Virginia’s Offense Leads to ACC Crown and Optimism for What Comes Next

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 2nd, 2014

Virginia’s first outright ACC title in 33 years came about in somewhat stunning fashion, blowing out #4 Syracuse by 19 points at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday evening. Anyone who has watched Tony Bennett’s team since the calendar flipped to 2014, though, saw much of what they’ve come to expect from this squad. Their stifling defense may be the Cavaliers’ calling card, but their ultra-efficient offense is the reason they had the ability to defeat one of the nation’s best in Syracuse and are poised to make major noise in March.

Mike Tobey

Offensive production from players like Mike Tobey lifted Virginia to its first outright ACC regular season title in 33 years (Mike Ingalls)

Bennett’s club gets most of its accolades thanks to his trademark “Pack Line Defense,” a stout man-to-man philosophy that stagnates opposing sets and leads to low offensive output. But the way Virginia has been scoring the basketball in ACC play is why it’s boasting an astounding 16-1 ACC record with only a road match-up at Maryland left to close out the year. Twelve of the Cavaliers’ conference wins have come by double figures, a remarkable feat on its own right, and coming into Saturday’s game they were second only to Duke in points per possession. While their defense often translates to opportunities on the offensive end, their demonstrated ability to initiate back-breaking runs (a 20-1 run to close out Georgia Tech; a 30-5 stretch to blow out Notre Dame; a 19-7 streak to pull away from Miami in the second half) shows they have sufficient offensive punch to couple with their effort on the defensive end. On Saturday, they closed out the Orange with a 35-16 blitz over the final 15 minutes of the game, showing that they’re no longer satisfied playing methodical, plodding games in the 50’s. Virginia can now outscore you too, which has to be a frightening proposition for the teams matched up with them over the next few weeks.

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Night Line: Indiana Displays Just Some Of Its Potential In 24-Point Blowout of UNC

Posted by EJacoby on November 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that evening’s games.

So this is why Indiana garnered the #1 preseason ranking for the 2012-13 season. Despite coming into Tuesday night’s game with a 6-0 record and 32-point average margin of victory, the AP poll’s top-ranked Hoosiers had yet to produce a statement performance to legitimize their candidacy as the best squad in all of college hoops. It took overtime to dispose of previously unranked Georgetown last week, and Tom Crean’s team faced another tough test with the Tar Heels coming to town for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Indiana did not fool around this time, easily disposing of North Carolina, 83-59, in a game that showcased a tantalizing display of offensive basketball by the Hoosiers from start to finish. All doubts about IU’s true “top-seed upside” are quelled for the time being after it ran a young-but-explosive UNC team off the floor in Bloomington by out-executing and out-smarting the Tar Heels; even in an imperfect shooting night.

Cody Zeller and Indiana soared past North Carolina on Tuesday night (AP Photo)

For long stretches of Tuesday night’s game, the Hoosiers – ranked #2 in this week’s RTC Top 25 – played a completely flawless brand of unselfish basketball. Crisp passes flew around the Assembly Hall floor at seemingly light speed, leaving the Carolina defense with no chance to rotate quick enough to challenge IU’s knockdown outside shooters or strong post finishers. Strong outlet passes from forwards reached lead guards Yogi Ferrell and Jordan Hulls before UNC could catch up, and the Hoosiers converted time and time again in transition. Indiana totaled 21 assists on 33 made field goals through its balanced attack. The game film of this 24-point blowout ought to become its own best-selling clinic video in ball movement, as IU converted at 1.12 points per possession against the #14-ranked team in the country. Tonight’s IU assist total (21) outpaced that of the leading team in that category nationally (Maryland, 19.3 per game), and the performance boosted IU up to the top offensive efficiency rating (125.5) in the nation.

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Night Line: Is Florida a Better Offensive Team This Season?

Posted by EJacoby on November 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The #12 Florida Gators have high expectations this season, as usual, with a loaded starting lineup that features two returning SEC stars and a bevy of other talented scorers. But Billy Donovan’s team lost much of its backcourt production from last season in Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, the second- and third-leading scorers on last year’s team who also accounted for over 40% of the squad’s total assists. Those 2011-12 Gators ranked sixth in the nation in overall offensive efficiency and came just a few plays away from reaching a Final Four. Yet does this season’s version of Florida have an even higher ceiling? Conventional wisdom would say no given the loss of its two perimeter leaders, but a strong recruiting class joins a healthier team this year, most notably a much improved senior forward Erik Murphy. Wednesday night’s 74-56 victory over defensive stalwart Wisconsin, featuring a perfect shooting night from Murphy, provided a glimpse of UF’s offensive upside that few teams in the country can match.

