ACC M5: 12.05.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 5th, 2016

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  1. For Duke this season, the injury bug giveth and the injury bug taketh away. After missing the first eight games of their freshmen campaigns, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden made their season debuts in Saturday’s blowout win over Maine. Given the new additions to his lineup, head coach Mike Krzyzewski decided it was a good time to rest two other ailing Blue Devils: guards Grayson Allen (toe) and Frank Jackson (foot). Afterward Krzyzewski also mentioned that Harry Giles is also close to full health, perhaps as soon as exams are over in two weeks. Luke Kennard took full advantage of the extra possessions, posting a career-high 35 points in the easy win. If the Blue Devils get healthy, it may not be wise to reduce the role of a player sporting an offensive rating of 130.9 on the season.
  2. Speaking of injuries, North Carolina suffered one of its own in Sunday’s rout of Radford in the Smith Center. Star point guard Joel Berry sprained his ankle early in the second half and did not return to the game. In the press conference afterward, Roy Williams said he hopes Berry can return to practice soon: “We’ll have to see what they say tomorrow, but I’m encouraged about it right now.” The next two games for the Tar Heels are at home against Davidson (Wednesday) and Tennessee (Sunday), both of which are winnable games even without their junior point guard. That will be followed by a six-day break, so hopefully Berry can return to full strength when North Carolina clashes with Kentucky in Las Vegas on December 17. In other injury news, Theo Pinson may be getting close to returning from his preseason foot injury.
  3. After bursting out of the gate with six impressive victories, Virginia quickly climbed all the way to the top of KenPom’s national ratings. Following a lackluster week that included squeaking by Ohio State and losing to West Virginia at home, however, the Cavaliers have slipped back to sixth. The Mountaineers came into Charlottesville on Saturday and handed Tony Bennett‘s team its first loss of the season — perhaps a sign of things to come when the competition gets consistently tough once ACC play begins. Great defense alone will not be enough to beat talented squads.
  4. At the other side of the spectrum we find North Carolina State. Mark Gottfried‘s team can score but are not very good on the other end of the floor. The Wolfpack are 6-2 on the year, with the two losses coming to the only two KenPom top-100 teams on the schedule to this point. Even more disturbing is the margin of victory against those inferior foes — three of their six wins came by four points or fewer. This is shaping up to be a very similar NC State team to last year’s version. Freshman guard Dennis Smith looks just as dynamic as Cat Barber was a year ago, but the Wolfpack’s defense looks just as porous as well.
  5. At first glance, Pittsburgh‘s loss to crosstown rival Duquesne on Friday night looks like a classic letdown game against a highly motivated opponent. The Panthers were coming off their most impressive win of the year — easily handling Maryland on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — and the Dukes hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh since 2000, a streak of 15 consecutive losses. It also didn’t help that senior star Jamel Artis was serving a one-game suspension for what Kevin Stallings said was a failure to “meet our high standards.” The Panthers’ offense struggled mightily without Artis in the lineup, posting a miserable 0.80 points per possession. Even ACC leading scorer Michael Young was off his game — he finished with 19 points on 8-for-21 shooting. So much for an easy transition for new head coach Kevin Stallings.
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Do-Everything Seniors Supporting Transition Year at Pittsburgh

Posted by Charlie Maikis on December 2nd, 2016

When Pittsburgh hired Kevin Stallings away from Vanderbilt last March, some were skeptical of how it would work out. Stepping into a new program in a much tougher conference, Stallings faces numerous long-term challenges. The one area where he found an immediate advantage is that he inherited the 22nd-most experienced roster in college basketball (per KenPom), led by two of the ACC’s best players: seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis. On the backs of their leadership and talent, the Panthers have begun the Stallings era with a 6-1 record against a good schedule, including a decisive win at Maryland in this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young have lifted coach Kevin Stallings to a hot start to his Pittsburgh career. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Seniors Jamel Artis and Michael Young have lifted Kevin Stallings to a hot start to his Pittsburgh career. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Almost everything Stallings’ team does begins and ends with the senior duo. The pair uses a combined 58.3 percent of the team’s possessions while playing over 80 percent of the available minutes. At 6’9″, Young anchors the team down low while the 6’7″ Artis acts as a point forward. The two highest ACC scorers thus far, Artis and Young combine to average 43.3 points per game while converting at high rates from the field (51%), three-point line (37%) and foul line (83%). Stopping just one of these two scorers is difficult enough, but teams are finding that limiting both is a near impossibility. The pair have gone for 20+ points in five of Pitt’s seven games this season and have made or assisted an astonishing 77 percent of Pitt’s field goals this season. Young also ranks among the top 500 players nationally in offensive (8.0%) and defensive rebounding (18.6%) rates as well as block percentage (4.2%); whereas Artis ranks among the top 300 nationally in turnover rate (10.7%).
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2016

