ACC Taking Stock: Volume III

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 12th, 2017

Far be it from me to rain on the parade taking place in Chestnut Hill after Boston College’s stunning upset over the nation’s #1 team over the weekend, but buying high and selling low is no way to make a living. Make of it what you will, but the smart money is on the Eagles’ takedown being a result we are not likely to remember a few months from now. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it today.

Saturday Will Probably Be The Highlight of BC’s Season, But There Are Other Signs For Optimism (Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

While the national media spun Saturday’s result into a narrative of “what’s wrong with Duke?”, allow us to view it through the prism of a Boston College fan. It’s been a decade since the Eagles were relevant in the college hoops landscape — mostly spent in complete obscurity, to be honest — but the brilliance of their backcourt over the weekend was no fluke. Ky Bowman’s near-triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in carving up the Duke defense, along with Jerome Robinson‘s perfect 5-of-5 day from three-point range, ensured that Duke was going to have a difficult time keeping up. It is more likely than not that Saturday’s result will be the highlight of the year in Chestnut Hill, but, if even for a day, some level of excitement returned to the once proud program. And with a dynamic duo populating Jim Christian‘s backcourt for the remainder of this year and presumably next, the trajectory could finally be pointing up for college basketball in Beantown.

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ACC M5: 12.04.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 4th, 2017

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  1. Washington Post: Friday night in Atlanta, Georgia Tech suffered the league’s worst non-conference loss in years — a 64-63 defeat to Grambling State — in ultra-embarrassing fashion by tipping the game-winning shot into its own basket. College basketball’s 338th ranked team (per KenPom) had lost 63 straight contests against teams from the six basketball power conferences, but led by 16 points midway through the second half and was able to hang on for the shocking upset. Granted, Ben Lammers was playing hurt (four points) and the Yellow Jackets were still without the services of star guard Josh Okogie (serving a six-game NCAA suspension), but that doesn’t excuse such a terrible loss. Georgia Tech lost again at home on Sunday night to Tennessee, and Okogie — dealing with complications involving a finger injury — may not be back until ACC play begins at the end of the month.
  2. Card Chronicle: Louisville dropped its second game in a row as well, falling to Seton Hall by a basket in a back-and-forth affair on Sunday afternoon. There’s no shame in losing games at Purdue and against a veteran Big East squad, but new head coach David Padgett is already facing some tough lineup decisions. His two best interior defenders — Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding — are giving him almost nothing on the offensive end of the floor — a combined two points and five turnovers in 37 minutes against the Pirates. However, the Cardinals’ defense becomes vulnerable when Padgett turns to freshmen forwards Jordan Nwora and Malik Williams looking for offense. It would certainly help matters considerably if Quentin Snider would break out of his shooting slump — the senior guard went 1-of-7 on threes Sunday and is shooting a frosty 21.9 percent from deep for the season.
  3. Roanoke Times: Virginia Tech got a nice road win in coming from behind to edge Ole Miss in overtime on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies trailed by 18 points early in the second half but recovered nicely in using a 16-3 run to get back into the game. It’s a good sign for Buzz Williams that his team won a tough road game while having a mediocre shooting performance (7-of-22 on threes), and one reason it can withstand such a night is because Virginia Tech does a great job in getting to free throw line (third nationally in FTA/FGA) — the Hokies outscored the Rebels by 13 points from the charity stripe. Last year, Williams typically brought his best player (Zach LeDay) off the bench, and he is using the same approach with Chris Clarke so far this season. Clarke led the Hokies with 16 points, 12 boards and four assists on Saturday.
  4. Syracuse.com: The Orange took their first loss of the season on Saturday, falling to Kansas on a neutral court in the Miami Hoophall Invitational — a south Florida double-header featuring two ACC schools (Miami). Syracuse has clearly struggled from behind the three-point line this year (27.7%), and did so again over the weekend, making only 6-of-27 from distance. On the bright side, Jim Boeheim‘s zone defense forced 16 turnovers against an experienced Kansas backcourt, but the Orange couldn’t keep Devonte’ Graham (35 points) under control. Syracuse is now down to eight scholarship players following Friday’s announcement that graduate transfer Geno Thorpe has left the program for personal reasons.
  5. Fox Sports: Miami finished off an impressive week by cruising past Princeton in the second Saturday game at American Airlines Arena. A big surprise for Jim Larranaga‘s squad has been sophomore guard Dejan Vasiljevic. A native of Australia, Vasiljevic has started all seven games of the season and ranks third on the team in scoring (11.3 PPG). On Saturday, he notched a game-high 20 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep. Another good sign for the Hurricanes is the improved ball handling of senior Ja’Quan Newton (23.0 TO% last season). In the past two games, Newton contributed 14 assists while committing only one turnover. Attendance for Saturday’s game was down because of an unforeseen scheduling issue — tip-off came at the same time as the kickoff of the Hurricanes’ ACC football championship game in Charlotte. Considering the beatdown that Clemson gave them en route to another College Football Playoff appearance, Miami fans should have stayed home.
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ACC Weekend Preview: December 1-3

