Five Surprises from Opening Weekend in the ACC

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 14th, 2017

Although the competition was mostly uninspiring over the last several days, it was a very busy weekend of basketball around the ACC. This week will bring an improvement in competition for the league, beginning with Duke taking on Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic in Chicago tonight. Just because the opposition wasn’t great, though, doesn’t mean we should ignore opening weekend. Here are the five biggest surprises from the first weekend-plus of the brand new ACC season.

Wake Forest Fell Hard to Georgia Southern on Friday Night (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. Wake Forest loses to Georgia Southern. This was a mild surprise but certainly not shocking to anyone who follows the mid-majors. Georgia Southern features two excellent guards in Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, both of whom played well on Friday night. Wake Forest, in its first game without all-ACC star John Collins, showed just how much they will miss the big man this season. In a game with ample opportunity to show their value, junior center Doral Moore battled foul trouble and finished with just two points, while sophomore center Sam Japhet-Mathias played just seven minutes without a point. Danny Manning’s small-ball, backcourt-heavy lineup is workable with Bryant Crawford leading the way, but not if they don’t even have the best backcourt on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Preseason Predictions and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2017

While it’s true that the season is already several days old, it is not yet too late for the ACC microsite to present you with our humble preseason predictions and superlatives. Before season tip-off, the four microsite writers ranked all 15 ACC squads by predicted order of finish, made some all-league selections and projected the player and coach of the year. Should you choose to not take my word for it, none of the panelists — Brad Jenkins, Matt Patton, Mick McDonald or myself — picked Duke’s Marvin Bagley III as our ACC Player of the Year. After his first two collegiate contests, I would already like a mulligan on that.

Bonzie Colson is the ACC Microsite’s Preseason Player of the Year (USA Today Images)

That honor instead went to Notre Dame senior forward Bonzie Colson in unanimous fashion. Diminutive for his position, the 6’5” Colson is coming off an all-ACC first team selection in which he averaged a double-double, and finished 10th in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings.

Preseason All-ACC First Team

  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame (40)
  • Joel Berry, North Carolina (30)
  • Grayson Allen, Duke (29)
  • Marvin Bagley III, Duke (28)
  • Bruce Brown, Miami (FL) (24)

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Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2017

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

Burning Question: How much will Roy Williams adapt to his team’s strengths?

Roy Williams‘ incredible success over the last two seasons should have silenced all of his doubters. By nearly any standard his teams were exceptionally talented — loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans and consensus four- and five-star players. But Duke and Kentucky were recruiting better classes, and that role reversal led to some grumbling from fans and overreaction from the media. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, of course, with the added bonus that even the ongoing specter of the NCAA disappeared after it punted on the academic fraud scandal. However, it is important to note that this year’s North Carolina team isn’t comprised of the same successful group of the last two seasons and it doesn’t profile like any of Williams’ best teams. The Tar Heels have a strong backcourt led by Joel Berry II and Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson, but Tony Bradley’s early departure to the NBA left the frontcourt lacking in depth, experience and talent.

Joel Berry will start the season on the sidelines, making Roy Williams’ job even tougher. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

It’s no secret Williams’ best teams have a blueprint roster. Two very good bigs (or, one great one), an elite point guard and an army of players on the wing (with at least one sharp-shooter). Berry is the elite point guard; Johnson is the sharp-shooting wing; but Luke Maye (despite his NCAA Tournament heroics) is no Sean May. With Bradley back, the Tar Heels would have had a good chance at a third straight trip to the Final Four. Without him it’s up to Williams to figure out how to adopt his system to accommodate three true post players (two of whom are freshmen). There’s still plenty of talent on the roster: Theo Pinson is back and consensus top-50 recruit Jalek Felton should get playing time right away. Seventh Woods still has a long way to go, but should have improved considerably during the offseason. Expect this year’s roster to be better shooting on the whole than the last few North Carolina teams (although maybe not, without the individual prowess of Justin Jackson), but it’s hard to see the secondary break working well without significant changes.

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Where 2017-18 Happens: Reason #1 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 10th, 2017

As RTC heads into its 11th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 10. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#1 – Where Roy’s Redemption Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 preseasons.

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Is North Carolina on the Verge of a Recruiting Renaissance?

