Five Surprises from Opening Weekend in the ACC

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 14th, 2017

Although the competition was mostly uninspiring over the last several days, it was a very busy weekend of basketball around the ACC. This week will bring an improvement in competition for the league, beginning with Duke taking on Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic in Chicago tonight. Just because the opposition wasn’t great, though, doesn’t mean we should ignore opening weekend. Here are the five biggest surprises from the first weekend-plus of the brand new ACC season.

Wake Forest Fell Hard to Georgia Southern on Friday Night (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. Wake Forest loses to Georgia Southern. This was a mild surprise but certainly not shocking to anyone who follows the mid-majors. Georgia Southern features two excellent guards in Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, both of whom played well on Friday night. Wake Forest, in its first game without all-ACC star John Collins, showed just how much they will miss the big man this season. In a game with ample opportunity to show their value, junior center Doral Moore battled foul trouble and finished with just two points, while sophomore center Sam Japhet-Mathias played just seven minutes without a point. Danny Manning’s small-ball, backcourt-heavy lineup is workable with Bryant Crawford leading the way, but not if they don’t even have the best backcourt on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: How much will Roy Williams adapt to his team’s strengths?

Roy Williams‘ incredible success over the last two seasons should have silenced all of his doubters. By nearly any standard his teams were exceptionally talented — loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans and consensus four- and five-star players. But Duke and Kentucky were recruiting better classes, and that role reversal led to some grumbling from fans and overreaction from the media. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, of course, with the added bonus that even the ongoing specter of the NCAA disappeared after it punted on the academic fraud scandal. However, it is important to note that this year’s North Carolina team isn’t comprised of the same successful group of the last two seasons and it doesn’t profile like any of Williams’ best teams. The Tar Heels have a strong backcourt led by Joel Berry II and Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson, but Tony Bradley’s early departure to the NBA left the frontcourt lacking in depth, experience and talent.

Joel Berry will start the season on the sidelines, making Roy Williams’ job even tougher. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

It’s no secret Williams’ best teams have a blueprint roster. Two very good bigs (or, one great one), an elite point guard and an army of players on the wing (with at least one sharp-shooter). Berry is the elite point guard; Johnson is the sharp-shooting wing; but Luke Maye (despite his NCAA Tournament heroics) is no Sean May. With Bradley back, the Tar Heels would have had a good chance at a third straight trip to the Final Four. Without him it’s up to Williams to figure out how to adopt his system to accommodate three true post players (two of whom are freshmen). There’s still plenty of talent on the roster: Theo Pinson is back and consensus top-50 recruit Jalek Felton should get playing time right away. Seventh Woods still has a long way to go, but should have improved considerably during the offseason. Expect this year’s roster to be better shooting on the whole than the last few North Carolina teams (although maybe not, without the individual prowess of Justin Jackson), but it’s hard to see the secondary break working well without significant changes.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 10th, 2017

As the regular season tips off a little later today, here are 10 things worth asking about this weekend and beyond.

  1. Who takes a step forward for North Carolina? With Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley all gone — not to mention Joel Berry injured — North Carolina will be looking to replace a total of 64.4 points per game. The Tar Heels begin the season against a Northern Iowa team that likes to slow the pace and limit possessions. North Carolina cannot afford to be careless with the ball tonight.

    All eyes will be on Michael Porter Jr. this season. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  2. What will Gonzaga be this season? The ‘Zags have won at least a share of the WCC regular season title in each of the past five seasons, yet they received only one of the 10 first place votes in the WCC preseason coaches poll. Three of its four double-figure scorers from last season are now gone — who will step up?
  3. How far can Michael Porter Jr. carry Missouri?: Missouri finished last season 3-20 against teams ranked in the KenPom top 100. The Tigers get an immediate chance to reverse that trend against Iowa State tonight with freshman sensation Michael Porter, Jr., who recently became only the fifth true freshman voted on to the preseason AP All-American team. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 10th, 2017

