The Other 26: Bracketbuster Preview and Analysis

Posted by IRenko on January 31st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. You can normally find him kicking off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

In this special mid-week edition of The Other 26, we take a look at all of the premier (read: televised) Bracketbuster matchups that were announced on Monday and offer a guide to the uninitiated on what to watch for. The annual mid-major hoops feast typically offers a host of compelling contests, and this year is no different. In roughly descending order of interest/excitement:

Main Event — St. Mary’s at Murray State (2/18, 6 PM, ESPN or ESPN2) — I was hoping we would get a double main event with St. Mary’s at Creighton and Wichita State at Murray State. Perhaps the Bracketbuster selection committee didn’t rate Wichita State that highly or was intent on giving the undefeated Racers a ranked opponent against whom they could prove their quality. So they sent top 20, 21-2 St. Mary’s to Murray, Kentucky, to set up the undisputed headliner of this year’s Bracketbuster event. Murray State will have a clear advantage from playing at home, but apart from that, this looks like a very close matchup. Offensively, both teams rely heavily on the two lines — the three-point line and the free throw line. Defensively, both teams are pretty good at not giving up many attempts from either of those lines, with the notable exception of Murray State’s tendency to foul too much. Both teams are also somewhat turnover prone, but only the Racers play the kind of defense that is likely to exploit such a weakness. Finally, the Gaels may look to get easy points off of the offensive glass, as defensive rebounding is a liability for Murray State. Which, if any, of these games within the game will determine the outcome? Only one way to find out:  tune in at 6 PM on February 18.

Can St. Mary's End Murray State's Undefeated Season?

Battle of the Supporting Casts — Long Beach State at Creighton (2/18, 10 PM, ESPN2) — Most eyeballs will be trained to watch Casper Ware and Doug McDermott, two of mid-major hoops’ most recognizable players. But I hope that fans will also tune in to get a glimpse of the extent to which these conference-leading teams depends on their supporting casts. LBSU has three other players who average in double figures — Larry Anderson (who also stuffs the stat sheet with 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, while shooting 44% from three-point range), T.J. Robinson (who adds 10.2 rebounds a game), and James Ennis. Creighton, meanwhile, has discovered that they can be just as potent, maybe even moreso, when McDermott scores less than 20 a game. Antoine Young’s dribble penetration, Greg Echinique’s inside banging, and the marksmanship of Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat make the Bluejays a much more multi-dimensional team than they’re often portrayed to be. It’s worth noting, too, that each of these teams will be trying to bolster their at-large bona fides in the event that they don’t win their conference tournaments — an especially distinct possibility for Creighton, who will have to get through three games in the always tough MVC to cinch an auto bid.

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Checking In On… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 30th, 2011

Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference.  You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.

Reader’s Take:

The Week That Was

  • Major Conference Assault… Big South teams threw down a few notable upsets since our last report: Presbyterian over Cincinnati 56-54 (Big East), Coastal Carolina over Clemson 60-59 (ACC), Campbell over Iowa 77-61 (Big Ten), and UNC Asheville over Utah 87-65 (Pac-12). Add that to Coastal Carolina’s victory over LSU (SEC), as noted in the last update, and the Big South has wins over teams from five of the six BCS conferences (regrettably no games against Big 12 teams remain, 0-2 in the only chances).
  • Temporarily Perfect… For the first time in conference history, two teams opened the season with five straight wins. Coastal Carolina and Campbell each reached 5-0 before dropping game number six (Campbell to Creighton and Coastal to FIU).
  • League Play Begins… Again this season, Big South Conference play gets a December preview before beginning in earnest on New Year’s Eve.  Most teams will get two chances to notch an early conference win, with games  on Thursday 12/1 and Saturday 12/3.  High Point and Asheville are the only two teams who will have just one game against a Big South foe this weekend.

Power Rankings:

1. UNC Asheville – (3-4/0-0)  The record gives an illusion of a lackluster start, but two of those losses were to top five programs (UNC & UConn) and another was to ACC foe NC State.  The one the Bulldogs would probably like back is the two-point loss to College of Charleston. Of course, this team also obliterated Utah by a healthy 22-point margin. Asheville is fine, and the tough early tests should only serve to get the squad ready for the games ahead.

