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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ACC Way Too Early Power Rankings: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 8th, 2016

Yesterday we presented our projected order of finish next season for the bottom third of the ACC; today we will take a look at the upper two-thirds. The truth is that not all that much appears poised to change. Most of the contenders from this season should expect to be contenders again next season, and most of the teams that struggled are likely to do so again. However, one squad should enter the 2016-17 season as a clear favorite. With another top-ranked recruiting class and the return of several key players, Duke will be the conventional choice to win the ACC and compete for the national title next season. The ACC should also have three other teams that will rank among the top-15 nationally. After the top four, the next six teams could be placed in almost any order — the race should once again be that tight in the middle of the league. Here’s our top 10 as we look ahead to the 2016-17 season.

1) Duke

Grayson Allen led the way for Duke with 29 points. (Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash)

Grayson Allen returns to a loaded Duke squad that will be the favorite to win the ACC in 2016-17. (Credit: Getty Images/ Jim Rogash)

  • Key Losses: Brandon Ingram, Marshall Plumlee
  • Key Additions: Amile Jefferson (RS-Injury), Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson
  • Nutshell: To say the Blue Devils will be loaded next season may be an understatement. The question will be whether Mike Krzyzewski can find sufficient chemistry between talented newcomers and veterans like when his team cut down the nets in Indianapolis in 2014-15. He hasn’t had this kind of depth in quite a while, but perhaps Coach K’s experience in managing minutes for his U.S. National Team this summer at the Brazil Olympics will be good training.

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ACC Way Too Early Power Rankings: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 7th, 2016

After a pair of impressive performances in the NCAA Tournament over the last two years, how will the ACC measure up next season? Based on what we know to this point, it looks like 2016-17 could be another very strong year for the league. Some roster adjustments — transfers and the like — will naturally occur between now and October; and a new NCAA policy allowing college players until May 25 to declare for the NBA Draft is likely to impact a few rosters as well. Today we list our bottom five teams heading into next season; tomorrow we will reveal our top 10. To get started, here is how the 15 ACC teams finished this season, ranked in order of their final KenPom rating.

Most of this season’s lowest-rated teams are projected as improved next year, while several schools near the top may drop off slightly. That means we should once again expect a logjam in the middle of the league standings. The following predictions assume the return of the following players who have declared for the NBA Draft but will more than likely be back.

  • Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
  • Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State
  • Chinanu Onuaku, Louisville
  • Abdul-Malik Abu, N.C. State

On to the 2016-17 way too early power rankings:

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 83, #10 Syracuse 66

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2016

RTC is providing wall-to-wall coverage of the NCAA Tournament again this season. Make sure to follow us @rushthecourt throughout Final Four weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Brice Johnson and UNC are where we expected them to be

Brice Johnson and UNC are where we expected them to be

  1. After having issues earlier this year North Carolina is where they were expected to be. This hasn’t been the smoothest ride for the Tar Heels, who started the year at #1 in the polls before dropping out of the Top 10 following two early road losses. Despite that they have managed to put the pieces together to develop into the juggernaut we thought they could be. Since February 6, they have only lost two games (a ridiculous one-point home loss to Duke where they stopped going to a dominant Brice Johnson and a five-point road loss to a Virginia team that ended up earring a #1 seed itself). They still have their issues (like their inability to hit 3s reliably), but they find themselves exactly where we expected them to be when the season started: playing for the national title on the first Monday in April.
  2. Syracuse couldn’t make its magic happen one more time. Lost in all of Boeheim’s vitriol has been what an improbable run this has been for the Orange. Sure, they got a huge boost when Middle Tennessee State beat Michigan State (ok, they got a huge hand even before that when they were allowed in the NCAA Tournament with a questionable resume), but they played out of their mind in the last two rounds coming up with huge rallies to stun both Gonzaga and Virginia to get to the Final Four. They weren’t one of the four best teams in the country this season, but that shouldn’t diminish the magical run they had getting to Houston.
  3. Monday night will be a contrast in styles. By now it should be pretty obvious what UNC’s strength is (interior play) and what Villanova’s strength is (perimeter play). We will have more on this between now and Monday night, but it will be fascinating to see the contrast with Villanova essentially having nothing inside beyond Daniel Ochefu and North Carolina being inconsistent from the perimeter to put it mildly.

