ACC Way Too Early Power Rankings: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 8th, 2016

Yesterday we presented our projected order of finish next season for the bottom third of the ACC; today we will take a look at the upper two-thirds. The truth is that not all that much appears poised to change. Most of the contenders from this season should expect to be contenders again next season, and most of the teams that struggled are likely to do so again. However, one squad should enter the 2016-17 season as a clear favorite. With another top-ranked recruiting class and the return of several key players, Duke will be the conventional choice to win the ACC and compete for the national title next season. The ACC should also have three other teams that will rank among the top-15 nationally. After the top four, the next six teams could be placed in almost any order — the race should once again be that tight in the middle of the league. Here’s our top 10 as we look ahead to the 2016-17 season.

1) Duke

Grayson Allen led the way for Duke with 29 points. (Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash)

Grayson Allen returns to a loaded Duke squad that will be the favorite to win the ACC in 2016-17. (Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash)

  • Key Losses: Brandon Ingram, Marshall Plumlee
  • Key Additions: Amile Jefferson (RS-Injury), Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson
  • Nutshell: To say the Blue Devils will be loaded next season may be an understatement. The question will be whether Mike Krzyzewski can find sufficient chemistry between talented newcomers and veterans like when his team cut down the nets in Indianapolis in 2014-15. He hasn’t had this kind of depth in quite a while, but perhaps Coach K’s experience in managing minutes for his U.S. National Team this summer at the Brazil Olympics will be good training.

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ACC Way Too Early Power Rankings: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 7th, 2016

After a pair of impressive performances in the NCAA Tournament over the last two years, how will the ACC measure up next season? Based on what we know to this point, it looks like 2016-17 could be another very strong year for the league. Some roster adjustments — transfers and the like — will naturally occur between now and October; and a new NCAA policy allowing college players until May 25 to declare for the NBA Draft is likely to impact a few rosters as well. Today we list our bottom five teams heading into next season; tomorrow we will reveal our top 10. To get started, here is how the 15 ACC teams finished this season, ranked in order of their final KenPom rating.

Most of this season’s lowest-rated teams are projected as improved next year, while several schools near the top may drop off slightly. That means we should once again expect a logjam in the middle of the league standings. The following predictions assume the return of the following players who have declared for the NBA Draft but will more than likely be back.

  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
  • Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville
  • Abdul-Malik Abu, N.C. State

On to the 2016-17 way too early power rankings:

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 61, #7 Wisconsin 56

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 25th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion

Three Key Takeaways.

Demetrius Jackson Willed His Team to a Win Tonight (USA Today Images)

Demetrius Jackson Willed His Team to a Win Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame did what it does best: make clutch plays down the stretch. The Irish have trailed in the closing minutes in each of its three NCAA Tournament games so far and yet they have made all the necessary plays to come up with wins each time. Most impressively, Mike Brey’s team won tonight despite trailing for 37-plus minutes. Even against the most resilient of defenses, Notre Dame has proven difficult to contain for the full 40 minutes. Now the Irish’s challenge will be in matching the offensive output of an equally elite shooting team in either North Carolina or Indiana.
  2. Nigel Hayes continued to struggle through a prolonged shooting slump. The junior forward led the Badgers in scoring for a majority of the season, feasting on mismatch opportunities given his impressive outside-in skill set. Not only was Hayes remarkably efficient when scoring inside and getting to the free throw line, but he also demonstrated an ability to consistently hit shots from the mid-range. Yet his shooting has been woeful in this NCAA Tournament. Despite going up against a mediocre defensive team in Notre Dame, Hayes shot 4-of-12 this evening. Thankfully, several others stepped up to contribute in his absence, but Wisconsin’s offense simply didn’t have enough in the tank to prevent the late comeback.
  3. Wisconsin imposed its will on the defensive end, yet still came up short. As with most Badgers games, they win by turning games into slogging defensive battles. Its offensive sets are slow and methodical, working to wear down its opponent over the course of the game. On the other hand, Notre Dame distinguishes itself with a highly efficient offense. The Fighting Irish spread the floor with multiple shooters and are remarkably good at running the pick-and-roll with Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. At the end of the game, the red-hot shooting that propelled Mike Brey’s team through its first two NCAA Tournament games was contained for 20 minutes. In the first half, Notre Dame shot 7-of-29 from the floor and committed seven turnovers before ultimately regaining its composure and finishing the game on an 8-0 run supplemented by 15-of-26 second half shooting.

