This is a Different Looking Duke Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 11th, 2019

After just two games, it’s obvious that this year’s Duke team is not going to look (or play) like any of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recent Blue Devils’ squads. His roster this season is devoid of NBA Lottery talent, so success in Durham in 2019-20 will be much more dependent on a group effort.

Sophomore point guard Tre Jones is Duke’s clear leader at both ends of the court. (AP Photo)

Typically, Duke features two players that dominate the team’s offensive touches — think Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett last season; Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter the year prior; and Jason Tatum and Luke Kennard the season before that. So far, Duke’s new points by committee approach has resulted in good balance – five Blue Devils are averaging between 10.0 and 16.0 points per game. Also, Coach K appears to be altering his traditional method of minutes distribution, i.e., playing more than seven guys. Through the Blue Devils’ first two outings, nine players are seeing more than 12 minutes of action per contest. It’s been a long time since Krzyzewski has employed this approach, a fact he acknowledged after Duke’s 89-55 win over Colorado State on Friday night. “I need to learn how to sub again.” What remains to be seen is whether the lack of a go-to scorer will cost his team in tight-game situations. There is an advantage to having multiple options that defenses must prepare for, but there are also times when somebody just needs to go get a bucket. Early signs suggest that perhaps Cassius Stanley will develop into that guy. Though less heralded than fellow freshmen Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt, Stanley has been Duke’s most impressive rookie to date — leading the team in scoring (16 PPG), while being extremely efficient (13-of-17 FG).

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ACC Opening Game Reactions

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 7th, 2019

No conference launched the college basketball season quite like the ACC, with seven league games already in the books by Wednesday evening, in addition to Duke taking down Kansas in the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden. Here’s are five things that stood out over the opening two nights of ACC action.

Cole Anthony Blew Everyone Away on Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Cole Anthony is the real deal. Attention to everyone who did not put Cole Anthony on your preseason first-team All-American teams: You were silly and this is just the beginning of how silly you will look. After a slow start in the season opener against Notre Dame, Anthony took over in the second half, finishing with 34 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on 12-of-24 shooting, including 6-of-11 from long-range. The performance was even more critical given that the Tar Heels were short-handed with Brandon Robinson on the shelf. A star is born in Chapel Hill. Now let’s just see if someone can get him some new glasses.

Should we be more worried about Duke’s offense? The Blue Devils notched a big win Tuesday over Kansas in the Champions Classic, but there are definitely concerns about Duke’s offense. The Jayhawks gifted the Devils 26 turnovers, but they still shot just 35.9 percent from the field and didn’t put the game away until the very end. Additionally, Duke made just eight of its 24 three-point attempts. Tre Jones was 0-of-4 from long range and Jack White and Alex O’Connell (2-of-9 combined) didn’t provide an offensive spark off the bench. The good news? There is plenty of time for Mike Krzyzewski to build an offense around Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Cassius Stanley.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 1st, 2019

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2019-20 RTC Preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of 10 RTC writers provided their ballots over the last week and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

