ACC Stock Watch: Feast Week Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 1st, 2015

As the the majority of the league transitions from Feast Week into the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, now is as good a time as any to make some initial evaluations. Based on what we’ve seen through two-plus weeks of the young season, let’s take stock in each of the 15 ACC clubs, reviewing what has transpired so far, and considering in what direction we surmise each to be trending.

Trending Up

Jim Boeheim has his Orange playing at an extremely high level right out the gates. (Getty)

Jim Boeheim has plenty to be thankful for after his club’s performance in winning the Battle 4 Atlantis (syracuse.com)

  • Syracuse: Not many teams are feeling better about itself than Syracuse is at the moment. Picked to finish ninth in the ACC standings, the Orange probably surprised even themselves in taking home the title at the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis. Seamlessly intertwining veterans Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney with rookies Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon, Jim Boeheim looks to have a team capable of reinvigorating his spirits during his 40th year at the helm. Banned from the postseason a year ago and forced to miss the first nine conference games this season, Boeheim appeared worn down last March as tumult swirled around his program. His current team, however, showed considerable resolve in coming from behind to beat both Connecticut and Texas A&M in the Bahamas, appearing eerily similar to some of his special clubs of the past and proving that there is still some juice left in the Hall of Famer’s tank. The Orange entertain Wisconsin on Wednesday before a weekend trip to the nation’s capital to visit old friend Georgetown.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

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

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

  1. Puerto Rico Tip-Off: Miami (#23) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action later today, taking on Ben Howland’s rebuilding Mississippi State (#133) squad in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (ESPN2 – 5:00). With an otherwise less than challenging non-conference schedule, Jim Larranaga’s team could pick up some quality wins here, with potential meetings against Utah (#20) in the second round and Butler (#31) in Sunday’s finals (ESPN2 – 7:30). This trip was arranged in no small part to give senior guard Angel Rodriquez a homecoming. A native of Cupey, Puerto Rico, the senior will be highly motivated to lead the Hurricanes to the tournament title on his home island.
  2. Charleston Classic: Tony Bennett will try to get Virginia (#4) back on track after Monday’s upset loss at George Washington. The 73 points that the Cavaliers gave up were the most they have allowed in regulation since an 87-52 blowout loss to Tennessee in December 2013. Hopefully this isn’t a sign of problems ahead for Bennett’s vaunted defense, which was whistled for 24 fouls against the Colonials. The competition at the Charleston Classic this weekend is not of the highest caliber, however, as the Cavs open with Bradley (#272) tonight (ESPN2 – 9:30) and could face a couple of the three non-top 50 major conference schools also in the event — Oklahoma State (#56), Mississippi (#64) and Seton Hall (#73). This tournament’s championship game will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30).
  3. Paradise Jam: If the first two games of the year for Florida State (#35) are any indication, Leonard Hamilton will have his highest scoring team in years. The Seminoles are averaging 103.5 points per game after registering two beatdowns over weak competition and freshman Dwayne Bacon has been a star, scoring 23 and 27 points in back-to-back games. Florida State is the co-favorite in the Paradise Jam along with a Tulsa (#41) squad which upset Wichita State earlier this week. If the two favorites meet in the finals, it will be on Monday night (Nov. 23 – CBSSN – 10:00). The Seminoles will face Hofstra (#95) in Friday’s opening day of play (CBSSN – 4:30) and could meet up with an interesting South Carolina (#47) team in the next round.
  4. 2K Sports Classic: Another team looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss earlier this week is Duke, which travels to Madison Square Garden for the 2K Sports Classic this weekend. Mike Krzyzewski’s perimeter corps had a difficult time finding good looks against the quicker Kentucky backcourt in Tuesday’s loss at the Champions Classic, and the Blue Devils’ transition defense was carved up to the tune of 14-point deficit in fast break points. Individually, sophomore Grayson Allen will look to bounce back after a miserable 2-of-11 shooting performance and just six points against Kentucky. The opponents in New York will not be of Kentucky’s ilk, but they will still be a challenge for this young Duke squad. Friday’s (ESPN2 – 7:30) opponent will be VCU (#51) and Sunday will bring either Georgetown (#44) or last year’s NCAA title game opponent, Wisconsin (#24).
  5. Brooklyn Hoops Holiday InvitationalLouisville (#22) has already begun play in this event, which is not a traditional tournament in any form. Every game has predetermined matchups and Louisville gets to host the first three games, including Tuesday’s 87-52 win over Hartford (#312). Also visiting the KFC Yum! Center as an exempted game will be North Florida (#100) on Saturday (November 21) and St. Francis (NY) (#239) next Tuesday (November 24). In the Cardinals’ only game of the event away from home, they will meet St. Louis (#152) in Brooklyn on Saturday, November 28. Collectively, these games will not be much of a boost to an already weak non-conference schedule that Rick Pitino has lined up for his inexperienced squad this season.
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2015 ACC Basketball Power Rankings