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 1st, 2017

After overwhelming the Big Ten this week by a final tally of 11-3, the ACC now moves into a weekend that features a handful of very interesting non-conference tilts. (All ratings are via KenPom and statistics are through games of November 30)

Friday, December 1

  • North Carolina (#12) vs. Davidson (#77). Two of the highest-scoring teams in the country (both coming in at over 85.0 PPG) will face off tonight in Charlotte in what promises to be a very fast-paced affair. Tar Heels point guard Joel Berry II has improved his scoring (career-high 20.0 PPG) thanks to tempo and opportunity, but he is clearly still shaking off some rust from an early-season hand injury — logging career lows in shooting (34.1 FG% and 35.9% from three-point range). While his shooting should improve over time, he has been terrific in taking care of the ball (career-low 6.9% turnover rate) and will have an opportunity to find his touch against a Davidson team that is allowing opponents to shoot 38.4% from from behind the three-point line.

Saturday, December 2

Ahmed Hill has led a prolific Hokies offense early on. Can it continue as the competition picks up? (Hokie Sports)

  • Virginia Tech (#37) at Mississippi (#60).  A road contest at Ole Miss will represent the biggest challenge faced by Buzz Williams’ team so far this season. Both teams are guard-oriented and love to shoot the three, with the Hokies’ scorching 46.8 percent mark good for fourth nationally. With the caveat that Virginia Tech’s competition this far has been bad, not enough has been said about the play of Ahmed Hill this season. The junior wing is shooting the lights out, with marks of 63.9% FG, 54.3% 3FG and an insane 73.8% eFG. His elite offensive performance alongside guards Justin Bibbs and Nickeil Alexander-Walker has made Williams’ offense especially dangerous. Those three will need to outperform a loaded Rebels’ backcourt that features Terence Davis (61.8% eFG) and Deandre Burnett (45.2% 3FG).

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 28th, 2017

Ten ACC schools saw action in early season tournaments over the last week-plus and the results of those games for conference teams were mixed. A shaky 5-7 start in the first five events caused some early concern, but those tournaments mostly involved lower-tier ACC clubs, and the results improved as the better teams took the court later in the week. Below we will review some Feast Week comparison statistics with the other six major basketball conferences (Power 5 plus the Big East and American) as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

The Big 12 solidified its position during Feast Week as the best and deepest conference in college basketball, taking home five tournament titles (remember, Kansas — the league’s best team — didn’t even participate), defined as neutral site victories in a winners-advance format. This restriction means that Virginia’s pair of wins in the NIT Season Tip-Off over Vanderbilt and Rhode Island count toward the ACC’s 15-10 overall record, but the Cavaliers’ home wins over Austin Peay and Monmouth do not. Also, games against non-Division I competition do not count either, so wins by Notre Dame and Michigan over Chaminade (as well as California’s loss to the Silverswords) are not included. Up next are some of the highs and lows involving ACC squads last week.

THE GOOD

Three Tournament Titles for ACC Teams. They are listed below.

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ACC Weekend Preview: November 17-19

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 17th, 2017

While most of the big tests for ACC teams begin next week, there are still some intriguing match-ups on the schedule this weekend. Here are the key games that will act as your appetizers before the main course of Feast Week starting in earnest on Monday. (all ratings are via KenPom as of Thursday night):

Friday, November 17

Virginia Travels to Richmond for a Tough Intrastate Battle Today (USA Today Images)

  • Virginia at VCU (#89): Don’t forget about this Friday afternoon tip-off in Richmond. Expect the Siegel Center to be rocking. The raucous atmosphere mixed with VCU’s signature defense will be a nice test for a young Virginia team, especially point guard Ty Jerome. He holds a 23.5 percent turnover rate through two games and will need to be extra careful handling the ball against pressure. Isaiah Wilkins is one of the top defenders in the country, but he’ll need to be at his best to slow down VCU’s Justin Tillman. The 6’7” Tillman (20.5 PPG, 78.3% eFG) has been dominant in the Rams’ first two games of the season.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 16th, 2017

