ACC Weekend Review: 02.25.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 25th, 2019

Despite a strong slate of ACC match-ups in the queue on Saturday, the games were mostly devoid of drama. The main takeaway from the weekend is that there is a significant gap between the top three schools and everyone else. Virginia overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on the road to overwhelm a reeling Louisville squad, 64-52; the frontcourt of North Carolina was too much for Florida State in the Tar Heels’ 77-59 win in Chapel Hill; and Duke rallied to beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, 75-65. This leaves those three league heavyweights tied at the top of the ACC standings with 12-2 records, clear of the rest of the league by three games in the loss column. Virginia Tech took advantage of those results to move into sole possession of fourth place — the Hokies beat Notre Dame in South Bend by a score of 67-59. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Nassir Little gave North Carolina a strong effort off the bench as the Tar Heels dominated Florida State in the paint on Saturday. (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
  • Best Win #1: Those who expected this to be a letdown game for North Carolina should have known better. Yes, the Tar Heels were coming off a huge win over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it’s not like Roy Williams‘ club isn’t used to dealing with this situation — playing the game after “The Game” — every season. Florida State kept it close for about 30 minutes, but North Carolina closed the contest on a 21-7 run to put away the Seminoles. The Tar Heels’ frontcourt was the difference, as seniors Cam Johnson and Luke Maye each posted double-doubles and freshman Nassir Little scored 18 off the bench. North Carolina dominated the glass (+15) and held the Seminoles to their second lowest scoring output of the year. Leonard Hamilton’s team saw its eight-game winning streak snapped and damaged its hopes for gaining the the coveted double-bye as the #4 seed in the ACC Tournament.
  • Best Win #2: With no upsets occurring this weekend we will highlight another big win because of the circumstances surrounding the game. There were several factors going against Duke when it took the floor at Syracuse on Saturday night — the Blue Devils were without the services of National Player of the Year favorite Zion Williamson; they had just been run out of their own gym by arch-rival North Carolina; and they were facing a motivated Syracuse team, who already had beaten Duke earlier this year, in front of an on-campus record 35,642 fans. Furthermore, the Orange controlled things early and led by five at that break. But RJ Barrett reminded us that Williamson isn’t the only star on Mike Krzyzewski’s squad — the other freshman superstar carved up the Syracuse zone to the tune of 30 points and seven assists to lead the comeback. Duke also got a huge boost from Alex O’Connell, who scored 17 second half points.
Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

ACC Weekend Preview: January 19

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 18th, 2019

This weekend is highlighted by a monster showdown in Durham, but there are some tricky road trips as well for teams near the top of the standings. Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you ready for the weekend ahead in the ACC. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 19

Roy Williams Needs His Freshmen to Produce (USA Today Images)

#10 North Carolina (13-4, 3-1) at #72 Miami (9-7, 1-3). Did we finally see the Nassir Little coming-out party? The stud freshman has been spent plenty of time on Roy Williams’ bench so far this season, but in the Tar Heels’ recent win over Notre Dame, Little scored 11 second-half points on 5-of-8 shooting along with six boards. Part of the equation for this North Carolina team being successful was Little becoming an immediate star. The Heels also need Coby White to get back on track. In the Tar Heels’ four ACC contests to date, White’s Offensive Rating is down eight points and his turnover percentage is up six points to nearly 24 percent. He’ll try to find his footing in Coral Gables as he matches up with Miami dynamo Chris Lykes, someone who is posting a 133.3 Offensive Rating and a 27.3 PER.

