Rushed Reactions: #1 Oregon 82, #4 Duke 68

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 24th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Dillon Brooks and Oregon jammed their way past Duke. (Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

Dillon Brooks and Oregon jammed their way past Duke. (Photo: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. The Oregon Way. Threes and layups. It’s not a new concept by any means, but Oregon sure runs it to perfection. In a seven-man rotation with a true point guard, two versatile bigs and four athletes who can both shoot and attack off the bounce, the Ducks have made an art out of basing their offense around the long ball and the short ball. For the season, they take about 42 percent of their shots at the rim, and roughly 34 percent from three-point range. Tonight, they were even better than those season averages, taking 23 threes (35 percent of their FGAs) and 28 shots that were either dunks or layups (45%), leaving just 13 (20%) of those inefficient two-point jumpers (they went just 3-13 on those attempts).
  2. Fast-Paced and Fun. In a game chock full of versatile and athletic basketball players (Brandon Ingram, Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, Elgin Cook, and on down the line), we saw the type of entertaining basketball we expected. In the halfcourt on both ends of the court, offenses effectively shared the ball and sought out offensive mismatches to exploit. Both defenses trapped to try to slow their opponent down and force turnovers. If defenders were beat off the bounce, there were rim protectors (especially on the Oregon side) waiting to attempt to clean up the mistakes. And the dunks. My lord the dunks. Of those 28 Duck dunk or layup attempts we mentioned above, Oregon converted 19 of them, often in spectacular fashion.
  3. Casey Benson. He’s the quiet man on the Duck team. He’s not going to be playing above the rim. He’s not often going to be among the high scorers on his team (tonight’s 11-point effort was just his fifth double-digit scoring effort this season). But man, he just doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Tonight, he had one awful first-half turnover, but other than that he was nearly perfect. Benson knocked in three threes, got to the rim for a layup for an additional hoop, handed out eight dimes while facilitating constant ball movement, and generally ran his team to perfection.

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NCAA Regional Reset: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@Amurawa) on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite:  #2 Oklahoma. We previously had Oregon as the favorite here,  but we’re going to switch it up and go with the Sooners instead because it is starting to look like Buddy Hield is going to drag his team to Houston and a possible national title one way or the other. There’s reason to be fearful of the Sooners’ chances, though, as they’ve been pressured by a pair of double-digit seeds. In this region, with the top four seeds still alive, would anybody be surprised if anybody made its way to Houston?

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Buddy Was Just Doing Buddy Things to Get to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #3 Texas A&M. This team was dead. Ceased to be. Expired and gone to meet it’s maker. Shuffled off the mortal coil, and all that. And yet somehow, the Aggies pulled off their best Lazarus impression and miraculously moved on to the Sweet Sixteen. Sometimes, miracles like these in early rounds are springboards to national titles: Witness Tyus Edney 21 years ago. Sometimes, it just extends the inevitable a little longer. For about 39 minutes and 22 seconds on Sunday night, A&M was getting run out of the Tourney by Northern Iowa. But somehow, some way, they survived. Will it be a springboard to bigger and better things or is it a sign of an inherent weakness? Poised veterans Alex Caruso and Anthony Collins have been solid, but leading scorers Danuel House and Jalen Jones will need to be more consistent to keep advancing.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Everything Having to Do With Northern Iowa. At this point, we should just offer up a standing invitation to any halfway decent Northern Iowa team to join the NCAA Tournament, because you just know we are going to be treated to a classic one way or another. The Panthers’ opening round game against Texas was absolutely insane. It wasn’t just the final 10 seconds worth of an Isaiah Taylor game-tying floater and the Paul Jesperson game-winning half-court heave; the whole game was amazing. Those final 10 seconds immediately vaulted up into the top tier of NCAA moments ever. And then Sunday night? Northern Iowa, much to its chagrin, may have topped that one by its involvement in an even more memorable game (for completely different reasons). In any March Madness epic, there is always the transposition of the elation of the winner and the heartbreak of the loser. In a 48-hour span, Northern Iowa felt both ends about as shockingly as possible.

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Bracket Prep: West Region

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 14th, 2016

bracketprep22

On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) breaks down the West Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC West Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCwestregion).

