ACC M5: Who’s Been a Turkey Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 26th, 2014

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Here’s a look at some of the most disappointing performances so far by ACC teams.

  1. Clemson: The Tigers already have two bad losses on their resume. First came a 77-74 home loss to Winthrop on Monday, November 17, and then Clemson suffered an unimpressive 72-70 defeat at the hands of Gardner Webb, this past Friday in the opening round of the Paradise Jam Tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The shocking thing about both losses is that we expected Brad Brownell’s Tigers to struggle on offense and be stingy as always on the defensive end, but that was not the case in either game. In fact, Clemson shot over 48 percent from the field in both contests but surprisingly allowed over 70 points to two offenses that kenpom currently has ranked #194 (Gardner Webb) and #244 (Winthrop). In the two games combined, Clemson gave up 20 made three-point baskets, allowed 24 offensive rebounds, and only forced 14 turnovers. It should be noted that the Tigers did respond to these losses with back-to-back wins over Nevada and LSU in the Paradise Jam, but those bad losses will stick with them (and the ACC) all season long.
  2. Florida State: Picked by most to finish in the upper-middle part of the ACC, Leonard Hamilton’s squad has been a huge disappointment so far by dropping three of its first four games. All of the defeats are to teams ranked in kenpom’s top-75, so looked upon individually, no loss is considered terrible, but in two of them the circumstances are troubling. First of all, a mid-level ACC team should not lose at home to any team from the Colonial Athletic Conference, but that’s exactly what happened as Northeastern edged the Seminoles, 76-73 in Tallahassee last Tuesday. Then Florida State dropped back-to-back games over the weekend at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut. Providence destroyed them, 80-54 on Saturday by scoring at will (1.26 points per possession) on the normally stout Seminoles’ defense. That’s the second worst defensive performance by Florida State since the 2007-08 season. Sunday’s 75-69 loss to Massachusetts was much more competitive, especially considering that star guard Aaron Thomas missed the second half after being rushed to the hospital for apparent dehydration due to an illness. This isn’t the first time that Florida State has struggled during the early nonconference part of the season, and often they are able to turn things around in conference play and contend for a bid to the NCAA tournament. However if the Seminoles drop many more games before January, they may be in too big a hole to dig out of in the newly improved ACC.
  3. Pittsburgh: In a game that went largely unnoticed, Pittsburgh took a tough 74-70 loss at Hawaii, last Friday night. It was the first of four games in Maui for the Panthers as they are now competing in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Perhaps due to jet lag, Pitt allowed the Rainbow Warriors to connect on 53 percent of their field goals. The defense didn’t get much better though in Monday’s 81-68 win over Chaminade, as the Division II Silverswords also topped the 50 percent mark from the field. The Panthers won because they were able to dominate the glass by a huge +34 rebound margin, which included 27 offensive boards for Pitt. Even before this trip, Pittsburgh was not very impressive in a seven point win over Samford, currently ranked #306 in kenpom. Jaime Dixon’s squad still has a chance to right the ship before returning stateside, but at least thus far, Pittsburgh’s reputation as a tough team to score against looks to be in jeopardy this season.
  4. Virginia Tech: We hesitate to include the Hokies here, since Buzz Williams’ team was not expected to be very good, especially early in the season. But when an ACC school loses on it’s home floor to the 312th ranked team in the country, they don’t deserve a pass. Appalachian State went in to Blacksburg this past Saturday afternoon and beat Virginia Tech, 65-63. The Hokies shot better than Appalachian State from the field and held a +4 edge in turnovers, but couldn’t overcome a shocking rebound deficit of -15. The Mountaineers turned 19 offensive boards into 23 second chance points, while Virginia Tech only scored five from its eight offensive rebounds. Certainly that does not bode well for the Hokies, when stronger ACC frontlines come to town.
  5. Wake Forest: The Deacons have two early losses that are pretty bad, but for different reasons. Last Wednesday, Wake Forest got hammered at Arkansas, 83-53 and followed that by falling at home to Iona on Friday night, by a score of 85-81. While no one expected the Deacons to roll into Fayetteville, Arkansas, and beat a team expected to finish near the top of the SEC, the 30-point margin was disappointing. Even though Iona is a good team and the preseason favorite in the MAAC, and Wake Forest had a quick turnaround following the trip to Arkansas, Danny Manning wasn’t happy with how his team responded in terms of early effort. The new Deacon head coach also wasn’t pleased with himself for calling a timeout that he didn’t have, with Iona up by two and 23.1 seconds left. The Gaels made 2-of-4 subsequent free throws to ice the game. In a recent blog, longtime Wake Forest beat writer Dan Collins discussed how Manning is drawing a line in the sand, regarding the effort level of all his players, including supposed stars Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre. We will soon see if that message is getting results, as the Deacons get an early ACC road game, at N.C. State next Saturday, December 6.
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For Hawaii, An Unexpected Triumph During Unpleasant Times