#32 NC State (14-3, 2-2) at #75 Notre Dame (11-6, 1-3). Oh, what a loss in Winston-Salem will do for an ACC team’s outlook. The Wolfpack were feeling pretty good about themselves in early ACC play after a successful non-conference campaign followed by a competitive home loss to North Carolina. Then Kevin Keatts‘ squad dropped the one game you cannot lose in the ACC this season. NC State three-point shooting, which was so strong through the first 13 games of the year (41.4%) has dropped to just 29.9 percent in ACC play. Given the way the Wolfpack plays, they are going to be in considerable trouble if they can’t start making more shots from long-distance. NC State heads to South Bend to take on a struggling Fighting Irish club. Even though it’s been a disappointing season for Mike Brey’s team so far, how about a little love for John Mooney? He is quietly putting up a monster season (30.2 PER, 130.6 ORtg), averaging a double-double and shooting nearly 46 percent from three-point range.

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

North Carolina Bounces Back With Big Win Over Gonzaga

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 17th, 2018

After getting blown out at Michigan as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Roy Williams made some terse comments about the current state of his team — basically saying that North Carolina “stinks,” and that he was doing a poor job coaching his squad. In the Tar Heels’ first real test since that evening, his team laid the wood on Gonzaga, 103-90, Saturday night in the Smith Center. Senior forwards Luke Maye and Cam Johnson led the way as Williams’ team once again looked the part of a legitimate national contender.

Luke Maye won his individual battle with Rui Hachimura in North Carolina’s weekend victory over Gonzaga. (photo credit: goheels.com)

After a very successful junior campaign, Maye has to date had a disappointing senior year. His key offensive numbers are down – both in terms of scoring (14.3 versus 16.9 PPG) and shooting (45.0% versus 48.6% FG) — but he got the better of Gonzaga All-America candidate Rui Hachimura on Saturday night. Maye finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds in the winning effort while Hachimura contributed 17 points and six rebounds. One area where Maye has improved this season is at the free throw stripe. After making all seven of his tries against Gonzaga, he is now shooting 79.5 percent on the season (after converting only 62.4 percent of his freebies a year ago).

North Carolina also made a season high 13 three-pointers against the Zags with Johnson chiefly responsible (6-of-8 3FG). Williams has been waiting for a break-out shooting performance, saying after the game, “I’ve been telling Cam [Johnson], Kenny [Williams] and Luke [Maye] that you guys are our best shooters — how ’bout trying to be our best makers?” A regular strength of the North Carolina program is its work on the boards and that was hugely evident on Saturday as well. Gonzaga entered the contest ranked among the 50 best offensive rebounding teams in college basketball, but the Zags managed to only grab five of its 33 misses against the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, North Carolina converted 14 offensive boards into 27 points. As Mark Few said afterward, “They just pounded us on the glass, too. […] The shots we did get them to miss, they usually got the rebound and put it back in.”

Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

North Carolina Off and Running Out of the Gate

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2018

Two weeks ago, when asked to submit my preseason national rankings, I knew the decision to place North Carolina as my top-rated squad would draw some raised eyebrows. Three games into the season, however, I have seen nothing from the Tar Heels (maybe something from Duke) that has given me reason for pause — in fact, their performance in this small sample size has been even better than anticipated. For the first time in more than three decades, North Carolina opened its season with two true road games, a challenge rarely taken by the sport’s elite (Duke, for example, won’t play its first road game until January 8!). And while not tested by the strongest of competition, Elon and Wofford, which beat Roy Williams‘ team at the Dean Dome a year ago, provided difficult road environments that helped prepare the Tar Heels for what will be a conference schedule littered with those affairs.

North Carolina Has Been Quietly Humming Along Through Three Games (USA Today Images)

After rolling Stanford at home on Monday night for the third victory of the season, North Carolina now ranks third in the KenPom ratings, a product of strong performances on both ends of the floor (currently ranking fifth in both offensive and defensive efficiency). Rarely does Williams fret over his offense, but he must be reveling in the elite defensive potential that this year’s team has already shown. Freshmen Nassir Little and Leaky Black are the type of long, athletic and versatile wings whose sole purpose seems to be to disrupt the flow of opposing offenses. Little, for all of his natural ability, also appears to check all of the intangible boxes to boot — toughness, strength, desire. Those areas have not always been North Carolina’s calling cards, but this year’s squad has shown a willingness to be first to the floor and it seems to play harder than its opponents.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Several ACC Takeaways From Opening Night

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2018

Opening night of the 2018-19 season was a total success for the ACC as league members swept their nine opponents last evening by convincing double-figure margins. Here are some takeaways from the three most prominent contests played by conference squads Tuesday night.