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Tire Pros Invitational: Clemson (#25) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action a bit later this morning, taking on Davidson (#74) in the first round of the Tire Pros Invitational (ESPNU – 11:00 AM). This may look like a brand new event, but it’s actually a relocation, as the tournament previously known as the Puerto Rico Tip-off moved to Orlando because of concerns with the Zika virus. Clemson has a chance to pick up some impressive wins here, especially if the Tigers draw Xavier (#12) in the second round. Three more top-100 schools are on the opposite side of the bracket so, no matter what happens, the Tigers’ non-conference strength of schedule should get a healthy boost.
  2. Charleston Classic: A key for Wake Forest (#69) this year will be the development of its young post players, and sophomore John Collins has already answered the bell by averaging 18.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the Deacons’ first two outings. Danny Manning hopes his young frontcourt holds up well as his team opens with UTEP (#217) this afternoon (ESPN3 – 1:30 PM) in the Charleston Classic. A win today would likely set up a meeting with mighty Villanova (#2) in one of Friday’s semifinals. The rest of the field in this event is not very strong, with host Charleston (#76) the favorite to come out of the other side of the bracket. The tournament finals will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM).
  3. 2K Classic: Pittsburgh (#53) heads to Madison Square Garden tonight for the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The field is extremely balanced, with all four schools rated within 22 spots (KenPom) of one another. The Panthers face SMU (#34) in tonight’s opener (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM) with Marquette (#31) and Michigan (#37) squaring off in the nightcap. The two winners will meet in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM). Pitt is guaranteed to play two high-caliber teams here, but it needs to register at least one win to make this trip a true resume-builder.
  4. Paradise Jam: Unfortunately for Mark Gottfried, N.C. State (#46) will not be taking freshman forward Ted Kapita with it to the U.S. Virgin Islands. This makes the Wolfpack very thin up front heading into their Paradise Jam opener versus Montana (#172) on Friday night (CBSSN – 6:00 PM). If the Wolfpack can get past the Grizzlies, N.C. State would likely get Creighton (#33) on Sunday evening. Two other top-100 squads — St. Joseph’s (#88) and Mississippi (#84)  — are on the other side of the bracket, so this is a decent all-around field. The event’s championship will be contested on Monday night (CBSSN – 8:30 PM)
  5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Duke (#1) will try to shake off its first loss of the year — Tuesday’s buzzer-beater versus Kansas in the Champions Classic — by heading to Connecticut for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off event. The Blue Devils are likely to still be without their three injured star freshmen forwards, but they will meet Penn State (#103) on Saturday regardless (ESPN3 – 12:30 PM) followed by either Cincinnati (#22) or Rhode Island (#35) on Sunday afternoon (ESPN – 1:00 PM). In its current form, Duke could be vulnerable to tough-minded teams like the Bearcats and the Rams, so don’t be shocked if Sunday’s game is another nail-biter for Mike Krzyzewski‘s squad.
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Opening Weekend in the ACC: Early Goals For All 15 Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2016

As we welcome back college basketball this weekend, all 15 ACC schools will be in action, with several suiting up more than once. While teams like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville have Final Four aspirations as their ultimate objective, others like Boston College and Georgia Tech would probably be content with a winning record. Whatever the preseason expectation level of each team, there are some specific things each would like to accomplish right out of the gate. Here’s our best guess of what each ACC school’s coaching staff will be focused on this weekend.

ACC schools are presented in alphabetical order. (opponent’s preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

Boston College: Find out who can play.

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Nicholls State (#321): The Eagles have a plethora of new players, including three transfers and four freshmen. Jim Christian has watched all of them perform in the preseason, but he will be anxious to see which newcomers can emerge as dependable options when the real games begin.

Clemson: Start building the resume.

Clemson's Brad Brownell has an improved offense and a surprisingly big home court edge in ACC play. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

Clemson’s Brad Brownell needs a much better performance in non-conference play this year than the 7-5 mark posted by the Tigers a year ago. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Georgia (#58): A horrible performance in the non-conference portion of the Tigers’ schedule cost them dearly last year. One of those resume scars was a blowout loss to Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs are the highest rated opponent on the ACC docket this weekend, so a revenge win by Clemson would represent a great start for Brad Brownell.

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Happy Halloween: Tricks or Treats Around the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2016

In the spirit of Halloween, let’s examine some potentially spooky scheduling situations facing ACC squads this season. We all experience anxiety about frightening things that we know are in our future, but sometimes we can also get a good scare from an unexpected source. Below we will present examples of both types of hair-raising situations.

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Fright Night: Potentially Scary Non-Conference Match-ups

When schools release their non-conference schedules over the summer, most fans focus on the name-brand opponents first. This frequently means that they fail to notice some of the tricky mid-major schools on the ledger — teams that are often as good or better than many power conference schools. Below is a list of such frightening opponents for ACC teams this year. Beware of these so-called “buy” games, and don’t be surprised if some of these teams put a real scare into your favorite ACC squad. (preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

  • November 11 – Eastern Michigan (#88) at Pittsburgh – The top four scorers return for the Eagles, the second highest-rated team in the MAC (KenPom’s ninth-best conference in the preseason).
  • November 13 – Chattanooga (#93) at North Carolina  The Mocs are coming off a 29-6 year as the defending Southern Conference champs. They return four starters and will expect to be in the Big Dance again next March.
  • November 15 – Iona (#102) at Florida State Normally a mid-major school that loses four key players wouldn’t represent that much of a threat, but Iona is a program that wins at a high level year after year. The Gaels have won at least 20 games in each of Tom Cluess’ six seasons at the helm.

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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.

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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

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  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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