ACC M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Sporting News: Even before Duke manufactured an impressive comeback for Mike Krzyzewski‘s 1,000th win on Sunday, Mike DeCourcy made the case that Coach K is the best coach ever in college basketball. Specifically, DeCourcy makes the case for the ACC legend over John Wooden and his 10 national titles. The problem is (and this is part of his argument) that the game is simply incomparable now to that of UCLA’s heyday. Truthfully, it’s totally different than it was even 15 years ago. And that’s the best argument in favor of Coach K (if you’re one to compare apples and oranges), as he’s succeeded over a huge range of time. He’s easily the most accomplished coach of the modern era, but I’m not ready to sharpie him in over the likes of Bob Knight, Dean Smith or John Wooden in the history books. Each ruled an era and changed the game in their own images. That’s good enough for me.
  2. Syracuse Post-Standard: Jim Boeheim got a little salty (and rightfully so) that big man Rakeem Christmas was left off the Wooden Award watch list, calling him “probably the best center in the country.” That’s a pretty bold statement with Duke’s Jahlil Okafor playing in the same conference, but it’s true Christmas hasn’t been getting the national credit he deserves for putting up nearly identical numbers to Okafor (marginally fewer points and a little lower percentages, but better defense). Christmas is averaging 18/9 on 60 percent shooting this season, nearly doubling his usage without seeing much of a hit in his efficiency (although his block percentage is down). Here’s to hoping ACC voters give Christmas his due come all-ACC voting season.
  3. Soaring to Glory: So this article is both weirdly pessimistic and optimistic. About Boston College’s current players, it’s very pessimistic. That’s fair considering last season’s dumpster fire, but there’s more talent on this year’s team than say… Virginia Tech. But the roster is pretty thin thanks to Steve Donahue signing no one of consequence and a couple of transfers out of the program. But it’s at least tentatively optimistic on the prospects of first-year head coach, Jim Christian. This year’s group is playing with more heart than last year’s squad, but it’s hard to say how much of that comes from the top and how much comes from the change in player personnel. I think the Eagles are likely better off in the long run with Christian, but until we see what sorts of players he’ll bring to Chestnut Hill, it’s tough to get overly optimistic. In addition to offensive Xs and Os, Donahue excelled at finding “diamonds in the rough” (like Olivier Hanlan); he just couldn’t fill out an ACC-quality roster. Christian isn’t the type of guy who will be in the running for many four-star players, so he’s got to have good evaluation skills to succeed there.
  4. Tallahassee Democrat: Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes is starting to live up to his high school scouting report and fill up the scoring column. He’s still not a good shooter from long range, but he’s averaging 18.5 points a game in ACC play and was lethal against North Carolina over the weekend. Rathan-Mayes is apparently very open to coaching, which is good because he’s also prone to heat checks. You get the feeling that he’s got a chance to be a very special player in Tallahassee if he keeps on this trajectory.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: North Carolina is starting to pile up injuries on the wings that could make running challenging. Theo Pinson broke a bone in his foot, so he’s now sidelined along with Joel Berry and Stilman White. The good news for Tar Heels faithful is that the injury bug has mostly avoided the starters (although Marcus Paige is a little banged up). The bad news is that Berry and Pinson need the playing time to improve (and to give Roy Williams the rotation he likes).
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ACC Stock Watch: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 23rd, 2015