DUKE’S NEWCOMERS EXCEEDED THE HYPE

Zion Williamson and his fellow freshmen lived up to their immense hype in Duke’s big win over Kentucky. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It doesn’t sound possible after all the preseason buzz surrounding the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, but Duke‘s rookies were even better than advertised in a 118-84 thrashing of top-five Kentucky. This game represented a mismatch in talent from the outset, as Duke’s celebrated trio of RJ Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish combined to finish with 83 points on 56.6 percent shooting. Barrett and Williamson, in particular, were amazing in transition, but they also scored much more easily in the half-court against a bevy of long and athletic Wildcats. At least for one glorious night in early November, Mike Krzyzewski’s squad had all of the answers to its preseason questions surrounding outside shooting (12-26 3FG), defense (Kentucky lingered around 1.0 PPP most of the game) and depth (eight Blue Devils saw double-figure minutes). After years of struggling to find a true point guard to orchestrate the offense, Duke looks like it has a diamond in Tre Jones, who finished with seven assists and zero turnovers. Even junior Jack White came off the bench to play 30 solid minutes, scoring nine points and grabbing a game-high 11 boards. Yes, it’s only one game — but if the Blue Devils can stay healthy, their potential is downright scary.

FLORIDA STATE’S DEFENSE IS LEGIT

Duke wasn’t the only ACC team to dominate a highly regarded team from the SEC last night, as Florida State used a strong second half start to pummel Florida, 81-60. Leonard Hamilton‘s team utilized old school defense to fuel its NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight last March, and it was more of the same against the Gators in holding their rival to a frigid 37.0 percent from the field and forcing 16 miscues. The Seminoles weren’t bad on the other end of the floor (1.12 PPP), either, especially considering they are currently without leading scorer Phil Cofer (broken foot). Florida State converted a robust 11-of-23 from three-point land, with PJ Savoy leading the way in nailing 5-of-7 from deep. Normally, Hamilton’s teams usually take some time to gel, but it looks like Florida State is already set to roll this year. If this is the ACC’s seventh best team (per the ACC Media preseason poll), then the league is in outstanding shape relative to the rest of college basketball.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Burning Questions, Part 5: Duke, North Carolina & Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 2nd, 2018

To wrap up our ACC team previews, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) brings us home by reviewing league favorites Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

Duke Burning Question: How will Duke’s talented freshmen gel on the court?

The Duke Freshmen Are Ready to Roll (USA Today Images)

Duke has the most talented roster in the country, but as we know, talent alone doesn’t always mean championships. After losing almost his entire roster from last year’s Elite Eight squad, Mike Krzyzewski reloaded with four of the very best prospects in the country. The question is how those pieces will fit together. While Zion Williamson (who is basically a cross between Justin Bieber and LeBron James on YouTube) is the Blue Devils’ biggest star, R.J. Barrett is the best player on the team. He dominated for Team Canada in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup last year and is likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The smooth lefty likes to have the ball in his hands, so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with expected starting point guard Tre Jones.

Will fellow freshman Cam Reddish accept not being the lead banana on a team with plentiful options? Will anyone outside of sophomore Alex O’Connell (48.9% 3FG) make any three-pointers? Will juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier be able to stay out of Krzyzewski’s doghouse to support the talented freshmen? Whether you believe that Duke will figure it all out and win the national title or if you have concerns about egos overtaking the team en route to an early exit in March, Duke is without question the most fascinating team in college basketball this season.

North Carolina Burning Question: What lineup does Roy Williams want to use?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story