Region: West

Courtesy of SI.com

Courtesy of SI.com

Favorite: Oregon, #1, 28-6. Maybe there are college basketball fans back east that go to sleep early and haven’t seen the Ducks this season. And maybe some fans out west have chosen to ignore the Pac-12 Network. Because there are some people who are surprised that the Ducks are a #1 seed. But news for the uninformed: Oregon is really, really good. KenPom ranks Oregon as the fifth-most efficient offensive team in college basketball. It’s a squad built around a seven-man rotation that is dedicated to truly positionless basketball. Everybody on the team can handle and pass; just about everyone can take their defender off the bounce; most are capable of knocking in jumpers at a high rate. But where the Ducks have morphed from a good team into a great one is on the defensive end. With two elite shot-blockers in Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell anchoring the back line, quick and aggressive athletes swarming the perimeter and offering help defense, and a savvy defensive tactician on the sideline in Dana Altman, Oregon is capable of taking away a team’s best options, forcing turnovers (on better than 20 percent of opponents’ offensive possessions) and converting easy (and often spectacular) transition opportunities. There are without a doubt teams in this region that can beat Oregon, but the Ducks should be favored in every game between now and Houston.

These Ducks Are Strong (John Locher, AP)

These Ducks Are Strong. (John Locher, AP)

Should They Falter: Oklahoma, #2, 31-3. If your team has a National Player of the Year candidate like Buddy Hield, shoots 42.6 percent (second in the nation) from three-point range, plays solid defense and also has one of the nation’s best coaches in Lon Kruger, it has a chance to go very far in this NCAA Tournament. After starting the season 15-1 (with the only loss a triple-overtime epic to Kansas), the Sooners have cooled by going 10-6 down the stretch against strong Big 12 competition. But when things are going good for Oklahoma (and they are often going good), the Sooners can play with any team in the country. Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard are the flashy names, but big men Kadeem Lattin and Ryan Spangler do the dirty work that can help win tight games in March.

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Is Duke Ready For Its Most Difficult Four-Game Stretch?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 8th, 2016

Duke has experienced multiple runs of success so far in conference play. The Blue Devils started ACC action with three straight victories, and are now on a two-game win streak. But in between those five wins came a stretch where Duke lost four times in five contests, which is why there are still major doubts about Mike Krzyzewski’s team heading into the final four weeks of the regular season. Can the Blue Devils play good enough defense to compete with the nation’s (or even the ACC’s) best teams? Are two of the freshmen (Derryck Thornton and Chase Jeter) making enough progress to be solid contributors in big games? Will a lack of depth eventually wear out the Blue Devil core? Many of those questions may be answered, for better or worse, in the coming two weeks, when the Blue Devils’ schedule gets downright brutal. This week features home games with Louisville (tonight) and Virginia (on Saturday). The following week will see the Blue Devils travel to North Carolina and Louisville. That’s four consecutive games against the league’s top three teams.

Derryck Thornton's return to the starting lineup has given Duke a boost defensively. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Derryck Thornton’s return to the starting lineup has given Duke a boost defensively. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Let’s look at those questions one by one:

Can the Blue Devils play good enough defense?

Currently Duke ranks ninth in the ACC in defensive efficiency, allowing 1.09 points per possession in league play. Led by star Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils only trail Notre Dame in ACC offensive efficiency, meaning they have generally been winning by outscoring the opposition. That feat will get harder in the next four games, as Duke will face the top three rated defenses in the conference. To have success against the league’s best, Krzyzewski needs his team’s man-to-man defense to be good enough to use as a viable alternative to the zone that Duke has often employed this season. Duke’s performance in its last two games may give its veteran coach some hope. Using man-to-man exclusively, Duke held Georgia Tech to 0.84 points per possession in the second half of last Tuesday’s road win. In Saturday’s victory over N.C. State, the Blue Devils played man-to-man for the entire first half, holding the Wolfpack to 0.95 points per possession.

