Reviewing ACC Tournament Tuesday

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 11th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

It was a surprisingly exciting pair of games that we witnessed on the first day of the 2015 ACC Tournament. In the opener, 12th-seeded Boston College and All-ACC first teamer Olivier Hanlan rallied late to edge 13th-seeded Georgia Tech, 66-65. After that, 14th-seeded Virginia Tech held off a late charge by Wake Forest to slip past the 11th-seeded Deacons by a score of 81-80. All four teams competed hard, and while there were plenty of airballs, silly fouls, and missed defensive assignments — these squads entered Tuesday at least five games south of .500 on the year — for most of the afternoon, the sparse opening-day crowd certainly left the Greensboro Coliseum entertained. Here are some takeaways on each team:

Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)

Georgia Tech (12-19): Attention in Atlanta will now turn to the coaching status of Brian Gregory with the season now complete. When you look at his four-year win totals (11-16-16-12), it’s tough to make a compelling case for keeping Gregory in charge of the program. While it’s true that Georgia Tech was incredibly unlucky this year — the Jackets were 0-11 in ACC games decided by five points or less, or in overtime — many will view that failure as the head coach’s responsibility. Offense has been bad for his entire tenure, with the team ranking outside the top-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency three out of four years. In fact, it’s fair to say that the only thing Georgia Tech has done well under his direction is to rebound the ball. Per the recent norm for ACC schools when a coach misses the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four years at the helm, look for a change to be made this spring. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Tournament Preview

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2015

The ACC Tournament gets started in Greensboro today and the microsite will be there throughout the week to provide coverage all the way through Saturday night’s championship game. Let’s tease the next five days with some storylines, players to watch and a not-so-wild prediction.

Three Important Narratives

  • #1 Seed Drama (and the Battle for a True ACC Champion): Duke and Virginia both look like #1 seeds if the season ended today. But there’s one problem — the season isn’t over. Wisconsin and Arizona are both nipping at their heels and if both win their conference tournaments, chances are that the Selection Committee thinks pretty hard about dropping one of those ACC teams to the second line. If either Duke or Virginia wins the ACC Tournament, that team is a lock for the top line. If the Cavaliers and Blue Devils meet in the finals, the loser still has a really good chance. Lose before then, though, and all bets are off. The more important storyline from a conference perspective is the crowning of the true champion. One issue with the unbalanced ACC schedule is that regular season wins and losses aren’t directly comparable anymore. Virginia had the easiest conference strength of schedule of any ACC team (in part because it can’t play itself), but the Cavaliers only played Duke once (at home), North Carolina once (away), Louisville twice, and Notre Dame once (away). Duke, on the other hand, got Virginia once (away), North Carolina twice, Louisville once (away), and Notre Dame twice. The Blue Devils only played one extra game against the top five teams, but that extra game was on the road. What I’m trying to say here is that if we want to crown a true ACC champion with no regrets, Duke and Virginia need to meet on Saturday evening for a neutral-court rematch.
Don't forget about the Wolfpack. (AP Photo | Jason DeCrow)

Don’t forget about the Wolfpack. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

  • Bubble Bath: Heading into Greensboro, the ACC bubble situation is pretty straightforward this year. Pittsburgh needs to walk away with the trophy. NC State is mostly safe (not that the Wolfpack should think about losing to Pittsburgh on Wednesday). Miami is on the outside of the bubble but can definitely play itself into the Big Dance. The Hurricanes need a splashy win (alas, the winner of Wake Forest and Virginia Tech won’t cut it). A win over Notre Dame on Thursday might just tip the scales. Beating Duke a second time would make it a sure thing, and beating any other opponent to make the championship game would probably be enough as well.

