ACC M5: Opening Weekend Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 14th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Louisville Courier-Journal: The top game of the weekend for entertainment value has to be tonight’s father-son coaching matchup between Rick Pitino and Richard Pitino as Louisville and Minnesota meet in the Armed Forces Classic at U.S. Air Base Borinquen, in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. The two Pitinos have met before in 2012 when Richard was in his first year at Florida International, in a game arranged to help out the younger Pitino’s program with exposure and a nice paycheck. Obviously this is a somewhat different situation, with both schools in power leagues focusing on trips to the NCAA Tournament next March. Instead of money and exposure as the main motivators, this is a chance to honor the U.S. Armed Forces, share a little family time, and get an early look at how each squad stacks up against good competition. With all that in play, whichever Pitino wins may not feel too bad about beating the other.
  2. DailyProgress.com: Credit should be given to Tony Bennett as Virginia is the lone ACC school that will open its season on an opponent’s home court. The Cavaliers will make the one-hour trip up to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to play intrastate rival James Madison tonight. As this article points out, last year’s Virginia performance was the classic case of the sum being greater than the parts. Four of those parts will be missing tonight, counting graduated starters Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell along with suspended players London Perrantes and Evan Nolte. But as this game preview points out, the Dukes will also be without two suspended players because of an off-campus altercation with each other in October. One of those suspended was James Madison’s leading scorer from last year, so, even on the road, the Cavaliers may not face too tough of an opener after all.
  3. WRALSportsFan: After a second consecutive year of negative preseason issues surrounding his program, at least Roy Williams doesn’t have to face the same roster uncertainty that he had to deal with in 2013-14. It remains to be seen if the dark cloud of scandal will have a major effect on a North Carolina team that appears poised for a special 2014-15 campaign, but expect Williams to continue to field questions after tonight’s game against North Carolina Central that are unrelated to on-court performance. UNC’s opponent is coming off its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, so this may not be a total mismatch, but as NCCU coach LaVelle Moton indicated at a recent press conference, he is not sure how good team is with so many transfer players and preseason injuries. We will be on press row for opening night at the Smith Center, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for live updates during the game, and more importantly, for reports from Williams’ postgame press conference.
  4. Greensboro News & Record: Duke is the only ACC team that will play back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, as the Blue Devils host Presbyterian and then Fairfield as part of the Coaches vs. Cancer preliminary round. This article notes that freshman Tyus Jones looks to have already established himself as Duke’s starting point guard. The writer goes on to say Jones will be the first rookie starting as a Duke point guard since Austin Rivers began there in 2011-12, a common misconception. Rivers was never a point guard in his one year at Duke although he was often mentioned as one, perhaps in part because of his famous father, Doc Rivers, who was a longtime NBA point guard. Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Duke’s team chemistry works in these first two tune-up games before heading to Indianapolis to face Michigan State on Tuesday night. We will be in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night to see how Duke’s veteran guards, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, adjust to coming off the bench, so follow us on Twitter (@rtcACC) for additional live in-game and postgame coverage.
  5. BostonUSA.com: On Sunday, Boston College will take on Massachusetts in the middle game of the second annual Coaches vs. Cancer Tripleheader in Boston’s TD Garden, home of the NBA’s Celtics. The Minutemen only return two starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, but they have three others who played at least 30 games in 2013-14, so there’s some decent experience available for Derek Kellogg. It will be the second game of the season for both teams, as Boston College opens with New Hampshire in Conte Forum tonight, while UMass hosts Siena. It will be interesting to see if new coach Jim Christian’s Eagles display improvement on the defensive end, an area where ex-coach Steve Donahue’s teams always struggled. Probably the best team at Sunday’s event will be Harvard, which plays Holy Cross in the last game of the day.
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RTC’s ACC Preseason Awards

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 11th, 2014

With the 2014-15 ACC season just about to tip off, our esteemed panel of micrositers has come together to release our preseason individual superlatives. It was a close race for most of these positions, but those who were close to making the cut will earn honorable mention below. Feel free to comment on where we went horribly awry or how accurately you think we’ve nailed it.