Some of the ACC’s squads righted the ship in a relatively quiet week, while still others affirmed their descent to the cellar of the conference standings. With six weeks remaining in the regular season, there is still plenty of time for teams to ascend or plummet, and we’ll continue to track their progress on a week-to-week basis. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • North Carolina. While the Tar Heels’ win over Virginia Tech was less than enthralling, their more impressive road win over a Wake Forest team that was competitive with both Duke and Louisville at home lends credence to the notion that they may be hitting their stride. However, mounting injuries in the backcourt are a concern for Roy Williams.
  • Duke. After the entire college basketball nation wondered what was wrong with the Blue Devils with consecutive losses to NC State and Miami, Duke responded with an impressive road win over Louisville and an easy dismantling of Pittsburgh on Monday night. Coach K may have found some defensive relief with the zone he’s employed much more heavily in the past two contests.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Jackson’s emergence over the last week has finally given everyone a glimpse into the player he can become: an efficient offensive threat to complement Marcus Paige on the perimeter. In wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest this week, he scored 33 points on a combined 11-of-18 shooting (3-of-6 from three).
Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. The Blue Devils’ freshman point guard endured a rough initiation to ACC play but rebounded with two strong efforts this week. His 10-point, eight-assist performance in a hostile environment at Louisville was steady and important, but he really broke out with a 22-point effort against Pittsburgh, including four three-pointers. Jones made his recent freshman jitters appear to be just that, rebounding individually very nicely along with his team.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. His week began by being named ACC Player of the Week on January 19 and ended with a demonstration on just how important he is to this Syracuse team. Riddled with foul trouble and available for only 23 minutes, the Orange’s big man still contributed 12 points and seven boards against Boston College. His absence made it possible for the Eagles to hang around in that game, showing once again that Jim Boeheim doesn’t have many options outside of his star center.

Flat

  • Clemson. Holding serve against Syracuse at home was nice, but losing to Florida State was something the Tigers couldn’t afford. Clemson still appears to be a team trending towards the bottom of the standings as its inconsistent offense remains a major issue.
  • Syracuse. 5-1 in the ACC and not trending up? Get back to me when the Orange actually beat a good team. While it was nice that Jim Boeheim’s team held on against Boston College with Rakeem Christmas barely on the floor (see above), this team had better improve dramatically before it enters the final phase of a lopsided schedule (its final seven games include Duke twice, Louisville, Virginia, and Notre Dame). Having one of the least productive benches in the country doesn’t bode well for the Orange’s NCAA Tourney chances.

Trending Down

  • Louisville. Perhaps the loss to Duke wasn’t unexpected with the Blue Devils coming off of consecutive defeats, but the Cardinals’ continued offensive struggles is a major concern. They’re still only shooting 42.7 percent as a team, and Rick Pitino can’t seem to find consistent shot-making from Chris Jones or Wayne Blackshear. Their admittedly outstanding defense can only carry them so far in a conference this loaded with offensive talent.
There are suddenly serious questions marks about Montrezl Harrell and the Cardinals (credit: adam creech)

There are suddenly serious questions marks about Montrezl Harrell and the Cardinals (credit: adam creech)

  • Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ 8-10 overall record and 0-5 ACC start aren’t a surprise, but with the recent announcement that leading rebounder Joey Van Zegeren is leaving the team, their outlook for the remainder of the season became even more bleak. The notion was that Buzz Williams could perhaps coax some surprises out of this roster, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • Georgia Tech. Now 0-6 in the ACC. And yes, Virginia is a great team, but scoring a mere 28 points for an entire game (12 in the second half)? Brian Gregory’s team may not be able to recover from such an awful start to the conference season. The Yellow Jackets are at or near the bottom in the ACC in both scoring and stopping their opponents from doing so. That translates to 0-6.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. As we noted last week, it’s not just that his shots and productivity are down; but now the junior has been stripped of his captaincy by Rick Pitino (later clarified, to some extent, by Pitino on his radio show). Even if this maneuver was a mutual decision or some kind of motivational ploy, it’s not a good sign for the Cardinals if their star needs to tone down his act. Coupled with his earlier suspension for throwing an elbow, Harrell is on the precipice of becoming a bit of a malcontent to the detriment of his team’s success.
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ACC Weekend Review: 01.19.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2015

