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 Stock Watch: January 31

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 31st, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

Georgia Tech. Now THAT is how you get the attention of the NCAA Tournament selection committee! The Yellow Jackets blasted Florida State at home last week before winning on Saturday on the rare but delightful “fast break lay-up buzzer beater” against Notre Dame. Georgia Tech is now 4-2 in its last six games and has absolutely moved into the discussion for an NCAA Tournament bid. The key has been the Yellow Jackets’ improved defense, as head coach Josh Pastner is employing a tricky zone that has forced opponents into a slew of bad shots, particularly from three-point range. Georgia Tech held the Seminoles to their lowest Offensive Rating (75.7) of the season and the Irish to their second-lowest (92.3).These big wins at home are no doubt important, but Pastner also needs to show that his team can win on the road. The Jackets will get the chance this week with trips to Clemson and Wake Forest.

Is freshman Ty Jerome the secret weapon for Tony Bennett to get Virginia deep into the tournament? (AP)

Virginia. The Cavaliers were *this* close to putting together one of the most impressive weeks of the entire college basketball season. Already carrying a dominant road victory over Notre Dame into Sunday’s match-up with top-ranked Villanova, the Cavaliers led for most of the way before a buzzer-beating tip-in gave them the loss. Perhaps even more surprising than Virginia’s success last week was the play of freshman Ty Jerome. Normally relegated to just a few minutes per game in giving senior point guard London Perrantes a breather, head coach Tony Bennett gave him a huge opportunity to deliver. Not only did he score a career-best 15 points in 24 minutes against the Wildcats, but he ran the offense well enough to allow Perrantes to play off the ball. Furthermore, he was not afraid to take the big shots, hitting several including a game-tying runner in the lane. Was this a temporary mirage, or is Jerome now a key cog to a Virginia team that appears to be putting it all together as we approach the home stretch?

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Virginia Quietly Hitting Its Stride… Again

Posted by Charlie Maikis on January 26th, 2017

Virginia basketball has been the epitome of elite consistency over the past three seasons, as the Cavaliers won at least 29 games and finished among the top six in the final AP Poll from 2014-16. Despite what seems like irreplaceable annual personnel losses (this time: ACC POY Malcolm Brogdon), Tony Bennett’s team is once again tracking in the same direction — a shaky 1-2 ACC start has ceded to the Cavaliers rattling off five victories in a row. Much like years past, Virginia’s components of success largely look the same — the pack line defense remains stifling, and the offense is led by a seasoned and steady senior.

Against a ranked Miami team in January, Virginia guard London Perrantes pumped up the Charlottesville crowd. (Ryan M. Kelly/AP)

Let’s start with the pack line defense. During the five-game winning streak, the Cavaliers have given up a measly 58.4 points per game, a number that, while above their season average, ranks first among ACC teams in conference play by nearly six points per game (Louisville has given up 64.3 points per game). They’ve managed that feat by limiting the opposition’s three-point attack. After Florida State and Pittsburgh torched the Cavaliers by shooting a combined 58.3 percent from beyond the arc in back-to-back losses, subsequent opponents have converted a much chillier 28.7 percent in the five wins. The best output of those five games was Georgia Tech’s 4-of-9 performance, but since it has been shown time and again that the best way to defend the three is by limiting their attempts, that too has to be considered a win for the Wahoos. Bennett’s pack line is designed to stifle teams inside, but Virginia’s recent run has been predicated on chasing shooters off the line and getting in their space. While an elite defense is certainly good, history shows that great defensive teams that have trouble scoring do not perform well in the NCAA Tournament. Where the Cavaliers stand apart from many of the other defensive stalwarts in college basketball is on the offensive end, where Virginia’s senior leader orchestrates the show. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Breaking Down Ivan Rabb vs. Virginia’s Defense

Posted by Adam Butler on December 26th, 2016

Virginia basketball doubles the post. This is less opinion than fact. Tony Bennett’s teams double the post and they double it effectively. In using Internet search devices you’ll discover a fifty-two-second video compilation of Virginia post-doubles when searching the terms, “VIRGINIA BASKETBALL DOUBLES POST.” And then another video with three minutes of post-doubles. Core to the pack-line defense is denying the paint, to ensure help is always available. In sending the immediate double-team, these tenets are fulfilled: help arrives immediately, and the post – and player – is denied.

