Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 85, #2 Duke 81 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 25th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Outlasted Duke to Get Bill Self to His Third Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas winning the rebounding battle was surprising and played a huge role in the win. Leading into the game, a lot of the talk about tonight’s Elite Eight match-up was focused on how Kansas was going to have a very difficult time keeping Duke off the glass. It turns out all that talk went for naught, however, as Kansas was the team that dominated the rebounding category. The Jayhawks finished with a 47-32 advantage on the glass while grabbing an amazing 17 offensive rebounds. The most impressive Jayhawk on the glass was senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 10 caroms — and it sure seemed like each one came at huge spots in the game. Sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike battled foul trouble for most of his night, but he still found a way to collect eight boards (five offensive) while freshman reserve forward Silvio De Sousa played 26 important minutes and gathered 10 more rebounds of his own. It was a team effort for the Jayhawks on the glass and that cohesiveness and hard work led to them finishing with such an advantage over what was considered a far superior rebounding team.
  2. Duke’s offensive strategy was perplexing. Kansas is an excellent offensive team but it had struggled throughout the season on the defensive end of the court. A lot of the Jayhawks’ struggle was because the Jayhawks exclusively play four guards and teams with good size could often take advantage. Duke certainly qualifies as a team with more size than Kansas, but the Blue Devils were unable to take advantage of that frontcourt disparity. At no point during the game did it seem like Duke was making a concerted effort to run its offense through its incredibly talented front line. Freshman star forward Marvin Bagley III only finished the game with nine field goal attempts. Fellow freshman big man Wendell Carter Jr. battled foul trouble for much of the game while only attempting nine shots of his own, and sophomore reserve Javin DeLaurier did not appear engaged on the offensive end in his 13 minutes of action. The Duke guards dominated the ball throughout the game, with Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. finishing with 13, 16 and 18 field goal attempts, respectively. There are no sure things in life or college basketball, but it certainly seems like Duke would be headed to the Final Four instead of Kansas if it had found a way to get Bagley and Carter more involved.
  3. Malik Newman was the best player on the court. Duke was supposed to have all of the stars in this game. Grayson Allen is probably the most famous player in college basketball. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr. will both be lottery picks very soon. Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr. arrived in Durham as ballyhooed prospects. The Blue Devils were supposed to have the best player on the court, but it did not turn out like that as Kansas sophomore Malik Newman took on that role from the opening tip to overtime’s final buzzer. Newman finished with a game-high 32 points and it was his three-pointer from the corner with 1:49 remaining that gave the Jayhawks a three-point lead that it would never relinquish.

Player of the Game. Malik Newman, Kansas. The sophomore guard came up time after time again tonight for the Jayhawks. Each time Kansas needed a big shot, it seemed like the transfer Newman came through with the goods. He scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period — 32 in total for the night — and he also did an excellent job defensively on Duke’s Grayson Allen. Allen finished his final collegiate game with just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Kansas wants two more wins in San Antonio, it is going to need this version of Newman to make the trip.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 69, #11 Syracuse 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Omaha for the Midwest Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Coach K’s 1,100th Win Pushed Duke to the Elite Eight (USA Today Images)

