Rushed Reactions: Duke 74, North Carolina 73

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 15th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Zion Williamson led Duke to an exciting ACC Tournament win over rival North Carolina. (The Sporting News)
  1. This game lived up to the hype. This was perhaps the most anticipated semifinal matchup in ACC Tournament history and the two teams delivered an instant classic. It was only fitting that the outcome wasn’t decided until the game’s final possession when North Carolina missed two shots in the last three seconds. For most of the first half it looked like a mismatch — North Carolina raced out to a commanding 13-point lead and the Blue Devils were dealing with foul trouble to their depleted front line (especially true with Marquise Bolden out). But Mike Krzyzewski got some surprising production from his bench and Duke roared back to tie the game at the half. After the break Duke took the lead and looked to be in control only to see the Tar Heels rally. It wasn’t the prettiest game — the teams combined to make just 9-of-47 shots from deep — but the intensity level and effort from both teams was top-notch. And who knows? We may get to see them go at it again in Minneapolis.
  2. Duke’s bench came through in surprising fashion. Zion Williamson was outstanding, but Duke would not have pulled this game out without the play of the much-maligned Blue Devils’ bench. Led by Cameron Johnson (16 first half points), North Carolina was rolling in the first half and beating the Blue Devils down the court for transition buckets. Additionally, Cam Reddish and Javin DeLaurier were in foul trouble. First, Krzyzewski inserted Jordan Goldwire into the game in place of Reddish and his defense helped turn the game around. Goldwire took on the assignment of slowing down Coby White, an absolute jet in the open court, while starting point guard Tre Jones moved over to harass Johnson. When DeLaurier picked up his third foul, seldom used Antonio Vrankovic got the call and held his own with the Tar Heels’ frontcourt for a total of 10 minutes. Goldwire earned postgame praise from both head coaches for the energy he brought to his team when they needed a boost.
  3. History repeats itself (barely). This makes the third year in a row that these two old rivals have met in the ACC Tournament semifinals. In each of those prior tourney matchups, the winner was the team that had lost the prior meeting between the two a week earlier. In fact, that has been the case in the last five ACC Tournament meetings between Duke and North Carolina (2003, 2011, 2017-19). For North Carolina, this tradition runs even deeper — over the last 46 years, whenever the Tar Heels face Duke in the ACC Tournament after defeating the Blue Devils in the regular season finale, their record in those games is 0-6. But recent rivalry history is not all bad news for Williams. During his 15 years at the helm in Chapel Hill, the winner of the last regular season Duke-UNC matchup of the year has gone on to perform better in the NCAA Tournament than its rival 13 times.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The freshman phenom finally got his chance to play in college basketball’s biggest rivalry and he made the most of it. Williamson finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds and ended up making the game-winner when he followed up his own miss with 31 seconds to go.

Quotable.

  • “The guy that’s been hurt [Zion Williamson] came back and put on his superman jersey again and was incredible. It’s such a blend of strength and power and quickness that we couldn’t stop him getting the basketball inside and going to the basket.” – North Carolina coach Roy Williams’ opening comments in the press conference.
  • “This was obviously a great game. I mean vintage ACC, Duke-North Carolina.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski on the game.
  • “I mean it was tough watching the first two games. […] the rivalry lived up to what I expected it to be” – Duke’s Zion Williamson on finally getting to play against North Carolina.

Sights and Sounds. This was probably the most anticipated semifinal matchup in ACC Tournament history, so it was fitting that this battle between Tobacco Road rivals took place in the state of North Carolina. As expected, the Tar Heels had the support of about two-thirds of the Spectrum Center, but both sets of fans were extremely into the game throughout the contest.

What’s Next. Duke moves on to play Florida State for the ACC championship on Saturday night. It will be the second title meeting between the two schools — the Blue Devils beat the Seminoles in 2009. Duke and Florida State only played once in the regular season, with Duke winning a one-point buzzer-beating game in Tallahassee in early January.

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What’s Trending: This is March!

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 4th, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

The first four months of the college basketball season are now in the books, and this week gave us the annual Jon Rothstein countdown to March. Like clockwork, the CBS analyst delivered as all hoops fans knew he would. Welcome to March!

With March now here, conference races are in the home stretch. As such, Saturday night’s game between the best teams in the Mountain West ended with Utah State beating Nevada. After the game, Utah State fans rushed the court. Shortly after that, bedlam took place in the hallway under the arena as Nevada‘s Jordan Caroline erupted in anger. While to this point the incident is full of rumors and hearsay, it sets up what could be a wild match-up if the two teams see each other again in the Mountain West Tournament…

This week also featured some history. First there was Purdue’s Matt Haarms’ night of perfection against Illinois…

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VI

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 19th, 2019

With Virginia’s win over Virginia Tech on Monday night, North Carolina is now in position to create a three-way tie at first place in the ACC standings with an upset victory at Duke on Wednesday. 

