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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Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 28th, 2016

Yesterday we relayed several interesting and funny quotes from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte (links to the coaches’ and players’ press conferences can be found here). Most of the buzz around the second floor of the Ritz-Carlton was about the condition of Duke freshman forward Jayson Tatum‘s foot — injured in practice the previous day — but we found out that afternoon that the phenom’s injury was relatively minor and he is expected to return to action in a couple of weeks. Nevertheless, there were a few key themes from the day, which we will explore below. We also present the preseason award results as voted on by the participating media in Charlotte.

LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP

North Carolina's Joel Berry discussed his role as a leader during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II discussed his role as a leader during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

A number of ACC programs need to replace their primary leaders from the year before. Here’s how some of the players and coaches from those affected schools see that crucial dynamic working out for their team this season.

  • North Carolina – Even with Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige now departed, Roy Williams still has some veterans to call upon. Among his senior class of Tar Heels, Williams anticipates that Nate Britt is the most likely to step into a primary leadership role. With a smile, Williams commented on his other seniors: “Isaiah [Hicks] hardly talks at all; Kennedy [Meeks] probably talks too much, so they listen to Nate a little bit more than anybody else.” The coach also believes that junior point guard Joel Berry will step up as well after his stellar postseason play last year. For his part, Berry thinks North Carolina needs a collective leadership group, saying, “So I think a lot of people are stepping into that role. If we can get everyone on the team talking and trying to see what’s going on the court, what’s going wrong, what’s going good, I think that will be great for us as a whole.”
  • Virginia – Recently we wrote about what Tony Bennett faces this year without the extraordinary all-around services of Malcolm Brogdon. As London Perrantes quipped, “Yeah, I mean, it felt like Malcolm’s been here for 10 years. So not having him is probably going to be a huge change.” As a senior point guard, much of Virginia’s leadership vacuum will have to be filled by Perrantes, but he won’t be the only player expected to step up. When asked about that issue, Bennett responded, ” I think there’s an eagerness or an excitement for the opportunity for guys like Devon Hall, Darius Thompson, Marial [Shayok]. You know, London has been a key figure to this. Isaiah [Wilkins] has played a lot, but these other guys who have been more in a supplemental role, I think they’re really excited for the opportunity to have it be their team and have a bigger role than they were on in teams past.”

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Top Quotes and Moments from ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2016

Coaches, players and members of the media all gathered in Charlotte on Wednesday for the 2016 edition of ACC Operation Basketball. It was a long day for all and a fun day for most. We camped out in Salon I in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and witnessed press conferences for all 15 coaches – yes, after staying home last year Rick Pitino came too. We also heard from 30 players — two from each school — and observed commissioner John Swofford’s ‘State of the League’ address. What follows are a smattering of some of our favorite quotes and quips from the day.

PLAYERS

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

Virginia basketball player London Perrantes answers a question during the 2016 ACC Men’s Operation Basketball in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (Photo by Nell Redmond, theACC.com)

One of the interesting parts of the morning session was hearing various players’ responses when asked to describe their head coaches.

  • Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame – On Mike Brey: “He brings energy to practice every single day. He keeps the guys loose, which I think is really a benefit for us, and helps us play loose on the court.”
  • Sheldon Jeter, Pittsburgh – On his impressions from his reunion meeting with Kevin Stallings: “It was just kind of like the same stuff I did my first time meeting him at Vanderbilt. A very genuine guy. Very truthful.”
  • Matt Jones, Duke – On the annual adaptability of Mike Krzyzewski: “It’s been different each year. Coach K does a really good job of figuring out what guys respond to and how well they respond to it.”

Of course there were some light-hearted moments as well, and here are three player comments that brought laughter to the room.

