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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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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ACC M5: 01.20.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 20th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Virginia looks like the team to beat in the ACC (and maybe the country) so far, and part of the reason the Cavaliers are so successful is the team-oriented mindset of the entire roster. Individual accolades and national love may be hard to come by for this team, but the Cavaliers keep on winning. Don’t expect them to go undefeated, though. Even though they get Duke at home, there’s a good argument to be made that they’re actually a better team on the road. This team has a chance to do something special, and between the Cavaliers and Blue Devils, this season feels like the end of the ACC’s Final Four drought (which dates back to Duke’s National Championship in 2010).
  2. CBS Sports: Well, that de-escalated quickly. After rumors swirled around Notre Dame center Zach Auguste‘s recent academic suspension, he was back in the lineup in the Irish’s win against Miami this weekend. That’s great news for Mike Brey, as Auguste is one of the most important offensive players on a team that is completely locked in on that end of the floor. That said, Notre Dame’s best lineup (and the one that led to the comeback) had Auguste sitting on the bench in favor of a faster group.
  3. Boston Globe: Boston College is showing signs of moving the right direction. This year’s team has a much different energy than last year’s group, and it could easily be 2-2 in ACC play (instead of 0-4). But after five straight losses to Harvard, the Eagles got revenge on the Crimson, which may prove a good omen. Playing Miami and Pittsburgh to close losses also shows that this team is ready to contend with borderline NCAA Tournament teams. And with the way Louisville and North Carolina shoot, counting out any decent offensive team is a mistake. Jim Christian now just has to find a way to make these moral victories into real ones (or risk the team’s self-esteem plummeting).
  4. Virginia Tech Collegiate Times: Speaking of winless ACC teams, Virginia Tech is also a member of that notorious club. The Hokies put up a strong effort against North Carolina over the weekend (if not for a late game turnover, Virginia Tech looked like it would make Roy Williams sweat until the final horn), but a team that has been forced to play five guards at different points this season can’t really expect to compete with elite competition every night out. Justin Bibbs may be the real deal, though.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Syracuse can thank former ACC member Maryland for helping balance its athletic budget this year. Most athletic departments aren’t known for running profits, and all the extra money that the Orange owed the Big East from its separation agreement wasn’t helping things from an accounting standpoint. The Terrapins had to pony up $31 million to be split among the ACC member schools and the cut Syracuse gets will cover more than a year of payments. Another interesting tidbit from this article is that all of the non-revenue sports at Syracuse made half as much as its basketball teams, which seems like a pretty strong showing. Even at a basketball school with a bad football team, pigskin still drives the bus.
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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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Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Rallies Past Miami

Posted by Walker Carey on January 17th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Miami (FL) and Notre Dame in South Bend.

There are very few teams in the country that have the backcourt talent and depth of Notre Dame. That was illustrated again on Saturday afternoon as Irish coach Mike Brey relied on small ball to secure a 75-70 come-from-behind victory over Miami (FL). With his team trailing 40-31 at the 15:32 mark of the second half, Brey inserted a five-guard lineup featuring seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton along with sophomores V.J. Beachem, Demetrius Jackson, and Steve Vasturia. The perimeter-oriented lineup played the balance of the game and it outscored the Hurricanes 44-30 while it was on the court. Saturday’s victory concluded another successful week for the Irish, as they moved to 17-2 overall and 5-1 in ACC play. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

  1. Jerian Grant broke out of his mini-slump in impressive fashion. In each of Notre Dame’s last three games (wins over North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and a loss to Virginia), Grant was held below his season average of 16.3 points per game. That trend changed in the victory over Miami today, as Grant was without question the best player on the floor for the duration of the afternoon. He finished the game with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with eight assists. None of those 23 points were more impressive than the three he got from hitting a ridiculous step-back three-pointer at the 6:19 mark of the second half. That three put Notre Dame up 61-58 and it did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. The Irish trailed by as many as 12 in the second half, but it was the steadiness and leadership of Grant that kept the Irish in the game and eventually earned his team the victory. Great players make big plays in winning time, and that was exactly what Grant did for Notre Dame on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
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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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Morning Five: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 16th, 2015

