ACC M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Sporting News: Even before Duke manufactured an impressive comeback for Mike Krzyzewski‘s 1,000th win on Sunday, Mike DeCourcy made the case that Coach K is the best coach ever in college basketball. Specifically, DeCourcy makes the case for the ACC legend over John Wooden and his 10 national titles. The problem is (and this is part of his argument) that the game is simply incomparable now to that of UCLA’s heyday. Truthfully, it’s totally different than it was even 15 years ago. And that’s the best argument in favor of Coach K (if you’re one to compare apples and oranges), as he’s succeeded over a huge range of time. He’s easily the most accomplished coach of the modern era, but I’m not ready to sharpie him in over the likes of Bob Knight, Dean Smith or John Wooden in the history books. Each ruled an era and changed the game in their own images. That’s good enough for me.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Jim Boeheim got a little salty (and rightfully so) that big man Rakeem Christmas was left off the Wooden Award watch list, calling him “probably the best center in the country.” That’s a pretty bold statement with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor playing in the same conference, but it’s true Christmas hasn’t been getting the national credit he deserves for putting up nearly identical numbers to Okafor (marginally fewer points and a little lower percentages, but better defense). Christmas is averaging 18/9 on 60 percent shooting this season, nearly doubling his usage without seeing much of a hit in his efficiency (although his block percentage is down). Here’s to hoping ACC voters give Christmas his due come all-ACC voting season.
  3. Soaring to Glory: So this article is both weirdly pessimistic and optimistic. About Boston College’s current players, it’s very pessimistic. That’s fair considering last season’s dumpster fire, but there’s more talent on this year’s team than say… Virginia Tech. But the roster is pretty thin thanks to Steve Donahue signing no one of consequence and a couple of transfers out of the program. But it’s at least tentatively optimistic on the prospects of first-year head coach, Jim Christian. This year’s group is playing with more heart than last year’s squad, but it’s hard to say how much of that comes from the top and how much comes from the change in player personnel. I think the Eagles are likely better off in the long run with Christian, but until we see what sorts of players he’ll bring to Chestnut Hill, it’s tough to get overly optimistic. In addition to offensive Xs and Os, Donahue excelled at finding “diamonds in the rough” (like Olivier Hanlan); he just couldn’t fill out an ACC-quality roster. Christian isn’t the type of guy who will be in the running for many four-star players, so he’s got to have good evaluation skills to succeed there.
  4. Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes is starting to live up to his high school scouting report and fill up the scoring column. He’s still not a good shooter from long range, but he’s averaging 18.5 points a game in ACC play and was lethal against North Carolina over the weekend. Rathan-Mayes is apparently very open to coaching, which is good because he’s also prone to heat checks. You get the feeling that he’s got a chance to be a very special player in Tallahassee if he keeps on this trajectory.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: North Carolina is starting to pile up injuries on the wings that could make running challenging. Theo Pinson broke a bone in his foot, so he’s now sidelined along with Joel Berry and Stilman White. The good news for Tar Heels faithful is that the injury bug has mostly avoided the starters (although Marcus Paige is a little banged up). The bad news is that Berry and Pinson need the playing time to improve (and to give Roy Williams the rotation he likes).
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ACC Stock Watch: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 23rd, 2015

