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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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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ACC Burning Questions Part 4: Virginia Tech, Syracuse & Florida State

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 1st, 2018

As we head into another exciting ACC season, we will be reviewing the key question for each of the league’s 15 squads. Today Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) works into the upper tier, with Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Florida State

Virginia Tech Burning Question: We know they’ll fill it up, but can the Hokies improve enough defensively to fulfill their potential?

Buzz Williams Needs to Improve His Defense to Contend This Year (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech came out of the gates blazing a year ago, scoring more than 90 points in five of its first six affairs. And while the numbers understandably dipped as the competition toughened, the Hokies’ up-tempo, let-it-fly mentality, led to season marks of 28th nationally in offensive efficiency and sixth in effective field goal percentage. Lead guard Justin Robinson, the engine behind the high-powered unit, is back for his senior season, and pairs with sophomore sharpshooter Nickeil Alexander-Walker, as perhaps the most explosive backcourt in the ACC.

Robinson, a preseason all-ACC second team selection, is the model of consistency, and the type of point guard head coach Buzz Williams can trust to spearhead his attacking offense. An old-school point guard at his core, Robinson has developed in an old-school manner, as his three-point percentage, points, assists and steals per game have all steadily increased over his three years in Blacksburg. Another leap is a tall order for him after averaging 14.0 PPG, 5.6 APG and shooting nearly 40 percent from long-distance last season, but one that he may need to make given that senior Chris Clarke has been suspended from the team indefinitely. Clarke, the runner-up for ACC Sixth Man of the Year, was in line to start and become a major contributor. In his absence, the Hokies will need a healthy and productive Kerry Blackshear Jr. to replicate upon his excellent sophomore season. Coming off a redshirt year, the 6’10” Blackshear averaged just under 13 points per game on the back of a 63.4 percent true shooting rate. Without Clarke around to bolster the interior, he becomes the Hokies’ leading returning rebounder and will be relied upon to protect the rim.

In his first four years at Virginia Tech, Williams’ teams have never finished within the top 60 nationally in defensive efficiency. If this is to be the year that the Hokies break through and make a run in the NCAA Tournament, improvement on that end is absolutely necessary. There’s no doubt that this team’s offense will pressure opposing defenses, but seeking to outscore the opposition will only get a team so far.

Syracuse Burning Question: Can Syracuse make enough shots?

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ACC Non-Conference Games: Ten Worth Watching

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 23rd, 2018

Even in the face of fervent anticipation, the start of the college hoops season has a way of sneaking up on us. Now only two weeks away and with the brutal gauntlet of a full conference slate coming seven weeks after that, it feels like a good time to preview the 10 most compelling non-conference match-ups that ACC members will encounter during the upcoming campaign. This list excludes preseason tourneys (Duke heading to Maui, for example, among others) and the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which we will preview in more depth ahead of those events. Here we go, in calendar order, starting with the Champions Classic on opening night.

It’s Always Must-See College Basketball when Duke Meets Kentucky (USA Today Images)

  • November 6- Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Indianapolis). In a very off-brand, sensible decision, the NCAA has stopped burying the season’s annual tip-off on a pedestrian Friday night and instead will utilize the grand stage of the Champions Classic to get things going. In the nightcap game of the Indianapolis event, two teams with legitimate championship aspirations and talent galore will meet once again. For Duke, the nation’s top-rated incoming class features do-everything wing R.J. Barrett along with explosive man-child Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus Jones, the 2015 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player). In an unusual turn of events, it will be Kentucky that is armed with the more experienced roster, as the Blue Devils’ leading returning scorer will be junior big man Marques Bolden (3.9 PPG), while the Wildcats retained sophomores Quade Green, P.J. Washington and Nick Richardsfrom last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad.
  • November 6: Florida at Florida State. This annual tussle will serve as the rivals’ season opener this year, as the Gators look to avenge a home thrashing by the Seminoles last season. Florida State returns seven of its top nine scorers, including leading man Phil Cofer, from a squad that was within a whisker of the Final Four a year ago. The cupboard is not bare for Mike White, either, as Florida features a dynamic, experienced tandem on the wings in seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson. Numerous explosive athletes on both sides of the floor will make this game worth flipping to during the commercial breaks of the Duke/Kentucky tilt.
  • November 15: Connecticut vs Syracuse (Madison Square Garden). Two old Big East foes will rekindle their long and storied rivalry at a familiar venue in New York City. The Orange return all of their top pieces from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, including the ACC’s third-leading scorer, Tyus Battle. He will be joined by a pair of exciting rising sophomores in Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, giving Syracuse a roster that should easily result in a top-half ACC finish. New Connecticut head coach Danny Hurley will begin the process of getting this proud program back on track after consecutive sub-.500 seasons that led to the ouster of onetime championship coach Kevin Ollie.

