ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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Revisiting the Wildly Upsetting Weekend: Yale, Green Bay, NJIT, USC Upstate & North Florida

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 8th, 2014

It looked like the upset of the weekend on Friday night: 3.5 seconds on the clock, Yale down two to Connecticut; junior guard Jack Montague slipped to the far corner in front of his own bench, caught the baseline inbounds-pass and drilled a game-winning three-pointer to knock off the defending champions in their own building. The loss was the Huskies’ first in 68 games against intrastate opponents, and the shot – complete with frenzied, ecstatic hugging and hands-on-head dejection – was something of an iconic early season moment: six-foot-nothing Ivy League guard with a Shakespearean last name hits clutch shot to upend a dynastic blue-blood program.

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Little did we know, the best was yet to come. From noon ET to a little after 4:00 PM ET on Saturday, four more substantial, O26-over-Power-Five upsets would take place, including one truly for the ages. Let’s revisit and lends some perspective to each of them.

Yale over Connecticut, 45-44 – KenPom win probability: 81.1% UConn; Spread: UConn (-8.5). Yale coach James Jones said afterwards: “I told the guys in the locker room, no matter how old they get, if they get Alzheimer’s or dementia, they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.” However hilarious and slightly morbid a thought, the 16th-year head man is right – the finish was spectacular, and the outcome awfully impressive considering that Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright played nearly the entire game. There had been a growing consensus that Yale could beat the Huskies if Boatright didn’t play – he injured his ankle against Texas and his status was questionable on Friday night – but when the point guard suited up (and was throwing down pre-game dunks beforehand), expectations for the Bulldogs were diminished. Still, Yale had already established itself as the second-best team in the Ivy League; a tough, well-balanced, top-100 KenPom unit capable of hanging with Tournament-caliber opponents. And it showed as much in taking it to the Huskies from opening tip, exploiting defensive lapses, outmuscling Connecticut on the glass (Yale collected an incredible 95.8 percent of its defensive rebound opportunities) and making smart decisions in the game’s waning moments. Big man Justin Sears led the charge with 12 points and 15 rebounds (eight offensive) and Montague sealed the deal in the memorable final seconds.