Posted by Matt Patton on November 16th, 2015

Over the last two weeks, we previewed each of the 15 ACC teams individually to get you ready for the season. Links to those previews can be found within each of the preseason power rankings listed below, which were voted on by our crack microsite staff of three. Also look for our preseason conference awards, which will publish a bit later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Virginia Cavaliers 1. Virginia (304): Can the Cavaliers win the ACC regular season for a third straight year? With a veteran cast led by Malcolm BrogdonAnthony Gill and maybe the nation’s stingiest defense, Tony Bennett probably has the squad to do it. This season, Virginia should take the next step and make a deep run in March.
North Carolina Tar Heels 2. North Carolina (290): Marcus Paige‘s injury could prove to be a setback, but Justin Jackson is poised to become one of the top players in the country. The team returns nearly all its production from last season, and assuming Joel Berry makes the leap we all expect, this group of Tar Heels should absolutely be one of the national favorites come March.
Duke Blue Devils 3. Duke (213): It’s not fair to expect this highly-touted class of Blue Devils’ freshmen to live up to the exploits of last year’s superstar class. Expect this team to take a while to find its stride, with a lot of ups and downs along the way. But if the youngsters grow up in time, Mike Krzyzewski should find himself with another tough out come March.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4. Notre Dame (202): The Irish will lean heavily on the production of three returning starters and a successful offensive philosophy that led to the second best efficiency in the country last season. It will need to make up for the loss of departed leaders Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton, but Demetrius Jackson looks like one of the best point guards in the country.
Miami Hurricanes 5. Miami (157): The last time Jim Larranaga had a squad this experienced was in 2013, when Miami won both the ACC regular season and tourney titles. The conference appears to be much stronger at the top than it was three years ago, but this veteran group of Hurricanes could still be a sleeper contender, led by three all-ACC caliber seniors.
Syracuse Orange 6. Syracuse (132): Dajuan Coleman holds the keys to Syracuse’s success this season even if senior Michael Gbinije looks to be the team’s star. After a lackluster finish a year ago, this team could become one of the best in the conference if the pieces fit together well. If the NCAA’s nine-conference game suspension stands for Jim Boeheim, though, it could be tough for the Orange to find their stride.
Florida State Seminoles 7. Florida State (105): The Seminoles are a trendy darkhorse candidate this year thanks to superstar freshman Dwayne Bacon joining Xavier Rathan-Mayes in Tallahassee. Leonard Hamilton will have to find a defensive stopper in the frontcourt, however, if this team wants to crack the top of the league.
LouisvilleLogo 8. Louisville (104): With considerable turmoil surrounding the program off the court, the Cardinals will rely on two graduate transfers and a Hall of Fame coach to navigate the loss of its top four scorers. Never count out Rick Pitino, but he’s facing an uphill climb to succeed in the ACC this season.
NC State Wolfpack 9. NC State (81): This team has a lot of good pieces, but how will Cat Barber handle being the alpha dog without big shot Trevor Lacey around? A trim Beejay Anya should terrify ACC players hoping to score in the paint. This team oozes potential, but will need time for everyone to adjust to life without Lacey and Ralston Turner.
Pittsburgh Panthers 10. Pittsburgh (62): Last year’s Panthers were the worst defensive team and among the weakest rebounding units in Jamie Dixon’s long career. As a result, mproving those two areas has been a major topic of discussion for Pittsburgh’s head coach this preseason. Dixon hopes that a pair of graduate transfers are good enough to toughen up the front line, where last year’s problems originated.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 11. Wake Forest (29): Look for Danny Manning‘s winning ways to creep into Winston-Salem this year, although a move up the standings will be tough because the ACC is much stronger top-to-bottom than in previous years. Devin Thomas needs to have a first team All-ACC caliber season for the Demon Deacons to approach the top half of the league.
Clemson Tigers 12. Clemson (16): Once again, we expect the Tigers to defend like crazy while struggling to score – just as they have throughout Brad Brownell’s tenure. Can Brownell survive another year of not making the Big Dance? It won’t help that Clemson has to play all of its home games in Greenville this season, 30 miles from campus, while Littlejohn Coliseum gets a needed facelift.
Virginia Tech Hokies 13. Virginia Tech (15): It’s only taken Buzz Williams two years to almost completely turn over this roster, with junior Devin Wilson currently the only scholarship holdover from the past regime. The Hokies’ talent level is improved, but his youngters are probably another year or two away from getting close to the upper half of the league.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (12): It’s another year on the hot seat for Brian Gregory, who has yet to post a winning ACC record in his four previous campaigns in Atlanta. Pathetic outside shooting has been a constant problem during the Gregory era, and the Yellow Jackets desperately need senior transfer Adam Smith to help turn that around to give a decent frontcourt room to operate.
Boston College 15. Boston College (3): This team is one of the younger teams in the country, but Jim Christian brought in Florida transfer Eli Carter to beef up the team’s experience. If one of the freshmen turns out to be a diamond in the rough, this team might find a way to escape the ACC cellar.
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Morning Five: 2015 Tip-Off Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 13th, 2015