Player of the Year: Marcus Paige, PG, North Carolina. It might be a good thing if Paige’s scoring numbers drop this year, as that would probably mean more offensive production from his peers. North Carolina has a promising group of freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing, but a more mature and seasoned frontcourt could help Paige excel as the team’s primary ball-handler. Jahlil Okafor and Montrezl Harrell are two others who could easily claim this award by season’s end.

Marcus Paige is RTC's pre-season ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige is RTC’s preseason ACC Player of the Year (newsobserver.com)

Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Okafor, C, Duke. We didn’t stray far from public opinion on this one. Okafor gives Duke its most formidable post player in many years, and his exhibition performances have done little to dampen the enthusiasm for his talent in Durham. Justin Jackson (North Carolina), Shaqquan Aaron (Louisville) and Kaleb Joseph (Syracuse) are dark horse candidates worth keeping an eye on.

Coach of the Year: Leonard Hamilton, Florida State. Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski were the others we considered, but the potential for Florida State to make some noise in the ACC race this year means Hamilton is the preseason choice. Florida State will continue to play its trademark smothering defense, but we think that the offense will be vastly improved. It says here that the Seminoles will improve on their 9-9 ACC record and return to the Big Dance after an NIT semifinals appearance a year ago.

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ACC M5: 11.07.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 7th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Seminoles.com: On Monday night, Florida State won its first exhibition game over Embry Riddle, 95-73. The Seminoles trailed by six with about seven minutes left in the first half before ending the period with a 22-7 run to take control. Even though it’s only an exhibition contest, perhaps this will be a better Florida State team on the offensive end than they have been recently. Not only did they tally 95 points but they did so while shooting 59 percent from the field. Of course the traditional problems with ball-handling may once again be a trait of Leonard Hamilton‘s squad this season, as the Seminoles gave it away 19 times in this one.
  2. Sports Illustrated: Duke‘s Jahlil Okafor continues to get preseason love from the national media. This week, the big freshman is featured on one of SI’s College Basketball Preview regional covers. Last year the same magazine followed Jabari Parker around much of the year during his stellar one-and-done season for the Blue Devils. Like Parker, Okafor is a Chicago native that no one, including Mike Krzyzewski thinks will be around in college beyond this season.
  3. NBC Sports: The preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Award came out on Tuesday. The ACC landed seven guards on the 36-man list, the most of any conference. Interestingly, only four of those have actually played in the league prior to this season: Duke’s Quinn Cook, Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, and London Perrantes of Virginia. League newcomers on the watch list include Terry Rozier of new ACC-member Louisville, Miami transfer Angel Rodriguez, and Duke freshman Tyus Jones. Cook and Jones are one of two teammate pairings to make the list, joining Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis.
  4. SCACCHoops: Each year it seems more and more coaches, including some in the ACC, are opting to play other comparable schools in a so-called “secret scrimmage” before real games begin. The NCAA allows each program to have two preseason meetings with other college teams. Those games can be traditional exhibitions, played in front of the public and under regular game conditions (against non Division I schools), or they can be scrimmages against Division I programs. Note that it’s no longer allowable for NCAA DI teams to play touring national teams or AAU squads. The scrimmages must be non-publicly attended and can be conducted in any format agreeable to both coaching staffs. Since practically every head coach will take advantage of the chance to use both available meetings with other opponents, if your team is only playing one exhibition game, they probably are having a scrimmage with some DI school somewhere. Virginia‘s Tony Bennett obviously likes the scrimmage format better for preparation, as his Cavaliers don’t play any exhibitions. Instead they will tangle with Marquette and Georgetown in closed scrimmages.
  5. Yahoo Sports: In this era of college basketball, there’s no doubt that player transfers have become much more prevalent. Some schools, such as Iowa State have made a habit of bringing in significant transfers seemingly every year. In the ACC, N.C. State has become a popular landing place for perimeter players who leave other schools. Last year, former LSU Tiger Ralston Turner was a solid contributor for the Wolfpack and this year, Trevor Lacey is expected to have a huge impact. According to this list put together by Yahoo Sports last month, Lacey is the #1 rated eligible transfer in the country. Mark Gottfried already has another in the pipeline with Terry Henderson sitting out this season after leaving West Virginia. It’s worth noting that N.C. State has also been losing significant players via the transfer route, including a couple of 2012 McDonald’s High School All-Americans in Rodney Purvis  and Tyler Lewis.
