ACC Weekend Review: 03.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 2nd, 2015

It was not a productive weekend for ACC teams currently vying for NCAA Tournament consideration. After an impressive resume-enhancing road win last week over North Carolina, N.C. State laid an egg at Boston College in a non-competitive loss to the Eagles on Saturday afternoon. Miami was also hoping to improve its resume with a victory over North Carolina, but the Tar Heels prevailed in Coral Gables and left the Hurricanes wondering about its postseason future. Pittsburgh let a seven-point second half lead slip away at Wake Forest on Sunday night, allowing the Demon Deacons to notch a rare ACC win. This sets up a potential bubble-elimination game this week when Miami travels to Pittsburgh on Wednesday evening. In other weekend ACC action, Virginia clinched a share of its second consecutive ACC title by pulling away from Virginia Tech in the second half; Duke cruised to a comfortable home win over Syracuse; Louisville dominated Florida State in Tallahassee; and Clemson blew a huge first half lead at home before edging Georgia Tech in overtime. Here are some of the other highlights from a busy weekend of ACC action:

N.C. State had no answer for Olivier Hanlan and Boston College in a bad loss for the Wolfpack. (Winslow Townson/Boston Globe)

N.C. State had no answer for Olivier Hanlan and Boston College in a bad loss for the Wolfpack. (Winslow Townson/Boston Globe)

  • Best Win: After suffering that disappointing loss to N.C. State in the Smith Center, North Carolina was in need of a bounceback performance when it traveled south to face a hungry Miami team. The Tar Heels came through with a solid win in Coral Gables, making several big plays down the stretch to break open a tight contest. With the score tied midway through the second half, North Carolina spurted ahead and iced the game at the foul line, as Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson combined to make 10-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes of play. After getting handled on the boards by the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels were instead dominant on the glass against Miami, grabbing 14 more total rebounds than the Hurricanes. The win keeps North Carolina in the hunt for a top-four league finish and the ACC Tournament two-day bye that comes with that distinction.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 27th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 25.

Current StandingsACC Stand - Feb26N.C. State and Pittsburgh continue to surge in the standings, with both schools winning twice in the last week. The Wolfpack in particular have been impressive lately, and Tuesday night’s rare win in Chapel Hill has their faithful feeling much better about making the Big Dance. In fact, based on points per possession margin (PPM) in conference play, Mark Gottfried’s squad has performed every bit as well as any ACC team other than Virginia and Duke. Speaking of the Cavaliers, what they are doing defensively continues to amaze. After holding Wake Forest to just 34 points on Wednesday night in Winston-Salem, Tony Bennett’s guys have practically assured themselves of finishing ACC play with the best defensive points per possession mark in recent conference history — the advanced stats era began in the 2001-02 season. And it will come as no surprise that the existing record for defensive efficiency performance was achieved by last year’s Virginia team — a group that held ACC opponents to a chilly 0.91 points per possession.

There are no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend, but there are some interesting games to observe as teams fight for postseason seeding. Jim Boeheim brings Syracuse to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (Saturday @ 7:00 PM ET – ESPN) in hopes that this game doesn’t end in a similar fashion to last year’s trip to Durham, which featured Boeheim’s dramatic ejection in the closing moments (and spawned a fun meme). In the only other game involving two teams with winning ACC records, North Carolina travels to Miami (Saturday @ 2:00 PM ET – CBS) in another crucial game for the Hurricanes and their NCAA Tourney hopes. There are also a couple of important games for a pair of hot ACC teams that take to the road for meetings with league bottom-dwellers, as N.C. State visits Boston College (Saturday @ Noon ET – RSN) and Pittsburgh travels to Wake Forest (Sunday @ 6:30 PM ET – ESPNU). Neither the Wolfpack nor the Panthers can afford a bad loss on their resumes as the season winds down.