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ACC M5: 12.08.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 8th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. WralSportsFan: The first conference game of the year took place in Raleigh on Saturday night with N.C. State defeating Wake Forest by a score of 78-65. Mark Gottfried continues to get good production from his two SEC transfers — former LSU player Ralston Turner led the way with 21 points, while former Alabama player Trevor Lacey scored 15 points and dished out six assists. It’s clear that Gottfried’s SEC roots as a player and former head coach at Alabama have helped him establish ties with his old league, giving him good name recognition with potential transfers there. This game was also the ACC debut for Danny Manning, who watched his Deacons struggle offensively, scoring only 65 points in a fairly high-tempo, 72-possession game. A big key to the Wolfpack’s win was keeping Wake off of the offensive boards, really the only thing it has done well this year (35 percent offensive rebounding rate). The Demon Deacons grabbed only 21.4 percent of their misses on this night, easily their worst performance of the year.
  2. New York Post: In a meeting of two traditional Big East rivals, St. John’s beat Syracuse, 69-57, for its first win in the Carrier Dome since 1999. This game came down to shooting, with the Red Storm outscoring the Orange by 18 points on three-pointers and by 10 from the foul line. As Jim Boeheim said after the game, “We’re either going to make shots against good teams or we’re gonna lose. It’s not that complicated.” As usual, the Syracuse defense will keep most opponents’ scoring under control, but it’s really hard to win games while shooting just 20.8 percent from deep, Syracuse’s season average. The most obvious player who can turn that number around is junior guard Trevor Cooney, who was 0-of-4 from behind the arc on Saturday. Perhaps he is feeling pressure as the focus of every defense, so others like Michael Gbinije (3-of-21 on the year) need to step up and knock down some jumpers.
  3. CBS Sports: Miami suffered a surprising 68-55 home loss to Green Bay on Saturday afternoon in Coral Gables. The Hurricanes got off to a terrible start and turned to a zone defense after falling behind by 11 points in the game’s first 13 minutes. After the game, head coach Jim Larranaga said that was the first time this season that he had felt forced to use the zone. Ironically, it was right about this point in the season last year that Larranaga, a traditional man-to-man defensive coach, installed a match-up zone that turned around Miami’s struggling season. This weekend, though, it was the Hurricanes’ offense that failed to produce, with Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan combining to go 9-of-31 from the field. It’s also possible that Miami took the Phoenix too lightly, which was a big mistake against a team that ranks #23 nationally in defensive efficiency.
  4. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Tech continued Saturday’s trend of ACC schools getting upset at home due to offensive struggles, falling to USC-Upstate by five points. Although the Yellow Jackets still have a decent 6-2 record, their offensive deficiencies may not be fixable. Against the Spartans, Georgia Tech struggled from the foul line (11-of-20) and three-point line (3-of-21), while also committing 17 turnovers. A look at their season stats shows that this particular performance wasn’t too far from the team’s norm. The Yellow Jackets currently rank outside of the nation’s top-300 in both free throw (62%) and three-point shooting (27%), and they aren’t much better at ball handling either, ranking #223 in turnover percentage.
  5. Syracuse.com: In this piece from Patrick Stevens, he discusses the difference in effort at Boston College this year under new coach Jim Christian. It appears that the program’s culture now includes tougher mental fortitude, enabling the Eagles to handle game adversity much better than in previous years. On Friday night, the Eagles bested a pretty good Providence squad by nine at Conte Forum, holding off a second half charge from the Friars. Providence, already claiming wins over Florida State and Notre Dame this year, became the second KenPom top-85 team (along with New Mexico) Boston College has beaten this season. By comparison, the Eagles had a dismal 0-6 record against top-85 non-conference opponents last year.
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ACC Stock Watch: Week Three

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2014

After two weeks of some mediocre non-conference competition along with some enlightening Feast Week match-ups, the conference found itself in familiar territory battling its peers in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The games featured there, along with the few that preceded it, continue to shine a light on the teams and players in the conference who are rising, falling, or simply standing still. Here’s the third weekly edition of our ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. No one had a better week than the Blue Devils’ freshman point guard. After a sizzling 16 points and 10 assists in a win over Army earlier this week, Jones put the team on his back to help Duke defeat the nation’s fourth-ranked team on the road. His 22 points helped to offset an average game from the more-ballyhooed Jahlil Okafor, who posted 13 points while battling underneath with the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky all night. More impressive than his numbers was his poise down the stretch and how efficiently he ran the Duke offense all night long. The first true road test was little test at all for this standout freshman.
  • Wayne Blackshear, Louisville. Terry Rozier hit the big shots at the end of the game in the Cardinals’ win over Ohio State on Tuesday night, but it was Blackshear’s breakout performance that made the biggest impact. Long a player with high upside but inconsistent production, Blackshear’s all-around game against the Buckeyes (22 points, 4-of-8 from three, six rebounds) was the kind of contribution that Rick Pitino and Louisville has been waiting for from the senior.
Wayne Blackshear's big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville (USAToday Sports)

Wayne Blackshear’s big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville fans (USAToday Sports)

  • Duke. What can really be said about the scariest team in the country not located in Lexington? Duke went into a very difficult road environment in Madison, Wisconsin, and merely shot 65 percent from the field and used its talented freshmen trio to overcome the veteran stars of the Badgers. They’re as efficient an offensive team as there is in college basketball right now.
  • Miami. While the buzzer-beater win over Florida has now lost some of its luster, the Hurricanes just keep on winning. After dispatching an overmatched South Alabama team, Miami held Illinois (a team averaging 90 points per game coming in) to only 61 in its win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The transfers are everything Jim Larranaga could have hoped they’d be, and holders Manu Lecomte and Tonye Jekiri are flourishing in complementary roles.

