Duke’s Lineup Change: Beginning of Something Special?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 23rd, 2017

With Duke down 11 points after a listless first half against Miami on Saturday night, acting head coach Jeff Capel decided some personnel changes were in order. Starters Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles began the second half on the bench as Duke turned around the game — and maybe its season — with an overwhelming comeback performance to beat the Hurricanes by 12 points. Capel is now 2-2 in his new role, and it already appears that he is willing to shake things up to get his team’s attention. Capel was asked about the lineup change afterward, saying, “We just went with guys that we felt were going to give us energy.” It was something of a gamble for the interim coach — benching two of the team’s three top scorers and an elite freshman — but the results, both from a viewers’ as well as a statistical perspective, were dramatic.

Senior Matt Jones led Duke in its big comeback win over Miami. (Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

To begin the second half against Miami, regular starters Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum were joined by senior Matt Jones and freshmen Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. As a result, the tone of the game immediately changed. Over the first five minutes of the half, the Blue Devils converted five steals into 12 points, the beginning of a 20-0 run that shocked the confident Hurricanes and ultimately finished off the game. Jones was the catalyst, setting the pace defensively and scoring all 13 of his points in the first eight minutes. Jackson was also effective in finishing with 10 points and four assists versus zero turnovers. And with eight points, four rebounds and some impressive defense against Miami’s guards on the pick-and-roll, it was the breakout game from Bolden that Duke has been waiting for. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Jefferson back (especially on the defensive end) after missing the last two games with a bruised foot.

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This Weekend in the ACC: January 21

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 21st, 2017

Here are a few things you should be keeping your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Have We Reached the Point Where Syracuse Begins to Save Its Season? (USA Today Images)

  • 12:00 PM: Syracuse (11-8, 3-3) at Notre Dame (16-3, 5-1). The Orange, which desperately need some quality wins to get on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, will have a big opportunity this afternoon against the ACC-leading Fighting Irish. The problem for Jim Boeheim‘s club is that this game is in South Bend. In Syracuse’s six (yes, just six) games away from home this season, the Orange are 0-6, having lost those games by an average of nearly 13 PPG against questionable competition (i.e., St. John’s, Connecticut and Boston College). Most teams experience significant home and road shooting splits, but the Orange’s numbers away from home — 37.4% from the field, including just 31.2% from three — have been downright dreadful. Keep an eye on point guard John Gillon. In his six games away from the Carrier Dome, he’s made just 9-0f-37 shots (24.3%) and 3-of-17 (17.7%) from beyond the arc. If Gillon can knock down a few shots to relieve some of the pressure from Andrew White III and Tyler Lydon, Syracuse might be able to hang with Notre Dame long enough to have a chance to pull the upset. If not, it could be a very long afternoon in South Bend.
  • 2:00 PM: Louisville (16-3, 4-2) at Florida State (17-2, 5-1). In our Stock Watch that published earlier this week, we noted the recent terrific play of Louisville wing Donovan Mitchell and how important it will be for the sophomore to maintain his high level of play with starting point guard Quentin Snider on the shelf. Mitchell was once again terrific in the Cardinals’ win over Clemson on Thursday night, but the story of the game was Snider’s replacement, freshman V.J. King. Prior to Thursday night’s game, King had scored just 21 total total points in five ACC contests; his debut as a starter resulted in 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Now that he’s a known commodity, keep an eye on how King performs against the array of talented athletes that Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton will throw at him. In order to walk out of Tallahassee with a victory, the Cardinals will need King to knock down shots as well as remain physical with the Florida State guards.

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ACC Stock Watch: January 17

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 17th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

  • Notre Dame. As expertly diagrammed by our Brad Jenkins last week, winning on the road in the ACC is quite the chore. So when a team can win a pair of games over likely NCAA Tournament teams away from home in the same week — as Notre Dame did with victories over Miami and Virginia Tech — it will result in a “Stock Up” spot on our list for the second consecutive week. Irish point guard Matt Farrell has made so many big plays down the stretch for his team that, according to David Peel, head coach Mike Brey referred to Farrell as “his Aaron Rodgers.” Now that’s some high praise, indeed.

