ACC Burning Questions Part 4: Virginia Tech, Syracuse & Florida State

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 1st, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) works into the upper tier, with Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Florida State

Virginia Tech Burning Question: We know they’ll fill it up, but can the Hokies improve enough defensively to fulfill their potential?

Buzz Williams Needs to Improve His Defense to Contend This Year (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech came out of the gates blazing a year ago, scoring more than 90 points in five of its first six affairs. And while the numbers understandably dipped as the competition toughened, the Hokies’ up-tempo, let-it-fly mentality, led to season marks of 28th nationally in offensive efficiency and sixth in effective field goal percentage. Lead guard Justin Robinson, the engine behind the high-powered unit, is back for his senior season, and pairs with sophomore sharpshooter Nickeil Alexander-Walker, as perhaps the most explosive backcourt in the ACC.

Robinson, a preseason all-ACC second team selection, is the model of consistency, and the type of point guard head coach Buzz Williams can trust to spearhead his attacking offense. An old-school point guard at his core, Robinson has developed in an old-school manner, as his three-point percentage, points, assists and steals per game have all steadily increased over his three years in Blacksburg. Another leap is a tall order for him after averaging 14.0 PPG, 5.6 APG and shooting nearly 40 percent from long-distance last season, but one that he may need to make given that senior Chris Clarke has been suspended from the team indefinitely. Clarke, the runner-up for ACC Sixth Man of the Year, was in line to start and become a major contributor. In his absence, the Hokies will need a healthy and productive Kerry Blackshear Jr. to replicate upon his excellent sophomore season. Coming off a redshirt year, the 6’10” Blackshear averaged just under 13 points per game on the back of a 63.4 percent true shooting rate. Without Clarke around to bolster the interior, he becomes the Hokies’ leading returning rebounder and will be relied upon to protect the rim.

In his first four years at Virginia Tech, Williams’ teams have never finished within the top 60 nationally in defensive efficiency. If this is to be the year that the Hokies break through and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, improvement on that end is absolutely necessary. There’s no doubt that this team’s offense will pressure opposing defenses, but seeking to outscore the opposition will only get a team so far.

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Syracuse make enough shots?

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ACC Weekend Preview: December 16-17

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 15th, 2017

There wasn’t much ACC action this week but the weekend promises a double-header in the Sunshine State, an ancient Big East rivalry renewed, and a pair of huge road tests (all ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through the games of December 14).

Saturday, December 16

Syracuse and Georgetown Pick Up Their Ancient Rivalry This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  • Syracuse (#56) at Georgetown (#95). An old Big East rivalry will be renewed as Georgetown has now finished the MEAC portion of its schedule. This is the toughest test of the season to date for the Hoyas, as their 8-0 start has come against a schedule that ranks dead last nationally. Syracuse star Tyus Battle has scored 20 or more points in three straight games, as the sophomore appears to have taken the leap that many expected — his PER (15.2 to 23.6) and Offensive Rating (116.4 to 123.1) have both significantly improved from last season.
  • Virginia Tech (#28) at Kentucky (#14). In what feels like a major statement game for Buzz Williams, the Hokies will travel to Lexington to take on a young and mostly untested Kentucky team. This Virginia Tech squad plays a very similar style to Kansas, which beat the Wildcats at the Champions Classic earlier this season. The Jayhawks won that game despite shooting just 8-of-28 from distance. The Hokies (96.2 PPG), on the other hand, are the highest scoring team in college basketball and rely heavily on three-point shooting (46.8% 3FG, second nationally) while mostly playing away from the basket. If Virginia Tech wishes to pull the upset at Rupp Arena tomorrow, it will need to convert double-figure three-pointers while shooting a high percentage.

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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 28th, 2017

After a two-game appetizer on Monday night that resulted in a 2-0 ACC lead, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge revs into high gear this evening with a full slate of five more games.

  • Louisville at Purdue (8:00 PM, ESPN): Of the 10 Challenge teams playing tonight, only Louisville is ranked in this week’s AP Top 25, checking in at #17.  The Cardinals, which have won their first four games with new head coach David Padgett at the helm, travel to Mackey Arena for their sternest test to date to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers are coming off of a disappointing seventh place finish at the Battle 4 Atlantis during Feast Week, but they finished strong in obliterating Arizona in an 11-of-22 performance from three-point range. Padgett’s group has thus far sustained the defensive prowess and identity (second nationally in block percentage and 10th in two-point field goal percentage) of former head coach Rick Pitino, but Purdue will represent a significant step up in weight class in the featured game of the evening.

