Rushed Reactions: North Carolina 74, Duke 66

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

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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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North Carolina Streaking With Six Wins in a Row

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 16th, 2014

North Carolina continued its climb up the ACC standings, bursting into fourth place with a 75-71 win over Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill. James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige led the way as the Tar Heels held a lead for the entire second half and withstood a furious Panthers’ rally in the closing minutes. For North Carolina, which started ACC play with three straight losses, this wasn’t just its sixth consecutive victory, but it’s probably the best win of the Heels’ recent streak. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, continues to tumble in the opposite direction, losing four of their last six games after starting conference play 6-1.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige Was On Fire - Making 5 Threes Versus Pittsburgh. (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige Was On Fire, Making 5 Threes Versus Pittsburgh.
(Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)

Pittsburgh got off to a good start in the first half, leading 18-11 after nine minutes of play. The Tar Heels began to chip away at the lead, finally catching and passing the Panthers late to take a 35-31 lead into the locker room. North Carolina didn’t shoot well in the first stanza (40.6%) but the Heels collected nine offensive rebounds and attacked the basket well enough to put Pittsburgh in foul trouble. In fact, three Pittsburgh starters including star Lamar Patterson, played fewer than 10 first half minutes due to early foul difficulties, and Jamie Dixon was forced as a result to switch to zone defense for long stretches. North Carolina’s underrated defense forced 10 first half turnovers and held Pittsburgh to only 0.89 points per possession.

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Renewing The Rivalry: Previewing Duke vs. North Carolina

Posted by Brad Jenkins & Lathan Wells on February 12th, 2014

After the first week and a half of ACC conference play, Duke and North Carolina were struggling with a combined 1-5 record and fans had to wonder if the ACC’s two flagship programs were headed for disaster. Just four weeks later, these are two of the hottest teams around. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels are a combined 13-2 over that stretch, with the only losses for Duke at Syracuse and at UNC at Virginia. Of course that means that we could be in for another Duke vs. North Carolina classic in Chapel Hill tonight (9:00 PM ET – ESPN). In many ways this game should resemble most of their contests – intense, fast-paced, with several swings of momentum. Also as usual, it looks like it will be a match-up of Duke’s quickness and three-point marksmanship versus North Carolina’s size and inside power. Duke will look to extend an odd trend where the Blue Devils have won the last seven times the team’s first meeting of the year is at the Smith Center, and the road team has won 11 of the last 20 regular season meetings.

Roy Williams and Coach K bring contrasting squads together tonight in renewing their rivalry (credit: gettysports)

Roy Williams and Coach K bring contrasting squads together tonight in renewing their rivalry (credit: gettysports)

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key questions for tonight’s game, as RTC’s Brad Jenkins and Lathan Wells go back and forth on what each team needs to do to win.

Brad Jenkins: Given North Carolina’s lack of perimeter depth and the fact that Duke is second in the country in three point shooting (42.0%), featuring six different players who have made at least 20 threes this season, how can the Tar Heels keep the Blue Devils from shooting them right out of their own gym tonight?

Lathan Wells: North Carolina’s perimeter defense has been impressive in conference play, and it really starts with J.P. Tokoto and Marcus Paige.  Tokoto often draws the team’s best or most versatile perimeter threat, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shadowing Rodney Hood in this contest. Paige will be tasked with guarding whoever is at the point, presumably Quinn Cook. The Tar Heels have done a good job of rotating to and closing out on shooters, but foul trouble would doom their ability to combat the multitude of outside options Duke will run at them. The backcourt starters will have to play a lot of minutes to keep Duke’s long-range attempts heavily contested. While North Carolina is trying to figure out how to stymie Duke’s perimeter game, how are the Blue Devils going to slow down a reinvigorated James Michael McAdoo?

