ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Wednesday Preview

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 28th, 2018

An extremely competitive ACC-Big Ten Challenge, one in which six games have already been decided by four points or fewer, comes to a close tonight. Locked at 4-4 going into tonight’s games, let’s take a look at what’s in store for this evening.

Jim Boeheim is Pleading for a Win (USA Today Images)

  •  #20 Syracuse (3-2) at #23 Ohio State (6-0). On the strength of two true road wins against top 40 teams, Ohio State was the top-rated team in the initial NET ratings that were released on Monday. The talented Orange have been disappointing in the early going, as Syracuse visits Columbus tonight with losses to Connecticut and Oregon weighing down its non-conference slate. Jim Boeheim‘s vaunted zone ranks as the nation’s sixth most efficient defense, but poor shooting has carried over to the tune of a 31.4 percent clip from beyond the arc. Oshae Brissett, the team’s best prospect, and Tyus Battle, the team’s leading returning scorer, are shooting 18.2 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively from deep. Point guard Frank Howard’s return to action will certainly provide a boost, but Syracuse will undoubtedly need to be a lot crisper on the offensive end to slow down a versatile set of Buckeyes.
  • #115 Rutgers (4-1) at  #22 Miami (5-1). Despite its most talented player, Dewan Hernandez, being withheld from competition amid a review of eligibility, the Hurricanes have been impressive in winning five of their first six games. Diminutive spark plug point guard Chris Lykes leads five Hurricanes averaging more than 11 points per contest, while Dejan Vasiljevic is making 52.5 percent of his threes, good for 77th in the country. Steve Pikiell’s Scarlet Knights have been stingy on the defensive end this season, turning teams over on 24.3 percent of their possessions. However, Rutgers has been especially brutal on the other end of the floor, checking in as the 263rd most efficient offense while turning the ball over  at an alarming 22.6 percent rate (312th nationally).

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Ten Questions: Mid-November Intrigue

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 16th, 2018

While this weekend’s schedule is a little light as teams prepare for the nonstop action of Feast Week, here are 10 questions to consider as the season settles in.

Is Michigan Due For a Letdown? (USA Today Images)

  1. How will St. John’s fare in its only road non-conference game? (St. John’s at Rutgers, Friday 7 PM EST, BTN) St. John’s only road non-conference game takes place just down the road in New Jersey against local rival Rutgers. In Mustapha Heron‘s  first two games as a member of the Red Storm, he is averaging over 20 points per game.
  2. Will Arizona State avoid an upset in a potential trap game? (ed. note: this game was canceled last night because of smoke issues related to wildfires) (Arizona State @ San Francisco, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Before Arizona State heads to Las Vegas to take on a ranked Mississippi State team, they will take on the Dons in San Francisco. After falling behind by 15 points early, San Francisco was only outscored by three points in the final 30 minutes of last season’s match-up in the desert.
  3. Has Stanford found Reid Travis 2.0 in KZ Okpala? (Wofford at Stanford, Friday 10 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) When Reid Travis decided to transfer to Kentucky, Stanford had to fill a large gap in its offense. Sophomore KZ Okpala has seen his scoring average explode from 10.0 as a freshman to 22.7 PPG through the first three games of the season.
  4. Will early season turnover woes be the deciding factor? (South Carolina vs. Providence, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, ESPN 3) Through three games South Carolina has committed 44 turnovers while Providence has committed 46 turnovers. Both the Gamecocks and Friars are forcing turnovers at a rate better than the national average, so winning the turnover battle will be crucial in this game.
  5. Can Charleston stay perfect with a win in Stillwater? (Charleston @ Oklahoma State, Sunday 4 PM EST) Coming off a 26-8 record last season, Charleston was picked second in the preseason CAA media poll. The Cougars feature two of the conference’s best players in Jarrell Brantley and Grant Riller. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State is struggling, having lost to #299 Charlotte already this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Opening Week: Three Up, Three Down

