ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

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

Top of the Class

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

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

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

Those With Potential

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Montrezl Harrell Provides Louisville With Consistency While Guards Fluctuate

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 10th, 2014

An uncontested putback slam off an offensive rebound put Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell on the board. Just 24 seconds later, the Louisville pressure forced a turnover in the backcourt, providing an easy forward pass to Harrell for yet another slam. Indiana then proceeded to carelessly inbound the ball right into the hands of none other than Montrezl Harrell, who finished with another effortless dunk at the rim. This was the beginning of how the 6’8″ All-American made his mark in Tuesday night’s game against Indiana at Madison Square Garden.

Montrezl Harrell (left)

Montrezl Harrell (left) is the Best Player in the Country, According to Rick Pitino

Under Rick Pitino, Louisville has become known for its full-court trapping schemes, which utilized lightning-quick, athletic guards and wings to force their opponents into turnovers and easy baskets. Francisco Garcia, Taquan Dean, Earl Clark, Terrance Williams, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith all share the lineage of playing the ever-important full-court press enforcer. But the departure of Smith from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad left the Cardinals somewhat exposed in the backcourt, lacking a true go-to player who keys the system’s success. Question marks this season have arisen around the play of Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, the pair of whom were shooting just 29.8 percent from downtown heading into Tuesday night’s Jimmy V Classic. Yet despite their, and the team’s (49.6% eFG) less than ideal shooting performances, the Cardinals have pieced together an 8-0 record. The why can largely be attributed to their defense, which ranks among the top 10 in seven major statistical categories, and with 6’10 freshman Chinanu Onuaku anchoring the post, the defensive system employed by Pitino has allowed the junior Harrell to flourish.

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Tonight’s ACC/Big Ten Feature: Previewing Ohio State vs. Louisville

Posted by Brendan Brody and Brett Thompson on December 2nd, 2014

As the ACC and the Big Ten teams get together on the hardwood this week, the ACC and Big Ten microsites (Brendan Brody and Brett Thompson, specifically) have also decided to team up to break down some of the key questions for a few of the games. What follows is a look at tonight’s featured battle between two power programs: the Buckeyes and the Cardinals.

Brendan Brody: Louisville’s defensive numbers have been absurd this season, but Ohio State brings in eight rotation players who are currently shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Why will Louisville’s defense shut down these Buckeyes?

Brett Thompson: Despite the strong play of Louisville’s defense thus far, Rick Pitino is concerned with how well Ohio State has shot the ball on the offensive end (63.5% eFG). Look for the Cards to implement several zone looks along with their patented pressure to confuse the Buckeyes, but if Ohio State continues to knock down threes at a superb 41.8 percent clip, Louisville will be forced to man up on the shooters. How have the Buckeyes been so efficient offensively this season, and will that continue against a Louisville defense that ranks first in defensive efficiency nationally?

Shannon Scott is leading the Big Ten in assists, but will be tested by Louisville's pressure. (AP)

Shannon Scott is leading the Big Ten in assists, but he will be tested by Louisville’s pressure. (AP)

BB: It begins and ends with the play of Shannon Scott. And it’s not just the fact that he’s averaging an ungodly 10.4 assists per game, but it’s also that he’s been magnificent at getting everyone quality looks. The team is shooting such a high percentage because Scott is putting everyone in great position to make shots well within their respective comfort zones. If Scott can handle the Louisville pressure well enough to avoid turning the ball over excessively, Ohio State can make the Cardinals pay for it in the half-court. On the other end of the floor, the Buckeyes don’t really have anyone to match up with the Cardinals’ Montrezl Harrell, but the Louisville perimeter players (Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear) have struggled shooting the ball this season. Which of these three is most likely to break out and help Harrell score?

