Virginia Tech Earns Instant Credibility With Hire of Buzz Williams

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 25th, 2014

When Virginia Tech announced on Friday that it had poached head coach Buzz Williams from Marquette to replace the recently-fired James Johnson, the immediate reaction was that of general astonishment. Why on Earth would Williams leave a team he’d taken to the postseason in five out of six years on the bench to a program that had only reached the Big Dance once since 1996 and has finished last in the ACC three years running? While the reasons, thoroughly outlined here, became more apparent in the ensuing days, the real story is the amazing acquisition made by new Virginia Tech athletic director, Whit Babcock. The hiring of Williams and the way it managed to circle all of the major media outlets during the opening weekend of NCAA Tournament play, gave the Hokies basketball program something it hasn’t experienced in years: instant credibility.

Buzz Williams Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA's (cbssports.com)

Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech PR campaign included a TNT appearance during the NCAA Tournament (cbssports.com)

Williams oversaw a very successful Marquette program in the Big East, going an impressive 139-69 in his six years at the helm and taking the school to two Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run. No doubt his ability to navigate a difficult conference schedule (prior to realignment) and enjoy postseason success was extremely attractive to a Hokies program just trying to get noticed. Williams obviously looked around the ravaged Big East — a conference that the ACC raided to bring in Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh — and saw a chance to jump to the premier basketball conference in the land to match wits with four Hall of Fame coaches in Roy Williams, Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski. Some may have originally seen the move as a bizarre one (especially Williams’ pay cut from $3 million to $2.3 million annually) , but coupling the chance to compete in the new-look ACC with the uncertainty in the Marquette administration as well as the state of the weakened Big East, the decision began to make more sense.

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Triangle Basketball Apocalypse: A Retrospective

Posted by Matt Patton on March 24th, 2014

NC State, Duke and North Carolina all lost over the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament in excruciating fashion: NC State led essentially the whole game before slowly relinquishing a 99 percent safe (according to kenpom.com) lead in the final four minutes to Saint Louis; Duke’s stars failed to produce en route to also blowing a 90 percent safe lead in the final five minutes to a double-digit underdog; North Carolina made the round of 32, but never got a last shot (presumably to win the game) because of a hesitant clock operator. Let’s take a deeper look at all three.

Roy Williams was understandably deflated after bizarre finish. (credit: Christine Nguyen / Durham Herald Sun)

Roy Williams was understandably deflated after a bizarre finish in San Antonio. (credit: Christine Nguyen / Durham Herald Sun)

There’s no sugarcoating the NC State loss. It was brutal to follow. Drawn out and essentially feeding on itself (each missed free throw made the following ones even more difficult), it was just the toughest collapse to watch. Truthfully it was the worst collapse in a very long time. No one finished watching that game thinking that the better team (at least at this moment) had won. The Wolfpack dominated the first 37 minutes before Saint Louis got desperate and reached into the well-worn halls of NC State history for Jimmy V’s relentless fouling strategy. It worked. The Wolfpack made eight of 18 free throws in the final 2:44 of the game, while the dormant Billikens offense jumped to life, scoring 16 points over the same span (19 points if you count Jordair Jett‘s and-one with three minutes left that started the comeback). That was just shy of a third of Saint Louis’ offensive production over the first 37 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Jim Crews’ team went on to win in overtime after Tyler Lewis rattled out the would-be game winner at the buzzer from (gulp) the free throw line. Good luck finding a more drawn-out collapse.

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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Friday Evening

Posted by Brian Otskey, Andrew Murawa, Walker Carey & Bennet Hayes on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

We may not know what the Friday evening sessions might have in store for us, but we can be confident in thinking there will be lots of excitement. Let’s continue our analysis of all of today’s games with the evening slate of eight contests.