Ivan Rabb Was Often Swarmed by Cavaliers (USA Today Images)

Ivan Rabb Was Often Swarmed by Cavaliers (USA Today Images)

The ultimate point I’m beleaguering here is that California center Ivan Rabb didn’t touch the ball for the final four minutes in last week’s 56-52 loss to Virginia. Rabb, the second-highest vote-getter in Preseason All-America voting, took only four shots on the evening and did not touch the ball for the final four minutes of a crucial non-conference home game. OK, to be fair, he did get a touch with 18 seconds remaining. It was with his back turned 24 feet away from the basket and resulted in an immediate handoff to teammate Jabari Bird (and zero threat to score). Ignoring that touch fits this final four-minute narrative but also demonstrates two key points: 1) Bennett is indeed the best defensive coach in America; 2) Cal is ineffectively using its greatest asset.

Let’s expand on the latter because to this point we’ve effused on the former. Bennett’s teams have never finished outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency and have been among the top 25 in nine of his 11 head coaching seasons. That point is clear. So, back to Rabb. If Virginia denies the post and Rabb is one of the nation’s best post players, what’s a Berkeley to do? First of all, one of the things that makes Rabb special is his pronounced versatility. He can score from all over the floor, create on his own and draw fouls. To quantify: he shoots 84 percent at the rim and 41 percent in the mid-range; only half of his shots are assisted; and he owns the 45th best free throw rate in America. Furthermore, his 12 percent assist rate suggests that, while he won’t soon rival Lonzo Ball in his passing capabilities, Rabb will find the open man (for context, that’s roughly the fifth-highest assist rate among Pac-12 bigs). So what was Cuonzo Martin‘s team trying to do at the end of a winnable game against a top 10 team? Well here’s a detailed look at Rabb’s 34 touches on the evening (including the last second, back-to-the basket, moment):

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 22nd, 2016

In Part I of this series published earlier this week, we examined the latest stylistic change in college basketball: a substantial surge in three-point shooting. Players in both the NBA and college basketball are hoisting and making more long-range shots than ever before, a trend we expect to continue growing into the future. With that in mind, we decided to gauge how the 15 current ACC head coaches may be willing to adapt to such a shift in style of play. To make that assessment, we must first look at recent history.Coaches3s-ImportanceThe graph above shows the relative importance of three-point shooting for ACC coaches over the past five seasons, both offensively and defensively. This rating is simply an average of how a coach’s team has ranked nationally in three areas concerning three-point shooting: three-point accuracy; three-point attempt percentage; and the percentage of points derived from three-point baskets. With only one exception — Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning has only four years under his belt — we used data from the last five seasons for each coach, including seasons at other schools (i.e., Josh Pastner at Memphis and Kevin Stallings at Vanderbilt). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 23rd, 2016