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Battle of Unbeatens: Key Questions in Illinois vs. Miami

Posted by Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Lathan Wells, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s Top 25 battle between two unbeatens: the 6-0 Illini and the 7-0 Hurricanes.

Brendan Brody: After a mediocre 17-16 mark last year, Miami is back in the Top 25 with Big 12 transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) deservedly getting most of the credit. Let’s talk about how other key players like Tonyi Jekiri and Manu Lecomte have also had an impact, and how they will affect the outcome of this game.

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Tonye Jekiri has been a defensive force so far for Miami. (Gerry Broome, AP)

Lathan Wells: Lecomte looks much more comfortable playing off the ball and allowing Rodriguez to run the show this season. The result is enormously efficient basketball, as he is averaging 13.3 PPG and shooting 56.7 percent from the field. If Rodriguez and McClellan are being stifled, he offers a third excellent perimeter scoring option. Jekiri, to his credit, has blossomed into a force around the basket, averaging just shy of 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. For a team relying on consistent guard and perimeter play, he has helped to keep the Hurricanes balanced. While it’s true Rodriguez and McClellan are driving Miami’s hot start, don’t be surprised if Lecomte comes up with a few key baskets or if Jekiri helps keep Miami on the plus-side of the rebounding margin. Illinois hangs its hat on defense first, but the Illini rank fifth in the country in averaging 90 points per game. How will they handle a lower scoring contest if Miami is able to slow things down?

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Big Ten/ACC Challenge: Which League Has the Upper Hand?

Posted by mpatton on December 2nd, 2014

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge wasn’t the original inter-conference, made-for-TV battle, but it’s still the best. It represents a clash of styles, histories (especially with most of the Big East now in the ACC) and talent between two of the top basketball leagues in the country. The ACC dominated the Challenge from its inception, winning the first 10 meetings from 1999-2008, but the Big Ten is in the middle of a furious comeback by winning three in a row from 2009-11 before the ACC managed to eke out a couple of ties. This season the challenge expanded to a whopping 14 games, and on paper it looks like it will be another close one.

Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Frank Kaminsky and the Badgers Headline the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Monday (Big Ten leads 2-0)

The Challenge started on Monday night, with Big Ten schools coming away victorious in two blockbuster middling match-ups. Florida State and Clemson have disappointed to start the season, so their losses to Nebraska and Rutgers weren’t surprising. But it’s not like those two schools have looked like powerhouses either. It’s also important to note that both games took place on ACC turf, which means the ACC needs to steal at least two road games of its own in order to break even the rest of the way. That these were considered toss-ups is also somewhat troubling. Regardless, let’s look at the remainder of the schedule.

Tuesday

  • Pittsburgh at Indiana (7:00 PM ESPN2): Recent history says this match-up will be awesome, but this season has been a disappointment so far for both teams. Jamie Dixon’s Panthers took an unexpected loss to Hawaii on its way to the Maui Invitational; likewise, the Hoosiers lost a shocker at home to Eastern Washington. Over the course of the season, Pittsburgh appears to be the better team, but without Durand Johnson (suspended for the season) and the game in Bloomington, there are plenty of questions. Prediction: Pittsburgh
  • Minnesota at Wake Forest (7:00 PM ESPNU): Look at this game on paper and it looks like a blowout. The Demon Deacons have finished near the bottom of the ACC during the last four years, and they’re also coming off a loss to Delaware State (at home). But Minnesota looks beatable here — especially if Codi Miller-McIntyre plays up to his potential. The Gophers are more experienced, but Danny Manning’s team should be able to pull off a couple of a head-scratching wins this season at home (I mean, Jeff Bzdelik pulled the feat last year), so this game isn’t as straightforward as it looks. Prediction: Wake Forest

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ACC Stock Watch – Week One

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 21st, 2014

Each week here at the microsite we’ll take a look at which ACC teams and players are trending up, down, or remaining flat. It’s still very early in the season, but there are some trends to be gleaned from the first week of opening games. Let’s take a look below:

Trending Up

  • Duke. Despite all of the preseason hype placed on Duke’s freshmen (Jahlil Okafor in particular) and speculative questions about overall team chemistry, the Blue Devils have looked the part of a title contender thus far. Their blowouts over Presbyterian and Fairfield may not have convinced anyone, but their wire-to-wire victory over Michigan State showed that Duke is already in top form.
  • Miami. The Hurricanes’ early returns on their big-name transfers have been outstanding. Sheldon McClellan (from Texas) is putting up 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game through two contests, and former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez is not only averaging a team-high 18.3 points per contest, but he also hit the game-winning three over rival Florida that ended the Gators’ 33-game home winning streak. Pretty solid start for Jim Larranaga’s newcomers.
Angel Rodriguez has brought pleasant early returns for Miami (USA Today Sports)

Angel Rodriguez has produced pleasant early returns for Miami (USA Today Sports)

  • Virginia Tech. Why are the Hokies trending up when they only have wins over Maryland-Eastern Shore and Liberty? Well, go back in time one year ago and Virginia Tech had just lost its season opener to South Carolina Upstate. At a minimum, Buzz Williams has his team beating the teams it should beat, something last year’s group couldn’t boast. Freshman Justin Bibbs’ solid start to the season has been a pleasant surprise as well.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 21st, 2014

morning5_ACC Note: To gauge relative team strength, we are using current Kenpom ratings.