In the headline match-up of the weekend, Duke ended its two-game losing streak with a surprisingly comfortable win at Louisville on Saturday. But the bigger surprise was how the Blue Devils did it, going almost exclusively with a 2-3 zone defense that was incredibly effective against the cold-shooting Cardinals. Notre Dame rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to beat Miami in South Bend on Saturday, keeping the Irish in second place in the league standings behind undefeated Virginia. The Cavaliers also had to mount a second half comeback to overtake Boston College Saturday afternoon in Conte Forum. In other games over the weekend, Syracuse dropped its first league game of the year at Clemson; N.C. State picked up a road win versus Florida State; and North Carolina and Pittsburgh each won home games against a pair of conference winless clubs, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Here are some other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Notre Dame's Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday's win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant broke out in a big way in Saturday’s win over Miami. (USA Today Images)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Jerian Grant had scored a total of only 26 points in his previous three games, but the senior guard broke out of his mini-slump with a huge effort against Miami on Saturday. The ACC Player of the Year candidate finished with an efficient 25 points that came on 8-of-10 field goal shooting. He also passed out eight assists and was part of a perimeter defense that held Hurricanes’ guard Angel Rodriguez in check. Rodriguez had torched Duke in his previous game with 24 points, but only managed four points on 1-of-10 shooting Saturday. Grant was also the difference down the stretch as his three broke a tie with 6:19 left and he also scored a layup and blocked a shot in the last minute to seal the win.
  • Best Win: After looking nothing like a championship contender in its two prior outings, Duke got back on track with a mild upset at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center on Saturday. After an all-night coaches’ meeting following Duke’s home debacle versus Miami, Mike Krzyzewski abandoned the Blue Devils’ trademark pressure man-to-man defense to instead play a 2-3 zone against the Cardinals. While it was a big surprise to most of us, the zone was not totally unexpected by Louisville’s Rick Pitino, who said afterwards, “Duke is a team that never plays zone… and that’s what I would have done if I were in [Mike Krzyzewski’s] shoes.” Pitino is no doubt referring to his team’s lack of perimeter shooting, which finished a chilly 4-of-25 on three-pointers against the Devils. Ironically, Duke looked a lot more like a recent-vintage Syracuse team, with the Blue Devils playing deliberately on the offensive end to go along with the newly-installed zone defense.