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North Carolina Trending Upward With Three Wins in a Row

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 2nd, 2014

North Carolina continued its home dominance over N.C. State with an 84-70 win Saturday in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have now won 11 consecutive meetings with the Wolfpack in the Smith Center, coinciding with Roy Williams’ tenure as UNC’s head coach. The last win for the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill was back in 2003, which was Matt Doherty’s last season at the helm. More importantly, the Tar Heels’ victory was their third straight ACC win, raising them to 4-4 in league play. For N.C. State, this loss ended a three-game winning streak, albeit with all the wins in Raleigh, and drops the Wolfpack to 4-5 in the ACC standings.

Roy Williams' Still Perfect Against N.C. State in Chapel Hill. (Photo: Robert Willett / newsobserver.com)

Roy Williams’ Still Perfect Against N.C. State in Chapel Hill.
(Photo: Robert Willett / newsobserver.com)

The story of the first half was the dominant performance of the North Carolina defense versus the N.C. State offense. The Tar Heels held the Wolfpack to 25 percent shooting on its way to a 40-23 halftime lead. N.C. State struggled to get open shots and failed to convert from anywhere on the court. At the rim, North Carolina blocked six first half shots, and the Wolfpack made only 1-of-7 from three. Even the foul line was a source of misery for N.C. State in the opening stanza, shooting a dismal 2-of-7.

In the second half, N.C. State played much better offensively, more than doubling its first half point total by outscoring North Carolina 47-44 after the break. Mark Gottfried switched to a smaller lineup, using point guards Anthony Barber and Tyler Lewis together, and went with a spread offense. The move enabled the Wolfpack to attack the Tar Heels off the dribble and get much easier shots, making an impressive 65.4 percent of their second half field goals. JuCo transfer Desmond Lee was particularly effective, repeatedly beating a bigger Tar Heel defender off the bounce on the way to 18 second half points. But while the small lineup ignited the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels took advantage of their size advantage on the other end. In the second half, North Carolina grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and converted those into 13 points. In a game in which overall shooting and turnovers were virtually even, the difference in the outcome can be traced to the Tar Heels’ 52-36 overall rebounding advantage. Here are some key takeaways for each team after Saturday’s game.

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Kennedy Meeks Needs the Majority Of Minutes for UNC Down Low

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 31st, 2014

Even with all the uncertainty swirling around the North Carolina roster through the first half of the season, the consensus among most was that interior depth would not be a problem. And sure enough, Williams has shown that he will play his surplus of big bodies in nearly every game. Each Tar Heel post player has a unique skill set that lends itself to different moments and match-ups, but the center position has been an area that UNC has not been able to count on for consistent production. Recent ACC wins against Boston College, Clemson and Georgia Tech have indicated, perhaps, that this may be a concern of the past.

More minutes has meant more production from Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina. (USA TODAY Sports)

More minutes has meant more production from Kennedy Meeks and North Carolina. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

One reason for the up-and-down production over the course of the year can be tied to the fact that the individual manning the post at the opening tip-off has not gotten starter’s minutes. Sophomore Joel James started the first 10 games of the year before getting injured versus Texas, and he’s started two games since, averaging just shy of 11 minutes per game. James started all three games against Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, and yet played fewer minutes than Kennedy Meeks versus the Cardinals (11 minutes to 24) and Spartans (16 to 18), and fewer than both Brice Johnson and Meeks in the victory over Kentucky (13 minutes compared to Johnson’s 24 and Meeks’ 19). Surely Williams saw something in James to name him the starter for those contests, but if he was going to play so sparingly, why not let someone else man the post to get in an early rhythm?

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The Streak Continues: An Energized North Carolina Dismantles Clemson

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

North Carolina played its best game in weeks on Sunday night in handily beating Clemson, 80-61. The final margin of victory was quite deceptive, though, as the Tar Heels led by more than 25 points for most of the second half. This means, of course, that Clemson is still winless all-time in Chapel Hill, dropping to 0-57 after the latest loss, but the story from the game centered around a revitalized unit that showed some hustle and fight for the first time in a long while. North Carolina dominated the shooting at both ends, hitting 55.4 percent of its field goals, while holding Clemson below 30 percent for most of the contest. But even more importantly, the Tar Heels played with an intensity that’s been missing, frequently diving for loose balls and making hustle plays throughout the game.