The Cardinals Have Maintained A Similar Style Under David Padgett (Credit: Michael Clevenger/Courier-Journal)

  • Florida State at Rutgers (7:00 PM, ESPNU): Considering the Seminoles’ opposition to date, a 5-0 start isn’t all that surprising, but the manner in which they have achieved that result most certainly has been. Florida State has exceeded 85 points in four of its first five contests by shooting a very healthy 53 percent as a team, highlighted by a blistering 64 percent conversion rate from inside the arc (trailing only Xavier nationally). A trip to visit 6-0 Rutgers should make for an interesting match-up, as neither squad has played a top-100 team nor have they been tested. Terrance Mann will be the focal point of Steve Pikiell’s defensive game plan, as the junior has missed only seven of his 40 two-point field goal attempts so far this season.

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ACC Burning Questions: Florida State Seminoles

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 8th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Will the Seminoles have enough left to overcome the departures of last year’s leading triumvirate?

Few teams nationally will have to cope with the task of replacing as much lost production as Florida State. With the early defections of freshman phenom Jonathan Isaac (picked sixth by Orlando), sophomore Dwayne Bacon (second round, now with Charlotte) and junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes (G-League), Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton bid adieu to the three players most responsible for last year’s 26-win campaign (second most in school history) and second place ACC finish. By the numbers, the group accounted for an astounding 47 percent of Florida State’s points, 38 percent of its rebounds, 52 percent of the assists and 41 percent of the steals. Daunting as it is to replace all of that output, the statistics that best elucidate the value of the big three come from their exorbitant usage rates. A resounding 48 percent of Florida State’s shot attempts (including 57 percent of those hoisted beyond the arc) emanated from the hands of Isaac, Bacon and Rathan-Mayes.

The player most likely to yield a major uptick in production is 6’4” junior sharpshooter PJ Savoy. (Logan Bowles/USA TODAY Sports)

The good news for the glass half-full crowd is that Hamilton returns six players who averaged double-figure minutes a season ago. Junior Terrance Mann is the most notable and accomplished of the returnees, having started all but one game as a sophomore. The versatile 6’6” wing trailed only the aforementioned three in scoring, tallying an efficient eight points per game while ranking 89th nationally in effective field goal percentage. Sophomore southpaw CJ Walker, who averaged a touch under five points per game while handling reserve point guard duties, will be handed the keys to the offense. Walker proved skillful and capable of providing an explosive spark off the bench a year ago, but he’ll need to combine that scoring punch with an adroitness in setting the table for his teammates this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Preview: Florida State’s Burning Question

Posted by Matt Patton on October 29th, 2015

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

Burning Question: How quickly can Leonard Hamilton assimilate his talented recruiting class?

Leonard Hamilton has had a reputation as a crack recruiter for a while (the buzz reached its peak when it looked like Florida State might land Andrew Wiggins), but as a result of the school’s relative lack of investment in basketball, he’s only landed three McDonald’s All-Americans during his 13 years in Tallahassee. Von Wafer certainly didn’t push Hamilton’s team to the next level, but Michael Snaer and Chris Singleton were big parts of some of Florida State’s best teams of the last decade (2009-11).

Xavier Rathan-Mayes will be one of the best offensive players in the ACC. (photo: Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Xavier Rathan-Mayes will be one of the best offensive players in the ACC. (Photo: Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

What he hasn’t had in raw talent, Hamilton has made up in player development. His best teams have relied on a stout defense that is usually anchored by upperclassmen. The Singleton and Snaer squads combined rim protection with elite on-ball defenders (both were among the best defenders in the country), but in recent years that formula has fallen short. That’s not to say the Seminoles have been awful, but they simply haven’t been able to reach the outstanding defensive efficiency of those teams. This year’s bunch may again have some question marks on the defensive end, but it also has a chance to be different in that it may be the first elite offensive team Leonard Hamilton has coached in a long while.
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