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 9th, 2018

After a busy opening week that has so far resulted in a perfect 12-0 record for ACC teams, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) takes a look at three positives and three negatives from around the conference. (Brad Jenkins covered Duke in his Opening Night takeaways)

THREE UP

Ty Jerome Continues to Show His Importance to Virginia (USA Today Images)

  • Let the Ty Jerome hype begin. Kyle Guy is the All-American and De’Andre Hunter gets the NBA love, but Ty Jerome is still the engine for this Virginia team. On Tuesday night, Jerome notched 20 points in the Cavaliers’ win over Towson, making six of his nine shots from three-point range. His 70.9 Defensive Rating will obviously trend toward normal as the competition improves, but his size allows him to bother smaller guards and is the key to Tony Bennett’s defense.
  • Florida State’s shooting. While Leonard Hamilton’s team defense was impressive in the Seminole’s blowout win over Florida, it was their shooting against the Gators that was even more intriguing. A team that shot just 35 percent from long distance a year ago and lost its top two shooters (CJ Walker and Braian Angola-Rodas) probably shouldn’t be expected to make 11-of-23 three-pointers against another high-major team, but Florida State did just that. It appeared as if Hamilton’s team might be lacking a knock-down outside shooter this season, but if PJ Savoy (5-of-7 3FG) can fill that role, the Seminoles could become something special.
  • Jeff Capel’s freshmen. Yes, it was only one game against Youngstown State, but it’s clear that this is a new era at Pittsburgh. Three freshmen guards started for Jeff Capel’s team on Tuesday night, and it is already obvious that they are the future of the Panthers’ program. Point guard Xavier Johnson scored 16 points and added six assists and five rebounds; Trey McGowens poured in 17 points and shot 6-of-11 from the field; Au’Diese Toney added 12 points and nine rebounds. The Panthers will still struggle in the ACC this year, but their rookie trio will at least give Pittsburgh fans a reason to tune in each night.

THREE DOWN

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ACC Burning Questions, Part 5: Duke, North Carolina & Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 2nd, 2018

To wrap up our ACC team previews, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) brings us home by reviewing league favorites Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

Duke Burning Question: How will Duke’s talented freshmen gel on the court?

The Duke Freshmen Are Ready to Roll (USA Today Images)

Duke has the most talented roster in the country, but as we know, talent alone doesn’t always mean championships. After losing almost his entire roster from last year’s Elite Eight squad, Mike Krzyzewski reloaded with four of the very best prospects in the country. The question is how those pieces will fit together. While Zion Williamson (who is basically a cross between Justin Bieber and LeBron James on YouTube) is the Blue Devils’ biggest star, R.J. Barrett is the best player on the team. He dominated for Team Canada in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup last year and is likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The smooth lefty likes to have the ball in his hands, so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with expected starting point guard Tre Jones.

Will fellow freshman Cam Reddish accept not being the lead banana on a team with plentiful options? Will anyone outside of sophomore Alex O’Connell (48.9% 3FG) make any three-pointers? Will juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier be able to stay out of Krzyzewski’s doghouse to support the talented freshmen? Whether you believe that Duke will figure it all out and win the national title or if you have concerns about egos overtaking the team en route to an early exit in March, Duke is without question the most fascinating team in college basketball this season.

North Carolina Burning Question: What lineup does Roy Williams want to use?