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ACC Stock Watch – Week Two

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 28th, 2014

We here at RTC hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday. Of course, we kept on our eye on ACC hoops for you while you were eating and possibly dabbling in the football-viewing arena. It’s only week two in the season, but there continue to be teams and players who are continuing to excel or providing disappointing early returns. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. Sure, they’re obliterating lesser competition, but their win over Stanford in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic was a great sign because Jahlil Okafor was not dominant and yet the team was composed and beat a good Cardinal team. Tyus Jones (roughly five-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio through six games) and Justise Winslow (14 points per game on 45% shooting thus far) continue to show that they are beyond their years as freshmen and can help cover for a game where Okafor doesn’t play up to his standards.
Trevor Lacey had a sensational second week to keep the Wolfpack undefeated on the year (APPhoto)

Trevor Lacey had a sensational second week to keep the Wolfpack undefeated on the year (APPhoto)

  • Trevor Lacey, NC State. Lacey was billed as an impact freshman, and he certainly had an impactful week for the Wolfpack. Lacey averaged 23.5 points per game in NC State’s two wins over South Florida and Richmond this week, and even spent a large portion of the time handling the ball in lieu of Cat Barber. Lacey has hit the ground running, and has presented a great second option for Mark Gottfried at the point if Barber is playing erratically.
  • Justin Anderson, Virginia. As discussed here after last Friday’s win over George Washington, Anderson has tied for or been the lead man in scoring for this team in every game this season. Last year’s Sixth Man of the Year followed up a solid start to the season last week with a perfect shooting night against Tennessee State (7-7 from the field, 5-5 from three) to notch 20 points. Anderson might be the hottest player in the conference right now not playing in Durham.