2. Coastal Carolina – (5-1/0-0) While we figured any reports of CCU’s death were greatly exaggerated, getting early wins against both LSU and Clemson certainly opened some eyes.  The other contests on the Chanticleers’ schedule don’t offer much to go on so far, but even without some of the big-name players of past years, the two-time defending regular season champs are not going away anytime soon.

3. Campbell (5-1/0-0) – Rocketing up the charts, I present the Fighting Camels of Campbell. Okay, I was fooled before in thinking this team would be a middle-of-the-pack bunch this year because they are bringing it! Led by highlight-worthy senior Eric Griffin and rapidly-ascending freshman Trey Freeman, Campbell may well have something to say about the Big South race this season.

4. VMI (3-2/0-0) – The Keydets have knocked off equal and lesser competition so far, with losses to larger out-of-conference foes Air Force and Ohio State, those games also being the only ones with VMI held under 80 points.  Led by Keith Gabriel and ESPN Top 10 dunker Stan Okoye, VMI is still running and gunning. We will soon see if they can outpace conference foes this year.

5. Presbyterian College (3-3/0-0) – The Blue Hose got deserved recognition and attention for grabbing a win at top 20 Cincinnati in a demonstration of what can happen when they are clicking. A team that has seen the bottom of the standings in recent years should be no worse than the middle of the pack this season, and could frustrate several league foes along the way.

6. High Point (2-4/0-0) – They may not have the most attractive record to date, but the Panthers have been in every game they’ve played right down to the end.  Three of the four losses have been by only four or five points (the other was a 12-point margin). So while High Point has more losses than wins to show for November, the team has also demonstrated a little more fight than they have gotten credit for in the last couple of years and that could be important against familiar opposition in conference.

7. Charleston Southern (3-2/0-0) Saying your most impressive win of the year is against Stetson may not be shaking the pillars of college hoops, but the Bucs do bring a three-game win streak into league play after an 0-2 start, and that’s a very good sign for CSU. Bump them up for now, but see what comes out of the first week of December for a better barometer.

8. Liberty (2-5/0-0) – Ummm…dropping far down, at least for this week, is Liberty.  The Flames have lost four straight, and not exactly against a murderer’s row.  LU still has a fair chance to be in the mix this season, but the early skid does not offer much to go on. That said, the Flames have come back strong after slow starts before.

9. Radford (3-4/0-0) – What gives?  Radford has lost three in a row since the last report and moved up two positions?  Believe me, it says more about the other teams than it does Radford. We still think the Highlanders will have a rocky road to travel this season, and will likely finish at or near the bottom, but for now, slot them here.

10. Gardner-Webb (3-5/0-0) – Well, the record isn’t pretty, but some of that is deceptive. Yes, GWU is 3-5, and yes, that includes a four-game losing streak, but Bulldogs had to deal with five games in nine days at the Hoosier Invitational–and still had enough in the tank to pull out an overtime victory on that ninth day (76-74 over Chattanooga). So it’s bad, but it’s not ALL bad.

11. Winthrop (1-5/0-0) – Honestly, this is a “how the mighty have fallen” moment.  Winthrop was the class of the Big South for years, and has found a way to matter in the postseason even when not playing from the top, but things have taken a turn this year.  Winthrop needs a remedy–and fast.  Their lone win came at the expense of Central Penn, a 107-68 thrashing. Outside of that game and a four-point loss to Drake, Winthrop has not seriously challenged its opponents, losing by 12, 21, 22, and 23.  To be fair, two of those losses were Virginia and Marquette, and the Eagles were close for much of the Virgina game before being blown away down the stretch, but there aren’t many genuine positives to latch onto yet this season.