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  1. With the start of the college basketball season upon us, we figured it would be a good time to bring back the Morning Five. We apologize for the infrequent nature of these posts the past few months, but we had to deal with a variety of things the past few months (all good). Now that the season is starting we are planning on doing these posts at least a few times a week. If you have not been on the site in a while we encourage you to check out the great work that our microsites have been doing. And if you are in the mood to try something different this season (and potentially win tickets to one of the NCAA Regionals this year), we encourage you to enter into our Survivor Pool. Unlike some other sites, we are not being investigated by any Attorney Generals, you don’t have to pay any money to enter, and we don’t use insider information to try to win our own event.
  2. We often talk about college sports being essentially separate entities from the educational institutions that they represent, but there are many instances in which they are intertwined. One excellent example of this is the WashingtonTexas game that is being played in Shanghai. Many will view this as a way for the basketball teams to grow their brand and possibly even that of the conferences, but the schools also view it as an opportunity to promote their schools as educational options for people overseas. Financially it makes sense for schools to go after individuals who might pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition money instead of hoping to sell a bunch of $20 t-shirts.
  3. Although the season is officially starting tonight there are a handful of notable players who are still in NCAA eligibility limbo. The most significant of these is Cheick Diallo, the highly touted Kansas freshman. We won’t claim to have any inside information/knowledge about the case, but Sam Mellinger’s column on the situation and his proposed solution is a worthwhile read while we wait for the NCAA to hand down a decision. As Mellinger notes the blame here shouldn’t fall as much on the NCAA as it should on the member institutions that allowed it to have this type of unregulated power.
  4. Diallo appears content to wait for the NCAA to make a decision, but two other players (I guess they are technically just students now) have received negative rulings from the NCAA and in a somewhat unique move appear to be ready to call the NCAA on it by threatening lawsuits. Parties representing Central Florida freshman center Tacko Fall and St. John’s freshman Marcus LoVett have both reportedly looked into filing lawsuits against the NCAA. This might sound interesting on paper, but we doubt it will end up doing either athlete much good in the near-future because of the glacial pace that the NCAA and the court systems that deal with its cases move at for these type of things.
  5. Finally, we have been off long enough that we never addressed the Louisville prostitution scandal and it looked like we might be able to avoid the topic since the administration at Louisville obviously doesn’t care about how poorly the situation reflects on the school, but we probably could have figured that out with the way they have handled numerous other things. Now it appears that the school may end up having to deal with the NCAA as Katina Powell, the individual who allegedly supplied the program with the prostitutes, will meet with the NCAA next week in reaction to the high likelihood that she will face criminal charges. Given the way the NCAA usually deals with these things we doubt that they will do anything to the program, but it will be interesting to see if Rick Pitino ever decides that it would be best to move on rather than have to deal with this scandal for the foreseeable future.
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ACC Preview: Louisville’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 6th, 2015

