ACC Burning Questions: Pittsburgh Panthers

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

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

Burning Question: Who will replace James Robinson as Pittsburgh’s point guard?

Before departing for his alma mater TCU, Jamie Dixon put together a solid 13-year run as Pittsburgh‘s head coach, taking the Panthers to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances along the way. The best years of Dixon’s tenure occurred in the Big East, with two Sweet Sixteens (2004, 2007) and an Elite Eight (2009) coming on his watch. Since joining the ACC in 2013, the program has experienced a slight but notable drop in both wins and recruiting. But that doesn’t mean that new head coach Kevin Stallings has a complete rebuilding job awaiting him in Pittsburgh. The squad he inherits has plenty of talent and experience returning at all but one position. Unfortunately, that one deficiency is at perhaps the most crucial spot on the floor — point guard. With no obvious choice to replace James Robinson — a four-year starter with an outstanding 3.4 assist/turnover ratio in his career — to whom is Stallings going to give the keys to the Panthers’ offense?

Kevin Stallings claps for the Pitt band as he arrives at his introductory news conference as the new head coach for the Pittsburgh basketball team on Monday, March 28, 2016, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Kevin Stallings has a veteran team to clap for as the new coach for Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

A look at Pittsburgh’s roster reveals several players listed as guards, including three newcomers. The lone holdover to see much backcourt duty is 6’5″ sophomore Damon Wilson. Wilson arrived at school as a four-star wing, but Stallings’ hope is that he can further develop the point guard skills he showed in limited minutes last year backing up Robinson. Among the incoming guards, three-star freshman Justice Kithcart is the only one viewed as someone with the potential to run a high-major college offense. Crisshawn Clark and Jonathan Milligan each sat out last year after starting their careers in junior college, but both are more highly regarded as natural scorers than distributors. They join an already deep wing core that features veteran Chris Jones, a starter in nine games last year, and talented redshirt sophomore Cameron Johnson — a 37.5 percent three-point shooter. Of course, none of the options available sound like a solution to the problem at hand — replacing Robinson. Based on comments made in the preseason, it appears that Stallings will try a position switch to solve his point guard dilemma. Read the rest of this entry »

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Evaluating Last Season’s Rule Changes

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 14th, 2016

After a college basketball season in which overall scoring fell to its lowest point in the shot clock era, the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel in 2015 approved a set of new rules and other modifications that were designed to increase the pace of action and increase overall scoring. Before we dive too deeply into the upcoming campaign, let’s evaluate the implementation of those rule changes by comparing some key metrics from last season against the four previous seasons.


There’s little doubt that college basketball benefited from last year’s rule changes. The average NCAA team scored 71.5 points per 40 minutes, an increase of 5.4 points over the prior year. This was a result of the wise decision to implement a comprehensive approach to implementation. Reducing the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds was the most discussed change, but that alone didn’t account for the scoring bump. Offenses also got more efficient, rising from an average of 1.020 points per possession in 2014-15 to 1.036 last season. Credit for that improvement largely goes to officials for enforcing freedom of movement as well as to coaches and players for adapting to the new rules. The same cannot be said about the 2013-14 season, one in which the NCAA first tried to address declining offense. A focus that year on officiating led to more points but the uptick in scoring was mostly driven by a huge increase in free throw attempts (see chart above). It did nothing to make the game easier on the eyes, and it also correspondingly left us with a need for drastic changes because referees reverted back to previous norms the following season (2014-15).