Teams around the ACC tip off their regular seasons this weekend with a host of games that will start the canvas to what will undoubtedly be a competitive and unpredictable conference slate. Here are the key games this weekend that will whet your appetite for the season ahead:

Friday, November 10

  • Northern Iowa (KenPom #129) at North Carolina: The Tar Heels begin the season without star point guard Joel Berry II, but the senior point guard is expected back for the PK80 event in Portland, Oregon, later this month. Until then, games like these are good opportunities for some of the younger guards like Brandon Robinson and Seventh Woods to gain some experience. Keep an eye out for freshman Jalek Felton, especially in Berry’s absence, to leap onto the scene. Northern Iowa is part of a wide-open Missouri Valley landscape that no longer includes Wichita State, but a meticulous style of play and 6’10” senior Bennett Koch (57% eFG last season) could give a young North Carolina front line some issues.

Can Bryant Crawford and a talented but crowded backcourt ease the loss of John Collins? (AP)

  • Elon (KenPom #106) at Duke: Our first chance to see Duke’s highly-touted freshman class comes against an Elon team expected to compete for the CAA championship. How will Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter co-exist in the frontcourt? Is Trevon Duval the point guard Mike Krzyzewski has been searching for since Tyus Jones left campus? Will there be any further Grayson Allen drama? Tonight gives us our first opportunity to overreact wildly. Keep an eye on Elon’s Tyler Siebring, a 6’8” forward who led the Phoenix in scoring a year ago and shot nearly 40 percent from three.

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Morning Five: Opening Day 2017 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 10th, 2017

morning5

  1. In an off-season filled with too many negative stories to keep track of, one of the bright spots is the return of Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges. To most, his decision to return to school forgoing (or at least delaying) millions of dollars was irrational, but as Carvell Wallace notes Bridges does have his reasons to return for at least one more season. While we still can’t say that we agree with his decision it does provide a better rationalization than we have seen elsewhere and gives good insight into who Bridges is.
  2. On Tuesday we mentioned that Bruce Pearl‘s job might not be secure, but we had no idea that the next day news would come out that he was refusing to cooperate with Auburn and its investigation into the FBI allegations. If that is true and Pearl continues to refuse to cooperate with the administration we do not understand how he can stay on at the school. Pearl is a good coach, but not nearly good enough to compensate for a mediocre performance at the school with a show-cause in his recent past and his unwillingness to work with the school in a federal investigation.
  3. Compared to the other legal issues we have seen around college basketball lately the misdemeanor charges filed against Connecticut junior Jalen Adams seem pretty trivial. Adams, who averaged 14.4 points and 6.1 assists per game last season, has been charged with a misdemeanor for leaving the scene of an accident after he crashed his scooter into another scooter during an on-campus race. Unless he has had disciplinary issues in the past that we are not aware of we expect that Adams won’t face any significant punishment.
  4. When North Carolina defended its basketball program by saying that the student-athletes had not been granted special privileges because the fraudulent classes they had taken were available to all students we wondered when its academic accrediting body would come around questioning its academic standards. It looks like that day might be coming soon as The News & Observer (the paper that led the investigation into the scandal) reported that accrediting body is taking a deeper look into the school. We doubt that the school will face any major penalties, but it seems odd that the school defended its basketball program by throwing itself under the bus.
  5. The suspensions of Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson got more complex on Tuesday when Gary Parrish reported that Ron Bell (a former friend of Josh Pastner) was the individual who provided the players with the impermissible benefits. We are struggling to understand why Bell would turn on Pastner, a man he says saved his life when he was dealing with drug addiction, but it does appear that Bell has solid evidence of providing benefits to the two players and speaking extensively with Pastner on October 2, the day that the school announced the suspensions. The school has not given much in the way of a response to these allegations and it is unlikely that Pastner will face any long-term consequences from this (other than maybe his reputation within coaching circles), but we are almost certain that the people who will be affected by this the most are Okogie and Jackson.
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ACC Non-Conference Games: 10 to Watch

