ACC Weekend Review: 01.27.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 27th, 2015

This was easily the most entertaining weekend of ACC hoops so far this season. Of course, the league’s most important result was probably Duke’s win over St. John’s in New York’s Madison Garden, giving Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th career win. The Blue Devils’ win also gave the ACC an important midseason non-conference victory on the road against a decent Big East team. Comebacks and exciting finishes were the norm as six of the seven league games were decided by four points or fewer. Conference leader Virginia needed to stage a late comeback to win at pesky rival Virginia Tech, while Notre Dame rallied from a huge early deficit to force overtime and eventually outlast N.C. State in Raleigh. In other close games, Miami won at Syracuse, Boston College edged Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Clemson beat Wake Forest on a putback at the buzzer, and North Carolina held off a furious Florida State rally on Saturday before itself rallying against Syracuse on Big Monday. In the only game that wasn’t in doubt in the final minutes, Louisville picked up a road win against struggling Pittsburgh. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes explode for 35 points in Chapel Hill on Saturday. (Photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes exploded for 35 points in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
(Photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Redshirt freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes single-handedly kept Florida State competitive in its 78-74 loss at North Carolina on Saturday, as his 35 points tied the second-highest total ever scored by a UNC opponent in the 29-year history of the Smith Center. The Seminole guard connected on 14-of-26 field goals, including five three-pointers, three of which came in the game’s last 35 seconds to make the Tar Heels sweat down the stretch. Rathan-Mayes was more than just a scorer, though, as he grabbed five rebounds, handed out four assists, and had two steals in the contest. He has a great chance to become Leonard Hamilton’s next special player in Tallahassee.
  • Best Win: While Duke’s win over St. John’s was important for the obvious historical reasons, we will instead honor the top performance in a conference game here — Notre Dame’s overtime win in Raleigh on Sunday night. It’s not just that the Irish won a hard-fought victory in a tough venue, but it’s the way that the Irish did so that makes this win the best of the weekend. With under four minutes remaining in the first half, N.C. State was ahead by 18 points and cruising. But Notre Dame closed the half with a mini-run that cut the lead to 12, giving the Irish some momentum to carry into the second half. After finally catching the Wolfpack with 13 minutes left, the Irish fell behind again before rallying to force overtime and win the game. Star guard Jerian Grant led the way with 25 points as the Irish won their seventh ACC game in eight tries. Notre Dame hosts Duke Wednesday in a huge game for both teams in the conference standings.

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RTC Rewind: No. 1,000, Kansas Bill Selfing, Crazy Endings at WVU, Maryland…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 26th, 2015

One thousand wins. One, zero, zero, zero. It was a busy weekend in college basketball, but everything else was overshadowed by that number. We’ll start by stating the obvious. In a career full of them, what a truly remarkable accomplishment for Mike Krzyzewski. It’s one thing to coach for a long time and break records and reach milestones based on longevity, but what makes Coach K so special is that he’s combined all those years with such consistent winning. His teams are perennial contenders. He’s established a tradition of greatness, and built a distinct culture over 30 years in Durham that has not eroded in the least.

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

One of the things that made win No. 1,000 so awesome was the way in which Krzyzewski and Duke achieved it. Their Sunday afternoon performance in the World’s Most Famous Arena was evocative of the culture and recipe for sustained success that he has crafted. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, the Blue Devils fought back with a 26-7 run to end the game. The players, of course, knew what was on the line, taking it upon themselves to come through for their coach — playing with incredible passion, emotion and commitment. They slapped the floor. They punched the air. They were determined and focused. Afterward, when his team hugged Krzyzewski and his wife and donned shirts and hats to commemorate the milestone, their love for their leader was crystal clear. And in the end, that is exactly why Coach K has been able to achieve what he has achieved. And has he ever achieved a lot! Afterward, Krzyzewski was insistent that the focus remain on the present as opposed to the past. As big of a win it was for him personally, it was also a huge one for Duke. St. John’s — seeing the resume-enhancing possibility with Duke in its building — came to play on Sunday, and made things very difficult for the Blue Devils for most of the game. But in crunch time, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Jahlil Okafor all found another gear, and it pushed Duke to a dominant finish that the Johnnies just couldn’t match.