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 2nd, 2018

With the season tipping off next Tuesday, there’s no better time to roll out our 2018-19 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

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue (unanimous) – Purdue has plenty to replace this season with former mainstays Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas now gone from West Lafayette. Luckily for Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, Edwards opted to return to Purdue for his junior season. The standout point guard will look to build on what has been a dynamic collegiate career. Following a freshman season where Edwards showed he belonged in the Big Ten, he took a big step forward in his sophomore campaign, averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting a commendable 40.6 percent from the three-point line. The Boilermakers lose nearly 50 points per game from last season’s Sweet Sixteen team, but it would not be surprising to see the play-making floor general take Purdue back to the second weekend next March. Factoid: Edwards participated in the NBA Draft combine last spring before deciding to return to Purdue. A noticeable change since his return has been in his physical stature, as he added around 10 pounds to his frame. Purdue men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Gavin Roberts attributes Edwards’ strength gain to a “professional” demeanor in the weight room.
  • R.J. Barrett, Duke – Duke bringing in a star-studded recruiting class is certainly nothing new, but you would be hard-pressed to find another time when such a unique talent as Barrett descended on Durham. At 6’7″, the incoming freshman can handle the ball, create his own shot and relentlessly attack the basket. His size and athleticism will also allow him to effectively defend multiple positions and contribute on the boards.  The Blue Devils figure to once again be an offensive juggernaut, and it is fair to speculate that Barrett will be their most productive component. Factoid: Hailing from Canada, Barrett has a unique connection to basketball lore. He is the godson of two-time NBA MVP — and fellow Canadian — Steve Nash.
  • Caleb Martin, Nevada – Nevada exploded onto the scene last season, as the Wolf Pack won the regular season Mountain West title and earned the program’s first Sweet Sixteen berth since 2004. Expectations are now sky high for Eric Musselman’s group entering this season, as his team is already ranked #8 in the preseason AP Top 25. A major reason for all the lofty hopes in Reno is that Martin decided to put the NBA on hold in returning for his senior season. The rangy forward will look to build on a junior campaign when he averaged 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. If Martin can once again put up dominant numbers, the preseason hype encompassing the Wolf Pack will likely prove to be warranted. Factoid:In addition to the RTC All-America team, Martin was named a preseason first team All-American by the AP, becoming the first player in program history to receive the honor.
  • Luke Maye, North Carolina – There might not be a player in the country that has had as unique of a collegiate career as the North Carolina senior. Recall that Maye did not have a guaranteed scholarship in place when he originally committed to the Tar Heels in high school, and while playing time was difficult to earn through a majority of his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, his breakout finally came in the 2017 Elite Eight when he scored 17 points and buried a game-winning jumper to beat Kentucky. Maye followed up those heroics with a junior season averaging 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest while earning first team All-ACC honors. The Tar Heels have a lot of new faces in place this season, but the transition should be relatively seamless with double-double machine Maye on the blocks. Factoid: Maye joined rarefied North Carolina air last season with a 32-point, 18-rebound performance against Boston College and a 33-point, 17-rebound effort against NC State. Those two performances made him only the fourth player in program history with multiple 30/15 games in a season.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin – Last March represented the first time since 1998 that Wisconsin did not earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The young Badgers battled injuries and inconsistency throughout the season as they sputtered their way to a 15-18 overall record. Despite the lost season, Happ still managed to contribute very productive numbers. Building on impressive freshman and sophomore campaigns, the junior forward tallied 17.9 points and 8.0 rebounds per game on his way to becoming a first team all-Big Ten player. Assuming Happ takes another step forward during his final season in Madison, it is likely Wisconsin will find its way back to the NCAA Tournament. Factoid: Happ was so distraught about Wisconsin not making the NCAA Tournament lats year that he kept the TV in his apartment from showing anything about March Madness.

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Analyzing Five Breakout Players Nationally

Posted by Will Ezekowitz on October 31st, 2018

Will Ezekowitz (@wezekowitz) is a national columnist focusing on the numbers behind college basketball.

I have tried to project next year’s breakout players for several years now. Doing so is largely subjective and also generally requires team success, but I’m trying to answer the following question: “Which players are not getting the headlines now but who will be in February and March?” Last year, I gave you Markus Howard, Keenan Evans (bonus points) and, regrettably, Justin Jackson (negative points), among several others. This year, I have refined my approach by using the Projected Contributors tool at BartTorvik, aka free KenPom. Torvik’s site projects points, rebounds and assists for every player in college basketball, and I have included those projected totals below.