Some of the ACC’s squads righted the ship in a relatively quiet week, while still others affirmed their descent to the cellar of the conference standings. With six weeks remaining in the regular season, there is still plenty of time for teams to ascend or plummet, and we’ll continue to track their progress on a week-to-week basis. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • North Carolina. While the Tar Heels’ win over Virginia Tech was less than enthralling, their more impressive road win over a Wake Forest team that was competitive with both Duke and Louisville at home lends credence to the notion that they may be hitting their stride. However, mounting injuries in the backcourt are a concern for Roy Williams.
  • Duke. After the entire college basketball nation wondered what was wrong with the Blue Devils with consecutive losses to NC State and Miami, Duke responded with an impressive road win over Louisville and an easy dismantling of Pittsburgh on Monday night. Coach K may have found some defensive relief with the zone he’s employed much more heavily in the past two contests.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Jackson’s emergence over the last week has finally given everyone a glimpse into the player he can become: an efficient offensive threat to complement Marcus Paige on the perimeter. In wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest this week, he scored 33 points on a combined 11-of-18 shooting (3-of-6 from three).
Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. The Blue Devils’ freshman point guard endured a rough initiation to ACC play but rebounded with two strong efforts this week. His 10-point, eight-assist performance in a hostile environment at Louisville was steady and important, but he really broke out with a 22-point effort against Pittsburgh, including four three-pointers. Jones made his recent freshman jitters appear to be just that, rebounding individually very nicely along with his team.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. His week began by being named ACC Player of the Week on January 19 and ended with a demonstration on just how important he is to this Syracuse team. Riddled with foul trouble and available for only 23 minutes, the Orange’s big man still contributed 12 points and seven boards against Boston College. His absence made it possible for the Eagles to hang around in that game, showing once again that Jim Boeheim doesn’t have many options outside of his star center.

Flat

  • Clemson. Holding serve against Syracuse at home was nice, but losing to Florida State was something the Tigers couldn’t afford. Clemson still appears to be a team trending towards the bottom of the standings as its inconsistent offense remains a major issue.
  • Syracuse. 5-1 in the ACC and not trending up? Get back to me when the Orange actually beat a good team. While it was nice that Jim Boeheim’s team held on against Boston College with Rakeem Christmas barely on the floor (see above), this team had better improve dramatically before it enters the final phase of a lopsided schedule (its final seven games include Duke twice, Louisville, Virginia, and Notre Dame). Having one of the least productive benches in the country doesn’t bode well for the Orange’s NCAA Tourney chances.

Trending Down

  • Louisville. Perhaps the loss to Duke wasn’t unexpected with the Blue Devils coming off of consecutive defeats, but the Cardinals’ continued offensive struggles is a major concern. They’re still only shooting 42.7 percent as a team, and Rick Pitino can’t seem to find consistent shot-making from Chris Jones or Wayne Blackshear. Their admittedly outstanding defense can only carry them so far in a conference this loaded with offensive talent.
There are suddenly serious questions marks about Montrezl Harrell and the Cardinals (credit: adam creech)

There are suddenly serious questions marks about Montrezl Harrell and the Cardinals (credit: adam creech)

  • Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ 8-10 overall record and 0-5 ACC start aren’t a surprise, but with the recent announcement that leading rebounder Joey Van Zegeren is leaving the team, their outlook for the remainder of the season became even more bleak. The notion was that Buzz Williams could perhaps coax some surprises out of this roster, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • Georgia Tech. Now 0-6 in the ACC. And yes, Virginia is a great team, but scoring a mere 28 points for an entire game (12 in the second half)? Brian Gregory’s team may not be able to recover from such an awful start to the conference season. The Yellow Jackets are at or near the bottom in the ACC in both scoring and stopping their opponents from doing so. That translates to 0-6.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. As we noted last week, it’s not just that his shots and productivity are down; but now the junior has been stripped of his captaincy by Rick Pitino (later clarified, to some extent, by Pitino on his radio show). Even if this maneuver was a mutual decision or some kind of motivational ploy, it’s not a good sign for the Cardinals if their star needs to tone down his act. Coupled with his earlier suspension for throwing an elbow, Harrell is on the precipice of becoming a bit of a malcontent to the detriment of his team’s success.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 22nd, 2015

With approximately three weeks of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the ACC season. This is the first edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, focusing on which teams are playing better or worse than their records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 20th.

