ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 24th, 2014


Note: To gauge relative team strength, we are using current Kenpom ratings.

  1. EA Sports Maui Invitational: It’s the beginning of what ESPN has traditionally called Feast Week, and a big part of that annual tradition is the EA Sports Maui Invitational which starts today. Each year, one of the schools visiting Hawaii opens with host Chaminade, and this time it’s Pittsburgh (#43) in Game 3 (9pm ET – ESPNU). A look at the bracket shows that should the Panthers advance tonight as expected, they will be guaranteed two games against good competition. On Tuesday, they will face either San Diego State (#23) or BYU (#49), and a trip to the finals (Wed – 10pm ET – ESPN) would probably mean a meeting with favorite Arizona (#5). These games are of great importance to Pittsburgh, who plays another relatively weak non-conference slate otherwise. The only other game outside the ACC against a top 50 opponent is at Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Last season, it was the lack of quality wins that put the Panthers on the NCAA bubble until their ACC tournament win over North Carolina, so picking up at least one in Maui this week would be very helpful for Jaime Dixon‘s squad.
  2. Cancun Challenge: After a glance at the bracket, the field playing in Riviera Maya, Mexico is very weak compared to the other events this week. As luck would have it, Virginia Tech (#176) is the third highest rated team but they face the favorite, Northern Iowa (#64) in the Tuesday’s opening round (7pm ET – CBS Sports Network). Northwestern (#100) is the only other school in the field ranked in the top-245, so if the Hokies lose their first game they will likely have two games that won’t do much for Virginia Tech’s (or the ACC’s) RPI.
  3. Battle 4 Atlantis: In a few short years, this event has established itself as one of the best early season tournaments, annually loaded with elite programs. This year is no exception with six top-30 schools in the bracket. North Carolina (#15) takes on Butler (#53) in the opening game (Wed – Noon ET – ESPN2) and will face either UCLA (#18) or Oklahoma (#28) after that. If they get to the finals (Fri – 4:30 ET – ESPN), the Tar Heels could have the heavyweight matchup of the entire week, if Wisconsin (#4) makes it there as well. That would arguably give North Carolina the ACC’s “Best Non-conference Schedule” award by a mile. In December, the Tar Heels face Iowa at home (Dec. 3), take a trip to Lexington to take on top-ranked Kentucky (Dec. 13), and then have a neutral site game with Ohio State (Dec. 20).
  4. Orlando Classic: This one doesn’t start until Thanksgiving Day with Georgia Tech (#90) playing Marquette (#113) in the final game of the day (8:30 ET – ESPN2). A win in that one would probably send the Yellow Jackets to a Friday meeting with Michigan State (#13). Along with Kansas (#10), the Spartans are clear co-favorites in this event, with each of those teams trying to rebound from big losses in last week’s Champions Classic. A look at the bracket reveals a moderate field other than those two traditional programs. Of course, Marquette is an interesting opponent for Georgia Tech, now that long time Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski is at the helm of the Golden Eagles. But to beat his old ACC rival, Wojo will need to coax a better performance out of his team than he got this past Saturday, losing at home to Omaha by eight points.
  5. Barclays Center Classic: Virginia (#6) will close out the ACC’s early season tournament participation with a trip to Brooklyn for the Barclays Center Classic. On Friday, the Cavaliers meet LaSalle (#99) in the second game of the night (9:30 ET – NBC Sports Network), with (#94) Vanderbilt playing Rutgers (#124) in the opening semifinal game. The winners will meet Saturday for the championship (9:30 ET – NBC Sports Network) with the Cavaliers being heavy favorites to bring home the title, one week after Duke won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on the same court. The Barclays Center has established itself as a busy destination spot for November college basketball tournaments. In between the two aforementioned weekend events, the Brooklyn arena will host a stacked Progressive Legends Classic, beginning tonight with semifinal match-ups (Villanova vs. VCU, and Michigan vs. Oregon).
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Reviewing the Performance of ACC Teams in Feast Week: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 3rd, 2013

Today we will review the final six early season tournaments involving ACC teams. To see the recap we did covering the first seven such events, click here. The ACC completed a successful Feast Week with two more championships giving the conference a total of five titles in 13 tournaments. This performance should give the ACC some momentum going into this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge. With another good week, perhaps the conference will overcome the negative impact from some of those bad early non-conference losses.