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ACC Regular Season Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 9th, 2015

The ACC regular season has come to a close, which means it’s time for conference tournament play and postseason dreams that stretch deep into March. For now, though, it’s a great time to look back at the standout performers and performances of the regular season that was. Here are your 2014-15 ACC superlatives:

RTC All-ACC Team

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Okafor lived up his immense preseason billing and single-handedly turned a dangerous Duke team into a dominant one. Okafor was the conference’s second-leading scorer (17.6 PPG), third-leading rebounder (9.2 RPG) and top shooter by field goal percentage (66.8%). His ability to make the team a dual threat instead of the perimeter-reliant teams of yore means these Blue Devils have a very high ceiling come NCAA Tourney time.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. The remarkable year that the Fighting Irish enjoyed can be traced to the return of Grant from a suspension related to academic improprieties. In addition to his highlight-reel dunks and numerous clutch baskets, Grant was a stat-sheet stuffer for a vastly improved Notre Dame team, logging 16.8 PPG, 6.7 APG and 1.8 SPG on the season. He also shot an outstanding 49.4 percent from the field.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. The Orange ultimately had little to play for because of their self-imposed postseason ban, but they may have produced the best on-court individual success story of the year. Christmas’ amazing improvement from his junior to senior season (17.5 PPG, +11.7; 9.1 RPG, +4.0) proved he could flourish as the team’s primary option. He served as the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season for Syracuse hoops and has positioned himself for a bright future in the professional ranks.
Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Brogdon’s inclusion on this list speaks to his ability to play whatever role Tony Bennett asks of him. With Justin Anderson stealing the early headlines, Brogdon was content to act as the team’s best on-ball defender and late game shot-maker. When Anderson fell to injury, Brogdon resumed his role as a primary offensive weapon. He averaged nearly 14 points per game while shooting 34 percent from three and 86 percent from the line. Traditional statistics never do Virginia players much justice, though, but Brogdon’s intangible ability to meet the demands made of him showed his true value to the ACC regular season champs.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College. Hanlan played on a mediocre Boston College team but his offensive prowess was rivaled by none in this year’s ACC. The conference’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, he remained a deadly offensive weapon despite playing the point guard position for the first time in his career. He scored 30 or more points four times, including a stellar 39 points on just 20 shots against Pittsburgh.

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ACC M5: 03.05.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 5th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse Post-Standard: Whatever the Post-Standard is paying Patrick Stevens, it isn’t enough because here’s his exhaustive list of ACC Tournament seeding scenarios. Some of those are simple (notably, the bottom four teams). Pittsburgh has the most to prove in its last two games with a possibility of a seed anywhere from sixth to tenth depending on what happens around the league. The most important battle, though, is for the last double-bye. Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia are already locked in, but Louisville and North Carolina are battling for the final spot. The Cardinals control their own destiny (North Carolina’s only remaining game is home against Duke), but they also have to beat Virginia this weekend or get some help from around the league.
  2. Fox Sports: Of course I ran an article on Wake Forest’s Danny Manning yesterday and a better one shows up today. Assistant coach Randolph Childress gives Lauren Brownlow some gems for quotes on Manning’s move to a folding chair if he doesn’t like the effort he’s seeing from his team. Childress is the side of the story that Brownlow really brings to her profile. Manning wanted to keep the Deacon legend on staff because of his connections to the school and the area. None of the Wake Forest players or Childress have anything bad to say about Jeff Bzdelik, which suggests that the biggest problem with Bzdelik was his ability to associate with fans. This is worth a read.
  3. Boston Herald: Olivier Hanlan has been really flying under the radar this season, and of course it helps that Boston College is abysmal. Through eight games in February he averaged over 27 points per game and he’s at the top of the league in minutes per game as well (tied with Jerian Grant). Hanlan hasn’t quite put up Erick Green’s efficiency from Virginia Tech a couple of years ago, and I think Green’s recency will bias voters against the Eagles’ star. But Hanlan has to be first team All-ACC and he really should be in the conversation for ACC Player of the Year too. I think it’s reasonable to say that Grant’s and Jahlil Okafor’s raw totals were held back by being surrounded by so many weapons (give me Grant right now just because he’s so versatile), but not considering Hanlan shows that the voter didn’t watch him play at all this season.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: In light of Syracuse‘s self-imposed postseason ban, Derrick Coleman won’t be going to Greensboro to be a part of this year’s ACC Legends class. This just highlights how dumb postseason bans are because they punish the current team for issues with former players. It’s weird that we haven’t heard anything from the NCAA on Syracuse yet, but hopefully it gets resolved quickly and it doesn’t also hold next year’s team accountable for past grievances.
  5. Miami Herald: Jim Larranaga is optimistic about Miami‘s chances at making the NCAA Tournament, but it’s clear the Hurricanes still have a lot of work to do. They’ve got a great win (at Duke) and took Virginia to double-overtime (that’s the game that may end up hurting them more than their losses). In addition to a strong finish to the regular season (the game at Pittsburgh was probably an elimination game), Miami is going to need at least one upset in the ACC Tournament to have a shot at celebrating Selection Sunday. And who knows, if Angel Rodriguez gets hot for a few games, maybe Miami walks away with a trophy in Greensboro.