  • Cassius Winston, Michigan State (unanimous) – The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year raised some eyebrows when he bypassed early entry into the 2019 NBA Draft to return to East Lansing for his senior season, but the NBA’s loss is Michigan State’s gain. Winston’s return gives a loaded Spartans roster a proven floor general as it tries to repeat as Big Ten champions and return to the Final Four. While Winston’s greatest strengths are probably his leadership and basketball IQ, he also possesses a knack for being an elite playmaker in huge moments. This was never more evident than in both of Michigan State’s regular season victories over intrastate rival Michigan last year. Winston averaged 25 points per game in those wins and got the best of Michigan point guard Zavier Simpson, who has a well-earned reputation as one of the county’s best defenders. The Spartans have sky high expectations this season, but with Winston back to lead the squad, it would not be surprising to see Michigan State once again be among the nation’s top teams. Factoid: Michigan State defeating Division III Albion by 35 in its exhibition opener will be a footnote in its 2019-20 season, but it will certainly be much more memorable for Winston, as his younger brothers Khy and Zach suit up for Albion. When Spartans’ head coach Tom Izzo heard about the possibility of setting up the game with Albion, he jumped at the chance, knowing it would give the Winston family a memory that will last a lifetime.
  • Myles Powell, Seton Hall – Seton Hall begins this season with as much hype surrounding the program as it has in decades. The biggest reason for all the hoopla is Powell returning to the Pirates for his final go-around. The senior guard is an elite scorer — 23.1 points per game as a junior — who has a great ability to punish opponents from both the perimeter and by taking the ball to the basket. Powell’s best performance as a junior came in a March home win over Marquette — on a night when Seton Hall needed a marquee win to confirm its status as a lock to make the NCAA Tournament. The playmaking guard finished the victory with 34 points and contributed 10 of those to the 18-0 run the Pirates used to overpower the Golden Eagles and leave the game with the important result. Factoid: At Big East Media Day, Powell was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year — becoming the first Seton Hall player to earn that honor since Terry Dehere prior to the 1992-93 season.
  • Markus Howard, Marquette – Marquette was dealt a blow early in the offseason when forwards Sam and Joey Hauser decided to leave the team. Losing two key contributors would be debilitating for most programs, but most programs do not return a player like Markus Howard. Howard returns to the Golden Eagles for his senior season after completing a junior campaign that saw him average 25 points per game and tally 40+ points in a game three separate times, highlighted by a 53-point performance in a January win at Creighton. If Marquette is to return to the NCAA Tournament in 2020, it will need Howard to once again shoulder the scoring load. Judging on past experience, he seems more than capable. Factoid: It was a mild surprise when Powell was named the Big East Preseason Player of the Year over Howard, but the senior took it in stride, stating, “I think it is definitely unique to have a conference with two of the really prolific players in the country. For us to be in the same conference and able to compete two or three times every year is something unique to have as competitors.”
  • Jordan Nwora, Louisville – It is possible that no player in the country elevated his play as much last season as Nwora did for the Cardinals. The standout forward went from averaging just 5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in only 12 minutes per game to putting up 17 points and 7.6 rebounds in 31.9 minutes per game. For the time being, it appears the tumultuous times at Louisville have come to an end and the Cardinals look primed to have a big season. Chris Mack has brought steadiness to the sideline and players like Nwora stayed committed to the program when it would have been understandable to seek greener pastures. Factoid: Nwora spent his summer playing for Nigeria in the FIBA World Cup. His father, Alex, serves as the team’s coach. This made history, as they were the first father-son player-coach to represent Nigeria at such a high level in any sport.
  • James Wiseman, Memphis – There may not be a more intriguing team in the country this season than Memphis. Penny Hardaway begins his second season at his alma mater with the number one recruiting class in the country enrolled. The crown jewel of that group is Wiseman. The Memphis native enters the Tigers program, fresh off a senior season at Memphis East High School that saw him average 25.8 points and 14.8 rebounds per game en route to being named the 2018-19 Gatorade National Boys Basketball Player of the Year. Memphis is projected to earn its first NCAA Tournament bid since 2014 and if it is able to make good on that projection, it will likely be due to the star power provided by Wiseman and the rest of the much ballyhooed freshman class. Factoid: Wiseman has yet to take the floor for Memphis. He was sidelined for both exhibition games with a right ankle injury. Hardaway hopes his star freshman will be able to play when the Tigers open their regular season on November 5 against South Carolina State.

