ACC M5: 11.17.14 Edition

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

morning5_ACC

  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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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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The RTC Podblast: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2014

College hoops has arrived! To get you ready for an opening weekend of action that admittedly is more for show than anything else, RTC Podblast host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) leads the guys through our first regular season pod of the year. In this 16-minute explosion of information, the guys talk about their ambivalence about the weekend, a few of the key games to keep an eye on while surfing through all the channels, and generally congratulate each other for making it through another preseason. Give it a listen!

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-5:59 – How CBB Should Approach Opening Night
  • 5:59- 8:18 – VCU vs Tennessee Preview
  • 8:18-11:10 – Pitino Bowl Preview
  • 11:10-16:10 – Other Opening Weekend Match-ups
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ACC M5: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 14th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: The top game of the weekend for entertainment value has to be tonight’s father-son coaching matchup between Rick Pitino and Richard Pitino as Louisville and Minnesota meet in the Armed Forces Classic at U.S. Air Base Borinquen, in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The two Pitinos have met before in 2012 when Richard was in his first year at Florida International, in a game arranged to help out the younger Pitino’s program with exposure and a nice paycheck. Obviously this is a somewhat different situation, with both schools in power leagues focusing on trips to the NCAA Tournament next March. Instead of money and exposure as the main motivators, this is a chance to honor the U.S. Armed Forces, share a little family time, and get an early look at how each squad stacks up against good competition. With all that in play, whichever Pitino wins may not feel too bad about beating the other.
  2. DailyProgress.com: Credit should be given to Tony Bennett as Virginia is the lone ACC school that will open its season on an opponent’s home court. The Cavaliers will make the one-hour trip up to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to play intrastate rival James Madison tonight. As this article points out, last year’s Virginia performance was the classic case of the sum being greater than the parts. Four of those parts will be missing tonight, counting graduated starters Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell along with suspended players London Perrantes and Evan Nolte. But as this game preview points out, the Dukes will also be without two suspended players because of an off-campus altercation with each other in October. One of those suspended was James Madison’s leading scorer from last year, so, even on the road, the Cavaliers may not face too tough of an opener after all.
  3. WRALSportsFan: After a second consecutive year of negative preseason issues surrounding his program, at least Roy Williams doesn’t have to face the same roster uncertainty that he had to deal with in 2013-14. It remains to be seen if the dark cloud of scandal will have a major effect on a North Carolina team that appears poised for a special 2014-15 campaign, but expect Williams to continue to field questions after tonight’s game against North Carolina Central that are unrelated to on-court performance. UNC’s opponent is coming off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, so this may not be a total mismatch, but as NCCU coach LaVelle Moton indicated at a recent press conference, he is not sure how good team is with so many transfer players and preseason injuries. We will be on press row for opening night at the Smith Center, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for live updates during the game, and more importantly, for reports from Williams’ postgame press conference.
  4. Greensboro News & Record: Duke is the only ACC team that will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, as the Blue Devils host Presbyterian and then Fairfield as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer preliminary round. This article notes that freshman Tyus Jones looks to have already established himself as Duke’s starting point guard. The writer goes on to say Jones will be the first rookie starting as a Duke point guard since Austin Rivers began there in 2011-12, a common misconception. Rivers was never a point guard in his one year at Duke although he was often mentioned as one, perhaps in part because of his famous father, Doc Rivers, who was a longtime NBA point guard. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Duke’s team chemistry works in these first two tune-up games before heading to Indianapolis to face Michigan State on Tuesday night. We will be in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night to see how Duke’s veteran guards, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, adjust to coming off the bench, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for additional live in-game and postgame coverage.
  5. BostonUSA.com: On Sunday, Boston College will take on Massachusetts in the middle game of the second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader in Boston’s TD Garden, home of the NBA’s Celtics. The Minutemen only return two starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but they have three others who played at least 30 games in 2013-14, so there’s some decent experience available for Derek Kellogg. It will be the second game of the season for both teams, as Boston College opens with New Hampshire in Conte Forum tonight, while UMass hosts Siena. It will be interesting to see if new coach Jim Christian’s Eagles display improvement on the defensive end, an area where ex-coach Steve Donahue’s teams always struggled. Probably the best team at Sunday’s event will be Harvard, which plays Holy Cross in the last game of the day.
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Preseason Questions: Does Louisville’s Departure Cripple the AAC?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 11th, 2014

By nearly any measure, the American Athletic Conference’s maiden voyage was a successful one. The odd new assemblage of schools that was the 2013-14 AAC sent four of its 10 members to the NCAA Tournament, and then UConn went out and won the whole damn thing. As a result, the one-year old AAC is currently the proud owner of more post-2000 national titles than the Big Ten and Pac-12 combined — who says a new conference can’t possess a little slice of history? The brilliant opening act was fun, but present and future prospects for the AAC have quickly turned murky. Much has changed in the six months since the Huskies cut down the nets in Arlington. Three new programs have joined the league — East Carolina, Tulsa, and Tulane – while two former league members – Rutgers and Louisville – have departed. The balance sheet of coming and going league members is laced with irrelevant basketball programs, with one massive exception – Louisville. Can a nascent and unsettled league survive the departure of one of college basketball’s premier programs?

