Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to recap a wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and preview the chances of the four remaining ACC schools making the Final Four.

The Answer to Your Trivia Question is Virginia (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: OK guys. Before we look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen, let’s recap the crazy first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I guess we have to start with the surprising outcomes that I witnessed in Charlotte. Mick, we’ll go ahead and let you give your take on what happened to Virginia.

Mick McDonald: Do I have to? I haven’t had the stomach to go back and watch it, and frankly, most of the game feels like a haze. Sort of like a bad dream you try to forget. That said, it was a collection of things, all of which were a worst case scenario for Virginia. Early foul trouble for Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, plus Tony Bennett’s refusal to play Marco Anthony, meant they had to play the same five guys (including Nigel Johnson and Jack Salt, who aren’t scorers) most of the first half. Secondly, their jump shots weren’t falling. Third, UMBC hung around long enough to get their confidence up. All of that still led to a halftime tie. Most Virginia fans were having Coastal Carolina flashbacks to 2014, still thinking they’d put it together. When the first play of the second half was an and-one to give Wilkins his third foul, things felt different. Then UMBC couldn’t miss, Virginia lost its composure and it was over. And yes, not having DeAndre Hunter hurt. But it was by no means the lone reason they lost.

Matt Auerbach: Obviously we’ve been beaten to death with every talking head, captain obvious rationale: Virginia isn’t built to play from behind; its style lends itself to keeping inferior teams in the game; and so on. But the truth remains that this tournament is a one-and-done scenario, and for that reason, remains random at its core. If they play 10 times, the Cavaliers win the other nine with a few of those games by 30-plus points. There’s no reason to attempt to explain it. It’s one of the reasons we love this event so much, unless, as in this case, you’re on the Virginia end.

Mick McDonald: Well said, Matt. Pat Forde, a columnist I usually respect and enjoy, published a column hours after the game calling the entire Virginia/Tony Bennett program fraudulent. That’s insane (and certainly trolling clickbait, but that’s another discussion). Bennett will keep winning and will eventually get to a Final Four. Just like every other great coach who “couldn’t win in March” before him.

Matt Auerbach: That article was written about Mike Krzyzewski 30 years ago, and was written about Jim Boeheim and his zone for a long time too. The antithesis was said about Tom Izzo; how’s that been working out?

Mick McDonald: People just have such a hard time accepting that events can be random and not need some massive underlying reason why they happened. This event breeds wild one-time results.

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Rushed Reactions: #16 UMBC 74, #1 Virginia 54

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 17th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is in Charlotte this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

UMBC’s jubilation was one for the ages after becoming the first #16-seed to knock off a #1-seed in NCAA history. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. History has been made! Not only did UMBC pull off the biggest upset ever in the Big Dance, it did so handily. Virginia came in as the top overall seed in the tournament and the unanimous #1 team in both major polls, but the Cavaliers were totally outplayed. It’s not the first time Virginia has struggled in the first round as a #1 seed. Four years ago, the Cavaliers trailed Coastal Carolina by five at the half before coming back to win by 11. When the scored was tied at the half in this one, Virginia still seemed to be in good position. But UMBC stormed out of the locker room and immediately seized control of the game. It appeared that the Cavaliers got rattled, perhaps feeling the pressure of what was at stake. Even the vaunted pack line defense of Tony Bennett withered against the Retrievers’ attack, allowing uncontested layups and open threes. Regardless of why it happened, UMBC and Virginia will forever be remembered as the two participants when a #16 seed beat a #1 seed for the first time in NCAA Tournament history.
  2. UMBC was not overwhelmed by the moment. In the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in school history, UMBC didn’t flinch against the #1 team in the land. Calling on the same moxie they displayed in the America East conference tourney — they won the title on top-seeded Vermont’s home floor — the Retrievers battled the Cavaliers on even terms for most of the first half and then dominated the rest of the way. Much credit has to go to Ryan Odom for having his team believe it was possible and to the UMBC players for making it happen. To pull off the huge upset though, UMBC would need more than guts and confidence. They would also have to make a bunch of three-point shots and they did just that, sinking 12-of-24 from behind the arc.
  3. Is it possible that De’Andre Hunter meant more to Virginia than we thought? When it was announced that Hunter was going to miss the NCAA Tournament due to a broken wrist, it was a big loss for the Cavaliers. But we didn’t expect it to cause problems for Virginia so early in the tourney. Not to take anything away from UMBC, but the Cavaliers did not look the same without the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year. It also didn’t help that Devon Hall had perhaps his worst outing of the season, scoring only two points on 1-of-9 shooting. Hunter’s absence probably also affected Virginia’s defense. Without their most athletic player available, the Cavaliers allowed the quicker Retrievers to penetrate the pack line repeatedly in the second half.