Syracuse Wins EA Maui Invitational for the Third Time. (Photo:

Syracuse Wins the EA Maui Invitational for the Third Time.

Syracuse became the second ACC newcomer to win an early-season tournament by beating #18 Baylor 74-67 in the finals of the EA Sports Maui Invitational on Wednesday night. That followed wins over Minnesota, 75-67, and California, 92-81. Senior C.J. Fair was named the tournament MVP while averaging 18 points for the three games and tallying 24 in the finals. Also impressive was freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, who scored 28 in the semifinals over Cal, and had an outstanding 18 to two assist-to-turnover ratio for the tournament. With the Orange’s third Maui championship along with Pittsburgh’s title in the Progressive Legends Classic, the new ACC schools are serving notice that they are ready to compete at the top of their new conference.

Duke did not fare as well in the other marquee Feast Week event, the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York’s Madison Square Garden. After beating Alabama 74-64 in Wednesday’s semifinals, the Blue Devils fell to #4 Arizona, 72-66, in Friday’s championship game. Coming into the week Duke’s defense had been struggling mightily and was the focus for improvement by Mike Kzyzewski. The Devils did look much better on that end of the court against good competition, but another glaring issue has not been resolved. Duke is still searching for production from its primary big man position – Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson combined for only two points in a total of 69 minutes over the two games.

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Syracuse’s Maui Title Speaks to Roster’s Versatility

Posted by Lathan Wells (@prohibitivefav) on November 29th, 2013

When you think about Syracuse, you automatically think about the zone. The Orange’s 2-3 zone defense has confounded opponents throughout Jim Boeheim’s tenure, and its uniqueness across the college basketball landscape makes it that much harder to prepare for. One of the keys to the zone is that there often appears to be holes, places for a team to look to operate with space. Instead, the length of the Syracuse defenders closes those holes quickly and converges on opponents with a tenacity that can make even the most seasoned teams struggle. This year’s Orange team, at least thus far, has operated as a sort of microcosm of its preferred method of defense. There appear to be weaknesses to exploit, and sometimes teams have had success doing so. But in the end, Syracuse, just as its vaunted 2-3 zone often does, has won, including hoisting this year’s Maui Invitational trophy on Wednesday.

Syracuse recovered from early-season struggles to take the Maui Invitational (credit: USAToday)

Syracuse recovered from early-season struggles to take the Maui Invitational (credit: USAToday)

Coming into the year, the team was concerned about replacing its perimeter core. Point guard Michael Carter-Williams, guard Brandon Triche and swingman James Southerland all left, either via graduation or early draft entry, leaving the team unseasoned on the outside. One of the keys was the development of shooting guard Trevor Cooney. Billed as a shooter coming out of high school, he’d failed to live up to expectations for the Orange early in his tenure. But Cooney has shown that he can explode at times, with a 27-point, seven three-pointer effort in the opener versus Cornell, five made triples against Minnesota in the opener of the Maui Invitational, and another 23 points against California in the semifinals of the same tourney. The problem is that at other times he’s been a non-factor, such as when he was 1-of-6 from the field in a win over Fordham or 1-of-5 from the arc against Colgate. Cooney’s consistent ability to stretch defenses with his perimeter game is a must for this team.

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College Basketball By The Tweets: Title Game Tilts, Coach Fights & Parker Shows Off

Posted by David Harten on November 28th, 2013


Wednesday night made for one of the better nights we’ve had so far in this year’s college basketball season. It’s holiday tournament time — the three days in Maui were capped, the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off got underway, and a host of other tournaments across the country start today. Trophies were raised and big performances were necessary… and Syracuse and Baylor made it tough to appreciate having 20/20 vision in what I like to call “the day-glow game.”

Let’s take it to the best tweets of the night, shall we?

The top games on the night came in Madison Square Garden, with Duke taking Alabama after Arizona got all it could want from Drexel, and in the Lahaina Civic Center, with Syracuse and Baylor playing for all of the surfboards in Maui. As far as the Blue Devils’ play was concerned, it wasn’t the start they envisioned.

Arizona also fought back after trailing by as much as 19 to the Dragons, pulling away very late for the win. Drexel suffered more than a loss on its record, with one of their better players in Damion Lee exiting the game in the second half with a knee injury. The good news is that Dragons’ head coach Bruiser Flint said the team doesn’t believe there’s any serious damage.