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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 11th, 2018

With the 2017-18 season in the books, here are a few ACC storylines to follow over the next several months. 

FBI Investigation / NCAA Action

Last September the college basketball world was rocked by news that the FBI was sticking its nose into the seedy underbelly of the sport’s recruiting practices. Several prominent programs were identified as involved in pay-for-play schemes, with ACC members Louisville and Miami experiencing significant subsequent fallout from those allegations. The Cardinals, for example, fired Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino right before the start of practice, leaving inexperienced assistant coach David Padgett to lead the team to a disappointing NIT berth. Furthermore, the NCAA is expected to eventually revisit its sanctions against the Louisville program from the stripper scandal to determine if more penalties are warranted. At Miami, head coach Jim Larranaga saw his integrity questioned for the first time in his lengthy career, which may have affected his team’s performance on the floor which culminated in a forgettable 0-2 postseason. The greater impact of the FBI probe on the two schools has unquestionably been in recruiting – neither team has yet to sign a newcomer for the 2018-19 campaign, leaving incredibly thin rosters in place heading into this offseason.

Jim Larranaga has to rebuild his reputation as well as Miami’s roster in the wake of the FBI’s investigation into NCAA basketball recruiting. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After the FBI case was initially made public, the implication was that many more schools and athletes would eventually be caught up in the government’s web of wiretaps, plea bargains and confessions. We didn’t hear any more information from the FBI until this week, however, when the government claimed that at least one member of the N.C. State coaching staff was allegedly involved in a cash payment to the family of Dennis Smith in late 2015. So far, all of the allegations involve schools and players tied to the shoe company Adidas, but if shenanigans related to Nike are also exposed, expect a number of prominent other schools (including ACC heavyweights) to be affected. While we wait on further developments in this expanding case, it’s already worth noting that the credibility of one of the FBI star witnesses as well as the conduct of one of its chief investigators has been called into question. Stay tuned.

Rule Changes – On and off the Court

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Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

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

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #11 Syracuse 55, #3 Michigan State 53

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 18th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Tommy Lemoine (@hoopthink) is in Detroit this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Syracuse was all smiles after pulling off the upset. (Paul Sancya | The Associated Press)

  1. Syracuse mucked this game up to perfection. In order for Syracuse to win this game, it was going to have to slow down the pace, force Michigan State to run its half-court sets, and hope the Spartans missed shots from behind the arc. And that’s exactly what happened. The Big Ten champs were completely flummoxed by Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone, unable to exploit gaps inside and unconfident from the perimeter. Were it not for a few difficult made threes immediately before and after halftime, in fact, Michigan State’s final box score would have looked even uglier — which is remarkable when you consider that the Spartans finished 8-of-37 from three-point range. Despite getting hammered on the glass, Syracuse’s length inside was too much for big men like Nick Ward (10 points) and Jaren Jackson (two points). Even when Michigan State began passing out of the high post with Ben Carter — its best interior passer — the team’s go-to shooters like Josh Langford simply couldn’t hit. Afterward, Tom Izzo put it simply: “I thought we’d have a little easier time getting it in the middle.”
  2. Michigan State’s offense was atrocious. And it’s not a complete surprise. Michigan State boasted the ninth-most efficient offense in college basketball entering Sunday, largely the product of excellent outside shooting and a great running game. But there were times this season — Michigan, Rutgers, and others — in which the Spartans looked rhythmless and inept in the half-court. That issue reared its ugly head again on Sunday. Against an opponent built to slow teams down, Michigan State wasted far too much shot clock dribbling and handing-off instead of running clear offensive sets. When the pick-and-roll didn’t work — and it generally did not — Cassius Winston (4-of-12) and the Spartan guards were apt to either force a bad shot or hope Miles Bridges (4-of-18) could make something out of nothing. Following Michigan State’s home loss to Michigan on January 13 — a game in which it struggled mightily from the field — Izzo noted, “we have to do some soul-searching.” If Sunday’s performance was any indication, it’s clear that the Spartans never found their soul — at least not offensively.
  3. Jim Boeheim’s system works, no matter what you feel about it. There’s been plenty of chatter this weekend about whether Tony Bennett’s ‘system’ will ever result in March success for Virginia. Meanwhile, Boeheim’s 2-3 zone defense — very much a system in its own right — has enabled the offensively-limited Orange to make yet another deep run. For the second time in three seasons, Syracuse is finding the perfect level of cohesion at exactly the right time with an extremely shallow roster (351st nationally in bench minutes). How? Opponents facing Boeheim’s team for the first time simply don’t know how to breach that zone, especially with Syracuse’s length all over the court. The 73-year-old’s success should give those doubting Bennett a moment of pause.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 1st, 2018