Erik Murphy led Florida with a perfect shooting night on Wednesday (AP Photo)

The Gators attempted and made the most three-point shots in all of Division I last season (9.6 makes per game), a crucial element to the team’s conversion of 1.15 points per possession, good for fifth in the country. While Walker and Beal’s 132 three-point makes are gone, don’t be so sure that Florida will fall off in the long-range shooting department. Preseason all-SEC senior guard Kenny Boynton and the aforementioned Murphy return 169 makes of their own, sparkplug sixth man Mike Rosario hit over one trey per game last year as well, and a loaded recruiting class of shooters joins the fold. Braxton Ogbueze headlines the freshman class as a heady point guard, while fellow newcomers Michael Frazier II, Devon Walker, and Dillon Graham all specialize as three-point bombers. Graham models his game after J.J. Redick, Walker has unlimited range from outside, and UF assistant coach Mike McCall noted this preseason of Frazier, “Every time [the ball] leaves his hand, you think it’s going in.” The Gators are already scoring at a more consistent rate this year with a 1.18 points per possession ratio. While only two games is an extremely small sample size, Wednesday’s game came against Bo Ryan’s Badgers; a masterful defensive team that finished seventh in total defensive efficiency last season.

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Night Line: Meet New Mexico, the Mountain West’s Most Complete Team

Posted by EJacoby on February 16th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

In a two-day span, the entire complexion of the Mountain West conference has changed. Those who don’t think that’s a big deal should consider that the MW is actually the fifth strongest league in the country according to cumulative conference RPI, ranking above both the Pac-12 (no surprise there) and the ACC. It appeared as if UNLV was the team to beat in this league, but a shocking loss to TCU on Tuesday night left the door open for the winner of Wednesday’s showdown between the other two top competitors to get a leg up in the race. New Mexico wound up victorious in this matchup, winning at Viejas Arena over No. 18 San Diego State to add a huge road win to its resume and move into sole possession of first place in the conference. The Lobos host UNLV at home this weekend in the final matchup between the Mountain West’s ‘big three’ teams, and a win in The Pit will make the title race theirs to lose. The only MW team of the three that’s not currently ranked in any top 25 poll, Steve Alford‘s squad may actually be the most complete team of the bunch.

Steve Alford's Lobos are Rising to the Top of the Mountain West Conference (AP Photo/I. Brekken)

Wednesday night was a revenge victory for the Lobos, who were thoroughly beaten by San Diego State in Albuquerque back on January 18. New Mexico returned the favor by jumping out to an early lead and extending it to double digits in the second half to a point where the home team could not mount a big enough comeback. Shockingly, the Lobos got it done this time while seeing nothing from their top playmaking guard, Tony Snell, who was held scoreless in the game after he had only scored three points in their first matchup. But that’s what separated these two teams on this night — SDSU got virtually nothing from its top guard Chase Tapley, and the Aztec offense completely stalled for long stretches. New Mexico, meanwhile, was just fine without Snell as their other stars shined and a multitude of other players added important contributions. UNM certainly proved that they were the deeper and more complete team on Wednesday night.

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Night Line: Player of the Year Award is Anthony Davis’ To Lose

Posted by EJacoby on February 8th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

On Tuesday night, the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats continued its run of complete domination in SEC play, defeating No. 8 Florida by the score of 78-58 at Rupp Arena in a game that was never in doubt after about 12 minutes. The game featured another commanding performance by Anthony Davis, who tallied 16 points, six rebounds, four blocks, and two steals and, as usual, essentially eliminated any Gator offense at the rim. The freshman center not only dazzles fans with his spectacular dunks and blocks, but he’s become the pre-eminent defensive force in college basketball that truly alters the strategy of opposing offenses during every game. He’s also displayed impressive offensive efficiency to become a perfect fit on both ends of the floor. At 14.0 points, 10.0 rebounds (second in the SEC), 1.5 steals (eighth in the conference), and 4.8 blocks per game (leads the nation), and as the best player on the top team in America, it’s safe to say that Davis is now the front-runner for National Player of the Year.

This Kentucky Freshman is Must-See TV and the Current Player of the Year Favorite (AP Photo)

In addition to his impressive per-game averages, Davis has an incredible efficiency to his game that is visible to everyone watching as well as all the statistics gurus that measure these kinds of things. Davis’ offensive rating of 137.8, which measures the amount of points a player would produce per 100 possessions, is the second-best number of any player in the country. This essentially means that every time a Kentucky possession features Davis making a play (either shooting or off the first pass), it’s wildly successful. Of course, this also plays out like that because he is so infrequently used in the offense. His shot percentage of 18.2% doesn’t even crack the top 50 of SEC players. But he’s nearly unstoppable on lobs and putbacks, and UK has used him perfectly for maximum effectiveness in these areas. You also must give Davis the credit for not forcing his offense and looking for easy baskets, as his 66.3% field-goal percentage and 61.0% free throw rate are both tops in the conference. His 70% free throw percentage is also solid for a player his size (6’11”) and will only get better as he improves the fundamentals of his shot. Those were just his offensive numbers; we don’t even need to break down his defense for you. At 4.8 blocks per game, he’s the most dominant college defender we’ve seen in years, and it takes just five minutes of watching UK play to understand how great his impact is on that end of the floor.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.18.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 18th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are lots of good conference matchups tonight across the country. We will give you full breakdowns of the two best games to watch, including a big-time Big East matchup early in the evening. Check the comments section for other games to track tonight!