Player of the Game. Jairus Lyles, UMBC. The senior leader of the Retrievers came through with 28 points, including 23 after the half. Lyles was extremely efficient against the nation’s best defense — making 9-of-11 from the field and 3-of-4 from distance. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach, Mick McDonald on March 14th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week about the NCAA Tournament prospects for all nine ACC schools involved.

Losing De’Andre Hunter is a huge blow to Virginia’s NCAA title hopes. (Ryan M. Kelly/Getty)

Brad Jenkins: Well it’s Tourney time fellas! I guess we should start with the gut wrenching news of the day – De’Andre Hunter is out with a broken wrist for the entire tournament. Mick, how does Virginia adapt short-term and long-term?

Mick McDonald: I figured we’d have to start here. It’s devastating news for Virginia. Hunter’s flexibility allowed the Cavaliers to play small with him at the four or bigger with him at the three. He was a great option on offense and could score in a variety of ways. It’s crushing. Long term — as in, next year — it’s no big deal. He’ll recover and be ready to go. But this year? I just can’t see Virginia winning the title without him. Maybe they can get by Arizona/Kentucky/Cincinnati to make the Final Four, but I doubt it.

Matt Auerbach: I hate to agree with Mick, because after being in Brooklyn and seeing and finally appreciating the live beauty of Virginia basketball, I penciled them in as my favorite — but thankfully, it was in pencil. Hunter is a tremendous talent and gives them so much on both ends off the bench. Without him, I think the Arizona game if it materializes becomes a lot trickier.

Mick McDonald: Tony Bennett will now have to give minutes to Marco Anthony, a smaller freshman wing who played well during Nigel Johnson’s suspension. He’s not Hunter but he will have to play well when called on.

Brad Jenkins: It does remove the option of playing small. The good news is that the other talented teams in the South region like Kentucky, Arizona and Cincinnati all will have required a bigger Virginia lineup anyway. So I think they can still get to San Antonio.

Matt Auerbach: All this being said — and the loss of Hunter could easily be viewed as detrimental — but would it shock me to see Virginia still make it to San Antonio? Absolutely not.

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Rushed Reactions: Virginia 71, North Carolina 63

Posted by Matt Auerbach on March 10th, 2018

RTC’s Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Virginia Won Its Third ACC Championship in Five Years Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Crown them. Despite being picked a middling sixth in the ACC preseason poll, Virginia pulled off the season sweep by comfortably cruising to the regular season title and backing it up with an impressive three-day run to capture the school’s third ACC Tournament crown. Detractors may still remain given the Cavaliers’ methodical style of play, but given the sheer dominance in which Virginia has owned a league filled with Hall of Fame coaches and NBA Draft choices, omitting Tony Bennett‘s group from your short list of national title contenders in San Antonio would be complete folly.
  2. Luke Maye and Kenny Williams kept the Tar Heels afloat. After Cameron Johnson and Joel Berry II opened the scoring column for North Carolina, nary a Heel other than Luke Maye or Kenny Williams made a field goal from the 18:07 mark in the first half until the 17:41 mark of the second half. Without the duo’s combined 23 of the team’s 30 points in the first, Virginia could have very easily run North Carolina right out of the building instead of only leading by four at the intermission.
  3. Kyle Guy is an unabashed shot taker and maker. Guy, Virginia’s leading scorer and most frequent shooter by a wide margin (117 more attempts than Ty Jerome coming into tonight) seized control on many of the important possessions in the second half. When the Virginia lead had been whittled down to just a bucket with 10 minutes left to play, Guy responded with a jumper to stretch the lead to four. And with North Carolina still within three points at the eight-minute mark, Guy knocked down a pull-up, and scored on a set play off a double screen on the following possession to push the spread to seven. While Virginia is a team in every sense of the word, Guy is the player who has the stones to hunt and convert critical buckets when such things are necessary.