EXTRA (via Washington Post): It wasn’t much of a mystery anyway, but apparently Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is the only player listed on the ballot the ACC media were sent for rookie of the year.

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ACC M5: 02.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Orlando Sentinel: Let’s start with our game of the night. Florida State almost came back to knock Miami right out of any NCAA Tournament talk thanks to Xavier Rathan-Mayes turning into a video game character for four minutes. Rathan-Mayes scored 26 points in just 3:36 of action (h/t to Michael Rogner). I’m calling it right now: We’re seeing a serious shakeup in the ACC next year. I think Florida State and NC State are both going to be really, really good. Duke needs Tyus Jones to return and Virginia needs Justin Anderson to do the same. North Carolina will be good with most of its players returning, but the Heels desperately need a shooter. Notre Dame and Louisville will both take steps backwards. That leaves plenty of room for a team or two to jump in from the periphery.
  2. SBNation: In our other game of the night, Duke managed to stave off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Duke’s defense looks awful (if you had the Hokies putting up an offensive efficiency of over 130.0 — easily the worst Duke has given up this year — please take your lies elsewhere), and while Jahlil Okafor will get the press (and his 30 points that easily could’ve been 35 if he had made some free throws), Quinn Cook is what kept Duke from being blown out of the gym. The Hokies couldn’t miss a three but Cook answered every volley with a shot of his own (including a dagger in overtime). This game highlighted the weird conundrum that is Duke this year: When they’re on, they can beat anyone (and badly); but when the Blue Devils’ defense is struggling, they’re quite average. Nick Fasulo does a good job pointing out how overlooked Cook has been this year, as he’s quietly been one of the most efficient players in the country. His usage doesn’t merit a first team All-ACC selection, but Cook deserves more credit for this team’s success.
  3. Washington Post: Moving on to a less competitive game, Wake Forest forgot to show up against an undermanned Virginia team in Winston-Salem last night. It looked like Tony Bennett’s squad was out for blood (the Demon Deacons should have bested the Cavaliers in Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago), and this is a good story on Virginia’s eraser in the paint, senior Darion Atkins. He’s a huge reason why the Cavaliers’ defense is still one of the best in the country even after losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. He’s also a quiet part of why Virginia hasn’t fallen off too much in Justin Anderson’s absence.
  4. CBSSports.com: Sam Vecenie took a look at the ACC Player of the Year race, and it’s pretty amazing. You have the National Player of the Year candidates (Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant); the stat machines without the accompanying team success to make the national spotlight (Olivier Hanlan and Rakeem Christmas); and you have the awesome players who struggle because a teammate is so good (Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson; Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell). That doesn’t even get us to guys like Trevor Lacey or Tyus Jones who have been unreal in the clutch this year. Pretty awesome problem to have.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: As we approach bracket season, it’s important to not only think about the bubble but also how personnel losses will affect teams’ seeds. It’s unlikely that Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal will have any bearing on Duke’s line (the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Virginia and North Carolina since he was dismissed), but Louisville without Chris Jones is another story. This is a really thorough look at Louisville’s current profile (along with some explanations of the bracketing rules).

EXTRA (via Will Brinson): Abdul-Malik Abu promised two of the Chapel Hill shooting victims that NC State would beat Duke and North Carolina this year (as a wedding present), and with the win over teh Heels he made good on the gift.

