Improved Junior Class Keeping North Carolina in the Hunt

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 7th, 2017

After losing four key pieces from its 2016-17 National Championship team, many observers expected North Carolina to take a significant step backward this year. And with no proven frontcourt players returning to Chapel Hill, it was widely expected that head coach Roy Williams would need to make some major adjustments to his traditional style of inside-out offense. Through 10 games so far this season, neither of those assumptions have proven true. The nation’s eighth-best team, per KenPom, suffered its only defeat against a powerful Michigan State squad in the finals of the PK80 event — a game in which the Tar Heels logged their worst shooting night (24.6%) in school history.

Juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams have given North Carolina fans much to cheer about in the early season. (Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

Joel Berry and Theo Pinson — the Tar Heels’ returning starters — were expected as seniors to shoulder the burden of carrying the team. And while each has made slight increases to his usage and production, they are getting far more help than was originaally anticipated. Berry scores (16.5 PPG) and takes good care of the basketball (10.1% TO Rate) while Pinson anchors the defense and leads the team with 4.1 assists per game. But the main reason these Tar Heels appear to once again be national contenders is because of the improved play of juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. After missing the final 14 games of last season with an injury, Williams was a forgotten man coming into this campaign. He has responded to his new role by becoming the team’s third leading scorer (13.4 PPG) and scoring in double-figures in all but one outing this season. As for his classmate Maye, the numbers speak for themselves. In the below table, we compare Maye’s production with the eight forwards in college basketball who received votes on the AP Preseason All-American First Team. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Preseason Predictions and Superlatives

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 14th, 2017

While it’s true that the season is already several days old, it is not yet too late for the ACC microsite to present you with our humble preseason predictions and superlatives. Before season tip-off, the four microsite writers ranked all 15 ACC squads by predicted order of finish, made some all-league selections and projected the player and coach of the year. Should you choose to not take my word for it, none of the panelists — Brad Jenkins, Matt Patton, Mick McDonald or myself — picked Duke’s Marvin Bagley III as our ACC Player of the Year. After his first two collegiate contests, I would already like a mulligan on that.

Bonzie Colson is the ACC Microsite’s Preseason Player of the Year (USA Today Images)

That honor instead went to Notre Dame senior forward Bonzie Colson in unanimous fashion. Diminutive for his position, the 6’5” Colson is coming off an all-ACC first team selection in which he averaged a double-double, and finished 10th in KenPom’s Player of the Year standings.

Preseason All-ACC First Team

  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame (40)
  • Joel Berry, North Carolina (30)
  • Grayson Allen, Duke (29)
  • Marvin Bagley III, Duke (28)
  • Bruce Brown, Miami (FL) (24)

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Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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ACC Burning Questions: North Carolina Tar Heels

Posted by Matt Patton on November 10th, 2017

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

Burning Question: How much will Roy Williams adapt to his team’s strengths?

Roy Williams‘ incredible success over the last two seasons should have silenced all of his doubters. By nearly any standard his teams were exceptionally talented — loaded with McDonald’s All-Americans and consensus four- and five-star players. But Duke and Kentucky were recruiting better classes, and that role reversal led to some grumbling from fans and overreaction from the media. Williams ultimately got the last laugh, of course, with the added bonus that even the ongoing specter of the NCAA disappeared after it punted on the academic fraud scandal. However, it is important to note that this year’s North Carolina team isn’t comprised of the same successful group of the last two seasons and it doesn’t profile like any of Williams’ best teams. The Tar Heels have a strong backcourt led by Joel Berry II and Pittsburgh transfer Cameron Johnson, but Tony Bradley’s early departure to the NBA left the frontcourt lacking in depth, experience and talent.

Joel Berry will start the season on the sidelines, making Roy Williams’ job even tougher. (Photo: Robert L. Poston/CarolinaBlue)

It’s no secret Williams’ best teams have a blueprint roster. Two very good bigs (or, one great one), an elite point guard and an army of players on the wing (with at least one sharp-shooter). Berry is the elite point guard; Johnson is the sharp-shooting wing; but Luke Maye (despite his NCAA Tournament heroics) is no Sean May. With Bradley back, the Tar Heels would have had a good chance at a third straight trip to the Final Four. Without him it’s up to Williams to figure out how to adopt his system to accommodate three true post players (two of whom are freshmen). There’s still plenty of talent on the roster: Theo Pinson is back and consensus top-50 recruit Jalek Felton should get playing time right away. Seventh Woods still has a long way to go, but should have improved considerably during the offseason. Expect this year’s roster to be better shooting on the whole than the last few North Carolina teams (although maybe not, without the individual prowess of Justin Jackson), but it’s hard to see the secondary break working well without significant changes.

