ACC Weekend Review: 02.20.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 20th, 2018

This weekend it was as if traveling ACC squads were on a Disney vacation with six road teams coming out on top. Before Saturday’s action, ACC teams had won 64 percent of their home games this year, but only hapless Pittsburgh (at Florida State) failed to win away from home this weekend. Among the successful road warriors, Duke beat Clemson in a battle for second place in the league, North Carolina continued its winning ways by rolling past Louisville, and Syracuse got back in the bubble conversation by upsetting Miami. In other action, Notre Dame got a superb game from Matt Ferrell to beat Boston College before dropping a game to Miami, and surging NC State handled Wake Forest. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Gabe DeVoe and his teammates struggled to score against Duke’s zone defense in the Tigers’ home loss Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

  • Best Win: Duke used its improving defense to pick up a big 66-57 win in Littlejohn Coliseum on Sunday. With each team missing a key player — Marvin Bagley III (Duke) and Shelton Mitchell (Clemson) — the weekend’s marquee ACC contest turned into a low-possession slugfest. After trailing for most of the second half, the Tigers reeled off 10 consecutive points to tie the game before Duke answered with the game’s final nine points. Duke has now won three straight games without Bagley in the lineup as Grayson Allen (19 points) has played much better, but the biggest difference for the Blue Devils lately has been on the defensive end. Playing a zone almost exclusively, Duke held Clemson to just 24.2 percent shooting in the second half and has now held 10 of its last 12 opponents under 1.0 point per possession.

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2017

For the first time in its 19-year history, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is being played over four days. With high profile schools such as Duke, Michigan State and North Carolina participating in last weekend’s PK80 tournament in Portland — which involved a handful of late Sunday night games — ESPN and the two leagues decided to push the event out an extra day rather than put all the marquee matchups on Wednesday. After three days of action, the ACC leads the challenge 11-2, clinching the overall event for the second year in a row in dominant fashion. Still, tonight’s finale between Notre Dame and Michigan State in East Lansing (ESPN – 7:00 PM ET) has a lot on the line for both teams. Here are some key storylines to follow.

Strength Against Strength: Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan State Defense

Senior point guard Matt Farrell leads a talented Notre Dame offense into East Lansing to face the imposing Michigan State defense. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Fighting Irish come into this game with the fifth-best effective field goal percentage (60.4%) in college basketball, while the Spartans’ defensive rate (39.9%) ranks third nationally. Something’s got to give, right? It’s a little early in the season to make any sweeping statistical judgments, but perhaps it’s fair to gather predictive data from the few challenging games each school has played thus far. Notre Dame has faced one elite defense already — Wichita State in the Maui Invitational finals — and the Shockers held the Irish to a 52.9 percent effective field goal rate. Michigan State’s defense has faced two of the nation’s top-15 offenses (Duke and North Carolina) so far, holding both under 40 percent shooting on two-point shots. With that kind of rim-protection exhibited by Tom Izzo’s big men, expect the Irish to struggle to reach its normal shooting acumen.

Key Stat to Watch: Shot Volume

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ACC Burning Questions: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 8th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Notre Dame always has a returning player make a big leap in production — who will it be this year?

In this one-and-done era of college basketball, Notre Dame has flourished by following Mike Brey’s general plan to “get old and stay old.” To win that way at the highest level requires strong player development within the program — something at which Brey and his staff have certainly excelled over the years. Usually Notre Dame’s players make steady progress over the course of their careers — much like with senior All-America candidate Bonzie Colson — but often that development results in a breakout season for a player who has only made moderate contributions up to that point (see: Matt Ferrell last season). Who are the prime candidates for a breakout season for this year’s Irish?

Rex Pflueger could be poised for a breakout year in his junior season at Notre Dame.
(AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Notre Dame must replace a pair of multi-year starters on the wing in V.J. Beachem and Steve Vasturia, so there are considerable minutes available at those positions — as a result, expect junior Rex Pflueger and sophomore T.J. Gibbs to become newly important pieces of Brey’s revamped lineup. Each player averaged 4.7 PPG off the bench last year and should be ready to handle the heavy minutes that Brey likes to give to his key guys. Pflueger has shown a good stroke from deep — 39.7 percent on threes last season — in addition to being a good defender. Gibbs proved a capable ball-handler (2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio) as a freshman last season, so pairing him with Farrell in the backcourt should keep the Irish among the national leaders in ball security (Notre Dame’s 14.0 percent turnover rate ranked second in the country last season). Another possible jump in production could come from senior center Martinas Geben — Brey likes the dirty work that the Lithuanian provides but wants him to be more confident and assertive with his offensive game. Read the rest of this entry »

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