing for his sophomore year. Once the national shock of the decision wore off, it became clear the Spartans would be one of the teams to beat in college basketball this season. Bridges will look to build on a terrific freshman year where he averaged 16.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. With a strong supporting cast in tow and uncertainty with many teams in the Big Ten, the star sophomore should lead the Spartans to a prosperous season on both the conference and national landscapes. Factoid: Like most of us, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assumed Bridges would be a one-and-done player, going so far as to joke about how Bridges will have to carry bags this year as an NBA rookie. In response, Bridges may have hinted at his ultimate decision by questioning, “Coach, why you always trying to get rid of me?”
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame – It is not a stretch for anyone to reference Colson as the most unique player in college basketball. After a turn as a significant role player on Notre Dame’s Elite Eight teams in 2015 and 2016, Colson became The Man in South Bend during his junior season. Standing at just 6’6″, Colson was the only ACC player last year to average a double-double — 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Notre Dame currently finds itself in one of the most successful stretches the program has ever had, and with the talented and experienced Colson as its go-to guy, look for the Irish to continue that run this season. Factoid: Throughout Colson’s career, he has stayed true to two beliefs: play hungry and stay humble. The ACC Preseason Player of the Year vows that will not change as he enters his senior season as one of the country’s top players.

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ACC Offseason Storylines: Roster Changes Impacting the ACC Race

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 19th, 2017

We are now a little over three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte later this month. But first, let’s catch up on a few of the most important storylines in the ACC since North Carolina captured its sixth NCAA Championship in Glendale last April. Here’s Part Three of our three-part series (Part One is here; Part Two is here).

Late Roster Changes

Marvin Bagley is a Game Changer in the ACC (ESPN.com)

As is usually the case, several ACC programs have experienced significant roster shakeups this offseason, with most of the departures coming from players who decided to begin their professional careers. As a matter of fact, the ACC set a new record in June with 10 players — all underclassmen — selected in the First Round of the 2017 NBA Draft. Two more early entries were selected in the Second Round. All in all, the league lost a total of 16 non-seniors to the professional ranks, including three undrafted players — Xavier Rathan-Mayes from Florida State, N.C. State’s Ted Kapita, and Jaylen Johnson from Louisville — as well as Wake Forest forward Dinos Mitoglou, who bailed on Danny Manning’s frontcourt in late July to play professionally in his home country of Greece. Three other significant ACC players decided to transfer over the summer — Taurean Thompson from Syracuse; Khadim Sy from Virginia Tech; and Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson, who executed the unusual intra-conference transfer, to North Carolina.

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ACC Offseason Storylines: FBI Brings the Hammer to Louisville and Miami

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 17th, 2017

We are now a little over three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte later this month. But first, let’s catch up on a few of the most important storylines in the ACC since North Carolina captured its sixth NCAA Championship in Glendale last April.

FBI Case Rocks the College Basketball World

Louisville’s Rick Pitino became the first major casualty of the FBI Investigation into College Hoops Recruiting. (Getty Images)

On September 26, we learned in a dramatic morning announcement that even the NCAA was not aware of that the FBI has been investigating the college basketball recruiting scene. Four NCAA assistant coaches were charged with accepting bribes to steer players to pro agents and/or financial advisors, while six other individuals were also arrested, including several Adidas employees who were accused of arranging cash payouts for recruits and their families as incentives to join their sponsored college programs. Two of the schools involved are ACC members Louisville and Miami.

As soon as the FBI news broke and the Louisville program was implicated in the report, pressure immediately began mounting on head coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich. By the next morning, we knew that neither luminary would survive this scandal, the latest in a string of sordid revelations involving the program. Pitino was officially fired yesterday. Understandably, the university could not tolerate further violations and embarrassments in the midst of a probation currently being served for 2015’s stripper scandal. Even more damning for Pitino is news that his voice is allegedly on an FBI tape as a direct participant in the pay-for-play scheme. Two Cardinals’ assistants have also been placed on administrative leave, leaving former Louisville player David Padgett to pick up the pieces this season as the school’s interim head coach. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the school try to get out in front of the NCAA’s inevitable return to campus with another round of self-imposed penalties that includes a postseason ban.

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