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ACC M5: 02.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Orlando Sentinel: Let’s start with our game of the night. Florida State almost came back to knock Miami right out of any NCAA Tournament talk thanks to Xavier Rathan-Mayes turning into a video game character for four minutes. Rathan-Mayes scored 26 points in just 3:36 of action (h/t to Michael Rogner). I’m calling it right now: We’re seeing a serious shakeup in the ACC next year. I think Florida State and NC State are both going to be really, really good. Duke needs Tyus Jones to return and Virginia needs Justin Anderson to do the same. North Carolina will be good with most of its players returning, but the Heels desperately need a shooter. Notre Dame and Louisville will both take steps backwards. That leaves plenty of room for a team or two to jump in from the periphery.
  2. SBNation: In our other game of the night, Duke managed to stave off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Duke’s defense looks awful (if you had the Hokies putting up an offensive efficiency of over 130.0 — easily the worst Duke has given up this year — please take your lies elsewhere), and while Jahlil Okafor will get the press (and his 30 points that easily could’ve been 35 if he had made some free throws), Quinn Cook is what kept Duke from being blown out of the gym. The Hokies couldn’t miss a three but Cook answered every volley with a shot of his own (including a dagger in overtime). This game highlighted the weird conundrum that is Duke this year: When they’re on, they can beat anyone (and badly); but when the Blue Devils’ defense is struggling, they’re quite average. Nick Fasulo does a good job pointing out how overlooked Cook has been this year, as he’s quietly been one of the most efficient players in the country. His usage doesn’t merit a first team All-ACC selection, but Cook deserves more credit for this team’s success.
  3. Washington Post: Moving on to a less competitive game, Wake Forest forgot to show up against an undermanned Virginia team in Winston-Salem last night. It looked like Tony Bennett’s squad was out for blood (the Demon Deacons should have bested the Cavaliers in Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago), and this is a good story on Virginia’s eraser in the paint, senior Darion Atkins. He’s a huge reason why the Cavaliers’ defense is still one of the best in the country even after losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. He’s also a quiet part of why Virginia hasn’t fallen off too much in Justin Anderson’s absence.
  4. CBSSports.com: Sam Vecenie took a look at the ACC Player of the Year race, and it’s pretty amazing. You have the National Player of the Year candidates (Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant); the stat machines without the accompanying team success to make the national spotlight (Olivier Hanlan and Rakeem Christmas); and you have the awesome players who struggle because a teammate is so good (Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson; Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell). That doesn’t even get us to guys like Trevor Lacey or Tyus Jones who have been unreal in the clutch this year. Pretty awesome problem to have.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: As we approach bracket season, it’s important to not only think about the bubble but also how personnel losses will affect teams’ seeds. It’s unlikely that Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal will have any bearing on Duke’s line (the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Virginia and North Carolina since he was dismissed), but Louisville without Chris Jones is another story. This is a really thorough look at Louisville’s current profile (along with some explanations of the bracketing rules).

EXTRA (via Will Brinson): Abdul-Malik Abu promised two of the Chapel Hill shooting victims that NC State would beat Duke and North Carolina this year (as a wedding present), and with the win over teh Heels he made good on the gift.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 23rd, 2015

With no match-ups between the ACC’s elite teams this weekend, the focus instead was on two important road contests for teams trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Miami let a big lead slip away to lose at Louisville on the game’s final possession, and Pittsburgh improved its resume in completing a season sweep of Syracuse. Around the rest of the league, both Duke and North Carolina were able to put Wednesday’s emotionally draining overtime epic behind them and score comfortable home wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively. The Blue Devils played without star center Jahlil Okafor, who is still nursing an ankle injury suffered in that win last Wednesday. At the start of North Carolina’s game, Roy Williams paid homage to Dean Smith by running Smith’s famed Four Corners offense on the Heels’ first possession. In other weekend action, Virginia outlasted Florida State in a defensive struggle; Notre Dame cruised to victory at Boston College; and N.C. State took care of business by beating Virginia Tech in Raleigh. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Pittsburgh's Chris Jones came off the bench to score 19 as the Panthers keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh’s Chris Jones came off the bench to score 19 as the Panthers keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive.
(Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Pittsburgh plugged a gaping hole in its NCAA Tournament resume by getting its first road win of the season versus an RPI top-100 team at Syracuse. The Panthers’ win at the Carrier Dome featured yet another productive offensive performance by Jamie Dixon’s squad against the vaunted Syracuse zone. Pittsburgh scored 1.18 points per possession on Saturday after posting 1.22 in its earlier win over the Orange, giving the Panthers the two highest totals allowed by Jim Boeheim’s squad all year long. A look at previous meetings over recent years suggests that Dixon may have cracked the zone’s code. In the teams’ last 10 meetings dating back seven years, Pittsburgh has averaged 1.08 points per possession against a Syracuse defense that annually finishes among the nation’s best. If they haven’t already done so, perhaps ACC coaches around the league should study and emulate that strategy (easier said than done).

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 20th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 18.