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ACC M5: 02.03.16 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 3rd, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. RickPitino.net: Wait, Rick Pitino is the newest ACC basketball blogger (h/t to Card Chronicle)? Pitino hits us with some great Alfred Pennyworth-esque coachspeak in his latest post: “Many get knocked down; you judge character by how they get up.” Beyond the very bloggy writing, you actually get a pretty cool PDF of the team’s “MVP” metrics for Monday night’s game against North Carolina. It turns out that the Louisville coaching staff tracks everything from hockey assists to poor shot selection.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: This is a great look at the ACC through the first half of the season from Al Featherston. The league is really competitive this season, which has led to some peculiar oddities: for example, Georgia Tech is a lot better than its 2-7 conference record (people called last night’s game a “must-win” for Duke, but that Yellow Jackets team isn’t bad). My only real disagreement with the article concerns Pittsburgh‘s inclusion in the “contender” category. The Panthers have only two impressive wins so far: at Florida State and at Notre Dame. Both of those wins were really close calls, but their three losses weren’t. Maybe this Pittsburgh team is good, but I haven’t seen it.
  3. Anderson Independent Mail: Jaron Blossomgame is earning his name this season, as he’s become a much more efficient player than last year. An amazing factoid from Dan Hope’s piece on the junior’s emergence is that he’s the first Clemson player since Terrell McIntyre in 1999 to score at least 20 points in four straight games against ACC opponents. He then made the streak five in row in last night’s win over Wake Forest. Blossomgame has an inspiring story, recovering from a grisly high school injury to become a quiet ACC star.
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: Wake Forest is officially reeling, having lost nine of their last 10 games including a 56-point second half to Clemson on the way to a blowout loss. That makes Dan Collins’ column on Dave Odom‘s improvement as a color commentator a welcome distraction. Odom will be Wake Forest’s basketball “legend” this year at the ACC Tournament.
  5. Miami Herald: What to make of Miami? The Hurricanes looked like a juggernaut against Duke; then they turned around and were blown out by NC State. Maybe the games are related or maybe they looked past an underachieving Wolfpack team. Or maybe, like Angel Rodriguez mentioned, there was a tighter whistle in Raleigh. Either way, Miami’s ups and downs mesh with the whole league outside of Chapel Hill (although with Monday’s loss, maybe the Tar Heels are regressing to the league randomness).

EXTRA: Coach K was “under the weather” (reportedly treated for high blood pressure at Duke Hospital) and missed Duke’s win last night at Georgia Tech. Jeff Capel took the helm, possibly foreshadowing the future in Durham. Krzyzewski is expected to be back on Saturday for Duke’s game against NC State.

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The Devils’ Doldrums: Could Duke Miss The NCAA Tournament?

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2016

After Duke‘s 11 point loss at Miami, Seth Davis tweeted: “It is time to acknowledge the possibility that Duke will not make the NCAA tournament.” Some context for that tweet: Duke has lost four of its last five, including two games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Since losing Amile Jefferson to a foot injury, the Blue Devils are 7-5 with exactly one win against the KenPom top 100. That’s not exactly a resume that screams NCAA Tournament. On the other side of the equation: Duke is still 20th in KenPom‘s ratings, its RPI projects to remain in the 20s according to RPI Forecast, and there’s evidence Jefferson’s condition is improving. Perhaps most importantly, losing by 11 to a really good Miami team shouldn’t be a cause for concern, and really it was just a two possession game with less than a minute left.

Duke didn't have the legs to hang with Miami. What does that mean going forward? (photo: Chuck Liddy/News & Observer)

Duke Didn’t Have The Legs To Hang With Miami. What Does That Mean For The Blue Devils Going Forward? (Photo: Chuck Liddy/News & Observer)

Maybe the most amazing factoid about Duke’s current start (courtesy of Patrick Stevens): If the ACC Tournament started tomorrow, Duke and Virginia would face off as the ninth and eighth seeds on Wednesday. So then, the ultimate question: Will Duke miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the infamous Pete Gaudet season? There are three ways this might play out.

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What’s Trending: Back Into the Thick of Things

Posted by Griffin Wong on January 22nd, 2016

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Oregon State Be Trippin’

No, but literally. Moments after making an great steal and jumping on the loose ball, senior Jarmal Reid tripped the referee as he was getting up. An absolutely bizarre moment that turned a tied game into a Utah victory. Cue the puns…

https://twitter.com/jordancornette/status/689240457528893445

As stated in the final tweet, Reid has been suspended for a minimum of four games.