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

Can a pair of graduate transfers bridge the gap from a remarkable four-year run of success into the future?

Given the events of recent weeks at Louisville, it would be reasonable to answer this burning question with a far more complicated one: What is the future of Louisville basketball?

With both the NCAA and the university conducting independent investigations into serious allegations made by escort Katina Powell in her book “Breaking Cardinal Rules,” a pall of uncertainty hangs over the Cardinals’ program this preseason. Will sanctions be levied? Will head coach Rick Pitino be relieved of his duties in the wake of his own sexual scandal five years ago? Is it reasonable to expect this year’s Louisville team to maintain a singular focus on the court with all of the other negativity swirling around them elsewhere? These are questions that will need to be answered before talent evaluation on the Cardinals’ roster even becomes relevant.

Holding steady amid off-court pressure, Rick Pitino has a very good squad to work with. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Holding steady amid alleged off-court issues that might eventually cost him his job, on the court Rick Pitino has a very good squad to work with. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The truth of the matter is that despite Pitino captaining what could be a sinking ship, no one is perhaps better equipped to navigate the rough waters ahead than he is. Remember that it was Pitino who helped return Kentucky back to prominence in the 1990s after recruiting violations under Eddie Sutton left the program on probation. The longtime head coach, beloved by his players, will have the toughest task he’s encountered since his rebuild at Kentucky — keeping this group zeroed in on what they can control. Because if not for the exigent circumstances surrounding the club, the narrative assigned to this Cards’ team would undoubtedly be defined by uncertainty. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Exhibition Edition 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 4th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke opened its exhibition season last Friday by beating Florida Southern, 112-68, in a match-up of the 2015 Division I and Division II national champions. This is the seventh consecutive year that the Blue Devils have played the defending Division II champion, a tradition that Moccasins’ head coach Mike Donnelly greatly appreciated. He said, after the game: “This game was a lot of fun for us. It is terrific for college basketball at our level, and for the kids it is a great experience. I hope that they [Duke] keep doing it because it is great for everyone involved.” As for Duke’s high-profile group of incoming freshmen, they were led by Derryck Thornton, who notched 22 points and shot 4-of-7 on threes. The Blue Devils’ veteran bigs also had their way with the smaller Mocs, as Marshall Plumlee and Amile Jefferson combined for 27 points (on 11-of-13 shooting) and 21 rebounds in 39 total minutes.
  2. Defending ACC champion Notre Dame also tipped off its preseason schedule with an 87-56 victory over the NAIA’s Saint Francis (IL) last Friday. Twelve different players saw at least 10 minutes of action for the Irish, which dominated the boards (+22 rebound edge) in this game. Mike Brey was particularly happy with the way his team defended, saying, “Yeah we should be able to guard, we got more wingspan in there in the starting group and ball pressure. It’s unbelievable what it does and we’ve got guys who can get out in the passing lanes and do things.” The Irish forced 18 turnovers and held the Fighting Saints to 36.5 percent field goal shooting.
  3. It’s been a rough preseason off the floor for Louisville, so Rick Pitino probably enjoyed having a chance to concentrate solely on basketball for a change, as his Cardinals defeated Bellarmine (KY), 71-55, on Saturday afternoon. The Knights, ranked No. 4 in the preseason Division II NABC Poll, only trailed Louisville by six at the half and drew high praise from Pitino after the game. Louisville’s defense was a pleasant surprise, leading Pitino to comment that he “learned we are further along defensively than I thought. Holding a great shooting and passing team to 32 percent from the field and 22 percent on three-point shooting is excellent for the initial outing.” Sophomore point guard Quentin Snider came off the bench and was impressive with eight assists versus only one turnover in 27 minutes of action.
  4. Syracuse fans can’t be criticized for holding their breath whenever the Orange takes on Division II Le Moyne in an exhibition game. It was just six years ago that the Dolphins pulled the stunner, knocking off a preseason ranked Syracuse squad in the Carrier Dome. There were no such worries on Monday evening, as the Orange took care of business against the small crosstown school in a convincing 97-58 win. Michael Gbinije, who got the start at point guard over Kaleb Joseph, led the way for Jim Boeheim’s team with 21 points and four assists. All eyes in the building were on returning center Dajuan Coleman, suiting up for his first game since January 2014. The big guy delivered an encouraging performance, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 23 minutes of action.
  5. Florida State was also in action on Monday night and looked rather impressive in its 114-68 blowout of Lynn University, a good Florida-based Division II program. Seven Seminoles scored in double figures, led by senior guard Devon Bookert, who tallied 19 points and made three of his five attempts from three-point range. The four newcomers on the perimeter — JuCo transfer Benji Bell and freshmen Dwayne Bacon, Terance Mann and Malik Beasley — combined for 49 points on 20-of-30 shooting from the floor. This could be Leonard Hamilton’s deepest and most athletic team in many years, which may translate into a group that plays the kind of stingy defense that Florida State was known for during its four-year stretch of NCAA appearances from 2009-12. The Seminoles held Lynn to a frigid 29.3 percent shooting from the field.
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A Column of Enchantment: You’re Still Alive, But Poor Grantland…