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. AdvoCare Invitational: Miami (#17) will travel a few hours north to participate in Orlando’s AdvoCare Invitational. This event has a sneaky good field this year — one of the best of Feast Week. The Hurricanes open play against Stanford (#64) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPN2 – 2:30 PM) and then hopefully will take on the winner of Iowa State (#30) and Indiana State (#163) on Friday. Three powerful teams are lurking on the other side of the bracket, with Gonzaga (#20), Florida (#13) and Seton Hall (#36) all vying to make it to Sunday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – 1:30 PM). Jim Larranaga’s team burst onto the national scene last year by winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in convincing fashion. Miami’s head coach would love to repeat that performance in Orlando this week.
  2. Wooden Legacy: After three easy home wins to start the season, Virginia Tech (#45) will head out west for the Wooden Legacy in Orange County. There are two other top-80 clubs in the Hokies’ half of the draw, so getting to Sunday night’s finals (ESPN – 8:30 PM) will be a challenge. Virginia Tech will take on New Mexico (#80) in Thursday’s opening round (ESPN – 4:30 PM) and then will meet either Texas A&M (#33) or Cal State Northridge (#184) on Friday. The top schools in the opposite side of the bracket are UCLA (#23) and Dayton (#38). With only two other non-conference opponents rated in the top 275 remaining on their schedule, it is very important that Buzz Williams’ club performs well in California this week.
  3. Barclays Center Classic: The ACC will be back in Brooklyn later this week as Boston College (#191) plays in the Barclays Center Classic beginning with a match-up against Kansas State (#41) on Friday (RSN – 7:00 PM). The other semifinal game will feature former ACC member Maryland (#54) taking on Richmond (#97). The Eagles will be heavy underdogs in this event but they can still take some positives from it even if they drop both games. This weekend’s pair of games will be Boston College’s only non-league action against good competition, which should serve to help prepare a young team for what it will face once ACC play begins in January.
  4. Emerald Coast Classic: Virginia (#4) travels south to Niceville, Florida, for the Emerald Coast Classic, a four-team tournament. The Cavaliers will square off with Iowa (#59) in one of Friday’s semifinals (CBSSN – 7:00 PM) and hope to advance to the championship game on Saturday (CBSSN – 7:00 PM) against the winner of Providence (#63) and Memphis (#98). It’s safe to say that the team that draws Tony Bennett’s group will have its hands full with the Cavaliers’ incredibly stingy defense. Virginia is allowing opponents to score a measly 38.7 points per game through its first four contests.
  5. Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational: This is a non-traditional event in which the games are pre-scheduled. Syracuse (#8) hosts three games as part of the event and then heads to Brooklyn for the finale of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational on Saturday afternoon (ESPN3 – 2:30 PM). There, the Orange will take on South Carolina (#58) in a Power-5 matchup. For those keeping score, that game will be one of seven played by ACC squads in the Barclays Center in a six-day period. In less than two weeks, Jim Boeheim will bring his squad back to the Big Apple as Syracuse hooks up with former Big East foe Connecticut in Madison Square Garden on December 5.
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With Austin Nichols Gone at Virginia, Who Takes His Place?

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 18th, 2016

Earlier this evening, Virginia made a shocking announcement that not only affects the outlook of the Cavaliers season, but that of the entire ACC. Forward Austin Nichols, who sat out last season after transferring from Memphis, has been dismissed from the program. In the announcement, Tony Bennett said, “It’s a privilege to be a part of this program and Austin has lost that privilege. We have standards for our student-athletes and when those standards aren’t met, there are consequences and this is the unfortunate consequence.”

Despite some issues at Memphis, Nichols had (apparently) been a model citizen in Charlottesville during the 2015-16 season while he was practicing with the team. It was a bit of an eyebrow raiser when Nichols was suspended for Virginia’s first game of this year, and there were a few questions asked when he came off the bench in the Cavaliers’ second contest against St. Francis (Brooklyn). Still, nobody expected this to be the next act in this saga.

When Anthony Gill graduated following last season, most in the Virginia program weren’t worried thanks to the presence of Nichols. They felt Nichols could replace Gill by stepping right into the role of an effective scorer on the low block and an elite shot blocker on the defensive end of the floor.

Isaiah Wilkins is one of several Cavaliers who will need to step up in the absence of Austin Nichols. (AP Photo/Ryan M. Kelly)

No one player on the roster can solely take over for Nichols so it will take a committee. On the offensive end, Isaiah Wilkins will be asked to be more of a volume scorer. Through two games, Wilkins is shooting 62.5% from the field, and he will now have to be the go-to scorer in the Virginia frontcourt, a role he has never played before. He is much more of an inside-out scorer than a typical back-to-the-basket player, however. That role will likely go to Jarred Reuter, who played sparingly last year but is a favorite of Tony Bennett thanks to his creative back-to-the-basket play. He has averaged 17 minutes per game in the Cavaliers first two contests, and you can expect that to rise in the coming games. Finally, they will need to replace Nichols on the defensive end, which will fall to Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite. Both Salt and Diakite are quite raw with Salt playing limited minutes last season and Diakite redshirting, but both can be effective defenders. Salt is a bruiser at 6’10” and 240 pounds and can be a load to try to keep off the boards. Diakite is smaller at 6’9” and 195 pounds, but Bennett loves his athleticism. He should end up being an excellent shot blocker, but it remains to be seen how he will handle the physicality of the ACC.