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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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ACC M5: Halloween Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. TheACC.com: The ACC media picked Duke as a fairly strong favorite to win the league this year, giving the Blue Devils 41 out of a possible 65 first place votes at ACC Operation Basketball on Wednesday (for a complete rundown of the day, don’t forget to check out Lathan Wells’ 15 takeaways post). North Carolina joins newcomer Louisville and defending champ Virginia in a tight cluster in the next three spots in the poll. Last year’s three Big East transfer teams occupy the next three positions, which confirms the general opinion that the old ACC needed an injection of quality teams to boost itself back into the nation’s elite. The preseason all-ACC team was led by North Carolina guard Marcus Paige, but an interesting repeat member of the preseason all-conference squad is Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, who missed the entire ACC season in 2013-14 due to his academic suspension.
  2. Kenpom: Speaking of rankings, Ken Pomeroy has posted his initial ratings for all 351 NCAA Division I teams, and he gives a summary explanation of how he develops his statistical model in his most recent blog entry. The legendary guru of advanced basketball statistics has six ACC squads among his top-23, including Duke at #1, which is a mild shock considering the relative talent and experience returning at Kentucky and Arizona. Somewhat surprisingly, the ACC is rated as the Pomeroy’s third-best conference, sitting behind the Big Ten and Big 12. Of course, as the season progresses, Pomeroy’s preseason ratings will weigh progressively less in his formulas, giving a more accurate picture of all the teams as they relate to each other.
  3. Charlottesville Daily Progress: One thing that came out of ACC Operation Basketball that caught many by surprise was when Tony Bennett revealed that Virginia’s accomplished sophomore point guard London Perrantes has not practiced since a foot injury occurred on October 3. Although the Cavaliers have had their fair share of injuries over the last few years, last season’s run to the ACC regular season title was definitely aided by the fine health of the team. Virginia was able to develop a consistent rotation in which everyone knew and executed their respective roles, game after game, culminating with the Cavaliers grabbing their first ACC Tournament championship in almost 40 years. Certainly, January and conference play is pretty far off at this point, so Bennett hopes Perrantes is able to get healthy in time to make a similar run.
  4. Greensboro News-Record: In this interesting piece, Ed Hardin looks at the ACC’s newest member Louisville and compares Rick Pitino’s program to some of the great ACC teams of the past from a style standpoint. It is true that the Cardinals bring characteristics that remind long-time observers of some of the ACC’s best and most entertaining teams in its long and illustrious history. For instance, the multiple defenses that Pitino employs so effectively reminds us of how North Carolina’s Dean Smith befuddled opponents by using combinations of man-to-man and zone defenses, trapping on both. And even though Pitino is known as a visionary regarding the use of the three-point shot as a vital part of his offense, going back to leading an improbable Providence team to the 1987 Final Four, he knows the value of a legitimate inside game as well.
  5. Groupstate.com: It seems as if Clemson’s representatives in Charlotte were asked about departed player K.J. McDaniels more than they were questioned about this year’s squad. Possibly only ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State meant as much to his team last season as did McDaniels, now beginning his NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers. But while the Wolfpack will certainly miss Warren’s offense, what makes the loss of McDaniels so critical to Clemson is that he was its best player all over the court. It will obviously take a committee of several to replace everything he did, but the ACC media is skeptical of that notion, picking Clemson 11th this year after a sixth place finish in 2013-14.
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15 Takeaways From ACC Operation Basketball

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 29th, 2014

The ACC’s Operation Basketball on Wednesday experienced the prevailing theme of putting last season in the rearview mirror and starting anew. This included the teams with successful campaigns just as much as those who had disappointing ones. It was clear after speaking with and listening to players and coaches that everyone is eager to make the 2014-15 ACC a more powerful entity than its predecessor of a year ago. Here are some takes on each team, in no particular order, gleaned from the Westin in Charlotte.

