ACC M5: Offseason Storyline Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 16th, 2018

morning5_ACC

We are now just three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will provide key question previews of all 15 ACC schools and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte a bit later this month. But first, let’s catch up on some of the most important storylines affecting ACC schools since the season ended last April.

  1. FBI Trial. Perhaps the biggest offseason story in college basketball is taking place right now in a New York City federal courtroom. The FBI’s investigation into the shady world of big-time recruiting has led to a criminal trial of several former Adidas employees who are accused of defrauding colleges by paying recruits (and their families) to sign with certain schools. Not surprisingly, the riveting testimony has generally revealed that college basketball programs are not really “victims” in this process; rather, as CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish points out, they are co-conspirators. Two ACC schools are mired in this web as former assistant coaches at Louisville and NC State have been accused of paying recruits. The oddest reaction to the evidence that has been released so far came from North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who claimed that he was “dumbfounded” by the recent revelations. This is the same coach that has publicly stated he once turned Florida in to the NCAA for its recruitment of Mike Miller nearly 20 years ago.
  2. NCAA Reform. After receiving a number of recommendations last spring from the Dr. Condoleezza Rice-led Commission on College Basketball, the NCAA Board of Governors and Division I Board of Directors announced some reform measures — such as giving athletes more flexibility in professional opportunities — in how the sport operates. Unfortunately, none of these incremental changes will really address the root cause of the behavior that has been uncovered in the ongoing FBI investigation. As long as the antiquated model of student-athlete amateurism exists, there will continue to be a market for talented high school players to receive money and benefits from interested parties.
  3. New Regimes Begin. The ACC’s two new head coaches — Louisville’s Chris Mack and Pittsburgh’s Jeff Capel — spent the late spring and summer restocking and preserving their respective rosters. When Mack took over the Cardinals’ program, he inherited just six returning players (including only one starter), one redshirt transfer and no incoming freshmen. Mack responded by signing three graduate transfers, two of whom, Christen Cunningham (Samford) and Khwan Fore (Richmond), should see major backcourt minutes in his first season. For Capel, job one was to convince several holdovers from the disastrous Kevin Stallings era to remain with the program — the longtime Duke assistant not only managed to perform that task, but he also signed some highly-rated freshmen to fill out the squad in his initial campaign in the Steel City.
  4. Bye Bye, RPI. Finally! Believe it or not… Ronald Reagan was sitting in the Oval Office when we last had an NCAA Tournament field selected without using the RPI. As the guiding metric for the Selection Committee since way back in 1981, the RPI has been an outdated tool for at least a decade in the era of advanced analytics. But as this article from SBNation.com points out, plenty of mystery surrounds the replacement rating system being called the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). As with the RPI, the NET will be used primarily as a sorting tool in the hope that Quadrant results – part of the evaluation system put in place a year ago – will better reflect actual team strength. There will be no shortage of discussion, and we shall see how it works when March rolls around.
  5. Conference Hype. The ACC is receiving considerable preseason love from the national media heading into the 2018-19 season. Seven league members are in both the CBSSports.com and ESPN.com preseason Top 25 ratings while NBCSports.com places eight ACC teams in its version. As expected, each of last year’s top three teams in the league – Virginia, Duke and North Carolina – are once again regarded as consensus top-10 squads. Several ACC players are showing up on preseason All-America teams as well, led by North Carolina senior Luke Maye and Duke superstar freshmen R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson. We got an early peek at Coach K’s talented young duo in August, when the Blue Devils played three exhibition games in Canada.
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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 11th, 2018

With the 2017-18 season in the books, here are a few ACC storylines to follow over the next several months. 

FBI Investigation / NCAA Action

Last September the college basketball world was rocked by news that the FBI was sticking its nose into the seedy underbelly of the sport’s recruiting practices. Several prominent programs were identified as involved in pay-for-play schemes, with ACC members Louisville and Miami experiencing significant subsequent fallout from those allegations. The Cardinals, for example, fired Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino right before the start of practice, leaving inexperienced assistant coach David Padgett to lead the team to a disappointing NIT berth. Furthermore, the NCAA is expected to eventually revisit its sanctions against the Louisville program from the stripper scandal to determine if more penalties are warranted. At Miami, head coach Jim Larranaga saw his integrity questioned for the first time in his lengthy career, which may have affected his team’s performance on the floor which culminated in a forgettable 0-2 postseason. The greater impact of the FBI probe on the two schools has unquestionably been in recruiting – neither team has yet to sign a newcomer for the 2018-19 campaign, leaving incredibly thin rosters in place heading into this offseason.