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2017

For those of a certain age, college basketball recruiting was synonymous with the powder blue of North Carolina. When players stayed in school three, or even four, years, top-ranked classes led the Tar Heels to National Championships in 1982 and 1993 as well as multiple Final Four appearances. When those players grew up to become elite NBA names like Jordan, Worthy, Perkins, Stackhouse, Wallace, Carter and Jamison, a continuous feedback loop of talent attracting more talent was all but assured in Chapel Hill. When Dean Smith needed a new influx of All-Americans to replace the ones he was losing, you could rest assured that another top-flight recruiting class was on the way. That was then…

Sam Perkins, Michael Jordan and Dean Smith

Nowadays, Kentucky and Duke have taken over as the clear standard-bearers of recruiting in the one-and-done era. The two schools have combined to “win” the last six years of recruiting — three times each — with the appropriate hardware to show for it — a pair of National Championships and a handful of Final Fours. North Carolina, however, has largely been missing from those recruiting battles, as shown in the table below. Over the last 10 years — which, incidentally, still resulted in two NCAA titles (2009 and 2017) making their way to Franklin Street — the Tar Heels have only notched a pair of top-five recruiting classes. The most recent was the fifth-ranked 2012 class that included eventual All-Americans Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, and previous to that was the second-ranked 2009 class that most notably included John Henson and the Wear twins.

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Several Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2017

We attended ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte this week (links to the coaches’ and players’ press conferences can be found here). In addition to hearing from coaches and players from all 15 league schools, ACC commissioner John Swofford delivered his annual state of the league address. In this post we present some of the primary takeaways and interesting quotes we observed and heard over the course of the day. At the bottom of the post we also present the preseason award results as voted on by participating media.

LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS TO COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S PROBLEMS

Wednesday in Charlotte, ACC Commissioner John Swofford discussed the conference’s role in addressing the current issues facing college basketball. (USA Today Images)

Swofford spent much of his 45-minute forum on Wednesday discussing the current state of college basketball in light of the recent FBI probe into the sport. The longtime commissioner has always been cautious and guarded with his words in public venues, and accordingly — instead of offering headline grabbing suggestions to fix the college game — he opted to take the position of gathering more information before taking a stance. Swofford correspondingly announced that the league is forming a five-member task force to be headed by former Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage. The goal of the group will be to make recommendations to the recently formed NCAA commission, chaired by Condoleezza Rice, that is tasked with finding solutions to the myriad problems exposed by the federal investigation.

When asked for his personal opinion on two low-hanging fruits regarding immediate change, Swofford indicated that he would like to see the one-and-done rule disappear and would be interested in exploring something similar to the college baseball model that forces a decision on professional or collegiate tracks coming out of high school. Both proposals would do little to fix the problems facing college basketball right now — if the top 15 high school seniors went straight to the NBA, then the players ranked #16 through #30 would then become the prime targets for rogue shoe company representatives and agents. So, what’s the difference? As for considering the college baseball model, why don’t we instead worry about creating something that works specifically for college basketball? From the monumental amounts of money involved to the way the entire recruiting structure works, there’s very little in common between those two sports.

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2016-17 ACC Year In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 21st, 2017

As with any college basketball season, the ACC experienced its ups and downs during the 2016-17 campaign. The obvious highlight was North Carolina capturing its sixth National Championship — the 14th time an ACC school has won the grand prize. Despite Duke’s late push in the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels were the league’s best and most consistent team for nearly the entire season, winning the regular season conference race by two games in a historically competitive year. The league as a whole put a conference-record nine teams in the NCAA Tournament this season, but spoiled that accomplishment by laying a giant first weekend egg in the Big Dance. After placing 11 teams in the Sweet Sixteen over the previous two years, the Tar Heels were the only ACC representative this time around. Here’s a final look at some of the highs and lows of ACC basketball this season.

Roy Williams became the sixth head coach in NCAA history with three or more National Championships.
(Getty Images)

Best Performance: By capturing this year’s National Championship, North Carolina earned some redemption after losing one year ago on a Villanova buzzer-beater for the ages. The Heels did so with a potent combination of talent and experience, featuring three seniors and three juniors among their top six players. On the talent side, consider that five of the 15 remaining McDonald’s All-Americans from the 2013 and 2014 classes were in North Carolina’s starting lineup this season. This North Carolina team is not one of the greatest teams in school history, but its NCAA Tournament run proved Roy Williams’ club will be regarded as one of the toughest. The Tar Heels twice came back from late five-point deficits during the first two weekends (Arkansas and Kentucky), and both Final Four games against Oregon and Gonzaga were tight until the last few possessions. In keeping with its core strengths, North Carolina used its abilities in offensive rebounding and ball security to to beat the Ducks and Zags. John Gasaway calls the concept shot volume, as the Tar Heels were able to get 10 more shot attempts than Oregon and 14 more than Gonzaga. Williams, with his ninth Final Four appearance (fourth-best ever) and third National Championship, must now be considered one of greatest college coaches of all-time. His critics can no longer claim that he’s just been fortunate to have so much talent on his rosters. If talent is all that is required, then why aren’t Arizona and Kansas making more Final Fours? Why doesn’t John Calipari have three titles? It’s just not that easy.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 71, #1 Gonzaga 65

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament, including this weekend’s Final Four in Phoenix.