Star of the Game. Joel Berry II. He often goes overlooked with Brice Johnson’s spectacular interior play and Marcus Paige’s experience, but Berry was phenomenal tonight with 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists with only 1 turnover.  Read the rest of this entry »

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On Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim: Hall of Fame Alumni

Posted by Matt Patton on April 2nd, 2016

Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim couldn’t seem more different on most days. Both reflect their environments: one is a cranky New Yorker; the other sounds every bit like he grew up in Swannanoa, North Carolina (a town of fewer than 5,000 people in the eastern North Carolina mountains). But the two have fascinating reputations to unpack.

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, left, and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, right, greet each other before for the start of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Syracuse won 57-45. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, left, and North Carolina head coach Roy Williams, right, greet each other before for the start of an NCAA college basketball game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Syracuse won 57-45. (AP Photo/Nick Lisi)

Williams was a longtime assistant for Dean Smith, and he rarely lets an opportunity get by without letting you know about it. Everything from his disinterest in calling timeouts to stop opponent runs to his frequent first half subbing harken back to his assistant coaching tenure under Smith. After a decade on the Tar Heels’ bench, Williams left in 1988 to take over a Kansas program in disarray as a result of Larry Brown. Hardly a rebuilding job, though, Williams made the NCAA Tournament in every year he was in Lawrence except his first (the Jayhawks were still on probation). He wound up taking Kansas to the Final Four a total of four times, including the 2002-03 season, right before he left for Chapel Hill. At the time, Williams famously said, “I could give a sh– about North Carolina,” immediately following his championship game loss to (ironically) Jim Boeheim and Syracuse.

Back at his alma mater starting in 2003, Williams took over a floundering program that had lost 36 games in its previous two seasons (it would take Williams six years to log 36 losses). Matt Doherty bequeathed him a young team with many of the players Williams would ride to his first national championship — Raymond Felton, Jawad Williams, Sean May and Jackie Manuel. But Williams’ Tar Heels bore no resemblance to the ones coached by Doherty. They ran like the wind and turned the undersized May into an unstoppable juggernaut. It’s impossible to consider now, but North Carolina was arguably one more bad hire away from long-term irrelevance (with Coach K just down the road having just won his third championship in 2001).

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Final Four Previews: Syracuse/North Carolina Will Win If…

Posted by Brian Otskey & Bennet Hayes on April 2nd, 2016

The Final Four tips off later today, so it’s time to break down the upcoming games by determining what it will take for each team to win. Yesterday we previewed the early battle between Oklahoma and Villanova, tipping off at 6:09 PM ET. Today we review the Syracuse-North Carolina nightcap, scheduled to tip at 8:49 PM ET. RTC’s Brian Otskey (North Carolina) and Bennet Hayes (Syracuse) with the honors.

Syracuse Will Win If…

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse is One of the Most Unlikely Final Four Entrants Ever (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  • North Carolina misses three-point shots…and Syracuse rebounds them. The Tar Heels killed Syracuse on the offensive glass in their last meeting (19 offensive rebounds to Syracuse’s 22 defensive rebounds), which severely mitigated the damage done by North Carolina’s anemic perimeter shooting (6-of-25 from three-point range). UNC is fully capable of struggling to make three-point shots again (it shoots just 32 percent on the season), but Syracuse must hold its own on the defensive glass this time around. There’s a reason the Orange rank 337th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, but expect Jim Boeheim to emphasize constant awareness and early box-outs when the Tar Heels hoist a long-range attempt.
  • They make three-point shots. There’s no avoiding the fact that Syracuse isn’t a good offensive team. Michael Gbinije has been the lone consistent source of offensive production this season, and even he has looked tired at times during this NCAA Tournament. However, there are a handful of players capable of getting hot from the perimeter. Senior Trevor Cooney is prime among them (35% 3FG), but Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon and Gbinije himself would all boost Syracuse’s chances if they are able to knock down shots tonight. No need to think too hard here – the three-point shot will always be an underdog’s greatest equalizer.
  • An Orange freshman is the best player on the court. North Carolina is nearly a 10-point favorite in this game but it’s possible that Syracuse will have two players drafted before any Tar Heel this June. Lydon and Richardson are freshmen with rapidly rising draft stocks – particularly the former – and each is capable of having a huge impact on Saturday. Hoping they will be the best player on the floor against a team with talented veterans like Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige is asking a lot, but both freshmen have shown glimpses that suggest they are more than capable. Heck, Richardson has already dominated the ACC Player of the Year (Malcolm Brogdon) for a half in this Tournament; why can’t he or Lydon produce a similar feat against the Heels?