Current Standings

Jan21ACCPPP

It’s no revelation that Tony Bennett’s Virginia team has been the best team in the league to date, holding a larger points per possession (PPP) margin over second place North Carolina than the Tar Heels have over the sixth-best team, Louisville. And the Cavaliers are doing it at both ends of the floor, leading the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. It’s hard to understand why many of the experts only seem to talk about Virginia’s defense — which is great by the way — seemingly blinded by the fact the this is an equally outstanding offensive team as well. Not just “also pretty good,” but… “Outstanding!” Syracuse fans should probably be hesitant based on the discrepancy between the Orange’s gaudy 5-1 ACC record and their possession-based performance. Note that they have benefited from playing the least challenging conference schedule thus far, facing six teams that populate the bottom of the standings. Eventually the ACC heavyweights will show up on the docket, and that record is likely to backslide. Georgia Tech’s situation — dead last in the standings, but eighth in PPP — is what happens when the Jackets lose games by margins of one, three, five, seven and seven points. Pittsburgh may be in a similar spot as its former Big East rival from upstate New York, sporting a fortunate .500 record given their easy schedule.

Advanced Stat of the Week: North Carolina’s Rebounding (Both)

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Morning Five: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 22nd, 2015

morning5

  1. In hopes of lessening potential NCAA penalties from an investigation into what happened during the Donnie Tyndall era, Southern Mississippi has decided to self-impose a postseason ban for this season. As you may remember from a few months ago, the allegations around the program reportedly involve how tuition and other expenses were paid for recruits who signed with the school, but were not yet eligible for scholarships. While the school says “this self-imposed penalty was painful” in reality the team is 5-11 this season under new coach Doc Sadler having lost eight straight including their first five in Conference USA so all they are probably missing out is an opening round loss in the Conference USA Tournament at most since only 12 of the 14 teams in the conference even make the conference tournament. Meanwhile, Tyndall is having an impressive season at Tennessee and probably will not get much more than a slap on the wrist from the NCAA.
  2. It turns out that North Carolina might not be alone in its academic misconduct. According to a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education, the NCAA is currently investigating 20 programs for allegations of academic misconduct. The names of the programs–18 of which are Division I schools–were not released, but a few schools are named including UNC (obviously). Our key takeaway from this is not that there are plenty of issues with academics in NCAA programs, but instead the enormity of the task facing the 60 individuals tasked with reviewing these programs and monitoring every other program within the purview of the NCAA. So while the amount of time it has taken the to make a ruling on North Carolina (we’re still waiting…), it becomes much more understandable when you look at everything they have to watch over.
  3. You may have heard that Mike Krzyzewski is approaching his 1000th career win (ESPN has been mentioning it on occasion), which has led to several retrospectives on his career. Most of them have been talking about the sheer enormity of the accomplishment of being that good for that long, but Mike DeCourcy decided to take it a step further declaring Krzyzewski the greatest college basketball coach ever. While Krzyzewski is obviously in the discussion (and you can make a very strong case for him being the best), we are a little more reluctant to be quite as dismissive of what John Wooden did and note that Krzyzewski’s peers had to deal with the same nuances of the time as he did. In the end, it is an interesting debate albeit one that we might tend to take the easy way out of by simply saying that each is the best of his era.
  4. We have heard about the antics of many mascots over the years (Sebastian the Ibis nearly getting arrested for using a fire extinguisher on Osceola’s burning spear and West Virginia’s mascot killing a bear with the school’s musket), but it has been a while since we heard about one getting fired. So when we heard that Oklahoma had fired one of the people who dressed as their mascot for taunting Oklahoma State fans we figured it had to be for something fairly amusing. Instead, it turns out the mascot was blocking the view of the fans and poured popcorn on some of the fans including Heather Ford, the wife of Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. While it is certainly a fireable offense (the individual had been told multiple times to stop), we would have hoped the mascot could have gone out in a more memorable way.
  5. We aren’t sure how we missed this before, but Zach Helfand has an excellent story on the only hotel we know of that is dedicated to a college basketball figure (at least a current one): the Steve Alford All-American Inn located in Alford’s hometown of New Castle, Indiana. As you might expect it isn’t exactly a luxury hotel, but according to Helfand it seems like a decent hotel, which is about all you can expect for around $60/night. We can’t necessarily make a recommendation for something we have never seen, but this certainly seems like the type of thing that is worth checking out as one of the more unique basketball experiences around particularly if you are in the area even if it is just to stop by as you are passing through.
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ACC M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 21st, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Streaking the Lawn: Here’s a cool visualization from Streaking the Lawn looking at the winners of every ACC game for home games versus away games. Right now the conference gives a slight edge to the home teams (which have won 23 of 40 games counting Syracuse’s win over Boston College), but it’s still a little early to put too much stock in this. Once all the teams have played each other, this will be a very interesting graphic. On its own it will still say as much about match-ups as it does home-court advantage, but charts are a quick way of getting into the M5.
  2. Washington Post: College GameDay is coming to Charlottesville for the first time in its admittedly short history! It should be a really fun day with Duke coming to town in one of the more anticipated games of the regular season. The funniest part of this story is that ESPN host Karl Ravech accidentally slipped the news before the Worldwide Leader had officially announced it, but that game has been on everyone’s radar for a while so it’s not exactly a surprise. For the time being, though, I don’t have much insight on it (I’d favor Virginia, but Duke will win if it’s hitting threes).
  3. Sporting News: Speaking of the Blue Devils, don’t immediately label Duke‘s recent dabbling with a zone a defensive cure-all. That said, this Duke team will likely need to play more zone than any other group under Mike Krzyzewski (they are too small and laterally challenged in the backcourt to make up for Okafor’s learning curve). In some games Duke’s man-to-man may do the trick (see the game at Wisconsin), but in other games, a zone might be the way to go (see the game at Louisville). Learning to play both competently will determine how tough this team is to beat in March.
  4. Busting Brackets: Is Louisville overrated? It depends on how good you think the Cardinals are. What we know about Rick Pitino’s team is that it doesn’t have a consistent halfcourt offense. The Cards don’t shoot well and Montrezl Harrell isn’t your classic back-to-the-basket post player. That said, their defense is elite. Louisville will crush most undermatched teams on their defense alone, but they too will struggle to score against better teams. This is a really good squad, but it is missing some key offensive pieces that it has had over the last few years (as many expected coming into this season).
  5. John Gasaway: Tuesday Truths are back! Unsurprisingly, Virginia is running away with the league from an efficiency standpoint. Look for Duke and another challenger (maybe North Carolina or Notre Dame?) to close the gap a little as the season progresses. The biggest surprises here were NC State and the Tar Heels taking the runner-up spots. Gasaway thinks North Carolina has the best shot at becoming a well-rounded team, but I worry about the Tar Heels’ ability to make shots.
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ACC Weekend Review: 01.19.15 Edition