And before things got underway in the Maui title game, Dayton proved its worth in the third place game, beating California, 82-64. As possibly the most impressive team in the tournament, you’d expect this to be a huge confidence boost for Devin Oliver, coach Archie Miller and the rest of the Flyers.

Staying in Hawaii, Syracuse started fast against Baylor, thanks mainly to Tournament MVP C.J. Fair’s scoring and Tyler Ennis being the steady presence at the point.

Oh, and between the Orange and Baylor’s uniforms, the television was tough to look at.

We cut back to Duke and Alabama, where midway through the first half, Blue Devils’ wunderkind Jabari Parker hit possibly the most impressive shot of the night, with a turnaround, baseline fadeaway over a defender that made so many in attendance and watching on TV say “that’s an NBA elite-level shot.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Minnesota Half-Court Defense is Cause For Concern

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 28th, 2013

Ed. note: Minnesota finished up its Maui Invitational trip with an 83-68 win over D-II Chaminade on Wednesday afternoon.

Things were going so nicely for first-year head coach Richard Pitino and his Golden Gophers. They had won their first five games in convincing fashion; junior guard Andre Hollins was looking like a possible Big Ten Player of the Year candidate; and they had just taken it to top-ranked Syracuse losing only in the final minutes of their opening round game at the Maui Invitational. They entered their second game in Maui against an Arkansas team who had lost its most electric player in B.J. Young and was not expected to make the NCAA Tournament.  In fact, according to KenPom, the Gophers were expected to win the game by a 10-point margin. Things went as planned in the first half as Minnesota took a five-point lead to the locker room, but after that point, the bottom fell off for Pitino’s squad. The Gophers’ ineffective half-court defense allowed the Razorbacks to come back and win the game, 87-73, and the game tape it created may haunt them throughout the rest of the season.


Richard Pitino is trying to implement his father’s pressure defense in Minnesota, but its the half-court defense that may cost him.

As one of our fellow RTC Big Ten microsite columnists pointed out earlier this season, the press defense is a feature Pitino is trying to instill at Minnesota. Pitino learned the art of applying  a press from one of the best in the business, his father Rick Pitino. This focus on the press has helped them blow some lesser talented teams out in the early schedule, but it was a complete disaster in the second half against Arkansas. The Razorbacks scored 11 points off turnovers in the second half, but the remaining 41 points were scored in the half-court. Once Arkansas figured out how to break Minnesota’s press and began their offensive sets, they exposed Minnesota’s zone defense.  Unlike Syracuse, the Razorbacks had more than one shooter capable of dropping threes over the zone (four different Razorbacks hit from deep in the second half). They confused Minnesota by switching from attacking with three-pointers and drives, and the Gophers were completely feckless in stopping either. The Razorbacks’ 76 percent true shooting percentage (5-of-7 3FGs, 17-of-28 FGs, 13-of-14 FTs) for the second half was easily the team’s best of the year. The Gophers have been working on their press defense all season, but perhaps as a result, they seem to have completely forgotten what to do when they’re in the half-court.

Last year, Louisville provided a prime example of an elite team winning the National Championship while implementing the press on a consistent basis. So this isn’t a gimmick Pitino is trying to enable to mask some other defensive deficiencies. But the Big Ten is at its heart a half-court league, and Minnesota will find itself in numerous situations where it will have to rely on half-court defense to win games. If they can’t shore up that defense enough to at least provide some element of resistance, the conference schedule will expose this Minnesota team night in and night out.

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Pac-12 M5: 11.26.13 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on November 26th, 2013