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ACC Back in the Final Four With Two Teams, Again…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 31st, 2016

When North Carolina squares off with Syracuse in Saturday’s late national semifinal, it will mark the sixth time in league history that the ACC has entered two schools into the season’s final weekend. It’s been a great March Madness showing for the conference, with a record six schools in the Sweet Sixteen, a record-tying four teams in the Elite Eight, and an overall 18-5 record. The last time the ACC sent two teams to the Final Four was in 2004, when the league still carried nine teams. Since then, the ACC has undergone two major expansions that resulted in an immediate and noticeable downturn in its long tradition of basketball excellence. But combined with last year’s fine NCAA Tourney showing, it appears that the ACC has regained its status as the best among the nation’s major hoops conferences.

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday's National Semi-Finals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina will face a familiar foe in Saturday’s National Semifinals. (Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a little surprising how often individual conferences send multiple teams to the same Final Four. Of course, only one school per conference could participate in the NCAA Tournament for the first 36 years of the event. That changed in 1975 — thanks in large part to Maryland’s exclusion in 1974 — and, from there, it only took one season for a league to place two teams in the season’s final weekend — Indiana defeated fellow Big Ten school Michigan in the 1976 title game. In 1980, the Big Dance became a fully open tournament, with no limit on the number of teams a conference could send. Since then, 65 percent (24 of 37) of the subsequent Final Fours have featured multiple teams from the same conference. Particular hats off to the 1985 Big East, a league that sent three of its members to the Final Four. As you can see below, the Big Ten leads the way with multiple appearances over that span.

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The RTC Interview Series: One on One With Ernie Johnson

Posted by Chris Stone on March 30th, 2016

RTC interviews one on one

Turner Sports‘ Ernie Johnson is perhaps best known for his role mediating the rambunctious crew on TNT’s Inside the NBA, but this weekend he will host TBS’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four and National Championship. With the event just days away, we had an opportunity to sit down with Johnson to discuss the NCAA Tournament’s first championship on cable, the differences between preparing for the NBA and March Madness, and what advice he has for sports media hopefuls.

Rush the Court: As a longtime employee and icon for Turner, can you give us your thoughts on what it means to have this level of coverage for such a huge event in the college basketball world?

Ernie Johnson: Well, first of all, let’s go with longtime employee and you can hold off on the icon. It means a lot to all of us. It really does. I’ve been there since 1989. I’ve seen this company grow in ways we never thought and then have properties that I didn’t know we’d be covering. We were all excited when we signed the deal with CBS to team up on this for a long time and we knew somewhere down the road this would happen, but now that it’s here, it is very special. It’s certainly a point of pride for all of us that when you want to watch the games Saturday and on Monday night, you’ll be watching it on TBS. Turner’s got the championship game in the NCAA Tournament. We are pumped about that.

ernie johnson 1

Ernie Johnson will host studio coverage of the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four this weekend. (Credit: CSE)

Rush the Court: You also have the Team Streams as well, right?

Johnson: Yeah. They’re going to have the homer broadcasts, for lack of a better word. My hope is that everybody gets that stream, but I know that not everybody will because somebody will think, “OK, let’s watch the game on TNT,” and expect to hear Jim Nantz and Grant Hill and Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson on there and they’re going to get somebody that yells and they’re going to be cheering like mad for Villanova and they’re from Oklahoma and they’re ticked. It happened last year, too. We had people on social media going nuts saying, “What are these guys doing? Why don’t they just wave their pom-poms?” Hey, you’re watching the wrong channel. So really, right down the middle, the standard broadcast, TBS. If you’re anywhere but TBS and you’re watching the game, you’re going to hear some cheerleading.