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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 28th, 2017

Now that we are back in the midst of the long offseason, it’s time to look at some key ACC storylines to keep an eye on in coming months.

NCAA Punishments (Maybe): Rinse – Recycle – Repeat! This has become an annual bullet point on the ACC offseason storyline list, but maybe it will be the last time we have to include it pertaining to North Carolina and Louisville. The North Carolina academic scandal investigation — which has now dragged on for nearly half a decade — may finally be moving toward a conclusion. Despite the best efforts of UNC’s Four Corners stalling strategy, a recent letter from NCAA infractions committee chairman Greg Sankey indicated that a hearing has been scheduled for mid-August. Still, as we are all aware given the prolonged nature of this case, nothing has proceeded at more than a snail’s pace to this point.

Rick Pitino and Louisville are still waiting on the NCAA to rule on the school’s 2015 stripper scandal. (Jamie Rhodes – USA TODAY Sports)

Louisville’s stripper scandal is a much less complicated case so it seems to be closer to a resolution. The school recently held its own hearing with the NCAA infractions committee and a commonly held belief is that the NCAA will have its final answer on penalties in about two months. The school’s argument that Rick Pitino should not be charged with failure to monitor his assistant coach has already been rejected by the NCAA, so barring a late reprieve, expect the Cardinals’ head coach to serve a suspension at some point next season.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 North Carolina 75, #2 Kentucky 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 26th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Luke Maye capped a phenomenal individual weekend with one of the biggest shots of this, or any, NCAA Tournament (Photo: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

Key Takeaways.

  1. First half foul trouble and questionable officiating. Kentucky clawed its way back into this game in the second half, but early foul trouble and a tough first half whistle greatly imperiled the Wildcats’ bid to advance to another Final Four. De’Aaron Fox watched 75 percent of the first half from the sideline after picking up two early fouls, and backcourt mate Malik Monk joined him there later in the half after also picking up his second foul. There were also a number of questionable first half calls that seemed to go North Carolina’s way every time, including a Bam Adebayo tip-in that was ruled offensive goaltending. North Carolina emerges as a deserving victor, but Kentucky wasn’t helped at all by the first half whistle.
  2. Where was the offense? After the Tar Heels and Wildcats combined for 203 total regulation points in December, there was going to be an offensive come-down. However, few could have expected the drop-off in combined offensive efficiency to be so severe. The two teams combined to shoot just 44 percent from the floor, 29 percent from three-point range, and 67 percent from the free throw line. We have seen far uglier offensive games in this NCAA Tournament, for certain, but the early season wizardry in Las Vegas delivered by these teams allowed us to dream of a more explosive, uptempo battle than what played out.
  3. Justin Jackson and Malik Monk duel. The individual match-up between Monk and Justin Jackson was much discussed before action tipped, and with good reason. These two stars combined for 81 points in the first game, and each player has repeatedly showed the ability to single-handedly take over games. No such dominance was on display today, however, as Jackson harassed Monk into a quiet 12-point afternoon. The UNC star wasn’t at his best today, but his two-way effort (he had 19 points on the other end) gave him the edge in this decisive matchup.

Star of the Game. Luke Maye, North Carolina. Maye posted an unlikely but casual double-double on Friday (16 points, 12 rebounds), yet saved plenty of energy for a memorable encore. He made six of his nine field goal attempts en route to a 17-point night, including the game-winning jumper just before the final horn that won’t soon be forgotten by North Carolina fans. Maye played with swagger and energy all afternoon, and ultimately it was his contributions that pushed the Tar Heels into next weekend’s Final Four in Glendale.