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ACC M5: 01.15.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 15th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlotte Observer and Sporting News: So, what should we make of Duke‘s back-to-back losses to NC State and Miami? Mike Krzyzewski thinks Duke has a confidence problem. Tom Gatto thinks it may be more serious than that. Both may be right. Duke is in a tough spot. If it is confidence, the upcoming schedule isn’t exactly a cake walk (four of the next five are on the road, including games at Louisville, Notre Dame, and Virginia). That means Coach K needs to find a way to inspire his team or risk a really bad stretch that could derail a season. But this Duke team is still really, really good. It’s not a finished product, but the pieces are all there.
  2. Riddick and Reynolds: Hopefully the future leadership of the NC State Technician reads James Curle’s thoughtful piece on doing the satirical “Daily Tar Hell” edition for next year. This is the second straight year NC State’s student newspaper opted to avoid the parody, which is too bad. Ravi Chittilla’s response is a reasonable one. National newspapers aren’t doing great these days, much less college ones. But I’m sure there are some passionate NC State alumni who would help finance the venture through crowdfunding.
  3. Indianapolis Star: Bad news out of South Bend as Zach Auguste is suspended indefinitely for academic issues. Notre Dame plays everything close to the vest so don’t expect many details leaking out. It’s a good sign he’s still enrolled (the school has a very strict honor code), but that may mean it’s something that is being appealed or something related to the NCAA instead of the school. While the Fighting Irish managed to beat Georgia Tech, Auguste was a very high usage player that will be impossible to replace.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: Rakeem Christmas put on a show in order to beat Wake Forest in overtime. This isn’t the first time his development has showed up in the Morning Five (and it probably won’t be the last), but Christmas is earning himself some money the way he’s playing this year. While his field goal percentage isn’t quite as gaudy, Christmas’s scoring and rebounding numbers look a lot like Jahlil Okafor’s. Syracuse isn’t great this season, but as long as they can steal a win against a good team, they’ve done well enough in close games to be on the bubble.
  5. Orlando Sun Sentinel: Miami‘s been up and down this season (having mercurial star players will do that), but the Hurricanes are young. As Jim Larranaga said, “We’re still on the ground floor.” Larranaga has cobbled together one of the better teams in the ACC, recruiting transfers and international players especially. This team is only going to get better next year. That’s what should worry ACC opponents (especially those normally residing in Durham). Even if Larranaga plans on retiring in four or five years, he’s made Miami into a much better job than it was when he took it. Success should mean decent fan support (Miami is and always will be a pro sport town), and that will only help.
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ACC M5: 01.09.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 9th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Hampton Roads Daily Press: How good is Virginia‘s defense? Consider that the Cavaliers have held 39 straight conference opponents to under 50 percent shooting. That’s unreal. The only two teams I see with a chance at ending that streak this year are Duke and Notre Dame. But it’s a testament to the pack-line defense, which has been brutally effective since Tony Bennett got to Charlottesville. Relatedly, WatchESPN did a pretty good halftime piece on Bennett’s defense with Darian Atkins and Malcolm Brogdon showing Jay Williams and Shane Battier how it works.
  2. Miami Herald: Miami basketball alumnus Darius Rice is still working towards his dream of playing in the NBA. He graduated from Miami way back in 2004, but still hasn’t found his way onto an NBA roster despite size with three-point range, and he is getting to the point where his big break needs to come soon. His professional career reads like a traveler’s fantasy, but what’s most irritating about Rice’s story is how he has excelled in the D-League (including a 52-point game in the championship), almost proving that the NBA doesn’t take it seriously. Here’s to hoping his status as an ACC legend (despite only playing in the Big East) gets him that one last shot.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: Wake Forest’s Devin Thomas made Duke’s Jahlil Okafor look like a freshman on Wednesday night. Thomas outhustled the Duke phenom all night, using his veteran strength and confidence to gain the upper hand. What was striking was how poorly Okafor passed out of the double-team. To be fair, Thomas also got the best of fellow All-American candidate Montrezl Harrell earlier in the week. Everyone has bad games, and it looks like Okafor recognizes that (he still ended up with a double-double), but Duke’s season will ultimately depend on how he responds to this sort of adversity. Any possession he doesn’t get a touch is a mistake, but Okafor has to fight for position to earn that touch too.
  4. Durham Herald Sun: Theo Pinson may be the answer to some of North Carolina’s struggles, at least against below-average defensive teams. The sample size is small and bear with me here through some Bzdelik-ian logic. If you remove Ohio State and Clemson (the two top-100 defensive teams Pinson has played against) and Pinson is shooting nearly 80 percent from the field (and most of his misses were threes). Obviously you can’t just ignore good defenses in the statistical profile, but Pinson’s aggressive play could be the answer to North Carolina’s offensive struggles. However, his three-point shooting will not plug the most gaping hole for the Tar Heels.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Rakeem Christmas‘ improvement has been astounding. Brian Tahmosh takes care of the per-game statistics (along with some comparisons to other Syracuse stars), but think about this: Christmas has nearly doubled his usage with only a small decrease in efficiency. He’s essentially the exact same player he was last year except that he’s taking more than twice as many shots. Oh, and he’s a better rebounder and distributor. That’s just insane.
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ACC Stock Watch: Holiday Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 26th, 2014

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

Trending Up

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

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

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

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ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

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

Top of the Class

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

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

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

Those With Potential

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ACC Stock Watch: Week Three

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 5th, 2014

After two weeks of some mediocre non-conference competition along with some enlightening Feast Week match-ups, the conference found itself in familiar territory battling its peers in the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The games featured there, along with the few that preceded it, continue to shine a light on the teams and players in the conference who are rising, falling, or simply standing still. Here’s the third weekly edition of our ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. No one had a better week than the Blue Devils’ freshman point guard. After a sizzling 16 points and 10 assists in a win over Army earlier this week, Jones put the team on his back to help Duke defeat the nation’s fourth-ranked team on the road. His 22 points helped to offset an average game from the more-ballyhooed Jahlil Okafor, who posted 13 points while battling underneath with the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky all night. More impressive than his numbers was his poise down the stretch and how efficiently he ran the Duke offense all night long. The first true road test was little test at all for this standout freshman.
  • Wayne Blackshear, Louisville. Terry Rozier hit the big shots at the end of the game in the Cardinals’ win over Ohio State on Tuesday night, but it was Blackshear’s breakout performance that made the biggest impact. Long a player with high upside but inconsistent production, Blackshear’s all-around game against the Buckeyes (22 points, 4-of-8 from three, six rebounds) was the kind of contribution that Rick Pitino and Louisville has been waiting for from the senior.
Wayne Blackshear's big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville (USAToday Sports)