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

In the headline match-up of the weekend, Duke ended its two-game losing streak with a surprisingly comfortable win at Louisville on Saturday. But the bigger surprise was how the Blue Devils did it, going almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone defense that was incredibly effective against the cold-shooting Cardinals. Notre Dame rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Miami in South Bend on Saturday, keeping the Irish in second place in the league standings behind undefeated Virginia. The Cavaliers also had to mount a second half comeback to overtake Boston College Saturday afternoon in Conte Forum. In other games over the weekend, Syracuse dropped its first league game of the year at Clemson; N.C. State picked up a road win versus Florida State; and North Carolina and Pittsburgh each won home games against a pair of conference winless clubs, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Notre Dame's Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday's win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday’s win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Jerian Grant had scored a total of only 26 points in his previous three games, but the senior guard broke out of his mini-slump with a huge effort against Miami on Saturday. The ACC Player of the Year candidate finished with an efficient 25 points that came on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. He also passed out eight assists and was part of a perimeter defense that held Hurricanes’ guard Angel Rodriguez in check. Rodriguez had torched Duke in his previous game with 24 points, but only managed four points on 1-of-10 shooting Saturday. Grant was also the difference down the stretch as his three broke a tie with 6:19 left and he also scored a layup and blocked a shot in the last minute to seal the win.
  • Best Win: After looking nothing like a championship contender in its two prior outings, Duke got back on track with a mild upset at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. After an all-night coaches’ meeting following Duke’s home debacle versus Miami, Mike Krzyzewski abandoned the Blue Devils’ trademark pressure man-to-man defense to instead play a 2-3 zone against the Cardinals. While it was a big surprise to most of us, the zone was not totally unexpected by Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who said afterwards, “Duke is a team that never plays zone… and that’s what I would have done if I were in [Mike Krzyzewski’s] shoes.” Pitino is no doubt referring to his team’s lack of perimeter shooting, which finished a chilly 4-of-25 on three-pointers against the Devils. Ironically, Duke looked a lot more like a recent-vintage Syracuse team, with the Blue Devils playing deliberately on the offensive end to go along with the newly-installed zone defense.

