ACC Year in Review: Virginia’s Disappointment Stains Otherwise Strong ACC Season

Posted by Matt Auerbach on April 13th, 2018

For the first time since the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas, the ACC was without representation during the season’s final weekend. Despite that disappointment, the ACC still finished the year rated as the second strongest conference via KenPom, with two of its nine NCAA Tournament entrants — Florida State and Duke — falling just a game short of a trip to San Antonio. That said, ACC regular season and tournament champion Virginia dominated the conference in stupendous fashion, winning the regular season by four games over runner-up Duke in large part thanks to the stingiest defense since the 38-1 Kentucky team in 2015. A convincing three-day run in Brooklyn left little doubt that Virginia was a worthy #1 overall seed heading into the Big Dance. We all know what happened next.

Virginia Became the First #1 Seed to Lose to a #16 Seed (USA Today Images)

  • Biggest Surprise: What happened in Charlotte several weeks ago defied all the laws of common sense and conventional basketball wisdom. The ignominious distinction of becoming the first #1 seed to fall to a #16 will sting the Virginia program for years — perhaps decades — but given the passage of time we can also start to begin to appreciate a tremendous season submarined by an inexplicable 40-minute sample size. And while that upset alone is the exact definition of a surprise, a Cavaliers team that was picked to finish sixth in the preseason laying waste to the entire ACC for three months qualifies as a legitimate surprise on its own right.

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Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: January 27

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 27th, 2018

A pair of in-state matchups and a huge bubble game in South Bend would normally be enough excitement to make for an intriguing ACC weekend. Add in a top-five match-up that features the best offense against the best defense in college basketball and you have a weekend of ACC hoops that is absolutely must-see.

Saturday, January 27

What to Make of NC State Basketball This Season (USA Today Images)?

  • NC State (#74) at North Carolina (#8). Is there a more interesting NCAA Tournament resume than NC State? The Wolfpack own a neutral court win over Arizona to pair with home wins over Duke and Clemson. They’ve also somehow lost to Northern Iowa on a neutral court and UNC-Greensboro at home. And while taking care of business against a bad team (Pittsburgh) isn’t anything to write home about, it’s something many previous Wolfpack teams have struggled with. Kevin Keatts’ team is still in the NCAA mix mainly thanks to the leap from sophomore big man Omer Yurtseven. In eight ACC games, the young Turk has logged a 27.9 PER with a 62.1 percent eFG rate. In his last three games, Yurtseven is averaging 22.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per outing. Against a relatively inexperienced North Carolina frontcourt, look for Yurtseven to have another big game in one that could be closer than many think.
  • Virginia (#3) at Duke (#4). This might be the pre-Championship Week game of the year in college basketball. The best offensive team in the country will host the best defensive team in the country at (arguably) the toughest place to play in the entire sport. Giddy up. While there are countless individual match-ups worth watching, it’s impossible not to get excited about Marvin Bagley III facing off with his biggest challenge this season, Isaiah Wilkins. Wilkins, who should be a lock for ACC Defensive Player of the Year, leads the country in Defensive Win Shares (2.1) and is putting up an insane 77.2 Defensive Rating, second best in the country behind only Cincinnati’s Gary Clark. His versatility will allow him to follow Bagley out to the perimeter as well as defend him on the blocks. Meanwhile, Bagley’s 2.9 Offensive Win Shares are good for sixth in the nation as he converts over 60 percent of his shots from the field. Can we tip this one off now?

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.15.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 15th, 2018

There were several exciting games in the ACC on Saturday, capped by North Carolina’s last-second survival in South Bend against a determined if undermanned Notre Dame squad. Earlier in the day, Florida State topped Syracuse in a two-overtime thriller in Tallahassee; Louisville beat Virginia Tech in a shootout; and Clemson took over late to outlast Miami. On Sunday night, Virginia handled NC State, leaving the Cavaliers as the lone remaining undefeated team in ACC play. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Donte Grantham leads the cheers in Clemson’s win over Miami.

  • Best Win: In the only ACC game of the weekend involving two ranked teams, Clemson broke open a close second half to topple Miami in Littlejohn Coliseum, 72-63. The Hurricanes have the seventh-best defense in the land according to KenPom‘s efficiency rankings, but thanks in large part to a 12-of-21 performance from three-point land, Clemson converted a robust 1.17 points per possession against Miami. Senior Donte Grantham led a balanced Tigers’ attack with 18 points, connecting on all four of his shots from deep, including a last-minute dagger that put the game out of reach. Brad Brownell‘s team next plays at North Carolina on Tuesday night, where Clemson has never won (0-58).