Star of the Game: Kyle Guy, Virginia. Despite another evening of exceptional floor games from Ty Jerome (12 points, six assists, six rebounds) and Devon Hall (15 points, five rebounds, four assists), Guy’s willingness to take and make the biggest shots of the night ultimately earned him the tournament MVP. With a team-high 16 points, Guy has now reached double figures in 27 of Virginia’s 33 games this year.

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Rushed Reactions: Virginia 64, Clemson 58

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

They’re Not Brand Names, But All They Do Is Win (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia can flip a game quickly. Trailing 20-13 midway through the first half and looking like anything but the overall #1 seed heading into next week’s NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers held Clemson without a field goal for the final 9:33 of the first half in converting a seven-point deficit into a nine-point advantage. The 19-3 spurt was sparked by De’Andre Hunter on both ends and punctuated by a pair of Kyle Guy triples, but it was the trademark Virginia defense that was most responsible for the game-seizing run. Clemson missed its last 10 field goal attempts of the half and was coaxed into a period in which the veteran team appeared both flummoxed and demoralized.
  2. De’Andre Hunter is a game-changer. Hunter, despite being on floor for less than half of the game, is the only other Cavalier besides Guy who qualifies as a major contributor, per KenPom, with a team-leading usage rate of 25.4 percent. After a Mamadi Diakite floater cut the Tigers’ lead to five, Hunter singlehandedly put the lead back in Virginia’s possession for good. A made three, a steal and hit-ahead to Guy for a dunk, followed by another bucket, gave the Cavs a lead they would never relinquish. A lethal combination of size and athleticism with a rapidly improving set of skills, Hunter’s presence on the floor presents a unique problem for opposing defenses. While Virginia’s offense generally is predicated on crisp ball movement and screening action to get a shot for the open man, Hunter provides a wrinkle that can wreck a defensive game plan, with the ability to score or create in pick-and-pop and isolation sets.
  3. Clemson will be fine.  No need to panic if you’re a Clemson fan. The Tigers will hear their name called on a Selection Sunday for the first time since 2011, and while this game will leave a sour taste in Brad Brownell’s mouth, the hard acceptance here is that Virginia has done this to just about all of its opponents this year. And while it is not debatable that the ceiling for this team was significantly lowered with the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham seven weeks ago, Clemson has the grit, experience and defensive aptitude to find its way into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament with the right draw.

Star of the Game: Ty Jerome, Virginia. It is the ultimate compliment for a team like Virginia when the task of choosing just one player as the star seems equally as impossible as it is to consistently score on its defense. While Guy led the team in scoring and Hunter’s surge flipped the game, arguments could also be made for the efforts made by big men Diakite (10 points, four rebounds) and Jack Salt (eight points, eight rebounds). Ultimately, though, it was the defense in holding Clemson to 34.7 percent shooting from the field, led by Jerome and Devon Hall, in limiting the high scoring backcourt tandem of Marcquise Reed and Gabe Devoe to 14 points on a combined 5-of-23 shooting. Jerome, being the primary point of attack defender, and for dishing out a career-high 10 assists, gets the nod here — but again, it could’ve been any of this entire squad.

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ACC Conversation: End of Season Awards

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerback, Mick McDonald on February 28th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week  about who they think should take home All-ACC Honors.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley Will Assuredly Find Himself on the All-ACC Team (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: Last week we focused on teams. This week, we can discuss individuals. How do you guys feel the All-ACC first team will shake out? Mick, why don’t you go first.