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on November 24th, 2014

Although the Warriors’ 74-70 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday was not the biggest upset of the weekend – that distinction went elsewhere – it was certainly among the most surprising, even if virtually no one could watch it. Few programs have had the rug pulled out from under it quite like Hawaii has to start 2014-15, with an ongoing NCAA investigation leading to the firing of its head coach and the departure of its best player, each within three weeks of the team’s season opener. To make matters worse, would-be contributor Sammis Reyes – a Chilean freshman who initially left the program amid coach Gib Arnold’s firing – was forced to redshirt after breaking his hand last Tuesday. And yet, despite all the attrition and adversity and general weirdness, interim head man Benjy Taylor and his guard-heavy lineup managed to gash the Panthers for 1.3 points per possession on Friday night and topple an ACC opponent for the first time since 2012. Could it be the prelude to a season-long rally? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, considering everything Hawaii has been through over the past month, it is one impressive victory.

Hawaii pulled off a surprising victory over Pittsburgh on Friday. (UH Athletics)

Hawaii pulled off a surprising victory over Pittsburgh on Friday night. (UH Athletics)

On October 23, Hawaii was picked fifth in the Big West preseason poll and forward Isaac Fotu (14.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG in 2013-14) was made an All-Conference selection; five days later, the university announced that Arnold and assistant coach Brandyn Akana had been relieved of their coaching duties. Expectations were not necessarily high coming into the season – top scorer Christian Standhardinger had graduated and point guard Keith Shamburger had transferred to Missouri – but the Warriors were supposed to at least be competitive in the nine-team conference. Without their head coach, though, the outlook became more suspect – especially considering the timing. According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hawaii has been under NCAA investigation since March stemming from a self-reported incident in which “a men’s basketball coach submitted an altered document that was essential for admissions purposes.” The abrupt nature of the firing – just as the team was set to embark on its 2014-15 campaign – came as a surprise to many, including Arnold himself, who gave an emotional press conference from his home a few days after the fact:

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 24th, 2014

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we are using current Kenpom ratings.