Ty Jerome is Poised for an Outstanding Season (USA Today Images)

  • Ty Jerome – Virginia. 12.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG. 4.8 APG. Tony Bennett has the defense, Kyle Guy has the man-bun, and DeAndre Hunter has the lottery pick talent. But do not forget about Ty Jerome among these Cavaliers. After minimal playing time as a freshman, he showed flashes of downright dominance in his sophomore tilt even while often deferring to Guy. He’s a 41 percent shooter from deep, a capable creator and logged a better assist to turnover rate last season than even the great London Perrantes did during his senior year. His 6’5” frame at the point of attack is also a necessary key to Virginia’s incredible defense, and he ended last year with the highest steal rate in the ACC (3.6%). He should take on even more responsibility this year, and if he continues on his current trajectory, he can become the best point guard in a loaded ACC (and one of the best nationally as well).
  • Sagaba Konate – West Virginia. 14.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 1.2 APG. Disclaimer: I am the official conductor of the Sagaba Konate Hype Train. Konate is an absolutely chiseled physical specimen who is the toughest dude on which any basketball court he steps. Quite simply, he’s the best rim protector in the country, but he’s also an elite rebounder. Last year he became the third major conference player in the last 15 years to log a block rate above 15 percent and a defensive rebounding rate above 20 percent (Kansas’ Jeff Withey and Mississippi State’s Jarvis Vernardo were the others). A big man usually must choose to either challenge a shot or corral it if it misses — Konate, somehow, is elite at both. On the offensive end, he improved from simply a putback artist who shot 56 percent at the line his freshman year into a legitimate post player who nailed 88 percent from the line in Big 12 play last year (second-best). After surprising scouts at last spring’s NBA Combine, Konate knows he needs a more refined offensive game to become a first round pick. Bet on him developing it and turning in an All-America season in Morgantown.

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Rushed Reactions: Virginia 71, North Carolina 63

Posted by Matt Auerbach on March 10th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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Rushed Reactions: Virginia 64, Clemson 58

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 9th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 3rd, 2018

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

Saturday, February 3

Are the Pack Back? (USA Today Images)

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

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.29.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 29th, 2018

This weekend lived up to the hype around the ACC with a trio of exciting finishes on Saturday afternoon. In the marquee match-up of the day, Virginia picked up a rare win in Durham, edging Duke to remain unbeaten in league play (9-0). It took overtime to decide two intrastate rivalry contests, as NC State surprised North Carolina in the Smith Center and Florida State won a shootout against Miami. In other ACC action, Louisville blew out Wake Forest to remain alone in second place in the standings, a resurgent Virginia Tech squad picked up a nice road win at Notre Dame, and Clemson got back on track with a tight victory at Georgia Tech. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Kyle Guy celebrates Virginia’s big win at Duke that leaves the Cavaliers in total control of the ACC regular season race. (Lance King/Getty Images)

  • Best Win: In the highly anticipated match-up of Virginia’s stifling defense and Duke’s potent offense, the Cavaliers held the Blue Devils well below their normal output (63 points) to pick up their first win in Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995. Virginia dominated the first half before Duke rallied to seemingly take control of the game midway through the second, but Tony Bennett‘s team was simply tougher down the stretch, with sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome each making important threes in the closing minutes to secure the victory. Duke managed to only score 0.97 points per possession for the game, and committed 16 turnovers against the Virginia pressure. Even the best defense in the land couldn’t control Duke’s star freshman, Marvin Bagley III (30 points, 14 rebounds), but the Cavaliers made up for that by holding Duke’s three starting guards to a total of 19 points on 8-of-26 shooting. Virginia now has a two-game cushion over Louisville in the league standings and appears poised to capture its third regular season title in the last five years.

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