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ACC M5: 10.24.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 24th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse tipped off its season on Friday night with Orange Madness in the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim may be in the twilight of his great career, but the way his school renews the basketball year is not old-school at all. Much like Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness, the event attracts celebrities and is all about entertainment — making sure that players, fans and recruits enjoy the festivities. Sophomore forward Tyler Lydon is expected to have a breakout season for the Orange, but this week he experienced a different sort of breakout — a rash caused by poison oak which caused him to miss two days of practice.
  2. Unlike the light-hearted action at Syracuse, Duke‘s players really got after it during their 20-minute scrimmage that wrapped up Countdown to Craziness in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night. The intensity of the game was good from a competitive perspective, but it almost backfired when Grayson Allen awkwardly barreled into Amile Jefferson‘s legs while aggressively pursuing a loose ball. After an anxious minute on the floor, Jefferson got up and appeared to be sore but not injured. In other news from the practice, freshman Jayson Tatum showed why he is considered a top-5 NBA Draft pick by pouring in 18 points to lead all scorers.
  3. North Carolina got some bad news over the weekend when it announced that junior Theo Pinson will be out indefinitely with a fracture of the fifth metatarsal on his right foot. Pinson is expected to replace the departed Marcus Paige — who, ironically, also missed the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign with a foot injury — in the Tar Heels’ starting backcourt. Roy Williams has the luxury of good perimeter depth this season, although senior Nate Britt is the only other player with much experience. In the meantime, Britt should get the nod as Joel Berry’s starting running mate, but expect sophomore Kenny Williams and freshmen Seventh Woods and Brandon Robinson to gain some extra early playing time as well. Pinson will probably not return until mid-January at the earliest, and sadly this continues his historical pattern of being prone to injury.
  4. After years of struggling to advance deeply in the NCAA Tournament, Mike Brey has now guided Notre Dame to the Elite Eight in each of the past two seasons. Two key players that played on both of those teams are now missing — point guard Demetrius Jackson and center Zach Auguste. As the Irish’s only viable post threat, Auguste may be the more difficult player to replace, and it seems that is what Brey had in mind when he started talking up seldom-used Martin Geben back in the spring. Under Brey, it’s not uncommon for big men to make a leap in productivity as upperclassmen, but we would be shocked if Geben approaches anything close to what Auguste posted during his last two years in South Bend.
  5. After having to play its home games in Greenville, South Carolina, last season, Clemson is looking forward to playing in a remodeled Littlejohn Coliseum this year. Everyone around the program seems very pleased with the new facility, but head coach Brad Brownell has the right perspective when he said, “The building doesn’t win you any games. A better office, nicer TVs and couches doesn’t win any games. Hopefully it brings guys together in an environment where they spend more time together and become closer and that bond wins games.” The other hope is that the updated facilities help the Tigers in recruiting – Brownell has proven he can compete with the big boys in the ACC when he has decent talent.
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ACC M5: 10.17.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 17th, 2016

morning5_ACC

  1. North Carolina on Friday night held its annual ‘Late Night With Roy’ event to tip off the new season. After the usual light-hearted fare featuring various dance, skits and skills contests, the Tar Heels conducted a scrimmage that needed overtime to settle the outcome. Earlier last week, Roy Williams hosted a preseason media day where the main topic of interest was how the team will adjust to the losses of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson. Williams described the situation as such: “Because it’s not two out of eight. It’s your two best. Markedly, maybe you could say your two best in every part of the game. It’s not just a numbers game.” The good news is that there is plenty of experienced talent still on hand with three seniors and three juniors comprising the expected top six players in Williams’ rotation. In fact, there are only 16 McDonald’s All Americans from the 2013 and 2014 classes still playing college basketball, and five of those will be suiting up in Carolina blue and white this season.
  2. Louisville also recently conducted its preseason media day and Rick Pitino seems to be very excited about his group this year. He’s expecting a lot of improvement from his sophomore class and is also happy with his team’s depth — particularly along a front line where as many as seven players may see regular minutes. We found it interesting that Pitino said the Cardinals may need to stray from their typical defensive zone trapping pressure game. Rather, he claims that this year’s team will play about 95 percent man-to-man defense because of their relative inexperience. What we find odd is that last year’s group — which finished second in  KenPom’s defensive efficiency rankings — had relatively the same level of experience and were able to execute Pitino’s multiple defensive looks just fine. Considering his track record in teaching defense, we will naturally trust the head coach to make the right call. After all, he has coached eight top-five defenses in the last nine years.
  3. It was throwback night in Tallahassee last weekend when Florida State held its annual tip-off event known as ‘Jam with Ham’ on October 7. The festivities were conducted in Tully Gym on campus, the Seminoles’ home court until 1981. Leonard Hamilton hopes some of the residual magic from that building — the 1972 NCAA runner-up Seminoles called it home — rubs off on this year’s version. Highly-touted freshman Jonathan Isaac flashed his talent and versatility in the scrimmage, and this may be Hamilton’s deepest team in years. The Seminoles are expected to return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2012.
  4. Most of the talk during N.C. State’s recent media day concerned the Wolfpack’s two most highly-rated newcomers, point guard Dennis Smith and Turkish center Omer Yurtseven. Mark Gottfried is plenty impressed with Smith, calling him “the best guard in the country, period, hands down.” As for Yurtseven, there’s no timetable for when the NCAA will rule on the big man’s eligibility but his availability may be more crucial than first contemplated because of the status of the Wolfpack’s two senior big guys. Gottfried said that he plans to redshirt Lennard Freeman so that he can fully recover from a lower leg injury. The coach also said that Beejay Anya weighed 344 pounds just a few short weeks ago, making it unlikely that he would be in condition for major minutes from the outset.
  5. On October 1 we learned that Virginia Tech’s Kerry Blackshear was not going to be ready when the Hokies started practice because of offseason foot surgery. Last week, head coach Buzz Williams announced that the sophomore big man may in fact miss the entire season. This development would be a big blow to the Hokies’ frontcourt, leaving them short on depth and height in the paint. Williams often played small-ball last season as Virginia Tech closed strong in conference play (winning its last five ACC games), using 6’7″ Zach LeDay and 6’6″ Chris Clarke in the post. But the 6’10” Blackshear also got plenty of minutes when the Hokies needed a tall body on the floor to combat the ACC’s top post men. If he can’t play, then Williams will need 6’10” freshman Khadim Sy to grow up fast.
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Reviewing Four ACC Offseason Storylines