#8 Memphis vs. #9 George Washington – East Region Second Round (at Raleigh, NC) – 6:55 PM ET on TBS

It's Put Up or Shut Up Time for Josh Pastner (Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s Put Up or Shut Up Time for Josh Pastner
(Photo: Spruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports)

On paper this is a very intriguing game. The statistics, especially those compiled by Ken Pomeroy, point to an even match-up between two teams who play similar styles. A tougher Atlantic 10 schedule caught up to George Washington in the closing weeks of the season but the Colonials still enter this game with a 7-5 record in their last 12 games. Memphis, on the other hand, is just 4-4 in its last eight after getting bounced on its home floor by Connecticut in the AAC Tournament. Mike Lonergan’s team will be led by a pair of former high-major players who transferred to his program, Maurice Creek and Isaiah Armwood. Creek represents the most substantial three-point threat for GW and it will be interesting to see if he can get some shots to go down against a Memphis guard unit that defends the arc fairly well. There is injury news regarding the Colonials. 6’3” guard Kethan Savage is unlikely to see significant time if at all, but Lonergan would not rule him out of action when asked on Thursday. Savage (12.7 PPG) made a one-minute appearance in last week’s conference tournament loss to VCU but has not played any significant minutes since January 18. If he can go, it would provide more of an emotional lift to GW than anything else given he is nowhere near 100 percent. As for Memphis, it will have to dominate the paint area and win the rebounding battle in order to advance to the round of 32. The Tigers have a lot of talent but it is hard to trust this team against a talented A-10 club with something to prove.

The RTC Certified Pick: George Washington

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What North Carolina Needs to Do to Beat Providence

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 19th, 2014

North Carolina has its hands full tonight with its first round match-up against #11 Providence. The Friars are red-hot at the moment, coming off a Big East Tournament title that included an upset win over Creighton. Head coach Ed Cooley placed a premium on winning the title in Madison Square Garden because the Friars hadn’t won it since 1994 and only once in the past 34 years. Providence may have lucked out in avoiding top seed Villanova after the Wildcats were upset by Seton Hall at the buzzer, but they still managed to get past the Bluejays and college basketball’s likely NPOY. The Friars’ best player, senior guard Bryce Cotton, was a unanimous first team all-Big East selection and he is a handful for any defense. A capable scorer who has increased his distribution skills this year, Cotton is much like North Carolina’s Marcus Paige in that they are both rail-thin, ball-dominating guards that are relied upon heavily from the perimeter. Their battle at that position will be one of the key match-ups in this game, and if Paige can play Cotton even or better, the Tar Heels will be well positioned to advance.

Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

The competitor in Marcus Paige must be looking forward to his matchup with Bryce Cotton ( Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

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Rushed Reactions: Pittsburgh 80, #15 North Carolina 75

Posted by mpatton on March 14th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Marcus Paige has been a revelation this season. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige has been a revelation this season. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

  1. Pittsburgh finally got its big win. The Panthers were on the bubble coming into the ACC Tournament, but a dominant beatdown of Wake Forest and a convincing (albeit close) win against North Carolina puts the Panthers squarely where they should be talking about seeding rather than sweating on Selection Sunday. The Panthers are healthy and have two great players in Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna. This team finally lived up to its computer profile. They pass the ball very well (when not being trapped in the backcourt, but more on that later), but most importantly, the way Pittsburgh plays there are no obvious weaknesses for opponents to exploit.
  2. North Carolina can’t keep starting slow. It’s a dangerous game to play. It’s even worse when you consider the Tar Heels appear to expect a perfect performance from Marcus Paige in the second half of every game. That said, give major credit to the Roy Williams for going to the press in the final quarter of the game. Pittsburgh really struggled with the pressure, and it got the North Carolina team (and crowd) back in the game. But there’s no reason this team should have stretches like the 3-of-19 start to open the contest. All that said, North Carolina almost pulled off one of the most unlikely comebacks I’ve ever seen. They never quit, almost seeming to forget about the first three quarters of the game. That could pay dividends later.
  3. These are both good teams. Good enough to make a deep run in the Big Dance (or lose the first weekend). After the game, Paige was asked how they had lived up to his expectations.

    “The season is not over for us. It’s hard to say. There’s a lot that could happen in the next however many weeks that could change that answer. I think we have dreams and goals of making the deep Tournament run and I think we’re capable of doing that. A lot of it rests on that. We’re pleased with the way we’ve been able to fight back and win 12 games in a row and put ourselves in the good position. That’s not what our expectation was coming into the year. That’s what really made this month.”

    Couldn’t say it any better myself.