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ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2015

Conference play got under way for the ACC roughly two weeks ago, and the early games have lived up to their lofty billing in providing us with valuable insights. Some teams are clearly playing up to their potential and possibly even beyond it, while several others are already searching for answers for disturbing trends. Welcome to this week’s ACC Stock Watch, the first since the ACC’s teams started beating up on each other.

Trending Up

  • Virginia. It would be hard to imagine that a team entering ACC play at 12-0 could be trending up after just two weeks of action, but the Cavaliers have the look of a serious national title contender. The only team boasting both a defense and an offense among the top 10 in efficiency metrics, the Cavaliers have shown a keen ability to win games in a myriad of ways. It’s not just an elite defense carrying Tony Bennett’s team, as it showed in its awesome 89-80 double-overtime win over Miami two weeks ago. Virginia has already toppled the Hurricanes and Notre Dame and have shown no signs of slowing down.
  • North Carolina. With the best of the Tar Heels’ non-conference wins losing some luster (Ohio State, Florida), North Carolina badly needed a marquee win in conference play. Last weekend’s victory over Louisville qualified as such, and holding on to beat NC State in Raleigh on Wednesday night showed the team may have regained some of the toughness that was so sorely lacking. Could a 3-1 ACC start propel North Carolina to bigger things?
Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

  • NC State. A 3-2 start in the ACC may not blow anyone away, but the Wolfpack’s demolition of Duke and their near-win over a surging North Carolina team shows Mark Gottfried’s group is capable of making some noise this year. Add in a blowout win over Pittsburgh an is there a reasonable argument that NC State belongs with the heavyweights?
  • Miami. There were plenty of questions about the direction in which the Hurricanes were heading when they closed the non-conference schedule by losing three of four. But Angel Rodriguez and company have answered the bell in the ACC, pushing Virginia to double-overtime and handling Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Notre Dame and NC State up next, we’ll know even more about Miami by this time next week.

