ACC Stock Watch: January 17

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 17th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

  • Notre Dame. As expertly diagrammed by our Brad Jenkins last week, winning on the road in the ACC is quite the chore. So when a team can win a pair of games over likely NCAA Tournament teams away from home in the same week — as Notre Dame did with victories over Miami and Virginia Tech — it will result in a “Stock Up” spot on our list for the second consecutive week. Irish point guard Matt Farrell has made so many big plays down the stretch for his team that, according to David Peel, head coach Mike Brey referred to Farrell as “his Aaron Rodgers.” Now that’s some high praise, indeed.

Donovan Mitchell is becoming the leader of a very talented Louisville team. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  • Donovan Mitchell, Louisville. When you think about the great Rick Pitino teams, you think about terrific guards — players like Peyton Siva and Russ Smith from Louisville’s 2013 National Championship team or Tony Delk and Wayne Turner from Kentucky’s 1996 National Championship squad. Pitino’s best teams have always had outstanding athletes in the backcourt leading the way. Sophomore Donovan Mitchell is the next name on that list. In the Cardinals’ last five games, Mitchell is averaging 19.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.2 steals per game. His ascension to stardom will become even more important in the short term as news broke last night that starting point guard Quentin Snider will miss 2-3 weeks with a hip injury. If Mitchell can continue to play at a very high level, Pitino could be headed back to another Final Four.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ home win over Florida State on Saturday was an important step for Roy Williams’ team if it wants to win the ACC this season. After also beating Syracuse during Big Monday last night, North Carolina has now won five straight games after an ACC-opening hiccup at Georgia Tech. The key to the streak has been Williams’ offense, as the Tar Heels, riding stellar three-point shooting to the tune of 40.5 percent, have scored at least 85 points in each of those five games. When they miss, extra opportunities abound, with North Carolina also averaging nearly 17 offensive rebounds per game during the stretch. A combination of an offense that is clicking, domination of the offensive glass and a favorable schedule over the next few weeks could give the Tar Heels an early advantage in the ACC title race.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.16.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 16th, 2017

There were several marquee match-ups in the ACC this weekend, including two monster games on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina overcame some adversity to hand Florida State its first league loss and Louisville ensured that Duke continued its struggles on the road. Later that day, Notre Dame held off Virginia Tech to remain unbeaten in league play, while three schools that entered January with NCAA Tournament aspirations — Clemson, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State — all suffered devastating home defeats to drop to a last place tie in the standings. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Theo Pinson celebrates North Carolina’s big win over Florida State. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In a league as strong as the ACC this season, sometimes a team must show some collective toughness to pull out a win. That’s exactly what North Carolina did on Saturday afternoon in its impressive 96-83 home victory over a red-hot Florida State squad. Faced with the daunting task of playing the nation’s second tallest team without freshman center Tony Bradley (out with a concussion), the Tar Heels were already short-handed in the paint. With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks battling foul trouble, Roy Williams was forced to play almost half the game with no true post player. North Carolina not only hung in with the bigger, deeper Seminoles, but the Tar Heels managed to dominate the glass in a surprisingly effective rebounding effort  (+22). Three Tar Heels — Hicks, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson — finished with over 20 points and Theo Pinson turned in a solid overall effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2017

The opening weekend of ACC play was one of the wackiest we have ever seen. On Saturday afternoon two home underdogs pulled off massive upsets: Virginia Tech over Duke and Georgia Tech over North Carolina. Those games were followed by a trio of late afternoon contests in which the winner rallied from a late second half deficit to pull out a close victory on the road —Florida State nipped Virginia; Clemson beat Wake Forest; and Notre Dame edged Pittsburgh in overtime. It was certainly a wild way to close out 2016, but the fun didn’t stop with the calendar year. Boston College, a team that had not won an ACC game since March 2015, celebrated the New Year by blasting Syracuse to snap its 20-game ACC losing streak. Here are the highlights from opening weekend around the ACC.

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (Photo: hokiesports.com)

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (photo: hokiesports.com)

  • Best Win: In a normal situation, a 14-point win over the preseason pick to win the conference would warrant ‘Best Win’ accolades, but Virginia Tech’s rout of Duke comes in second this weekend. Instead the title goes to Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State squad for handing Virginia only its second ACC defeat in Charlottesville since 2012. The Cavaliers came into the game ranked first in KenPom’s system, but the Seminoles rode Dwayne Bacon‘s hot hand in the second half to pull off the upset despite struggling to make shots from the field (41%) and foul line (50%). In addition to his great shooting performance (more on that below), Bacon exploited two rare Virginia breakdowns — scoring after an inbounds steal under the basket on one late possession, and converting an offensive rebound following his own missed free throw a few minutes later. Those are the kinds of plays that beat Virginia, a team that does not very often beat itself.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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Which is Easier to Maintain: Offense or Defense?