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. Charleston Classic: Clemson (#49) tips off the ACC’s early season tournament action later this afternoon, taking on Ohio (#153) in the first round of the Charleston Classic (ESPN2 – 5:00 PM). On Friday night, the Tigers will play either Dayton (#106) or Hofstra (#120) and the championship game will be played on Sunday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM). This event has a solid and balanced field this season — the eight teams playing are a combined 10-0 so far, and are all rated between #48 (Auburn) and #163 (Indiana State, which won at Indiana in its opener). Clemson has a decent shot at its first title in an exempt tournament since they won this event way back in 2008. Brad Brownell’s team should enjoy a slight home crowd advantage if the Tigers’ fans aren’t too consumed with Saturday’s football game against The Citadel earlier that afternoon in Death Valley.
  2. 2K Classic: Virginia Tech (#45) heads to Madison Square Garden tonight for the 2K Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The Hokies face Saint Louis (#163) in tonight’s opener (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM) with Providence (#32) and Washington (#130) squaring off in the nightcap. The two winners will meet in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 7:30 PM). The Hokies are off to a nice 2-0 start this year and currently rank second in the nation in scoring per game (121.5 PPG). If they meet a solid Providence squad in tomorrow’s title game (ESPN2 – 7:30 PM), it would be a great opportunity for Buzz Williams to make an early statement.
  3. Paradise Jam: Normally this event takes place in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but because of major damage to those islands from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, will serve as the tournament host this year. Wake Forest (#69) won’t get the Caribbean experience but Danny Manning probably isn’t in much of a vacation mood anyway after dropping the season’s first two games at home —  including Tuesday night’s 13-point loss to none other than Liberty. The Demon Deacons will face Drake (#221) in their opening tilt on Friday night (8:30 PM), and if Wake Forest advances as expected (no sure thing at this point), it would likely get Colorado (#81) in Saturday’s semifinals (8:30 PM) and perhaps Houston (#58) in Sunday evening’s title game (8:30 PM). It appears that none of the tournament will be televised but live streaming will be available for all the games on FLOHOOPS.COM.
  4. Jamaica Classic: Unlike most of its fellow Caribbean island resorts, Montego Bay was mostly unaffected by this season’s major hurricanes so it can host this event as planned. Instead of using the traditional winner-advance tournament format, all of the match-ups here have been predetermined. Florida State (#52) will play two games against teams with the same nickname (Rams). On Friday (CBSSports – 6:00 PM), the Seminoles will take on Fordham (#200) with another game against Colorado State (#121) coming on Sunday afternoon (CBSSports – 5:00 PM). It’s too bad that Rhode Island — the best of the “Rams” schools — was unavailable for this event, but regardless of that, Florida State isn’t likely to get much of a schedule strength bump from these two games.
  5. Hall of Fame Tip-Off: Boston College (#91) is off to one of its best starts in recent memory, trouncing three bottom-50 schools by an average of 26.3 points per contest. The competition will be at a much higher level this weekend at Mohegan Sun Arena, however, as the Eagles will meet Texas Tech (#31) on Saturday (ESPN3 – Noon) followed by either Northwestern (#33) or La Salle (#109) on Sunday afternoon. ESPN2 will air both of the games on Sunday — beginning with the consolation game at 3:00 PM, followed by the championship game at around 5:30 PM. After this event we will have a better gauge on just how improved Jim Christian’s team really is this year.
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ACC Weekly 5: 11.15.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on November 15th, 2017