Louisville's Move To The ACC? Should Be Fun For Pitino & Co., Less So For The American Athletic Conference. (Getty)

Louisville’s Move To The ACC? Should Be Fun For Pitino & Co., Less So For The American. (Getty)

If you’re wondering how Louisville is liking its new ACC digs, the answer – at least during this preseason – is very well, thank you. Six ACC squads populate KenPom’s preseason Top 25 (compared to just one from the AAC), including the Cardinals at a healthy No. 3. Identifying the ACC as tradition-laden is about as obvious as naming Michael Jordan an all-time great, but seeing conference-mates Duke, Virginia, North Carolina and Syracuse in the top 20 sends a message loud and clear: Welcome to the big time, Cards. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC’s ACC Preseason Awards

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

With the 2014-15 ACC season just about to tip off, our esteemed panel of micrositers has come together to release our preseason individual superlatives. It was a close race for most of these positions, but those who were close to making the cut will earn honorable mention below. Feel free to comment on where we went horribly awry or how accurately you think we’ve nailed it.

Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, PG, North Carolina. It might be a good thing if Paige’s scoring numbers drop this year, as that would probably mean more offensive production from his peers. North Carolina has a promising group of freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing, but a more mature and seasoned frontcourt could help Paige excel as the team’s primary ball-handler. Jahlil Okafor and Montrezl Harrell are two others who could easily claim this award by season’s end.

Marcus Paige is RTC's pre-season ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige is RTC’s preseason ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke. We didn’t stray far from public opinion on this one. Okafor gives Duke its most formidable post player in many years, and his exhibition performances have done little to dampen the enthusiasm for his talent in Durham. Justin Jackson (North Carolina), Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville) and Kaleb Joseph (Syracuse) are dark horse candidates worth keeping an eye on.

Coach of the Year: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State. Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski were the others we considered, but the potential for Florida State to make some noise in the ACC race this year means Hamilton is the preseason choice. Florida State will continue to play its trademark smothering defense, but we think that the offense will be vastly improved. It says here that the Seminoles will improve on their 9-9 ACC record and return to the Big Dance after an NIT semifinals appearance a year ago.

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ACC Preview: Louisville’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 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 Louisville win the ACC crown in its inaugural season?

Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals have won conference championships in two different leagues over the past two seasons. On its way to the NCAA title in  2012-13, the Cardinals shared the Big East regular season championship (with Georgetown and Marquette), and won the conference tournament. Last season Louisville enjoyed a one year stopover in the American Athletic Conference, resulting in the same outcome — a share of the regular season crown (this time with Cincinnati) and another conference tournament championship. Now the Cardinals will try to make history by grabbing both prizes for the third year in a row in yet another league — the ACC, historically the best college basketball conference of them all.

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Rick Pitino becomes the fourth Hall-of-Fame Coach in the ACC this season. (Getty Images).

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC now boasts four current head coaches who are already members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. The only other current NCAA coach with that honor on his resume is SMU’s Larry Brown, who has spent the majority of his coaching days in the NBA. It’s therefore fair to say that the ACC can lay claim to the four most accomplished college coaches in the country. A look at the chart below shows how those four compare in several key areas of achievement. Due to their additional seasons as head coaches, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim have gathered significantly more wins then North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Pitino, but the younger duo stacks up very well in overall winning percentage, Final Four appearances and National Champioinships. As the youngest member of the group, Louisville’s leader may also have the best chance of substantially adding to his resume over the next 10 years. After all, Pitino is currently the hottest of the bunch, boasting three consecutive 30-win seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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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