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ACC M5: 10.12.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 12th, 2016


  1. After all the success in last year’s NCAA Tournament and with a good mix of key returnees and talented newcomers sprinkled throughout the conference, the ACC is receiving considerable national love heading into this season. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman recently put forth the idea that the ACC this season could be in position to match the Big East’s record of 11 teams making the Big Dance (2011). A few things would need to line up in order for this to happen. The ACC should have enough good teams to qualify, but the teams stuck in the middle of the pack are necessarily going to take several losses. What the league needs is a couple extremely weak teams at the bottom of the standings that give the others two or three easy wins. Say hello to Boston College and Georgia Tech! While we think sending a record-tying 11 teams to the Tourney this year is rather unlikely, things should set up well enough that nine league teams should have a reasonable shot this season.
  2. The biggest injury news of the young preseason was released last week when Duke announced that Harry Giles, the Blue Devils’ highly-regarded freshman big man, recently underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on his left knee. That makes three knee operations in roughly four years for the 18-year old. His estimated recovery time for this setback was projected at six weeks, which would mean Giles would become available for Duke in mid-to-late November. Considering the possible implications to Giles’ NBA Draft status, CBS’ Gary Parrish reported that many scouts think it’s now doubtful that a team would risk its #1 overall pick on him in what appears to be a strong draft year. Others have floated the idea that Giles may be better served by skipping this entire season at Duke to preserve his still-high draft status and not risk further injury. We think, however, that the best course of action for him is to return when healthy and prove his elite talent by becoming a key member of a national title contender.
  3. A pair of ACC teams in August took advantage of the NCAA rule that allows a foreign exhibition trip once every four years. Virginia‘s Tony Bennett took his team to Spain for five games against relatively weak competition, and used an interesting approach — only dressing 10 of his 13 scholarship players in a rotating manner — so each player sat out one game. This strategy allowed the staff to focus on different player combinations with significant minutes together. Another purpose of the trip was to begin to establish a new leadership dynamic on the team, with Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill and two other seniors having departed from the program. It sounds like London Perrantes is already stepping up, but he will need some help from the five juniors on this year’s squad.
  4. The other ACC program to travel this summer was Wake Forest, as Danny Manning’s Demon Deacons played three games in the Bahamas. This kind of trip is perfect for a team in Wake’s current position. With the last remnants of the Jeff Bzdelik regime now gone — namely, Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre — this will be Manning’s first season in Winston-Salem where all the key pieces will be his recruits. It appears that he has some good young talent on hand within the program, but it’s vital that they mature together quickly into a cohesive unit. The hope is that the Deacons maximized those extra 10 practices that are allowed with these summer trips.
  5. We freely admit that this next story caught us totally off guard (pardon the pun), but it appears that Pittsburgh senior Jamel Artis (6’7″, 220 lbs.) is going to see time at the Panthers’ point guard spot this year. We wonder if this is really more a case of new head coach Kevin Stallings disliking his backcourt options as Pitt looks to replace four-year starter James Robinson, but we just haven’t viewed Artis as a typical point guard to this point in his career. Last year Artis logged a nice assist rate of 19.9 percent, but he finished with an almost equal turnover rate of 19.6 percent. It will be interesting to see how Stallings moves forward with this dilemma.
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Five ACC Storylines to Watch this Offseason

Posted by Matt Patton on April 11th, 2016

With the long offseason ahead of us, let’s take a look at five key ACC storylines to keep an eye on over the summer.

  1. NCAA Sanctions: After investigations that surrounded both programs in different ways this season, there should finally be some closure for Louisville and North Carolina. Louisville is still trying to get in front of NCAA sanctions by self-imposing its own (in addition to this year’s postseason ban, the program also recently added recruiting penalties). This strategy has worked well for other schools, but predicting eventual NCAA punishments is an exercise in futility. North Carolina is the more interesting case — the Tar Heels may not receive any sanctions or they may get the book thrown at them. What remains unclear is whether there will be administrative fallout from either scandal. I would not be shocked if Rick Pitino ends up stepping down from his post — especially if the NCAA deems the Cardinals’ self-imposed penalties insufficient. But I would be shocked if Roy Williams did.