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ACC M5: 01.20.16 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 20th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Everyone put your hands together for NC State! That’s right, the Wolfpack got their first conference win at Pittsburgh. The Panthers’ league record is a little shinier than their non-conference play merited (they only beat one top-100 team according to Ken Pomeroy), but going to Pittsburgh and coming out with a win says a lot about Mark Gottfried‘s team. At least for tonight NC State was a good shooting team, led by Cat Barber‘s 31 points on 18 shots (he went 14-14 from the charity stripe). But even more promising was holding a good offensive team at bay on the road.
  2. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Buzz Williams knows that his team’s record is likely a mirage. But he knows that it’s progress that the Hokies find themselves in situations where games can go their way. And he talks about exploiting small things–out of bounds plays and drawing fouls–to make his team more competitive. Both also are of utmost importance in close games when each possession matters a little more.
  3. USA Today: This is a good story from Nicole Auerbach on Malik Beasley (and Dwayne Bacon, but he’s really just mentioned as Beasley’s friend and the other freshman star). Beasley’s parents are both actors, but his father also played basketball at a high level. The preparation he put in over the summer getting to know Leonard Hamilton’s system and his future teammates while taking summer courses is a little like learning lines.
  4. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia Tech is a better team than a lot of people know. While the team’s conference record looks like Wake Forest and Boston College, the Yellow Jackets are much more efficient (62 according to Ken Pomeroy; 59 according to Jeff Sagarin). That should pay dividends at some point, though it may be too late to save Brian Gregory’s job. Gregory will have plenty of time to plan for this Saturday when Louisville comes to town, and that’s the kind of win that could start turning heads.
  5. Syracuse Post Standard: So Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t happy about the no-call on a rebound at the end of Duke‘s third straight loss (though possibly it was karmic justice for another controversial no-call). But the real reason to bring up this article is to touch on Coach K snubbing a few Syracuse players in the handshake line. Handshake lines are stupid, but this controversy may be even stupider (or Boeheim could be sticking up for a friend).
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Depth and the Devils: The Worries of Duke’s Shrinking Rotation

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 23rd, 2015

Over the last decade, Mike Krzyzewski’s teams at Duke have shifted toward the new era of college basketball. Duke brings in NBA-bound one-and-done players at a much higher rate than it once did, possibly even surpassing John Calipari — the recent king of transcendent freshman — at his own game. Including this season, the Blue Devils have spent the last three years among the 100 youngest teams in America in terms of college basketball experience.

duke experience

This year’s team includes three freshman receiving a heavy dosage of minutes yet appears to rely on more veterans than last year’s group. That would imply that these Blue Devils returned a reasonable amount of production from last year’s National Championship squad, but a little digging reveals that’s not really the case. The four Blue Devils who played the highest percentage of the team’s available minutes last year departed after the season. This year’s team may be slightly older, but the experience they bring is somewhat misleading. Of the seven players to log time in Duke’s most recent game versus Utah, only one player, Matt Jones, received more than 25 percent of Duke’s available minutes last season.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

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

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Miami (#23) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action later today, taking on Ben Howland’s rebuilding Mississippi State (#133) squad in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (ESPN2 – 5:00). With an otherwise less than challenging non-conference schedule, Jim Larranaga’s team could pick up some quality wins here, with potential meetings against Utah (#20) in the second round and Butler (#31) in Sunday’s finals (ESPN2 – 7:30). This trip was arranged in no small part to give senior guard Angel Rodriquez a homecoming. A native of Cupey, Puerto Rico, the senior will be highly motivated to lead the Hurricanes to the tournament title on his home island.
  2. Charleston Classic: Tony Bennett will try to get Virginia (#4) back on track after Monday’s upset loss at George Washington. The 73 points that the Cavaliers gave up were the most they have allowed in regulation since an 87-52 blowout loss to Tennessee in December 2013. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of problems ahead for Bennett’s vaunted defense, which was whistled for 24 fouls against the Colonials. The competition at the Charleston Classic this weekend is not of the highest caliber, however, as the Cavs open with Bradley (#272) tonight (ESPN2 – 9:30) and could face a couple of the three non-top 50 major conference schools also in the event — Oklahoma State (#56), Mississippi (#64) and Seton Hall (#73). This tournament’s championship game will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30).
  3. Paradise Jam: If the first two games of the year for Florida State (#35) are any indication, Leonard Hamilton will have his highest scoring team in years. The Seminoles are averaging 103.5 points per game after registering two beatdowns over weak competition and freshman Dwayne Bacon has been a star, scoring 23 and 27 points in back-to-back games. Florida State is the co-favorite in the Paradise Jam along with a Tulsa (#41) squad which upset Wichita State earlier this week. If the two favorites meet in the finals, it will be on Monday night (Nov. 23 – CBSSN – 10:00). The Seminoles will face Hofstra (#95) in Friday’s opening day of play (CBSSN – 4:30) and could meet up with an interesting South Carolina (#47) team in the next round.
  4. 2K Sports Classic: Another team looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss earlier this week is Duke, which travels to Madison Square Garden for the 2K Sports Classic this weekend. Mike Krzyzewski’s perimeter corps had a difficult time finding good looks against the quicker Kentucky backcourt in Tuesday’s loss at the Champions Classic, and the Blue Devils’ transition defense was carved up to the tune of 14-point deficit in fast break points. Individually, sophomore Grayson Allen will look to bounce back after a miserable 2-of-11 shooting performance and just six points against Kentucky. The opponents in New York will not be of Kentucky’s ilk, but they will still be a challenge for this young Duke squad. Friday’s (ESPN2 – 7:30) opponent will be VCU (#51) and Sunday will bring either Georgetown (#44) or last year’s NCAA title game opponent, Wisconsin (#24).
  5. Brooklyn Hoops Holiday InvitationalLouisville (#22) has already begun play in this event, which is not a traditional tournament in any form. Every game has predetermined matchups and Louisville gets to host the first three games, including Tuesday’s 87-52 win over Hartford (#312). Also visiting the KFC Yum! Center as an exempted game will be North Florida (#100) on Saturday (November 21) and St. Francis (NY) (#239) next Tuesday (November 24). In the Cardinals’ only game of the event away from home, they will meet St. Louis (#152) in Brooklyn on Saturday, November 28. Collectively, these games will not be much of a boost to an already weak non-conference schedule that Rick Pitino has lined up for his inexperienced squad this season.
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Evaluating Duke’s First Two Games