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ACC M5: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 16th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. The State: There’s nothing I hate more than entirely dismissing something on the basis of minor issues instead of its inherent merit. A South Carolina state senator named Marlon Kimpson proposed giving athletes in revenue sports a piece of the pie. Now, the way Title IX is currently written, that would be a violation of federal law, but that’s not to say Kimpson’s plan isn’t worthy of discussion. Alas, that’s essentially all Ron Morris used here in brushing off the proposal (well, that and South Carolina’s athletic department profit margin, which doesn’t mean anything unless you see how it was calculated). I’m for full cost of attendance scholarships in all sports and for requiring schools to provide the same number of scholarships to women as men. But there’s no denying that basketball and football players are undercompensated for their work — especially at the top schools. I would go a step further than Kimpson, though. I would allow schools to give any athlete a certain yearly salary up to a certain limit (say, $50,000) in addition to their scholarship (and only students with scholarships could be compensated). Student-athletes deserve a piece of the pie. End of story.
  2. NBC Sports: Great article by Rob Dauster on Duke‘s defensive woes. Jahlil Okafor is really uncomfortable away from the basket, which makes the Duke defense vulnerable on ball screens. Furthermore, defending high-major players isn’t something he (or anyone) can learn immediately. I expect Duke to either start experimenting with a lot more zone (especially if teams have really dynamic guards) or switching everything like they did against Wisconsin. Zone won’t ever be a permanent fix for this squad, but it would allow Okafor to stay in his comfort zone near the basket. More on Duke’s struggles later today.
  3. Sporting News: Mike DeCourcy wrote a nice piece on Jamie Dixon hitting 300 wins at Pittsburgh. And while it’s true Dixon has had a lot of success with the Panthers, that doesn’t make recent criticisms about his program unfair (think of a less extreme case of Seth Greenberg). I still think Dixon is the man for the job. He recruits to a school that doesn’t have a long history of being a powerhouse, and has had some really good teams over the years (and nearly always takes the Panthers to the Big Dance). But that doesn’t mean he’s an obvious Hall of Famer either. And it also doesn’t mean that his win total isn’t propped up by a ton of marginal (at best) non-conference schedules.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard (and here): Here are a couple of interesting articles on Syracuse, both headlined with questions. The answer to the first question (Should we worry about Syracuse?) is a resounding yes. This team is 4-0 but has eked out a bunch of close games against middling ACC teams. That’s not a recipe for success in the latter half of conference play when the contenders start showing up. The other article points out that Chris McCullough may not return until next season because of his injury, which would mean good things for Syracuse’s depth then (though would potentially bring up scholarship questions) but could be problematic this year.
  5. Miami Herald: Cool anecdote here from Jim Larranaga on using butterflies to get his team excited and play together. The more you read about this guy, the more likable he becomes (he probably also has the best sense of humor of any ACC coach). Borrowing from a Native American legend that says butterflies stay in groups en route to a shared destination, Larranaga gave the team butterflies of their own, which they released together. It sounds like something he’s been doing for a long time (at least since he was at George Mason), but this is my first time hearing about it.

EXTRA: In a weird nugget, the PNC Center clock operator tried to help NC State‘s comeback last weekend, as time stopped for 15 seconds with a little over a minute to play in the Wolfpack’s eventual loss to North Carolina. Imagine how big a controversy this would have become had the Wolfpack ended up getting that late tip-in and winning the game in overtime.

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ACC M5: 01.13.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 13th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse.com: The Orange received crushing news yesterday that freshman Chris McCullough will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. While his season had been inconsistent to this point, there’s no denying that this is a huge loss for Jim Boeheim’s team. His potential has been well-documented and he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of at times this season. Perhaps the biggest development from this news, however, is how much his loss further depletes Syracuse’s depth. Syracuse may be the rare ACC team with an easier start to the conference slate, but its overall chance of a promising season took a big blow with this injury.
  2. ESPN.com: North Carolina’s thrilling victory over Louisville on Saturday had to do wonders for the team’s confidence, and more importantly, may have finally given the Tar Heels the early signature win they needed. One of the more interesting items from this article, though, is that Marcus Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot for several weeks. This could help shed some light on the reason for his inauspicious start to the season, and also lend some credence to how impressive his heroic second half against the Cardinals really was.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: NC State’s pummeling of Duke on Sunday is one of the biggest headlines of the young ACC season to date, but what the Wolfpack accomplished in the paint may be the real storyline here. While it has been Mark Gottfried’s perimeter players who have gotten most of the corresponding attention, Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya were the keys to the big upset win. NC State’s post players’ abilities to hold their own against Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow bode very well for the Wolfpack as the season progresses. This is a team that has been on a roll since conference play started, and it looks to continue its hot start in another rivalry match-up with North Carolina on Wednesday.
  4. Streaking The Lawn: A suddenly vulnerable-looking Kentucky team is no longer a unanimous No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, as Virginia wrested two votes from the Wildcats in this week’s rankings following its big win at Notre Dame over the weekend. The Cavaliers appear to be a legitimate title contender and threat to capture the ACC crown despite all the preseason hype about Duke, North Carolina, and Louisville. According to KenPom, Virginia is the only team in the country ranked among the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency (sixth-best offense; fourth-best defense).
  5. ESPN.com: Duke’s loss to NC State could be attributed to a number of different things — namely defensive lapses and poor three-point shooting — but C.L. Brown keeps it simple: They’re led by freshmen. Despite Okafor’s big game, there were many signs that the youngsters leading this Blue Devils’ team still have much to learn about life in the ACC. Point guard Tyus Jones has not contributed nearly the gaudy numbers he posted prior to conference play, and Okafor and Winslow did little to slow the Wolfpack’s frontcourt (with Winslow eventually fouling out). It’s probably a good time for everyone to remind themselves that they’re watching a Duke team that hasn’t started three freshmen since 1983 for a reason.
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RTC Rewind: Sunday Bloody Sunday