  1. EA Sports Maui Invitational: It’s the beginning of what ESPN has traditionally called Feast Week, and a big part of that annual tradition is the EA Sports Maui Invitational which starts today. Each year, one of the schools visiting Hawaii opens with host Chaminade, and this time it’s Pittsburgh (#43) in Game 3 (9pm ET – ESPNU). A look at the bracket shows that should the Panthers advance tonight as expected, they will be guaranteed two games against good competition. On Tuesday, they will face either San Diego State (#23) or BYU (#49), and a trip to the finals (Wed – 10pm ET – ESPN) would probably mean a meeting with favorite Arizona (#5). These games are of great importance to Pittsburgh, who plays another relatively weak non-conference slate otherwise. The only other game outside the ACC against a top 50 opponent is at Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Last season, it was the lack of quality wins that put the Panthers on the NCAA bubble until their ACC tournament win over North Carolina, so picking up at least one in Maui this week would be very helpful for Jaime Dixon‘s squad.
  2. Cancun Challenge: After a glance at the bracket, the field playing in Riviera Maya, Mexico is very weak compared to the other events this week. As luck would have it, Virginia Tech (#176) is the third highest rated team but they face the favorite, Northern Iowa (#64) in the Tuesday’s opening round (7pm ET – CBS Sports Network). Northwestern (#100) is the only other school in the field ranked in the top-245, so if the Hokies lose their first game they will likely have two games that won’t do much for Virginia Tech’s (or the ACC’s) RPI.
  3. Battle 4 Atlantis: In a few short years, this event has established itself as one of the best early season tournaments, annually loaded with elite programs. This year is no exception with six top-30 schools in the bracket. North Carolina (#15) takes on Butler (#53) in the opening game (Wed – Noon ET – ESPN2) and will face either UCLA (#18) or Oklahoma (#28) after that. If they get to the finals (Fri – 4:30 ET – ESPN), the Tar Heels could have the heavyweight matchup of the entire week, if Wisconsin (#4) makes it there as well. That would arguably give North Carolina the ACC’s “Best Non-conference Schedule” award by a mile. In December, the Tar Heels face Iowa at home (Dec. 3), take a trip to Lexington to take on top-ranked Kentucky (Dec. 13), and then have a neutral site game with Ohio State (Dec. 20).
  4. Orlando Classic: This one doesn’t start until Thanksgiving Day with Georgia Tech (#90) playing Marquette (#113) in the final game of the day (8:30 ET – ESPN2). A win in that one would probably send the Yellow Jackets to a Friday meeting with Michigan State (#13). Along with Kansas (#10), the Spartans are clear co-favorites in this event, with each of those teams trying to rebound from big losses in last week’s Champions Classic. A look at the bracket reveals a moderate field other than those two traditional programs. Of course, Marquette is an interesting opponent for Georgia Tech, now that long time Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski is at the helm of the Golden Eagles. But to beat his old ACC rival, Wojo will need to coax a better performance out of his team than he got this past Saturday, losing at home to Omaha by eight points.
  5. Barclays Center Classic: Virginia (#6) will close out the ACC’s early season tournament participation with a trip to Brooklyn for the Barclays Center Classic. On Friday, the Cavaliers meet LaSalle (#99) in the second game of the night (9:30 ET – NBC Sports Network), with (#94) Vanderbilt playing Rutgers (#124) in the opening semifinal game. The winners will meet Saturday for the championship (9:30 ET – NBC Sports Network) with the Cavaliers being heavy favorites to bring home the title, one week after Duke won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on the same court. The Barclays Center has established itself as a busy destination spot for November college basketball tournaments. In between the two aforementioned weekend events, the Brooklyn arena will host a stacked Progressive Legends Classic, beginning tonight with semifinal match-ups (Villanova vs. VCU, and Michigan vs. Oregon).
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ACC M5: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 17th, 2014

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  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: Louisville’s Rick Pitino came out victorious over Minnesota’s Richard Pitino on Friday night in a U.S. Coast Guard hangar in Puerto Rico, 81-68. Afterward, the elder Pitino admitted that he never wanted to play this game, knowing that a win over his son’s team would cause him so much parental agony. Louisville’s coach also said that Montrezl Harrell was the clear difference between the two teams, as the junior All-America candidate led the way with 30 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Harrell also showed off a newly found outside shooting touch, making 3-of-4 three-point attempts after only hitting a pair of threes all of last season. He appears to have addressed another issue in the offseason as well, as he knocked down 9-of-10 free throws after a woeful season from the stripe last year (46.4%). Already a dominant interior player, this guy may now be almost impossible to defend.
  2. Macon Telegraph: Brian Gregory may have found an answer to Georgia Tech’s offensive problems from a surprising source. Lanky sophomore Quinton Stephens, who scored more than 10 points only once during his rookie campaign, erupted for a game-high 22 in the Yellow Jackets’ 80-73 home win Friday over intrastate rival, Georgia. Stephens connected on an impressive 6-of-8 from three-point land, a positive sign for Gregory’s team, as the team only made 31.5 percent from deep last season.
  3. ESPN.com: Pittsburgh had an unexpected struggle on Sunday afternoon in the Petersen Events Center, holding off Samford, 63-56, in a game where the Panthers never held a double-figure lead against a team picked to finish at the bottom of a weak Southern Conference. In related news, Jamie Dixon announced that junior Durand Johnson has been suspended for the entire 2014-15 season for undisclosed reasons. Johnson missed the second half of last season after tearing his ACL and had been struggling with a bad ankle this preseason, but apparently there is some other issue as Dixon would surely have mentioned his injuries if they were the cause of the suspension. Pittsburgh is allowing Johnson to remain with the program and continue to practice with the team during his suspension.
  4. UND.com: Notre Dame is off to an impressive start to the season, winning two games at home by large margins. On Friday night the Irish blew out Binghamton, 82-39, and then destroyed Navy, 92-53, on Sunday afternoon. This was against the same Navy squad that only lost by five points to Michigan State in Friday night’s opener. It seems that junior Zach Auguste is thriving as the primary post player in Mike Brey’s four-out/one-in lineup this year. Auguste has already set consecutive career high scoring marks with 19 in the opener and 20 against Navy. Keep an eye on the Irish during pre-conference play.
  5. ESPN: The ACC is off to a good start, winning 21 of its 22 opening weekend games. The lone loss came Sunday afternoon in Boston’s TD Garden, as Boston College fell to Massachusetts, 71-62, in the Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader. Coming into Jim Christian’s debut season, the Eagles needed to show some improvement on the defensive end, and they did so in Friday’s opening win over New Hampshire. But they struggled to guard UMass on Sunday without fouling, as the Minutemen shot 46 free throws and outscored the Eagles by 14 points from the foul line.
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Morning Five: 11.17.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 17th, 2014