An Intense James Michael McAdoo Leads North Carolina to Dominant Win. (THE HERALD-SUN, BERNARD THOMAS — AP Photo)

An Intense James Michael McAdoo Leads North Carolina to Dominant Win.
(THE HERALD-SUN, BERNARD THOMAS — AP Photo)

The Tigers started out cold and turned downright frigid quickly thereafter. Clemson only hit six of its first 20 shots and found itself down by eight with 6:27 left in the first half, but the Tigers then proceeded to miss 14 consecutive field goals over the next 13:21 of play. During that stretch, North Carolina outscored Clemson 30-7 and the outcome was already decided. In the postgame press conferences, both coaches singled out the play of Tar Heels’ forward, James Michael McAdoo, and rightfully so. McAdoo was in attack mode throughout the contest and finished with a game-high 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting. While many have considered the junior a disappointment this season, he has been playing at a higher level for the past month. After 12 games, McAdoo was averaging 12.8 points per game and shooting a chilly 41.4 percent from the field. However, in his last eight outings, he has averaged a highly-efficient 15.9 points per game while converting an outstanding 59.1 percent of his field goals. For Clemson, K.J. McDaniels played well with 13 points and nine rebounds but got little support from the rest of his team. Here are some key takeaways for each team after Sunday night’s game.

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Checking The Panic Meter: Which Teams Should Really Worry About Their January Swoons?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 24th, 2014

As Brian Otskey noted earlier this week, January losing streaks have caused a number of once-top teams to tumble down, and in some cases, out of the polls. The rigors of conference play have deflowered those gaudy late December records, prompting a number of far-sooner-than-expected reality checks. Past history will tell you that some of these January slumps will be reduced to mere blips on the radar by March (e.g., the defending champion Louisville Cardinals lost three in a row in the first month of 2013), while others are indeed the beginning of a fade into college hoops oblivion. Wondering about future prospects for fading powers? Here’s a look at where the panic meter should be (10=High Panic, 1=Nothing to worry about) for five of college basketball’s most downward-trending squads.

Georgetown: Panic Meter=10

John Thompson III, Markel Starks And Georgetown Suddenly Have Their Backs Against The Wall

John Thompson III, Markel Starks And Georgetown Suddenly Have Their Backs Against The Wall

With Jabril Trawick not expected back anytime soon (broken jaw), and Josh Smith out indefinitely due to academics (don’t forget that Greg Whittington’s “indefinite” academic suspension a year ago eventually caused him to miss the Hoyas’ final 19 contests), Georgetown is clearly undermanned right now. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been brilliant, and Markel Starks intermittently so, but finding offensive contributions from players who aren’t 6’2” guards has proven impossible since Smith‘s suspension began. With the 10-day forecast looking especially gloomy — top-15 teams Creighton, Villanova and Michigan State are up next for JT3’s club – Georgetown’s season could be very close to finished by the time Super Bowl Sunday arrives. Even if the Hoyas can get Smith and Trawick back by early February, a challenging closing stretch awaits: Six of Georgetown’s final seven opponents are currently ranked in KenPom’s top 75. It’s probably not the way Georgetown wanted to find March peace, but Hoyas’ fans may finally avoid their annual NCAA Tournament heartbreak.

Wisconsin: Panic Meter= 1

If you play basketball in the Big Ten, you are going to lose games. The league is simply too strong top-to-bottom to cruise the entire winter without resistance. Yes, Michigan and Michigan State – losses are coming for you as well (beginning for one of the two on Saturday). In any case, Wisconsin should be just fine. Aside from some struggles from three-point range (likely temporary), the uber-efficient Badgers’ offense has continued to roll, even through their current three-game losing streak. The defense could stand to improve marginally (55th nationally in defensive efficiency), but there is just too much offensive firepower in Madison for Bucky’s train to go too far off the tracks.

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Is This Roy Williams’ Worst North Carolina Team?