Second Team All-Americans

  • Devon Dotson, Kansas – Last season marked the first season since 2004 where a team other than Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title, as the Jayhawks were plagued by injuries, inexperience and inconsistent play. Despite the disappointing season, Kansas discovered Dotson has the tools to be potentially become the next great Jayhawks point guard. That was never more evident than when Dotson tallied 25 points to go with 10 rebounds and five assists as Kansas overcame a blown second half lead to notch a road win over TCU. Bill Self’s group projects to get back to the top of the Big 12 this season and having who figures to be the best point guard in the league should greatly assist in making that a reality. Factoid: The sophomore point guard gave Kansas fans a bit of a scare in the preseason when he showed up at Big 12 Media Day in a walking boot and missed the first exhibition game nursing an ankle injury. Self put that all to rest though when responding, “He’s fine. He’ll be ready to go,” after being asked about Dotson’s status.
  • Cole Anthony, North Carolina – Anthony arrives at North Carolina following a decorated prep career that saw him average a triple double as a senior at Oak Hill Academy and be named the MVP of the 2019 McDonald’s All-American Game. The super athletic point guard who can drive, pass, shoot, dunk and defend will use what will likely be his only season in Chapel Hill to try to go down as a legendary Tar Heels’ point guard. The freshman got off to a solid start in North Carolina’s annual “secret scrimmage” where he poured in 28 points as the Tar Heels split four separate periods of play against Villanova. Factoid: The hype surrounding Anthony appears to be warranted, as North Carolina guard Garrison Brooks noted at the team’s media day, “He [Anthony] is already one of the best players in the country and he hasn’t played a game. I think that’s a lot to say.”
  • Tre Jones, Duke – Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish all left Duke for the NBA after a freshman season that culminated in an Elite Eight appearance. After much consideration, Jones decided not to join that group and returned to Durham for a second tour as point guard of the Blue Devils. Known as a defensive stalwart — with an ACC All-Defensive honor already in hand — Jones has also shown capable as an offensive weapon, most notably by tallying a career-high 22 points in Duke’s win over Virginia Tech in the Sweet Sixteen. Factoid: Jones’ introduction at Duke’s Midnight Madness last month took on a special meaning when he brought his mother Debbie Jones onto the court with him to honor her fight to ultimately becoming cancer-free earlier in October.
  • Kerry Blackshear Jr., Florida – The most sought-after graduate transfer of this offseason will begin his lone season at Florida after a very successful run at Virginia Tech. The skilled big man did a little bit of everything for the Hokies. He is a load in the paint; he can step out and hit a jump shot; and he has enough of a handle to effectively drive to the basket. The Gators figure to be strong on the perimeter with sophomore Andrew Nembhard being joined by star recruits Scottie Lewis and Tre Mann, but Blackshear will give Mike White’s squad a legitimate post presence who will provide the physicality necessary for SEC play. Factoid: White’s recruiting strategy when convincing Blackshear Jr. to go to Gainesville revolved around how the forward would instantly become a key leader for the Gators. This resonated with Blackshear, as he noted, “Just understanding I had a big role was really fun for me. It made me understand I had to be one of the leaders this year.”
  • Udoka Azubuike, Kansas – The Kansas big man returns to Lawrence for a senior season where he will look to avoid the injury bug that has plagued much of his collegiate career. Azubuike was limited to just 11 games as a freshman in the 2016-17 season and only nine games as a junior last season. When healthy, Azubuike has been a load in the paint for opponents and he has showcased an elite ability to finish around the rim. In the 2017-18 season – Azubuike’s only healthy season – the big man led the county with a 77 percent field goal percentage. Factoid: Even with all the time Azubuike has missed, the Big 12 coaches still tabbed the big man as the league’s preseason player of the year. If that holds and Azubuike puts up the numbers to earn the postseason player of the year honor, he will be the first Kansas big man to win the award since Thomas Robinson took it home following the 2011-12 season.