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  1. College basketball finally got underway, but once again the big news was off the court. Fortunately, this time it was good news (at least for the first part of the Morning Five) as the NCAA cleared TaShawn Thomas to play immediately. Thomas, a transfer from Houston who averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, had been waiting for the NCAA’s decision for six month. His presence makes Oklahoma a legitimate Final Four threat and a threat to end (at least temporarily) Bill Self’s dominance of the Big 12. Thomas’ performance yesterday (four points, three rebounds, and four turnovers) won’t exactly make anybody in Lawrence nervous, but we would give him a pass since he just found out that he was eligible less than 24 hours earlier.
  2. Not all the off court news was positive as Pittsburgh announced that junior Durand Johnson will not play this season due to a suspension for as yet undisclosed reasons. Johnson, who averaged 8.8 points and 3 rebounds per game last season, was expected to play an increased role this season due to losses from graduation/injury. We are not sure what Johnson did to merit the suspension, but we assume it was something recent as beat writers said they had heard nothing of a potential suspension and Johnson was actually featured on the team’s opening game ticket. The situation at Akron is not much better where they suspended All-MAC senior forward Demetrius Treadwell indefinitely for a violation of the school’s code of conduct. Treadwell averaged 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season so obviously this is a huge loss and puts the team in limbo until the matter is adjudicated.
  3. Florida has its first test of the season later today as Miami comes up to Gainesville, but they have already had  some significant developments as Dorian Finney-Smith will be playing with a hairline fracture in his left, non-shooting hand and Dillon Graham announced that he will be transferring at the end of the semester. The significance of Finney-Smith’s injury is unclear as we will need to see how he adapts to the injury. In the long-term, Graham’s decision to transfer (Billy Donovan said his “heart wasn’t into it”) likely won’t matter, but the Gators have a depleted roster early in the season and will only have seven scholarship players available for tonight’s game and that includes an injured Finney-Smith. Once the Gators get back Chris Walker and Alex Murphy from suspension/transfer waiting period, they should be fine, but it could be dicey for the first few games.
  4. Drake suspended seniors Gary Ricks Jr and Karl Madison for three games each for accepting impermissible benefits during the 2012-13 season. What these benefits were remains unknown and since it is Drake basketball (and the Charles Robinsons said of the world probably have no interest in digging into it) will probably remain so. Madison is a role player who averaged just 2.2 points in 16 minutes per game, but Ricks is the team’s top returning scorer at 12.3 points per game while adding 3.8 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs already lost the first of these three games (against Bowling Green) with two more games coming up against DePaul and Western Michigan then they should have the duo back for a home game against IUPUI on November 25.
  5. It might seem early to start thinking about the 2015 Final Four, but the NCAA is already looking well beyond that as they announced the sites for the 2017-2021 Final Fours on Friday. None of the group–Phoenix (2017), San Antonio (2018), Minneapolis (2019), Atlanta (2020), and Indianapolis (2021)– is particularly surprising, but the omission of New Orleans (a favorite of many fans and writers–probably more the latter) and North Texas (aka Dallas-Jerry World, an area too spread out to make it practical) were notable. Otherwise the big take-home was the NCAA’s continued refusal to put the Final Four in the Pacific Time Zone. The last time they did so was 1995 (Seattle) and it has not been west of the Central Time Zone since then.
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ACC Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by mpatton on November 14th, 2014