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Sentimental Value: On the Notion of an ACC Regular Season Crown

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on March 14th, 2014

Since many of the ACC’s founding members sprang from what was known as the ‘Southern Conference’ in 1953, the ACC adopted many of the SoCon’s mannerisms and bylaws. The Southern Conference traditionally anointed a champion via their postseason tournament and out of that came their postseason automatic bid. Ever since the ACC formalized the wording of a similarly fateful decision in 1961, the ACC regular season title has been all but a formality. The idea behind awarding a postseason victor in a short and somewhat chaotic multi-day tournament setting was to provide a free-for-all environment that was both entertaining and unpredictable. This ACC Tournament gave lower seeded teams who had a less successful regular season a chance at making The Big Dance. And back in the day and age where these rules were first enacted, only 15 teams were awarded chances at the NCAA Tournament, making a bid all that more valuable and cherished.

Is ACC Tournament success a strong indicator of NCAA Tournament success?

Is the ACC Tournament success a strong indicator of NCAA Tournament success? Florida State parlayed a win in the tournament in 2012 into a solid showing in the Big Dance.

In a format where games are played on top of each other with little or no rest or time to prepare, less superior teams would essentially be able to pull a win out regardless of their records. But while all the other major conferences today at least recognize officially the regular season champion, why has the ACC lagged behind is perplexing to say the least. The ACC finally began paying homage to the regular season winners in 1990, and retroactively recognized the winners from 1954-1989 in that same year. But why it took them so long, and why more conferences do not go along with the Ivy League method of a regular season champion is beyond me. ESPN‘s entrance into the foray and emphasis placed on Championship Week may have something to do with it, glamorizing the end of season postseason tournaments as bubble bursting madness.

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The Unofficial RTC ACC Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 11th, 2014

While the more official hardware is beginning to be handed out, like Player and Coach of the Year and the All-ACC team’s, it’s worth looking at some more under-the-radar superlatives that players and coaches have earned through the course of the regular season on the precipice of ACC Tournament time in Greensboro.

Here are five awards that RTC found to be equally as important as some of their more official brethren:

Most Selfless Upperclassman: Joe Harris, Virginia.

His scoring dipped more than four points a game from a year ago as he watched Malcolm Brogdon become the go-to scorer and clutch player on the team, plummeting from preseason ACC Player of the Year prognostications seemingly from the first game’s opening tip. Nonetheless, Harris’ willingness to play team ball and enlarge his leadership role helped Virginia to their first outright ACC Title in 33 years and a current two-seed projection in the NCAA’s. Harris is a senior, so it’s rare for a player to back off in his final season and allow team success to trump personal statistics. Harris is still a force, but now knows he can operate in the background to help his team’s season become even more special.

Joe Harris' selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Joe Harris’ selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Best Coaching Job Outside of Charlottesville: Roy Williams, North Carolina.

Tony Bennett absolutely deserved the COY award for his unbelievable reclamation job with Virginia, but no one dealt with more adversity this year than Williams. Between the PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald saga, the academics issues brought to light by a former adviser, and the up-and-down start to the year with no set rotation and inconsistent effort, Williams had a ton on his plate in trying to get this team into postseason play. The Tar Heels won 12 conference games in a row, including a split with rival Duke, and own possibly the best non-conference wins of any team in the country. It’s arguably Williams’ best coaching job in Chapel Hill to date. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 03.04.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 4th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Backing the Pack: I (like many) had been on the fence about ACC Player of the Year. No more. TJ Warren put away the competition (Jabari Parker and KJ McDaniels) with a 41-point outburst Monday night at Pittsburgh. In the process, the Wolfpack welcomed the Panthers to the bubble and managed to keep their own postseason dreams alive, if only by a thread. Warren did it all offensively against Jamie Dixon’s team. He knocked down 30-footers at the end of the shot clock; he got to the line; and he showed off some mid-range game.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: Virginia clearly won the regular season crown, but who is the best team in the ACC? There’s not a good answer. Duke probably has the highest ceiling (when shots are falling, obviously), and Syracuse has the most depth, but Virginia‘s consistency makes them a very safe bet. This is shaping up to be a really fun ACC Tournament in Greensboro next week. Potentially three schools playing for the final #1 seed or the best #2 seed, and four schools needing wins in the worst kind of way.
  3. USA Today: Good profile on Tyler Ennis from Nicole Auerbach. It’s funny that he was the super-talkative kid when he seems so quiet as a player. Also interesting is that he spent his middle school days dominating indoor lacrosse. Ennis has looked more like a freshman down the stretch, though. Jim Boeheim needs to make sure he’s not wearing down, because as Fran Fraschilla points out in the article, there isn’t anyone else. The one player the Orange can’t replace in their lineup is Ennis. He has to be at the top of his game for Syracuse to make it to Dallas.
  4. Sports Illustrated: Joe Harris was a diamond in the rough. As a freshman and sophomore he took a small (mostly scoring) role on decent teams. Now he’s the backbone of the Cavaliers. He nearly always draws the opponent’s best perimeter player on top of his already significant scoring load. Here’s to hoping Harris gets a shot to show the country just how good Virginia basketball has gotten over the past couple of seasons.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: Roy Williams is getting a lot of unbiased, third party advice on free throw shooting. It’s true the Tar Heels have been historically bad from the charity stripe this season, but I’m not sure taking a few more reps after practice is going to fix the problem. And with their two primary ball-handlers making free throws, their struggles may in fact largely be overrated.
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Challenging the Narrative: Marcus Paige Has “Unpredictable” North Carolina Rolling