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ACC M5: 02.25.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 25th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Fayetteville Observer: Let’s start with NC State. The Wolfpack uglied it up last night in Chapel Hill and came away with a convincing win in Chapel Hill (their first in over a decade — couches were burned). Bret Strelow does a terrific job with this profile of Trevor Lacey. It’s full of great information. Did you know Lacey leads the country in points per possession on isolation plays, according to Synergy? Now you do. It also has some great anecdotes from Lacey’s days dominating high school and from his time on the scout team. My two favorite parts were Mark Gottfried dropping, “I remember when I got drafted by the Pistons” as an introduction to a story. Gottfried was drafted in the seventh round! I mean there were only 23 teams back then, but that’s an elite-level humblebrag. My second favorite tidbit was that Lacey credits former Duke guard Austin Rivers as the inspiration for some of his moves. That was completely unexpected.
  2. The Cauldron: Ever wondered what it’s like to be the PA announcer at Cameron Indoor Stadium? Trip Durham (Duke’s PA announcer) gives us all the details. He grew up a North Carolina fan, but he’s now fully integrated into the Duke home game experience. It’s interesting that Durham feels like the job connects him back to his childhood and his late father. PA announcers generally fly under the radar (except at Wake Forest games; you won’t miss the distinctive growl), but it’s fascinating to see another side of the coin.
  3. Syracuse Post Standard: Time to talk some bracketology with Patrick Stevens. If you don’t keep up with Stevens’ work, he’s been one of the best in the business for a few years now, so it’s worth checking in with his regular columns. The only real questions in the ACC are: “Will NC State and/or Miami get in?” and “Who earns a #1 seed?” Right now the answers seem like yes and no, respectively; and Duke and Virginia (although I’d be surprised if both manage to get a top seed unless there are a flurry of upsets in other conference tournaments).
  4. The Pitt News: Remarkably, Pittsburgh managed to stay in the NCAA Tournament conversation (barely) by eking out a home win last night over Boston College. The reason the Panthers still have a shot to make it into the Dance is because they have a fairly strong RPI. They’ll be hurt by an abysmal non-conference schedule, but Pittsburgh is a (very) strong ACC Tournament run away from the right side of the bubble. Now the real story from the Pittsburgh win is that Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan scored 39 points on 20 field goal attempts! That’s incredible. Fingers are crossed that we see Hanlan go unconscious again this year in Greensboro.
  5. JohnGasaway.com: Tuesday Truths are back! Why is this week noteworthy? Duke and Virginia appear to be separating themselves from the pack (I imagine even more so now, given last night’s results). That’s far from unexpected, but it hasn’t been the case until just recently. It’s somewhat misleading to say Virginia is distinguishing itself because its efficiency margin has plummeted since losing Justin Anderson to injury (thanks to an anemic offense) — although it was bound to suffer, it has dropped by 30 percent in the last three weeks.
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ACC M5: 02.19.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 19th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Wow! What a game. It was far from pretty, but Duke‘s win over North Carolina delivered on all of the hype. My thoughts on the game: Duke played better for the majority of it, but the Blue Devils committed some costly turnovers, missed a number of foul shots and gave up enough open shots enough to give North Carolina a chance to steal the game. Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson were almost able to pull it off (and maybe with a more active whistle down the stretch, they would have), but this game made me much more comfortable with North Carolina as a top-15 team because the Tar Heels nearly won on the road while getting virtually nothing from Marcus Paige. The article has great stuff from Barry Jacobs on why the first game was so late in the schedule this year, and he also takes a look at Virginia.
  2. College Basketball Talk: This is a good look from Rob Dauster on Virginia‘s play without Justin Anderson. The most noticeable hole on the team is with its perimeter shooting (along with its best option for getting his own shot). Evan Nolte is getting a lot more minutes in his absence, though, which should help if Anderson gets in foul trouble in March. It will be really unfortunate if Anderson’s injury ultimately sidelines the most recent ACC national title contender (I know Duke is also in that conversation, but Virginia has been better this season). Without a healthy Anderson, the Cavaliers will be left in the annals of some other conference “what if?” teams like 2011 Duke and 2012 North Carolina.
  3. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville may be headed for disaster, as the Cardinals suspended Chris Jones indefinitely and Rick Pitino doesn’t sound too eager to allow him back on the court. Without their senior point guard in the lineup, the Cards lost to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome last night and are now on the outside of a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. With games against Notre Dame and Virginia still left on the schedule, things aren’t going to get easier from here on out. Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell are reportedly calling a dreaded “players’ meeting” to get the team back on track.
  4. Boston College Heights: Olivier Hanlan doesn’t have a lot of support around him this season. Everyone knew that was the case coming into the year but it was painfully obvious in Boston College’s most recent loss to Florida State. Hanlan has scored 30 or more points in three of his last four games; he plays brutal minutes (39 minutes per game in ACC play); and he doesn’t really have any other options to look for spot-ups on his penetration. I’m hoping we’re due for another Hanlan explosion in the ACC Tournament this year.
  5. Gwinnett Daily Post: Speaking of suspensions, Chris Bolden has been sidelined indefinitely for Brian Gregory’s team. It’s generous to call Bolden streaky (he’s experienced far more slumps than hot streaks), but he was one of the few Yellow Jackets always at the ready to heave threes. The other, slightly more efficient long-range shooter on the team is 6’9 Quinton Stephens. Georgia Tech doesn’t have much on the line at this point since legitimate postseason play appears out of reach.