Mick McDonald: Sure thing. In terms of how I *think* it’ll shake out, I’d be pretty surprised if it wasn’t Marvin Bagley III, Luke Maye, Jerome Robinson, Tyus Battle and Kyle Guy. Personally, I’m not sure I’d have Battle there and I would definitely have Devon Hall over Guy.

Matt Auerbach: From my perspective, I totally agree with Mick that the top three are locked in, as Bagley, Maye and Robinson’s individual prowess has far exceeded the rest of the conference. I think Battle has a ton of empty calories in his 19 PPG, so I’d opt for Joel Berry II in his stead. As for the conference champion’s representative, I’m with Mick. It may be Guy over Hall, but that is wrong. For me, Hall is the glue that holds the whole thing together on both ends of the floor.

Mick McDonald: Hall gets no love because he only averages about 12 PPG, but he has been insanely good. He ranks second in the ACC in Offensive Rating and fourth in Defensive Rating.  Also, he’s second behind Bagley in Win Shares. It would be insane to put Guy over him because he averages 2-3 more points per game.

Brad Jenkins: I think the fascinating thing to watch will be how the voters handle the Virginia players. They absolutely should get a guy on the first team, and I agree it should be Hall. The only statistic in which Guy is better is scoring, and that’s because he takes five more shots a game.

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ACC Conversation: The Elite Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins, Mick McDonald, Matt Auerbach on February 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins, Matt Auerbach and Mick McDonald took some time this week to chat about what they like and dislike about the ACC’s top contenders and whether they think a team from the conference’s middle tier could make some noise in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Does Virginia Have Enough Inside Offense to Win in March? (USA Today Images)

  • Brad Jenkins: OK Mick. Why don’t you kick it off with your thoughts on Virginia?
  • Mick McDonald: Because of the pace they play, the Virginia guards aren’t getting enough credit on the offensive end. Having three guys who can shoot like Ty Jerome/Kyle Guy/Devon Hall is usually a good way to win in March. That said, if the jumpers aren’t falling (like in the Virginia Tech game), can they generate enough offense? It’s why DeAndre Hunter is such a huge piece for them. He can create mismatches and they need to work to find him shots (like in the Miami game) to get their offense going. Also, I’m not convinced Isaiah Wilkins is 100 percent. I think his back may still be bothering him and that’s worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.
  • Brad Jenkins: My concern is very similar. Virginia just doesn’t get many points that aren’t on jumpers from 15 feet out. Hunter has been playing great and definitely gives them more of a dynamic scorer, but if he’s out there in the last 10 minutes, who do you take off the floor? Not sure Wilkins at the five will work against bigger teams they may see in March.
  • Mick McDonald: It’s definitely an issue. They are going to have to shoot it well to make the Final Four. I do think between Jack Salt and Mamidi Diakite they have enough bodies to make the five-spot work, but they aren’t getting any offense there.
  • Brad Jenkins: The ACC Tourney will be important for them. Past NCAA failures have to be in the back of their mind. I think it would be a huge confidence boost if they cut down the nets in Brooklyn, especially considering how good Duke and North Carolina suddenly look.
  • Mick McDonald: Yes and no. I do think an ACC title would help their confidence… but this team might go 17-1 in the league, including getting the “win at Cameron” monkey off the program’s back. Tony Bennett has won an ACC Tournament. I don’t think a loss on Friday would doom them. I also think they’ll probably have the #1 seed in the South locked up prior to the ACC Tournament, which is important.
  • Brad Jenkins: But they’ve been a #1 seed before, so maybe this will be the year. That defense will keep them in any game, but that tempo will also keep opponents in the game. Moving on to Duke. Is there a real correlation to Grayson Allen finding his game and Marvin Bagley III being out?