Looking Ahead

There are other games, sure, but the headliners right now are the conference pairings.  Here are some key ones to look for…

  • Liberty — at Campbell 12/1 & at Coastal 12/3… a very tough 1-2 punch to take for Liberty, facing two early power teams on the road, but a sincere measuring stick for where the Flames really stand.
  • VMI — at Coastal 12/1 & at Charleston Southern 12/3… if you’re looking for entertaining basketball, you should find it on VMI’s road trip, with plenty of running, and threes, and dunks…defense may be optional in these games.
  • Winthrop — at Presbyterian 12/1 & at Gardner-Webb 12/3… talk about measuring sticks–is it the old guard or the up-and-comers who will prevail?  Has Winthrop really fallen that far or was that an illusion?

Caught on Film

I’m not sure it gets much better than this–I can honestly say that it just doesn’t matter how many times I watch this dunk by Campbell’s Eric Griffin: the take-off from the Big South logo just shy of the free throw line, the posterizing of the unfortunate NC A&T player, the sheer vertical involved, you name it…I am spellbound each and every time.

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Checking In On… the Big South Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 19th, 2011

Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference.  You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • New Gym, Part One: YES… UNC Asheville got its opportunity to show off the new Kimmel Arena with a marquee match-up against the top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels on ESPNU.  Eddie Biedenbach’s Bulldogs played with a tenacity befitting their nickname, hanging tight most of the way before falling, 91-75.
  • New Gym, Part Two: NO, but that’s OK… Coastal Carolina had once hoped that this past Tuesday would be the chance for the Chants to unveil their own shiny new room, but delays in construction may mean that’s a year away.  No matter: CCU welcomed LSU from the SEC to small Kimbel Arena in Conway — then proceeded to pull off the 71-63 upset.
  • Meet The New Member, Same as the Old Member: Campbell is back in the Big South.  The Fighting Camels were a founding member of the conference and played hoops with the Big South from 1983-94.  CU was 129-128 in those seasons–and stays on the plus side with wins in the first three games this year.

UNC Asheville Opened Up Its New Digs, But With A Loss To North Carolina

Power Rankings

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ACC Game On: 11.14.11 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on November 14th, 2011

ACC Game On will periodically review recent games involving ACC teams and take a look forward at key upcoming matchups.

Every team in the Atlantic Coast Conference has played at least one game so far, except for Boston College which makes it’s debut tonight. Before we get to breaking down Monday night’s slate of games, let’s spend a little time taking a look at this past weekend and the first few games played by ACC teams. While most everyone stuck pretty closely to the script, there were a few pleasant surprises for ACC fans.

Unsurprisingly, the star of the Carrier Classic was the aircraft carrier itself. The USS Carl Vinson was an incredibly cool setting for a basketball game. So cool, in fact, that the basketball game seemed like an afterthought. While North Carolina beat Michigan State, and John Henson was able to show off his shot-blocking ability by getting nine of them, it was his increased offensive arsenal (which he continued to demonstrate on Sunday against UNC Asheville) that should excite Tar Heel fans. But the real MVP of the event was probably the San Diego sky.

Neither Team Was As Good As The Setting

Belmont lived up to its reputation as a dangerous team and came within one point of upsetting Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke held the line and eked out a victory against the pesky and talented Bruins. This, combined with a blowout over Presbyterian confirms very little about this year’s Blue Devils. Rather, viewers learned a great deal more about Belmont and Presbyterian (one’s quite good and the other’s quite bad) than they did about the as-yet-enigmatic and still-emerging Blue Devils. Wins are wins though, and now Mike Krzyzewski has as many of them (902) as any men’s college basketball coach in Division I history.

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RTC Top 25: Week One

Posted by KDoyle on November 14th, 2011

SPONSORED: Rush the Court is pleased to bring you a one-day fantasy college basketball league courtesy of to tip off the season. The league, which is completely free to enter, starts TOMORROW on Tuesday, Nov. 15, and features $200 in prizes. Even better, if you beat our trained monkey that we’ve assigned to make our picks (username: RTCmonkey), you’ll win even more. Test your college hoops knowledge to win! Click here to enter.

