Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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Malcolm Brogdon Ascends from Anonymity to the ACC POY Conversation

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 5th, 2014

Virginia sophomore Malcolm Brogdon was largely an afterthought. Disregarded in almost all of the literature projecting breakout stars (including here), the redshirt sophomore sat out last year recovering from foot surgery. Even on his own team, sophomore cohorts Justin Anderson and Mike Tobey had higher expectations coming into their second campaigns. But Brogdon has outshone them all, hoisting himself up into the first team all-ACC picture and ACC Player of the Year conversation. Brogdon is the leading scorer on a Virginia team that has rolled to a 16-1 ACC record and landed a top-five AP poll and #2 ranking on KenPom’s system. Speaking of Mr. Pomeroy, Brogdon comes in at #7 on his National Player of the Year standings, quite a feat for someone playing on a deep and well-rounded Cavaliers team.

Malcolm Brogdon Is the Real Deal (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

Malcolm Brogdon Is the Real Deal (Photo: Joe Robbins/Getty)

While freshmen Jabari Parker and Tyler Ennis spent the early months dominating the ACC POY conversation, some more seasoned conference performers have come on strong of late. ACC sophomores have dominated the individual headlines in recent weeks, from UNC’s Marcus Paige and his second half heroics, T.J. Warren’s scoring outbursts (see: 41 points at Pittsburgh), and Brogdon’s consistently solid play on a dominant Virginia club. Coming into this season, you could have asked just about anyone who the undisputed star of the team would be for Virginia, and senior Joe Harris, the team’s consummate do-it-all leader, would have been the most popular answer. But no one outside of the immediate program expected such a meteoric rise for Brogdon or his team, blasting to the regular season title and looking to become the first ACC team to ever win 17 conference games. Bottom line — there are a lot of firsts happening in Charlottesville this season, and as much as head coach Tony Bennett deserves the lion’s share of the praise, the superb play of Brogdon cannot be disputed as a primary factor.

After sitting out his redshirt year to go through rehabilitation, Brogdon consumed mass quantities of film to make sure he would come back better than ever. While his game is still catching up to his work ethic, Brogdon’s lethal shooting ability — 39.2 percent from three; 90.4 percent from the line — has already propelled him to the ACC Player of the Week and CBS Sports’ National Player of the Week accolades. For a guy who just last week set a career high of 19 points (versus Syracuse), it says here that his streak of double-figure scoring games (17) and impressive leadership has set him apart from the rest of the ACC field. Who would have thought such a thing possible on New Year’s Eve, after a zero-point performance resulting in a 35-point loss to Tennessee the day before? And to think we almost forgot all about Malcolm Brogdon — it’s a good thing that we didn’t. He might just turn out to be the unlikeliest ACC Player of the Year in a long, long time. 

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Virginia’s Offense Leads to ACC Crown and Optimism for What Comes Next

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 2nd, 2014

Virginia’s first outright ACC title in 33 years came about in somewhat stunning fashion, blowing out #4 Syracuse by 19 points at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday evening. Anyone who has watched Tony Bennett’s team since the calendar flipped to 2014, though, saw much of what they’ve come to expect from this squad. Their stifling defense may be the Cavaliers’ calling card, but their ultra-efficient offense is the reason they had the ability to defeat one of the nation’s best in Syracuse and are poised to make major noise in March.

Mike Tobey

Offensive production from players like Mike Tobey lifted Virginia to its first outright ACC regular season title in 33 years (Mike Ingalls)

Bennett’s club gets most of its accolades thanks to his trademark “Pack Line Defense,” a stout man-to-man philosophy that stagnates opposing sets and leads to low offensive output. But the way Virginia has been scoring the basketball in ACC play is why it’s boasting an astounding 16-1 ACC record with only a road match-up at Maryland left to close out the year. Twelve of the Cavaliers’ conference wins have come by double figures, a remarkable feat on its own right, and coming into Saturday’s game they were second only to Duke in points per possession. While their defense often translates to opportunities on the offensive end, their demonstrated ability to initiate back-breaking runs (a 20-1 run to close out Georgia Tech; a 30-5 stretch to blow out Notre Dame; a 19-7 streak to pull away from Miami in the second half) shows they have sufficient offensive punch to couple with their effort on the defensive end. On Saturday, they closed out the Orange with a 35-16 blitz over the final 15 minutes of the game, showing that they’re no longer satisfied playing methodical, plodding games in the 50’s. Virginia can now outscore you too, which has to be a frightening proposition for the teams matched up with them over the next few weeks.