Posted by William Ezekowitz on December 27th, 2016

There are certain teams you can count on to have specific strengths seemingly every college basketball season. The high-flying athletes of North Carolina, Duke and Kentucky will score in bunches, while the rigid defensive systems of Virginia and Louisville will keep their opponents offensively flummoxed. The coaches in nearly every instance are who get credit for this year-to-year consistency, but which skill is more reliable? Is it easier to be a really good offensive team every year or a really good defensive one? In order to find out, we turned to KenPom’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings to actually determine if the same teams — or, more accurately, the same coaches — always finish at the top of their respective area of strength. We defined this as being among the top 25 offensive or defensive efficiency teams for five years in a row. Here are the results.

Every year, it seems like Roy Williams has a fleet of athletes ready to score points at a breakneck pace. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Every year, it seems like Roy Williams has a fleet of athletes ready to score points at a breakneck pace. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Offensive Efficiency (Top 25)

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Defensive Efficiency (Top 25)

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Florida’s Mike White and Wisconsin’s Greg Gard are only second-year coaches at their programs, but both have already shown such an aptitude for defensively-effective basketball that it seems appropriate to include them. With or without those two, though, it seems that it is much easier to produce a great defense year in and year out than it is for offense.

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 22nd, 2016

In Part I of this series published earlier this week, we examined the latest stylistic change in college basketball: a substantial surge in three-point shooting. Players in both the NBA and college basketball are hoisting and making more long-range shots than ever before, a trend we expect to continue growing into the future. With that in mind, we decided to gauge how the 15 current ACC head coaches may be willing to adapt to such a shift in style of play. To make that assessment, we must first look at recent history.Coaches3s-ImportanceThe graph above shows the relative importance of three-point shooting for ACC coaches over the past five seasons, both offensively and defensively. This rating is simply an average of how a coach’s team has ranked nationally in three areas concerning three-point shooting: three-point accuracy; three-point attempt percentage; and the percentage of points derived from three-point baskets. With only one exception — Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has only four years under his belt — we used data from the last five seasons for each coach, including seasons at other schools (i.e., Josh Pastner at Memphis and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 21st, 2016

morning5_ACCNote: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. Maui Invitational: North Carolina (#5) will be the favorite in the Maui Invitational, the marquee event of this season’s Feast Week. The Tar Heels will face host Chaminade in tonight’s opening round (ESPN2 – 11:30 PM) and followed by either Oklahoma State (#61) or Connecticut (#67) in Tuesday’s semifinals. With that draw, North Carolina should easily advance into Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM). Oregon (#9) and Wisconsin (#10) — two other top 10 teams — are on the other half of the bracket. North Carolina will look to add to its past success in this event, having won three previous titles in Lahaina in 1999, 2004 and 2008. Roy Williams’ team started its trip to the Hawaiian Islands late last week with an 83-68 win at Hawaii on Friday night.
  2. Legends Classic: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will be the site of the next two ACC Tournaments so it is no coincidence that the facility is hosting four early season events that feature ACC schools this season. The Legends Classic is the first of those events, with Notre Dame (#33) joining a competitive four-team field. The Irish will meet Colorado (#51) tonight (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM), followed by Texas (#47) taking on Northwestern (#60). The winners will play in Tuesday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). With these four teams so evenly matched, expect Notre Dame to compete in two close games with a chance to pick up a pair of quality wins.
  3. Global Sports Shootout: Georgia Tech (#106) is one of two ACC schools that chose not to play in a traditional winners-advance tournament. Instead, the Yellow Jackets’ exempt event — the Global Sports Shootout — consists of four separate home games against mid-level competition. The last of those games will take place on Tuesday night (ACCN – 7:30 PM) when Georgia Tech hosts Sam Houston State (#148). Josh Pastner‘s team is 2-1 in these games after dropping Friday night’s contest to Ohio (#84), but the Jackets handily defeated Tennessee Tech (#268) and Southern (#271). Junior center Ben Lammers has been a standout so far, averaging 16.7 points, 11.3 rebounds, and an impressive 6.0 blocks per game.
  4. Battle 4 Atlantis: This will be Louisville‘s (#7) second appearance in the Battle 4 Atlantis event. In November 2012 the Cardinals lost to Duke in the finals of this event, although Rick Pitino‘s squad got its revenge in the Elite Eight by beating the Blue Devils handily on its way to the National Championship. As usual the Bahamas will host a highly competitive field, with all eight teams ranked among the top third of college basketball (per KenPom). Louisville faces the lowest-rated team in its opener against Old Dominion (#108) on Wednesday night (AXS – 9:30 PM). On Thanksgiving Day, the Cardinals will take on the winner of Wichita State (#23) and LSU (#87). On the other side of the bracket, Michigan State (#21), Baylor (#22) and VCU (#34) are all capable of making it to Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN/ESPN2 – 3:30 PM).
  5. NIT Season Tip-Off: Another ACC team will be playing in Brooklyn this week, as Florida State (#36) also ventures to the Barclays Center for the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Seminoles will battle Temple (#115) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPNU – 12:30 PM), and if they win that game, they will probably get a shot at West Virginia (#18) in Friday’s championship (ESPN2 – 3:00 PM). Two wins in Brooklyn would be huge for Leonard Hamilton‘s squad, as Florida State needs some impressive victories to put on its pre-conference resume. The Seminoles have not done so well in the non-conference phase of its schedule the last few years, so this represents a great opportunity to change that trend.
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North Carolina Bench Showing Great Promise Already