Current Standings

ACCStandings2.19

With three weekends of conference play remaining, things are now mostly as they should be in the standings with respect to matching points per possession margin (PPM) with actual wins and losses. Virginia maintains a clear lead in both the standings and in PPM, and Duke can lay claim to being the second best team, with a clear PPM edge over Notre Dame. Last week we showed how the Irish have achieved their impressive 11-3 record by performing so well in close games, noting that Georgia Tech is the exact opposite reflection of Notre Dame in both PPM and actual record. It’s seems fitting then that those two teams have squared off twice already, and each game ended with a close Irish victory. Another interesting situation involves two teams fighting for NCAA Tournament consideration, N.C. State and Pittsburgh. Each school picked up a nice win over a ranked opponent last weekend but both the Wolfpack and the Panthers remain a game below .500 in the standings. That’s where the similarities end, though, as N.C. State has been the far better team in possession-based performance, with Pittsburgh’s defense surprisingly ranked as the league’s worst.

There are once again no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend. In the only game involving two teams with winning conference records, Louisville travels to Miami (Saturday @ 2:00 PM ET – ESPN) in a crucial game for the Hurricanes and their NCAA Tourney hopes. There are also a couple of games that feature an ACC heavyweight hosting a school that’s looking to get over the .500 mark, as Clemson visits Duke (Saturday @ 4:00 PM ET – ESPN), and Virginia entertains Florida State (Sunday @ 6:30 PM ET – ESPNU). In another important contest, Pittsburgh needs to win at Syracuse (Saturday @ Noon ET – ACCN) to keep any hope alive of making the Dance.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 16th, 2015

The big story of the weekend was that two middle-of-the-pack ACC teams got huge resume-building wins. Pittsburgh dominated North Carolina at the Petersen Events Center Saturday afternoon, and N.C. State picked up a surprising road win at Louisville later that same day. Conference leader Virginia had to hang on to edge Wake Forest by a single point in Charlottesville, and Duke rallied from a double-figure first half deficit to win at Syracuse. In other weekend action, Clemson easily handled visiting Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech lost yet another heart-breaker, this time at home to Florida State. There was only one game scheduled on Sunday, but Miami’s game at Boston College had to be postponed until today. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Michael Gbinjie had a career-high 27 points against his former team. (Dennis Nett/Syracuse.com)

Michael Gbinjie had a career-high 27 points against his former team.
(Dennis Nett/Syracuse.com)

  • Best Win: It’s hard to say for sure, but N.C. State’s win over Louisville in the KFC Yum! Center could be more important than its earlier home win over rival Duke. While its fans obviously wouldn’t trade the two wins, this victory filled a major hole in N.C. State’s postseason resume. The victory proved that the Wolfpack can win on the road against high level competition, and they did it with a solid all-around performance: outscoring Louisville in the paint (32-16), only committing eight turnovers and holding stars Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier to a combined 14 points and 3-of-15 shooting. Anthony Barber led the way for the Pack with 21 points, his third 20-plus scoring game in the team’s last four outings.
  • Worst Loss: It’s been an emotional seven days for North Carolina’s basketball program, starting with last weekend’s passing of legendary former head coach Dean Smith. With all the attention that came with that situation it’s certainly understandable that the Tar Heels were a little flat on Saturday. But some of the problems on display at Pittsburgh over the weekend are not one-game issues. North Carolina’s defensive points per possession mark in ACC play is now up to 1.06, which is surprising considering that the Tar Heels returned much of last year’s group that finished at a very good 1.01 PPP. Even more disturbing is that opponents have scored at an way-too-easy 1.15 PPP rate over the last five games.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 13th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 11.

Current Standings

ACCStandings2.12

While Virginia maintains a clear lead in both the standings, and in points per possession margin (PPM), there was some shuffling right behind the Cavaliers last week. Almost entirely due to Duke’s 30-point rout of Notre Dame, the Blue Devils jumped to the top of the second tier and the Irish fell to such an extent that they now are closer to N.C. State and Syracuse than they are to the top four schools. We will examine in more detail below just how Notre Dame has achieved such a lofty 10-3 record despite a rather pedestrian PPM. Of course, Georgia Tech is the polar opposite of the Irish, as the Yellow Jackets own a better PPM than four teams above them in the standings.