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 11th, 2016

We are now fewer than five weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. After a record-setting NCAA Tournament performance last March, many pundits have tabbed the ACC as even more competitive this year, with hopes of challenging the record for most NCAA Tournament bids in a single season (Big East, 11 bids, 2011). Over the next several weeks we will preview the fortunes of all 15 ACC schools by projecting how each squad will maximize its strengths and mitigate its weaknesses, and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte on October 26. But first, let’s catch up on several of the most important storylines in the ACC since Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater toppled North Carolina on Championship Monday night back in April.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford had a pair of major announcements during this past offseason. (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

ACC Commissioner John Swofford had a pair of major announcements during the offseason.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

NCAA/ACC Take Stands

Perhaps the most interesting offseason news had more to do with politics than basketball. Ever since the North Carolina legislature passed the controversial HB2 law last March, the state has suffered backlash in the form of outside businesses and entertainers boycotting the state. It was only a matter of time before the NCAA and ACC followed suit. Both entities were probably holding out hope that state politicians would repeal the law before time necessitated action, but it appears that no changes are imminent. On September 12, as a result, the NCAA announced that it was removing all of its postseason events from North Carolina, including this season’s NCAA Tournament First and Second Round scheduled for Greensboro. The NCAA recently awarded that site to Greenville, South Carolina — the first time an NCAA Tournament will be held in the Palmetto State since 2002. South Carolina had previously been the state on the NCAA’s naughty list over its confederate flag flying on the capitol grounds in Columbia, but that ban was lifted last year after its removal. Just two days after the NCAA’s September announcement, ACC Commissioner John Swofford made his own statement that the ACC would also be moving its championship events out of North Carolina. The ACC Tournament was already set to begin a two-year run in Brooklyn this season, but future scheduled sites for the event include Greensboro and Charlotte. In the near-term, the NCAA’s stance is the most important. North Carolina has been a frequent spot for early round games over the years, providing a nice home court advantage for local ACC schools — most notably, Duke and North Carolina.

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North Carolina’s No Good Very Bad Ending to Fairy Tale Season

Posted by Matt Patton on April 7th, 2016

There’s no arguing that North Carolina is among college basketball royalty. The Tar Heels are one of only three programs with a truly national fan base (the other two are Duke and Kentucky). They own five national championships and consistently recruit a level of talent that most programs can only dream of. But with the news of a multi-year academic scandal and corresponding NCAA investigation hanging overhead, the carefully-curated lustre of “the Carolina Way” had faded. The uncertainty of the drawn-out investigation resulted in a surplus of negative recruiting and several classes that lagged behind the other national powerhouses.

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

Brice Johnson and North Carolina met their match Monday. (Photo: Chuck Liddy / Raleigh News & Observer)

“When you’re a kid growing up, you don’t dream of missing the last second shot, or a team beating you at the buzzer,” he said. “You dream of having that moment. That confetti. Seeing your family over there crying tears of joy. Hugging guys you’ve had blood, sweat and tears with for four years. That’s what you dream of. We were close to that dream.”Marcus Paige

All of this set the stage for Roy Williams to rebrand his team — one of college basketball’s elites — as a Cinderella despite starting the season as the top dog (preseason AP #1). Some experts quickly left the Tar Heels’ bandwagon after they blew a mid-November double-figure second half lead at Northern Iowa (a team that was ultimately one broken press away from the Sweet Sixteen, remember). A narrative has existed over the last few years — promoted incessantly by Dan Dakich’s egocentric view of history — that North Carolina lacked toughness. The early loss to the Panthers played into that narrative, but it more or less became gospel when the Tar Heels allowed a lesser Duke squad to steal a February victory in Chapel Hill even with Matt Jones injured for most of the game. Suddenly Doug Gottlieb was mentioning that Williams was considering retirement to allow Hubert Davis to assume the helm. Since that loss on February 17, the Tar Heels played with an “us against the world” mentality that we hadn’t seen from them. Read the rest of this entry »

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