  1. Charleston Classic: Fresh off Monday’s big upset over Florida, Jim Larrañaga‘s squad is looking to make some more noise in the Gildan Charleston Classic. On Thursday afternoon, Miami (#40) topped Drexel (#161), 66-46, with its defense, holding the Dragons to 31.4 percent shooting from the field. Next up for the Hurricanes will be this afternoon’s semifinal game (2:30 ET – ESPN2) with Akron (#181), a team that beat USC (#169) yesterday in a mild surprise. It looks like Miami’s only chance for a quality win here would be in Sunday night’s championship game (9:00 ET – ESPN2) against a team from the more competitive side of the bracket. The tourney’s pseudo-host, South Carolina (#81), will meet Charlotte (#87) in today’s other semifinal, so either way Miami will face its toughest opponent in the event on Sunday, with another pretty good opportunity for a resume-building win.
  2. Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Boston College (#147) rebounded from its first loss of the year with a somewhat surprising opening round win on Thursday over New Mexico (#55), 69-65, in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Olivier Hanlan came up big down the stretch with 10 points in the last 7:03 to clinch the win. A look at the bracket shows a tough road ahead for the Eagles with today’s semifinal matchup (5:00 ET – ESPN2) against West Virginia (#47) followed by a game with either Dayton (#50) or defending national champion Connecticut (#18). If Boston College wins one or two more games here, it will be good news for the ACC. Last year, after a terrible non-conference performance, the Eagles became a drag on the entire ACC’s RPI, but this year they may actually be helpful in that regard.
  3. 2K Sports Classic: California (#63) shocked Syracuse (#12) by a score of 73-59 on Thursday night in Madison Square Garden to advance to tonight’s championship game of the 2K Sports Classic, where they will take on Texas (#15). Syracuse, who will face Iowa (#24) in the consolation game (5:00 ET – ESPN2) trailed by 12 at the half and never threatened the Bears the rest of the way. California got a measure of revenge, though, as the Orange beat the Bears in last year’s Maui Invitational on the way to that event’s championship. Jim Boeheim’s Orange saw their hot streak in these type of early tournaments come to a halt, after winning five such events in a row over a six-year period. The last time Syracuse came up short was back in the 2007 NIT Tipoff, also held at the same New York venue, where they settled for third place.
  4. Paradise Jam: This afternoon, Clemson (#91) will kick off the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands with a matchup (1:30 ET) against Gardner-Webb (#191). Here’s a look at the bracket for this event, and it’s clearly not full of top-notch programs compared to many of the other early tournaments. Still, if Clemson were to win this tournament — the championship game is Monday night (9:00 – CBS Sports Network) — beating Seton Hall (#75) and LSU (#77) along the way, it would be a slight boost to the Tigers’ resume and the ACC’s conference RPI. Of course, the opposite is true as well. With a bad home loss to Winthrop (#188) already on its ledger, Clemson can ill afford to drop another game to an opponent outside of the top 100.
  5. Coaches vs. Cancer Classic: Coming off its Champions Classic victory over Michigan State on Tuesday, Duke (#2) is in Brooklyn tonight (9:30 ET – TruTv) to take on Temple (#109) in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Former Blue Devils player and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins leads Stanford (#52) against UNLV (#98) in the other semifinal game. As a player, Dawkins is widely regarded as the most important recruit in Mike Krzyzewski’s illustrious career in Durham, and later he spent 11 years as an assistant coach at his alma mater. If the two meet on Saturday night (Finals: 9:30 ET – TruTv), it would be the first time Dawkins would get to match coaching wits with his mentor. Now in his seventh year at Stanford, Dawkins needs another solid season to stay off the hot seat. He finally got his team to the NCAA Tournament last March, when the Cardinal upset Kansas before losing to Dayton in the Sweet Sixteen.
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ACC M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 19th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse.com: It is well-known that the Syracuse basketball and football programs have been under NCAA scrutiny for a while now. Other than eligibility concerns surrounding Fab Melo, though, there hasn’t been much information about what the alleged transgressions were. Recent news of a link between a YMCA in Oneida and Orange athletes has brought to light some of the other issues the school is contending with. Questions are being asked about internship programs that athletes supposedly completed at the Y, administered by graduate students. Additionally, a former supervisor at this YMCA was sued for siphoning money from the organization into a private account. That supervisor, Jeff Cornish, had no previous ties to Syracuse but has been seen with former stars Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick, among others, at various times over past years. If nothing else, this helps to clarify some of what Syracuse is experiencing, and the possible issue with the internships draws some resemblance to the paper classes scandal at North Carolina, although on a much smaller scale.
  2. ESPN: Angel Rodriguez‘s name was everywhere in the past 24 hours, thanks to the game-winning three pointer he nailed that ended Florida’s 33-game home winning streak. Miami is largely dependent on Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, both transfers, to make this a much-improved Hurricanes team. Rodriguez’s heroics led ESPN.com‘s Myron Medcalf to delve into whether transfers like those two are a good thing for college hoops. Medcalf notes that some players transfer, even multiple times, for purely selfish reasons, but said that he regarded Rodriguez and N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey as examples of players who had good reasons to move on to a new school. Clearly some of the best transfer talent in college basketball can be found in the ACC this season.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: One of the key takeaways from N.C. State’s win over Hofstra on Monday night was the offensive production of Lennard Freeman. The Wolfpack’s frontcourt was always going to be a focal point this year due to its relative youth, and, so far, early results are mixed. Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya, the two frontcourt players most projected to make the biggest impact, performed poorly in that contest. If Freeman can have more nights like he did against Hofstra (nine points, 13 rebounds) it would go a long way towards helping head coach Mark Gottfried develop the impact frontcourt he’s desires. Overall, though, all three of his big men need to play integral roles each and every night for the Wolfpack to have a successful season.
  4. The Courier-Journal: In short, Montrezl Harrell is a beast. His 30-point, seven-rebound performance in Louisville‘s opener over Minnesota was jaw-dropping not so much because of his production but how he produced it. Harrell, always a monster around the rim, displayed a newfound ability to hit jump shots from deep (3-of-4 from three-point range) that he did not have last season. As Gary Parrish from CBSSports.com noted, “Suddenly, it appears this physical specimen and unique athlete is now also capable of scoring 20-feet from the basket. That, I think, makes him nearly impossible to guard…” Harrell’s opening-night salvo earned him the ACC Player of the Week award and placed him atop the first Player of the Year rankings from ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, and CollegeSportsMadness.com. Oh, and he followed that great game up with 15/7 in game number two against Jacksonville State.
  5. Richmond Times-Dispatch: As noted before here on RTC, there are low expectations for Virginia Tech this season. When a win over Maryland-Eastern Shore in the season opener is a relief, it really hits home from a reality perspective. As the author writes, the standout from that game was freshman Justin Bibbs. Bibbs’ 15 points and two assists were a welcome sight for Hokies fans unsure of what all of these newcomers would mean for the team this year (four true freshmen played in the team’s opener). Devin Wilson was really the only sure thing on the roster returning, but if the Hokies have some under-the-radar talent among their newcomers, perhaps Buzz Williams’ reclamation project in Blacksburg won’t take as long as most thought. Bibbs certainly gave everyone a reason to get excited over the weekend.
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Hurricane Angel: Rodriguez Buys a Big Resume Win