With nearly every team in last week’s Top 25 either winning or not having games scheduled, there was predictably very little movement in the poll. In fact, the top seven teams remain unchanged with North Carolina coming in at number one again, although they are not a unanimous pick as one pollster is not entirely sold on Carolina just yet. The one big change in the poll was Vanderbilt dropping ten spots after its surprising loss to Cleveland State.  QnD analysis after the jump…

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North Carolina More Dominant Against UNC Asheville Than It Seemed

Posted by KCarpenter on November 14th, 2011

Kimmel Arena opened up in style. The UNC Asheville Bulldogs hosted the North Carolina Tar Heels in a brand new building that was packed with loud and enthusiastic fans. Bruce Hornsby, whose son, Keith,  plays for Asheville, kicked things off with a jazzy piano rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. The second he stopped, the Bulldogs’ fans cheered as consistently loud and as hard as any crowd in college sports can in an effort to inspire the upset against the nation’s #1 team. As well as the defending Big South champions played, however, and as fantastic as the crowd was on this Sunday afternoon, Eddie Biedenbach‘s team was just overmatched.

Still, like North Carolina‘s win over Michigan State Friday night on the USS Carl Vinson, the victory over the Bulldogs was fine, but not good enough. When Roy Williams finally sat the starters with less than two minutes remaining, there wasn’t a lot of smiling on his bench. This is where the Tar Heels are: They won 91-75 (though the margin felt even bigger than it was), and the Asheville student section chanted “overrated.” It seems a silly thing to do when your team is losing by double figures, but the frowns on the faces of the North Carolina players confirmed the truth of the chant: UNC was not playing up to its lofty expectations.

After Looking Disoriented At The Carrier Classic, Kendall Marshall Bounced Back With A Fifteen Assist Game Against UNC Asheville

It’s an odd thing, and maybe it has more to do with the unrealistic expectations that have been placed upon this team by the greater college basketball world. Yet, when the first half was drawing to a close, I couldn’t help but feel that UNC just looked bad. Asheville was getting out on the break while the lagging Tar Heels weren’t even running the court. Tyler Zeller kept turning the ball over. John Henson looked winded, signaling to come out midway through the first half. Harrison Barnes just looked off, passive in his play and seemingly uninterested. North Carolina led by nine at the half, but the fierce play and tenacity of the Bulldogs to that point seemed like it gave UNCA a good chance of winning out over a tired, unfocused, and out-of-sorts North Carolina team.

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RTC Live: UNC @ UNC Asheville

Posted by rtmsf on November 13th, 2011

RTC Live is back today with a four-game slate from Queens to Berkeley. Kellen Carpenter (@kellenlc) will report live from courtside in Asheville as the nation’s #1 team returns back east after its opener on an aircraft carrier Friday night.

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Game On: 11.11.11 Tip-Off Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on November 11th, 2011

Eight of the twelve ACC teams are beginning their seasons tonight, though Virginia Tech is playing their first game on Saturday, while Virginia and Maryland first play on Sunday. For whatever reason, Boston College won’t be playing a game until Monday. For this inaugural edition of Game On, let’s confine ourselves to looking at tonight’s slate of games.

Tyler Zeller and UNC Are Ready For Basketball

The Main Event
North Carolina vs. Michigan State 7pm EST on ESPN

The Carrier Classic is an exciting match-up in a unique setting between two storied programs who are both looking to make a run in the NCAA tournament this year. While this is the first chance for the nation to see top ranked North Carolina in action it’s also a time to see a Michigan State program that is in flux. Tom Izzo remains one of the best coaches in the nation, but the success of this year’s roster is hardly a sure thing. We may have spent a little bit of time talking about this game, but I can’t really remember.

The Undercard
Belmont at Duke 9pm EST on ESPNU

Lots of folks have this game pegged as a potential upset and it’s hard to say that they are wrong. Belmont is a sweet-shooting team that blasted it’s way through the Atlantic Sun Conference last season. This is a skilled and hungry team that failed to notch a truly big win in their otherwise successful 2010-11 campaign. Duke certainly fits the bill for a “quality win” and the inexperienced guards who play suspect perimeter defense might leave the Blue Devils particularly vulnerable to the high-volume three-point attack that Belmont thrives on. We previewed this game in greater detail over here.