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 22nd, 2014

When North Carolina was trekking through an up-and-down non-conference season, all of the talk surrounding the Tar Heels was about their inconsistency. Great wins followed by head-scratching losses meant that pundits and fans alike spent their time trying to diagnose the Tar Heels — attempting to figure out which team identity would become the prevailing one. Now, after a 1-4 start in ACC play, talk of inconsistency is a thing of the past. Wins over Michigan State, Louisville, and Kentucky are long forgotten now that UNC has fallen to Wake Forest and Miami in winnable games, was soundly defeated by Syracuse in its first match-up with the new conference member, and was then thrashed by Virginia on Monday night. A solitary win over an uninspiring Boston College team may have allowed temporary relief, but with Carolina now sporting an 11-7 overall record and looking like an unreliable but average team, the question should be raised: Is this the worst team of the Roy Williams era in Chapel Hill?

Roy Williams Frustrated

A frustrating year may lead some to wonder if this is Roy Williams’ least impressive Carolina squad to date. (USA TODAY Sports)

When considering the squads Williams has governed at Carolina (and to his credit, Williams has an aggregate record at the school that speaks for itself), most will point to the 2009-10 season as his worst year at the helm. The Tar Heels failed to make the NCAA Tournament that year, stumbling to an overall 20-17 record (5-11 ACC). That team was crippled by the graduations of three-time All-American Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green and the early entries of Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson. While this year’s team lost only Reggie Bullock to the NBA Draft, the ultimate decision to not seek reinstatement for PJ Hairston left the current version of the Tar Heels without two extremely important cogs in their offensive machine. They weren’t the defending national champions by any stretch, but prior to the season they appeared to be a team at least capable of making things interesting in postseason play. Those personnel losses weren’t as substantial, but they have proven very significant in the roster and rotation upheaval they caused Williams’ team.

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ACC M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 22nd, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Sports Illustrated: Good stuff on CJ Fair here, whose two sporting idols are Carmelo Anthony and Michael Jordan. Anthony makes sense for a multitude of reasons: Fair is also from Baltimore, has the same Syracuse pedigree, and Anthony has one of the best mid-range games in the world. Jordan? More of a stretch. Here I’ll turn to Kelli Anderson: “A few years ago Fair read an interview in which Jordan was asked how he stayed motivated to give his best effort every single game, even against lesser competition. Jordan’s response: There might be a family out there seeing him for the first time, and he wanted to make a good impression.”
  2. Tallahassee Democrat: The end of Florida State’s recent game at Virginia got ugly. After an admittedly unnecessary alley-oop with 18 seconds left, Justin Anderson was called for a technical foul. During the stoppage in play, some players started jawing. As the officials were separating the teams, London Perrantes and Okaro White continued talking and Perrantes appears to have shoved White. White shoved him back, whereupon two Virginia players then left the bench and were ejected. After a lengthy review from the officials, a double-technical was assessed to White (his fifth personal) and Perrantes. After the game in the handshake line, there was a second scuffle catalyzed by more contact between the two. Long story short: White was “publicly reprimanded” by the ACC, but the league won’t take further action.
  3. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Syracuse starting forward Dujuan Coleman is out for the year. To be clear, Coleman starts over Jerami Grant, but Grant plays a far larger role in the Syracuse rotation. Coleman only averaged 13 minutes per game this season, but without him Jim Boeheim effectively plays seven players (and Michael Gbinije has only played between four and 11 minutes in any of the team’s five conference games). That’s not a lot of depth available, which means that four guys are likely to suit up for 30-plus minutes per game from here on out. Depth is overrated — especially on teams that mostly play zone — but the Orange lose much of their wiggle room if a player gets sick, injured, or in foul trouble.
  4. Washington Post: Glad to see Mike Wilbon take up for tradition here. Wilbon once worked the Maryland beat and currently serves on the board at Northwestern. He didn’t mince words when talking about Maryland’s move to the Big Ten: “Because if it’s not [a windfall], it just destroys the tradition and the history of rivalries, and the competition, and just says, ‘Okay, let’s pimp ourselves out, we’re going to go for the money.'” What sparked the commentary was NC State fans chanting “A-C-C” in the closing seconds of their win over the Terrapins on Monday night.
  5. Tar Heel Blog: Great piece on why Roy Williams didn’t recruit any wing players for this season. The obvious answer is that he didn’t expect to need any with Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston expected to be available. But the issue is more complex than that, and Brian Barbour does a good job looking at a lot of different angles here. Recruiting issues tend to play out a couple of years later (except at Kentucky), but right now, I tend to agree with the theory that North Carolina is suffering because of early defections (both transfers and departures for the NBA) along with a couple of players who haven’t developed like Williams hoped.