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Secrets to Sweet Sixteen Success: Factoids on Each Team

Posted by Shane McNichol on March 24th, 2016

With a weekend full of brackets busted and buzzers beaten now behind us, the NCAA Tournament turns to a new and exciting chapter. Gone are the small school darlings and Cinderella dreamers hoping to make the most of the Year of Parity; remaining are a host of blue-bloods with a wide range of expectations and capabilities. The bracket hasn’t played completely chalky with stalwarts like Michigan State and Kentucky sitting at home and some double-digit seeds still alive. But rather than welcoming new faces to the Sweet Sixteen, it was Indiana that dispatched Kentucky and the low-seeded outsiders crashing the party are the likes of Syracuse and Gonzaga, the closest thing we have to a MINO (mid-major in name only?). March Madness has its storied traditions and history, but each team, each season, and each match-up is a unique snowflake with a lot of interesting context. Let’s examine something special about the run of each of the 16 remaining teams as we head into the second weekend.

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

Kansas Enters the Sweet Sixteen as the Favorite to Win It All (USA Today Images)

  • Kansas. Senior Perry Ellis may have just put together one of the most under-the-radar All-America campaigns in modern history. The evolution of his game has been a revelation for Kansas this season, and he’s not slowing down, with games of at least 17 points in every game this March. As but one example, Ellis made as many threes this season as he did in his prior three.
  • Maryland. The Terrapins’ quest to finally be recognized and treated like a Big Ten program becomes a little stronger with each ensuing NCAA Tournament win. They still hold the ultimate bragging right among conference teams — The last Big Ten team to win the National Championship was Maryland (as an ACC member) in 2002.
  • Miami. Jim Larranaga has proven to be a godsend for the Miami basketball program. In just five seasons, he’s already become the only coach to take the Hurricanes to multiple Sweet Sixteens. If Miami can top Villanova tonight, the Hurricanes would make its first ever appearance in the Elite Eight on Saturday — uncharted territory for Miami but not for Larranaga (George Mason, 2006).
  • Villanova. Though rivalries of Philadelphia basketball run deep, the casual fan in the City of Brotherly Love has enjoyed a successful long-term run. With Villanova’s two wins last weekend, a team from Philly’s Big 5 (Villanova, St. Joseph’s, Temple, LaSalle, and Penn) has advanced to the second weekend of NCAA Tournament play in 10 of the last 20 years. The residents of Hawk Hill or North Philly may not be especially thrilled for their friends from the Main Line, but the levels of success and respect among the Philadelphia schools make their common bond that much more special.

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NCAA Regional Reset: East Region

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 21st, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

New Favorite: #1 North Carolina. What do you mean, ‘new favorite?’ The Tar Heels enter the Sweet Sixteen as they began the Tournament, the heavy favorite in this region. Roy Williams’ team dispatched Florida Gulf Coast before turning on the afterburners in the second half against a good Providence squad to break open what was a close game. In a region with the #5-#7 seeds all still alive, North Carolina is an even heavier favorite to make an appearance in Houston on April 2.

Roy has to be pretty happy with how things are working out in the East Region

Horse of Darkness: #6 Notre Dame. It may have taken a little luck of the Irish to get by Stephen F. Austin in the Second Round, but Notre Dame survived and showed it is capable of a deep run in two games in Brooklyn. Against Michigan the Irish locked down defensively in the second half and they responded well in the face of a Cinderella in the game against the Lumberjacks. Defense is still a concern here but you cannot ignore this team’s ability to put points on the board. Mike Brey is an underrated coach and had his team in a regional final last year too. You never know what can happen in a single elimination situation and the Irish already have a win over North Carolina to their credit this season.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 76, #14 Stephen F. Austin 75

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 20th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Rex Pflueger’s only basket of the game sent Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