Stock Rising

Florida State is Riding High Again (USA Today Images)

Florida State: Just one short month ago, the Seminoles blew a 10-point halftime lead at Boston College to extend their losing streak to three games. That defeat dropped Florida State to 1-4 in ACC play and out of the national polls. With a promising season circling the drain, Leonard Hamilton’s veteran squad has responded by winning every game since. In ripping off those seven consecutive wins, Florida State has vaulted itself back into the second tier of the league behind Virginia, North Carolina and Duke. Only a dramatic comeback overtime victory over Louisville and a nine-point handling of Clemson were close games. In typical fashion, the Seminoles are winning with balance, depth, length and defensive acumen. Five different players have led the team in scoring over the past seven games, and only the Cardinals reached 70 points against their top-20 defense.

Sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele has been a revelation, leading the Seminoles in scoring despite not starting a single game. Senior Terrance Mann is the only other player averaging in double figures, but Florida State’s lack of an explosive scorer is made up in the balance of having eight guys notching 6.5 points per game or better. The Seminoles face a stiff test in keeping its current winning streak alive, as a trip to a desperate Clemson team looms tonight followed by a visit to Chapel Hill. But, with a split, and with all of its final four games coming in Tallahassee and at Wake Forest, Hamilton’s squad could find itself right where most envisioned prior to its slow start — as the #4 seed heading into the ACC Tournament.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume V

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 7th, 2019

Saturday’s rematch between Virginia and Duke looked for a while like it would be the deciding factor in this year’s ACC regular season race. Maybe it will turn out to be just that, but let’s not rush so fast on calling it the game for the crown.

Stock Rising

North Carolina is Quietly Waiting on Duke and Virginia to Falter (USA Today Images)

North Carolina’s Backboard Dominance: Don’t look now, but Roy Williams’ bunch has officially made the ACC regular season championship a three-horse race. Since its curious blowout loss to Louisville three weeks ago, North Carolina has ripped off six consecutive wins, including a return-the-favor beatdown of the Cardinals on Saturday. Despite some hiccups, North Carolina has never dropped out of KenPom‘s top 10, and currently rates seventh nationally on the strength of both a top-20 offense and defense. During their recent run, it has been notable how the Tar Heels have gotten back to dominating the backboard, a staple for Williams’ squads in Chapel Hill. Since being outrebounded in the January 12 loss to Louisville, the Heels have averaged more than 10 rebounds per game than its opposition, highlighted by a +17 advantage on Saturday. Now 19th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 15th in keeping jits opponents off of the offensive boards, North Carolina has gotten back its identity as an elite rebounding unit. If the Heels hold serve against Miami at home on Saturday, Monday’s home tilt with Virginia could set up as a battle for the top slot in the conference standings — assuming the Cavaliers can protect their home court against Duke — which will be no easy task thanks to…

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ACC Weekend Preview: January 19

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 18th, 2019

This weekend is highlighted by a monster showdown in Durham, but there are some tricky road trips as well for teams near the top of the standings. Rush the Court ACC microsite writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you ready for the weekend ahead in the ACC. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, January 19

Roy Williams Needs His Freshmen to Produce (USA Today Images)

#10 North Carolina (13-4, 3-1) at #72 Miami (9-7, 1-3). Did we finally see the Nassir Little coming-out party? The stud freshman has been spent plenty of time on Roy Williams’ bench so far this season, but in the Tar Heels’ recent win over Notre Dame, Little scored 11 second-half points on 5-of-8 shooting along with six boards. Part of the equation for this North Carolina team being successful was Little becoming an immediate star. The Heels also need Coby White to get back on track. In the Tar Heels’ four ACC contests to date, White’s Offensive Rating is down eight points and his turnover percentage is up six points to nearly 24 percent. He’ll try to find his footing in Coral Gables as he matches up with Miami dynamo Chris Lykes, someone who is posting a 133.3 Offensive Rating and a 27.3 PER.

#32 NC State (14-3, 2-2) at #75 Notre Dame (11-6, 1-3). Oh, what a loss in Winston-Salem will do for an ACC team’s outlook. The Wolfpack were feeling pretty good about themselves in early ACC play after a successful non-conference campaign followed by a competitive home loss to North Carolina. Then Kevin Keatts‘ squad dropped the one game you cannot lose in the ACC this season. NC State three-point shooting, which was so strong through the first 13 games of the year (41.4%) has dropped to just 29.9 percent in ACC play. Given the way the Wolfpack plays, they are going to be in considerable trouble if they can’t start making more shots from long-distance. NC State heads to South Bend to take on a struggling Fighting Irish club. Even though it’s been a disappointing season for Mike Brey’s team so far, how about a little love for John Mooney? He is quietly putting up a monster season (30.2 PER, 130.6 ORtg), averaging a double-double and shooting nearly 46 percent from three-point range.