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 12th, 2015

Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, there is nothing to be said. After a weekend like the one that just transpired, this is probably one of those times. You saw the games. Or at least you saw the results. I didn’t even see much of it because life gets in the way, and because, let’s be honest, who would mark their calendars to make a point to catch a late Sunday night Arizona vs. Oregon State game? Or Wisconsin against Rutgers at the same time that Peyton Manning is perhaps playing his last football game… ever? I hate to be repetitive, but man, crazy stuff happens in college basketball. And the craziest part is that that crazy stuff often happens at crazy times when you least expect it.

Upsets, Upsets, and More Upsets!

It Was That Kind of a January Sunday in College Basketball (USA Today Images)

It Was That Kind of a January Sunday in College Basketball (USA Today Images)

The strangest aspect of Saturday and Sunday was that all of this happened on a weekend without many marquee match-ups. Sure, we had two headliner games in the ACC, but many of the results that ended up leading SportsCenter weren’t the focus of the weekend previews. Wisconsin was matching up against arguably the worst team in the Big Ten; Arizona was playing a bottom-four team in the Pac-12; and Duke was playing a middle-of-the-pack ACC squad. All three left with losses, and it didn’t stop there. Kentucky, everybody’s #1 team in America, was pushed to the brink by a Texas A&M outfit that nobody thinks all that much of; and Oklahoma, which might have succumbed to the RTC Podcast jinx (if such a thing exists), looked bad in a home loss to Kansas State. Huh? Overall, six of the USA Today top 10 went down last week – five over the weekend – and two others came very close to dropping their first games of the season. For some – Louisville (at UNC), Texas (at Oklahoma State) maybe even Duke (at NC State) – the losses were reasonable enough for conference play. But for others – we’re looking at you, Wisconsin and Arizona – the upsets were completely confounding. A little less than two weeks ago, Rutgers lost to Northwestern at home, scoring only 47 points; not long after that, Wisconsin beat that same Northwestern team in Evanston by 23. How do you explain that? Some will try by point to the absence of Frank Kaminsky. But you just don’t… you just can’t.

The ACC Bloodbath Has Commenced

It began last Monday night when Notre Dame went to Chapel Hill and knocked off North Carolina and it spilled over into the weekend. There are five ACC teams among the top 20 of the polls, and there really could be five in the top 15, maybe even top 10, but of that group, four already have a conference loss. How do the five stack up? After Virginia’s impressive win at Notre Dame, the Cavaliers have established themselves atop the pack for now (for analysis from South Bend, check out Walker Carey’s postgame takeaways). Duke is probably still a close second despite giving NC State students another insane court rush. But realistically, any of the trio of Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame could be third. It seems harsh to punish the Cardinals for a one-point road loss, but Rick Pitino’s team only has one top-40 win at this point (over a puzzling Ohio State team). Then there are the Tar Heels, which just knocked off Louisville but are exhaustingly erratic. Notre Dame of course won at UNC but struggled with Georgia Tech and only has one other quality win on the entire season (Michigan State). For now, I’ll rank this group as such: 3. Louisville, 4. Notre Dame, 5. North Carolina. But I’d be willing to bet they’re in a different order this time next week.