Duke: Much of the discussion centered on the Blue Devils’ newcomers, especially Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones. Both Quinn Cook and Amile Jefferson were quick to point out that no rotation is set and that there is a ton of competition and talent in practice. Cook said as much when asked about practice: ” Yeah, we don’t have a starting lineup yet.  Different guys, we have like a white and blue team; different guys are put on the white team, different guys are put on the blue team.  So we’ll know soon, but whatever coach wants us to do, I think everybody will buy in because he obviously knows what he’s doing.  We all have to buy in and just put personal sacrifices aside.”

ACC Op BB

Wake Forest: Even when discussing their new coach, it was easy to tell that the Demon Deacons’ players still see him as a former National Player of the Year who enjoyed a long professional career. Manning, however, spoke mostly about his expectations for the team, which he put simply as “win every game.” The Demon Deacons, coming off the uninspiring Jeff Bzdelik era, better not spend their time in awe of their new coach, as they have a lot of ground to make up in order to compete in the ACC.

Miami: Transfers Sheldan McClellan and Angel Rodriguez representing the Hurricanes at this event was emblematic of a new Miami team that has put last year’s lackluster season behind it. Reverence for Jim Larranaga’s paternal style was obvious in listening to the two players discuss their coach. Larranaga immediately referenced them in his comments as well, showing that while the Hurricanes return some holdovers from last year, they will go as far as his two Big 12 transfers take them.

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ACC M5: Operation Basketball Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 29th, 2014

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  1. TheACC.com: Coaches and players from all 15 ACC schools will meet the media in Charlotte for a full day of ACC Operation Basketball, and our own RTC ACC microsite correspondent Lathan Wells will be on hand to take in the entire proceedings. It’s sure to be an eventful day with so many developing stories heading into the season. We have a loaded Louisville team led by legendary coach Rick Pitino joining the league; the nation’s top recruiting class arriving at Duke; a strong defending champ returning many key pieces at Virginia; and, of course, the big-time off the court issues. It will be interesting to hear Commissioner John Swofford’s commentary about the academic scandal at his alma mater North Carolina, as well as the ongoing NCAA investigation into Syracuse’s program. Follow Lathan @rtcACC for frequent live reports throughout the day.
  2. ESPN: Virginia hopes to be more than a one-hit wonder after sweeping both the ACC regular season and tournament titles last season. This ESPN.com article reveals a Tony Bennett who is focused on not letting last year’s success create too big a sense of accomplishment, and with good reason — Virginia became only the fourth school not named Duke or North Carolina to win the ACC Tournament in the last 18 years. In each of the other three instances — which includes Miami and Florida State from the previous two seasons as well as the 2004 Maryland squad — the subsequent year did not include a winning conference record. That shouldn’t happen this year, though, with the Cavaliers returning a solid nucleus.
  3. Notre Dame Media: This is a really neat video that features Mike Brey and his recent foray in a US Navy Blue Angels fighter jet. Fighting Irish Digital Media along with the Blue Angels take you right into the seat with the Notre Dame coach in what he called a “trip of a lifetime, and an honor.” Perhaps all the abrupt twists and turns will prepare Brey for a better second go-round in the ACC, where up and down seasons can come easily.
  4. Andy Katz: In a recent 3-Point Shot segment, ESPN‘s Andy Katz talks about a couple of ACC topics. First of all, he reviews comments from Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory concerning some of the newcomers that he will need to come through in a big way. Many think that this could be Gregory’s last season in Atlanta if he doesn’t produce an NCAA Tournament team. Katz also brings up an interesting possible fallout issue from the North Carolina scandal that has to do with academic performance incentives in college coaches’ contracts. It’s worth a viewing.
  5. TheState.com: New Boston College coach Jim Christian is preaching a fast paced offense, as many coaches do when taking over a listless program that needs an infusion of energy. It remains to be seen if his words translate to reality when the Eagles take the floor this season — and speaking of “floor,” the head coach won’t be the only thing new this year, as the playing court in Conte Forum will have a new look as well.
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Morning Five: 06.04.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on June 4th, 2014