Jim Larranaga has to rebuild his reputation as well as Miami’s roster in the wake of the FBI’s investigation into NCAA basketball recruiting. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After the FBI case was initially made public, the implication was that many more schools and athletes would eventually be caught up in the government’s web of wiretaps, plea bargains and confessions. We didn’t hear any more information from the FBI until this week, however, when the government claimed that at least one member of the N.C. State coaching staff was allegedly involved in a cash payment to the family of Dennis Smith in late 2015. So far, all of the allegations involve schools and players tied to the shoe company Adidas, but if shenanigans related to Nike are also exposed, expect a number of prominent other schools (including ACC heavyweights) to be affected. While we wait on further developments in this expanding case, it’s already worth noting that the credibility of one of the FBI star witnesses as well as the conduct of one of its chief investigators has been called into question. Stay tuned.

Rule Changes – On and off the Court

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Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

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

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

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

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach, Mick McDonald on March 14th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week about the NCAA Tournament prospects for all nine ACC schools involved.

Losing De’Andre Hunter is a huge blow to Virginia’s NCAA title hopes. (Ryan M. Kelly/Getty)

Brad Jenkins: Well it’s Tourney time fellas! I guess we should start with the gut wrenching news of the day – De’Andre Hunter is out with a broken wrist for the entire tournament. Mick, how does Virginia adapt short-term and long-term?

Mick McDonald: I figured we’d have to start here. It’s devastating news for Virginia. Hunter’s flexibility allowed the Cavaliers to play small with him at the four or bigger with him at the three. He was a great option on offense and could score in a variety of ways. It’s crushing. Long term — as in, next year — it’s no big deal. He’ll recover and be ready to go. But this year? I just can’t see Virginia winning the title without him. Maybe they can get by Arizona/Kentucky/Cincinnati to make the Final Four, but I doubt it.

Matt Auerbach: I hate to agree with Mick, because after being in Brooklyn and seeing and finally appreciating the live beauty of Virginia basketball, I penciled them in as my favorite — but thankfully, it was in pencil. Hunter is a tremendous talent and gives them so much on both ends off the bench. Without him, I think the Arizona game if it materializes becomes a lot trickier.

Mick McDonald: Tony Bennett will now have to give minutes to Marco Anthony, a smaller freshman wing who played well during Nigel Johnson’s suspension. He’s not Hunter but he will have to play well when called on.

Brad Jenkins: It does remove the option of playing small. The good news is that the other talented teams in the South region like Kentucky, Arizona and Cincinnati all will have required a bigger Virginia lineup anyway. So I think they can still get to San Antonio.

Matt Auerbach: All this being said — and the loss of Hunter could easily be viewed as detrimental — but would it shock me to see Virginia still make it to San Antonio? Absolutely not.

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 11th, 2018

The ACC received nine bids to the NCAA Tournament today — the same number as a year ago — and is well-represented at the top of the bracket. Virginia rode its superb regular season and ACC Tournament championship all the way to the top of the field as the NCAA Tourney’s #1 overall seed. Tobacco road rivals North Carolina and Duke each landed on the #2 seed line with the Tar Heels earning the preferred Charlotte pod for the first weekend. Some late bid-stealers (Davidson and San Diego State, notably) burst the bubble for two ACC teams — Louisville and Notre Dame didn’t make the cut — but Syracuse somehow squeaked into the field. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for each of the nine ACC teams in this year’s field.

Virginia (#1 South)

Virginia players celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating North Carolina in the ACC tournament. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

  • Best Case: The Cavaliers ride the nation’s top defense all the way to San Antonio, giving Tony Bennett his first Final Four appearance and a shot at the school’s first-ever National Championship.
  • Worst Case: Virginia’s offense bogs down against a team that has enough NBA-level talent to make shots against the pack-line defense. Both Arizona and Kentucky fit that description, and one of them will likely play the Cavaliers in the Sweet Sixteen.

North Carolina (#2 West)

  • Best Case: Joel Berry turns into Mr. March again, leading the veteran Tar Heels back to the Final Four for the third consecutive year.
  • Worst Case: The threes don’t connect for North Carolina and they can’t get enough stops against a hot Michigan squad in the Sweet Sixteen.

Duke (#2 Midwest)

  • Best Case: Duke plays to its potential on offense and opponents continue to struggle against the Blue Devils’ zone defense, giving Coach K a chance to win his sixth National Championship.
  • Worst Case: Duke’s prize freshmen succumb to postseason pressure, and once again, a talented Blue Devil team underachieves in the Big Dance — perhaps as early as the Second Round.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 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 compare how each ACC squad performed in its last nine league games, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. Finally, we will examine the ACC standings and project what it may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 3.