Over the last two weeks, we have previewed each team individually to go with several more articles to get you ready for ACC basketball (first tip: 6:00 PM ET in Durham). Links to the previews can be found in each of the preseason power rankings listed below. Also look for our preseason conference awards which will publish later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Duke Blue Devils 1. Duke (58): Everyone knows about the freshmen, and they are sensational. But are Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon ready to put together a consistent season from start to finish? That answer may determine whether the Blue Devils are Final Four-bound or facing another early departure from the Tourney.
Virginia Cavaliers T2. Virginia (53): Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell didn’t light up the scoreboard in Charlottesville, but their leadership and savvy was key in Virginia’s magical run last year. Can Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson assume larger roles and keep Tony Bennett‘s team in the national limelight?
North Carolina Tar Heels T2. North Carolina (53): Everyone knows about Marcus Paige, and the Tar Heels should be better at the line and from three with the addition of some talented freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have to bring it every night in the paint for this team to reach its potential.
LouisvilleLogo 4. Louisville (52): The Cardinals probably have as good a shot as any of the top four. While they will have to learn how to play a new set of conference opponents in unfamiliar arenas, the ACC will have to adjust to Rick Pitino’s style of pressure defense with multiple schemes. Most of the key contributors are now gone from the 2012-13 National Championship squad, but the program brings a culture used to winning at the highest level.
Syracuse Orange 5. Syracuse (42): There are a lot of questions about the Orange after Tyler Ennis’ and Jerami Grant’s early departures. Jim Boeheim has a talented team that won’t be an easy out, but there are a lot of questions about how the offense will run with another freshman, Kaleb Joseph, at the helm.
Florida State Seminoles 6. Florida State (38): The Seminoles haven’t been their usual defensive selves the past two seasons, but this year Leonard Hamilton has three experienced big men along with a cadre of long perimeter players. Aaron Thomas may be the most underrated player in the ACC, which bodes well for things in Tallahassee this year.
Pittsburgh Panthers 7. Pittsburgh (37)Jamie Dixon has a tradition of replacing departed stars with veterans. For Pitt to win games against the ACC’s elite, Cameron Wright and James Robinson must continue that trend and get some help, maybe a year earlier than the norm, from the talented sophomore class. One would think they are due for a healthier year than last, when midseason injuries really set the team back.
NC State Wolfpack 8. NC State (34): T.J. Warren is gone, so this team has to find its offense by committee. Tyler Lewis is too, so Cat Barber will have to be efficient and also seek his own shot. The maturation of a young frontcourt will be key. Mark Gottfried has historically impressed with low expectations.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9. Notre Dame (32): It won’t be a surprise if Zach Auguste makes a big jump in production as a junior, but beyond that is nothing but unproven post players. With the perimeter filled with talent and experience, keeping Auguste healthy and out of foul trouble may be the key as the Irish try to make a dramatic jump in the standings. Jerian Grant is a contender for ACC Player of the Year.
Miami Hurricanes 10. Miami (25): Arguably the best coaching job in the country last year happened in Coral Gables. If Jim Larranaga gets this team to improve, the Hurricanes will be significantly better than many expect. Manu Lacomte needs to make the leap and lead a young team in a very tough conference.
Clemson Tigers 11. Clemson (18): Brad Brownell showed that even without a ton of obvious roster talent, the Tigers will be competitive — especially on defense. This season he has to prove that again without K.J. McDaniels. It’s unclear who the go-to player will be, so Clemson’s offense could hold this team back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 12. Wake Forest (17): Wake may be ready for a solid rise in the ACC standings as early as next year. This year will be a challenge, but momentum could be built towards a good 2015-16 season. Juniors Devin Thomas on the inside and Cody Miller-McIntyre in the backcourt will dictate how good this team is.
Boston College 13. Boston College (12): A year and coach removed from last year’s disappointing effort leave a lot of questions in Chestnut Hill. Olivier Hanlan will always be worth the price of admission, but he may not have enough supporting cast to escape the dregs of the ACC unless Dennis Clifford can finally stay healthy.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (10): It’s really hard to see Brian Gregory surviving as coach here if the Yellow Jackets don’t make the postseason this season. It’s also hard to see this Georgia Tech team finishing in the top half of the ACC, which is what it would probably take to get that NCAA bid — or even a trip to the NIT. The odds of Gregory being in Atlanta after March 2015 are not very good.
Virginia Tech Hokies 15. Virginia Tech (6): Virginia Tech will again be among the cellar-dwellers in the ACC, but at least it has come cachet with the hiring of Buzz Williams. They’ll be serviceable in the backcourt with Devin Wilson returning, but it will be a year or two before we can evaluate the viability of the Hokies as competitive in the conference.