Donovan Mitchell is becoming the leader of a very talented Louisville team. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell, Louisville. When you think about the great Rick Pitino teams, you think about terrific guards — players like Peyton Siva and Russ Smith from Louisville’s 2013 National Championship team or Tony Delk and Wayne Turner from Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship squad. Pitino’s best teams have always had outstanding athletes in the backcourt leading the way. Sophomore Donovan Mitchell is the next name on that list. In the Cardinals’ last five games, Mitchell is averaging 19.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His ascension to stardom will become even more important in the short term as news broke last night that starting point guard Quentin Snider will miss 2-3 weeks with a hip injury. If Mitchell can continue to play at a very high level, Pitino could be headed back to another Final Four.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ home win over Florida State on Saturday was an important step for Roy Williams’ team if it wants to win the ACC this season. After also beating Syracuse during Big Monday last night, North Carolina has now won five straight games after an ACC-opening hiccup at Georgia Tech. The key to the streak has been Williams’ offense, as the Tar Heels, riding stellar three-point shooting to the tune of 40.5 percent, have scored at least 85 points in each of those five games. When they miss, extra opportunities abound, with North Carolina also averaging nearly 17 offensive rebounds per game during the stretch. A combination of an offense that is clicking, domination of the offensive glass and a favorable schedule over the next few weeks could give the Tar Heels an early advantage in the ACC title race.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.16.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 16th, 2017

There were several marquee match-ups in the ACC this weekend, including two monster games on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina overcame some adversity to hand Florida State its first league loss and Louisville ensured that Duke continued its struggles on the road. Later that day, Notre Dame held off Virginia Tech to remain unbeaten in league play, while three schools that entered January with NCAA Tournament aspirations — Clemson, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State — all suffered devastating home defeats to drop to a last place tie in the standings. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Theo Pinson celebrates North Carolina’s big win over Florida State. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In a league as strong as the ACC this season, sometimes a team must show some collective toughness to pull out a win. That’s exactly what North Carolina did on Saturday afternoon in its impressive 96-83 home victory over a red-hot Florida State squad. Faced with the daunting task of playing the nation’s second tallest team without freshman center Tony Bradley (out with a concussion), the Tar Heels were already short-handed in the paint. With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks battling foul trouble, Roy Williams was forced to play almost half the game with no true post player. North Carolina not only hung in with the bigger, deeper Seminoles, but the Tar Heels managed to dominate the glass in a surprisingly effective rebounding effort  (+22). Three Tar Heels — Hicks, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson — finished with over 20 points and Theo Pinson turned in a solid overall effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.09.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 9th, 2017

After one of the craziest opening weekends in ACC history, things calmed down considerably in the second weekend of conference play. In fact, all seven ACC games were won by the favored squad, and only one of those contests was decided by fewer than 11 points. Even if the games weren’t all that scintillating this weekend, there were still a couple takeaways heading into this week. First, in an unanticipated surprise, the two remaining unbeaten schools in conference play are Florida State and Notre Dame — the Seminoles handled visiting Virginia Tech while the Irish rallied to defeat Clemson in South Bend. And then there’s the continued injury misfortunes for Duke — in the Blue Devils’ first game without head coach Mike Krzyzewski (back surgery), stalwart center Amile Jefferson suffered a first half foot injury and never returned. Early reports suggested that the team captain may miss substantial time, meaning even further interruption to a “dream season” that has been anything but smooth to this point. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

V.J. Beachem’s six three-pointers helped Notre Dame defeat Clemson and remain unbeaten in the ACC. (Photo: slapthesign.com)

  • Best Win I: Notre Dame trailed Clemson by seven points at halftime, but the Irish prevailed by five to move to 3-0 in league play. Senior forward V.J. Beachem led the way, making six threes en route to 22 points. Bonzie Colson pitched in with 13 points and 12 boards — his third straight double-double performance to open league action. Notre Dame now faces a very daunting part of its schedule — a stretch of five games in just 13 days, with the first three on the road — beginning with a trip to Miami (FL) this Thursday.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2017

The opening weekend of ACC play was one of the wackiest we have ever seen. On Saturday afternoon two home underdogs pulled off massive upsets: Virginia Tech over Duke and Georgia Tech over North Carolina. Those games were followed by a trio of late afternoon contests in which the winner rallied from a late second half deficit to pull out a close victory on the road —Florida State nipped Virginia; Clemson beat Wake Forest; and Notre Dame edged Pittsburgh in overtime. It was certainly a wild way to close out 2016, but the fun didn’t stop with the calendar year. Boston College, a team that had not won an ACC game since March 2015, celebrated the New Year by blasting Syracuse to snap its 20-game ACC losing streak. Here are the highlights from opening weekend around the ACC.