  1. Feast Week got off to a good start for the Pac-12, as California got the Maui Invitational underway with some strong second half play from its frontcourt to provide the margin in an eight-point win over Arkansas. Richard Solomon picked up a third personal foul early in the second half, but head coach Mike Montgomery trusted his senior, and the mercurial big man responded with 11 second-half points. His frontcourt-mate David Kravish led all players with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and now the Golden Bears will get a chance to avenge last year’s season-ending loss to Syracuse in today’s semifinal round. Some 5,000 miles away and a dozen hours later, Cal’s Bay Area counterpart, Stanford, bounced back from an awful first half against Houston to come up with a semifinal win in the Legends Classic. They’ll play Pitt in the championship game tonight.
  2. Arizona has a big week ahead of it as well, as they’ll compete in the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden beginning tomorrow night against Drexel with a potential date on the line with Duke on Friday. But despite the national accolades (the Wildcats are ranked #4 in the latest AP poll) and hype surrounding freshman Aaron Gordon, this is still about improving and being able to go toe-to-toe with other elite programs for head coach Sean Miller.
  3. Colorado got a big win on Sunday, knocking off a game Harvard team with a 40-20 second half blistering. While the Buffaloes struggled out of the gate defending the perimeter against a sweet-shooting Crimson squad, head coach Tad Boyle had to be pleased with his team’s effort in getting a hand in the face of three-point shooters after some early problems, causing the Crimson to miss 26 of their 30 three-point attempts over the game’s final 36 minutes. Boyle also pointed out his happiness with the boisterous Colorado fans, as nearly 10,000 patrons helped keep the Buffs energy up in that impressive second half.
  4. Oregon may not be playing in one of the more well-known holiday tournaments this weekend, but it does have a three-game homestand over the weekend as part of the Global Sports Hardwood Challenge, where they’ll play Pacific, North Dakota and Cal Poly. Sure, those aren’t exactly the three most exciting games coming up this week, but it will give the Ducks three more chances to get their bevy of newcomers a chance to learn more about playing with each other. While you probably know by now about guys like Mike Moser and Joseph Young, a couple other new faces around Eugene – Jason Calliste and Elgin Cookhave turned into big-time contributors for head coach Dana Altman as well. Cook and Calliste led the Ducks in scoring on Sunday night in a win against San Francisco, and both players have carved out solid roles for themselves on this talented roster.
  5. Lastly, Washington took another loss on Monday. What’s that, you say? They didn’t have a game on the schedule? Correct, but junior guard Hikeem Stewart announced his decision to transfer from the university. Mired deep on the depth chart behind several other talented wings, Stewart had earned just 6.3 minutes per game this year and had only scored in one of their five games. Lorenzo Romar has wished Stewart the best and given him a full release from his commitment to the Husky program.
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Feast Week Mission Briefing: California in the Maui Invitational

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 25th, 2013

With Feast Week tipping off over the weekend, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Pac-12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: There hasn’t been a whole lot of flash on the California schedule so far, with Denver and Oakland (no, not the Broncos and the Raiders) headlining the early slate. As a result, the Bears are out to a 4-0 record, with only Oakland having thrown a challenge their way. But for a team breaking in five freshmen and replacing Pac-12 Player of the Year Allen Crabbe, that recipe has been just fine. The mostly highly regarded freshman of the bunch, Jabari Bird, is the primary guy replacing Crabbe and he’s been great out of the gate, averaging 13.5 points per game while stroking 50 percent of his shots from three. Meanwhile, versatile sophomore wing Tyrone Wallace looks like he’s working on a breakout season, having made great strides with a previously broken jump shot. Finally, the veteran frontcourt tandem of Richard Solomon and David Kravish has also combined to account for about 20 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks per night, and it is all held together by senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who hasn’t yet had to take on a big scoring burden but is capable if needed.

Jabari Bird Has Adapted To The College Game Quickly (

Jabari Bird Has Adapted To The College Game Quickly (

First Round Preview: Arkansas is first up for the Golden Bears to tip off the Maui Invitational this morning and this game will be a clash of tempos. While Cal is more than willing to slow things down and grind it out in the half-court with set plays and lock-down defense, the Razorbacks want to get up and down the court with alacrity. Junior wing Alandise Harris leads the way for the Hawgs, averaging 18 points per game, earned mostly on the attack, whether making tough shots from penetration or getting to the line to take advantage of his excellent free throw shooting. Bird and/or Wallace will be primarily responsible for checking Harris and they’ll need to make sure to keep out of foul trouble, as he is one of the best players in the nation at drawing fouls. Luckily, Cal teams under Mike Montgomery are not known to foul recklessly. The one spot where the Bears can take advantage of Arkansas is on the offensive glass, where Solomon and Kravish have done a good job this season; Arkansas, meanwhile, is not great at cleaning their defensive glass. Still, while the Bears are the slightly more talented team here, if they’re not on top of things early on the island, this is a game they could lose.