Wayne Blackshear’s big night is hopefully a sign of more good things to come for Louisville fans (USAToday Sports)

  • Duke. What can really be said about the scariest team in the country not located in Lexington? Duke went into a very difficult road environment in Madison, Wisconsin, and merely shot 65 percent from the field and used its talented freshmen trio to overcome the veteran stars of the Badgers. They’re as efficient an offensive team as there is in college basketball right now.
  • Miami. While the buzzer-beater win over Florida has now lost some of its luster, the Hurricanes just keep on winning. After dispatching an overmatched South Alabama team, Miami held Illinois (a team averaging 90 points per game coming in) to only 61 in its win in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The transfers are everything Jim Larranaga could have hoped they’d be, and holders Manu Lecomte and Tonye Jekiri are flourishing in complementary roles.

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ACC Preview: Syracuse’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on November 14th, 2014

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

Can Jim Boeheim recreate last year’s magic with another freshman point guard?

Only two ACC teams in history have ever started a season better than 25-0, soo Syracuse joined the record books with its impossible start last season. But the Orange quickly crashed back to earth in February and March, going 3-6 down the stretch after picking up their first loss at home to a bad Boston College team. The finish would have been disappointing no matter the start, but the 25-game winning streak blew everyone’s expectations way out of proportion. A lot went right to get to 25-0; most importantly, Tyler Ennis was ready to take the reins from day one and improve where Michael Carter-Williams left off.

Jim Boeheim has more questions than answers heading into this season (US Presswire).

Jim Boeheim has more questions than answers heading into this season (US Presswire).

It might have been the perfect start that gave Ennis the chance to be one-and-done instead of staying two or even three years. He got reams of national coverage and his draft stock rose with each win as Carter-Williams flourished in the NBA. His good fortune leaves Boeheim in a familiar but risky situation, though, needing to start again from scratch with freshman Kaleb Joseph asked to handle the point guard duties. Last year’s frontcourt stars Jerami Grant and CJ Fair also left for the NBA, but those losses will be countered, at least partially, by consensus top-25 recruit Chris McCullough. McCullough and Rakeem Christmas will comprise a solid ACC frontcourt, and even though it’s hard to know how quickly McCullough will learn the defensive schemes, his reputation as a transition scorer along with Syracuse’s general lack of frontcourt depth means he’ll play right away. Dajuan Coleman would be a huge asset this season, but he’s still recovering from knee surgery. If Coleman can’t go, Christmas has to learn to cut down on his fouls because Boeheim will need him to play 30 minutes per game. Sophomore Tyler Roberson will also see some time, but his offense leaves much to be desired.

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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 Regular Season Crown at Stake: Previewing Syracuse vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Chris Kehoe on February 28th, 2014

Saturday’s game between Virginia and Syracuse will crown this season’s ACC champion, but it’s also a showcase of two teams coming in with very different levels of confidence. While Virginia is riding a hot 12-game winning streak, Syracuse is entering the contest having lost two of its last three games. Both of these teams play notoriously slow, but the likelihood of this one becoming a runaway in either team’s favor is also highly unlikely. While Syracuse is quite literally one of the slowest teams in the nation, Virginia is only one spot ahead of the Orange, ranking 344th in adjusted tempo out of 351 total teams.

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular-season title in its first ACC season (apsports.com)

A rejuvenated Tyler Ennis is paramount to Syracuse securing a regular season title in its first ACC season. (apsports.com)

Over the last few weeks, Syracuse has eked by in numerous close victories with controversial finishes before managing to drop its first two games of the season in both embarrassing (Boston College) and enraging (Duke) fashion. Tyler Ennis’ seeming invincibility has worn off somewhat as he has cooled off offensively, showing a human side to his unshakably calm demeanor. Part of Syracuse’s weakened state can be attributed to one of head coach Jim Boeheim’s major criticisms: an unbalanced and back-loaded schedule that has Syracuse finishing its inaugural ACC season with four of its last five games on the road. Syracuse’s play of late even has some ESPN analysts like John Gasaway indirectly stating that it may be the first #1 seed to ever fall to a #16, showing just how far the national perception of the Orange has fallen over the recent bumpy stretch.