  1. It was not aesthetically pleasing. It should be known by now that a close game does not always mean a good game. Tonight’s battle between ACC foes was assuredly a close game, but it was certainly far from a well-played or aesthetically pleasing contest. Duke won the game despite shooting just 39.3 percent from the field and 19.2 percent from the three-point line. The Syracuse zone repeatedly forced Duke into bad possessions that resulted in difficult shot attempts. A deeper look at the offensive statistics finds it pretty amazing that Mike Krzyzewski‘s group was able to advance. One of the main reasons why the Blue Devils emerged victorious this evening was because its own zone was impactful in forcing Syracuse into careless turnovers that limited its scoring chances. The Orange finished with 16 turnovers and Duke converted those into 18 points of its own. It was a mistake-ridden game all around, but both teams deserve a lot of credit for not allowing their miscues to bury them and prevent this one from being close until the final buzzer.
  2. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were too much for Syracuse. Syracuse presented Duke with an unusual challenge. The Blue Devils normally have a decided size advantage over every team they play, but the Syracuse front line of Oshae Brissett, Marek Dolezaj and Paschal Chukwu is as big as any group in the country. That aspect did not end up mattering too much tonight, however, as Duke freshmen big men Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. were arguably the most important players on the floor. Bagley turned in a game-high 22 points and bucked the Duke poor shooting trend by hitting eight of his 12 shots. Carter got to the free throw line 11 times and was a significant factor on the glass — he finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Even when Duke does not have the size advantage, the precocious talents of Bagley and Carter sure make it seem like the Blue Devils do.
  3. Duke is going to need to shoot much better if it wants to log a trip to the Final Four. The Blue Devils will certainly take tonight’s victory over the Orange, but they will need to shoot much better on Sunday against Kansas if they hope to advance to the Final Four. Duke can survive and advance one game in this tournament on 39.3 percent shooting, but when you are matched up with a blue-blooded team of Kansas’ caliber, it is going to need to hit more shots to log the victory. Most notably, senior guard Grayson Allen will need to improve on tonight’s 4-of-15 (3-of-14 3FG) performance because Kansas definitely has the horses to take advantage if one of Duke’s main offensive weapons has another off game.

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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to recap a wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and preview the chances of the four remaining ACC schools making the Final Four.

The Answer to Your Trivia Question is Virginia (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: OK guys. Before we look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen, let’s recap the crazy first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I guess we have to start with the surprising outcomes that I witnessed in Charlotte. Mick, we’ll go ahead and let you give your take on what happened to Virginia.

Mick McDonald: Do I have to? I haven’t had the stomach to go back and watch it, and frankly, most of the game feels like a haze. Sort of like a bad dream you try to forget. That said, it was a collection of things, all of which were a worst case scenario for Virginia. Early foul trouble for Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, plus Tony Bennett’s refusal to play Marco Anthony, meant they had to play the same five guys (including Nigel Johnson and Jack Salt, who aren’t scorers) most of the first half. Secondly, their jump shots weren’t falling. Third, UMBC hung around long enough to get their confidence up. All of that still led to a halftime tie. Most Virginia fans were having Coastal Carolina flashbacks to 2014, still thinking they’d put it together. When the first play of the second half was an and-one to give Wilkins his third foul, things felt different. Then UMBC couldn’t miss, Virginia lost its composure and it was over. And yes, not having DeAndre Hunter hurt. But it was by no means the lone reason they lost.

Matt Auerbach: Obviously we’ve been beaten to death with every talking head, captain obvious rationale: Virginia isn’t built to play from behind; its style lends itself to keeping inferior teams in the game; and so on. But the truth remains that this tournament is a one-and-done scenario, and for that reason, remains random at its core. If they play 10 times, the Cavaliers win the other nine with a few of those games by 30-plus points. There’s no reason to attempt to explain it. It’s one of the reasons we love this event so much, unless, as in this case, you’re on the Virginia end.

Mick McDonald: Well said, Matt. Pat Forde, a columnist I usually respect and enjoy, published a column hours after the game calling the entire Virginia/Tony Bennett program fraudulent. That’s insane (and certainly trolling clickbait, but that’s another discussion). Bennett will keep winning and will eventually get to a Final Four. Just like every other great coach who “couldn’t win in March” before him.

Matt Auerbach: That article was written about Mike Krzyzewski 30 years ago, and was written about Jim Boeheim and his zone for a long time too. The antithesis was said about Tom Izzo; how’s that been working out?

Mick McDonald: People just have such a hard time accepting that events can be random and not need some massive underlying reason why they happened. This event breeds wild one-time results.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 87, #7 Rhode Island 62

