RTC Weekly Primer: Road Warrior Week as Pressure Mounts at the Top

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 10th, 2015

As we approach Selection Sunday — and, yes, it is now a mere 33 days away — two ends of the spectrum dominate the college basketball conversation. One of those is the bubble. The other, of course, is the top line. And while it’s a bit too early to paint a decipherable picture of those teams vying for positions in the play-in games, the competition for the four No. 1 seeds is beginning to take shape. There appear to be three solid bets. Kentucky is near-lock. Virginia, with only one loss — a good loss, mind you — and a handful of impressive wins, is another. And Gonzaga, despite a relatively weak conference slate, is a third. Even if the Zags were to suffer one more defeat along the way, they might still be safe in a position on the top line. The fourth spot, however, is truly up for grabs. On the back of a splendid array of wins away from home, Duke would appear to be the front-runner. But Wisconsin, Kansas, Arizona and Villanova aren’t too far behind the Blue Devils. If the Badgers run the table the rest of the way — a real possibility — they’d make the committee’s job on this decision excruciating. Villanova could also cause a few headaches if they enter the discussion as a two-loss team. And Kansas, with its top-ranked schedule and plethora of top-50 wins, could close the season at No. 1 in the RPI. The pressure is on at the top. We’ll see which teams can handle it.

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Gonzaga Continues to Roll Along to a Likely #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Road Warrior Week

This week isn’t overflowing with marquee matchups, so we’ll forgo Three for the Money in favor of a more general theme. It’s road warrior week. Duke got things started on Monday night when it went to Florida State and escaped with a narrow victory in Tallahassee. Some other top-10 teams this week might not be so fortunate, as eight of those — including the Blue Devils — will play on the road at an unranked team between Monday and Friday. It starts on Tuesday night when Kentucky travels to LSU; Notre Dame makes the long trek to Clemson; Kansas plays at Texas Tech; and Wisconsin heads to Nebraska. Kentucky perhaps faces the stiffest test of all. LSU, an up-tempo squad with a big and physical front line, will try to get out in transition and score before Kentucky can set up its suffocating half-court defense. Notre Dame, however, is the most likely of the four to lose. The Fighting Irish are only three-point favorites against the Tigers, a hard-luck team that has lost a bunch of close games this year. Wisconsin revisits the site of last year’s memorable Cornhuskers upset on ‘no-sit Sunday.’

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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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RTC Top 25: Week Twelve

Posted by Walker Carey on February 9th, 2015

Fresh off losing its first game of the season to Duke last Saturday, #2 Virginia completed a week that has to put the Cavaliers in any weekly award discussions. Tony Bennett’s squad first went to Chapel Hill on Big Monday and earned an 11-point victory over #11 North Carolina. It then returned home on Saturday to face a hot #9 Louisville squad and emerged victorious with a hard-fought five-point victory. Virginia receives a great deal of credit for its stifling defense and you could see why in that game, as it held Louisville to just 13 measly first half points. All is not perfect in Charlottesville though, as star swingman Justin Anderson suffered a fractured finger on his left hand and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Elsewhere in the ACC, #4 Duke continues to rebound quite nicely from its three previous league setbacks. The Blue Devils scored a victory over Georgia Tech last Wednesday before avenging their January 28 loss to #12 Notre Dame, annihilating the Irish by 30 points in Durham . While Virginia still has a lead in the league standings, the ACC race is definitely one to keep an eye on as the second half of conference play progresses.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc top25 w12

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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RTC Rewind: Celebrating the Life of a Legend, Duke-Kentucky, Arizona’s #1 Seed Hit…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 9th, 2015

One thousand. Two weeks ago, this column and many more around the country led with that number. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had just become the first men’s college basketball coach to reach the 1,000-win plateau on an historic Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and in the aftermath, Coach K and that number were the talk of the sports world.

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith's Passing (USA Today Images)

The Basketball World Paused on Sunday to Honor Dean Smith’s Passing. (USA Today Images)

Today we celebrate another ACC legend. But we do so for a different reason, and in a different tenor. We’ll get to the basketball soon enough, but as you’ve probably heard by now, legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith — a former rival of Krzyzewski’s — passed away on Saturday. He was 83. Since the news broke Sunday morning, messages extolling Smith’s many virtues have come from far and wide. They’ve come from former players and adversaries, columnists and commentators, even from the President of the United States. Many of us have mourned college basketball’s loss, but even more have celebrated a life that so special to so many people. And that’s what this should be: a celebration.