Posted by Joseph Nardone on November 3rd, 2015

So you guys are back to being actual humans now, right? You’re no longer in sleep-mode or whatever? It feels like forever since we have met. In reality, though, it has only been since April. I guess that means I need to ask the question: How did you handle your offseason blues? The good news for the amateur shooty hoops obsessed was that there wasn’t lack of top-notch scandals to hold our attention during that period of time. No worries, either. We will get to (parts of) that in a little bit.

ENCHANTMENT

How was my offseason? Thanks for asking, not at all an inanimate object! Things went pretty well. I scribbled words that barely formed sentences at other places. Those columns tend to be on the more serious front than our beloved A Column of Enchantment, but it would be dumb to not acknowledge that without Randy (our fearless leader) letting me scribble this barely about college basketball column that I wouldn’t be writing at all. It in a sense rejuvenated me, as I grew (still am to a degree) tiresome of the everyday grind that is covering basketball. I mean, it is brutal when you think about how seriously people take sports. It isn’t life or death or anything remotely all that important. Anyway, you can blame Randy if you hate me for giving me enough motivation to start actively writing again. Those more serious works (plug time!) can be found at numerous places. Here are the links to my author page for each: The Student SectionCrossover ChroniclesToday’s Fastbreak. They pay me for some unknown reason, so go support me there if you like my work. If you hate me, then why in the hell are you reading this?

Should have mentioned this earlier, but those familiar with A Column of Enchantment already know that our column is — by design — all over the place. But for those new to reading our column (it is ours, because I like to think all of you are my friends and stuff), it is generally a very light and hopefully fun look at college basketball (barely) and pop-culture type stuff. Our first entering of this season, unfortunately, starts with some of the sads.

_________

Grantland is gone. It is done. It sucks. There aren’t proper words in the English language (or ones that I am smart enough to know of) which can properly describe how I feel about this. I am aware that it is no longer cool or hip to be a writer who likes Bill Simmons, but I always have. When I was (much) younger he was a breath of fresh air to me. His style was fun, even with his obvious homerisms, and I was always of the belief that reading one lengthy yet fun column a week was better than reading 2349082390429892348239042.03 iffy-at-best ones, was the best of best options.