morning5

  1. Notre Dame has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season, but they took their first big hit earlier this week when they announced that Zach Auguste will be out indefinitely while dealing with an academic matter (reportedly not a suspension). While Jerian Grant is the headliner for the Irish, Auguste comes close in terms of his impact as the 6’10” junior has been averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season. Without Auguste, the Irish are very short up front (relatively speaking of course) with 6’5″ Pat Connaughton. While they were able to sneak out of Georgia Tech with a win without Auguste on Wednesday night things will get significantly tougher for them in the coming weeks in the ACC. If Auguste is unable to return, this would be the second straight season the Irish were undone by academic issues as Jerian Grant had to temporarily leave the school last year as the result of an “academic misstep”.
  2. James Madison dismissed junior guard Andre Nation from its basketball team on Wednesday saying “he no longer fits within our program and the vision we have for the future”. We are not sure what made Matt Brady finally come to that decision, but it had been a rough season for Nation as he was suspended for the first five games of the season following an arrest for disorderly conduct and misdemeanor assault (which as JMU Sports Blog pointed out at the time was not exactly something new) and saw his scoring drop from 15.4 points per game last season to 9 points per game this season. Nation will remain on scholarship through the spring semester, but we would not be surprised to see him turn up at another mid-major school very shortly given his proven ability to score at that level.
  3. If you wanted a reminder of the difference between the haves and have-nots of the college basketball world, we would direct you to Adam Himmlesbach’s look at Kentucky‘s trip to the Bahamas this year. The eight-night trip that included games against a French pro club and the Dominican and Puerto Rican national teams at the Atlantic Resort in the Bahamas cost $792,845.68. While some of this was offset by 57 boosters who agreed to pay $6,000 to fly along, but that only generated a little over $347,000 when combined with the nearly $18,000 from their share of ticket revenues the overall cost to the school was $431,836.10, which is nearly three times as much as North Carolina (certainly not paupers) spent for a trip the year before. While some of the costs were from the flying out opposing teams and providing them with hotel rooms and meal money, the Wildcats certainly treated themselves well from John Calipari’s $1,550-per-night suite to the $150 per diem for meals the players and staff members received (compare that with the $124 per diem NBA players received in 2013). We aren’t aware of the costs of trips for other schools, but outside of Duke’s ridiculous 2011 trip to China and Dubai that included a chartered Boeing 767 with an estimated charter price of over $1 million we have a hard time seeing anybody approaching a trip that might exceed the overall budget of the basketball program of their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Speaking of big sums of money, Kentucky might be spending it, but Kent State will be collecting it after an appeals court ruled in their favor saying that Geno Ford will have to follow the terms of his contract requiring him to pay the school $1.2 million for leaving them for Bradley in March 2011. That figure is the result of Ford’s 2008 contract that required him to pay back his salary multipled by the years remaining if he left before his contract expired. So when Ford left the school a year after renegotiating a five-year deal that was worth $300,000 per year he opened himself up to the clause. Before you feel too bad for Ford, he is making $700,000 per year at Bradley even though he is just 42-74 at the school and we are pretty sure he can find an accountant who will find a way to let him write off the $1.2 million over a couple of years.
  5. One of the most confusing things about college basketball recruiting over the years is why cities like Chicago and New York City don’t have better college basketball teams. Regardless of how you feel about which city produces the best talent it is clear that these cities underachieve on the college level. New York has one decent program in St. John’s, but Chicago can’t even claim that much. Adam Doster of Grantland has a good piece on why a city that is so loaded with basketball talent cannot produce a single respectable college basketball program. While much of it is attributable to the administrations at the schools and how much they are willing to invest in the program, some of it also falls on the coaches in and around the city who have not been able to make local talent and high school/AAU coaches buy in. If a young coach (like Chris Collins) really wanted to make a mark, there are certainly worse places to set up shop than the Chicago area.
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ACC M5: 01.15.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 15th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlotte Observer and Sporting News: So, what should we make of Duke‘s back-to-back losses to NC State and Miami? Mike Krzyzewski thinks Duke has a confidence problem. Tom Gatto thinks it may be more serious than that. Both may be right. Duke is in a tough spot. If it is confidence, the upcoming schedule isn’t exactly a cake walk (four of the next five are on the road, including games at Louisville, Notre Dame, and Virginia). That means Coach K needs to find a way to inspire his team or risk a really bad stretch that could derail a season. But this Duke team is still really, really good. It’s not a finished product, but the pieces are all there.
  2. Riddick and Reynolds: Hopefully the future leadership of the NC State Technician reads James Curle’s thoughtful piece on doing the satirical “Daily Tar Hell” edition for next year. This is the second straight year NC State’s student newspaper opted to avoid the parody, which is too bad. Ravi Chittilla’s response is a reasonable one. National newspapers aren’t doing great these days, much less college ones. But I’m sure there are some passionate NC State alumni who would help finance the venture through crowdfunding.
  3. Indianapolis Star: Bad news out of South Bend as Zach Auguste is suspended indefinitely for academic issues. Notre Dame plays everything close to the vest so don’t expect many details leaking out. It’s a good sign he’s still enrolled (the school has a very strict honor code), but that may mean it’s something that is being appealed or something related to the NCAA instead of the school. While the Fighting Irish managed to beat Georgia Tech, Auguste was a very high usage player that will be impossible to replace.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: Rakeem Christmas put on a show in order to beat Wake Forest in overtime. This isn’t the first time his development has showed up in the Morning Five (and it probably won’t be the last), but Christmas is earning himself some money the way he’s playing this year. While his field goal percentage isn’t quite as gaudy, Christmas’s scoring and rebounding numbers look a lot like Jahlil Okafor’s. Syracuse isn’t great this season, but as long as they can steal a win against a good team, they’ve done well enough in close games to be on the bubble.
  5. Orlando Sun Sentinel: Miami‘s been up and down this season (having mercurial star players will do that), but the Hurricanes are young. As Jim Larranaga said, “We’re still on the ground floor.” Larranaga has cobbled together one of the better teams in the ACC, recruiting transfers and international players especially. This team is only going to get better next year. That’s what should worry ACC opponents (especially those normally residing in Durham). Even if Larranaga plans on retiring in four or five years, he’s made Miami into a much better job than it was when he took it. Success should mean decent fan support (Miami is and always will be a pro sport town), and that will only help.
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Virginia 62, #13 Notre Dame 56