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Examining ACC Teams in Early Season Tournaments: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 28th, 2013

As part of our preseason coverage on the ACC microsite, we will be looking at ACC teams competing in early season tournaments in a three-part series . Today we present Part II, which includes a look at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, the Paradise Jam, the Progressive Legends Classic and the EA Sports Maui Invitational.  To check out Part I of our series, click here.

These early season tournaments mean different things to different teams. For the traditional powers Duke and North Carolina, these events are just another part of the non-conference schedule, and not usually the most important part. With the national profile of those schools, building a quality non-conference slate is not all that difficult. But for others in the ACC, these tournaments are often the most challenging games those teams will face outside of league play. If you’re a potential NCAA Tournament team, a good performance in one of these events can considerably lessen the pressure to need a great league record to make the field.

Virginia's Early Loss to Delaware Last Season Badly Damaged Its RPI

Virginia’s Early Loss to Delaware Last Season Badly Damaged Its RPI

The opposite is also true, as Virginia found out last year. Losing to Delaware at home in the Preseason NIT gave Virginia a bad early loss and cost the Cavaliers a trip to New York, which would have improved their non-conference RPI and was a primary reason an 11-7 ACC team was left out of the field. Beyond just notching quality wins, the additional benefit is the RPI boost received from merely playing these games against other quality opponents. As Ken Pomeroy wrote in a March 2011 article, the RPI may not be a great metric but it is the main way NCAA Selection Committees sort teams. With 75% of a team’s RPI based on opponents’ RPI, poor performances in the non-conference schedule by multiple teams can damage an entire conference’s standing dramatically.

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Where 2013-14 Happens: Reason #30 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 21st, 2013


Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2013-14 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. For the next three weeks, you’ll get two hits of excitement each weekday. We’ve captured what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. To see the entire released series so far, click here.

#30 – Where Maui Madness Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-12, and 2012-13 preseasons.

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2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Syracuse Orange

Posted by BHayes on August 28th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

In many ways, the 2013-14 season looks to be business as usual at Syracuse. The roster is deep and talented, expectations are sky-high, and Jim Boeheim is manning the sidelines for the Orange. But you can rest assured that there will have never been a Syracuse basketball season like this one. The day is finally here – the Orange, charter members of the Big East conference, are now officially ACC constituents. Heading south with them are former Big East brethren Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. The addition of these three formidable basketball programs makes the ACC, at least on paper, the toughest hoops conference in the land.

Jim Boeheim And CJ Fair Are Looking Forward To Syracuse's First Year In The ACC

Jim Boeheim And C.J. Fair Are Looking Forward To Syracuse’s First Year In the ACC

  • Team Outlook: Duke will undoubtedly be eager to remind the newbies that the ACC is its conference to rule, but Syracuse should be as poised as any foe to upend the Blue Devils. The Orange frontcourt is loaded, with junior and all-Big East second teamer C.J. Fair (14.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG) leading the charge. Surrounding Fair up front is a trio of high-upside sophomores. Rakeem Christmas (5.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG), DaJuan Coleman (4.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG), and Jerami Grant (3.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG) are all expected to see an uptick in production in year two, but of the three, it is Grant who has the best chance to quickly transform himself from role player into star. Junior Baye Keita (8.6 block percentage) will also see minutes up front, while Duke transfer Michael Gbinije and freshman B.J. Johnson will battle to find time in this crowded frontcourt. Not surprisingly, given the remarkable depth up front, the question marks for Jim Boeheim and the Orange all appear in the backcourt. Gone are Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, leaving Trevor Cooney as the sole backcourt returnee who saw any time a year ago. The sophomore is an engaged and capable defender, but will be expected to shoot the ball better from the outside this time around (he was just 27% from three as a freshman). He may also be tasked with handling some backup point guard duties, as there is no obvious reserve for presumptive starter Tyler Ennis. Ennis, a freshman from Ontario, California, may be the most important player on the Orange roster. With said deficit of ball-handlers, the consensus top-25 recruit will have the rock in his hands a whole lot, and what he does with it will go a long ways towards determining the fate of this Syracuse season. With all the talent around him he does not need to be nearly as dynamic as MCW was a year ago, but with few other options around, he most certainly has to play a solid floor game for the Orange to begin to tap their full potential. Read the rest of this entry »
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