Posted by Matt Patton on November 18th, 2014

Down fifteen in the second half on the road against a top-10 team, Miami looked finished last night. But Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez had different ideas. Rodriguez dominated the last nine minutes, scoring 22 points including the Hurricanes’ final 11 of the game. His heavily contested triple with 18 seconds remaining won the game, and in so doing gave a lot of credence to those of us who were already bullish on Miami during the preseason (ahem). The win comes with an asterisk: Florida’s frontcourt was in awful shape. Devon Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith were injured, and fellow ACC-departure Alex Murphy won’t become eligible until January. Sophomore forward Chris Walker was also still suspended. This left Billy Donovan with no depth to speak of, so he started walk-on Jake Kurtz alongside Jon Horford underneath. But this was still a huge win for Miami, showing that Rodriguez has emerged as a bona fide leader. And most importantly, no one will remember all of Florida’s injuries in four months. This is the kind of win that looks great on a March resume and gets a middling ACC team into the Big Dance.

Miami's season is looking up thanks to Angel Rodriguez's hot second half. (photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY)

Miami’s season is looking up thanks to Angel Rodriguez’s hot second half. (photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY)

In retrospect, it should have been obvious that Rodriguez would take over this year. He was a prolific scorer who managed to have strong efficiency numbers despite poor field goal percentages at Kansas State. And he’s exactly the piece Miami was missing last season (no offense to Rion Brown). Manu Lacomte has a lot of potential, but he’s not the focal point of an offense. That said, Rodriguez is a mercurial player. It’s easy to forget that he started 1-of-6 for two points in the first 31 minutes of the game (he finished with a 6-of-8 run, including five made threes). He will have some nights where the shots just aren’t falling, and the only other player on the team who looks capable of lighting up the scoreboard is Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan. McLellan had a quiet game last night, but he scored 19 points in the Hurricanes’ season opener on Friday against Howard. Like Rodriguez, he’s not an efficient shooter, but he makes his money at the foul line. He also does a much better job in holding onto the ball.

When it’s all said and done, Jim Larranaga needs to find some balance or Miami will be a roller coaster team this season. The squad is still very young across the roster and it relies heavily on two players who haven’t shot the ball consistently over the course of their careers. This win over Florida, though, shows that Miami has major heart. It also shows that there’s legitimately good reason to be excited about the middle of the ACC pack this season. Most importantly, thought, it gives Miami what should be a great win to present to the Selection Committee in March. And that’s what everybody is playing for.