Posted by Walker Carey on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rhode Island Had No Answers For Duke Today (Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Duke’s talent advantage was just too much for Rhode Island to overcome. Rhode Island began the game with its hair on fire. The Rams had a distinct pep in their step. That energy allowed them to open a quick 7-2 lead and it certainly got their fans into the swing of things. The energetic start was short-lived though as Duke rapidly exerted both its overwhelming size advantage and definite talent advantage. The Blue Devils make things look easy. Whether it was Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. hitting perimeter shots or Trevon Duval driving the lane or Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter Jr. having their way in the post, Duke’s horses were just way too much to overcome. Whenever it seemed like Rhode Island may have had a bit of a spark that could have led to a little run, the Blue Devils rapidly put that to bed. This game was a total annihilation, but that is known to happen when playing a group as talented as Duke.
  2. The Duke zone continues to create issues for its opponents. The fact that Duke tried running man-to-man for so long with this personnel continues to baffle. It was quite clear early on that the Blue Devils would continue to struggle in man-to-man due to the lack of great individual defenders on their roster. When it finally made the full-time switch to the zone in January, it became obvious that the team’s length and ability to move laterally made it a terrific zone team. Entering today’s action, the Blue Devils ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency. That ranking would have been impossible if Duke had made the decision to stick with the man-to-man. Duke’s zone success was on display once again this afternoon, as Rhode Island was held to just 62 points on 39.7% shooting. It should also be noted that a lot of the shots the Rams did make were not exactly open looks.
  3. Today marked the end of quite the run for Rhode Island basketball. The Rams have nothing to hang their heads about. They just ran into a buzz saw today. It can be argued that no one would have bested Duke this afternoon. With the loss, Rhode Island’s season ends and a major chapter of Rams basketball has reached its conclusion. A senior class of E.C. Matthews, Jared Terrell, Stanford Robinson, Andre Berry, and Jarvis Garrett played its final game in a Rhode Island uniform. That class was what brought the Rams back into the national conversation. NCAA Tournament bids and subsequent first round wins – both this year and last – continued that conversation. It must also be noted that there is a good chance coach Dan Hurley will not be back on the Rhode Island sideline next season. The star coach is said to be a strong candidate for both the Connecticut and Pittsburgh openings. No matter if Hurley returns or not, the Rhode Island program will look dramatically different in the 2018-19 season.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 89, #15 Iona 67

Posted by Walker Carey on March 15th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Pittsburgh this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Marvin Bagley is Just Too Much (USA Today Images)

  1. Duke did what it had to do to advance. Make no mistake about it, few outside of the Iona locker room thought the Gaels had a legitimate shot of pulling the upset this afternoon. Iona is known for its up-tempo offensive attack, which caused it to run into problems with a more athletic and skilled Duke team that loves to play that way too. After a hard-fought opening stretch where the two teams consistently traded buckets, Duke exerted its will by putting its bigger talent advantage on display for the balance of the game. Mike Krzyzewski‘s team has much greater dreams than just advancing to the Second Round – and if they are able to make a run to the Final Four, no one will look back at this game as a turning point of any sorts. Duke just did what it had to and left with a drama-free victory. That is about as good as you can ask for in this tournament.
  2. Marvin Bagley III is a special talent. You have likely heard plenty about Marvin Bagley III’s exploits this season. The freshman ACC Player of the Year has been terrific from start to finish this season, and that continued this afternoon as Duke repeatedly forced the issue with the talented big man. Bagley terrorized the Iona front line for every second he played, finishing with 22 points (10-of-14 FG) and seven rebounds in 32 minutes of action. Duke is among the favorites to advance far into the bracket this year, and if the Blue Devils are fortunate enough to meet those expectations, the freshman big man’s dominating play will be a major reason why.
  3. Iona deserves praise for its run in the MAAC. Iona definitely did not have the horses to compete with Duke for 40 minutes today, which is understandable. Iona plays in the MAAC while Duke is a blue-blood program that plays in the ACC and consistently recruits at the highest level of the sport. While the Gaels did not create a lasting March moment this afternoon, it should certainly be appreciated what Tim Cluess is building at Iona. The Gaels have now made three straight NCAA Tournaments and should look good next season as well, with a large share of their talent expected to return next season.

Player of the Game. Trevon Duval, Duke. The knock on the freshman point guard all season has been poor shooting and inconsistent decision-making. That was not the case today, though, as Duval was terrific throughout his 31 minutes of action. He finished with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting (4-of-5 3FG) and dished out eight assists in the victory. It was a phenomenal performance by the freshman, and one on which he can definitely build on as the NCAA Tournament progresses.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 1st, 2018

Here is the latest edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. This week we consider which particular game statistics have the most influence on winning in the league this year. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 30.