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Five Key Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 30th, 2015

There were many topics of interest floating around 2015 ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte on Wednesday, most of which were addressed by ACC Commissioner John Swofford during his annual “State of the League” summit with the media. The format for this event works well, with the head coaches all made available (except Rick Pitino) after the commissioner’s press conference. Later that afternoon, several coaches were asked to react to some of the topics mentioned by Swofford.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford addressing the media at ACC Operation Basketball. (Chuck Burton, AP)

ACC Commissioner John Swofford addressing the media at ACC Operation Basketball. (Chuck Burton, AP)

Here are five key takeaways from Wednesday’s ACC Operation Basketball:

1) New Rules/Officials Mandate

The expected impact of college basketball’s new rules this year was a major topic of discussion. During his opening statement, Swofford was very supportive of the changes and even suggested that other tweaks to the game should be on the table as well. The coaches were also predominantly supportive of the new rules but were particularly interested in how strictly the officials will enforce the mandate to clean up physical play. The NCAA’s new national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, J.D. Collins, was also in Charlotte to meet and confer with the coaches (perhaps to warn them that games will really be called differently this season?). Some coaches admittedly seemed a bit skeptical, remembering what happened two years ago when officials were similarly charged with cleaning up excessive contact — a huge increase in fouls resulted in lots and lots of complaining. By midseason, referees appeared to have reverted back to the way games had been officiated for years. Collins claims that won’t be the case this time around, but it remains to be seen if collegiate officials will collectively stick to their guns when coaches, media and fans whine about watching boring games featuring parades to the foul line. It may turn out to be that the watchability of games this season is sacrificed until players and coaches begrudgingly adapt to the changes in the best interests of moving the game forward. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Midnight Madness Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 23rd, 2015

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  1. Since only four ACC schools are hosting a preseason celebration that could be considered a Midnight Madness event, we need a fifth to truly make this an M5. So we begin with Louisville, a program that appears to have been conducting its own version of late-night ‘Madness’ in recent years, at least according to “Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen,” co-authored by Katina Powell and Pulitzer Prize winner Dick Cady. The resulting scandal has become the preseason’s biggest story in college basketball and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Earlier this week, Powell was interviewed as part of an ESPN Outside The Lines episode, and she came across as a credible source in addition to what has been confirmed by other eyewitnesses, including former Louisville players and recruits. Rick Pitino claims to have no knowledge of any of these allegations and has called on former player and staff member, Andre McGee – the supposed organizer of the whole mess — to come forward and tell the truth. But many feel that the NCAA won’t be able to force McGee — currently on leave from his assistant coaching job with UMKC — to speak with them. While it’s true that current players and staff of NCAA member schools are obligated to speak with investigators, McGee, with little to gain by sharing, is likely to choose not to cooperate. He is of course not immune from talking with criminal investigators, so we may eventually found out what he knows via leaks and/or public records, but that doesn’t help the NCAA make any decisions about what do with Pitino and the Louisville program. All of which makes it hard to speculate on whether Pitino will ultimately survive as the Cardinals’ head coach.
  2. North Carolina will try to put aside worries about its own ongoing NCAA investigation with its annual “Late Night With Roy” celebration tonight at the Smith Center. The evening’s festivities will be hosted by former Tar Heels’ star Kenny Smith of TNT, and includes dance routines, comedy skits, and a team scrimmage as well as a special tribute to longtime “Late Night” host, Stuart Scott. UNC, recently named as co-#1 with Kentucky in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll, will also be entertaining some top high school prospects. Recently Roy Williams has been struggling to recruit at the same level as other top national programs such as Duke, Kentucky and Kansas, so North Carolina fans hope a positive impression will be made on the players in attendance.
  3. Just down the road, Duke hosted its “Countdown to Craziness” last Saturday night in Cameron indoor Stadium. Among the highlights were the unveiling of the school’s fifth national championship banner and a team scrimmage that indicated that Duke’s defense is ahead of its offense at this stage of the preseason. As usual, the Blue Devils also used the event as a showcase for many high-level recruits from several different classes. In other Duke-related news, Mike Krzyzewski confirmed that next year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be his last as head coach of the USA’s mens’ national team. That news alone is not surprising, but it does reignite the conversation of who will take over the job and whether that coach will come from the NBA.
  4. Last Friday night, Syracuse held its annual “Orange Madness” event in the Carrier Dome. Much like at North Carolina, Orange players, coaches and fans probably enjoyed getting away from some of the recent negativity surrounding their program and are looking forward to some closure to its situation. With all the recent publicity about the Louisville debacle and the continuing talk concerning North Carolina’s NCAA investigation, it’s easy to forget that Syracuse will be without Jim Boeheim for the first half of ACC play this season and will have to manage smaller rosters for a while. It says here, though, that Louisville patrons would still gladly swap places with Orange fans at the moment.
  5. The first ACC school to host a Midnight Madness event this season was Pittsburgh, with an event called #ZooAfterHours that was held in the Petersen Events Center on October 9. It looks like Jamie Dixon pulled a page out of the John Calipari playbook by featuring rap star and Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa as the main attraction. Dixon commented afterward that the night worked out as well as expected or maybe even better. He also was quoted as saying that the Panthers were ready to get back to “toughness, hard work and playing defense”after a disappointing 2014-15 season, and that “we plan to push the ball at every opportunity as we have good guards.” While the first part of that quote is appropriate for what has made the Pitt program successful in the Dixon era, we’ll believe the second part when we see it — the Panthers have been among the nation’s slowest-paced teams for many years.
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Reviewing Several ACC Offseason Storylines