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North Carolina Bounces Back With Big Win Over Gonzaga

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 17th, 2018

After getting blown out at Michigan as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Roy Williams made some terse comments about the current state of his team — basically saying that North Carolina “stinks,” and that he was doing a poor job coaching his squad. In the Tar Heels’ first real test since that evening, his team laid the wood on Gonzaga, 103-90, Saturday night in the Smith Center. Senior forwards Luke Maye and Cam Johnson led the way as Williams’ team once again looked the part of a legitimate national contender.

Luke Maye won his individual battle with Rui Hachimura in North Carolina’s weekend victory over Gonzaga. (photo credit: goheels.com)

After a very successful junior campaign, Maye has to date had a disappointing senior year. His key offensive numbers are down – both in terms of scoring (14.3 versus 16.9 PPG) and shooting (45.0% versus 48.6% FG) — but he got the better of Gonzaga All-America candidate Rui Hachimura on Saturday night. Maye finished with 20 points and 16 rebounds in the winning effort while Hachimura contributed 17 points and six rebounds. One area where Maye has improved this season is at the free throw stripe. After making all seven of his tries against Gonzaga, he is now shooting 79.5 percent on the season (after converting only 62.4 percent of his freebies a year ago).

North Carolina also made a season high 13 three-pointers against the Zags with Johnson chiefly responsible (6-of-8 3FG). Williams has been waiting for a break-out shooting performance, saying after the game, “I’ve been telling Cam [Johnson], Kenny [Williams] and Luke [Maye] that you guys are our best shooters — how ’bout trying to be our best makers?” A regular strength of the North Carolina program is its work on the boards and that was hugely evident on Saturday as well. Gonzaga entered the contest ranked among the 50 best offensive rebounding teams in college basketball, but the Zags managed to only grab five of its 33 misses against the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, North Carolina converted 14 offensive boards into 27 points. As Mark Few said afterward, “They just pounded us on the glass, too. […] The shots we did get them to miss, they usually got the rebound and put it back in.”

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North Carolina Off and Running Out of the Gate

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2018

Two weeks ago, when asked to submit my preseason national rankings, I knew the decision to place North Carolina as my top-rated squad would draw some raised eyebrows. Three games into the season, however, I have seen nothing from the Tar Heels (maybe something from Duke) that has given me reason for pause — in fact, their performance in this small sample size has been even better than anticipated. For the first time in more than three decades, North Carolina opened its season with two true road games, a challenge rarely taken by the sport’s elite (Duke, for example, won’t play its first road game until January 8!). And while not tested by the strongest of competition, Elon and Wofford, which beat Roy Williams‘ team at the Dean Dome a year ago, provided difficult road environments that helped prepare the Tar Heels for what will be a conference schedule littered with those affairs.

North Carolina Has Been Quietly Humming Along Through Three Games (USA Today Images)

After rolling Stanford at home on Monday night for the third victory of the season, North Carolina now ranks third in the KenPom ratings, a product of strong performances on both ends of the floor (currently ranking fifth in both offensive and defensive efficiency). Rarely does Williams fret over his offense, but he must be reveling in the elite defensive potential that this year’s team has already shown. Freshmen Nassir Little and Leaky Black are the type of long, athletic and versatile wings whose sole purpose seems to be to disrupt the flow of opposing offenses. Little, for all of his natural ability, also appears to check all of the intangible boxes to boot — toughness, strength, desire. Those areas have not always been North Carolina’s calling cards, but this year’s squad has shown a willingness to be first to the floor and it seems to play harder than its opponents.

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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 6th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation. Part 1 can be found here.

Justin Robinson returns to lead Virginia Tech after being a Second Team All-ACC selection in 2017-18. (AP Photo)