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RTC Weekly Primer: An Ode to the Big 12

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 6th, 2015

Money talks. It’s an unavoidable and unfortunate truth. In almost any facet of life, money is persuasive. Whether indirectly or directly, visibly or otherwise, it influences the decisions we make, creates irresistible motives, and causes things to happen that are otherwise undesirable. It’s an unparalleled force. A few years ago, the Big 12 was a victim of the almighty dollar’s faculties. It succumbed to money’s authority. Between 2010-13, while the league went about its business playing collegiate sports in the midsection of America, it was relentlessly under siege. Driven by economic motives, the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 ravaged it, pilfering four of its 12 members and rearranging the landscape of college sports. During this period of extreme uncertainty, there were thoughts of dissolution. There appeared to be a significant chance that the Big 12 would soon cease to exist. At the very least, it had been weakened as it’s BCS brethren had beefed up. These were times filled with worry; with concern; with fear.

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

The Big 12 May Have Lost the Football Wars This Year, But It is Killing the Basketball Side (USA Today Images)

Several years later, with all of that uncertainty now in the rear view mirror, money seems somewhat irrelevant. It still talks, and the economic side of Big 12 sports might not be as lucrative as that of the Big Ten or SEC. But money doesn’t automatically result in good basketball. And in 2014-15, while the Big Ten and SEC are crammed with mediocrity, the conference that once looked in serious danger is thriving. Seven of the 10 conference teams currently rank in KenPom’s Top 25, while only eight from the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC collectively make the cut. In an age where money increasingly steps to the forefront of any discussions on college sports, there remains a majestic purity about this sport. And as conference play gets underway in the Big 12, that purity will be as enjoyable and as evident as ever. It’ll also produce night after night of high-quality basketball.

Three for the Money

Kansas at Baylor | Wednesday, 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPNU

Where else to start but with the Big 12? As will be the case many times this year, there are multiple mouth-watering match-ups in conference play, but any game that involves Kansas still draws extra attention. It’s an annual tradition around this time of year to pose the question, “Is this the year that somebody finally unseats Kansas atop the Big 12?” But this year, such an inquiry might just have a little more merit to it. Baylor isn’t necessarily one of the teams that could knock the Jayhawks from their perch — that responsibility should fall to Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa State. But the Bears are an outstanding example of the depth of the league. Picked sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, Scott Drew’s squad has been steadily improving this season. Led by a physically imposing front line that pounds the offensive glass as well as anybody in the country, Baylor won’t be an easy out for anybody. And especially not for a Kansas team that, despite only two losses and several good wins, hasn’t looked vintage. It is important to note that we’ve seen the stage set like this before only to have the Jayhawks hit their stride in early February and run away from the pack. But the backcourt of Frank Mason and Wayne Selden is a far cry from what Self has had in Lawrence over the years. The interesting match-up here, however, is down low, where Kansas’ forwards, specifically Cliff Alexander, will have to brandish their Big 12 title winning credentials and show some requisite toughness.

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Notre Dame’s Supporting Cast Provides Staying Power

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 6th, 2015

Most of the accolades associated with Notre Dame’s 14-1 start have been bestowed on star senior Jerian Grant, the ACC’s second-leading scorer and top assist man. Skepticism over the Irish’s relatively unimposing non-conference slate were correlated questions about how the team would operate when Grant was held in check. After a thrilling one-point win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last night, the Notre Dame trio of Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton have silenced those questions and put the rest of the conference on notice that the Irish are a team capable of contending with the ACC’s elite.

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

It was apparent early in Monday’s game that North Carolina’s top defender, J.P. Tokoto, was tasked with slowing Grant. He and the other Tar Heels who took turns defending the explosive wing were extremely successful, as Grant contributed a season-low eight points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field and eventually fouling out. With as much as Grant has produced this year — he uses a quarter of the Irish’s offensive possessions — such a performance would have appeared to doom the Irish in a tough road environment. Instead, Mike Brey’s team showed that its supporting cast is strong enough to overcome his occasional lack of production by contributing a combined 49 points and 16 rebounds.

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