  1. One Shining Moment. Welcome to the montage, Rex Pflueger. The California kid tipped in Zach Auguste‘s missed shot with one second remaining to send Notre Dame to the Sweet Sixteen. It was a classic example of this tournament creating an iconic moment for a player not many people have heard of. It was Pflueger’s only two points of the game and his first made field goal since Notre Dame’s regular season finale against North Carolina State on March 5. For the time being, Pflueger saved Notre Dame’s season. We will see his one shining moment on video for years to come.
  2. Notre Dame won this game in the paint. The Fighting Irish scored 52 of their 76 points either in the paint or from the foul line as they took advantage of a substantial size edge. Auguste led the way, but the Notre Dame guards did a fantastic job getting into the paint and creating for both themselves and teammates. It is incredibly difficult to win games in this tournament when a team is passive offensively, and the Irish were the antithesis of passive this afternoon. Notre Dame was aggressive and efficient en route to shooting 56.9 percent from the floor for the game. A lot of that had to do with Auguste and his team’s dominance around the rim.
  3. What more can you say about Stephen F. Austin? The Lumberjacks put on quite a display this week in Brooklyn. On Friday night they took out a West Virginia team that many experts said could contend for a spot in the Final Four. They beat the Mountaineers at their own game and today they were one missed defensive rebound away from making the first Sweet Sixteen appearance in school history. Thomas Walkup is a special player who got better in each of his four years in Nacogdoches. He had 21 points today after scoring 33 two nights ago against West Virginia, performances that nearly carried his team to the second weekend. With the Lumberjacks losing Walkup, Demetrious Floyd, Clide Geffrard, Trey Pinkney and Jared Johnson to graduation, the focus now will turn to head coach Brad Underwood and whether or not he stays with the program. He will likely be mentioned as a candidate for the open Big 12 jobs at Oklahoma State and TCU. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #6 Notre Dame 70, #11 Michigan 63

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 18th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Notre Dame Used a Great Second Half Performance to Come Back and Win (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame Used a Great Second Half Performance to Come Back and Win (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame locked down on defense when it had to. Defense has never been the Fighting Irish’s calling card under Mike Brey but they came up with stops when it mattered most tonight. Notre Dame, ranked 172nd nationally in defensive efficiency, held Michigan to 22 points in 20 minutes after halftime after surrendering 41 in the first half. Michigan attempted 20 more shots than Notre Dame but made the same number of field goals (25). It was an impressive display in a pressure-cooker environment by a team not accustomed to that style of play.
  2. VJ Beachem couldn’t miss. Literally. The Notre Dame junior went 7-of-7 from the floor, including a number of huge shots in the critical final minutes of the game. Notre Dame ran its offense so well in the second half and Beachem was the primary beneficiary. He put together simply an outstanding performance on a national stage.
  3. Michigan’s crucial final possession was botched. Trailing by three with under 20 seconds remaining, Michigan was forced into a poor possession where Zak Irvin attempted to bail the Wolverines out with a deep three. Notre Dame defended it well but the rule change where coaches can no longer call live-ball timeouts played a factor here. John Beilein clearly saw that possession falling apart in real time, but he couldn’t do anything about it. Irvin missed and Notre Dame secured the rebound, and effectively, the game.

Star of the Game: VJ Beachem, Notre Dame. As mentioned above, Beachem had an outstanding game. His shot-making ability down the stretch was the difference.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC

Posted by Matt Patton on March 13th, 2016

The ACC got seven bids to the NCAA Tournament. While not a huge surprise, Syracuse was very, very fortunate to earn an at-large bid. Additionally, Roy Williams ended up correctly predicting that both North Carolina and Virginia would wind up on the top seed line. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for the ACC teams in the field.

North Carolina celebrates winning the championship game of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Saturday, March 12, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

North Carolina Celebrated Another ACC Tournament Title Yesterday. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

North Carolina (#1 East): The Tar Heels were the second overall seed, which shows how much the committee respects winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles (and perhaps also considered the time Marcus Paige missed from injury). That means a pair of opening round games in Raleigh, but the bad news for North Carolina fans is that the #4 and #5 seeds in the region (Kentucky and Indiana) are both grossly underseeded. It almost guarantees a challenging Sweet Sixteen game in Philadelphia.

  • Best Case: The Tar Heels build on their recent momentum and win the National Championship.
  • Worst Case: North Carolina’s Sweet Sixteen opponent is firing on all cylinders from behind the arc and sends the Tar Heels packing.

Virginia (#1 Midwest): In another surprise twist, Virginia was a #1 seed and the third overall (the committee must have watched the ACC Tournament!) with a trip to Raleigh on tap for the first weekend. The Cavaliers have a great chance to make it to the regional in Chicago, but #5 Purdue could be a very challenging Sweet Sixteen opponent. The rest of the bracket is favorable with one glaring exception: #2 seed Michigan State. The Spartans will be favored to meet Virginia in the Elite Eight and have ended Virginia’s postseason in each of the past two seasons.

  • Best Case: Virginia finally breaks through and silences the doubters with the school’s first National Championship.
  • Worst Case: Virginia, worn out by an incredibly talented Purdue team, is destroyed by the Spartans (leaving Tony Bennett thrilled that he opted to not go to the Big Ten).

