Rushed Reactions: #6 Virginia 72, #7 Duke 63

Posted by Matt Patton & Brad Jenkins on March 16th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways.

Virginia claimed the ACC crown. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Virginia claimed the ACC crown. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

  1. Virginia was the better team. They took all of Duke’s shots and punched right back. They dominated stretches with rebounding and defense. It took a miracle stretch by Jabari Parker to keep Duke in the game. Virginia’s balance and defensive strength (along with winning the regular season and tournament) will make people think of Miami last season. Virginia’s constant off-ball screens on offense kept Duke defenders out of sync the whole game, which led to all of the fouls. Virginia has three lock-down defenders in Joe HarrisMalcolm Brogdon and Akil Mitchell. That’s enough to slow every team down. Also while the Cavaliers only got credit for five blocks, it felt like more than ten (while only committing 15 fouls). Last but not least, Virginia is going to be a nightmare draw in the NCAA Tournament. This is an impossible team to prepare for–especially on short rest. They may go cold and make an early exit, but don’t say I didn’t warn you when they are in Arlington.
  2. Jabari Parker solidified his high lottery status. He had a couple of just ridiculous buckets (a step-back three and a transition dunk to name two), and an unstoppable stretch while Mitchell was on the bench. Don’t be fooled by his inefficient stat line. Parker was the best offensive player on the floor. After the game, Coach K pointed out that Parker has a ways to go: “Part of his development is, when he makes those [NBA] moves, is to finish, get fouled, not get fouled, you know what I mean. [...] His should be a combination.”
  3. This was likely a battle for a spot in the East Regional. This loss may hurt Duke even more soon. I don’t think the Blue Devils ever had a shot at a top seed (take away the loss to Wake Forest and it’s a different story), but they definitely had a shot to play through Raleigh and then New York City. Now? Who knows. It’s still possible, but Virginia definitely put themselves in the driver’s seat for a nice location and a two-seed (likely with a very favorable one to boot).

Player of the game: Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Still snubbed. Yeah, he was named all-tournament, but he made a really strong case to complete Wally Walker snub to most valuable player transition. Brogdon locked down Rodney Hood for much of the game. He also stepped up when Virginia needed a bucket, be it a field goal or a free throw. Lamar Patterson started the year imitating Oscar Robertson, but it was Brogdon who finished as the most versatile offensive player. The difference was even more obvious when you take defense into account.

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ACC Championship Preview: #6 Virginia vs. #7 Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins & Matt Patton on March 16th, 2014

It’s the game that we all expected when the ACC Tournament brackets came out last weekend. Duke vs. Virginia. Let’s preview the ACC Championship game by answering the key questions headed into this one in Greensboro.

Joe Harris gets a second shot against Duke this season with an ACC title on the line (credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today).

Joe Harris gets a second shot against Duke this season with an ACC title on the line (credit: Geoff Burke/USA Today).

1. Can Virginia’s balanced scoring offset the star power of Duke’s Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood?

Yes and no. The Cavaliers can’t get in a shootout, but I don’t think they’ll try. Virginia is an experienced team that plays to its strengths. I’ll be very surprised if Duke can push them out of their comfort zone. That said, if Hood and Parker are both firing on all cylinders, I’m not sure how Virginia will put up enough points to win. Look for them to try to make Parker into a jump shooter or to force things against multiple defenders since he’s struggled passing out of double teams when he gets head full of steam. Hood is a little more difficult to contain (since he’s really a second option), but I expect to see a lot of Justin Anderson hounding him. Neither of these teams will quite be at 100 percent, playing their third game in three days, but I think that favors the more balanced team.

2. Duke hasn’t been hitting as many threes lately. Who do you expect to help keep the offense going if shots aren’t falling?