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

With the start of the college basketball season now fewer than four weeks away, it’s time to ramp up our preseason coverage here on the ACC microsite. Over the next few weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by asking and answering One Burning Question for each, projecting how each squad will fosters its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses this season. We will also be attending and reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte on October 28, which should provide a great number of interesting bits of information. But first, let’s tip off the relaunch of the microsite by getting caught up on several of the important offseason storylines that have emerged since Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis last April.

Louisville Under Investigation

Rick Pitino clashes with in-state rival Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari yet again (AP).

Rick Pitino’s Louisville program is facing serious allegations (AP).

The latest offseason story is easily the biggest as well. In early October we learned about the upcoming release of a book called Breaking Cardinal Rules by someone named Katina Powell that contained serious allegations about the way Louisville has been entertaining its basketball recruits over the last several years (i.e., using paid escorts to dance and provide sex at on-campus parties on recruiting visits). Both the NCAA and the university have since launched investigations into the matter to determine all the facts. As of now, there’s a lot of hearsay in lieu of hard evidence, but it’s a bad look for Rick Pitino‘s program no matter how this all unfolds. As for the Cardinals’ head coach, he claims to have had no knowledge or any involvement in these allegations and can only speculate as to why it may have occurred under his watch. Ultimately, if the school’s internal investigation confirms any violations, it would probably be in its best interest to go the same route that Syracuse did a season ago. The Orange — some would argue while conveniently mired in a down season that wasn’t going anywhere in March — voluntarily chose to ban themselves from postseason play. Many expect Pitino’s upcoming Louisville team to find itself in a similar situation, struggling to put together a squad that is NCAA Tournament caliber.

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 76, #4 Louisville 70 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

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Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

  1. Overtime giveth, overtime taketh away. Michigan State went 2-5 in overtime games prior to today, including a six-point home loss to Richard Pitino-coached Minnesota in February and an 11-point defeat against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Louisville had only played one overtime contest before this afternoon – a 10-point victory over North Carolina. Yet, despite that recent history – with the stakes higher than ever – the basketball gods looked favorably upon the Spartans during the extra period. Bryn Forbes (14 points) knocked down a three-pointer to tip things off. The Cardinals, on the other hand, missed two early shots, including a layup. Branden Dawson found himself in perfect position for a late, game-clinching offensive rebound and putback that essentially sealed the win. “Sometimes it can be a cruel game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said afterward, referring to the fickle nature of bonus basketball. In another tight game with razor-thin margin for error, good fortune finally went the way of Michigan State.
  2. Michigan State clamped down in second half. Louisville shredded Michigan State’s interior defense in the first half, shooting 13-of-27 from two-point land and scoring 31 of its 40 points from inside the arc or at the free throw line. Cardinal forward Montrezl Harrell – who scored 24 points against North Carolina State on Friday – scored 12 in the game’s opening 11 minutes, helping his team grab an eight-point lead at the break. Then the Spartans clamped down. Over the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime, Louisville shot just 6-of-32 from the field and mustered only an additional 30 points. Michigan State shut down the lane – limiting the Cardinals’ dribble penetration and collapsing on Harrell (who only scored four points the rest of the way) – and did a better job extending on shooters. That defensive stinginess enabled Izzo’s club to climb back in the game and ultimately wind up on top.
  3. Another Elite Eight thriller. As if last night’s Notre Dame-Kentucky game wasn’t enough, the Elite Eight delivered yet another thrilling finish in Syracuse today. The back-and-forth second half was filled with momentum swings and fraught with drama, including Mangok Mathiang’s game-tying free throw at the end of regulation that seemingly hung in the air for minutes before falling through the net. All told, the lead changed 11 different times and was tied on nine different occasions before Michigan State grabbed the final edge in overtime. If regional weekend is a sign of things to come, then next week’s Final Four should be nothing short of excellent.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Elite Eight Sunday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