Posted by Chris Johnson on February 28th, 2014

College basketball media coverage is predictable. Early in the season, teams become associated with certain narratives. As teams evolve over the course of the season, the narratives may seem less and less apt, but we do our best to hang on to them as long as possible. Some teams don’t change enough to warrant a reconsideration of the way they’re written and talked about. Others change so much, and so quickly, that by February we can’t possibly attempt to re-apply the labels we slapped on them in November and December. Let’s run through some examples.

Since falling to 1-4 in the ACC, North Carolina has rolled off 10 straight wins (Getty Images).

Since falling to 1-4 in the ACC, North Carolina has rolled off 10 straight wins. (Getty Images)

  • Iowa: “KenPom likes ‘em, but they can’t win the close games.”
  • Michigan State: ‘Boy, if this team ever gets healthy, it’s winning it all. Mark it down.”
  • Kentucky: “So much talent, but not enough leadership.”
  • Louisville: “Pitino’s guys can really play, but without Chane Behanan, that frontcourt is going to be an issue come March.”
  • And, my personal favorite, North Carolina: “I have no idea what to expect from this team on a nightly basis.”

The origin of the unpredictability the Heels have become known for this season is easy to pinpoint. Over its first nine games of the season, Carolina beat then-No. 1 Michigan State, then-No. 11 Kentucky, and then-No. 3 Louisville. It also lost at home to Belmont (ranked #73 in Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings at the time) and on the road against UAB (#66). This mix of great wins and baffling losses didn’t sit well with us narrative architects. How does one go about describing a team that’s so unpredictable? It was maddening. That’s how Carolina earned its reputation as the most unpredictable team in the country. Trust Carolina at your own peril, was the thought. The only thing we thought we knew about the Heels was how much we didn’t know. Which is to say, a lot.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 85, N.C. State 84 (OT)

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 27th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige Outdueled N.C. State's T.J. Warren. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige Outdueled N.C. State’s T.J. Warren.
(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