North Carolina Won Its Sixth National Championship Tonight (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. North Carolina Won the Game in the First Half. A Gonzaga fan might argue that is when the Zags lost it. Irrespective of which team is responsible for what, though, the crucial stretch of the game occurred near the end of the first half. The Zags had opened up a seven-point lead on a Josh Perkins three — his third of the half — when Tony Bradley missed a subsequent shot on the other end. An offensive rebound by Justin Jackson led to a foul on Zach Collins — his second — and that’s when the Tar Heels began to make their move. Just like against Oregon on Saturday, North Carolina closed the gap to only three points by halftime, and then bridged the intermission with a run to take a quick second half lead. By the time the 19-7 run was over, Collins had committed his third foul and the Zags seemed completely out of sorts. The game was mostly back and forth for the remainder of the half, but the prevailing sentiment was that a close game down the stretch would ultimately turn toward the Tar Heels. And that’s exactly what happened. North Carolina made a habit of closing strong in the year’s NCAA Tournament, and another late run — this time 8-0 over the last 1:53 — finished off the game and the Tar Heel’s sixth National Championship.
  2. Again, Survive. North Carolina certainly showed its moxie in repeatedly surviving and advancing throughout this year’s NCAA Tournament. First, the 12-0 run that vanquished Arkansas in the Round of 32. Survive. Next, another 12-0 run, followed by a wild Kentucky answer to tie the game but was subsequently rendered moot by Luke Maye’s Elite Eight dagger. Advance. Then there was the wild sequence of missed free throws and offensive rebounds that eliminated Oregon. Again, survive. And tonight’s whatever-that-was kind of game, which ultimately was the sort of slugfest that softer teams than these Tar Heels typically lose. After six wins, there’s no further advancement available other than to fly back to Chapel Hill and put some more hardware in an already overflowing trophy case. Survive and advance.
  3. Ugly, Ugly, Ugly. It’s unfortunate that one of the top storylines exiting a National Championship game is just how poorly both teams played. The officiating was also once again an issue, with multiple missed calls and a surplus of fouls (44) whistled, grinding the game to an ugly halt (27 in the second half). Still, much of the visual pain came from the teams’ non-championship caliber product on the floor. The Zags shot 33.9 percent from the floor; the Heels 35.6 percent; and despite all the fouling, both teams combined to leave 20 points at the free throw line. Gonzaga’s usually sure-handed offense — ranking among the top 40 nationally in turnover percentage — gave the ball away 14 times, several of which were completely unforced. Perhaps the most fitting bookends to a second half as ugly as tonight was that North Carolina both started and ended the half with a breakaway bucket coming from a Gonzaga turnover. North Carolina proved to be the better team and their fans partying on Franklin Street certainly don’t care how they got there, but it wasn’t a virtuoso performance by either team befitting a title bout.
  4. Roy Williams’ Legacy. When North Carolina gave Matt Doherty the boot in 2003 after three shaky seasons, the school’s hope was that prodigal son Roy Williams would return to Chapel Hill and rebuild the legacy of the proud program — Dean Smith’s program. It’s safe to say that the 66-year old has exceeded all expectations. With his third National Championship in the last 14 seasons, he has not only doubled the total number of titles residing in Chapel Hill, but he has also exceeded the total of his mentor and all-around deity in the Tar Heel State, Coach Smith (two). Just like his former boss, there was a time when Williams “couldn’t win the big one.” From 1989-2003, Williams’ Kansas teams were always very good — going to the Final Four on four separate occasions but failing each time to bring the hardware back to Lawrence. My, how things have certainly changed. With his third title tonight, Williams has joined a group of only five other coaches — John Wooden (10), Mike Krzyzewski (5), Adolph Rupp (4), Jim Calhoun (3), and Bobby Knight (3) — at the top of the coaching heap. Furthermore, he has the strongest resume of any coach of the last 15 years — Coach K included — and he has done so on the backs of players who are not considered talented enough to become one-and-done material. His energy and fire suggests that he’s not done yet, either.
  5. Gonzaga’s Legacy. Duke lost its first four National Championship games before finally breaking through in 1991. Georgetown lost its first two before getting it done in 1984. North Carolina’s own Dean Smith lost his first three title bouts before Michael Jordan’s jumper dropped through the net in 1982. The point here is that a number of the titans in our sport have had to wait their turns before they captured the brass ring. Gonzaga’s Mark Few is 54 years old and has given no indication that he wants to coach anywhere else. He has made the NCAA Tournament in all 18 years of his career, and there’s no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. Gonzaga will carry a heavy heart for some time over its numerous missed chances tonight, but the Zags are a powerful high-major level program that can recruit and play with anybody. It’s completely reasonable to expect that Few’s team will be back on the Monday night stage sooner than later. For this kind of program, that should be our expectation. It certainly is theirs.