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ACC Stock Watch – Week One

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 21st, 2014

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

Trending Up

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

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

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

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ACC M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 19th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse.com: It is well-known that the Syracuse basketball and football programs have been under NCAA scrutiny for a while now. Other than eligibility concerns surrounding Fab Melo, though, there hasn’t been much information about what the alleged transgressions were. Recent news of a link between a YMCA in Oneida and Orange athletes has brought to light some of the other issues the school is contending with. Questions are being asked about internship programs that athletes supposedly completed at the Y, administered by graduate students. Additionally, a former supervisor at this YMCA was sued for siphoning money from the organization into a private account. That supervisor, Jeff Cornish, had no previous ties to Syracuse but has been seen with former stars Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick, among others, at various times over past years. If nothing else, this helps to clarify some of what Syracuse is experiencing, and the possible issue with the internships draws some resemblance to the paper classes scandal at North Carolina, although on a much smaller scale.
  2. ESPN: Angel Rodriguez‘s name was everywhere in the past 24 hours, thanks to the game-winning three pointer he nailed that ended Florida’s 33-game home winning streak. Miami is largely dependent on Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, both transfers, to make this a much-improved Hurricanes team. Rodriguez’s heroics led ESPN.com‘s Myron Medcalf to delve into whether transfers like those two are a good thing for college hoops. Medcalf notes that some players transfer, even multiple times, for purely selfish reasons, but said that he regarded Rodriguez and N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey as examples of players who had good reasons to move on to a new school. Clearly some of the best transfer talent in college basketball can be found in the ACC this season.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: One of the key takeaways from N.C. State’s win over Hofstra on Monday night was the offensive production of Lennard Freeman. The Wolfpack’s frontcourt was always going to be a focal point this year due to its relative youth, and, so far, early results are mixed. Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya, the two frontcourt players most projected to make the biggest impact, performed poorly in that contest. If Freeman can have more nights like he did against Hofstra (nine points, 13 rebounds) it would go a long way towards helping head coach Mark Gottfried develop the impact frontcourt he’s desires. Overall, though, all three of his big men need to play integral roles each and every night for the Wolfpack to have a successful season.
  4. The Courier-Journal: In short, Montrezl Harrell is a beast. His 30-point, seven-rebound performance in Louisville‘s opener over Minnesota was jaw-dropping not so much because of his production but how he produced it. Harrell, always a monster around the rim, displayed a newfound ability to hit jump shots from deep (3-of-4 from three-point range) that he did not have last season. As Gary Parrish from CBSSports.com noted, “Suddenly, it appears this physical specimen and unique athlete is now also capable of scoring 20-feet from the basket. That, I think, makes him nearly impossible to guard…” Harrell’s opening-night salvo earned him the ACC Player of the Week award and placed him atop the first Player of the Year rankings from ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, and CollegeSportsMadness.com. Oh, and he followed that great game up with 15/7 in game number two against Jacksonville State.
  5. Richmond Times-Dispatch: As noted before here on RTC, there are low expectations for Virginia Tech this season. When a win over Maryland-Eastern Shore in the season opener is a relief, it really hits home from a reality perspective. As the author writes, the standout from that game was freshman Justin Bibbs. Bibbs’ 15 points and two assists were a welcome sight for Hokies fans unsure of what all of these newcomers would mean for the team this year (four true freshmen played in the team’s opener). Devin Wilson was really the only sure thing on the roster returning, but if the Hokies have some under-the-radar talent among their newcomers, perhaps Buzz Williams’ reclamation project in Blacksburg won’t take as long as most thought. Bibbs certainly gave everyone a reason to get excited over the weekend.
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ACC M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville’s Rick Pitino came out victorious over Minnesota’s Richard Pitino on Friday night in a U.S. Coast Guard hangar in Puerto Rico, 81-68. Afterward, the elder Pitino admitted that he never wanted to play this game, knowing that a win over his son’s team would cause him so much parental agony. Louisville’s coach also said that Montrezl Harrell was the clear difference between the two teams, as the junior All-America candidate led the way with 30 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Harrell also showed off a newly found outside shooting touch, making 3-of-4 three-point attempts after only hitting a pair of threes all of last season. He appears to have addressed another issue in the offseason as well, as he knocked down 9-of-10 free throws after a woeful season from the stripe last year (46.4%). Already a dominant interior player, this guy may now be almost impossible to defend.
  2. Macon Telegraph: Brian Gregory may have found an answer to Georgia Tech’s offensive problems from a surprising source. Lanky sophomore Quinton Stephens, who scored more than 10 points only once during his rookie campaign, erupted for a game-high 22 in the Yellow Jackets’ 80-73 home win Friday over intrastate rival, Georgia. Stephens connected on an impressive 6-of-8 from three-point land, a positive sign for Gregory’s team, as the team only made 31.5 percent from deep last season.
  3. ESPN.com: Pittsburgh had an unexpected struggle on Sunday afternoon in the Petersen Events Center, holding off Samford, 63-56, in a game where the Panthers never held a double-figure lead against a team picked to finish at the bottom of a weak Southern Conference. In related news, Jamie Dixon announced that junior Durand Johnson has been suspended for the entire 2014-15 season for undisclosed reasons. Johnson missed the second half of last season after tearing his ACL and had been struggling with a bad ankle this preseason, but apparently there is some other issue as Dixon would surely have mentioned his injuries if they were the cause of the suspension. Pittsburgh is allowing Johnson to remain with the program and continue to practice with the team during his suspension.
  4. UND.com: Notre Dame is off to an impressive start to the season, winning two games at home by large margins. On Friday night the Irish blew out Binghamton, 82-39, and then destroyed Navy, 92-53, on Sunday afternoon. This was against the same Navy squad that only lost by five points to Michigan State in Friday night’s opener. It seems that junior Zach Auguste is thriving as the primary post player in Mike Brey’s four-out/one-in lineup this year. Auguste has already set consecutive career high scoring marks with 19 in the opener and 20 against Navy. Keep an eye on the Irish during pre-conference play.
  5. ESPN: The ACC is off to a good start, winning 21 of its 22 opening weekend games. The lone loss came Sunday afternoon in Boston’s TD Garden, as Boston College fell to Massachusetts, 71-62, in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader. Coming into Jim Christian’s debut season, the Eagles needed to show some improvement on the defensive end, and they did so in Friday’s opening win over New Hampshire. But they struggled to guard UMass on Sunday without fouling, as the Minutemen shot 46 free throws and outscored the Eagles by 14 points from the foul line.
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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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RTC’s ACC Preseason Awards

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

With the 2014-15 ACC season just about to tip off, our esteemed panel of micrositers has come together to release our preseason individual superlatives. It was a close race for most of these positions, but those who were close to making the cut will earn honorable mention below. Feel free to comment on where we went horribly awry or how accurately you think we’ve nailed it.

Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, PG, North Carolina. It might be a good thing if Paige’s scoring numbers drop this year, as that would probably mean more offensive production from his peers. North Carolina has a promising group of freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing, but a more mature and seasoned frontcourt could help Paige excel as the team’s primary ball-handler. Jahlil Okafor and Montrezl Harrell are two others who could easily claim this award by season’s end.

Marcus Paige is RTC's pre-season ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige is RTC’s preseason ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke. We didn’t stray far from public opinion on this one. Okafor gives Duke its most formidable post player in many years, and his exhibition performances have done little to dampen the enthusiasm for his talent in Durham. Justin Jackson (North Carolina), Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville) and Kaleb Joseph (Syracuse) are dark horse candidates worth keeping an eye on.

Coach of the Year: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State. Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski were the others we considered, but the potential for Florida State to make some noise in the ACC race this year means Hamilton is the preseason choice. Florida State will continue to play its trademark smothering defense, but we think that the offense will be vastly improved. It says here that the Seminoles will improve on their 9-9 ACC record and return to the Big Dance after an NIT semifinals appearance a year ago.

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ACC Preview: Louisville’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Louisville win the ACC crown in its inaugural season?

Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals have won conference championships in two different leagues over the past two seasons. On its way to the NCAA title in  2012-13, the Cardinals shared the Big East regular season championship (with Georgetown and Marquette), and won the conference tournament. Last season Louisville enjoyed a one year stopover in the American Athletic Conference, resulting in the same outcome — a share of the regular season crown (this time with Cincinnati) and another conference tournament championship. Now the Cardinals will try to make history by grabbing both prizes for the third year in a row in yet another league — the ACC, historically the best college basketball conference of them all.

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Rick Pitino becomes the fourth Hall-of-Fame Coach in the ACC this season. (Getty Images).

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC now boasts four current head coaches who are already members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. The only other current NCAA coach with that honor on his resume is SMU’s Larry Brown, who has spent the majority of his coaching days in the NBA. It’s therefore fair to say that the ACC can lay claim to the four most accomplished college coaches in the country. A look at the chart below shows how those four compare in several key areas of achievement. Due to their additional seasons as head coaches, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim have gathered significantly more wins then North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Pitino, but the younger duo stacks up very well in overall winning percentage, Final Four appearances and National Champioinships. As the youngest member of the group, Louisville’s leader may also have the best chance of substantially adding to his resume over the next 10 years. After all, Pitino is currently the hottest of the bunch, boasting three consecutive 30-win seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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ACC With Three Preseason All-Americans: Is the Conference Back?

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 4th, 2014

The Associated Press announced their preseason All-America list today, and three of the five honorees come from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Freshman Jahlil Okafor (Duke) is the lone freshman on the list, joined by 2013-14 standouts Marcus Paige (North Carolina) and Montrezl Harrell (Louisville). Rounding out the group are Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky and Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet. This result for the ACC is in stark contrast to last year’s preseason All-America list, where zero ACC players made the list (Russ Smith was there from Louisville, but the Cardinals were an AAC team at that time). In fact, the last ACC player to make the preseason list? North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes in 2011.

Jahlil Okafor Headlines Three ACC Players Selected to the Preseason AP All-America Team

Jahlil Okafor Headlines Three ACC Players Selected to the Preseason AP All-America Team

The most eye-popping choice of this list is Duke’s Okafor. Okafor is the third freshman to receive this honor in the past five years, dating back to Barnes’ first selection in 2010, and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins last year. Okafor is just one of the many highly touted freshmen that Mike Krzyzewski brings to Durham for the upcoming season, joined by Grayson Allen, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones. These three look to replace and reinvigorate a Duke lineup that will miss NBA draftees Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood. While Okafor has yet to make his Duke debut, it is clear that for the second straight season, Duke will present a freshman phenom surrounded by massive hype.

Okafor isn’t the only Tobacco Road superstar to earn the honor this preseason. North Carolina’s Paige in fact received the highest total of votes in the voting, following his sophomore year of second half heroics for the Tar Heels. The Tar Heels sputtered on offense without Paige in the lineup, and while the junior is unquestionably the team’s leader, he may be needed to carry the load quite as much this year. Paige’s Tar Heels have much more depth surrounding him this season, and freshman Justin Jackson is expected to relieve Paige of some of the offensive burden.

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