morning5

  1. If you’re a regular reader, even in the offseason, you may have noticed that we have decided to cut back the national M5s a bit during the long summer months. The objective is to get a couple of them published each week, but we might go for three if we’re feeling a little frisky. The biggest news of the last several days in the college basketball universe was the weekend announcement that the settlement between video game maker EA Sports and over 100,000 former and current student-athletes for the unauthorized use of their likenesses was finalized. The settlement calls for $40 million to be divided among a huge number of class action members, but even if the individual payouts will be relatively small (the named plaintiffs would top out in the low five figures, while most would be in the hundreds), the notion that players deserve some sort of recompense for the use of their images is clear. Note that this settlement does not impact the impending lawsuit between Ed O’Bannon and others against the NCAA, set to begin Monday in US District Court in San Francisco, although some of the evidence from this settlement will certainly come to bear in that case as well.
  2. From a coaching comings and goings standpoint, several high-profile names remained in the news over the last several days as NBA teams seek to fill their open positions. Guys like UConn’s Kevin Ollie and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg appear to the collegiate coaches du jour, but the biggest names are always floating around the periphery of those conversations. Kansas’ Bill Self and Kentucky’s John Calipari said in separate conversations with ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz on Monday that they were both incredibly happy with their current situations and had not been contacted this offseason about any open positions. Cue Mitch Kupchak on line two, coach? In keeping with the theme, Florida’s Billy Donovan last week basically said “never say never,” but as SI.com‘s David Gardner writes, he could probably satisfy his itch to coach the world’s best players by following the Coach K model with the US Men’s Basketball team. There’s certainly something to be said for capstone jobs in all three of their cases, but the competitive drive and instincts that got them there keeps them looking for even better opportunities, hard as they might be to come by.
  3. One current college coach who has had no problem finding a better opportunity just around every turn for the better part of five decades is SMU’s Larry Brown. The 73-year old who has completely rebuilt the Mustangs’ program in Dallas and will be in everyone’s Top 25 next preseason (especially with Xavier transfer Justin Martin en routeis rumored to be in the running for the open Los Angeles Lakers job. A number of other names are also under consideration — including Scott Skiles, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins and Mike Dunleavy — but Brown is perhaps the most intriguing given that he already has an excellent thing working at SMU in contrast with the train wreck awaiting the next coach in LA. With nine NBA franchises already on his resume as a head coach (but none with the Lakers’ pedigree), the job would no doubt be attractive to him, but would the Lakers really want to hire someone that the franchise could only expect to have on board for a couple more years? Let’s hope the itinerant LB sticks around to see through the job in DFW.
  4. One coach that we can’t imagine will be thinking NBA anytime soon, or ever, is Virginia’s Tony Bennett. While a brilliant basketball mind, his system involving shutdown defense and a glacial tempo likely wouldn’t translate very well to the League. Irrespective of that, UVA rewarded its head coach for a #1 seed, 30-win, ACC championship season, with a seven-year extension to his current deal. The new contract locks him into Charlottesville through the 2018-19 season and increases his annual salary to just shy of a couple million dollars per year. Not bad for a guy who was projected to have trouble recruiting ACC-caliber players. Ahem.
  5. This is a neat story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about a young man named Marvin Clark, a Kansas City kid who will be an incoming freshman at Michigan State this fall. The story chronicles the many ups and downs of his year-long recruitment, where he rode a roller coaster of ups and downs as schools from Oregon to Seton Hall and everywhere in-between expressed interest before backing off and picking back up on him again. Raised in a hard-knock situation with no father figure and a mother battling addiction, Clark’s story represents how recruiting can go for many of the kids not rated in the consensus top 25 of the rankings (Clark fell in and out of the top 150), and how perception and relationships can drive as much of the decision-making process as anything else. It’s a good, quality read, and a reminder to most of us readers that, no matter how bad your day might have gone, it probably was better than many of those that Clark faced growing up.
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After Lackluster Season, ACC Must Improve Depth to Have the “Best Ever” Conversation Again