Miscellaneous Power Rankings Notes:

  • Coach K reloadsDuke was the top choice again this year with another one-and-done big man, but the Blue Devils weren’t the unanimous pick. Virginia and Louisville both got a first place vote.
  • Clear Contenders: North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia (in some order) rounded out everyone’s top four, marking a distinct upper tier in the conference.
  • Media/Microsite solidarity: For the second season in a row, no teams differed from the preseason media poll by more than two spots.
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ACC Preview: Pittsburgh’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Pittsburgh overcome key personnel losses and injuries to compete with the ACC’s big boys?

Last year was Pittsburgh’s first season in the ACC, and the Panthers came out of the gate like gangbusters, winning 18 of their first 20 games and starting conference play with a 6-1 record. Then things headed south as Jamie Dixon’s squad limped home, finishing fifth in the league with an 11-7 mark. There was even some talk that Pittsburgh was on the bubble before they won two games in the ACC Tournament to secure an NCAA bid. Now the Panthers are ready for a second go-round in an improved ACC, but without the services of last year’s two best players, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.

Jamie Dixon's Team Was Beyond Impressive on Thursday Afternoon (US Presswire)

Jamie Dixon’s Team Has Already Suffered Some Key Injuries in the Preseason (US Presswire)

The explanation for last year’s dropoff midway through the ACC season was twofold. The primary reason was a series of injuries that ran through the squad like a mini-epidemic. Durand Johnson was Pitt’s third-leading scorer when he tore his ACL in a January win over Wake Forest, immediately ending his season. While his was the only major injury, the team was soon beset by nagging ailments that seemed to hit at the same time. Patterson was mentioned as a possible ACC Player of the Year candidate before a hand injury caused the senior to lose his shooting touch. Zanna played through a severe ankle sprain, but the injury zapped him of his explosiveness and caused the Panthers staples — interior defense and rebounding — to suffer immensely. Others that played hurt were freshmen Michael Young (back) and Chris Jones (thumb). The second problem was that the schedule got tougher after that excellent ACC start, and the Panthers subsequently went 0-5 against the ACC’s top four teams. That issue, combined with an extremely weak non-conference slate (278th nationally), is what put Pitt in the position of needing quality wins in Greensboro to ensure a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers got that cherished victory when they barely held off North Carolina in the ACC quarterfinals. Can Dixon’s squad avoid the same scenario this season?

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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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ACC M5: 11.05.14 Exhibition Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2014