And That Sets Up…

An ACC showdown on Wednesday in South Bend, because Notre Dame pulled out a massive comeback win of its own at NC State on Sunday. The Wolfpack jumped out to an 18-point first half lead, but the Fighting Irish’s consistent scoring allowed them to claw back into the game so that Jerian Grant and his supporting cast could showcase their ‘clutch genes’ down the stretch. Notre Dame is now 19-2 and will welcome Duke to the Joyce Center on Wednesday. What a game that will be.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 22nd, 2015

With approximately three weeks of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the ACC season. This is the first edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, focusing on which teams are playing better or worse than their records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 20th.

Current Standings

Jan21ACCPPP

It’s no revelation that Tony Bennett’s Virginia team has been the best team in the league to date, holding a larger points per possession (PPP) margin over second place North Carolina than the Tar Heels have over the sixth-best team, Louisville. And the Cavaliers are doing it at both ends of the floor, leading the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s hard to understand why many of the experts only seem to talk about Virginia’s defense — which is great by the way — seemingly blinded by the fact the this is an equally outstanding offensive team as well. Not just “also pretty good,” but… “Outstanding!” Syracuse fans should probably be hesitant based on the discrepancy between the Orange’s gaudy 5-1 ACC record and their possession-based performance. Note that they have benefited from playing the least challenging conference schedule thus far, facing six teams that populate the bottom of the standings. Eventually the ACC heavyweights will show up on the docket, and that record is likely to backslide. Georgia Tech’s situation — dead last in the standings, but eighth in PPP — is what happens when the Jackets lose games by margins of one, three, five, seven and seven points. Pittsburgh may be in a similar spot as its former Big East rival from upstate New York, sporting a fortunate .500 record given their easy schedule.

Advanced Stat of the Week: North Carolina’s Rebounding (Both)

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ACC M5: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 22nd, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke Basketball Report: Good read from Al Featherston on Coach K and his new zone defense. I have a theory that Krzyzewski’s views on using the zone have softened somewhat because of his close friendship with Jim Boeheim. I also agree with Krzyzewski’s observation that Duke‘s defense is tied to its offense. The notion makes sense for a couple of reasons: most importantly, making shots allows a team sufficient time to set its defense (either through a press or in the half-court); but secondly, making shots also keeps players’ confidence high. Zone will not win Duke a championship. This is still a really young team and the head coach needs to figure out how to keep things under control when adversity hits (my guess is that it starts and ends with the team’s All-American center).
  2. Orangeburg Times and Democrat: This article reads a little like a bitter coach’s presser, but Clemson does have an attendance problem, which is really unfortunate because Littlejohn Coliseum is one of the best arenas in the ACC (and it might just be the loudest when at capacity). While I agree that some impetus has to be put on the students and fan base, Clemson also currently plays an ugly style of basketball. KJ McDaniels provided Top 10-worthy dunks and blocks on a regular basis, but this year’s team doesn’t have that must-watch player. Combine that lack of star power with a sluggish and inefficient offense, and you have a recipe for general apathy.
  3. Orlando Sentinel: Jim Larranaga threw his entire Miami team out of practice earlier this week in an effort to find the right message for a team that struggles with consistency. Part of Miami’s roller coaster tendency is because Angel Rodriguez is such a mercurial player, but some part of it may also lie with the team’s overall effort. Miami is in good shape as far as NCAA Tournament consideration is concerned (assuming the Selection Committee continues to reward strong wins), but it’s far from a lock for the Big Dance thanks to some head-scratching losses. Someone on this team needs to step up and become a steadying force down the stretch.
  4. South Bend Tribune: The ACC needs to rework its broadcasting contract. In expanding the conference (from numerical and geographic perspectives), the TV deal hasn’t caught up. Sure there are plenty of options to watch ACC teams play under the lights on ESPN, but it’s the third-tier games that are still frustratingly hard to find. Having a dedicated network (instead of the piecemeal “ACC Network” across local stations) would help, but I think they should keep the web of local networks in addition to the games shown on any future network.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: There may be some trouble brewing in Louisville, as junior All-American Montrezl Harrell is no longer a team captain. The school hasn’t yet released anything else on the matter, but such a move doesn’t make me confident in where the team stands. In order to make a run in March, Harrell needs to be a vocal leader on this team. Maybe Rick Pitino is trying to send him a message, but the move is more than likely punitive. Don’t expect much more to come out about this, but the Cardinals’ team chemistry and Harrell’s engagement are a couple of things to keep an eye on over the Cards’ next few games.
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ACC Weekend Review: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2015