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 10-11

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 10th, 2018

After what was a very entertaining week of ACC hoops, the weekend slows somewhat before we really hit the stretch run of the 2017-18 season. One ACC team looks to reach #1 in the polls for the first time in a generation this weekend; another title contender tries to piece its defense together; and “Don’t Call It a Rivalry!” is live from Raleigh. (All rankings are via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 10

Two weeks ago the Wolfpack Shocked the Heels in Chapel Hill (USA Today Images)

  • North Carolina (#12) at NC State (#61). When these two local teams meet for the second time this season, the Tar Heels will be less than 48 hours removed from a thrilling victory over a school that, according to Tar Heels’ senior leader Joel Berry, is their only true rival. Rivals or not, the Wolfpack already own one big victory over North Carolina this season, an overtime thriller two weeks ago in Chapel Hill. If Thursday night’s performance was any indication, the Tar Heels are ready to even the score. Prior to the win over Duke, Roy Williams‘ club logged 10 or more turnovers in its prior six games, including 14 in the loss to NC State. Against Duke, North Carolina coughed the ball up two times. That, combined with their normally excellent offensive rebounding rate (40.5%), is a formula to win despite shooting only 44.1 percent from the field in ACC play. In the first meeting between these two teams, NC State made 15 threes and only had nine turnovers. If either of those statistics get much worse, things could get ugly in Raleigh.
  • Florida State (#19) at Notre Dame (#41). Here’s something Seminoles fans are getting used to hearing: Earlier this week, Florida State dropped a close game. Leonard Hamilton’s club has lost seven times this season, never by more than eight and by four or less four times. It’s a recipe for a team to be underrated by the RPI (Florida State is 41st) and in turn, by the selection committee. While it cannot be directly attributed to all their close losses, their free throw shooting is absolutely something that could bite them in March. The Seminoles shoot just 69.1 percent from the stripe this season, a moribund 255th nationally. Braian Angola-Rodas (85.2%) is the only regular shooting better than 75 percent, and that’s a scary proposition for a team that seems to enjoy playing nail-biters.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 3rd, 2018

While all eyes will be on Minneapolis tomorrow, the ACC gives us some important action for its bubble teams today. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 3

Are the Pack Back? (USA Today Images)

  • Notre Dame (#35) at NC State (#65). The Wolfpack are riding high (as our Matt Auerbach outlined this week) after their huge overtime win in Chapel Hill last weekend. If NC State hopes to snag an eventual NCAA Tournament bid, it still needs to pick things up on the defensive end. In nine ACC games, Kevin Keatts’ defense is allowing teams to shoot a healthy 49.2 percent from the field, the worst such mark in the conference. In fact, NC State does not have a single rotation player with a Defensive Rating below 108.0. It’s uncertain whether the Wolfpack will be able to fix this issue, especially given that the cause of it is also what has made them so effective offensively this year. First, the blossoming of Omer Yurtseven into an offensive star has resulted in more minutes, but he is hopeless when pulled away from the basket and forced to guard in space. Secondly, Keatts has been playing two of his three smaller guards (Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Lavarr Batts, Jr.) on the floor together. This leads to defensive mismatches, specifically against the less-physical Beverly. It will be interesting to see how the Pack perform against a Notre Dame team that will be deliberate and wants to limit possessions without injured star Bonzie Colson.
  • Miami (#32) at Virginia Tech (#39). The Hokies have won three straight games to surge back into the NCAA Tournament discussion. The key all season for Buzz Williams’ team has been making threes, and his guys have gotten their shooting stroke back lately. During this three-game winning streak, Virginia Tech is making 42.2 percent from long-range and nailing nearly 13 threes per game. In their eight prior games, the Hokies made just 30.4 percent from distance and correspondingly went 4-4. They’ll look to stay hot against Miami, who will be without star Bruce Brown for the foreseeable future. The match-up to look for  in this game is down low — can Miami’s Dewan Huell (116.6 ORtg, 54.8% eFG) get the offensively-challenged Hurricanes some easy baskets against a Virginia Tech front line that only features Kerry Blackshear?

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