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Two Key Players Off to Promising Starts in Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 18th, 2016

Virginia and Virginia Tech are both off to 2-0 starts with both teams posting a pair of easy victories. Given the quality of their opponents, these results were neither surprising nor particularly interesting. However, one takeaway from the first week of action is that a pair of players we thought might be key to their success are off to promising starts. The caveat of course is that this is just two games against sub-175 KenPom teams, but fans of both the Cavaliers and Hokies should be optimistic about what they have already seen from Marial Shayok and Ahmed Hill.

Marial Shayok as a consistent scoring threat will be key for Virginia. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

Shayok has been a source of frustration for Virginia since his arrival two seasons ago. He has regularly mixed snippets of his obvious talent with games where he was a complete non-factor. The Cavaliers could afford to live with his volatility when Malcolm Brogdon was around to provide offensive punch, but the time has come for Shayok to be a more consistent presence. After one week of action: so far, so good. Although Virginia has spread the wealth with nine players averaging between 6.0 and 12.0 points per game, Shayok so far leads the way (11.5 PPG). He has clearly embraced his role as a go-to scorer and his improved mid-range game has resulted in shooting a scorching 64.3 percent from the field. After the victory over St. Francis (Brooklyn) on Tuesday night, Shayok told reporters that plenty of offseason hard work has helped him feel less tired during games. He also noted that he “lost about 20 pounds because I stopped eating Domino’s and cookies.“ While less pizza and cookies is probably a good suggestion for all of us, Tony Bennett has to be pleased that Shayok has gotten serious about his conditioning and is much improved this season.

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Cavaliers

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

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

Burning Question: Where will the points come from this year?

It’s been a historic three-year run at Virginia, with 89 overall wins, a 45-9 ACC record, an Elite Eight and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. A stingy pack-line defense has been the cornerstone of Tony Bennett‘s program during this run, but his offensive attack has been better than most realize. Virginia’s point totals never look impressive because of its extremely slow pace of play, but from an efficiency standpoint they have actually finished among the best in the land (i.e., a top-22 finish in KenPom‘s offensive efficiency rankings all three years). The main cog in that attack — Malcolm Brogdon — led the Cavaliers in scoring for those three years, including a career best 18.2 PPG as a senior. According to Bennett, some of his veteran returnees will have to shoulder more of the scoring load. Senior point guard London Perrantes, one of those upperclassmen, is still around. He led the ACC in three-point accuracy last year, making a blistering 48.8 percent of his shots from deep, and he has obviously earned the confidence of his coach. At ACC Operation Basketball last month, Bennett said, “He’s smart enough to figure out where he has to look and be assertive, but he’s also smart enough to say what does the team need, who needs to touch the ball.”

Senior London Perrantes may have to look to score more for Virginia without Malcolm Brogdon around anymore. (wahingtonpost.com)

Senior London Perrantes will look to score more for Virginia, without Malcolm Brogdon around. (washingtonpost.com)

While Perrantes is a known quantity, the rest of the returnees have mostly been role players to this point in their careers. Only one of those returnees other than Perrantes managed to top 11 points in any game versus a conference foe last year. Four juniors will get a first crack at increased roles in the Virginia attack — forward Isaiah Wilkins and guards Devon Hall, Marial Shayok and Darius Thompson. The undersized Wilkins spent a lot of time in the post last season, but Bennett encouraged him to work on his outside shot to make him more of a scoring threat. All three junior guards have good size and versatility, but none has ever been offensively aggressive. Shayok is the player who probably has the most potential, though, as he has connected on 40 percent of his threes in his first two years. The Cavaliers also return a couple of bangers in the paint — sophomores Jack Salt and Jarred Reuter. Neither showed much offensive flash in their first season, but each could earn time as rebounders and screeners. Read the rest of this entry »

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