Star of the Game. Joel Berry III, North Carolina. No player on either side had impressive numbers tonight, but it was the timeliness of Joel Berry III’s work on Monday night that was the difference between championship and runner-up. His 22 points and six assists were inefficient (7-of-19 FG; 4-of-13 3FG), but his four long-range bombs represented the only makes on the North Carolina side (4-of-27 3FG) during a very rough shooting night for everyone. Most importantly, three of the four came at key points of the game when his team seemed to just need something to drop through the hoop — after getting down seven points in the first half; to regain the lead after Gonzaga had recovered from its rough second half opening; and again to regain the lead when it appeared the Zags were surging with four minutes remaining. As the junior point guard shared afterward: “Some of them were short, but the ones that we needed went in.”

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 77, #3 Oregon 76

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament, including this weekend’s Final Four in Phoenix.

North Carolina Advances to Its Second Straight National Championship Game (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. North Carolina Survived, Part I. With a little more than four minutes remaining in the first half, Oregon hit a three-pointer to go up by eight points. North Carolina’s offense to that point was sputtering with a shooting percentage in the high 20-percent range, and nobody other than Kennedy Meeks seemed to be able to find the range. From that point over the next eight game minutes spanning the halftime break, North Carolina went on a 26-8 run to take the lead and never relinquished it. The feeling around the building was that the Tar Heels — which has more offensive options on its roster — had dodged a bullet. Oregon stars Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey were a combined 2-of-11 from the field for just 10 points, and although several other players (most notably, Dylan Ennis) had stepped up, it was clear that the Ducks had wasted a golden opportunity. Once the Tar Heels’ offensive machine got rolling on the back of Justin Jackson along with Meeks, Oregon was in big trouble.
  2. North Carolina Survived, Part II. Until it wasn’t in big trouble. After spending most of the second half nurturing a working lead in the 5- to 10-point range, the Ducks kept chipping away at it until the Tar Heels finally relented. A late Oregon run — punctuated by perplexingly awful decision-making on both ends — cut the North Carolina lead to a single point with seven seconds remaining, setting in motion a seemingly impossible finish. Two missed free throws by Kennedy Meeks led to an offensive tip-out and the Tar Heels retaining possession, followed by another foul and two more missed free throws from Joel Berry, an offensive rebound by Meeks, and the Tar Heels again retaining possession. With four seconds remaining, there was more than enough time for Oregon to make a push up the court and find a decent shot, but that idea was quashed by North Carolina’s relentlessness on the glass. After the Heels had gifted the Ducks two incredible opportunities to win, it seemed a fitting way to end a game that had gotten very ugly down the stretch. Survive and advance comes in many different forms, but four missed fouls shots followed by consecutive offensive rebounds was a first.
  3. Oregon Needed a Productive Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey. The Ducks were only going to go as far as their two offensive stars took them in this NCAA Tournament, and both Brooks and Dorsey were clearly bothered by the North Carolina defense tonight. In a contest where few outside shots were falling, the Heels forced the pair into a 5-of-22 disaster (3-of-10 from three-point range) that caused the Ducks too many empty offensive possessions. Compare that with the 9-of-18 from three-point range the pair hit against Kansas, and it’s easy to see why Oregon spent most of tonight playing from behind. Excellent efforts by Ennis (18 points) and Bell (13 points) kept the Ducks within range, but North Carolina was simply too good to force the Oregon stars into a tough night and not take advantage. The Tar Heels are moving on because they were able to contain these guys.

Star of the Game. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina. Meeks went into Beast Mode tonight against an Oregon front line that basically consisted of Jordan Bell and the aura surrounding him. His 14 points and five rebounds in the first half kept the Tar Heels afloat while awaiting the arrival of Justin Jackson (who finished with 22 points), and it seemed as if he was in the right spot at the right time every time Oregon appeared to be making a push. Perhaps this was illustrated no better than in the final sequence when, after missing a pair of his own free throws, he secured the game-winning offensive rebound after Berry’s misses, unloading the ball quickly into the backcourt before Oregon could foul yet again. His 25 points and 14 rebounds were both team-high totals, and it’s an accurate statement to say that Oregon would have won tonight if not for Meeks’ contributions.

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