In the headline match-up of the weekend, Duke ended its two-game losing streak with a surprisingly comfortable win at Louisville on Saturday. But the bigger surprise was how the Blue Devils did it, going almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone defense that was incredibly effective against the cold-shooting Cardinals. Notre Dame rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Miami in South Bend on Saturday, keeping the Irish in second place in the league standings behind undefeated Virginia. The Cavaliers also had to mount a second half comeback to overtake Boston College Saturday afternoon in Conte Forum. In other games over the weekend, Syracuse dropped its first league game of the year at Clemson; N.C. State picked up a road win versus Florida State; and North Carolina and Pittsburgh each won home games against a pair of conference winless clubs, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Notre Dame's Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday's win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday’s win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Jerian Grant had scored a total of only 26 points in his previous three games, but the senior guard broke out of his mini-slump with a huge effort against Miami on Saturday. The ACC Player of the Year candidate finished with an efficient 25 points that came on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. He also passed out eight assists and was part of a perimeter defense that held Hurricanes’ guard Angel Rodriguez in check. Rodriguez had torched Duke in his previous game with 24 points, but only managed four points on 1-of-10 shooting Saturday. Grant was also the difference down the stretch as his three broke a tie with 6:19 left and he also scored a layup and blocked a shot in the last minute to seal the win.
  • Best Win: After looking nothing like a championship contender in its two prior outings, Duke got back on track with a mild upset at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. After an all-night coaches’ meeting following Duke’s home debacle versus Miami, Mike Krzyzewski abandoned the Blue Devils’ trademark pressure man-to-man defense to instead play a 2-3 zone against the Cardinals. While it was a big surprise to most of us, the zone was not totally unexpected by Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who said afterwards, “Duke is a team that never plays zone… and that’s what I would have done if I were in [Mike Krzyzewski’s] shoes.” Pitino is no doubt referring to his team’s lack of perimeter shooting, which finished a chilly 4-of-25 on three-pointers against the Devils. Ironically, Duke looked a lot more like a recent-vintage Syracuse team, with the Blue Devils playing deliberately on the offensive end to go along with the newly-installed zone defense.

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Duke Heads to Louisville Looking for Confidence

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 17th, 2015

One week ago, the storyline surrounding Duke‘s visit to Louisville was that Mike Krzyzewski would most likely be going for win #1,000 in his illustrious coaching career. How quickly things change in the world of college basketball! Today, after two discouraging beatings by unranked teams, the Blue Devils head into a Noon ET (ESPN) showdown wondering if they can beat just about anybody right now. So what’s going on with the team that won each game handily on its way to a 14-0 start, including that huge early December win at Wisconsin that seems like ages ago?

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday's Loss to Miami. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Mike Kzyzewski Had No Answers in Tuesday’s Loss to Miami.
(Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Whenever a team goes through a bad stretch, there are invariably multiple reasons for the slump. In Duke’s case, much has been made of the team’s poor defensive play and with good reason — both N.C. State and Miami torched the Blue Devils with over 1.2 points per possession. Duke’s defense struggled in almost every area in both games: off the dribble; perimeter shooters; poor rotation; transition; at the rim. That’s too many areas to fix with strategic adjustments alone. On offense, the team that has ranked first nationally in offensive efficiency for most of the season has suddenly gone ice cold. Senior Quinn Cook is the only perimeter player who can make a jump shot right now, which allows defenses to concentrate on surrounding Jahlil Okafor without paying the price. Consider this: Cook has made 8-of-14 shots from three-point range in the two losses, but the rest of the team is 6-of-35. Perhaps all of that cold shooting is a big reason for the defensive meltdowns that took place in the second half of each loss (see tables below).

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ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2015

Conference play got under way for the ACC roughly two weeks ago, and the early games have lived up to their lofty billing in providing us with valuable insights. Some teams are clearly playing up to their potential and possibly even beyond it, while several others are already searching for answers for disturbing trends. Welcome to this week’s ACC Stock Watch, the first since the ACC’s teams started beating up on each other.