Posted by Lathan Wells on April 4th, 2014

Prior to the beginning of the college basketball season, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski infamously proclaimed that the ACC had the potential to be the greatest college basketball conference of all-time. That was a bold proclamation at the time, as we covered here, and with the 2013-14 season now drawing to a close, it’s become painfully apparent that the conference this year did nothing to stake such a claim. So the question then becomes, what does the ACC need to do in coming years to proudly proclaim itself the best basketball conference ever assembled? Here’s a road map for the league’s coaches and administrators.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference. (USA Today Sports)

The conference’s elite have to dominate the non-conference slate and enjoy copious postseason success. While there were a handful of marquee wins spread around prior to ACC play (North Carolina’s defeats of Michigan State, Kentucky, and Louisville; Duke’s defeat of Michigan; Syracuse handling Villanova), the league’s postseason results were anything but stellar. The conference managed to get six teams into the NCAA Tournament, but the upper tier didn’t produce much success when they got there. Duke lost in the opening round; North Carolina and Syracuse fell in the round of 32. Virginia, the regular-season and ACC Tournament champion, may have drawn a rough match-up in the Sweet Sixteen with Michigan State, but it could not advance (and UConn was able to handle the Spartans in the nexts round). The embarrassing result was that there was no ACC teams in the Elite Eight. These teams have to produce in postseason play in addition to their non-conference victories to help the perception of the conference return to an elite level.

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Rushed Reactions: #4 Michigan State 61, #1 Virginia 59

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 28th, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Brian Otskey is RTC’s NCAA East Regional correspondent.

Three key takeaways.

Adreian Payne and Sparty advanced to Sunday in a hard fought game. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Adreian Payne and Sparty advanced to Sunday in a hard fought game. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

  1. A heavyweight fight. It was a shame that one of these teams had to go home. This game seemed more like a national semifinal than a regional semifinal when you combine the quality of play and the atmosphere in the arena. The defense from both sides was incredible as neither team took a single play off. It was a great battle between two coaches who have instilled heart, toughness and a commitment to defense into their respective programs. The Spartans were down a possession or two most of the early part of the second half but never once packed it in. They kept going to what was working and that was Branden Dawson in the paint. This relentless attitude was also on display when looking at Virginia. All in all, what a tremendous regional semifinal this was. The Spartans earned this victory.
  2. Michigan State discovered the low post. In a game packed with bruising defense on both sides, the Spartans out-toughed the Cavaliers on the low block. Dawson and Adreian Payne in particular were phenomenal and threw down some thunderous dunks in the process. A second half 13-2 MSU run sparked the comeback and the Spartans guards found their forwards with terrific penetration and interior passing to boot. Sparty scored 30 points in the paint to Virginia’s 22.Tom Izzo’s team had the look of a determined team from the beginning of this game and came up big in a terrific 40-minute effort that looked like the vintage Izzo teams of the past.
  3. Defense is the name of the game in March. Countless times we have seen mediocre defensive teams get bounced out of the NCAA tournament early, including Creighton and Duke this season. There is a reason that, in the Ken Pomeroy advanced statistics era, elite defensive teams win the national championship. Both teams fit that bill tonight but Michigan State was just a little bit better for all 40 minutes. While Michigan State entered the game with an adjusted defensive efficiency ranked No. 40 nationally, the effort tonight shows that if the Spartans are to lose, it likely will not be because of failings on the defensive end.

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Previewing Michigan State vs. Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on March 28th, 2014

It’s been an enigmatic season for Michigan State due to a host of injuries and resulting inconsistent play. For seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, it’s been four years without a Final Four, a relative disappointment. Stress the word “relative” here, because compiling a record of 103-40 over four years would be roundly successful in 99 percent of other programs. But in East Lansing, a team that starts the season ranked #2 and ends up as a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament is viewed as disappointing. As for those seniors — despite two Elite Eight and one Sweet Sixteen appearance — failure to make the Final Four this year would earn this group the distinction of being the only class in the Tom Izzo era without a trip to the NCAA Tournament’s final weekend. Tonight Sparty looks to remove that monkey off its back as it meets Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen.