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ACC Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by mpatton on November 14th, 2014

Over the last two weeks, we have previewed each team individually to go with several more articles to get you ready for ACC basketball (first tip: 6:00 PM ET in Durham). Links to the previews can be found in each of the preseason power rankings listed below. Also look for our preseason conference awards which will publish later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Duke Blue Devils 1. Duke (58): Everyone knows about the freshmen, and they are sensational. But are Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon ready to put together a consistent season from start to finish? That answer may determine whether the Blue Devils are Final Four-bound or facing another early departure from the Tourney.
Virginia Cavaliers T2. Virginia (53): Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell didn’t light up the scoreboard in Charlottesville, but their leadership and savvy was key in Virginia’s magical run last year. Can Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson assume larger roles and keep Tony Bennett‘s team in the national limelight?
North Carolina Tar Heels T2. North Carolina (53): Everyone knows about Marcus Paige, and the Tar Heels should be better at the line and from three with the addition of some talented freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have to bring it every night in the paint for this team to reach its potential.
LouisvilleLogo 4. Louisville (52): The Cardinals probably have as good a shot as any of the top four. While they will have to learn how to play a new set of conference opponents in unfamiliar arenas, the ACC will have to adjust to Rick Pitino’s style of pressure defense with multiple schemes. Most of the key contributors are now gone from the 2012-13 National Championship squad, but the program brings a culture used to winning at the highest level.
Syracuse Orange 5. Syracuse (42): There are a lot of questions about the Orange after Tyler Ennis’ and Jerami Grant’s early departures. Jim Boeheim has a talented team that won’t be an easy out, but there are a lot of questions about how the offense will run with another freshman, Kaleb Joseph, at the helm.
Florida State Seminoles 6. Florida State (38): The Seminoles haven’t been their usual defensive selves the past two seasons, but this year Leonard Hamilton has three experienced big men along with a cadre of long perimeter players. Aaron Thomas may be the most underrated player in the ACC, which bodes well for things in Tallahassee this year.
Pittsburgh Panthers 7. Pittsburgh (37)Jamie Dixon has a tradition of replacing departed stars with veterans. For Pitt to win games against the ACC’s elite, Cameron Wright and James Robinson must continue that trend and get some help, maybe a year earlier than the norm, from the talented sophomore class. One would think they are due for a healthier year than last, when midseason injuries really set the team back.
NC State Wolfpack 8. NC State (34): T.J. Warren is gone, so this team has to find its offense by committee. Tyler Lewis is too, so Cat Barber will have to be efficient and also seek his own shot. The maturation of a young frontcourt will be key. Mark Gottfried has historically impressed with low expectations.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9. Notre Dame (32): It won’t be a surprise if Zach Auguste makes a big jump in production as a junior, but beyond that is nothing but unproven post players. With the perimeter filled with talent and experience, keeping Auguste healthy and out of foul trouble may be the key as the Irish try to make a dramatic jump in the standings. Jerian Grant is a contender for ACC Player of the Year.
Miami Hurricanes 10. Miami (25): Arguably the best coaching job in the country last year happened in Coral Gables. If Jim Larranaga gets this team to improve, the Hurricanes will be significantly better than many expect. Manu Lacomte needs to make the leap and lead a young team in a very tough conference.
Clemson Tigers 11. Clemson (18): Brad Brownell showed that even without a ton of obvious roster talent, the Tigers will be competitive — especially on defense. This season he has to prove that again without K.J. McDaniels. It’s unclear who the go-to player will be, so Clemson’s offense could hold this team back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 12. Wake Forest (17): Wake may be ready for a solid rise in the ACC standings as early as next year. This year will be a challenge, but momentum could be built towards a good 2015-16 season. Juniors Devin Thomas on the inside and Cody Miller-McIntyre in the backcourt will dictate how good this team is.
Boston College 13. Boston College (12): A year and coach removed from last year’s disappointing effort leave a lot of questions in Chestnut Hill. Olivier Hanlan will always be worth the price of admission, but he may not have enough supporting cast to escape the dregs of the ACC unless Dennis Clifford can finally stay healthy.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (10): It’s really hard to see Brian Gregory surviving as coach here if the Yellow Jackets don’t make the postseason this season. It’s also hard to see this Georgia Tech team finishing in the top half of the ACC, which is what it would probably take to get that NCAA bid — or even a trip to the NIT. The odds of Gregory being in Atlanta after March 2015 are not very good.
Virginia Tech Hokies 15. Virginia Tech (6): Virginia Tech will again be among the cellar-dwellers in the ACC, but at least it has come cachet with the hiring of Buzz Williams. They’ll be serviceable in the backcourt with Devin Wilson returning, but it will be a year or two before we can evaluate the viability of the Hokies as competitive in the conference.