For Connoisseurs
Loyola (MD) at Wake Forest 7pm EST on

This is a dangerous game for a Wake Forest team that kicked off it’s last season by losing to Stetson. Loyola is a much better team than Stetson was, making them a real threat to a still-developing Wake Forest squad. Advanced stats like Loyola quite a bit, and in fact, the pre-season Ken Pomeroy rankings actually have Loyola ranked slightly higher than Wake Forest. Both teams really want this win, I’m sure, and while the home court advantage of Wake Forest might give them an edge, this game has perhaps the most potential of the entire night’s slate for an upset.

UNC-Asheville at North Carolina State 7pm EST

UNC-Asheville made the NCAA tournament last year while NC State did not. Granted, UNCA got in with the benefit of the Big South’s automatic bid, but that’s not to say that they are undeserving. The Bulldogs won plenty of games last season and enter the season hoping to repeat last year’s performance. The Wolfpack still ought to beat Asheville’s teamfairly easily, but at the very least, this game should give some insight into how realistic UNCA’s chances are at upsetting North Carolina or Connecticut later on in the schedule.

Jacksonville at Florida State 7pm EST on

Jacksonville took out a very good Florida team in a shocking overtime win last year. Teams that have experience taking down Goliaths have a tendency to relish their David role. That said, last year’s Jacksonville team had a hard time scoring the ball. Starting off against the defensive juggernaut that is Florida State means that there is a very good chance that the Seminoles make Jacksonville’s offense look even uglier. Though Jacksonville does have a legitimate shot at an upset, there’s a much greater chance that Leonard Hamilton’s team turns this game into a rout.

For Fans Only
Florida A&M at Georgia Tech 8pm EST on
Gardener Webb at Clemson 8pm EST on
Tennessee Tech at Miami (FL) 7pm EST

It’s not that these are bad games per se, but most people who don’t have a dog in this fight aren’t going to be particularly entertained watching the ACC’s middle class stomp small-conference cupcakes. If you had to pick a game to watch, Tennessee Tech is probably the best among these challenging teams. Of course, this is the one game that won’t be carrying.  Thems the breaks.



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ACC Morning Five: 11.11.11 Edition

Posted by mpatton on November 11th, 2011

ACC Basketball is upon us! The conference kicks off basketball with a bang tonight. Only two of the games are televised; luckily, they’re two excellent games. North Carolina is taking to the high seas to play Michigan State in the Quicken Loans Carrier Classic at 7:00 PM EST on ESPN. Meanwhile on ESPNU, Duke welcomes the talented Belmont Bruins to the unfriendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium in what many are (and should) be predicting as a potential upset at 9:00 PM EST. But on to the links!