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Virginia: The Quiet and Legitimate Title Contender

Posted by Chris Kehoe on February 20th, 2014

Kansas, Syracuse, Duke, Wichita State, Arizona, Michigan State: These are some of the teams typically first mentioned when discussing this season’s NCAA championship contenders. While Virginia is laden with senior leadership, elite defense, and loved by the advanced metrics, the Cavaliers are rarely mentioned as a contender along with the others. At 22-5 and 13-1 in the ACC, however, the Cavaliers are well on their way to a top-two finish in one of the country’s best conferences. With Syracuse’s surprising loss last night versus Boston College and a tough pair of road games upcoming, Tony Bennett’s team appears to be well on its way to capturing the ACC throne for the first time since a 2007 tie, and their first sole ACC regular season title since 1981. 

UVA's Joe Harris has a lot to celebrate with Virginia's winning ways. (USA Today).

UVA’s Joe Harris has a lot to celebrate with Virginia’s winning ways. (USA Today).

So why is a projected ACC regular season champion — one that will likely carry 25+ wins into the NCAA Tournament — not getting enough buzz? For starters, the nation is enamored with superstar culture, and Virginia doesn’t have a transcendent individual who is destined for NBA greatness and seated atop all the mock drafts. While this team has several really good players who mesh very well together, they do not have a Julius Randle, Doug McDermott, or Jabari Parker — someone who generates mass publicity and draws droves of NBA front office personnel at their games.

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Mark the Date: March 1 Will Decide the ACC Regular Season Champion

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 10th, 2014

There are still tons of great ACC match-ups left to be played this season with roughly a month to go until the end of the regular season. Pittsburgh and Syracuse will square off again, continuing the old Big East rivalry in their new home. Duke and North Carolina, the best rivalry in college sports (sorry, Michigan-Ohio State football), will be at the forefront of the nation’s basketball consciousness twice more this season. And following the epic Duke/Syracuse meeting in New York on February 1, the nation gets to enjoy a rematch in Cameron Indoor on the 22nd of this month. However, most should probably go ahead and mark March 1 on their calendar now. That’ll be the day the conference championship will be decided.

Tony Bennett's Cavaliers can claim the ACC if they keep rolling and take Syracuse at home (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers can claim the ACC if they keep rolling and take Syracuse at home (virginiasports.com)

Syracuse is currently sitting atop the conference with a perfect 10-0 record following their defeat of Clemson on Sunday night. Virginia, following another impressive performance in knocking off Georgia Tech on Saturday, sits at a very impressive 10-1. The two teams are going to square off on Virginia’s home turf in Charlottesville on the first of March, and this game will determine who takes the ACC. Crazy things can and may happen, but in looking at the relevant teams at the top of the conference standings and their respective schedules remaining, the road for these two teams seems destined to collide at John Paul Jones Arena with a title on the line.

Syracuse’s toughest games remaining (outside of the bout with the Cavaliers) are at Pittsburgh and at Duke. While a rematch with Pitt (Syracuse won the first meeting in 59-54 January 18) would appear to be a tough test for the undefeated Orange, it’s hard to project Pitt will overtake the nation’s number one team after struggling to defeat the ACC’s worst in Virginia Tech over the weekend in double overtime at home. That leaves the Duke game as the lone true test for Syracuse prior to meeting Virginia, and even if Duke responds with a win in a frenzied Cameron Indoor Stadium, that would merely move the Orange into a tie with Virginia with a conference loss apiece prior to meeting head-to-head.

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Virginia Slowly Rolls to the Top of the ACC Standings

Posted by CD Bradley on February 8th, 2014

When Tony Bennett began his tenure as Virginia‘s coach, the Cavaliers were the slow team in a fast conference. In his first season, they ranked 317th out of 347 teams in possessions per game, and have only gotten slower since. The ACC was the ninth-fastest league that year, making a 16-15 Virginia team even more of an outlier, but the Cavaliers finished 5-11 in the ACC. Fast forward four years: Bennett’s team finds itself at 10-1 in ACC play and controlling its own destiny for a conference title by staying true to the methodical offense and stifling defense that has become a family trademark.