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

It’s always premature to form ironclad opinions based on a team’s first two games of the regular season, especially when the team in question is as young as Duke‘s 2015-16 squad. Throw in the fact that the competition the Blue Devils faced over the weekend was far from stellar, and we still have most of the same questions about Mike Krzyzewski’s current edition that we had before the season began. Nevertheless, here are some observations from Duke’s two home wins over the weekend, a 92-74 victory over Siena on Friday and a 113-75 demolition of Bryant on Saturday night.

Grayson Allen has picked up right where he left off in the 2015 Final Four, averaging 27 points in Duke's opening two games. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

Grayson Allen has picked up right where he left off in the 2015 Final Four, averaging 27 points in Duke’s opening two games. (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

There were two major questions for Duke coming into this season. First, could this year’s highly-touted freshmen class approach the spectacular success achieved by last year’s rookies? And secondly, were Duke’s four returnees capable of elevating their games after mostly exclusive use in the past as role players? To the first question, the newcomers played much better collectively against Bryant than they did in Friday’s opener. Krzyzewski spoke about the differences in their performances between the two games:

“I didn’t think they talked well last night. Part of that, I think it’s your first game at Duke, your first real game. For Brandon [Ingram], it’s his first start. I reminded them that it’s Grayson [Allen]’s first start last night too. It was Marshall [Plumlee]’s first start in two years. We have a lot of young guys. Grayson and Marshall [Plumlee] weren’t into themselves last night, they were trying to help everybody. When you’re young, sometimes your thoughts are just with you instead of talking. Tonight, they talked well. They were consumed with Duke. We saw that they played better. That’s just a learning process that they have to go through.”

Individually, Brandon Ingram scored 15 and 21 points, respectively, in the two games, and exhibited much better shot selection in his second college start on the way to making 4-of-6 threes (he was just 1-of-9 from deep in the opener). He also used his length well to act as a disruptive defensive force, with a combined four steals and three blocks over the two outings. Ingram was also often employed by Krzyzewski as a ball-handler from the top of the arc, a set that will make him even more of a match-up problem for most collegiate forwards. Read the rest of this entry »

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2015 ACC Basketball Power Rankings