Adreian Payne has made his presence known in the NCAA Tournament thus far. Virginia stands in his way as he vies for a trip to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

Virginia stands in Adreian Payne’s way as he vies for a trip to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Al Goldis).

The Cavaliers are not regulars in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend; it’s the school’s first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen since 1995. This run marks the culmination of all that was expected of head coach Tony Bennett when he was hired from Washington State five years ago. While he had only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in the previous four seasons, a trip back to the Big Dance and a top four finish in the ACC was expected from this squad due to its top five scorers returning. Bennett’s team far surpassed expectations by sweeping the ACC regular season and tournament, which garnered the Cavaliers a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. What may be most shocking is that Bennett accomplished all of this with a system traditionally more tailored for the Big Ten than the up-and-down ACC (although in some ways that is changing there too). Their slow-paced – averaging 61 possessions per game, near the very bottom nationally — and defensive-focused system has stifled some high-powered offenses in that league.

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NCAA Tournament Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen, Friday Night

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) & Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 28th, 2014

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Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent, and Brian Otskey (@botskey) is the NCAA Tournament’s East Region correspondent. Make sure to also follow @RTCMidwestRegion and @RTCEastRegion for news and analysis from Indianapolis and New York City throughout the weekend.

#2 Michigan vs. #11 Tennessee – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Indianapolis, IN) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Tennessee was not supposed to be in this position. It barely found its way into the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Volunteers had to travel to Dayton last Wednesday to take on Iowa to even advance to the round of 64. Tennessee got by the Hawkeyes in overtime and that was only the beginning of its winning ways. In Raleigh, Cuonzo Martin’s squad was able to throttle Massachusetts and take advantage of Duke’s stunning loss to Mercer by dismantling Bob Hoffman’s Bears in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. Leading the way thus far for Tennessee has been the spectacular play of forward Jarnell Stokes. The junior has been nothing short of dominant in the team’s recent run, as he is averaging 20.3 points and 15 rebounds in his last three games. The Volunteers have also received a lift from guard Josh Richardson. The junior, who averaged 10.1 points per game in the regular season, has stepped up his play in the tournament, as he is averaging 19.3 points per contest. As a team, the Volunteers’ performance on the rebounding glass has aided tremendously in taking them to the Sweet 16. Tennessee has been an excellent rebounding team all season and its rebounding prowess was never more on display than in Sunday’s victory over Mercer. The Volunteers had a sensational 41-19 rebounding advantage over the Bears in the winning effort.

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Expect plenty of fireworks between these two guys Friday night. (Getty & USA TODAY Sports)

Michigan will take the court in Indianapolis after a relatively easy first weekend in Milwaukee. The Wolverines cruised to a 17-point victory in the round of 64 over an undermanned Wofford squad before wearing down Texas in a 14-point victory. John Beilein’s team has been an outstanding perimeter shooting offense and that has carried over into the postseason. The Wolverines hit a combined 21 three-pointers in the two victories. Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas hit seven of those 21 triples an was the team’s leading scorer in each victory. Michigan’s frontcourt has been seen as a concern since sophomore big man Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury in late December, but forward Jordan Morgan showed he is a capable post presence with his performances in Milwaukee. The senior averaged 12.5 points and 10 rebounds against Wofford and Texas, while living up to his reputation as a solid interior defender. In Friday’s game, it should be expected that both teams will play to their strengths. Tennessee will try to use its size advantage to the dominate the interior and Michigan will attempt to get its perimeter shooting going early and often. Texas had a great advantage over Michigan in size too, but the Wolverines were able to wear the Longhorn bigs down through a terrific transition effort and solid offensive spacing. It would be wise to expect Michigan to do the same Friday. Tennessee will keep close throughout much of the game, but the shot-making ability of Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Glenn Robinson III will ultimately be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Two-seed Michigan will win the game to advance to its second straight Elite Eight.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan

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