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

    Rick Pitino may be in for a stressful offseason. (photo: Getty Images)

  2. Coaching Carousel: This is a slow year for the ACC in terms of coaching turnover. Pittsburgh lost Jamie Dixon to his alma mater, TCU, and Georgia Tech fired Brian Gregory. The Yellow Jackets were initially spurned by Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel and Bryce Drew (who went to Vanderbilt instead), and after reports that Cal’s Cuonzo Martin was their top candidate, athletic director Mike Bobinski hired Josh Pastner away from Memphis. Pastner is far from a sure thing in this spot, but he should be able to put more talented teams on the floor. Whether those teams will have more success than what Gregory mustered (two teams with winning records; no NCAA Tournament appearances) remains to be seen. In Pittsburgh, many fans were upset with the hiring of Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt (ironically, the response from Commodores’ fans mirrored Dayton fans after Georgia Tech hired Gregory). Stallings will have his work cut out for him in the Steel City, but he was a solid coach with several very good teams in Nashville. Like Jamie Dixon, he may have stuck around the same place a little too long, but there’s no reason to think he won’t do reasonably well there. Read the rest of this entry »
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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: #7 Wisconsin 47, #10 Pittsburgh 43

Posted by Nate Kotisso 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.

It was a rock fight in every sense of the phrase as the Badgers scooted past Pittsburgh on Friday night. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

It was a rock fight in every sense of the phrase as the Badgers scooted past Pittsburgh on Friday night. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. You Care About the Result of this Game. Why? This was a #7-#10 game between two teams who will more than likely not make the Final Four. The Panthers scored 22 points in the first half! The Badgers made 6-of-24 and still trailed by six points heading into the locker room! Both teams combined for 73 rebounds! That’s a lot of misses! If you weren’t obligated to attend the game, you should not have watched this game. Michigan State lost so your bracket is already in shambles. This game wasn’t going to change your fortunes for the better. If you voluntarily watched this game, you don’t have a case of March Madness. March Derangement? Perhaps.
  2. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ Has Very Good Footwork and More: After averaging 12.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game coming into today, it’s not hard to see why he was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. At 6’8″, Happ is undersized but showed off a couple spin moves on the baseline that led to two buckets around the rim. Happ finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and a blocked shot. Again, he’s only a freshman, which should strike fear into the rest of the Big Ten for (possibly) years to come.
  3. The Badgers Needed a Presidential “Vitto” and Got One: In this offensively-challenged affair, Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown nailed three of his team’s four threes that kept the Badgers afloat long enough for the rest of the team to rescue him.

Star of the Game: Ethan Happ, Wisconsin. The stat line for Happ was ridiculous. A 15-9-3-2-1 evening will earn this honor nine times out of 10.

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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,

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

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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ACC Tournament Thursday Takeaways

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2016

Thursday in Washington, DC, featured a terrific afternoon with Notre Dame clawing past Duke in overtime. Unfortunately, the other three games of the day weren’t quite as closely contested. Here are a few takeaways from the quarterfinals action.

The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC, Thursday, March 10, 2016. (Photo by Liz Condo,

The Pitt band plays during the quarterfinals of the 2016 New York Life ACC Tournament in Washington, DC (Photo by Liz Condo,

North Carolina (26-6): The Tar Heels got a huge lift from Joel Berry in the first half as he carried their often-stagnant offense. In the second half, North Carolina’s depth was on full display while Brice Johnson was his normal all-ACC self. However, the highlight of the day may have been head coach Roy Williams failing to censor himself in the following exchange:

Q: Coach, the unbalanced schedule this year. It benefited you guys having the easiest strength of schedule in the ACC this year. Do you think it benefited you at all getting the No. 1 seed going into this tournament?

A: Depends on how you evaluate that. You know what we didn’t have the benefit of, to make somebody say we didn’t have the easy schedule, we didn’t get to play North Carolina. All that is a bunch of horse ****.

Well said, coach. We all want the round-robin back, but that’s not realistic with 15 teams. Even then, we don’t think you’d be able to play North Carolina.

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