Like Krzyzewski, Smith was obviously an outstanding basketball coach. He was innovative, sharp and bold — and, without question, driven by his competitiveness. He too set a number of records while at the helm in Chapel Hill, but those accomplishments are only the subtext to the discussion. That’s because Smith wasn’t defined by his numbers, as good as they were. Ask anybody who knew the man, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Dean Smith was defined by the way in which he impacted the lives of others. He was defined by stories of grace, loyalty and sincerity. Smith coached before my time. But it’s through those stories that I have gotten to know him, and it is those stories that allow everybody — well beyond the entire college hoops community — to recognize how truly wonderful a man he was. I can’t relate those anecdotes myself, but others — like ESPN‘s Dana O’Neil and The Washington Post‘s John Feinstein — have. And they’re beautiful.

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Morning Five: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 9th, 2015

morning5

  1. The word legend is overused, but college basketball lost a legend on Saturday night as Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. Smith, who belongs on any Mount Rushmore you want to make for the sport, was a universally loved and respected figure in the game, which is a rarity. Some of that may have to do with the way he comported himself, but it also has do with his off-the-court work including being a vocal advocate of integration not only in the ACC, but also in the state of North Carolina. We won’t rehash all of his accomplishments, but would  highly recommend that you read some of the pieces that are being written about him now particularly the ones that talk about his work outside of basketball.
  2. The second biggest news from this weekend happen in Charlottesville where Virginia junior Justin Anderson fractured a bone in his left hand. He underwent surgery yesterday and is expected to miss at least three weeks, but could be out for as long as six weeks. Exactly how long he will be out could be a big factor in determining how far the Cavaliers will go in the NCAA Tournament. Anderson’s emergence as a consistent outside threat makes the Cavaliers a legitimate NCAA title threat. They still could conceivably when the title without him or even with him not at full strength, but the task would be significantly tougher.
  3. Normally the NIT is a forgettable event that we only watch if we happen to accidentally stumble upon it. This year promises to be different (ok, we probably still won’t watch it) as they will be experimenting with various rule changes. The most prominent of these changes is trying a 30-second shot clock that is already proving to be controversial. The other significant move will be to increase the size of the restricted area, which could reduce the number of questionable charges that are called. We will wait after the event is over before passing judgement on either change, but can’t see a downside to increasing the restricted area (within reason). We just hope that the powers that be are paying attention.
  4. Providence coach Ed Cooley was briefly hospitalized at a Cincinnati hospital after feeling ill during their game against Xavier. Very little information regarding the hospitalization was released, but it seems like they observed him for hypertensive urgency although his reported symptoms wouldn’t necessarily fit with that diagnosis. From what we have read this does not appear to be a chronic/recurrent problem for Cooley, which is reassuring. Cooley, who left the team with an 8-point lead that they surrendered immediately with Xavier going on an 18-2 run, is planning on returning for the team’s next game, which is on Wednesday against Villanova.
  5. Mike Krzyzewski has company in the 1000-win club. Less than two weeks after Krzyzewski became the first coach to win 1,000 men’s college basketball games, Philadelphia coach Herb Magee won his 1000th game too. While Magee generated much less attention doing it at the Division II level, it is still a remarkable accomplishment particularly when you realize that Magee did it all at one school. During Magee’s 48 years at the school, he has led them to a national championship (1970) and has already been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Regardless of the level of competition, Magee’s longevity and consistent success is remarkable.
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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 M5: 02.05.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 5th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse Post-Standard: Huge news broke yesterday evening. Syracuse has decided to self-impose a postseason ban in basketball this year “as a further means of acknowledging past mistakes.” Even though the team isn’t all that great this season, this is a big step. It means the Orange can’t play in the ACC Tournament, much less the Big Dance. The worst part is that this year’s players (who didn’t commit any of the infractions) are the ones who will pay the price. I’ll leave you with a couple of things: First, this doesn’t mean that the Orange are off the hook with the NCAA (although postseason bans usually go a long way — see Miami’s football scandal for an example); and second, this is the new ACC Tournament bracket — the only change is that the #10 seed now gets a bye.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Luke DeCock thinks Virginia is still the team to beat in the ACC after the Cavaliers thrashed North Carolina (which admittedly couldn’t match up much worse) in Chapel Hill on Monday night. John Gasaway and I both agree. If you had questions, Duke’s letdown win at home against Georgia Tech should help with the argument. It doesn’t mean Duke isn’t really good or really dangerous (the same goes for Notre Dame, North Carolina and Louisville). It just means that Virginia operates in a higher gear consistently.
  3. Chicago Tribune: Speaking of the Fighting Irish, Notre Dame has done very well in its close games this year. Sure, the Irish lost one to Pittsburgh, but on the whole Mike Brey’s team keeps its cool when games get tight. Their opponents do not, which means that the Irish’s porous defense gets enough stops to pull out the win. With a stone-cold killer like Jerian Grant capable of getting his own shot and plenty of shooters surrounding him, the Irish are really tough to beat down the stretch.
  4. NC State Technician: NC State is digging deeper and deeper. Tuesday night’s game at Wake Forest represented a microcosm of their season (although their normal routine is a good first half followed by a bad second half). The Wolfpack came out incredibly flat in Winston-Salem and trailed by 21 points at the half. By the time they had mounted a comeback to make the margin reasonable, it was too late. The Demon Deacons held off the final run thanks to a little luck and a lot of cushion. NC State has now lost four of its last five games and has a whole week off to think about it. That gives Mark Gottfried plenty of time to make some adjustments, but his players also will have a lot of time to stew on their struggles. Oh, and Virginia is coming to town. The Wolfpack’s options are becoming limited — either steal a couple of wins down the stretch and stop losing to mediocre competition, or make a serious run in the ACC Tournament.
  5. Washington Post: So how does Maryland‘s move to the Big Ten look? Mark Turgeon has finally gotten around to succeeding like I predicted when Maryland first hired him (albeit in a much weaker Big Ten than in years past), but it’s nice to hear Adrian Branch and Kristi Toliver say they regret the move and miss the ACC. I’ll be the first to admit I miss having Maryland around. Duke needs a foil outside of the Triangle, and the Terps often lived up to the role. All that said, I’ll take the additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh over moving to be geographically isolated in a conference.
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ACC M5: 02.03.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 3rd, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Raleigh News & Observer: Here’s an oral history of North Carolina‘s epic 102-100 double-overtime victory over Duke back in 1995 (also known as the Jeff Capel half-court shot game). It’s long, but well worth it, and a great primer for the game later this month.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: Al Featherston does a great job in summing up the ACC so far this year. If you’re looking to catch up on where teams stand (he spends a little longer on Duke, but looks at all of the teams with a good shot at the NCAA Tournament), this is the piece to read at the turn.
  3. Washington Post: Virginia is really good, but you already knew that. It’s probably helping that senior Darion Atkins decided to toughen up junior Mike Tobey: “I’ve definitely banged him around, threw him around and hit him a few times. Got in his grill and cursed him out once or twice just to make him stronger because that helps him a lot. Once he gets that physicality, he’s going to be a beast.” After the surprising collapse against Duke over the weekend, Virginia again looked like the second best team in the country in a dominant road win against North Carolina last night.
  4. Greenville News: Don’t look now, but Clemson is above .500 in ACC play at 5-4, and that’s nothing short of amazing. Brad Brownell hasn’t managed to field a group with exceptional talent, but he’s remarkable at finding ways to make his teams competitive. It helps that the league has a lot of mediocrity below the elite tier, but winning four out of five to move into the top half of the league standings is unreal.
  5. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: This story has everything. Drama. Greatness. And lots of pizza. A Georgia Tech student hit a half-court shot for a year’s worth of pizza. Unfortunately for Caleb Espy, a year’s worth of Domino’s actually only means a pizza a week. For his efforts he was given 30 coupons for a free one-topping pizza because Georgia Tech didn’t have enough coupons on hand. “Kind of a bummer, but I’ll take it.” The real bummer is that a Virginia student recently got four attempts at a half-court shot and won $18,000.
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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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RTC Top 25: Week Eleven