Third Team All-Americans

  • Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State – Haliburton did not light the world on fire during his freshman season in Ames — he only averaged 6.8 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game — but with Talen Horton-Tucker and Mariel Shayok now departed, the sophomore guard will likely expand his production and play a bigger role for the Cyclones. Even in his limited role last season, Haliburton showcased a two-way ability that made him a player to watch for NBA scouts. Factoid: Haliburton saw his stock rise this summer when competing for the United States. In victories over New Zealand and Lithuania, the guard averaged 14.5 points, eight assists, and three steals.
  • Jarron Cumberland, Cincinnati – It is a new era of Bearcats basketball with Mick Cronin departed for UCLA and John Brannen coming up from Northern Kentucky to take over the Cincinnati program. Amid all the chaos that can come with a coaching change, though, is Cumberland returning to the fold following a junior season where he was named AAC Player of the Year. The honor was greatly deserved as Cumberland averaged 18.8 points per game and was a big part of the Bearcats earning a ninth straight NCAA Tournament bid. Factoid: Memphis has been the most talked about AAC team of the preseason, but Tigers coach Penny Hardaway maintains Cincinnati is still the team to beat in the conference with his reasoning being, “It doesn’t hurt to have Jarron Cumberland. When does he graduate anyway?”
  • Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – Entering last season, it seemed like it was Tillie’s turn to become the next great Gonzaga big man. He averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore and shot a very strong 47.9 percent from the perimeter. Unfortunately for Gonzaga and Tillie, he was limited to just 15 games during his junior campaign with a stress fracture and a tear in his ankle. Mark Few has built a spectacular program in Spokane, so the Bulldogs were able to overcome Tillie’s shaky health, but if Tillie is able to be fully healthy this season, Gonzaga’s ceiling will be even higher. Factoid: The start of Tillie’s senior season might be delayed, as he underwent a minor knee procedure in early October and is currently listed as questionable for the season opener.
  • Jalen Smith, Maryland – The Terrapins received good news early in the offseason when Smith decided to bypass the NBA Draft and return to College Park for his sophomore season. The decision to go back to school came as a bit of a surprise, as Smith was very good in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Terrapins’ two games. Expectations are high for Maryland this season and if Smith can replicate what he did last March, the Terrapins could very well challenge Michigan State in the Big Ten race. Factoid: Smith goes by the nickname “Stix,” which is a reference to his slim 6’10”, 225 pound figure.
  • Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State – The Buckeyes lost their final three games of the 2018-19 regular season. That was notable because those defeats were suffered without Wesson, who was serving a brief suspension for violation of an athletic department policy. Those three defeats resulted in Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament seed taking a hit. Luckily for Chris Holtmann’s team though, Wesson was back for the NCAA Tournament, and riding his 21 points and 12 rebounds, the 11th-seeded Buckeyes were able to knock off sixth-seeded Iowa State in the first round. Factoid: Wesson approached this offseason with a much more serious approach and that resulted in the junior big man dropping 34 pounds in an effort to increase his athleticism and endurance.

Honorable Mentions: Ayo Dosunmu (Illinois), Anthony Edwards (Georgia), Anthony Cowan (Maryland), Andrew Nembhard (Florida), Tyrese Maxey (Kentucky), Ashton Hagans (Kentucky), Xavier Tillman (Michigan State), Lamar Stevens (Penn State), Isaiah Stewart (Washington), Charles Bassey (Western Kentucky), Anthony Lamb (Vermont), Reggie Perry (Mississippi State), Yoeli Childs (BYU), Kellan Grady (Davidson).

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ACC 2019-20 Tipoff

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 21st, 2019

We are now just over two weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next two weeks we will provide key question previews of all 15 ACC schools and we will also be sharing our preseason thoughts on Twitter. Follow us there – @rtcACC, Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald). But first, let’s put a bow on last season and take a quick peak ahead at the upcoming campaign.

2018-19 Recap

Redemption and miracle finishes were the themes in Virginia’s dramatic run to the 2019 National Championship. (USA TODAY Sports)

It was another highly successful year for the conference. The ACC became the first league in history to land the top three rankings in the final AP poll – Duke, Virginia and North Carolina – all of which earned #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Then, in one of the all-time best NCAA turnarounds, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers collected the program’s first National Championship just one year after suffering the agonizing distinction of becoming the first top seed in history to fall to a #16 seed. To add to the drama, Virginia faced extreme peril in each of its final three games in last season’s tourney. According to KenPom’s win probability model, the Cavaliers overcame the following situations:

  • Elite Eight vs Purdue – Trailed 70-67 with 16 seconds to play (Win Probability = 12.2%)
  • Final Four vs Auburn – Trailed 61-57 with 17 seconds to play (Win Probability = 5.5%)
  • Title Game vs Texas Tech – Trailed 68-65 with 22 seconds to play (Win Probability = 13.0%)
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Eight Questions For The Elite Eight

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 30th, 2019

The Road to the Final Four has one final stop for the eight remaining teams in this year’s NCAA Tournament. As the weekend advances, here are the eight questions I have for the match-ups ahead.