Here is the latest edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics, and trends around the conference. This week we will compare usage rate with offensive efficiency for the league’s top scorers, with an eye on who should be named to this season’s All-ACC First Team. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, February 27.

Current Standings

With the regular season race already wrapped up for Virginia, the attention now leads to the group of seven teams immediately behind the Cavaliers in the standings, all with five to seven losses. Incredibly, there’s a distinct possibility that the ACC ends up with a four-way tie for second place, provided that Clemson and NC State both win out and North Carolina beats Duke on Saturday night. When comparing records with points per possession margin (PPM) it’s easy to see how important performance in close games can be. Other than Virginia, Duke (0-2 in one-possession games) and North Carolina (1-3) have proven to be notch above the rest of the league based on PPM performance, but neither was able to separate itself from the rest of the pack this season. In contrast, Virginia Tech (3-0) and N.C. State (2-0) have ACC records that are superior to the merely average PPM numbers each has posted.

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ACC Conversation: End of Season Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 17-18

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 16th, 2018

Somehow, there are just three weekends of play left in the ACC regular season. While Virginia appears to have the regular season title locked up, there is still much to be decided below the Cavaliers in the standings. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 17

Not Even Jim Boeheim is Sure Where the Orange Are Headed (USA Today Images)

  • Syracuse (#50) at Miami (#37). The Orange suffered a home loss to NC State on Wednesday, one they may very well regret they let slip away on Selection Sunday. Syracuse currently has just one Q1 win (a road victory over Louisville) on its resume, so it still has significant work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. The good news? Plenty of opportunities remain, beginning with a trip to Miami tomorrow. The Syracuse defense has been stingy against ACC foes, as usual, allowing ACC opponents to shoot just 39.9 percent from the field (second in the ACC). The issue has been on the offensive end, where the Orange are making just 42.3 percent of their own shots. If they want to score enough to win key games down the stretch, they need Tyus Battle’s sidekick, Oshae Brissett, to continue his recent scoring pace. Over his past three games, Brissett is averaging 18.7 PPG and shooting 50 percent from the three-point line.
  • NC State (#55) at Wake Forest (#84). Ask any Wolfpack fan what comes after an important win? The answer would be a loss to a bad team. It has certainly been that way in much of NC State’s past, and has even reared its ugly head in Kevin Keatts’ first season at the helm in Raleigh (e.g., beat Arizona, lose to Northern Iowa.) So, forgive them if they aren’t exactly looking forward to a trip to Winston-Salem this weekend after an important road win at Syracuse earlier this week. NC State handled the Demon Deacons in Raleigh in mid-January, thanks to 22 points from Omer Yurtseven. And while the sophomore big man has been outstanding for most of this season, he has also begun to slow a bit. In his last four games, Yurtseven has averaged just 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 48.6 percent from the field (down from 59.5 percent on the season). Keatts will need his big man to have another big night if the Wolfpack are to avoid yet another letdown.

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