Rush the Court: As we head into the Final Four, we’ve had a couple of weeks to get used to March Madness, so we were curious what storylines you are most interested in now that we’re down to just four teams.

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Syracuse Orange

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 29th, 2016

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Finally, Syracuse. 

How Syracuse Got Here

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse unexpectedly conquered all foes in the Midwest Region. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Midwest Region Champions. Syracuse took a ride through the Midwest region that few expected. The tenth-seeded Orange defeated Dayton in round one, then made the most of a fortunate second round draw by knocking off fifteenth-seeded, Spartan-slaying, Middle Tennessee State. Jim Boeheim’s team proceeded to find lightning in a bottle twice at the Chicago regional, overcoming a nine-point deficit with less than five minutes to play against Gonzaga before supplying the most shocking victory of this stunning Syracuse March run: a regional final victory over #1 Virginia in which they overcame a 15-point deficit with less than ten minutes to play.

The Coach

Jim Boeheim. No stranger to Final Fours (this will be his fifth), even Boeheim himself has to be surprised to be making the trip to Houston this week. No Syracuse team has ever entered the Tournament with a higher seed than this one, and an uninspiring regular season left little hint that a run like this was coming. Boeheim has always enjoyed a little disrespect from the media and he’s been masterful in using the “nobody believes we deserve to be here” narrative as fuel for this run. If he can use that rallying cry (or any other tactic) to grind out two more wins in Houston, this will undoubtedly go down as his greatest coaching job in a career full of them. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #10 Syracuse 68, #1 Virginia 62

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 27th, 2016

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCEastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCSouthregion and @RTCWestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Syracuse stunned Virginia in the Midwest Regional Final to advance to the Final Four. (Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Late Syracuse surge stuns Virginia. When London Perrantes hit his sixth three of the game with 9:33 to go, the Cavaliers led by 15 points (54-39). The Orange looked tired, Virginia appeared as steady as ever, and there seemed little doubt that Tony Bennett was minutes away from his first trip to the Final Four. Then everything changed. Syracuse uncorked a six-minute, 25-4 run that lifted the Orange into the driver’s seat. An experienced, methodical Virginia team unraveled, while Syracuse’s collection of talented but enigmatic freshmen – most notably Malachi Richardson – seized the moment in forcing turnovers and converting on the opposite end. The Midwest region surprised from opening tip last Thursday all the way through to the final minutes this evening.
  2. ACC Player of the Year struggles. Malcolm Brogdon probably didn’t expect his career to end today, and particularly not in the fashion in which it did. The Cavaliers’ star made just two of his 14 field goal attempts, including just 1-of-6 from beyond the arc. Tonight was also a poor display of Brogdon’s normally paralyzing individual defense, as he struggled to contain Richardson late in the second half. Brogdon did some things well – he handed out seven assists and made all seven of his free throw attempts – but his subpar effort was an undeniably critical element of the Virginia loss.
  3. Finally time to respect the Orange. Jim Boeheim mentioned on Friday that it seemed like every Syracuse opponent in this NCAA Tournament was suddenly considered bad once they lost to the Orange. That trend will be unlikely to continue after tonight. Beating Dayton, Middle Tennessee State and Gonzaga – all seeded #7 or higher – shouldn’t be discarded as nothing, but tonight’s takedown of a national title contender has to fully validate this unexpected postseason run. They may not head to Houston as a Final Four favorite, but Boeheim’s team has proven it must be taken seriously.

Star of the Game. Malachi Richardson, Syracuse. The gifted Syracuse freshman was the key player in the Syracuse comeback, scoring 14 points in the decisive 25-4 spurt that sent the Orange into the Final Four. His three-pointer over Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year, with three and a half minutes to play put the Orange up six and should stand as the most memorable bucket in a wild regional final. He finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.

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