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

As the opening of the regular season draws near, it’s a good time to closely examine the schedules of all 15 ACC squads and pick out the 10 most interesting non-conference match-ups. The following list excludes any potential games in early season tournaments as well as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge contests — we’ll take a in-depth look at those separately in later posts. This group of 10 games are listed in chronological order (all game times are ET) — mark your calendars now.,

  • November 10 (Friday) – Georgia Tech vs. UCLA (Shanghai, China) – ESPN, 11:30 PM. The Yellow Jackets are traveling over 7,500 miles from Atlanta to tip off Josh Pastner’s second year at the helm. This game shapes up as an interesting battle between one of the nation’s best offenses from a year ago (UCLA – #2 KenPom Offensive Rating) and one of the stingiest defenses (Georgia Tech – #6 KenPom Defensive Rating). A big key to settling this game will be the individual match-up of two excellent returning seniors in the post, with Georgia Tech’s Ben Lammers (9.9% block rate in 2016-17) attempting to stop the smooth mid-range game of UCLA’s Thomas Welsh (132.2 Offensive Rating). Unfortunately for Pastner, he’ll be without two of his starters — Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson have been suspended indefinitely for breaking NCAA rules — while it’s unclear what the game time status will be for UCLA’s LiAngelo Ball and friends after their shoplifting incident at a Hangzhou Louis Vuitton store.

Tom Izzo will be looking for his second win in 12 tries versus Mike Krzyzewski in this year’s Champions Classic. (Chris Trotman)

  • November 14 (Tuesday) – Duke vs Michigan State (Champions Classic – Chicago) – ESPN, 7:00 PM. This could be college basketball’s marquee non-conference match-up of the season, with both squads ranked in virtually everyone’s preseason top four (including the newly released RTC16). Duke may have an edge in raw talent but the Spartans boast National Player of the Year favorite Miles Bridges and a host of other experienced players to surround him. Next week’s game may be Tom Izzo’s best chance in years to beat his friend and rival Mike Krzyzewski. For Coach K to extend his success against Izzo — the Duke head coach holds a 10-1 career advantage — the Blue Devils will need Grayson Allen to end his personal slump in this annual event. Allen has only managed a total of 18 points on 23 percent shooting in Duke’s last two appearances (both losses) in the Champions Classic.

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The 2017-18 RTC16: Preseason Edition

Posted by Walker Carey on November 9th, 2017

And so it begins — that wonderful time of year when we once again see old familiar faces on the television along with our favorite teams playing college basketball. It is a glorious time, indeed. With a sizable slate of games set to commence on Friday, we officially unveil our 2017-18 preseason (and revamped) RTC Top 16. We have decided to trim our poll from 25 to 16 teams this season as a means to provide more thorough analysis and justifications for the best teams in the country. This initial poll will hold for the next 10 days or so, but you can expect our weekly regular season RTC16 to release on every subsequent Monday morning starting November 20. Along with the rankings will be the usual quick and dirty analysis that dives more deeply into how those teams are shaking out from top to bottom. To see how we did last year, check out our 2016-17 preseason poll — sure, we nailed a few (North Carolina, Oregon, Kansas, Gonzaga and Kentucky), and missed on some others (Indiana, Syracuse, Connecticut and Texas). We promise we will try to do better this time around. Here’s the preseason poll. Enjoy opening weekend!

Quick N’ Dirty Thoughts.