Posted by Walker Carey on February 2nd, 2015

The story of the past week in college basketball was highlighted by some really good games between the ACC’s best. It all started last Wednesday when #10 Notre Dame came back from a 10-point second half deficit to knock off #4 Duke in South Bend. The loss dropped the Blue Devils to 4-3 in conference play and, coupled with the dismissal of junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon on Thursday, it appeared that Duke swirling in turmoil. Before the Blue Devils faced off with #2 Virginia on Saturday evening, Duke’s archrival, #11 North Carolina, blew an 18-point second half lead at #9 Louisville, thus suffering its second conference loss of the season. Later that night in Charlottesville, Duke showed that reports of its demise were greatly exaggerated when it rallied late in the second half to best the previously-unbeaten Cavaliers. To make matters even wackier in the ACC, Notre Dame suffered a loss at Pittsburgh earlier in the day for its second league loss of the season. As the calendar turns to February, Virginia is still on top of the ACC standings at 7-1, but it certainly has several teams breathing down its neck:  Notre Dame is right behind at 8-2; North Carolina is at 7-2; Louisville is at 6-2; and always-dangerous Duke now sits at 5-3. The ACC may not be the deepest league in the country, but watching these five great teams battle it out over the final five weeks of the regular season promises to be extremely entertaining.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w11

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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What’s Trending: Comeback Saturday Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 2nd, 2015

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Pitino Steals the Spotlight

And it wasn’t because of his team’s come-from-behind win over UNC (more on that later). Pitino went with the Colonel Sanders white suit to go along with the beginnings of a beard.

A bold look, but I guess it paid off.

A Wild Saturday in the ACC

As mentioned above, Louisville came back from an 18-point second half deficit to give Pitino his first career victory over North Carolina (now 1-6). Junior Montrezl Harrell went off with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and a one-handed alley-oop that brought The House That Colonel Sanders Built completely down.

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