Cincinnati at #12 Connecticut – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Yancy Gates and UC Are Trending Up, Up, Up (AP)

  • Cincinnati is an impressive 4-1 in true road games this season, including victories at Georgia, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown. They have played at an increasingly high level and are 9-1 since the brawl against Xavier that left several players suspended. At full strength now, the Bearcats will not be intimidated in Gampel Pavilion and will look to establish their physical defense early in the game. Mick Cronin’s team gives up just 58.8 points per game on the season and is strong with the ball, averaging a +5.5 in turnover margin. On the offensive end, Sean Kilpatrick has developed into a true scorer this season (16.2 PPG) and will look to establish an inside-out game with Yancy Gates (12.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG) to put the UConn defense in a difficult position. Establishing their brand of physical game early on will give Cincinnati a chance to win another big road game.
  • UConn has had their ups and downs this season, though the Huskies are still undefeated at home and have perhaps the most talented roster in the Big East. It’s looking like Ryan Boatright will not be available tonight as he’s being investigated by the NCAA, which could be a significant blow to the Huskies’ offense. The freshman, averaging about 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists per game, is adept at creating his own shot, but then again UConn has been dealing with suspensions and off-court issues all season and should be fine without him. Stud big man Andre Drummond continues to improve and gain confidence, averaging 15 points, 12 boards, and 2.5 blocks in his previous two games. Going inside early and often has been working for the Huskies, allowing Jeremy Lamb (17.9 PPG) to create his own shot without the defense keyed in on him all the time. Allowing just 36.8% field goal shooting in conference, UConn can match the defensive brand of basketball that Cincinnati brings to this game.
  • There are some great matchups to watch in this game, including Kilpatrick vs. Lamb on the wing as explosive scorers and Gates vs. Drummond inside as a clash of interior styles. Who wins tonight could come down to who is making the most shots, which seems obvious, but really applies here between two teams with similar physical defenses and offensive playmakers. Give Connecticut the advantage at home.
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Tracking The Four: Conference Play Begins

Posted by EJacoby on January 10th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.

Welcome to Tracking The Four! This new series reads just like it sounds, as we will be following four buzz-worthy teams across the country. Those lucky teams are Syracuse (current #1 team and a title favorite), Indiana (a feel-good contender), Murray State (undefeated dreams), and UNLV (the best of the West). With TT4, we hope to provide readers with interesting insights about each of the featured teams that helps capture the atmosphere of the programs throughout the rest of the season. Look for a full TT4 piece every Tuesday, as well as a shorter update later in the week. Each post will be loaded with highlights, lowlights, and tidbits about each team, as well as recaps from their recent play and a look ahead at their upcoming games. Conference play is well underway and there’s plenty of news to get to this week:

Kris Joseph & Syracuse are All Smiles Right Now (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending UP Because… – They’re looking like national title favorites. The undefeated Orange (17-0, 4-0 Big East) remain number one in every national poll, including the RTC Top 25, with its consistently dominant play. They’ve beaten their four conference opponents by an average of 16.5 points, which includes two road games and two home games against ranked teams (Seton Hall & Marquette). Seton Hall has proven to be a solid and cohesive offensive team, yet the Pirates were blown out of the gym by Syracuse in a 75-49 thrashing. The Orange are the deepest team in the country with 10 meaningful contributors, and their patented 2-3 zone is as strong as ever. Jim Boeheim‘s team is now making bigger headlines on the court than off it (the Bernie Fine sexual harassment allegation was a big story), a refreshing trend for the sake of all its fans.
  • This Week’s Key Cog – Brandon Triche. The junior guard led the team in scoring last week, going for 16 points at Providence on Wednesday and another 16 at home against Marquette on Saturday. He hit four three-pointers in each game with an impressive line of 16/7/4 assts and two steals in the victory over Marquette.
  • Play of the Week – Point guard Scoop Jardine finds his go-to guy Kris Joseph in transition for a thunderous dunk from several feet away from the basket against Providence.
  • Talking Point – Guard Dion Waiters, who comes off the bench, had this to say after the win over Providence: “I’ve never been on a team with subs like this. It’s crazy. We continue to get better and make each other better in practice every day. We’ve got some of the best guards in the country.’’
  • Stats Central – Syracuse leads the nation with 37.5 points per game from its bench, further proving that they’re the deepest team in America. Also, their zone defense has been truly elite this season, as the Orange lead the country in steals (10.9 per game), are third in blocks (7.4 per game), and fifth in forcing turnovers (18.7 per game).
  • What’s Next? – The Orange play at Villanova on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2) against a struggling Wildcats team, but it’s still a rivalry game in which the Villanova crowd should be fired up and looking for the upset. Then, Cuse gets its second matchup with Providence, this time at home on Saturday (6:00 PM ET) as heavy favorites.
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