Current Standings

Virginia’s big win at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday solidified the Cavaliers’ stranglehold at the top of the ACC standings. Tony Bennett‘s team now owns the league’s sixth-best offense to go along with the nation’s best defense  — the Cavaliers’ ACC defensive points per possession is an impressive 0.12 points better than next-place Louisville. Incredibly, that gap of 0.12 points is larger than the one between the Cardinals and 10th place Wake Forest. The numbers also reveal that Clemson’s record is quite a bit better than its point per possession margin (PPM) indicates. The main reason for this is that Brad Brownell‘s squad suddenly figured out how to win close games. After years of struggling to finish in the clutch, the Tigers are an impressive 4-1 this season in ACC contests decided by five points or fewer (or in overtime).

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 25th, 2018

Here is the latest edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. This week we will look at the upcoming heavyweight match-up between Duke‘s potent offense and Virginia‘s stingy defensive unit. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 23.

Current Standings

Virginia continues to steamroll through the ACC in dominant fashion. Since its one-point win over Boston College in their conference opener, the Cavaliers have pummeled seven straight ACC opponents by an average score of 66-49. The always effective pack-line defense reached a new level of excellence on Tuesday night when Virginia held Clemson to a meager 0.58 points per possession in a suffocating 61-36 win. At this point in the conference schedule, one extreme result can have a huge impact on the points per possession margin (PPM) rankings. For example, if we remove Notre Dame’s 88-58 blowout of N.C. State from the data set, the Irish (-.03) and Wolfpack (-.04) would have almost identical PPM during league play. The huge margin of victory in that single game is really the only thing that prevents almost perfect alignment between the current ACC standings and the PPM rankings.

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Close Games in the ACC: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 10th, 2018

This is Part II of a three-part series. Part I can be found here.

In the second installment of our analysis we will test several common theories regarding close games. We’ll first determine if having an experienced squad helps a team prevail in tight match-ups. Next, we’ll figure out how important coaching is to a team’s chances to come out on top in those close games. Finally, we’ll discover whether winning tight contests in fact does prepare a team for greater postseason success. Alas, we couldn’t figure out how to test for one of the most popular theories across ACC fandom – that biased officiating decides most of these games. For many ACC fan bases, the fact that Duke and North Carolina consistently win a majority of their close games is the only proof necessary that Blue Blood bias exists among the league’s officials. Given that aside, here are the theories that we could test.

Theory 1: Experienced Teams Win More Close Games

FINDING: Not True. To test this hypothesis, we assigned a seasonal experience rating to each ACC team over the past 11 seasons by using the national experience ranking from KenPom – which is derived from average player experience in years and adjusted by minutes played. For example, a team where seniors play every minute of every game all season long will have an experience rating of 3.0. In the above chart we have plotted the experience level of each ACC team along with how that team performed in games decided by fewer than seven points or in overtime – expressed as Net Close Wins in such contests, e.g., a team that played six two-possession games and won four of them would have +2 Net Wins. A trend line in the graph reveals that the experience level of ACC teams has little to no influence on the outcomes of close game. In fact, only six of the 11 most experienced squads in this analysis had a winning record in close games.

Theory 2: Coaching Matters in Close GamesFinding: True (Experience Over Reputation). In order to get a decent sample size for this analysis, we evaluated the six current ACC head coaches that have been in the league for the last six seasons. It’s interesting to compare these coaches’ actual results in close games with their reputations for in-game coaching acumen. It should come as no surprise that Hall of Famers Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams consistently win when late game execution decides the outcome. What may be surprising to some longtime ACC fans is that Williams is every bit Krzyzewski’s equal when it comes to winning close games. Even among a substantial portion of his own North Carolina fan base, Williams is not highly regarded as an in-game tactician. But regardless of whether it’s actual coaching decisions or player preparation that drives these results, the numbers certainly show that the Tar Heels’ leader is getting it done at crunch time just as well as his long-time rival over in Durham.