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  1. Sports Illustrated: For the most part, Duke’s battle with second-ranked Michigan State last night lived up to the hype. The game was borderline unwatchable because of frequent whistles for stretches of the second half, but the rest of the evening showcased two very talented teams squaring off in an electric environment. The top story from Duke’s victory will be Grayson Allen‘s scorching three-point shooting (7-of-11 3FG), but Trevon Duval’s superb point guard play may do more in the long run to shore up the narrative that the Blue Devils are this year’s favorite to cut down the nets. In sadder news, associate head coach Jeff Capel’s father, Jeff Capel, Jr., succumbed to ALS yesterday. Capel had coached everywhere from high school to the NBA, including a particularly successful stint at Old Dominion from 1994-2001.
  2. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Everyone knew Pittsburgh would be bad this season, but back-to-back losses to open the season against Navy and Montana just hammer the Panthers’ struggles home. Only a little over 3,000 fans showed up to watch Kevin Stallings‘ team lose its second game of the season, which bodes poorly for the second-year coach’s future at the helm. Very rarely is firing a coach at midseason a good idea, but it doesn’t take very long to drift into irrelevance so the program should consider drastic measures. The long shadow of Jamie Dixon’s unceremonious departure (along with Stallings’ buyout) will make hiring the Panthers’ next coach even more challenging.
  3. Durham Herald-Sun: All aboard the Kevin Keatts train! The new NC State coach got a bevy of good news this week as incoming freshman Braxton Beverly was deemed eligible to play right away (following a somewhat controversial NCAA ruling that meant he had to sit out). That good news was followed up by top-rated junior college recruit Kevin Funderbunk announcing his decision to play for the Wolfpack next season. Oh, and don’t forget that NC State is undefeated (3-0) and has not been tested yet this young season. Alas, the wins came against three teams that are an insult to cupcakes, and it’s still a transition season in Raleigh, but things are already looking up.
  4. Winston-Salem Journal: Conversely, things are not looking up in Winston-Salem. After a brutal 0-2 start with losses to Georgia Southern and Liberty at home, Danny Manning’s team looks like it belongs in the Jeff Bzdelik era. Bryant Crawford attributed the team’s struggles to a lack of effort on defense, but some of those are likely growing pains following the drastic change in composition of the team between last year and now. Luckily for the Demon Deacons, their non-conference schedule mostly remains manageable, so they have a little time to figure things out. Still, barring a miraculous run in conference play, it’s safe to already count Wake Forest out of the Big Dance.
  5. Collegiate Times: Virginia Tech hasn’t played anyone yet, which should add a grain of salt to the Hokies’ fast-paced domination in their first two games (against The Citadel, there were a staggering 95 possessions as Virginia Tech scored over 130 points). Negativity aside, Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been phenomenal to start the season. If he can continue his robust production into conference play, Buzz Williams is set.
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ACC Non-Conference Games: 10 to Watch

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 9th, 2017

As the opening of the regular season draws near, it’s a good time to closely examine the schedules of all 15 ACC squads and pick out the 10 most interesting non-conference match-ups. The following list excludes any potential games in early season tournaments as well as the ACC/Big Ten Challenge contests — we’ll take a in-depth look at those separately in later posts. This group of 10 games are listed in chronological order (all game times are ET) — mark your calendars now.,

  • November 10 (Friday) – Georgia Tech vs. UCLA (Shanghai, China) – ESPN, 11:30 PM. The Yellow Jackets are traveling over 7,500 miles from Atlanta to tip off Josh Pastner’s second year at the helm. This game shapes up as an interesting battle between one of the nation’s best offenses from a year ago (UCLA – #2 KenPom Offensive Rating) and one of the stingiest defenses (Georgia Tech – #6 KenPom Defensive Rating). A big key to settling this game will be the individual match-up of two excellent returning seniors in the post, with Georgia Tech’s Ben Lammers (9.9% block rate in 2016-17) attempting to stop the smooth mid-range game of UCLA’s Thomas Welsh (132.2 Offensive Rating). Unfortunately for Pastner, he’ll be without two of his starters — Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson have been suspended indefinitely for breaking NCAA rules — while it’s unclear what the game time status will be for UCLA’s LiAngelo Ball and friends after their shoplifting incident at a Hangzhou Louis Vuitton store.

Tom Izzo will be looking for his second win in 12 tries versus Mike Krzyzewski in this year’s Champions Classic. (Chris Trotman)

  • November 14 (Tuesday) – Duke vs Michigan State (Champions Classic – Chicago) – ESPN, 7:00 PM. This could be college basketball’s marquee non-conference match-up of the season, with both squads ranked in virtually everyone’s preseason top four (including the newly released RTC16). Duke may have an edge in raw talent but the Spartans boast National Player of the Year favorite Miles Bridges and a host of other experienced players to surround him. Next week’s game may be Tom Izzo’s best chance in years to beat his friend and rival Mike Krzyzewski. For Coach K to extend his success against Izzo — the Duke head coach holds a 10-1 career advantage — the Blue Devils will need Grayson Allen to end his personal slump in this annual event. Allen has only managed a total of 18 points on 23 percent shooting in Duke’s last two appearances (both losses) in the Champions Classic.

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ACC Burning Questions: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Matt Patton on November 7th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Are the Hokies tall enough?