Trending Up

  • Virginia. It would be hard to imagine that a team entering ACC play at 12-0 could be trending up after just two weeks of action, but the Cavaliers have the look of a serious national title contender. The only team boasting both a defense and an offense among the top 10 in efficiency metrics, the Cavaliers have shown a keen ability to win games in a myriad of ways. It’s not just an elite defense carrying Tony Bennett’s team, as it showed in its awesome 89-80 double-overtime win over Miami two weeks ago. Virginia has already toppled the Hurricanes and Notre Dame and have shown no signs of slowing down.
  • North Carolina. With the best of the Tar Heels’ non-conference wins losing some luster (Ohio State, Florida), North Carolina badly needed a marquee win in conference play. Last weekend’s victory over Louisville qualified as such, and holding on to beat NC State in Raleigh on Wednesday night showed the team may have regained some of the toughness that was so sorely lacking. Could a 3-1 ACC start propel North Carolina to bigger things?
Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

  • NC State. A 3-2 start in the ACC may not blow anyone away, but the Wolfpack’s demolition of Duke and their near-win over a surging North Carolina team shows Mark Gottfried’s group is capable of making some noise this year. Add in a blowout win over Pittsburgh an is there a reasonable argument that NC State belongs with the heavyweights?
  • Miami. There were plenty of questions about the direction in which the Hurricanes were heading when they closed the non-conference schedule by losing three of four. But Angel Rodriguez and company have answered the bell in the ACC, pushing Virginia to double-overtime and handling Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Notre Dame and NC State up next, we’ll know even more about Miami by this time next week.