Tony Bennett Is Working His Magic In Charlottesville

In fact, when asked about the walk-it-up tempo employed by his team in a 60-possession win at Georgia Tech on Saturday, he quickly mentioned his father, Dick Bennett. Tony Bennett played for his father at Wisconsin–Green Bay and then coached under him at Wisconsin and Washington State. The younger Bennett learned well the lessons of his father, considered by his peers a master tactician. Sports Illustrated‘s Luke Winn wrote the primer on the defensive style at the heart of both Bennetts’ success. When the elder Bennett went to the Pac-10 in 2003, his son said Saturday, he found himself as the coach of the slow team in a fast conference. But then Ben Howland came to UCLA, among others, and the league’s pace slowed toward Bennett’s preferred crawl. A similar transition has moved to the ACC, where Virginia isn’t even the slowest team anymore. Miami is the slowest team in America; both Clemson and Syracuse rank among the most methodical 10 teams in the country; and the ACC has fewer possessions per game than any other conference. Virginia is a relatively quick 338th in tempo, but much more importantly to Bennett, his team ranks third in defensive efficiency.

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London Perrantes Has the Virginia Offense Humming

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 31st, 2014

Virginia’s resurgence is well-known by now, with everyone from this site to Joe Lunardi taking notice — standing firm right behind Syracuse in the ACC standings will do that. But while Virginia’s defense is still as potent as ever (only allowing opponents to shoot 38.0 percent from the field on the year), it’s the Cavaliers’ suddenly white-hot offense that has them racing off to such a commanding ACC start. It would be a challenge to find anyone who projected Virginia would be fourth in the ACC in scoring (70.5 PPG) through eight games, but there’s one obvious catalyst for Tony Bennett’s best offensive team during his tenure at Virginia: freshman point man London Perrantes.

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Notre Dame

London Perrantes has Virginia’s offense rolling and the team sitting near the top of the ACC (credit: usatodaysports)

While Tyler Ennis has garnered most of the freshman point guard accolades in the ACC this season, Perrantes can make an argument he’s just as vital to his team’s success as his Syracuse counterpart. He is averaging 4.8 assists per game in conference contests, but more impressively his assist-to-turnover ratio is an astounding 4.2 to 1. Like Ennis, Perrantes is lauded for his calm demeanor under fire and an innate ability to set and maintain his team’s preferred tempo regardless of opponent. Part of the reason the team is scoring at its current clip is because Perrantes is doing a tremendous job protecting the ball as well as knowing when to get the team out in transition (traditionally a rarity for Bennett’s squads). Virginia struggled while the young point guard was getting acclimated to the college game, but with him now firmly entrenched as the starter at the position, this team runs at a much more efficient pace.

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Virginia Has Turned the Corner

Posted by Chris Kehoe on January 29th, 2014

Since December 30’s 87-52 beatdown that Virginia suffered at the hands of Tennessee in Knoxville, the Cavaliers have won seven of their last eight games. What Virginia has essentially done is establish itself as a clear member of the upper echelon of the ACC, arguably the third- or fourth-best team in the conference behind Duke and undefeated Syracuse. The Cavaliers sit comfortably at 16-5 and 7-1 in league play, their sole blemish coming in a close loss to Duke in the confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Virginia’s most recent victory came at the expense of a reeling Notre Dame team on Tuesday, yet another example of Virginia’s defense and style of play frustrating its conference foes thus far.

So far, London Perrantes (left) and Joe Harris have had a lot to celebrate recently. (USA TODAY Sports)

London Perrantes (left) and Joe Harris have had a lot to celebrate recently. (USA TODAY Sports)

The most impressive thing about Virginia’s play of late has been their emphatic victories, thrashing ACC teams by wide margins. They have beaten Florida State by 12 twice, North Carolina by 13, N.C. State by 31, Wake by 23, Virginia Tech by 20, and Notre Dame by 15. Virginia has effectively put the rest of the league on notice that, regardless of its non-conference performance, the Cavaliers are returning senior leaders from a highly successful unit with postseason experience. First and foremost has been the improved play of Joe Harris, which, as noted in an earlier article here on the ACC microsite, is the key to their resurgence of late.