  • Brad Jenkins: Let’s discuss Florida State. I was a little surprised at ACC Media Day to hear Leonard Hamilton and his players talk about coming up short last year — as if the Elite Eight wasn’t good enough. That impressed me (if they really believe it). How good can the Seminoles be this season?
  • Mick McDonald: I think they are being overrated somewhat thanks to the NCAA Tournament run. They’ll be solid — Leonard Hamilton teams usually are. They’ve got good depth and guys like Terrance Mann and Phil Cofer (when he returns) who are proven ACC players, and a guy in MJ Walker who could be in for a breakout year. But I see them much more as a solid sixth-eighth place team versus one that can compete for the league title.
  • Matt Auerbach: Which is essentially what they were a year ago. But we tend to remember how teams finished and apply our expectations based upon that. I think Florida State will be good, in fact better than a year ago, but that puts the Seminoles at around 11-7 in the league.
  • Brad Jenkins: Florida State does have a pretty decent ACC schedule, as the Seminoles will play the bottom four teams on the road, which could help them place higher than expected. Buzz Williams did a good job last year of hiding Virginia Tech’s size disadvantage by going to a pack-line defensive philosophy. Can the Hokies get away with that again? It feels like this is the year that Buzz has been building for.
  • Mick McDonald: Count me all-in on Buzz. I think you can make an argument the Hokies have the best backcourt in the league with Justin Robinson and Nickeil-Alexander Walker. Chris Clarke is a poor man’s Jae Crowder from Williams’ awesome Marquette teams, and they have a few other guys who shoot the lights out. I have them fourth in the ACC and a borderline top-10 team nationally. If Kerry Blackshear can stay out of foul trouble, this team can beat anyone. (Editor’s note: This conversation took place before Wednesday’s announcement that Clarke had been suspended indefinitely from the Hokies’ squad.)
  • Matt Auerbach: Agreed. I love Robinson and that’s a great comp for Clarke. Ty Outlaw can also really shoot it. Blackshear is the X-factor here. When he plays well, this team will be nearly impossible to deal with in Blacksburg and will be able to compete with anyone on the road.

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ACC Burning Questions, Part 5: Duke, North Carolina & Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 2nd, 2018

To wrap up our ACC team previews, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) brings us home by reviewing league favorites Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

Duke Burning Question: How will Duke’s talented freshmen gel on the court?

The Duke Freshmen Are Ready to Roll (USA Today Images)

Duke has the most talented roster in the country, but as we know, talent alone doesn’t always mean championships. After losing almost his entire roster from last year’s Elite Eight squad, Mike Krzyzewski reloaded with four of the very best prospects in the country. The question is how those pieces will fit together. While Zion Williamson (who is basically a cross between Justin Bieber and LeBron James on YouTube) is the Blue Devils’ biggest star, R.J. Barrett is the best player on the team. He dominated for Team Canada in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup last year and is likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The smooth lefty likes to have the ball in his hands, so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with expected starting point guard Tre Jones.

Will fellow freshman Cam Reddish accept not being the lead banana on a team with plentiful options? Will anyone outside of sophomore Alex O’Connell (48.9% 3FG) make any three-pointers? Will juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier be able to stay out of Krzyzewski’s doghouse to support the talented freshmen? Whether you believe that Duke will figure it all out and win the national title or if you have concerns about egos overtaking the team en route to an early exit in March, Duke is without question the most fascinating team in college basketball this season.

North Carolina Burning Question: What lineup does Roy Williams want to use?

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Several Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 26th, 2018

Charlotte’s Spectrum Center was the site of this year’s ACC Operation Basketball and we were in the Queen City earlier this week to cover the annual event. In this post we present some of the primary takeaways we observed and interesting quotes we heard over the course of the day (links to the coaches’ and players’ press conferences can be found here), and at the bottom we also present the preseason award results as voted on by participating media.

STILL LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS TO COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S PROBLEMS

Notre Dame’s Mike Brey had a lot to say about the current state of college basketball as well as the ACC’s new scheduling changes at ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte.
(dailypress.com)

A major topic of discussion at ACC Operation Basketball once again this year was the fallout from the ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. At last year’s event, the FBI probe had just revealed incriminating allegations involving two ACC schools, Louisville and MiamiN.C. State was later added to the naughty list. Coincidentally, the first criminal trial of individuals involved in some of these pay-for-play schemes wrapped up on Wednesday with guilty verdicts for all three defendants. But the big fallout has yet to come, possibly in the form of NCAA sanctions against the schools (“victims”) complicit in those nefarious recruiting activities. In his morning address, ACC’s commissioner  John Swofford was very supportive of the NCAA reforms based on last spring’s Rice Commission recommendations, while acknowledging that “I don’t think it’s going to be perfect. I think we’re going to have to test some of the things that are being changed, tweak them as we go along.”

Given the timeliness of the verdicts, many ACC coaches were asked to chime in on the topic. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams had been highly criticized for comments they had previously made on the matter, so both Hall of Fame coaches spent time on Wednesday clarifying their points of view. Kryzyzewski repeated the explanation he gave following Duke’s exhibition game on Tuesday night, claiming that his use of the term “blip” to characterize the revelations was not meant to be dismissive on their importance. Likewise, Williams explained what he meant when he claimed to be “dumbfounded” by the new information: “A very intelligent person one time told me there’s a difference between being indifferent or having a lack of knowledge. And my problem is I have a lack of knowledge about those things. I’m not very indifferent about it at all.” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey showed that he was willing to go deeper with his comments in saying, “But certainly there’s some NCAA issues here. There’s no question about that. […] We’ve got some guys that aren’t amateurs, let’s handle that.”

CHANGES COMING FOR CONFERENCE SCHEDULES

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