What Happened to the ACC’s Preseason All-Americans?

Posted by Brett Thompson on January 23rd, 2015

On Tuesday, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he had stripped junior star Montrezl Harrell of the Cardinals’ team captaincy. While Pitino claims that the decision was “no big deal,” it is yet another disappointment from one of the ACC’s two preseason AP All-Americans. Statistically speaking, Harrell has not regressed from his sophomore season, but he hasn’t really improved all that much either. His scoring is up about a point per game (14.0 to 14.9 PPG) and he is grabbing nearly an extra rebound per game (8.4 to 9.2 RPG), but while the junior shot the ball more efficiently last year, his level of impact looks and feels about the same. Still, Harrell turned down NBA Draft riches to return to Louisville, and expectations were that he would develop into elite impact territory. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Harrell’s season has been his play against good competition; in Louisville’s three losses to Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke, Harrell scored nine, nine and 10 points, respectively — shooting 12-of-29 from the field in those games. With so much of the Cardinals’ offense dependent on him for success, it’s no surprise that Louisville lost each of those contests.

UofL and Cincinnati split two games in their final season in the same league (Jamie Rhodes / USA TODAY Sports)

Montrezl Harrell hasn’t been the superstar Louisville hoped for this season. (Jamie Rhodes / USA TODAY Sports)

Harrell isn’t the only preseason All-American from the ACC who has been underwhelming this season. North Carolina guard Marcus Paige entered the year as the highest vote-getter in preseason All-America polls, returning to Chapel Hill following a stellar sophomore campaign in which he had often carried the Tar Heels offensively. Expectations were certainly very high for his junior campaign. Paige limped out to a slow start, shooting only 35 percent in North Carolina’s first four games, including an unlikely loss to Butler. And like Harrell, Paige’s statistics in the Tar Heels’ four losses tell the story: 15.0 points per game on 33 percent shooting. To his credit, Paige has been dealing with plantar fasciitis, and he may be turning the corner in conference play given his “clutch gene” play against Louisville and a 23-point, nine-assist outing at N.C. State. Still, Paige needs to find better consistency and efficiency to support his candidacy for any postseason award.

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Four Teams in the Preseason Top 10: Banner Year for the ACC?

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 12th, 2014

The Atlantic Coast Conference looks poised to have a dominant season among basketball’s top conferences, boasting four of the nation’s preseason top 10 teams in Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. After a short one-year stint in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville is the latest former Big East team to join the ACC, while the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Cavaliers are ACC mainstays — each hopes to carry the conference banner to the finish line in March. Virginia wants to defend its conference title and prove last season wasn’t a fluke; Louisville hopes to send a message in its ACC debut; and the Tobacco Road teams are hoping to make it back to their rightful place in the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Simply put, the ACC is going to be a war at the top of the standings, and each team has a major driver pushing it this year.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

This season marks the third time since 2002 that a conference has had four teams in the preseason top 10. Ironically, both of these instances came courtesy of the Big East. In 2011, the conference placed Connecticut and current ACC members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville within the top 10; and in 2008, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and another current ACC member, Notre Dame, topped the list. In each of those years, the ACC’s only two representatives were — who else? — Duke and North Carolina. This definitely speaks to the prestige of the basketball programs that the ACC has added in recent years, and it’s not implausible to think the ACC could place even more than four squads in the top 10 in coming seasons.

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Conference Tournament Primer: Horizon League

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 4th, 2014

Championship Fortnight is under way, and what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments as they get started. Today, the Horizon League and Atlantic Sun tip things off.

Dates: March 4, 7, 8, 11
Site: First Round: Campus sites; Quarterfinals and Semifinals: Resch Center (Green Bay, WI); Championship: Campus site (higher-seeded team hosts)

Horizon

What to expect: Green Bay was far and away the best team in the regular season, amassing a 24-5 overall record and notching a high-profile non-conference victory over ACC regular season champion Virginia. Led by 7’1’’ center Alec Brown — an NBA prospect with an outside shot — and high-flying point guard Keifer Sykes, the Phoenix should take care of business on their home floor. Brian Wardle’s bunch has been playing some of its best basketball of the season since losing to Milwaukee in early February, securing four its final five wins on the road and dominating opponents by more than 15 points per contest. Still, watch out for Cleveland State and its lights-out three-point shooting — fourth-best in the country at 40.8 percent — as well as defending champion Valparaiso; the Crusaders took down Green Bay earlier in the year. The top seed stumbling at home is not unprecedented for this tournament, but seems unlikely this time around.

Favorite: Green Bay. The team is confident, talented and playing at home. Put simply, anything short of a championship would be hugely disappointing for the Phoenix.

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Virginia’s Resurgence Directly Tied to Success of Joe Harris

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2014

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

Joe Harris vs Duke

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

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

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