VIDEO EXTRA: Mark Gottfried was psyched after NC State’s win without TJ Warren.

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ACC M5: 01.20.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 20th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Baltimore Sun: Jay Williams made a comment about how Maryland was playing “a little bit tight” and wondered if it had to do with Mark Turgeon‘s willingness to bench players who make mistakes. It’s an interesting thought. Certainly benching players means those players can’t produce, and if benching or coaching tirades are too frequent, I think they could affect a player’s confidence. But I doubt that’s a frequent problem. Now, micromanaging games from the sideline — that is a problem.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Travis McKie‘s production is down a lot this season. A smart man once told me something that makes lots of sense. McKie thrived at the four. Now, forced to play the three, he’s struggling (at least in comparison to his superb sophomore campaign). Maybe it’s because of his defenders’ quickness. Maybe it’s because he is now forced to play farther from the basket. I don’t think Codi Miller-McIntyre’s offensive surge is part of the problem because McKie has always played with a high usage guard in CJ Harris (a very different player, but still), but the Demon Deacons need him to really come into his own to get over the next proverbial hump.
  3. Hampton Roads Pilot: Malcolm Brogdon has quietly been Virginia’s most used player (ignoring Mike Tobey, who plays fewer than 20 minutes a game) — more than Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. In addition to being the team’s top scorer in ACC play, Brogdon is the team’s second leading rebounder. His range still needs some work, but Virginia is a lot more dangerous as a team with multiple “go-to” guys beyond just Harris. They also need to finish near the top of the conference rankings in order to make the Big Dance. The Florida State sweep will look good, but a home win against Syracuse in the penultimate game would do wonders.
  4. Chapelboro.com: Roy Williams is playing around a bit with lineups to try to keep his team fresh during games. Williams has always been one to use a large rotation, so that’s not surprising. Perhaps more surprising is that Coach K appears to be making his rotation deeper, playing 10 guys for decent minutes in Duke’s last couple of games. Over the last five games, the two ACC teams most set in their rotations were Boston College (34% played by its main rotation) and Syracuse (39.9% played by its starters). Remarkably Syracuse’s second most popular rotation played 32.1% of minutes (more than any team but the Eagles). In contrast Duke (10.9%) and Maryland (9.9%) changed rotations frequently. All data here courtesy of Ken Pomeroy.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: Rakeem Christmas has improved dramatically on the offensive end during his time at Syracuse. He’s shooting a ridiculous 73.6 percent from the floor (thanks in large part to lots of dunks and put-backs), but he’s also become a serviceable player in the post. Not that you would make him the center of Syracuse’s offense or start up the Dream comparisons, but he’s no longer a player who can be completely ignored on offense. And that’s one reason Syracuse’s offense has made such a big step forward this season.
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Duke and North Carolina Making Adjustments After Slow ACC Starts

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 19th, 2014

After the second weekend of conference play, the ACC’s historically best two programs were in trouble. North Carolina was all alone at the bottom of the standings with an 0-3 record, and Duke wasn’t in much better shape at 1-2. Since then, both schools’ Hall of Fame coaches have made some changes to try and turn things around. At least for one week, each coach has managed to stop the bleeding. Duke has now won two straight games — over Virginia (69-65) and N.C. State (95-60) — since Mike Krzyzewski made some lineup and style changes; and North Carolina got its first ACC win Saturday over Boston College (82-71) in the Tar Heels’ only game of the week, featuring a starting lineup change from Roy Williams. Below we will look at the problems that each team was confronting, what the coaches did to address those issues, and consider the results and future expectations as a result.