EXTRA (via Spartanburg Herald Journal): Some really sad news out of Clemson as former Tiger Chris Hobbs passed away last weekend. Hobbs was only 33. He finished his career at Clemson in 2004 (Oliver Purnell’s first season), and he was a tough player, starting from the beginning on admittedly disappointing Clemson teams.

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Can Jim Christian Return Boston College to Relevance?

Posted by Walker Carey on February 5th, 2015

Throughout the first decade of this century, Boston College was among the most consistent programs in the Big East (and later, the ACC). The Eagles earned six NCAA Tournament bids between 2001 and 2007, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2006. Head coach Al Skinner enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for taking unknown prospects and turning them into marquee players. For example, Skinner plucked former Eagles point guard Troy Bell out of Richfield, Minnesota, before he became a three-time First Team All-Big East performer (2001-03) and two-time Big East Player of the Year (2001, 2003). Things were definitely going well on the hardwood for the program, but things took an unexpected downturn in the late 2000s, which resulted in Skinner’s termination following the 2009-10 season (his second losing year in three). Little did the school’s administration know at the time that disappointment experienced at the end of Skinner’s tenure was a sign of more to come.

Boston College (USA Today Images)

Boston College Head Coach Jim Christian Gets Great Effort From His Players (USA Today Images)

Tasked with replacing Skinner was Cornell head coach Steve Donahue, who was fresh off leading the Big Red to the Sweet Sixteen. While his tenure in Chestnut Hill got off to a fairly promising start with a 21-13 record and a resultant NIT appearance, things only went down from there. In the next three seasons, Boston College amassed a combined 33-63 overall record with a 15-37 mark in ACC play. Donahue was dismissed following last season.

After Donahue’s termination, it was widely speculated that Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker would become Boston College’s next coach. Amaker said thanks, but no thanks, however, and chose to remain at in Cambridge. Shortly after that rejection, the Eagles found their man in Ohio head coach Jim Christian. In his introductory news conference, athletic director Brad Bates noted “three remarkable traits” that he believed set Christian apart from other candidates: 1) his ability to recruit and develop players; 2) his energy and enthusiasm; and 3) his proven track record as a head coach. And yet, before Christian could even preside over a single practice, his roster took a significant hit when incumbent starters Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon both transferred out of the program.

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Boston College’s Lack of Depth Limits Its Potential This Season

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 5th, 2015

Saturday afternoon in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Boston College showed that while its first unit is capable of competing with the best teams in the ACC, the lack of productivity from its reserves may be too big of an issue to overcome. After a ho-hum first half where the Eagles entered the locker room down 16 points, Jim Christian’s team came storming out to trail Duke by just 10 seven minutes into the second stanza. The Eagles used all five starters to cut the lead to a manageable figure, but then fatigue and foul trouble forced Boston College to go to the bench. The outcome: Within four minutes, the Blue Devils had spurted to an insurmountable 24-point lead and ended up coasting the rest of the way to an 85-62 victory.