  1. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and N.C. State’s T.J. Warren put on a show for the ages. The two stars seemingly traded baskets for the entire second half and overtime of this one. After being held to four points on 2-of-6 shooting in the first half, Paige exploded for 31 more after the break, the last two coming on a game-winning driving layup with less than a second to go. Warren was equally unstoppable, finishing with a game-high 36 points that included two free throws that tied the game and forced the extra session with two seconds left in regulation. To put these performances in perspective, the previous scoring high in an ACC game this year was the 34 put up by Warren in a home game with Wake Forest, so this one game now has the top two individual scoring totals of the season. Paige was red-hot from the perimeter, hitting 7-of-10 from three after halftime. Most of the bombs seemed to come just when North Carolina looked to be in trouble, with perhaps the biggest coming in overtime to cut a six-point Wolfpack lead in half with 2:40 to go. The Tar Heels tried multiple defenders and three different zone defenses to corral Warren down the stretch, but nothing seemed to slow down the ACC’s leading scorer as he scored 19 of N.C. State’s last 27 points in the final nine minutes of action.
  2. N.C. State Looks Headed To The NIT. The Wolfpack lost another chance to get an eye-popping win much like they did at Syracuse 15 days earlier. Not only do they lack a marquee win, but N.C. State is now winless in eight games against the RPI top 50. Even if the Wolfpack wins out to go 10-8 in the ACC regular season, their best win will have been over Pittsburgh, which is currently #45 in the RPI. With that resume it would likely take at least a run to the ACC Tournament finals for N.C. State to get any consideration from the NCAA Selection Committee. But considering the Wolfpack’s modest preseason expectations, even an NIT bid would be a positive thing for such a young team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reaction: #24 North Carolina 105, Wake Forest 72

Posted by nvr1983 on February 22nd, 2014

rushedreactions

Here are our observations after North Carolina crushed Wake Forest, 105-72:

  1. UNC will be an extremely difficult out in March. This shouldn’t be too much a surprise after their early season victories against Michigan State, Louisville, and Kentucky, but for much of the season the Tar Heels were dogged by the perception that they were inconsistent and for good reason. Mixed in with their big early wins the Tar Heels also had some awful losses–at home against Belmont and Miami and on the road against UAB and Wake Forest. Since their loss at Virginia on January 20, the Tar Heels have won nine straight and are starting to display the type of consistency that they will need to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. Some of their win streak can be attributed by the current weak state of the ACC, but it also includes wins against Duke and Pittsburgh. Current bracket projections have the Tar Heels being anything between a #5 and #8 seed after this week they should be somewhere near the top of that range.
  2. Jeff Bzdelik needs a real estate agent. I know that the Wake Forest administration showed a lot of faith in Bzdelik by firing Dino Gaudio, who had taken them to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, to hire Bzdelik, who was 36-58 in three seasons at Colorado. With nearly three seasons in the books in Winston-Salem, Bzdelik is approaching 30 games under .500. Ron Wellman talked about culture when he hired Bzdelik, but we doubt that he was thinking of this type of culture at the time. At this point we would be shocked if Bzdelik returned next season so the question really is who will replace him. The two names that get thrown around for every power conference vacancy are Bruce Pearl and Ben Howland, but we cannot see either of them going to Wake Forest with the options they will have in front of them. Perhaps the most interesting potential candidate we have heard is Jeff Capel, who has experience at Oklahoma and knows the ACC well sitting alongside Mike Krzyzewski. We obviously have our reservations about hiring a retread who went 27-36 A.B. (after Blake Griffin departed), but he would be a relatively safe hire and one with some decent credentials.
  3. Roy Williams seems much more relaxed. Early in the season there were rumors that this might be Roy’s last year. Those were obviously premature particularly with what appears to be an outstanding freshman class coming in. Still everybody who followed the Tar Heels could clearly tell that this team and this season was taking a toll on Roy. The turnaround in how the Tar Heels are playing has led to Roy’s mood to improve significantly (shocking). Although Williams is certainly not young at 63 years old, we would be looking at some of his colleagues in the ACC to retire before we would expect Roy to do so.

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Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 74, Duke 66

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 21st, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

North Carolina Had A Huge Edge in  Free Throws, Making 13-of-17 In the Second Half.

North Carolina Had A Huge Edge in Free Throws, Making 13-of-17 In the Second Half. (Brad Jenkins/RTC)

  1. North Carolina proves that the Heels can (still) compete with any team. It now seems like a distant memory, but back in November and December, North Carolina was maddeningly inconsistent, beating each of the top three teams in the preseason AP poll but also dropping games to UAB and Belmont. The Tar Heels are no longer losing to the average teams, but they still are rising to the challenge when facing the nation’s best. That was the case again on Thursday night, as the Tar Heels thoroughly outplayed #5 Duke in the second half, rallying from behind to notch the big home win. Not only did North Carolina win its eighth consecutive game, but they once again showed impressive mental toughness in coming from behind for the second time in three days. This is beginning to look like a team that could make a nice run in March. Read the rest of this entry »
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