If the outside jumpers aren’t falling — and by playing the third straight grueling game in as many days, there’s a good chance they don’t — then Duke will have to rely on its two future NBA forwards to make plays. Jabari Parker makes plays that are almost unstoppable, even by great defenses like Virginia’s, so he figures to be the best candidate. Rodney Hood’s conditioning will be tested after chasing T.J. Warren all over the court yesterday. Rasheed Sulaimon has had success in the tournament with his penetration, so he may also try to create scoring chances that way.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Virginia 51 – Pittsburgh 48

Posted by Matt Patton on March 15th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways:

Justin Anderson is Virginia's spark plug. (credit: Scott Muthersbaugh / Burlington Times-News)

Justin Anderson is Virginia’s spark plug. (credit: Scott Muthersbaugh / Burlington Times-News)

  1. Virginia has officially arrived. While the Cavaliers didn’t put away Pittsburgh until the very end, they made the championship game looking for the school’s second ACC title since joining the conference, and first in nearly 40 years. This team is Tony Bennett’s baby: They are one of the only teams in the country to improve their win total in each of the last five years. His team doesn’t always run attractive offense (though it’s certainly better than the final score would indicate), but its defense is spectacular. Down the stretch it was clear that Malcolm Brogdon has taken on the go-to role. He committed a costly turnover that led to James Robinson’s layup with 10 seconds left, but look for Virginia to put the ball in his hands down the stretch. Part of the reason for that is because Joe Harris excels off the ball, but it’s also a testament to Brogdon’s growth.
  2. Retro officiating fit the teams. With two physical defenses on the court, the refs opted to swallow their whistles by only calling 20 fouls in the first 38 minutes (there were seven in the last minute for obvious reasons). There weren’t any easy rebounds to be found. And while Pittsburgh likely benefited from the style most of the game, there was a lot of contact on James Robinson’s layup that cut the Virginia lead to one with 10 seconds left. When asked about contact on a layup late, Akil Mitchell said he was “a little bit” surprised that there wasn’t a whistle. Jamie Dixon wasn’t impressed: “We just saw it on video. What can you do? What can you do? Just watched it. Everybody saw it.”
  3. Pittsburgh needs to get to the rim more. Down the stretch Jamie Dixon opted to spread the floor and attack the basket. It was very effective. Especially when Lamar Patterson isn’t hitting jumpers, Pittsburgh is best attacking inside. Patterson, Robinson and Cameron Wright are all very good finishers, and that doesn’t even take into account that teams can only help off Talib Zanna if they want him to get a putback. The Panthers still need to shoot enough jumpers to keep people honest (though I’m not sure Jamel Artis should take any threes the rest of the year).

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Sentimental Value: On the Notion of an ACC Regular Season Crown

Posted by Christopher Kehoe on March 14th, 2014

Since many of the ACC’s founding members sprang from what was known as the ‘Southern Conference’ in 1953, the ACC adopted many of the SoCon’s mannerisms and bylaws. The Southern Conference traditionally anointed a champion via their postseason tournament and out of that came their postseason automatic bid. Ever since the ACC formalized the wording of a similarly fateful decision in 1961, the ACC regular season title has been all but a formality. The idea behind awarding a postseason victor in a short and somewhat chaotic multi-day tournament setting was to provide a free-for-all environment that was both entertaining and unpredictable. This ACC Tournament gave lower seeded teams who had a less successful regular season a chance at making The Big Dance. And back in the day and age where these rules were first enacted, only 15 teams were awarded chances at the NCAA Tournament, making a bid all that more valuable and cherished.

Is ACC Tournament success a strong indicator of NCAA Tournament success?

Is the ACC Tournament success a strong indicator of NCAA Tournament success? Florida State parlayed a win in the tournament in 2012 into a solid showing in the Big Dance.

In a format where games are played on top of each other with little or no rest or time to prepare, less superior teams would essentially be able to pull a win out regardless of their records. But while all the other major conferences today at least recognize officially the regular season champion, why has the ACC lagged behind is perplexing to say the least. The ACC finally began paying homage to the regular season winners in 1990, and retroactively recognized the winners from 1954-1989 in that same year. But why it took them so long, and why more conferences do not go along with the Ivy League method of a regular season champion is beyond me. ESPN‘s entrance into the foray and emphasis placed on Championship Week may have something to do with it, glamorizing the end of season postseason tournaments as bubble bursting madness.