Unlike the last few weeks, there are no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend. But we still have a few games of high interest on Saturday, led by Duke’s visit to Syracuse (6:00 PM ET – ESPN), probably viewed by the Orange as this season’s Super Bowl with no postseason play on the horizon. There are also two games featuring top tier schools against teams that are desperate for signature wins, as North Carolina makes its first ACC trip to Pittsburgh (Noon ET – ACCN) and N.C. State travels to Louisville (4:00 PM ET – ESPN). Those two games are absolutely crucial for the shaky NCAA hopes of the Panthers and the Wolfpack.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 9th, 2015

After two straight weekends full of buzzer-beaters and furious comebacks, this was a much quieter weekend in the ACC. In the headline event on Saturday night, Virginia held off Louisville in a defensive struggle. Earlier in the day, Duke blew out Notre Dame at Cameron Indoor, gaining big-time revenge for the Irish’s win over the Blue Devils in South Bend 11 days prior. Elsewhere, North Carolina was sluggish early at Boston College but came on strong in the second half to beat the Eagles in another Saturday game. After all of this, Virginia is now two games clear in the loss column in its quest for a second straight ACC regular season title, with four schools behind the Cavaliers tied with three losses each. Pittsburgh also overtook visiting Syracuse; Georgia Tech beat Wake Forest in Atlanta; and Florida State won on the road at Virginia Tech. In the only Sunday ACC action of the weekend, Miami got a much-needed home win over Clemson. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Pittsburgh's Jamel Artis has become an All-ACC candidate with his recent play. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis has become an All-ACC candidate with his strong recent play.
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

  • Most Outstanding Player: We listed Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis as an unsung hero after a solid weekend performance a couple of weeks ago. Now, after streaking together a series of outstanding games, it’s time to list the sophomore forward among the ACC’s elite players. Saturday afternoon’s contest in the Peterson Events Center was a perfect example of how well Artis is playing in many areas — he finished the game with 20 points, 10 boards, three steals, and five assists. Syracuse led by as many as 10 points in the first half before Artis led the Panthers all the way back to the lead and the victory. His 14 points after intermission were punctuated by a dagger three to give Pitt up a five-point lead with a minute to go in the game.
  • Best Win: There wasn’t an obvious choice for this award since pretty much all the favored teams won, so let’s go with a team that probably needed a win more than anyone else. Even though Miami was favored to beat Clemson on Sunday night in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes’ 56-45 victory over the red-hot Tigers was huge for Jim Larranaga’s squad. By snapping a three-game losing streak, Miami moved back over .500 in ACC play and keeps the Hurricanes’ NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Clemson entered the game having won four straight and led by a point at the half, but the Tigers couldn’t contain Miami’s shooters down the stretch as the Hurricanes shot 55 percent after intermission. Sheldon McClellan led Miami with 19 points, while Tonye Jekiri ruled the paint, grabbing 16 rebounds. 

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ACC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 6th, 2015

Another week, another slate of terrific basketball from the ACC. While some teams seemingly riding high got a dose of reality this week (hello Virginia and Notre Dame), others showed their ability to overcome adversity (Duke), while others flew under the radar entirely (Clemson). This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils showed the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon was not going to be a distraction for them, as they went into John Paul Jones Arena Saturday and knocked off previously unbeaten Virginia. Avoiding a letdown after that big win in knocking off Georgia Tech at home was nice to see from such a young squad, too.
  • Louisville. The Cardinals had an impressive week, exacting revenge on North Carolina in an impressive comeback fashion at home and emerging victorious from a road trip at Miami. The offense is coming around, making Rick Pitino’s team look as if it may be peaking at the right time.
  • Clemson. How many casual ACC fans realize that the Tigers have reeled off four straight wins? Their demolition of NC State in Raleigh was particularly impressive on January 28th, but taking care of two teams they should defeat in Boston College and Florida State this week showed the team is still battling for a ticket to the Dance for Brad Brownell.
Sidy Djitte and Clemson smothered NC State on their way to another solid week (AP Sports)

Sidy Djitte and Clemson are riding a four-game winning streak in the ACC. (AP)

  • Wake Forest. Danny Manning’s team, so close in so many defeats this year, had a nice week in dispatching of Virginia Tech and defeating a talented (but hard-to-figure out) NC State team. More importantly than that is that the Demon Deacons may be regaining some of the home-court edge they lost during Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure.
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville. Rozier has four straight 20-point games, but his matching 22-point performances this week were huge for Louisville in overcoming the Tar Heels in overtime and winning the tough road test against the Hurricanes. He and Chris Jones continue to make life easier for Montrezl Harrell down low, and some argue Rozier is the Cardinals’ most dangerous offensive threat.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke. Whether or not it was accurate that Winslow was hitting the “freshman wall,” he broke out of it in fine fashion this week. With Jahlil Okafor hounded by Virginia’s double teams, Winslow willed the Blue Devils to victory with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance. He matched that effort with another stat-stuffer against the Yellow Jackets: 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals. Some believe he’s the key cog in the Duke machine going forward.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 4.