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (Photo: hokiesports.com)

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (photo: hokiesports.com)

  • Best Win: In a normal situation, a 14-point win over the preseason pick to win the conference would warrant ‘Best Win’ accolades, but Virginia Tech’s rout of Duke comes in second this weekend. Instead the title goes to Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State squad for handing Virginia only its second ACC defeat in Charlottesville since 2012. The Cavaliers came into the game ranked first in KenPom’s system, but the Seminoles rode Dwayne Bacon‘s hot hand in the second half to pull off the upset despite struggling to make shots from the field (41%) and foul line (50%). In addition to his great shooting performance (more on that below), Bacon exploited two rare Virginia breakdowns — scoring after an inbounds steal under the basket on one late possession, and converting an offensive rebound following his own missed free throw a few minutes later. Those are the kinds of plays that beat Virginia, a team that does not very often beat itself.

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Handicapping the Early Race For At-Large ACC Bids

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 15th, 2016

The conversation about the ACC potentially placing a record number of teams in the NCAA Tournament has already started. There are currently 11 ACC teams among the RPI top 70, and that number excludes two more quality teams that have played weaker schedules to date in Syracuse and Miami (FL). Using an expected RPI calculation (per RPIforecast.com), 13 of the ACC’s 15 teams are projected to finish the season among the RPI top 100. With the possible exception of Boston College and its four albatross losses to Nicholls State, Richmond, Harvard and Hartford, the rest of the ACC has yet to remove themselves from at-large contention. North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Virginia and Notre Dame can feel pretty safe about inclusion barring an unprecedented collapse, a rash of injuries or some sort of unanticipated scandal. Georgia Tech is an interesting case with losses to Ohio, Penn State and Tennessee, but it doesn’t seem as if Josh Pastner’s group has enough talent to make a run in conference play. Let’s review the eight teams that fall somewhere in the middle.

The Resume Builders: Florida State, Clemson

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

The Seminoles are off to a nice 10-1 start with wins already over Illinois, Minnesota and Florida. On top of that, Florida State is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ACC’s unbalanced schedule this season. Of the league’s presumptive top four teams, only Duke appears twice on the schedule. If Leonard Hamilton’s bunch can hold serve at home and do no worse than the middle of the pack in conference play, they should be in.

Clemson hit the ground running with early wins over Georgia and Davidson and the Tigers have avoided any ugly losses to date. As most schools drift through exams and the holidays without much of a test, Brad Brownell’s team will do the opposite with upcoming tough games against South Carolina, Alabama and a strong UNC-Wilmington squad. After that stretch, the Tigers will enjoy an even easier conference schedule than Florida State, catching all five of the ACC’s best teams only once this season.

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On Dennis Smith Jr.’s Early Struggles…

Posted by Charlie Maikis on November 18th, 2016

Dennis Smith, Jr. entered college basketball as one of the most hyped NC State prospects in recent memory. ACC media selected him as preseason Rookie of the Year, fifth in preseason Player of the Year and a preseason All-ACC First Team selection. The precocious point guard was expected to combine with veterans such as Abdul-Malik Abu, Beejay Anya, and Maverick Rowan to help the Wolfpack make a move up the pecking order of the ACC standings. And while NC State has won its first two games of the season — both home wins against mid-majors — Smith has struggled, averaging just 11.5 points per game on 27.3% shooting (0-of-7 from three-point range). Are Smith’s early issues just a sign of the steep learning curve of playing at a new level, or are his struggles caused by something else?

One of the most heralded recruits to enter the NC State program, Dennis Smith Jr. has struggled a bit coming out of the gates. (Addidas)

One of the most heralded recruits to enter the NC State program, Dennis Smith Jr. has struggled coming out of the gates. (Adidas)