The Zags Push For Their Second Final Four Appearance in History (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga vs. Texas Tech

Gonzaga: Will Gonzaga’s offense solve a Texas Tech defense that dominated Michigan for 40 minutes? Mark Few’s Bulldogs rank first in the nation in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage and two-point field goal percentage. According to Hoop-Math, Gonzaga also owns the fifth-best shooting percentage on attempts at the rim, an area that could be tested by a Red Raiders defense that blocks a lot of shots inside.

Texas Tech: Do the Red Raiders have enough size to compete against the large Gonzaga front line? Gonzaga’s bigs of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie will be up against a Texas Tech squad that will play just two players 6’8″ or taller in Tarriq Owens and Norense Odiase. Texas Tech’s ability to stay out of foul trouble on its front line will be imperative in attempting to slow the Bulldogs’ interior game.

Virginia vs. Purdue

Virginia: Can the Cavaliers snap out of their shooting woes? Over Virginia’s last four games, the Cavaliers are shooting a woeful 26.9 percent on 104 three-point attempts. In the five games prior to that stretch they converted 54.2 percent on 107 attempts. Kyle Guy has most notably found himself in a staggering slump, having made just five of his last 31 attempts after shooting 42.7 percent on the season.

Purdue: Will Purdue’s recent struggles at the free throw line keep it from reaching the Final Four? While the Boilermakers have shot 71.9 percent from the line on the season, they have made just 63.4 percent from the stripe in seven March games. Purdue survived in its win on Thursday night against Tennessee despite missing 17 of its 33 attempts. And remember, points always come at a premium against Virginia.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 73, Florida State 63

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 16th, 2019

RTC’s Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) is providing on-site coverage of the ACC Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson celebrate after winning the program’s 15th ACC Championship of the Mike Krzyzewski era. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
  1. Duke’s defense was the difference. With all the attention generated by Zion Williamson’s spectacular scoring plays, it is easy to forget what he means to Duke on the other end of the floor. With his return to the lineup this week in Charlotte, the Blue Devils seem to have regained their defensive mojo. In tonight’s title game, Florida State led for most of the first half and was tied with Duke at the break. But after intermission, the Blue Devils tightened up their defense, holding the Seminoles to 25.0 percent shooting from the floor. And this was a Florida State team that had just shot 56 percent against the mighty Virginia defense in Friday’s semifinals. The Duke running game got going as a result of getting those stops, leading to transition dunks for Williamson and RJ Barrett that gave the Blue Devils a working margin that they would never relinquish.
  2. Florida State is going to be a tough out in the Big Dance. The Seminoles may have surprised the college basketball world by beating top-seeded Virginia in this ACC Tournament, but it’s not like they came out of nowhere this season. Leonard Hamilton’s club closed regular season play by winning 12 of their last 13 games and have already set a school record with 27 wins. They’re athletic, experienced and deep. Their best player is probably Mfiondu Kabengele, who may be the best sixth man in the nation. Kabengele kept the Seminoles within striking distance tonight. finishing with 14 points and making 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Additionally, Florida State’s size and length will make the Seminoles one of the most unique defensive teams in the NCAA Tournament — one that nobody should look forward to facing in the coming weeks.
  3. Duke may have locked up the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. There’s little doubt that Duke will be on the top line when the brackets are presented Sunday evening, but conference tournament losses by Virginia and Gonzaga have opened up the overall top spot for the Blue Devils. The Selection Committee is expected to judge Duke with Zion Williamson in the lineup, and that Duke team went 23-2 with a 4-1 record against the other six programs in contention for the #1 seed line. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad is not without flaws — once again tonight they triumphed despite a cold shooting night from distance (2-14 3FG) — but they can overwhelm opponents in several other ways. Against the tall and imposing frontline of Florida State, the Blue Devils managed to post a decisive 42-18 edge in points in the paint, and had a solid advantage (+7) in fast break points. Point guard Tre Jones’ assertiveness (18 points) also gave the Blue Devils a boost tonight, and was reminiscent of the play of his older brother Tyus in leading Duke to the national title in 2015.