Posted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday evening’s game between Virginia and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia’s defense is as good as advertised. The Cavaliers entered play Saturday second in the country in both points per game defense and field goal percentage defense. They lived up to those high marks Saturday, as Notre Dame was held to a season-low 56 points and shot just 33.9% from the field. Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon was instrumental to the suffocating defensive effort, as he played lockdown defense on Notre Dame star guard Jerian Grant all night. Grant finished the game with just six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Virginia also did an exceptional job in taking the Notre Dame bigs out of the game, as Notre Dame’s post players  finished with just a combined five points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with just seven rebounds. The win moved Virginia to 15-0 on the season and if it can maintain this level of defensive intensity, that unbeaten mark may stay clean well into league play.
  2. The Cavaliers saved their best basketball for winning time. After Notre Dame swingman Pat Connaughton hit a three-pointer to give the Irish a 51-50 lead at the 4:53 mark of the second half, Virginia went on a 12-5 run to finish the game. Brogdon and fellow backcourt mate Justin Anderson each hit important three-pointers down the stretch that helped lead to the Virginia victory. In close games, the victor is usually determined by which teams executes better and plays with more poise down the stretch, and that was no different Saturday as Virginia made the right plays at the right times to help secure the win.
  3. Notre Dame needs more out of its frontline if it wants to be a factor in the ACC race. When Notre Dame won at North Carolina this past Monday night, Irish forward Zach Auguste led the way with 18 points. Saturday was a different story for Auguste, as the junior battled foul trouble for much of the game and finished with just four points and five rebounds to go along with a team-high four turnovers in 22 minutes. Virginia forward Darion Atkins was able to take advantage of Auguste’s off-night, as the senior finished with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting to accompany his team-high eight rebounds. There are plenty of solid big men in the ACC, and if Notre Dame wants to finish near the top of the league, it is going to need Auguste to become a much more consistent post presence on each side of the court.

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ACC M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 9th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Hampton Roads Daily Press: How good is Virginia‘s defense? Consider that the Cavaliers have held 39 straight conference opponents to under 50 percent shooting. That’s unreal. The only two teams I see with a chance at ending that streak this year are Duke and Notre Dame. But it’s a testament to the pack-line defense, which has been brutally effective since Tony Bennett got to Charlottesville. Relatedly, WatchESPN did a pretty good halftime piece on Bennett’s defense with Darian Atkins and Malcolm Brogdon showing Jay Williams and Shane Battier how it works.
  2. Miami Herald: Miami basketball alumnus Darius Rice is still working towards his dream of playing in the NBA. He graduated from Miami way back in 2004, but still hasn’t found his way onto an NBA roster despite size with three-point range, and he is getting to the point where his big break needs to come soon. His professional career reads like a traveler’s fantasy, but what’s most irritating about Rice’s story is how he has excelled in the D-League (including a 52-point game in the championship), almost proving that the NBA doesn’t take it seriously. Here’s to hoping his status as an ACC legend (despite only playing in the Big East) gets him that one last shot.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas made Duke’s Jahlil Okafor look like a freshman on Wednesday night. Thomas outhustled the Duke phenom all night, using his veteran strength and confidence to gain the upper hand. What was striking was how poorly Okafor passed out of the double-team. To be fair, Thomas also got the best of fellow All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell earlier in the week. Everyone has bad games, and it looks like Okafor recognizes that (he still ended up with a double-double), but Duke’s season will ultimately depend on how he responds to this sort of adversity. Any possession he doesn’t get a touch is a mistake, but Okafor has to fight for position to earn that touch too.
  4. Durham Herald Sun: Theo Pinson may be the answer to some of North Carolina’s struggles, at least against below-average defensive teams. The sample size is small and bear with me here through some Bzdelik-ian logic. If you remove Ohio State and Clemson (the two top-100 defensive teams Pinson has played against) and Pinson is shooting nearly 80 percent from the field (and most of his misses were threes). Obviously you can’t just ignore good defenses in the statistical profile, but Pinson’s aggressive play could be the answer to North Carolina’s offensive struggles. However, his three-point shooting will not plug the most gaping hole for the Tar Heels.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Rakeem Christmas‘ improvement has been astounding. Brian Tahmosh takes care of the per-game statistics (along with some comparisons to other Syracuse stars), but think about this: Christmas has nearly doubled his usage with only a small decrease in efficiency. He’s essentially the exact same player he was last year except that he’s taking more than twice as many shots. Oh, and he’s a better rebounder and distributor. That’s just insane.
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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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