Current Standings

The final points per possession margin (PPM) figures suggest that there are a pair of ACC teams (Virginia and Duke) that are clearly superior to the rest of the league, and one squad (Pittsburgh) that is exceptionally worse. There is also a lot of parity in the middle of the league this season, with six schools posting +/- 0.01 in PPM. Among that group, Miami at 11-7 stands out as the most fortunate. By winning their last four games by three points or fewer — and thanks to the league’s tie-breaking procedures — the Hurricanes landed the #3 seed in Brooklyn this week. They accomplished this feat despite only outscoring their ACC foes by a total of nine points all season long. It’s also interesting to consider the relative strength of schedule among the 15 league members. Note that there is some bias built into the standings — Virginia and Duke only met once and can’t play themselves, partially explaining why they have the ACC’s two weakest schedules. But North Carolina clearly played a much tougher slate, with two games each against three of the top five seeds in this week’s tournament (Duke, Clemson and NC State). Even that gauntlet, though, doesn’t match what Buzz Williams‘ crew at Virginia Tech faced this year — the Hokies logged two meetings with each of the top three seeds in Brooklyn (Virginia, Duke and Miami). Additionally, hats off to Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers for submitting the ACC’s best defense for the fourth time in five years, while North Carolina finished with the league’s top offense for the second straight year.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.05.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 5th, 2018

It was a great Saturday to be an ACC player in his final appearance in front of the home crowd, as all seven home teams were victorious this weekend. In the headline match-up in Durham, Duke overcame a double-figure deficit to avenge an earlier loss to North Carolina. Surging Miami won its fourth consecutive game — all by three points or fewer — by edging Virginia Tech, leaving the Hurricanes as the #3 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament. Regular season champion Virginia held off a Notre Dame squad that is suddenly more dangerous with a healthy Bonzie Colson back in the lineup. In other action, Syracuse kept its NCAA at-large hopes alive with a win over Clemson, Florida State took down Boston College, and NC State topped Louisville. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Grayson Allen and Coach K celebrate Duke’s win over rival North Carolina in Allen’s last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

  • Best Win: It was a tale of two halves for Duke in its 74-64 rivalry win over North Carolina. The Blue Devils trailed by 10 points at the break following an ice-cold shooting start — Duke sank only one of 10 shots from deep and 4-of-14 from the free throw line. But the offense picked up in the second half, as Duke scored 49 points and made eight threes on 15 attempts. Much has been made of Mike Krzyzewski’s decision to go zone, and the Blue Devils’ defense continues to improve as a result (now ranked 10th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings). North Carolina came into the game having scored at least 1.20 points per possession in its last seven outings, but the Tar Heels only managed 0.91 points per possession on Saturday evening. It didn’t help that star Joel Berry had an off night — the senior finished with just six points in going 0-of-7 from distance. With the win, Duke earned the #2 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament, while the Tar Heels fell all the way to the #6 seed position. Given that the Tar Heels are ranked seventh nationally in KenPom, we are looking at a very deep ACC this postseason.

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ACC Weekend Preview: March 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 3rd, 2018

It’s the final weekend of the ACC regular season, which means we not only get DukeNorth Carolina, part II, but we also have sevearl bubble teams fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives in addition to the return of a superstar hoping to lead his team to a late renaissance.

Saturday, March 3

Once Again, It’s On… (USA Today Images)

  • Virginia Tech (#33) at Miami (#35). It felt like both Virginia Tech and Miami were already in good spots with their NCAA Tournament resumes coming into this week, but then the Hokies vanquished Duke and the Hurricanes won at the buzzer in Chapel Hill to completely lock things up. Both are headed to the Dance this season partly because of consistently superb point guard play. For the Hokies, it’s been junior Justin Robinson, who is averaging nearly 15.0 points, 4.5 assists and fewer than two turnovers per game. He’ll match up with Hurricanes’ freshman Chris Lykes, who has become the heart and soul of a Miami group with Bruce Brown still on the shelf.
  • Clemson (#17) at Syracuse (#52). Syracuse dropping a game to Boston College while fighting for its NCAA Tournament life means the Orange need to beat Clemson to make the NCAA Tournament. To do that, Syracuse needs to lock down on the defensive end. Its normally sure 2-3 zone defense has allowed the three worst Defensive Ratings of the season (115.6 vs. North Carolina State, 114.7 vs North Carolina and 130.8 at Boston College) over the past five games. They’ve been torched by quick guards like Markell Johnson, Joel Berry II and Jerome Robinson. If the Orange cannot shut down Marcquise Reed and Gabe DeVoe, they could be in “ACC Tournament Title or Bust” mode before they even get to Brooklyn next week.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 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 will compare usage rate with offensive efficiency for the league’s top scorers, with an eye on who should be named to this season’s All-ACC First Team. 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, February 27.

Current Standings

With the regular season race already wrapped up for Virginia, the attention now leads to the group of seven teams immediately behind the Cavaliers in the standings, all with five to seven losses. Incredibly, there’s a distinct possibility that the ACC ends up with a four-way tie for second place, provided that Clemson and NC State both win out and North Carolina beats Duke on Saturday night. When comparing records with points per possession margin (PPM) it’s easy to see how important performance in close games can be. Other than Virginia, Duke (0-2 in one-possession games) and North Carolina (1-3) have proven to be notch above the rest of the league based on PPM performance, but neither was able to separate itself from the rest of the pack this season. In contrast, Virginia Tech (3-0) and N.C. State (2-0) have ACC records that are superior to the merely average PPM numbers each has posted.

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