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Morning Five: 10.25.17 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 25th, 2017

morning5

  1. The news that North Carolina senior point guard Joel Berry is expected to miss four weeks recovering from a broken bone in his right hand after he punched a door following a video game loss has widely been viewed as a major hit to the defending champions. While we won’t argue that it will adversely affect them in the short-term, we tend to agree with Andrew Carter who argues that it offers the Tar Heels with the ability to develop other players such as freshman Talek Felton (Raymond’s cousin) and sophomore Seventh Woods rather than relying on Berry early in the season. Berry’s presence would have been invaluable to a team filled with players trying to replace departed stars early in the season, but his absence early in the season might be more valuable to them down the road.
  2. We haven’t heard much discussion about Virginia hiring Carla Williams to be its new director of athletics. Typically these announcements do not merit much attention, but it does seem newsworthy to us because Williams is the first African-American woman to be named an athletic director at a Power 5 school. Some might argue that these distinctions are nothing more than winning the press conference, but having more diversity in the field or at least a broader pool of candidates to pick from seems like a good thing. Hopefully, this will encourage other schools to look beyond the typical retreads we usually see hired and instead pursue more promising candidates.
  3. Most of the media’s attention on the FBI investigation has been focused on another ACC school (more on that in a bit), but it appears that Miami may have its own issues as Jim Larranaga has stated that he believes that he is “Coach-3” in the FBI investigation. According to the FBI report, that coach was involved in trying to get Adidas to give $150,000 to convince a recruit (widely believed to be Nassir Little, who later signed with UNC) to commit to that school. For his part, Larranaga denies any wrongdoing and the school appears to be standing behind him for now, which is more than we can say for other schools.
  4. Speaking of other schools, the fight between Louisville and Rick Pitino/Tom Jurich does not appear to be lightening up as Jurich’s attorneys are claiming that the board of trustees failed to explain the cause of Jurich’s firing and are trying to “smear him.”  Without going into too much detail the school basically accused Jurich of not maintaining proper oversight of the department while Jurich’s team says that he kept a close eye on everything and the men’s basketball team was the only part of the athletic department that has had any issues. Our guess is that similar to most cases like this the only people who will end up winning are the lawyers and their bloated billable hours.
  5. The NCAA is an easy target for people particularly lately with the FBI investigation and the never-ending debate about financial compensation for student-athletes. As Sam Mellinger points out, the one thing that the NCAA should not have any problem doing is using its platform to give to the less fortunate (and generate some positive publicity for itself), but it seems to have a hard time doing that. Most people will point to concerns that schools will use charity events as a way to promote themselves (like Houston was supposedly going to do by giving out apparel for different schools to Hurricane Harvey victims), but it seems like inertia is the biggest obstacle. The powers that be are just too comfortable sitting back and waiting for individual schools to make the case to them rather than being proactive.
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ACC Offseason Storylines: FBI Brings the Hammer to Louisville and Miami

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 17th, 2017

We are now a little over 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 preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte later this month. But first, let’s catch up on a few of the most important storylines in the ACC since North Carolina captured its sixth NCAA Championship in Glendale last April.

FBI Case Rocks the College Basketball World

Louisville’s Rick Pitino became the first major casualty of the FBI Investigation into College Hoops Recruiting. (Getty Images)

On September 26, we learned in a dramatic morning announcement that even the NCAA was not aware of that the FBI has been investigating the college basketball recruiting scene. Four NCAA assistant coaches were charged with accepting bribes to steer players to pro agents and/or financial advisors, while six other individuals were also arrested, including several Adidas employees who were accused of arranging cash payouts for recruits and their families as incentives to join their sponsored college programs. Two of the schools involved are ACC members Louisville and Miami.

As soon as the FBI news broke and the Louisville program was implicated in the report, pressure immediately began mounting on head coach Rick Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich. By the next morning, we knew that neither luminary would survive this scandal, the latest in a string of sordid revelations involving the program. Pitino was officially fired yesterday. Understandably, the university could not tolerate further violations and embarrassments in the midst of a probation currently being served for 2015’s stripper scandal. Even more damning for Pitino is news that his voice is allegedly on an FBI tape as a direct participant in the pay-for-play scheme. Two Cardinals’ assistants have also been placed on administrative leave, leaving former Louisville player David Padgett to pick up the pieces this season as the school’s interim head coach. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the school try to get out in front of the NCAA’s inevitable return to campus with another round of self-imposed penalties that includes a postseason ban.

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