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 15th, 2016

With six upperclassmen returning from last year’s National Runner-up, North Carolina entered the year with plenty of known commodities. As the 2016-17 campaign got under way, however, it was the Tar Heels’ young bench that represented the team’s biggest question mark. That group, comprised of three freshmen and two sophomores, has so far performed well. Roy Williams‘ preferred method of substitution is a one-for-one swap at each of the five positions. Ideally that means that Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley split time at the center position; Justin Jackson and Brandon Robinson do likewise on the wing; and so on. This strategy is tailor-made for North Carolina’s run-and-gun system — which requires quick attacks in transition and plenty of motion in the half-court. It correspondingly takes a deep bench to play this way, and Williams has always counted on using that depth to wear down his opponents.

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Freshman big man Tony Bradley has been impressive in his first two games for North Carolina. (Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

As expected, North Carolina is getting great production from its top four returnees. Meeks and fellow senior Isaiah Hicks have been dominant around the basket and juniors Justin Jackson and Joel Berry are off to hot starts as well — Jackson tallied a career-high 27 points in the opener against Tulane, and Berry was so impressive that he was named co-ACC Player of the Week as a result. That veteran group is also getting good support from the youthful Tar Heels’ bench. Bradley has scored in double figures in both games and has already snagged a total of nine offensive rebounds. When asked about his young center’s exceptional play after Sunday’s win, Williams said, “He doesn’t try to do things that he can’t do.” The head coach also commended Bradley for his ability to run the floor.

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2016

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

Can the reloaded Tar Heels get back to the Final Four?

There's no question this year: this is Joel Berry's team. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

There’s no question this year: this is Joel Berry’s team. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

As was well-documented, North Carolina’s 2015-16 season was equal parts fairy tale and horror film. Roy Williams loses Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson from last year’s National Runner-Up, but this season’s team will likely be just as talented. First off, Joel Berry is criminally underrated. He was without a doubt the most important player on last year’s team, and he has a good chance to wind up on the short list for National Player of the Year. Second, Isaiah Hicks may finally put everything together last season and will go a long way toward filling Johnson’s shoes. However, there are some open questions here. Theo Pinson is out indefinitely after breaking his foot again, leaving the team overly reliant on Berry in the backcourt. He’ll have help in Nate Britt and freshman Seventh Woods , both of whom should get plenty of minutes (especially considering Roy Williams’ penchant for deep rotations), and Justin Jackson is a likely All-ACC wing. But the dropoff from the talent of Berry to Britt is steep, and Woods is still a freshman. That means Williams will need Berry on the floor for most of the game — especially once conference play begins. With Pinson out indefinitely, Jackson won’t have much help on the wing either. But don’t lose sight of the fact that Jackson and Berry are both elite, championship-level players. Read the rest of this entry »

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All Aboard the Isaiah Hicks Bandwagon

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2016

North Carolina never comes out of nowhere. When you’re an historic program with a Hall of Fame coach, why should you? Last year the Tar Heels were ranked first in the preseason AP Top 25 and finished the season a miracle shot away from capturing Roy Williams’ third National Championship. Despite losing All-America forward Brice Johnson and star lead guard Marcus Paige, the Heels are ranked #6 in this preseason’s Top 25 and were picked to finish second in the ACC at Operation Basketball in late October. Point guard Joel Berry was voted to the preseason All-ACC First Team and wing Justin Jackson was named to the Second Team.

With the departure of Brice Johnson, North Carolina will need senior Isaiah Hicks to play a larger role if they want to return to the Final Four. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer)

With the departure of Brice Johnson, North Carolina will need senior Isaiah Hicks to play a larger role if it wants to return to the Final Four. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer)

There is (rightfully) a lot of love for Williams’ squad heading into the season, but the player on the team not getting nearly enough hype is senior forward Isaiah Hicks. Hicks, who was the ACC Sixth Man of the Year last season, was a dominant force in short batches. However, the presence of Johnson at the four prevented him from logging the kind of minutes (45.2% minutes rate) that would have facilitated bigger numbers (8.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG). With Johnson no longer around, Hicks figures to become a key piece to a North Carolina team looking to get back to the Final Four and finish the job. Somewhat surprisingly, Hicks was not chosen for the All-ACC First or Second Team at Operation Basketball. That omission may look silly come March.

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