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ACC M5: 01.15.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 15th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlotte Observer and Sporting News: So, what should we make of Duke‘s back-to-back losses to NC State and Miami? Mike Krzyzewski thinks Duke has a confidence problem. Tom Gatto thinks it may be more serious than that. Both may be right. Duke is in a tough spot. If it is confidence, the upcoming schedule isn’t exactly a cake walk (four of the next five are on the road, including games at Louisville, Notre Dame, and Virginia). That means Coach K needs to find a way to inspire his team or risk a really bad stretch that could derail a season. But this Duke team is still really, really good. It’s not a finished product, but the pieces are all there.
  2. Riddick and Reynolds: Hopefully the future leadership of the NC State Technician reads James Curle’s thoughtful piece on doing the satirical “Daily Tar Hell” edition for next year. This is the second straight year NC State’s student newspaper opted to avoid the parody, which is too bad. Ravi Chittilla’s response is a reasonable one. National newspapers aren’t doing great these days, much less college ones. But I’m sure there are some passionate NC State alumni who would help finance the venture through crowdfunding.
  3. Indianapolis Star: Bad news out of South Bend as Zach Auguste is suspended indefinitely for academic issues. Notre Dame plays everything close to the vest so don’t expect many details leaking out. It’s a good sign he’s still enrolled (the school has a very strict honor code), but that may mean it’s something that is being appealed or something related to the NCAA instead of the school. While the Fighting Irish managed to beat Georgia Tech, Auguste was a very high usage player that will be impossible to replace.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: Rakeem Christmas put on a show in order to beat Wake Forest in overtime. This isn’t the first time his development has showed up in the Morning Five (and it probably won’t be the last), but Christmas is earning himself some money the way he’s playing this year. While his field goal percentage isn’t quite as gaudy, Christmas’s scoring and rebounding numbers look a lot like Jahlil Okafor’s. Syracuse isn’t great this season, but as long as they can steal a win against a good team, they’ve done well enough in close games to be on the bubble.
  5. Orlando Sun Sentinel: Miami‘s been up and down this season (having mercurial star players will do that), but the Hurricanes are young. As Jim Larranaga said, “We’re still on the ground floor.” Larranaga has cobbled together one of the better teams in the ACC, recruiting transfers and international players especially. This team is only going to get better next year. That’s what should worry ACC opponents (especially those normally residing in Durham). Even if Larranaga plans on retiring in four or five years, he’s made Miami into a much better job than it was when he took it. Success should mean decent fan support (Miami is and always will be a pro sport town), and that will only help.
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ACC M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 9th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Hampton Roads Daily Press: How good is Virginia‘s defense? Consider that the Cavaliers have held 39 straight conference opponents to under 50 percent shooting. That’s unreal. The only two teams I see with a chance at ending that streak this year are Duke and Notre Dame. But it’s a testament to the pack-line defense, which has been brutally effective since Tony Bennett got to Charlottesville. Relatedly, WatchESPN did a pretty good halftime piece on Bennett’s defense with Darian Atkins and Malcolm Brogdon showing Jay Williams and Shane Battier how it works.
  2. Miami Herald: Miami basketball alumnus Darius Rice is still working towards his dream of playing in the NBA. He graduated from Miami way back in 2004, but still hasn’t found his way onto an NBA roster despite size with three-point range, and he is getting to the point where his big break needs to come soon. His professional career reads like a traveler’s fantasy, but what’s most irritating about Rice’s story is how he has excelled in the D-League (including a 52-point game in the championship), almost proving that the NBA doesn’t take it seriously. Here’s to hoping his status as an ACC legend (despite only playing in the Big East) gets him that one last shot.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas made Duke’s Jahlil Okafor look like a freshman on Wednesday night. Thomas outhustled the Duke phenom all night, using his veteran strength and confidence to gain the upper hand. What was striking was how poorly Okafor passed out of the double-team. To be fair, Thomas also got the best of fellow All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell earlier in the week. Everyone has bad games, and it looks like Okafor recognizes that (he still ended up with a double-double), but Duke’s season will ultimately depend on how he responds to this sort of adversity. Any possession he doesn’t get a touch is a mistake, but Okafor has to fight for position to earn that touch too.
  4. Durham Herald Sun: Theo Pinson may be the answer to some of North Carolina’s struggles, at least against below-average defensive teams. The sample size is small and bear with me here through some Bzdelik-ian logic. If you remove Ohio State and Clemson (the two top-100 defensive teams Pinson has played against) and Pinson is shooting nearly 80 percent from the field (and most of his misses were threes). Obviously you can’t just ignore good defenses in the statistical profile, but Pinson’s aggressive play could be the answer to North Carolina’s offensive struggles. However, his three-point shooting will not plug the most gaping hole for the Tar Heels.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Rakeem Christmas‘ improvement has been astounding. Brian Tahmosh takes care of the per-game statistics (along with some comparisons to other Syracuse stars), but think about this: Christmas has nearly doubled his usage with only a small decrease in efficiency. He’s essentially the exact same player he was last year except that he’s taking more than twice as many shots. Oh, and he’s a better rebounder and distributor. That’s just insane.
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ACC M5: 01.08.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 8th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Miami Herald: Miami is off to the greener pastures of apparel company Adidas. While that means more money for the school, it’s no secret that Nike is considered more hip and arguably more structurally sound with their basketball shoes. There’s also the corollary fact that AAU basketball is run by the shoe companies. While recruits are in the habit of regularly switching allegiances, the move could affect who Miami recruits in the future. The Hurricanes will join NC State and Louisville under the Adidas brand — the other ACC non-Nike schools are Notre Dame and Boston College, which are with Under Armour, and Georgia Tech, with Russell).
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Syracuse guard Ron Patterson has been told to “keep shooting” despite his early struggles. He definitely wasn’t alone in that struggle against Georgia Tech last night (the two teams combined to go 33-of-109 from the field), but Jim Boeheim needs Patterson to contribute this year because Kaleb Joseph isn’t an instant standout like Tyler Ennis last season. If the Orange’s shooting woes continue, Syracuse will be looking at a very uncomfortable Selection Sunday.
  3. Louisville Courier-Journal:. Their playing styles couldn’t be more different, but Louisville, Virginia and Duke have a lot in common in that all three are top-five teams nationally that have recently put up questionable performances. While the bottom of the ACC isn’t very good, there aren’t any free games where you can mess around for 30 minutes before hitting the gas and winning easily. Wake Forest just missed pulling off a couple of upsets over the Cardinals and Blue Devils, and Virginia has gotten a bit too cute against Miami and NC State. All three teams are assuredly works in progress, but the coach who can get the most consistent effort from his team will likely wind up on top of the league this season.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Six ACC teams currently have more turnovers than assists on the season. That’s… not good. The better news is that four of those six teams have an assist/turnover ratio above 90 percent and could still improve (because your stats usually get better in conference play?). Unsurprisingly, Clemson clocks in with the worst such ratio (0.85) and Florida State – a team that has struggled with turnovers the last few years — brings up the rear (0.87). But Louisville (0.94) and NC State (0.94) both need to improve if they want to make something of the postseason.
  5. Deadspin: Ken Pomeroy took a look at the odds that Virginia or Duke will finish as the last unbeaten team in college basketball (instead of Kentucky). Kentucky is the favorite to turn the trick by far, but the results were closer than I expected (although Kentucky’s chance at an undefeated regular season is currently at 18 percent, which is much higher than Virginia or Duke’s). Through the lens of efficiency margin, Duke and Virginia offer pretty similar profiles, so the Cavaliers’ advantage is likely from getting to play Duke at home and avoiding Louisville until the last game of the season.
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RTC Rewind: Virginia Survives, Others Not So Lucky…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 5th, 2015