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ACC M5: 01.27.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 27th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Good stuff on Duke’s Jabari Parker from Laura Keeley, as she also followed up with his bishop and mother to talk about the possibility of him doing a Mormon mission next year. It’s interesting that Duke and Parker already have a plan in place for him to graduate even if he leaves after this season. The article also has a good interview with Matt Jones, Parker’s roommate, about the future top-five pick.
  2. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Tony Bennett busted out some Robert Frost this week, and it was awesome. “The hero is not fed on sweets” may help fire his team up, but they’re sure playing a sweet schedule. With only two remaining games against the top ACC teams (at Pittsburgh Sunday, and at home against Syracuse in March), the Cavaliers need to let teams come back to them. They’re already leading the conference in efficiency margin, and I expect that trend to continue. With Virginia’s talent and experience, don’t be surprised if the Cavaliers end conference play with a top-two seed in the ACC Tournament.
  3. Duke Basketball Report: With the league down as a whole, it’s time to start thinking about another new round of coaches. I think Georgia Tech will give Brian Gregory at least another year or two (emphasis on think); I have no clue about Virginia Tech (more on this later); and, Jeff Bzdelik and Steve Donahue are squarely on hot seats. The Boston College search could be the most interesting, as the school has ties to two coaches with solid resumes if it is willing to roll the dice (Bruce Pearl and Ed Cooley).
  4. Washington Post: While I have no idea what Virginia Tech is planning to do with James Johnson, this quote should definitely serve as notice to him: “One of the first decisions for Babcock will be determining how to ‘fix the basketball problem’ [according to John Ballein, an internal candidate for the athletic director].” And to be clear, that quote isn’t from the school’s new athletic director, Whit Babcock, but it does make clear that at least part of the department is already concerned with the second-year head coach. For his part, Brad Brownell, who may have landed Johnson the job by initially hiring him to Clemson, is calling for Johnson to get more time to right the ship.
  5. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Very cool story, albeit football-centric, on Georgia Tech‘s decision to leave the SEC some 50 years ago. You have to be a subscriber to get the whole piece, but the excerpt is worth reading nevertheless. The Yellow Jackets’ decision ultimately came down to the practice of oversigning recruits (at least on the surface).
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Otskey’s Observations: Episode IX

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on January 22nd, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Losing Streaks Not Uncommon This Time of Year

It is almost a yearly tradition: fans and the media freaking out over a previously undefeated or one-loss team losing a game or two, or three, or sometimes four, in January. This season has been no exception as the last few weeks have seen teams such as Ohio State, Oregon, Iowa State, Georgetown and Wisconsin hit the skids. The Buckeyes and Ducks have each lost four straight games after starting the season a combined 28-0. Iowa State was 14-0 before losing three straight over the course of the last week-plus. Georgetown was 3-1 in Big East play before suffering three consecutive defeats. Last but not least, Wisconsin, which had run out to an impressive 16-0 start, has suddenly dropped two in a row. There are a number of reasons why this happens. The first is statistical correction. Ohio State is a good team with a woefully inefficient offense; opponents were bound to begin figuring out the Buckeyes and hand them a few losses.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak.

Joel Embiid and Kansas sent Iowa State to the second loss of its current three-game losing streak. (AP)

The same can be said for Oregon and its “Swiss cheese” defense getting exposed. The Ducks can score the ball for sure but it doesn’t matter much when you can’t stop quality opponents. Wisconsin is in the same boat, but not nearly to the same degree. The Badgers have not been defending nearly as well as they usually do and it cost them in recent losses to Indiana and Michigan. Speaking of scheduling, that is another reason why hot teams are prone to January slumps. As conference play takes hold, the opponents get better and there is so much more video to scout and expose teams. The schedule has caught up to Iowa State, which encountered a huge match-up problem in the frontcourt against Kansas and lost two road games to surprise Big 12 teams Oklahoma and Texas. Winning on the road is never easy, especially in conference play, as the Cyclones have found out. As for Georgetown, an injury to Jabril Trawick and an academic issue for Joshua Smith have picked apart the Hoyas’ rotation and made depth a major issue late in games. The Hoyas have blown second half leads in all three of their most recent losses. Read the rest of this entry »