Current Standings

 ACCStandings

With the conference season now just past the halfway point, some distinct tiers are forming with respect to points per possession margin (PPM). Virginia is clearly in a class by itself even though the Cavaliers hold a very slim one-game lead in the standings. Behind Virginia is a four-team group that’s looks very similar in both the standings and in PPM. Every weekend features a couple of great match-ups between the ACC heavyweights and this Saturday is no exception. Louisville travels to Charlottesville (7:00 PM ET – ESPN) for the first of two meetings with the Cavaliers, and Duke gets a chance for revenge when it hosts Notre Dame (1:00 PM ET – CBS). If both home clubs prevail, Virginia will have a two-game lead in the loss column over the other four legitimate contenders – assuming that North Carolina also wins Saturday afternoon at Boston College.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 2nd, 2015

Once again the ACC enjoyed a highly entertaining weekend full of buzzer-beaters and furious comebacks. Much like last year when Syracuse beat Duke in an ESPN Gameday event on the night before the Super Bowl, the ACC grabbed the national spotlight again with a pair of high-level Saturday games. They both lived up to their billing, as Louisville capped off a big comeback to beat North Carolina in overtime before Duke closed its game with a stunning offensive flurry to hand Virginia its first loss of the season. In a few other Saturday nail-biters, Notre Dame lost a surprising final-possession game at Pittsburgh; N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to knock off Georgia Tech; and Wake Forest held off Virginia Tech for its second conference win. Also on Saturday, Clemson won its third in a row by beating Boston College handily in Littlejohn Coliseum. In the only Sunday ACC action, Miami missed a shot at the buzzer to fall to rival Florida State in a game where the Hurricanes blew a big first half lead. Here are some of the other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Montrezl Harrell grabs one his game-high 15 rebounds in Louisville's big comeback win. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Montrezl Harrell grabs one of his game-high 15 rebounds in Louisville’s big comeback win.
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

  • Most Outstanding Player: In a weekend full of superb performances we will give the nod to Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, the driving force behind the Cards’ comeback from an 18-point second half deficit to North Carolina. Harrell finished the game with 22 points and 15 rebounds, including eight offensive boards after the half, but it was more than his stellar numbers that merit praise for the junior forward. He played 44 ferocious minutes and his energy on both ends of the floor was responsible for turning the game around. He was so utterly dominant inside that both of North Carolina’s power forwards — Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks — fouled out of the game trying to keep up with him. Behind Harrell’s man-sized effort, Louisville was able to overcomes its cold shooting and beat the Tar Heels at their own game, utilizing a 28-to-24 edge in points from the paint.

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ACC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

This week was an eye-opening one for ACC teams, with several marquee match-ups that shed greater light on the haves and have-nots of the conference race. Now moving into February, the teams with staying power are starting to emerge and those that are disappointing are showing their true colors as well. This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish keep beating good teams and are a stellar 8-1 in ACC play at the turn. They withstood a 10-point deficit from Duke on Wednesday night and never lost their composure. This is starting to look like a team that has major potential come NCAA Tournament time.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ six-game winning streak has put them in the thick of the conference race through four weeks. Marcus Paige seems to have regained some of his missing star power, and some timely shots falling for Justin Jackson and Nate Britt make the team more dangerous from the perimeter. Don’t forget Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are expected to return before year’s end, too.
  • Virginia Tech. Hokies’ fans had been waiting to see some early returns on Buzz Williams’ hiring, and this may have been the week they got a glimpse of what he’s building. Virginia Tech nearly knocked off undefeated Virginia last weekend before bowing out by just three points, then procured an overtime win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday for Williams’ first ACC win. Progress, people.
Adam Smith's game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams (USATodaySports)

Adam Smith’s (far left) game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams and reason for hope in the future (USATodaySports)

  • Nate Britt, North Carolina. After learning of the emotional state Britt was in prior to North Carolina’s ESPN Big Monday match-up with Syracuse, his performance became that much more admirable. Britt set a career high with 17 points, but perhaps more importantly for Roy Williams’ team was his 4-of-5 shooting from three. Could he finally be the long-range complement to Paige the Tar Heels desperately need?
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. No need to talk too much about how outstanding Grant’s season has been as the national media has that pretty well covered, but anyone who watched his performance live against Duke had to be amazed. He was the best player on the court in that game (yes, including Jahlil Okafor) en route to a stat line of 23 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, three steals and two blocks. Yes, he’s for real.
  • Louisville’s Backcourt. The much-maligned Cardinals’ offense has shown signs of life, largely because of the clearly improved shooting of their guards. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones had an especially dominant week in wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College on the road; combined, they scored 94 points in the two contests on 65 percent shooting from the field and 67 percent from three.

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