On the flip side of the coin, Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad is riding an epic wave of momentum that is well on its way to carrying his team to its first sole claim on the ACC regular season title in over three decades. Virginia has won a school record 17 straight games at home and is sitting in sole possession of first place in the ACC at 15-1. Since a brutal 35-point road loss to Tennessee before the new year, Virginia appears the part of a conference champion, winning numerous low-scoring affairs with stifling defense (no ACC opponent has score more than 70 points). Unlike Syracuse’s schedule, the Cavaliers have the boon of three of their last four ACC contests occurring at home in John Paul Jones Arena. While Virginia may not have a single elite scoring option like the Orange’s C.J. Fair, leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon is more than capable of taking over a game and the Cavaliers boast three players who average between 7.9 and 11.5 PPG. So while Syracuse comes into Charlottesville with their pride wounded after a scorching start, Virginia’s confidence has never been higher in its attempt to prevent a newcomer from claiming the conference title in its first season.

ACC Microwriters Chris Kehoe and Lathan Wells will focus in on the key questions surrounding this marquee ACC match-up, tipping off at 4:00 PM ET on Saturday (ESPN).

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ACC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 20th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Baltimore Sun: Jay Williams made a comment about how Maryland was playing “a little bit tight” and wondered if it had to do with Mark Turgeon‘s willingness to bench players who make mistakes. It’s an interesting thought. Certainly benching players means those players can’t produce, and if benching or coaching tirades are too frequent, I think they could affect a player’s confidence. But I doubt that’s a frequent problem. Now, micromanaging games from the sideline — that is a problem.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Travis McKie‘s production is down a lot this season. A smart man once told me something that makes lots of sense. McKie thrived at the four. Now, forced to play the three, he’s struggling (at least in comparison to his superb sophomore campaign). Maybe it’s because of his defenders’ quickness. Maybe it’s because he is now forced to play farther from the basket. I don’t think Codi Miller-McIntyre’s offensive surge is part of the problem because McKie has always played with a high usage guard in CJ Harris (a very different player, but still), but the Demon Deacons need him to really come into his own to get over the next proverbial hump.
  3. Hampton Roads Pilot: Malcolm Brogdon has quietly been Virginia’s most used player (ignoring Mike Tobey, who plays fewer than 20 minutes a game) — more than Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. In addition to being the team’s top scorer in ACC play, Brogdon is the team’s second leading rebounder. His range still needs some work, but Virginia is a lot more dangerous as a team with multiple “go-to” guys beyond just Harris. They also need to finish near the top of the conference rankings in order to make the Big Dance. The Florida State sweep will look good, but a home win against Syracuse in the penultimate game would do wonders.
  4. Chapelboro.com: Roy Williams is playing around a bit with lineups to try to keep his team fresh during games. Williams has always been one to use a large rotation, so that’s not surprising. Perhaps more surprising is that Coach K appears to be making his rotation deeper, playing 10 guys for decent minutes in Duke’s last couple of games. Over the last five games, the two ACC teams most set in their rotations were Boston College (34% played by its main rotation) and Syracuse (39.9% played by its starters). Remarkably Syracuse’s second most popular rotation played 32.1% of minutes (more than any team but the Eagles). In contrast Duke (10.9%) and Maryland (9.9%) changed rotations frequently. All data here courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: Rakeem Christmas has improved dramatically on the offensive end during his time at Syracuse. He’s shooting a ridiculous 73.6 percent from the floor (thanks in large part to lots of dunks and put-backs), but he’s also become a serviceable player in the post. Not that you would make him the center of Syracuse’s offense or start up the Dream comparisons, but he’s no longer a player who can be completely ignored on offense. And that’s one reason Syracuse’s offense has made such a big step forward this season.
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