In some ways Virginia Tech was something of a surprise last season, but success in Blacksburg was always a matter of when, not if, for a head coaching talent like Buzz Williams. This year’s squad sounds hungry for even greater success — hoping to make school history by making back-to-back NCAA Tournaments — but the Hokies’ roster, to put it bluntly, is vertically challenged. After Khadim Sy withdrew from school during the offseason, only one player in the primary rotation will be over 6’6″, and that player, sophomore Kerry Blackshear, is coming off a medical redshirt season. Blackshear is a capable offensive rebounder (10.2%), but he will need to take a much bigger role in the post than he did two years ago. The only other clear post players on the team are Division II transfer Nick Fullard (who averaged less than five points a game at Belmont Abbey) and consensus three-star recruit PJ Horne (who stands only 6’6″). Williams will need Fullard and Horne to play significant productive minutes per game this season or his team will just have to play really small. That’s a ton to ask from two men playing their first season of Division I basketball, and in the ACC, no less. Alternatively, look for Williams to play to his strengths and try several all-guard lineups to force various mismatches.

Chris Clarke’s health will have a lot to do with Virginia Tech’s success this season. (Chet Strange/Getty Images)

In much better news, junior wing Chris Clarke looks to be Virginia Tech’s most important player this season. Although he stands only 6’6″, he was last year’s best defensive rebounder at 22.6 percent (108th nationally). But he’s coming off a torn ACL, so it is as of yet unclear if he will be ready for the heavy minutes that Williams will almost definitely need him to play. In addition to rebounding, Clarke did a good job scoring efficiently last season, and he should be considered a major breakout candidate in the ACC this season if fully healthy. The Hokies’ other returning guards look excellent too. Justin Robinson averaged double-figures last season while former starters Ahmed Hill and Justin Bibbs both also proved efficient offensive players (admittedly on limited possessions). Add top-50 recruit Nickell Alexander-Walker and Wabissa Bede (consensus four-star prospect) to the mix and there’s a lot of young talent in the wings. Alexander-Walker especially should be able to help this team right away.

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Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 84, #9 Virginia Tech 74

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Wisconsin came out on top tonight in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair that saw the two teams combine for 20 made three-pointers.

Bronson Koenig had a huge night in Buffalo. (Photo: The Sports Post)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Bronson Koenig was awesome. Hampered by a lingering leg injury for much of February, Koenig seemed to be trending toward full health late in the season. His performance on Thursday night put any remaining doubts to rest — the senior point guard is back. Koenig scored 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from behind the arc, including a 5-of-6 stretch from three-point range during the second half that enabled Wisconsin to maintain its slight advantage. Perhaps the most pivotal moment of the night came near the eight-minute mark, when he knocked down a gutsy triple from several feet behind the arc, then stole the ball on the other end before drawing a foul. On a night where star forward Ethan Happ scored just 10 points, Koenig’s effort was essential. Whether he plays at a high level again on Saturday may determine if the Badgers will return to the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Wisconsin is living and thriving from behind the arc. For the second time in three games, Wisconsin attempted more three-pointers (31) than two-pointers (30). The staggering ratio worked against Northwestern in the Big Ten semifinals — Wisconsin hit 12 threes in that one — and carried the Badgers again on Thursday night (13-for-31 3FG). With players like Happ (13.9 PPG) and Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG) manning the interior, it’s not like Wisconsin can’t score inside effectively. For an offense that’s struggled to find its groove at times this year, though, perhaps the best tonic is simply the freedom to hoist from long range.
  3. Virginia Tech basketball is (and will remain) exciting under Buzz Williams. In just three short years, Buzz Williams has transformed a Virginia Tech offense that ranked dead last in the ACC in 2014 to one of the nation’s best this season. And it showed on Thursday night. The Hokies — a great three-point shooting team — carved up Wisconsin’s interior defense like butter in the second half, as Zach LeDay (23 points) found himself more than a couple powerful dunks to ignite the Virginia Tech faithful. Whether it was half-court sets or unselfish plays in transition, Williams has clearly done a masterful job on that end of the court. Despite the departures of Seth Allen (13.4 PPG) and LeDay (16.3 PPG), it’s hard to imagine the Hokies falling too far down the ACC standings in 2017-18.

Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (21 points, 8-of-17 3FG). Everything was falling for Koenig in the second half, including a spot-up corner three that hit front rim, bounced off the backboard, and fell through the net. His steady hand and timely shooting helped Wisconsin remain ahead despite several momentous scoring bursts for Virginia Tech down the stretch. In order for Wisconsin to advance past Saturday, the senior needs to continue playing at a very high level.

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