Olivier Hanlan played well against Duke but needs more help. (Lance King/Getty Images)

Olivier Hanlan played well against Duke but needs more help.
(Lance King/Getty Images)

In his postgame press conference, Christian commented that his team “needed to get energy from our bench in this game. I don’t think we did that.” He made a point to say that he wasn’t worried as much about bench points (a 17-point deficit), but more about getting effort and energy from the bench in areas such as rebounding and defense. Perhaps the player most affected by the Eagles’ lack of quality depth is star guard Olivier Hanlan, who led the way against Duke with 22 points and four assists in 37 minutes of action. As Christian said of his best player, “I wish we could get him a rest but unfortunately we don’t have another point guard.” Hanlan, described by Mike Krzyzewski as “a load to defend,” was effective in getting to the basket despite facing multiple fresh Blue Devil defenders throughout the game. But according to his coach, fatigue is hurting the junior All-ACC player’s contributions at the defensive end, and his challenge is to learn to “play through it.” Tired legs is also a major reason that Hanlan’s shooting percentages are down across the board this year.

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ACC Stock Watch – New Year’s Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 2nd, 2015

As we welcome 2015, the ACC’s 15 teams have all concluded their non-conference seasons. In the New Year’s edition of this week’s ACC Stock Watch, we’ll examine the league’s trending players and teams based on how they were predicted to finish in conference play (you can view the preseason ACC media projections here) and how they’re playing now.

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils are on fire to start the season. Their veterans have ceded major roles to the star freshmen without complaint or drop-off in production. Their 12-0 start includes good wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Temple and Stanford.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke. Taking over the reins of a national championship contender is difficult enough, but unseating a senior in Quinn Cook and maintaining harmony on the floor is really something else. Jones has emerged as a true revelation and has made the Duke offense (the most efficient in college basketball) hum. Even his high school coach didn’t think he’d be this good so fast.
Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he's been a revelation for Duke (Lance King)

Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he’s been a revelation for Duke (credit: Lance King)

  • Virginia. Everyone knew the Cavaliers would be good again, but possibly better than last year? They’ve already held two teams to single-digit points in a half, and Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris have been capably replaced. Hopefully the recent defensive showing against Davidson was an aberration (72 points allowed by a Virginia team that had holds opponents under 50 per game on the year).
  • Notre Dame. A 13-1 start is great and this team is rolling on the offensive end. The Fighting Irish currently rank third in the country at 86.0 points per game and are shooting an otherworldly 55.4 percent from the field (best in the country). However, questions exist about the strength of Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule.

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ACC Stock Watch: Holiday Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 26th, 2014

As the holiday break kicked in, some ACC teams and players were probably thrilled to review their last few weeks of action with family and friends. Others were undoubtedly just glad they had some time away from the hardwood to refresh and reset expectations. We’ve now had three weeks since we last evaluated the state of the conference’s players and coaches, so here’s the Holiday Edition of the ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. All the Fighting Irish have done since we last checked in is to reel off five straight wins, bringing their overall record to 12-1 (including an early ACC win over Florida State). Mike Brey’s team is one of the most dynamic offensive groups in the country, averaging 86.1 points per game and putting up 94 and 91 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois. More impressive than the overall offensive output in those two games is that Jerian Grant scored a total of 21 points on just 5-of-22 shooting from the field. Once the All-American candidate returns to form, look out.
  • Virginia. Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers are finally getting their due as a serious national title contender. Tony Bennett’s team may be even better defensively this year than last, holding a talented Harvard team to eight first-half points en route to an impressive 76-27 win following a 17-point victory over rival VCU in Richmond two weeks prior. Duke and Louisville have gotten the majority of the attention so far, but the Cavaliers’ 11-0 start is something more pundits on the national scene are paying attention to.
Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia's throttling of Harvard proved they're a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia’s latest win, a throttling of Harvard, proved the Cavaliers are a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

  • North Carolina. For all of the talk about this team’s uneven play and noticeable deficiencies, the Tar Heels actually have put together a nice stretch since our last stock watch. Although they fell to Kentucky in Lexington, it took the Wildcats’ best shooting day of the year to knock off the Tar Heels by a mere 14 points (plus North Carolina actually outscored the Cats in the second half). In addition to blowout wins over East Carolina and UNC-Greensboro, the Heels won an important non-conference battle with a good Ohio State team last weekend. At 8-3, there are still some reasons for pessimism in Chapel Hill, but you can’t ignore that Roy Williams’ team has earned some solid wins while playing the ACC’s toughest non-conference schedule.

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ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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