Duke

Problems. The Blue Devils’ defense simply has not been good enough, ranking outside of Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 in adjusted efficiency for much of the season. Opponents were scoring easily in the paint — perhaps not surprising with Duke’s lack of interior size. But even worse was Duke’s inability to counter that deficiency with good perimeter pressure, and the lack of player communication and teamwork in defensive help situations. Offensively, the Blue Devils were not playing well as a unit, often falling into the habit of one-on-one play with little ball movement.

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(Photo:cbssports.com)

Coach K is Playing More People to Keep Young Duke Team Fresh.(Photo:cbssports.com)

Adjustments. Krzyzewski and his staff decided to not only make a change in the starting lineup — inserting freshman Matt Jones – but they adjusted the entire rotation. As the TV commentators noted in each game, it was as if Duke was making hockey-style line changes in the first half. Both games followed the same pattern. About three minutes after the tip, five new Blue Devils checked in. A few minutes later, all the starters returned. Soon after that, it was another complete change. At that point in each contest — roughly 10-12 minutes in — all 11 scholarship players had logged at least three minutes of action. While the five-at-a-time substituting did not continue into the second half, Krzyzewski kept using his bench, with no player seeing more than 30 minutes in either contest. There was also a subtle stylistic change on each end of the court. The Blue Devils extended their defense further out than they had been, and they played more of a motion offense instead of mostly using set plays.

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ACC M5: 01.15.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 15th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Sports Illustrated: Y’all may not know this, but Maryland wants out of its ACC exit fee (which is admittedly a steep $52.3 million dollars). The Terrapins’ most recent legal strategy? Countersue the ACC for — get this — $157 million dollars! What? Maryland challenges that the ACC sent Wake Forest and Pittsburgh representatives to two Big Ten schools to lure them eastward. In addition Maryland notes that the ACC is “confiscating NCAA monies.” I’m going out on a limb (and agreeing with Martin Rickman) that the ACC isn’t going to pony up nine figures, and Maryland won’t fork over $50 million dollars. But this suit certainly looks like a Hail Mary of sorts. Speaking of looks and Maryland, keep an eye out for these “Maryland Heritage” jerseys tonight against Notre Dame. You’ll have to look really closely though.
  2. Harrisburg Patriot News: Cool story on Devin Thomas, who’s from central Pennsylvania, and his development as an elite rebounder for the Demon Deacons. Apparently Thomas honed his rebounding skills in high school when he wasn’t the first option, meaning that he had to create his own shots. In the long run, Wake Forest needs Thomas to continue his elite rebounding and further develop the rest of his offensive game.
  3. Fox Sports Florida: Ian Miller has really blossomed this year for Florida State. It was easy to predict in retrospect, as many foretold a breakout season for him last year before his injury. What has been a huge surprise is Miller’s knack at sharing the ball. He currently leads Florida State in assists, which is surprising if you watched his first two seasons with the Seminoles. Interestingly enough, Miller also averages the most minutes per game on the team despite coming off the bench.
  4. Miami Herald: Apparently Jim Larranaga and his staff got a “crash course” in playing zone from Bernie Fine and Ralph Willard. Fine was a longtime Syracuse assistant under Jim Boeheim (you may remember him from the ESPN-broken scandal that turned out to be false), and Willard coached under Rick Pitino at Louisville and Kentucky (he also was an assistant at Syracuse back in the mid-1980s). So far the defense has been effective. Miami isn’t fouling while still holding conference opponents to low field goal percentages nearly every time out. The team’s offense still has a long way to go, however.
  5. Fayetteville Observer: Last year Roy Williams turned around North Carolina’s season by going small. A couple of years prior he sat Larry Drew II, opening the door for Kendall Marshall to start. But those decisions both made a lot of sense at the time, and seemed obvious from an outsider’s perspective. This year, I don’t see a common thread for how to “fix” the beleaguered Tar Heels. Is it Leslie McDonald? (Probably not.) Should Marcus Paige play more off the ball? (Eh. Nate Britt still has a long way to go.) Williams has a problem that the Tar Heels are young and can’t shoot the basketball. There’s just too much pressure on Marcus Paige to put up Player of the Year numbers every night. It might not be fixable.
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