  1. Columbia Daily Tribune: Former Miami coach Frank Haith‘s new job didn’t get started off as planned. In addition to cries of dismay from fans at the hire (and apparently the Columbia Daily Tribune, which offers this description of Haith’s departure from Miami: “A guy facing an NCAA Tournament-or-unemployment season at the basketball backwater of Miami was suddenly in charge of a senior-laden team built to contend for a Big 12 title”, Haith brought baggage after the Miami scandal hit like a ton of bricks over the summer. However, his luck since coming to Missouri hasn’t been the best either: Mike Anderson left him no recruits for this season; he lost an incoming transfer and had another player leave; and he lost one of the team’s most pivotal players in Laurence Bowers to injury. Ouch.
  2. Boston Herald: Steve Donahue is very, very patient. It’s hard to tell from reading this article whether Donahue is patient or just resigned. While it’s true you want to ground yourself in reality, it won’t help you recruit: “He’s conceded that he won’t win recruiting wars with ACC powers Duke and North Carolina for blue chip prospects.” The fact is, a good recruiter absolutely can win those battles (see: Sean Miller at Arizona or even Mark Gottfried at NC State in recent weeks). Boston College has something to offer high-level recruits that Duke and North Carolina do not always have available, though: playing time. The article also makes a great point that Donahue has a history of starting slow, as his teams faced losing seasons in his first six years at Cornell.
  3. Burlington Times-News: With the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the ACC won’t just see its overall basketball talent increase, but it will also have to change scheduling dramatically. Currently teams play 16 games, four of which include home-and-homes against rivals (i.e., Duke plays North Carolina and Maryland twice every year) and three other rotating home-and-home series. But the addition of two more teams will mandate the conference move to at least an 18-game conference season (basically, the same parameters would exist with two more one-time opponents factored in). Nothing is as satisfactory as a round-robin schedule where everyone gets two shots against everyone else, but conference expansion has made that impossible.
  4. Richmond Times-Dispatch: The writers over at the Richmond Times-Dispatch put together five trivia questions about the ACC. One very interesting fact I found was that Florida State has never won an ACC title (with the Seminoles’ last basketball title of any kind coming in 1978 in the Metro Conference). Although I’m going to disagree with number four: James McAdoo is not this year’s Harrison Barnes. Partially because Barnes came into last season so hyped (but mostly because guys like Barnes and Jared Sullinger returned for another year of college), the media hasn’t crowned any freshmen as the next big thing this year. If there’s an apt comparison for McAdoo, it’s Marvin Williams (the most gifted member of the Tar Heels’ 2005 National Championship team, who also came off the bench).
  5. Asheville Citizen Times: Looking for a pie-in-the-sky local preview of the UNC-Asheville vs. North Carolina game coming up this Sunday? Then the Asheville Citizen Times is your paper! The piece actually points out a couple of interesting tidbits: (1) the last time Roy Williams generously christened a non-BCS arena, the Tar Heels lost to College of Charleston in 2009 (the year after the National Championship); and (2) the Tar Heels won’t arrive in Asheville until 5:00AM Saturday morning before the Sunday game because of a cross-country flight back from tonight’s Carrier Classic. UNC Asheville is the favorite to repeat in the Big South and to receive a 16-seed for the Big Dance.

EXTRA: Former Duke basketball player Reggie Love will leave the White House by the end of the year. Love is currently working on an MBA from the prestigious Wharton School of Business at Penn and cited focusing on education as the reason for his departure. In addition to missing a very valuable teammate for pick-up hoops games, President Obama will also miss Love for his cultural influence: “The president also credited Love for expanding his musical repertoire, introducing him to artists like Nas and Lil Wayne.”

Image of the Day:

The Aircraft Carrier Setting for Tonight's Game between Michigan State and North Carolina Looks Epic

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ACC Team Previews: North Carolina

Posted by KCarpenter on November 4th, 2011

North Carolina fans are developing a severe case of whiplash. In 2009, the Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson squad led the team to a dominant and resounding NCAA championship. The next year, Roy Williams had arguably his worst year ever as a coach as the Tar Heels missed the NCAA Tournament entirely. Last year, a late-surging UNC team came within spitting distance of the Final Four, losing to the ever-young and ever-loaded Kentucky Wildcats in the Elite Eight.

This year? North Carolina is again the overwhelming favorite to win it all.  Let me put that on a timeline. A year ago, a despondent UNC fan base was praying for a great start to the new season to wipe away the memories of a catastrophically disappointing season. This year, Chapel Hill is bubbling over with excitement. People are throwing all kinds of superlatives around when they talk about this team. We can talk about whether those superlatives are earned or not some other time, but let’s make one thing abundantly clear: UNC is a championship caliber team.

Harrison Barnes Leads A Loaded North Carolina Team

The only losses from last year’s Elite Eight crew are graduate school transfer Justin Knox, who served as a solid if not spectacular backup for the starting frontcourt.  The loss of Leslie McDonald to an ACL tear during the summer, however, is slightly more troubling. Though still a backup, McDonald made the second most threes on the team and was the Heels’ most reliable threat from behind the arc. If he comes back at all this season, which seems unlikely considering the severity of the injury, it would apparently be near the start of the ACC Tournament. So for the regular season, I think it’s safe to say that McDonald won’t be playing.  Larry Drew, II, of course, left the team mid-season after he lost the starting point guard job. It’s hard to call this a loss, however, since Drew’s departure seemed to catalyze a middling North Carolina team and transform it into the tough and capable offensive team that played deep into March. It’s a textbook case of addition by subtraction.

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