Miscellaneous Power Rankings Notes:

  • Coach K reloadsDuke was the top choice again this year with another one-and-done big man, but the Blue Devils weren’t the unanimous pick. Virginia and Louisville both got a first place vote.
  • Clear Contenders: North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia (in some order) rounded out everyone’s top four, marking a distinct upper tier in the conference.
  • Media/Microsite solidarity: For the second season in a row, no teams differed from the preseason media poll by more than two spots.
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ACC M5: 11.12.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 12th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. A Dime Back: This UConn fan site executed a classic troll on the Huskies’ old Big East rival, Syracuse, by buying the domain http://syracuse.nyc/ and flaunting Connecticut’s success in the Big Apple at the Orange. Of course, the irony of this story is that if UConn considers itself the champ of New York it will soon have to give up that belt due to inactivity. The Huskies don’t have a single game this season scheduled in the Big Apple while the Orange will play twice in Madison Square Garden in November as part of the 2K Classic. Syracuse will ultimately get the last laugh when the ACC starts playing its ACC Tournament in Brooklyn in 2017 while Connecticut, left behind in the last major conference realignment, travels to less prestigious campus sites/cities for the American Athletic Conference’s postseason tourney. Good job, good effort.
  2. CBSSports: Virginia will be without two of its key returnees when the Cavaliers tip off the season on Friday night at James Madison. The school announced one-game suspensions for starting point guard London Perrantes and reserve forward Evan Nolte for violating team rules over the summer. This hasn’t been the best start to the season for the sophomore Perrantes, who, after a preseason injury delayed his availability to practice, now finds himself sitting out for a game. Both players are supposed to return to action for Virginia’s home game with Norfolk State on Sunday.
  3. Boston College Exhibition: On November 6, Boston College played its only preseason exhibition game, defeating American International, 92-53, in Conte Forum. Graduate student transfer Aaron Brown led the Eagles in the scoring column with 21 points. Brown comes to Boston College from Southern Miss, where he averaged 9.9 points per game and shot 39 percent from three-point distance as a junior. Perhaps he can be the versatile and athletic wing player that was noticeably absent from the program under the watch of former coach Steve Donahue. Boston College kicks off the 2014-15 season for real on Friday when it hosts New Hampshire.
  4. Miami Exhibition: Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes trailed at halftime before rallying to beat Eckerd, 74-58, at the BankUnited Center last Thursday. This was the only preseason contest for Miami before it hosts Howard in the season’s official opener on Friday. Sophomore guard Manu Lecomte was the lone returning player from last year to see minutes, as eight Hurricanes made their public debut. The most impressive was former Texas wing Sheldon McClellan, who led the team’s scoring with 24 points on 7-of-10 shooting from both the field and the foul line. His fellow Big 12 transfer, former Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez, also shined with six assists and five steals. Of course, Larranaga excels at putting together different pieces in a productive manner, so don’t underestimate this team just because it hasn’t played together much at all before this preseason.
  5. Georgia Tech Exhibition: Last Saturday at McCamish Pavilion, Georgia Tech topped Clayton State, 74-41, in this preseason’s lone exhibition contest for the Yellow Jackets. Tech used its size advantage to dominate the boards (+32 total rebounds) but did nothing to dispel the concern we expressed in our team preview related to poor free throw shooting of the incoming transfer big men — Charles Mitchell and Demarco Cox combined to go 2-of-10 from the stripe. Brian Gregory’s team hosts a good Georgia squad in Friday’s regular season opener, and a win against such high-major competition would be huge for the embattled Georgia Tech coach as he begins a crucial season in Atlanta.
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