Smith’s shooting is clearly the first area on which to focus. The freshman is 6-of-22 from the field to start his career, and per Synergy Sports, has yet to make a spot-up jumper or score out of an isolation situation (0-of-8). He is quickly learning that college-level defense is quite a bit more physical and complicated than it was in high school. As a result, he is taking too many contested, off-the-dribble jumpers and bad shots when he penetrates too deeply into the lane. When he does find a good shot inside, he has also struggled to finish as the added physicality of the college game hs affected him. His shooting stroke should come around with additional open looks — one positive sign is that he has gone 11-of-13 from the line — but it is clear that the game still needs to slow down. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2016

morning5_ACC

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

  1. Tire Pros Invitational: Clemson (#25) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action a bit later this morning, taking on Davidson (#74) in the first round of the Tire Pros Invitational (ESPNU – 11:00 AM). This may look like a brand new event, but it’s actually a relocation, as the tournament previously known as the Puerto Rico Tip-off moved to Orlando because of concerns with the Zika virus. Clemson has a chance to pick up some impressive wins here, especially if the Tigers draw Xavier (#12) in the second round. Three more top-100 schools are on the opposite side of the bracket so, no matter what happens, the Tigers’ non-conference strength of schedule should get a healthy boost.
  2. Charleston Classic: A key for Wake Forest (#69) this year will be the development of its young post players, and sophomore John Collins has already answered the bell by averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the Deacons’ first two outings. Danny Manning hopes his young frontcourt holds up well as his team opens with UTEP (#217) this afternoon (ESPN3 – 1:30 PM) in the Charleston Classic. A win today would likely set up a meeting with mighty Villanova (#2) in one of Friday’s semifinals. The rest of the field in this event is not very strong, with host Charleston (#76) the favorite to come out of the other side of the bracket. The tournament finals will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM).
  3. 2K Classic: Pittsburgh (#53) heads to Madison Square Garden tonight for the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The field is extremely balanced, with all four schools rated within 22 spots (KenPom) of one another. The Panthers face SMU (#34) in tonight’s opener (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM) with Marquette (#31) and Michigan (#37) squaring off in the nightcap. The two winners will meet in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM). Pitt is guaranteed to play two high-caliber teams here, but it needs to register at least one win to make this trip a true resume-builder.
  4. Paradise Jam: Unfortunately for Mark Gottfried, N.C. State (#46) will not be taking freshman forward Ted Kapita with it to the U.S. Virgin Islands. This makes the Wolfpack very thin up front heading into their Paradise Jam opener versus Montana (#172) on Friday night (CBSSN – 6:00 PM). If the Wolfpack can get past the Grizzlies, N.C. State would likely get Creighton (#33) on Sunday evening. Two other top-100 squads — St. Joseph’s (#88) and Mississippi (#84)  — are on the other side of the bracket, so this is a decent all-around field. The event’s championship will be contested on Monday night (CBSSN – 8:30 PM)
  5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Duke (#1) will try to shake off its first loss of the year — Tuesday’s buzzer-beater versus Kansas in the Champions Classic — by heading to Connecticut for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. The Blue Devils are likely to still be without their three injured star freshmen forwards, but they will meet Penn State (#103) on Saturday regardless (ESPN3 – 12:30 PM) followed by either Cincinnati (#22) or Rhode Island (#35) on Sunday afternoon (ESPN – 1:00 PM). In its current form, Duke could be vulnerable to tough-minded teams like the Bearcats and the Rams, so don’t be shocked if Sunday’s game is another nail-biter for Mike Krzyzewski‘s squad.
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Opening Weekend in the ACC: Early Goals For All 15 Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2016

As we welcome back college basketball this weekend, all 15 ACC schools will be in action, with several suiting up more than once. While teams like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville have Final Four aspirations as their ultimate objective, others like Boston College and Georgia Tech would probably be content with a winning record. Whatever the preseason expectation level of each team, there are some specific things each would like to accomplish right out of the gate. Here’s our best guess of what each ACC school’s coaching staff will be focused on this weekend.

ACC schools are presented in alphabetical order. (opponent’s preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

Boston College: Find out who can play.

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Nicholls State (#321): The Eagles have a plethora of new players, including three transfers and four freshmen. Jim Christian has watched all of them perform in the preseason, but he will be anxious to see which newcomers can emerge as dependable options when the real games begin.

Clemson: Start building the resume.

Clemson's Brad Brownell has an improved offense and a surprisingly big home court edge in ACC play. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

Clemson’s Brad Brownell needs a much better performance in non-conference play this year than the 7-5 mark posted by the Tigers a year ago. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Georgia (#58): A horrible performance in the non-conference portion of the Tigers’ schedule cost them dearly last year. One of those resume scars was a blowout loss to Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs are the highest rated opponent on the ACC docket this weekend, so a revenge win by Clemson would represent a great start for Brad Brownell.

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