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  1. Pittsburgh: On Halloween night, Pittsburgh tipped off its preseason with a 72-58 exhibition win over Division II Indiana (PA) at the Petersen Events Center, and sophomore forward Michael Young looks like he may be ready for a breakout year. Most people don’t know that Young played through pain for much of the latter part of his freshman campaign after suffering a small stress fracture in his back. In his postgame comments, Jamie Dixon seemed optimistic about the potential of a healthy Young and his other big men, assuming they improve their defense.
  2. Louisville: Louisville relied on its pressure defense to top Barry, 91-71, on Saturday afternoon in the KFC Yum! Center, and afterward Rick Pitino discussed his team’s progress in this postgame video. Specifically, he credited the Division II Buccaneers with exposing a major rebounding problem on his squad, as the Cardinals gave up an astounding 29 offensive boards. Of course, part of the reason there were so many second chance opportunities for Barry was that Louisville held Barry to 33.3 percent field-goal shooting. Still, in order to get out in transition the way Pitino wants his team to run, the Cards must shore up that clear flaw on the defensive boards.
  3. Notre Dame: In another Saturday exhibition, Notre Dame used a balanced attack to best Minnesota-Duluth, 88-71, at the Joyce Center. Mike Brey was encouraged by the performances of his point guard, Demetrius Jackson, and big man, Zach Auguste. With established senior leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton manning the wing, the play of Jackson and Auguste could be the difference as the Irish try to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, Auguste will shoot better from the foul line than the 3-for-9 performance he delivered in this contest, but based on last year’s foul shooting mark (48%), this may not be a solvable problem for the junior.
  4. Syracuse: Coming off a rough week dealing with the NCAA Infractions Committee, Syracuse almost had an equally alarming start this week. The Orange needed to rally from a 15-point deficit to overtake traditional Canadian college basketball power, Carleton, by a score of 76-68. Freshman Kaleb Joseph will be in the spotlight this year, taking over the point guard job from Tyler Ennis. The good news is that the rookie showed gerat promise, leading the team to the win with 19 points. A couple of concerns for the Orange, though, were their huge deficit in total rebounds (45-31) and poor shooting (0-6 FG) by Trevor Cooney.
  5. Duke: On Tuesday night in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke rolled Livingstone in its first exhibition game of the year, 115-58. The much ballyhooed freshmen class performed well, with three of the group scoring in double-figures and the fourth, Tyus Jones, handing out 11 assists. A surprise starter this year apparently will be Matt Jones. Most pundits expected either senior Quinn Cook or junior Rasheed Sulaimon, or perhaps even both, to be starters when this season got under way, but the veteran guards came off the bench in this contest. On the other hand, the sophomore Jones helped his cause, burying 5-of-8 three-point attempts after only making 3-of-21 during his entire freshman year. The Blue Devils should face a tougher test in Saturday’s second and final exhibition game, when they take on defending NCAA Division II national champion Central Missouri.
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What’s on the Mind of the 15 ACC Programs Right Now

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 17th, 2014

With the start of the ACC college basketball season rapidly approaching, allow us to put on our psychoanalyst’s hat to determine what’s on the mind of each of its 15 member programs right now. Some are of the optimistic variety, while others are fearful at what they see lying ahead. All of them, though, are hoping to contribute to discussions lauding the ACC as the nation’s preeminent college basketball conference this year. Let’s jump into each program alphabetically.

  • Boston College: Blind optimism. The reality is that the Eagles, even with an all-ACC caliber star in Olivier Hanlan, are likely one of the three worst teams in the conference. But there’s a new coach around in Jim Christian, and thanks to the usual roster turnover, few remaining pieces to recall the 8-24 debacle of a year ago. Buying in to a new coach and system may not be a problem, but production on the court will continue to be.
  • Clemson: Loss. That loss is a huge one, in the departure of NBA draft pick K.J. McDaniels, who was their best player on both sides of the ball last year and led the team in four statistical categories. A 10-win improvement from the year before earned Brad Brownell a six-year contract extension, but how will this team score enough to win even if it replicates its defensive success of a year ago?
Jim Christian's hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC's fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

Jim Christian hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC’s fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)

  • Duke: Motivation. Not just because of a stellar recruiting class that includes their first dominant center in some time in Jahlil Okafor and the overall potential to be in the mix for a championship. There’s also the internal motivation for Quinn Cook to keep a hold on the starting point guard role in light of the arrival of stud freshman Tyus Jones, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s motivation to show that an early-season slump last year (temporarily earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse) was an aberration. Oh, and that first round NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer could light a fire of some sort, too.

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ACC M5: Midnight Madness Edition