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The Elite Eight is here. Two more games that have a chance to become classics. Let’s break them down.

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Elite Right (at Syracuse, NY) – at 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo are no strangers to this stage, or each other. The Hall of Fame Louisville coach ranks fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances, including two since 2012. The 20th-year Michigan State head man trails just behind with six, along with four Elite Eight trips since 2009. And for the third time in seven years, their teams will meet in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This is familiar territory. What’s not familiar, though, is the route each team took to reach this point. Unlike in 2009 and 2012 – when both teams were either #1 or #2-seeds – the Cardinals and Spartans enter this afternoon’s contest having endured rocky seasons with somewhat limited expectations. Izzo’s club lost 11 games this year, including a baffling home loss to Texas Southern in mid-December. Pitino’s unit dismissed point guard and top three-point shooter Chris Jones in late February, further exacerbating its offensive woes. Yet here they both are, playing for the right to move on to Indianapolis.

So what should we expect from these resilient teams? For Louisville, this much we know: its defense – ranked fifth nationally in adjusted efficiency – will be stout. As per usual for Pitino-coached squads, it will apply heavy ball pressure and limit good looks from behind the arc (30% 3PT defense). What’s been surprising about its three-game run, however, is the offensive production. Against Northern Iowa and North Carolina State, the Cardinals scored 1.2 and 1.17 points per possession, respectively, and received high-efficiency, high-production performances from both Terry Rozier (25 points; 146 ORtg against the Panthers) and Montrezl Harrell (24 points; 150 ORtg against the Wolfpack). The newfound offensive consistency – especially in the half-court – has turned them into a substantially more well-rounded unit, one that looks much closer to the team that began the year 11-0.

The specific areas of Michigan State’s recent improvement are slightly harder to pin-point but no less impactful. Power forward Branden Dawson has been playing his best basketball of the season – on both ends of the court – since the start of the Big Ten tournament onward. The Spartans have done a better job taking care of the ball, suffering just five miscues against Oklahoma on Friday night. And Travis Trice (20.6 PPG in NCAA Tournament) has emerged as the teams’ consistent, go-to scorer – something it lacked earlier in the year. All of the little things seem to be coming together for Izzo’s group at the right time.

This afternoon’s matchup might ultimately come down to a few key factors: Louisville’s ability to score around the rim against Michigan State’s interior defense (43.6% 2PT), and whether the Spartans can keep their offensive cool against the Cardinals’ various matchup zone and man-to-man defensive looks. Oddly, North Carolina State kept itself alive on Friday by knocking down shots from behind the arc (9-for-20 3FG) against Louisville, but struggled to score in the paint. Izzo’s club will need a little bit of both today, and certainly needs to take care of the ball. Likewise, Dawson, Matt Costello, and the rest of Michigan State’s big men cannot allow Harrell and Louisville’s penetrating guards nearly as many good looks near the basket as they found on Friday. In the end, I like Michigan State’s ability to crash the offensive glass (33.9% OReb) against the Cardinals’ sub-par defensive rebounding (30.9% DReb) to be the difference – not to mention the fact that doubting Izzo on the back-end of an NCAA Tournament weekend seems foolish. Expect a thrilling, hotly-contested and well-coached contest either way.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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