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A Quick Whip Around the ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 9th, 2018

With the calendar now flipped to 2018 and conference play in full bore, three teams remain undefeated atop the ACC standings. Notable by its absence among that group is consensus preseason favorite Duke, which, after dropping Saturday’s tilt in Raleigh to NC State, is now two games behind the triumvirate of leaders (ClemsonVirginia and Notre Dame).

The Looks Say It All (USA Today Images)

A primary culprit for the Blue Devils’ struggles in league play thus far is the frigid shooting of senior guard Grayson Allen. Allen, a preseason all-ACC selection, is shooting just 33.3 percent from the field in conference play, including a 21.7 percent clip from beyond the arc. While it’s easy to hone in on Duke’s sieve-like defense when evaluating its losses, Duke also needs Allen to perform up to his All-America capabilities to become the team it expects. Remember, with Marvin Bagley III relegated to the bench in the second half of Duke’s victory over Michigan State in November, it was Allen’s elite shot-making that made the difference. Much like the 2015 National Championship team, these Blue Devils are heavily relying on their young stars to take them home. But, for all the heroics of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Allen himself three seasons ago, there would have been no fifth banner in Durham without the quiet and steady leadership of senior Quinn Cook. For Mike Krzyzewski to earn his sixth title, Allen needs to snap out of his recent funk.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.08.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 8th, 2018

After the second full weekend of league action, three ACC teams have surged to the top of the standings with identical 3-0 records. Virginia handled North CarolinaClemson edged Louisville in overtime; and Notre Dame staged a frantic rally to overtake Syracuse. While the two ACC preseason favorites — Duke and North Carolina — have struggled to 1-2 records, their misfortune has given other teams an opportunity to make early claims to the league crown. On Sunday night, Miami defended its home court by defeating intrastate rival Florida State to cap off a wild weekend. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Duke suffered another road loss and court-rushing at NC State’s PNC Arena on Saturday night.
(Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Things were looking bleak for Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon. The Irish were without their two injured senior stars — Bonzie Colson (broken foot) and Matt Ferrell (sprained ankle) — and they came out ice cold early. But Mike Brey‘s team hung around as it always seems to do, pulling out the tough road win thanks to Rex Pflueger‘s putback basket moments before the final horn. The Irish won with defense and hustle, holding the Orange to 39.1 percent field goal shooting and capturing seven steals. Notre Dame also held a huge edge on the boards, including a +13 advantage in offensive rebounds. Considering all of the injuries he is dealing with, Brey has already emerged as a front-runner for ACC Coach of the Year honors.

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Christmas Wish List for ACC Head Coaches

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 21st, 2017

What’s on the Christmas wish list for each coach in the ACC this holiday season? Let’s take a look.

Jim Christian May Have Already Gotten His Gift With a Win Over Duke (USA Today Images)

  • Jim Christian (Boston College): A healthy Deontae Hawkins. The Eagles pulled off a surprising upset of Duke thanks to red-hot three-point shooting, but they won’t be able to sustain it without some help on the interior. Hawkins was averaging 12.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury on November 29 at Nebraska. Sadly, Santa can’t fix knee tendons.
  • Brad Brownell (Clemson): Some luck in close ACC games. The Tigers appear poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Brownell’s first season, but they will need to avoid being snake-bitten like last year’s team that lost nine ACC games by six points or fewer.
  • Mike Krzyzewski (Duke): Trevon Duval’s jumper to improve. Teams like Boston College are leaving the freshman point guard open for jumpers in favor of helping on Marvin Bagley III, and Duval is falling into the trap, making just 5-of-33 three-pointers on the season.
  • Leonard Hamilton (Florida State): Somebody makes a free throw. The Seminoles shoot 65.8 percent from the line (295th nationally) and M.J. Walker (13-of-16) is the only regular making over 78 percent this season.

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part IV

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

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

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

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

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

Key Stat to Watch: Shot Volume

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What’s Trending: Feast Week 2017

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 27th, 2017

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

After some drama with the NCAA entering this season, Alabama‘s Collin Sexton is wasting no time in getting up to speed. Sexton oozes swagger in this end of game sequence against Texas-Arlington…

Speaking of Alabama and Sexton… against Minnesota over the weekend, ejections, injuries and fouls led to the Crimson Tide playing the last quarter of the game 3-on-5.

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ACC Burning Questions: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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