Player of the Game. Zion Williamson, Duke. The college game’s brightest star completed a successful return from injury by scoring 81 points in three days and winning the ACC Tournament MVP award. Tonight he scored a game-high 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the floor, grabbed five boards, and helped Duke’s defense hold Florida State to 31.7 percent shooting.

Quotable.

  • “He’s a world class athlete. He changes things.” – Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton on going against Zion Williamson.
  • “To start 1-and-4 in the league and end up in fourth place… it’s outstanding.” – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski praising the coaching job of Leonard Hamilton this season.
  • “When he’s able to score, it definitely opens it up for the rest of it.” – Duke’s RJ Barrett on the aggressive play tonight from Tre Jones.

Sights and Sounds. It was not nearly the same atmosphere in the Spectrum Center tonight as it was for the Duke-North Carolina semifinal clash, but it was a pretty full house tonight even if the energy level was merely good, not great.

What’s Next. Duke and Florida State have each improved their NCAA Tournament resumes this week in Charlotte and they will hear their paths to Minneapolis revealed on Sunday night.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VII

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 28th, 2019

Sitting alone atop the conference at 11-1 and with a sweep in hand over defending champion Virginia, the smart money a little over a week ago was on Duke to cruise to its first ACC regular season title since 2010. An explosive sneaker appears to be the only thing that can slow down the freight train known as Zion Williamson, and his freak injury has led the Blue Devils to drop two of its last three games, leaving the door open for the Cavaliers and North Carolina. At 13-2 in the standings, they both now sit a game clear of Duke with only three left to play.

Stock Rising: Kerry Blackshear, Jr.

Kerry Blackshear Has Been a Stalwart for Virginia Tech This Season (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech was looking like a fashionable dark horse Final Four contender after winning 17 of its first 20 games this season. However, when senior point guard Justin Robinson went down with an injury that has kept him sidelined all February, those high hopes turned into a matter of survival. The play of Kerry Blackshear, Jr., however, has the Hokies back on the attack.

After losing two of their first three with Robinson out, Buzz Williams’ squad has now won four of five, including Monday’s upset victory over Duke. In that game, Blackshear led the Hokies in scoring for the fourth consecutive time, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The junior has averaged 22.6 points per game and 10.0 boards per contest over this key stretch. Holding on to fourth place in the ACC standings and maintaining its relative KenPom placement (11th at the time of Robinson’s injury and now) has been no small feat without its floor general and best overall player around — the inspired play of Blackshear is the reason why.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VI

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 19th, 2019

With Virginia’s win over Virginia Tech on Monday night, North Carolina is now in position to create a three-way tie at first place in the ACC standings with an upset victory at Duke on Wednesday. 

Stock Rising

Florida State is Riding High Again (USA Today Images)

Florida State: Just one short month ago, the Seminoles blew a 10-point halftime lead at Boston College to extend their losing streak to three games. That defeat dropped Florida State to 1-4 in ACC play and out of the national polls. With a promising season circling the drain, Leonard Hamilton’s veteran squad has responded by winning every game since. In ripping off those seven consecutive wins, Florida State has vaulted itself back into the second tier of the league behind Virginia, North Carolina and Duke. Only a dramatic comeback overtime victory over Louisville and a nine-point handling of Clemson were close games. In typical fashion, the Seminoles are winning with balance, depth, length and defensive acumen. Five different players have led the team in scoring over the past seven games, and only the Cardinals reached 70 points against their top-20 defense.

Sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele has been a revelation, leading the Seminoles in scoring despite not starting a single game. Senior Terrance Mann is the only other player averaging in double figures, but Florida State’s lack of an explosive scorer is made up in the balance of having eight guys notching 6.5 points per game or better. The Seminoles face a stiff test in keeping its current winning streak alive, as a trip to a desperate Clemson team looms tonight followed by a visit to Chapel Hill. But, with a split, and with all of its final four games coming in Tallahassee and at Wake Forest, Hamilton’s squad could find itself right where most envisioned prior to its slow start — as the #4 seed heading into the ACC Tournament.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 9

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 8th, 2019

It’s a busy weekend around the ACC, including the #1 vs. #2 rematch we’ve all been waiting for in Charlottesville. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you prepped. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 9

Clemson Needs a Win and Virginia Tech Visits on Saturday (USA Today Images)

#9 Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3) at #35 Clemson (14-8, 4-5). This feels like the kind of game Clemson needs to win if it realistically hopes to make the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers’ current resume has no meat on the bone, so an opportunity to beat a top 10 KenPom team is one they can’t squander. They’ll need to take advantage of a Virginia Tech club without much interior size, which means feeding Elijah Thomas (29.6 PER, 65.9% eFG) like they did in their win over Wake Forest last Sunday (23 points on 10-of-11 FG). What cannot happen is that Thomas instead gets into foul trouble, like he did on Wednesday night at Georgia Tech (seven points in 17 minutes). Given the Hokies’ firepower from the outside, it’s difficult to envision a Clemson victory without another monster performance from its big man.

#42 NC State (16-7, 4-6) at #75 Pittsburgh (12-11, 2-8). My, how things can change in just a week. Only 10 days ago, NC State was *this close* to taking down Virginia. After losing in overtime, however, the Wolfpack followed up with embarrassing displays on both offense (24 points in a home loss to Virginia Tech) and defense (allowing 113 to North Carolina in Chapel Hill). So what we have is something that feels like an important game for Kevin Keatts, one in which he really needs a breakout performance from Torin Dorn. The senior shot just 35.3 percent from the field and made only one three-pointer in the last two games, but the bigger issue is that Dorn hasn’t played well since conference play began. In league games only, Dorn (14.3 PER, 41.9% eFG) has been much worse than his overall numbers (20.8 PER, 50.7 eFG%) — if the Wolfpack expect to turn things around, it starts with their small-ball four recovering his groove.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume V

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 7th, 2019

Saturday’s rematch between Virginia and Duke looked for a while like it would be the deciding factor in this year’s ACC regular season race. Maybe it will turn out to be just that, but let’s not rush so fast on calling it the game for the crown.

Stock Rising

North Carolina is Quietly Waiting on Duke and Virginia to Falter (USA Today Images)

North Carolina’s Backboard Dominance: Don’t look now, but Roy Williams’ bunch has officially made the ACC regular season championship a three-horse race. Since its curious blowout loss to Louisville three weeks ago, North Carolina has ripped off six consecutive wins, including a return-the-favor beatdown of the Cardinals on Saturday. Despite some hiccups, North Carolina has never dropped out of KenPom‘s top 10, and currently rates seventh nationally on the strength of both a top-20 offense and defense. During their recent run, it has been notable how the Tar Heels have gotten back to dominating the backboard, a staple for Williams’ squads in Chapel Hill. Since being outrebounded in the January 12 loss to Louisville, the Heels have averaged more than 10 rebounds per game than its opposition, highlighted by a +17 advantage on Saturday. Now 19th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and 15th in keeping jits opponents off of the offensive boards, North Carolina has gotten back its identity as an elite rebounding unit. If the Heels hold serve against Miami at home on Saturday, Monday’s home tilt with Virginia could set up as a battle for the top slot in the conference standings — assuming the Cavaliers can protect their home court against Duke — which will be no easy task thanks to…

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