Last Tuesday, in the first Weekly Primer of conference play this season, I wrote the following: “The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams.” A little later on, I concluded the paragraph with this: “We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have.” With one week in the books – for some, two games; for others, one game; for still others, none – it’s time to start making decisions. What do we think we know? Which 2-0 conference starts are flukes? Which upsets are signs of bigger and better things to come? Which conference races are starting to take shape? Which are still complete crapshoots? These are the types of questions to consider.

Headliner: Virginia 89, Miami 80 (2OT)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia is still undefeated… but barely. After controlling much of Saturday’s contest at Miami, Virginia’s usually-stout defense was carved up late, and the Cavs eventually needed a clutch Justin Anderson three to stave off their first loss of the season. But while this was a game that should have been more comfortable for the defending ACC champions, this shouldn’t reflect negatively on them. In fact, it further drives home the point that Virginia isn’t just a defensive juggernaut. The Cavaliers can score, too, which is what makes them a top-five team in the country. But what originally looked like smooth sailing for Tony Bennett’s team turned into a perfect example of just how hard it is to go unbeaten in college basketball. Virginia escaped in Coral Gables, but the alarm bells that were sounding during overtime once again alerted the nation that anything can happen in conference play. Miami entered Saturday’s game having lost three of its last five contests by double figures, including a 28-point defeat to Eastern Kentucky. But when conference foes meet, they are generally in the same ballpark athletically. That means all it takes is an outstanding performance here, a subpar one there, sprinkled with a little underdog luck, and an upset is brewing. Louisville almost proved that point as well late Sunday at Wake Forest. Virginia and Duke are both really good teams, but neither will run the table. Kentucky might be a different story in the SEC, but the ACC is just too murderous this season.

And then there were three…

While Virginia scraped by Miami, Saturday wasn’t nearly as kind to three of the six remaining undefeated teams. For Colorado State and TCU, that’s probably no surprise. TCU had feasted on the nation’s weakest schedule, and the Horned Frogs are still a bubble outsider until they show they can win games in the Big 12. Colorado State had won an unsustainably high number of close games, and a trip to New Mexico proved to be its tipping point. The big name that fell over the weekend, though, was Villanova. The Wildcats traveled to Seton Hall on Saturday, but their lack of a true go-to scorer — the generally reliable Ryan Arcidiacono was dreadful — did them in. As a result, Villanova far too often settled for three-pointers outside of the natural flow of its offense, and, as other teams with similar makeups can attest – I’m looking at you, Iowa State – that is a recipe for an upset. Villanova can’t change the composition of its lineup, and that’s why the Wildcats will remain a step or two below the top tier of teams nationally.

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ACC Stock Watch – New Year’s Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 2nd, 2015

As we welcome 2015, the ACC’s 15 teams have all concluded their non-conference seasons. In the New Year’s edition of this week’s ACC Stock Watch, we’ll examine the league’s trending players and teams based on how they were predicted to finish in conference play (you can view the preseason ACC media projections here) and how they’re playing now.

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils are on fire to start the season. Their veterans have ceded major roles to the star freshmen without complaint or drop-off in production. Their 12-0 start includes good wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Temple and Stanford.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke. Taking over the reins of a national championship contender is difficult enough, but unseating a senior in Quinn Cook and maintaining harmony on the floor is really something else. Jones has emerged as a true revelation and has made the Duke offense (the most efficient in college basketball) hum. Even his high school coach didn’t think he’d be this good so fast.
Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he's been a revelation for Duke (Lance King)

Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he’s been a revelation for Duke (credit: Lance King)

  • Virginia. Everyone knew the Cavaliers would be good again, but possibly better than last year? They’ve already held two teams to single-digit points in a half, and Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris have been capably replaced. Hopefully the recent defensive showing against Davidson was an aberration (72 points allowed by a Virginia team that had holds opponents under 50 per game on the year).
  • Notre Dame. A 13-1 start is great and this team is rolling on the offensive end. The Fighting Irish currently rank third in the country at 86.0 points per game and are shooting an otherworldly 55.4 percent from the field (best in the country). However, questions exist about the strength of Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule.

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