Posted by Matt Patton on November 16th, 2015

Over the last two weeks, we previewed each of the 15 ACC teams individually to get you ready for the season. Links to those previews can be found within each of the preseason power rankings listed below, which were voted on by our crack microsite staff of three. Also look for our preseason conference awards, which will publish a bit later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Virginia Cavaliers 1. Virginia (304): Can the Cavaliers win the ACC regular season for a third straight year? With a veteran cast led by Malcolm BrogdonAnthony Gill and maybe the nation’s stingiest defense, Tony Bennett probably has the squad to do it. This season, Virginia should take the next step and make a deep run in March.
North Carolina Tar Heels 2. North Carolina (290): Marcus Paige‘s injury could prove to be a setback, but Justin Jackson is poised to become one of the top players in the country. The team returns nearly all its production from last season, and assuming Joel Berry makes the leap we all expect, this group of Tar Heels should absolutely be one of the national favorites come March.
Duke Blue Devils 3. Duke (213): It’s not fair to expect this highly-touted class of Blue Devils’ freshmen to live up to the exploits of last year’s superstar class. Expect this team to take a while to find its stride, with a lot of ups and downs along the way. But if the youngsters grow up in time, Mike Krzyzewski should find himself with another tough out come March.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4. Notre Dame (202): The Irish will lean heavily on the production of three returning starters and a successful offensive philosophy that led to the second best efficiency in the country last season. It will need to make up for the loss of departed leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but Demetrius Jackson looks like one of the best point guards in the country.
Miami Hurricanes 5. Miami (157): The last time Jim Larranaga had a squad this experienced was in 2013, when Miami won both the ACC regular season and tourney titles. The conference appears to be much stronger at the top than it was three years ago, but this veteran group of Hurricanes could still be a sleeper contender, led by three all-ACC caliber seniors.
Syracuse Orange 6. Syracuse (132): Dajuan Coleman holds the keys to Syracuse’s success this season even if senior Michael Gbinije looks to be the team’s star. After a lackluster finish a year ago, this team could become one of the best in the conference if the pieces fit together well. If the NCAA’s nine-conference game suspension stands for Jim Boeheim, though, it could be tough for the Orange to find their stride.
Florida State Seminoles 7. Florida State (105): The Seminoles are a trendy darkhorse candidate this year thanks to superstar freshman Dwayne Bacon joining Xavier Rathan-Mayes in Tallahassee. Leonard Hamilton will have to find a defensive stopper in the frontcourt, however, if this team wants to crack the top of the league.
LouisvilleLogo 8. Louisville (104): With considerable turmoil surrounding the program off the court, the Cardinals will rely on two graduate transfers and a Hall of Fame coach to navigate the loss of its top four scorers. Never count out Rick Pitino, but he’s facing an uphill climb to succeed in the ACC this season.
NC State Wolfpack 9. NC State (81): This team has a lot of good pieces, but how will Cat Barber handle being the alpha dog without big shot Trevor Lacey around? A trim Beejay Anya should terrify ACC players hoping to score in the paint. This team oozes potential, but will need time for everyone to adjust to life without Lacey and Ralston Turner.
Pittsburgh Panthers 10. Pittsburgh (62): Last year’s Panthers were the worst defensive team and among the weakest rebounding units in Jamie Dixon’s long career. As a result, mproving those two areas has been a major topic of discussion for Pittsburgh’s head coach this preseason. Dixon hopes that a pair of graduate transfers are good enough to toughen up the front line, where last year’s problems originated.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 11. Wake Forest (29): Look for Danny Manning‘s winning ways to creep into Winston-Salem this year, although a move up the standings will be tough because the ACC is much stronger top-to-bottom than in previous years. Devin Thomas needs to have a first team All-ACC caliber season for the Demon Deacons to approach the top half of the league.
Clemson Tigers 12. Clemson (16): Once again, we expect the Tigers to defend like crazy while struggling to score – just as they have throughout Brad Brownell’s tenure. Can Brownell survive another year of not making the Big Dance? It won’t help that Clemson has to play all of its home games in Greenville this season, 30 miles from campus, while Littlejohn Coliseum gets a needed facelift.
Virginia Tech Hokies 13. Virginia Tech (15): It’s only taken Buzz Williams two years to almost completely turn over this roster, with junior Devin Wilson currently the only scholarship holdover from the past regime. The Hokies’ talent level is improved, but his youngters are probably another year or two away from getting close to the upper half of the league.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (12): It’s another year on the hot seat for Brian Gregory, who has yet to post a winning ACC record in his four previous campaigns in Atlanta. Pathetic outside shooting has been a constant problem during the Gregory era, and the Yellow Jackets desperately need senior transfer Adam Smith to help turn that around to give a decent frontcourt room to operate.
Boston College 15. Boston College (3): This team is one of the younger teams in the country, but Jim Christian brought in Florida transfer Eli Carter to beef up the team’s experience. If one of the freshmen turns out to be a diamond in the rough, this team might find a way to escape the ACC cellar.
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