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ACC M5: 02.03.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 3rd, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. Duke Basketball Report: If nothing else, this ACC basketball season has been wild — JD King takes a run at trying to make sense of the madness. One thing that might have helped is if he had included RPIforecast data on some of the potential bubble teams. There’s still a lot of variance this far out, but the prediction site pegs Wake Forest and Clemson on the right side of 44 and everyone else on the wrong side (at least per the incredibly flawed RPI). Georgia Tech in particular has a big challenge ahead of it to make up for a lackluster non-conference schedule.
  2. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Ken Sugiura looks at Josh Pastner‘s honeymoon season at Georgia Tech, focusing on the thoughts of former players and school legend Bobby Cremins. All are ecstatic with the job Pastner has done so far this season. Former star Dennis Scott pegged the ultimate X-factor for Pastner, which is that he needs to recruit at a high level. Recruiting was the one area where previous head coach Brian Gregory struggled mightily (Paul Hewitt recruited inconsistently and didn’t get consistent buy-in; however, I think he was a better fit than Gregory). Pastner to this point has shown at a minimum that he can exceed low expectations, but his most talented teams at Memphis always failed to live up to the hype.
  3. Washington Post: Another year, another Virginia team that looks like a Final Four contender. Tony Bennett is one of the most consistent coaches in college basketball, but whether because of small sample size or a hidden fatal flaw in his system, his teams simply haven’t achieved their full potential in March. As Ava Wallace’s piece here points out, this year’s team is much younger than the average Bennett team. But thanks to unwavering leadership from London Perrantes (and good recruiting/player development from the coaching staff), Virginia hasn’t missed a beat.
  4. Roanoke Times: While Mark Berman avers that the Hokies are in good position, I’m not entirely sure that’s true. On one hand, Virginia Tech has looked the part of a NCAA Tournament team for most of the year. On the other, its projected RPI isn’t great, and Ken Pomeroy’s and Jeff Sagarin’s ratings are even worse. That’s not a typical recipe for making the Big Dance. That’s not to say that this season is something to scoff at, just that the Hokies’ eye test looks considerably better than the team’s statistical profile. Still, a couple of marquee wins could change things dramatically — the Hokies have shots upcoming against Virginia at home with a game at Louisville.
  5. ESPN: Justin Jackson is living up to the potential many people saw in him over the past couple of years, and the change has largely been in his aggressiveness. He’s still not North Carolina‘s best player (hello Joel Berry), but he’s part of the reason this team has a chance to go deep come March. Roy Williams needs Theo Pinson to get healthy, and at least assuming reports are accurate that he only has an ankle injury, North Carolina is clearly playing the long game by giving him plenty of time to recover.
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ACC Weekend Review: 01.16.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 16th, 2017

There were several marquee match-ups in the ACC this weekend, including two monster games on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina overcame some adversity to hand Florida State its first league loss and Louisville ensured that Duke continued its struggles on the road. Later that day, Notre Dame held off Virginia Tech to remain unbeaten in league play, while three schools that entered January with NCAA Tournament aspirations — Clemson, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State — all suffered devastating home defeats to drop to a last place tie in the standings. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Theo Pinson celebrates North Carolina’s big win over Florida State. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In a league as strong as the ACC this season, sometimes a team must show some collective toughness to pull out a win. That’s exactly what North Carolina did on Saturday afternoon in its impressive 96-83 home victory over a red-hot Florida State squad. Faced with the daunting task of playing the nation’s second tallest team without freshman center Tony Bradley (out with a concussion), the Tar Heels were already short-handed in the paint. With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks battling foul trouble, Roy Williams was forced to play almost half the game with no true post player. North Carolina not only hung in with the bigger, deeper Seminoles, but the Tar Heels managed to dominate the glass in a surprisingly effective rebounding effort  (+22). Three Tar Heels — Hicks, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson — finished with over 20 points and Theo Pinson turned in a solid overall effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.09.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 9th, 2017

After one of the craziest opening weekends in ACC history, things calmed down considerably in the second weekend of conference play. In fact, all seven ACC games were won by the favored squad, and only one of those contests was decided by fewer than 11 points. Even if the games weren’t all that scintillating this weekend, there were still a couple takeaways heading into this week. First, in an unanticipated surprise, the two remaining unbeaten schools in conference play are Florida State and Notre Dame — the Seminoles handled visiting Virginia Tech while the Irish rallied to defeat Clemson in South Bend. And then there’s the continued injury misfortunes for Duke — in the Blue Devils’ first game without head coach Mike Krzyzewski (back surgery), stalwart center Amile Jefferson suffered a first half foot injury and never returned. Early reports suggested that the team captain may miss substantial time, meaning even further interruption to a “dream season” that has been anything but smooth to this point. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

V.J. Beachem’s six three-pointers helped Notre Dame defeat Clemson and remain unbeaten in the ACC. (Photo: slapthesign.com)

  • Best Win I: Notre Dame trailed Clemson by seven points at halftime, but the Irish prevailed by five to move to 3-0 in league play. Senior forward V.J. Beachem led the way, making six threes en route to 22 points. Bonzie Colson pitched in with 13 points and 12 boards — his third straight double-double performance to open league action. Notre Dame now faces a very daunting part of its schedule — a stretch of five games in just 13 days, with the first three on the road — beginning with a trip to Miami (FL) this Thursday.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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