Posted by @bradjenk on October 17th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. TarHeelBlog: Once upon a time, the first Friday after the official start date of practice (October 15) was when almost every college basketball squad held their version of “Midnight Madness.” But now that the NCAA rules allow for limited practices to be conducted several weeks earlier, many schools have moved their season opening gala-style events to accommodate that change. North Carolina was one of the schools that decided to get their event out of the way early this year. “Late Night With Roy” was held in the Smith Center on Friday, October 3, and according to Brian Barbour, the heralded Tar Heels freshman class may be as good as advertised, especially wing scorer supreme, Justin Jackson. Another star of the scrimmage was sophomore big man Kennedy Meeks. Not only did he look to be in better shape on the court after significant weight loss over the summer, Meeks stole the show with a Whitney Houston lip-synching performance during the pre-scrimmage part of the evening.
  2. NBCSports: Clemson was another ACC school that decided to have its night of madness early. Last Friday, the Tigers held their annual “Rock The John” at Littlejohn Coliseum. As this post suggests, it could be that Brad Brownell has found a surprising new long-range shooting threat, and he certainly could use one. Last year the Tigers finished last in the ACC in three-point shooting at 29.4 percent in conference games. I won’t spoil the surprise of who that might be, but their new marksman is not currently on the team roster but could be asked to walk on.
  3. LocalSyr.com: A couple of ACC teams will be conducting “Madness” during the traditional Friday slot tonight. Syracuse is one of those schools, holding its “Orange Madness” this evening in the Carrier Dome. The listed schedule of events includes a legends scrimmage featuring numerous Orange alumni, including Pearl Washington. Syracuse coaches hope freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph is able to start his career as productively as “The Pearl” did back in the 80s and as well as Tyler Ennis did for the Orange last year.
  4. GoPack.com: N.C. State is one of six NCAA schools that will have its big event shown in its entirety on ESPN3 tonight. “Throwback With The Pack” will be held at historic Reynolds Coliseum, which will be undergoing a major renovation in 2015. While no longer the home of Wolfpack basketball other than an occasional early season non-conference game, Reynolds is one of the game’s classic old arenas with a rich tradition forged by some of the legends of Tobacco Road. Some of those legends will be returning for tonight’s event, including stars David Thompson and Tommy Burleson, a pair of whom led N.C. State to its first NCAA Championship in 1974.
  5. PittsburghPanthers.com: Pittsburgh deserves credit for putting on the event it will on Sunday. Jamie Dixon’s squad will be hosting the “Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair/Fan Fest/Blue-Gold Scrimmage” at the Petersen Event Center, an event that combines health awareness and fan activities along with the basketball part of the day. The Health Fair is in honor of Dixon’s younger sister who tragically died at the age of 28 in 2006. Hats off to Pittsburgh for having an event that goes well beyond the notion of just exciting students, fans and recruits.
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Morning Five: 09.29.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 29th, 2014

morning5

  1. Pittsburgh suffered a significant blow when it announced that fifth-year senior Cameron Wright would be out for ten weeks after undergoing surgery on his broken left foot on Friday. Wright averaged 10.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game last season and is the Panthers’ leading returning scorer after scoring just 4.3 points per game as a sophomore. Wright is expected to return just before Christmas meaning that he will miss the team’s Maui Invitational trip and their  ACC/Big Ten Challenge match-up against Indiana, but should be back in time for the start of ACC play.
  2. Ty Hudson, one of the top point guards in the class of 2015, committed to Clemson on Saturday giving Brad Brownell his first commitment in the class of 2015. Hudson committed while on his official visit at Clemson, but the bigger factor was probably the team’s new assistant–Ritchie Riley–who had recruited Hudson while he was an assistant at UAB and is widely attributed as the driving force behind Hudson’s decision to go to Clemson. Hudson had also been looking at Mississippi, Oklahoma State, and South Florida.
  3. ESPN will have a new voice on-air next season as Jim Calhoun will be working with the network. Calhoun, who has been promoting a documentary in advance of its premiere next week, has not finalize the details of what his work will entail, but he is expected to be doing studio work at ESPN. We never know how coaches will translate to television, but after the Bob Knight experience the past few years we are looking forward to seeing Calhoun on TV particularly when he is talking about that team from upstate New York.
  4. Carlton Bragg, a consensus top-20 player in the class of 2015, will take a visit to UCLA on October 31 after having an in-home visit with Steve Alford. Bragg, a 6’8″ power forward out of Ohio, has narrowed down his list to Arizona, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and UCLA. He already has two visits set up at Kansas (October 10) and Kentucky (October 17) so this would be his third planned visit, but according to reports Bragg does not plan on committing until the late signing period so we would not expect an announcement any time soon.
  5. Former Louisville commit Antonio Blakeney has set-up visits at Missouri (October 17) and LSU (November 7). Blakeney as you may remember backed out of his commitment to Louisville less than two weeks after his initial commitment. As we have stated before, many suspect his recruitment is being influenced by Blakeney’s Nike AAU connections, which was obviously in conflict with Louisville’s adidas contract. The other two schools on Blakeney’s list–Kentucky and Oregon–are also Nike schools so you can figure that this will be followed closely by fans on all sides.
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