morning5_ACC

  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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ACC M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. TheACC.com: The ACC media picked Duke as a fairly strong favorite to win the league this year, giving the Blue Devils 41 out of a possible 65 first place votes at ACC Operation Basketball on Wednesday (for a complete rundown of the day, don’t forget to check out Lathan Wells’ 15 takeaways post). North Carolina joins newcomer Louisville and defending champ Virginia in a tight cluster in the next three spots in the poll. Last year’s three Big East transfer teams occupy the next three positions, which confirms the general opinion that the old ACC needed an injection of quality teams to boost itself back into the nation’s elite. The preseason all-ACC team was led by North Carolina guard Marcus Paige, but an interesting repeat member of the preseason all-conference squad is Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, who missed the entire ACC season in 2013-14 due to his academic suspension.
  2. Kenpom: Speaking of rankings, Ken Pomeroy has posted his initial ratings for all 351 NCAA Division I teams, and he gives a summary explanation of how he develops his statistical model in his most recent blog entry. The legendary guru of advanced basketball statistics has six ACC squads among his top-23, including Duke at #1, which is a mild shock considering the relative talent and experience returning at Kentucky and Arizona. Somewhat surprisingly, the ACC is rated as the Pomeroy’s third-best conference, sitting behind the Big Ten and Big 12. Of course, as the season progresses, Pomeroy’s preseason ratings will weigh progressively less in his formulas, giving a more accurate picture of all the teams as they relate to each other.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: One thing that came out of ACC Operation Basketball that caught many by surprise was when Tony Bennett revealed that Virginia’s accomplished sophomore point guard London Perrantes has not practiced since a foot injury occurred on October 3. Although the Cavaliers have had their fair share of injuries over the last few years, last season’s run to the ACC regular season title was definitely aided by the fine health of the team. Virginia was able to develop a consistent rotation in which everyone knew and executed their respective roles, game after game, culminating with the Cavaliers grabbing their first ACC Tournament championship in almost 40 years. Certainly, January and conference play is pretty far off at this point, so Bennett hopes Perrantes is able to get healthy in time to make a similar run.
  4. Greensboro News-Record: In this interesting piece, Ed Hardin looks at the ACC’s newest member Louisville and compares Rick Pitino’s program to some of the great ACC teams of the past from a style standpoint. It is true that the Cardinals bring characteristics that remind long-time observers of some of the ACC’s best and most entertaining teams in its long and illustrious history. For instance, the multiple defenses that Pitino employs so effectively reminds us of how North Carolina’s Dean Smith befuddled opponents by using combinations of man-to-man and zone defenses, trapping on both. And even though Pitino is known as a visionary regarding the use of the three-point shot as a vital part of his offense, going back to leading an improbable Providence team to the 1987 Final Four, he knows the value of a legitimate inside game as well.
  5. Groupstate.com: It seems as if Clemson’s representatives in Charlotte were asked about departed player K.J. McDaniels more than they were questioned about this year’s squad. Possibly only ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State meant as much to his team last season as did McDaniels, now beginning his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers. But while the Wolfpack will certainly miss Warren’s offense, what makes the loss of McDaniels so critical to Clemson is that he was its best player all over the court. It will obviously take a committee of several to replace everything he did, but the ACC media is skeptical of that notion, picking Clemson 11th this year after a sixth place finish in 2013-14.
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Kevin Ollie at Home in a League of Journeymen

Posted by Will Tucker (@blrdswag) on April 15th, 2014

Kevin Ollie has come a long way since September 2012, when he was reluctantly handed the reins to a UConn program coming off a 14-loss season, a depleted roster, and an impending postseason ban. Facing high-stakes circumstances, athletic director Warde Manuel’s confidence in Jim Calhoun’s hand-picked successor was so tentative that he handed Ollie the title of interim head coach and gave him a seven-month contract worth about $385,000. Just a year-and-a-half later, he’s bested Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari, taken a scarred program to heights many doubted it could ever again reach without Calhoun, set himself up as the hottest young coaching prospect since Brad Stevens, and made Drake sad. He’s making appearances at the New York Stock Exchange and getting blogged about at Forbes and Vanity Fair. A few short years after concluding his itinerant pro career, the 41-year-old Ollie might even be well-positioned to return the NBA as a coach, if he so desires. And that once-skeptical AD is prepared to do everything within his budget to convince Ollie otherwise.

The Huskies' fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

The Huskies’ fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

As Jeff Eisenberg recently pointed out, UConn’s unlikely, scrappy resurgence reflects Ollie’s own journeyman ethos. Thrust into such inauspicious circumstances, some coaches would have resigned themselves to fate, thrown their hands in the air and begun assigning blame, starting with the athletic department that seemed more interested in wrangling autonomy from Calhoun than sustaining the program he built. But Ollie really was – and here I’ll apologize for belaboring the narrative – the perfect man to overcome the odds. A trusted insider whose own sweat equity had helped build the program, he quickly got his players to buy in. Over two turbulent seasons, they responded with the dogged persistence of an undrafted point guard who carved a 13-year NBA career out of annual contracts. So whatever opportunities the offseason holds for Ollie, it’s in the best interest of college basketball fans that he sticks around. His presence at the top of the profession is a breath of fresh air in a guild whose upper echelon is overwhelmingly white, exceptionally well-paid, and sometimes out of touch. It’s even better for AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference desperately needs an elite coach in its ranks after Louisville’s Rick Pitino departs this off-season.

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AAC M5: 04.01.14 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014

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  1. Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
  2. With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
  3. A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
  4. In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
  5. With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
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