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Virginia’s Resurgence Directly Tied to Success of Joe Harris

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2014

There is no question that Virginia entered the season fully expecting to be able to count on senior Joe Harris to elevate the team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 and make a serious run at the upper echelon of the ACC. Harris was considered one of the surest bets not only on the Cavaliers roster, but in the entire new-look ACC. He made the all-conference first team last season and received preseason votes for ACC player of the year.  After a non-conference slate from which the Cavaliers emerged an uninspiring 9-4 with zero standout wins and whiffs in statement games versus VCU, Wisconsin and Tennessee along with a bad loss to Wisconsin Green-Bay, fans and analysts alike surmised the Cavs were having disappointing seasons from just about everyone on the roster. But Harris was actually the main culprit, with his scoring way down and, perhaps most puzzlingly, carrying an average of only seven field-goal attempts per contest.

Joe Harris vs Duke

UVA’s long-term fortunes are directly tied to Joe Harris (credit: associatedpress)

Now, four games into the ACC slate, it appears that Harris has finally found his scoring stroke at just the right time. Virginia, needing a strong conference record to offset its non-conference woes, has begun 3-1 in the ACC with only a tough loss to Duke at Cameron Indoor blemishing their conference record. It’s no coincidence that much of what glaringly ailed Tony Bennett’s team early on has seemingly been remedied. The defense is still suffocating; the frontcourt is back to providing secondary scoring options and commanding the glass; and the team is getting better shots as a result of improved ball movement and patience.

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After Slow Start, Virginia Now Looks Like a Legitimate ACC Contender

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 15th, 2014

Even after Monday night’s 69-65 loss to Duke, Virginia looks like it is built to stay near the top of the ACC for the rest of the season. On a night when Duke played inspired basketball and had the famous Cameron Indoor Stadium home court edge, it took a fortunate bounce on a Rasheed Sulaimon three-pointer to keep Virginia from starting the ACC season with a 4-0 record. In winning their first three games, including Saturday’s 76-45 stomping of N.C. State, the Cavaliers have been winning impressively, with a 22-point average margin of victory. Even in their closest win, a 62-50 victory at Florida State, Virginia held a 22-point lead with 11 minutes left in the game. Undefeated Syracuse is now the perceived ACC favorite, but Virginia is certainly playing at such a high level now that it too must be considered a serious contender as well.

Virginia's Justin Anderson Blocks Ralston Turner of N.C. State In Cavalier Rout. (Photo: Ethan Hyman/AP)

Virginia’s Justin Anderson Blocks Ralston Turner of N.C. State In Cavalier Rout. (Ethan Hyman/AP)

Virginia has clearly turned its season around after a less than impressive December (2-3 record). The Cavaliers hit rock bottom in a 87-52 blowout loss at Tennessee on December 30. After using seven different starting lineups, head coach Tony Bennett has finally found stability with his current starting unit. Virginia is now 8-1 with a group featuring Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell up front, with Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogden and London Perrantes on the perimeter. After a puzzling lack of production from Harris and Mitchell in the pre-conference part of the schedule, the two senior all-ACC performers have turned things around on and off the court. According to Bennett, “The Tennessee game was a wake up call [for Harris and Mitchell].” He was referring to the fact that the duo has recently taken responsibility for being better team leaders. Tobey has shown signs of fulfilling his potential as a low post scorer (16 points vs. N.C. State), and the versatile Brogdon has been more consistent, scoring in double figures in all four ACC games. The freshman Perrantes’ maturation at the point guard spot has also been a key to the Cavaliers’ recent success, with 16 assists against only five turnovers in conference play. Justin Anderson gives Virginia great energy and athleticism off the bench, and he can defend almost any position. Further quality depth comes from Anthony Gill and Darion Atkins on the inside, and Evan Nolte and Teven Jones on the perimeter. All in all, it’s a nice rotation that has jelled just in time.

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