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Selection Sunday Outlook for ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 13th, 2016

A bunch of questions will be answered later this evening when the Selection Committee announces the 2016 NCAA Tournament field. From an ACC viewpoint, one of the big ones will be answered early in the Selection Show – did both league heavyweights (Virginia and North Carolina) earn #1 seeds? After the top seeds are announced and the rest of the bracket is revealed, ACC intrigue will shift towards the bubble, as Syracuse fans will be nervously watching to see if their team made the cut. With a special focus on those two situations, here’s a predictive peek at what Selection Sunday will hold for the ACC.

Who’s Number One?

Roy Williams and Tony Bennett each hopes they've earned a #1 Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Roy Williams and Tony Bennett each hope that their teams have earned a #1 Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

  • North Carolina (28-6) does not have the profile traditionally befitting  a #1 seed (5-5 versus the RPI top 50), but the Tar Heels may have earned it with its performance over the weekend in Washington, DC. They say that the committee ignores conference records in leagues with unbalanced schedules, so the Tar Heels’ claim of winning both the regular season and tournament championships in the ACC shouldn’t guarantee a top line spot (see: Miami’s #2 seed after winning both crowns in 2013). But if the eye test is brought into play (and how can it not be?), there may have been no team in the country that looked as deserving as Roy Williams’ group. With that small boost from the eye test, we think North Carolina has done enough to warrant the second or third #1 seed, which means the Tar Heels will be sent to the East Region. That would give them a path through Raleigh (First/Second rounds) followed by Philadelphia — the easiest possible road. The other contenders for top seeds in the East — Virginia and Villanova — both stumbled in conference tournament finals yesterday. North Carolina is now ahead of both of those teams in the pecking order for preferred locations.
  • Virginia (26-7) may have a resume better than any team in the country save Kansas. Despite an ACC Championship game loss to North Carolina, the Cavaliers have an impressive total of five wins over RPI top 10 teams. They have four losses to teams outside the RPI top 50, but all were close road defeats to conference foes. After the results of Saturday’s league championships, a reasonable ordering of #1 seed contenders might look like this: Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia. As the fourth #1 seed, Tony Bennett’s team would likely be sent to the South Region (Louisville regional), but that would remain the case only if Michigan State fails to win the Big Ten championship this afternoon. If the Spartans win today, we expect Virginia to end up as the South’s #2 seed, a possibility that could mean the Cavaliers are placed in the same region with Michigan State, their March nemesis — remember that Tom Izzo’s team has knocked Virginia out of the last two NCAA Tournaments. Either way, Virginia should be assured of joining North Carolina in Raleigh for the opening two rounds.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 78, Notre Dame 47

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. If North Carolina plays defense like it did tonight, the Tar Heels will win the national championship. Notre Dame is one of the best offensive teams in the country and they couldn’t buy a good look for 10 solid minutes. Roy Williams’ team was incredibly aggressive, especially on the perimeter, never allowing Notre Dame’s guards to any space to operate. They only gave up 22 points (a season low for both teams) on 34 possessions, good for a first half defensive efficiency of 0.65 points per possession. After the run ended five minutes into the first half, it was far too late for Notre Dame to catch up. The Irish ended up scoring only 47 points in the game, its lowest total since a loss to Syracuse in 2013.

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

    North Carolina guard Kenny Williams (24) cheers from the bench during the semifinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington DC, Friday, March 11, 2015. (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)

  2. Repeat after me: North Carolina is really deep. The Heels got 20 points off the bench and they actually played better when Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks both picked up their second fouls with 6:30 to play in the first half. Very few teams in the country would have been able to bounce back so quickly. Isaiah Hicks has played really well over the last couple of games (he finished with 11 points and 15 rebounds), and this was his best game since he scored 21 points at Syracuse.
  3. Notre Dame is a streaky team. It was blown out three other times this season (at Syracuse; at Florida State; vs. Miami), and every once in a while you will see a team get too far into its own head and become woefully overmatched. This was one of those times. The Tar Heels defense totally took Notre Dame out of its offense, as the Irish went from a team that excels on ball movement to one trying to isolate against a much taller front line. Steve Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson were held a combined 1-of-16 from the field, an unbelievably disappointing performance.

Star of the Game. Tonight Marcus Paige looked every bit the first team all-ACC player everyone expected. He played great defense, hit some soul-crushing threes, and finished with seven assists and no turnovers. When he’s locked in, guarding the Tar Heels is borderline impossible. The last few years the question was always: “Can North Carolina shoot well enough to win?” This tournament has been evidence that both Joel Berry and Paige are more than capable. (Author’s note: It’s worth noting that Berry finished the game with four assists and no turnovers.)

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