What may surprise some is that Williams is Krzyzewski’s equal when it comes to winning close games (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Two other coaches on this list exhibit close game results that are well-aligned with what their reputations would suggest. Miami’s Jim Larranaga is highly regarded in college basketball coaching circles, and, as expected, his teams have done very well in tight contests. Meanwhile, Clemson’s Brad Brownell has been on the ACC coaches’ hot seat list for the better part of the last half-decade in large part because of his inability to close out games in the final minutes. With respect to the remaining two coaches in the chart, their results are quite surprising. In fact, no other result in our entire analysis of close games was as eye-opening as the performances of Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton. Bennett is nationally well-respected and considered one of the brightest minds in coaching, but his Cavaliers have performed below average in close games. In fact, the tighter the contest, the less effective Virginia has been. Conversely, Hamilton has never been described as a late-game coaching wizard, yet his Seminoles have put together an incredibly impressive 16-3 record in nail-biters over the past six seasons. Maybe Hamilton’s calm sideline demeanor has a positive influence on his players at the end of games? The caveat in the data is that he’s not nearly as good at preventing his team from being blown out – an average of five losses each year by double-figures — while Bennett’s team has only lost by 10 or more points once per year.

It’s also important to point out that the four older coaches on the list are much more successful in close games than Bennett or Brownell. So while we didn’t see any advantage to having experienced players when the games are tight, it could be that experienced coaches make a difference.

Theory 3: Winning Close Games Prepares Teams for the Postseason

Finding: Not True. In the above table we divided all ACC teams over the past 11 years into three groups based on their performance in one-possession games. Since we’re only concerned with how these teams ultimately perform in the postseason, we removed the two teams that were ineligible for postseason play (2015 Syracuse and 2016 Louisville). That leaves us with a decent sample size of 142 teams. To measure postseason success, we looked at how each of these squads performed in the ACC Tournament compared with how their respective seed number would be expected to perform. The group in the middle that went .500 in close games performed almost exactly as expected in the postseason. But teams that had positive Net Wins of two or more did not meet seed expectations. Conversely, squads with negative Net Wins of two or more outperformed their expected tourney wins. There is a slight bias at work here because several #1 seeds fell into the top group and it is mathematically impossible for those teams to outperform expectations. However, even when those four teams are removed from the analysis, the average wins for that group versus expected only improve to -0.25.

This is admittedly not a huge data set so there is a distinct possibility of some random noise in these numbers. Still, there may be something else going on here. It’s obvious that there is some luck involved in winning games that are decided by one possession, so it’s also logical to assume that sometimes the final ACC regular season standings are skewed – teams can be seeded higher or lower than their actual ability because they were either very fortunate or very unlucky in close games. So while those teams may play to their actual ability in the ACC Tournament, it doesn’t necessarily correspond with how they were seeded

On Friday we will find the most extreme cases of ACC close game performance for a season since 2007 and see how those teams performed in the following season.

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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 Taking Stock: Volume III

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 12th, 2017

Far be it from me to rain on the parade taking place in Chestnut Hill after Boston College’s stunning upset over the nation’s #1 team over the weekend, but buying high and selling low is no way to make a living. Make of it what you will, but the smart money is on the Eagles’ takedown being a result we are not likely to remember a few months from now. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it today.

Saturday Will Probably Be The Highlight of BC’s Season, But There Are Other Signs For Optimism (Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

While the national media spun Saturday’s result into a narrative of “what’s wrong with Duke?”, allow us to view it through the prism of a Boston College fan. It’s been a decade since the Eagles were relevant in the college hoops landscape — mostly spent in complete obscurity, to be honest — but the brilliance of their backcourt over the weekend was no fluke. Ky Bowman’s near-triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in carving up the Duke defense, along with Jerome Robinson‘s perfect 5-of-5 day from three-point range, ensured that Duke was going to have a difficult time keeping up. It is more likely than not that Saturday’s result will be the highlight of the year in Chestnut Hill, but, if even for a day, some level of excitement returned to the once proud program. And with a dynamic duo populating Jim Christian‘s backcourt for the remainder of this year and presumably next, the trajectory could finally be pointing up for college basketball in Beantown.

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