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Rushed Reactions: Virginia 64, Florida State 51

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 14th, 2014

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ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2014 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

Three Key Takeaways from Virginia’s ACC quarterfinal win over Florida State.

Virginia's Anthony Gill Slams Home Two of His 16 Points Off The Bench. (Photo: Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Virginia’s Anthony Gill Slams Home Two of His 16 Points Off The Bench.
(Photo: Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

  1. Virginia got back to being Virginia. After allowing Maryland to score 1.14 points per possession in the last game of the regular season, the Cavaliers got back to doing what they do best – stifling opposing offenses. Florida State only managed 51 points in 59 possessions, which is much more in line with how Virginia played in the 17 ACC games prior to its season-ending loss at Maryland. The Cavaliers were particular stingy in the first 10 minutes of the second half, while extending a five-point halftime lead to a fifteen-point spread. For the game, Virginia forced 15 turnovers and limited Florida State to only three three-point baskets and 11 free throw attempts.
  2. Florida State appears headed to the NIT. The Seminoles are probably on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble. Most experts had them as one of the last four out of the bracket before today’s game, so this loss pretty much seals the deal. One of Florida State’s season-long problems, ball-handling, showed up again in this one, as the Seminoles committed seven turnovers in the game’s first 10 minutes. The early miscues kept Florida State from building an early lead. The Seminoles started the game aggressively and held a 5-0 edge in offensive rebounds early before Virginia methodically took control of the game. Senior Okaro White led the Seminoles with 17 points but only four came after half-time.
  3. Virginia is a deep and versatile basketball team. Another key to the game was Virginia’s bench led by Anthony Gill, who finished with 16 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes. Gill really came through in the first half, providing inside points and energy that was sorely needed with starting big men Akil Mitchell and Mike Tobey combining for only two first-half points. And with Malcolm Brogdon having his worst scoring game since ACC play began, senior Joe Harris responded with an aggressive offensive game. All this indicates the depth and versatility of this Virginia squad, making it hard on opposing teams to focus on any one or two players.

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Previewing Friday’s Quarterfinals at the ACC Tournament

Posted by Matt Patton & Brad Jenkins on March 14th, 2014

With Thursday essentially going chalk (other than ninth-seed Florida State topping eighth-seed Maryland), Friday is looking like a day of potentially awesome basketball.

Will Boris Bojanovsky Continue His Quest for the All-Tournament Team? (credit: SB Nation)

Will Boris Bojanovsky Continue His Quest for the All-Tournament Team? (credit: SB Nation)

#1 Virginia vs. #8 Florida State (12:00 ET)

While this looks like a game the Cavaliers should win, it may not come easy. Virginia is in the unusual position of being the hunted after earning its first top seed in the ACC Tournament in over 30 years. They beat Florida State by 12 in both meetings this year, but each of those was played back in January. The good news for Florida State is that they were able to match Virginia on the boards in both games, which few teams do. The bad news is that the Seminoles were dominated in turnover margin in each game, 16-to-6 in the first meeting and 18-to-9 in the second. To pull off the upset, Florida State cannot afford to give away so many possessions. As Seton Hall showed Thursday, it’s really tough to beat a team three times, and the Seminoles are looking for an invitation to the Big Dance.

Key playerIan Miller, Florida State. The Seminoles need Miller to play like he has the last few weeks, not like he did in the two games with the Cavaliers. Against Virginia, he totaled 15 points on 5-of-18 shooting and committed 11 turnovers. However, in his last eight games, Miller has averaged 16.6 points and made an impressive 23-of-46 three pointers.

#4 North Carolina vs. #5 Pittsburgh (2:00 ET)

This game would’ve been a lot easier to call a few days ago. Then North Carolina was riding a 12-game winning streak and Pittsburgh was hobbling its way to a fifth-place conference finish. Now? Not so fast. Pittsburgh looked like the efficient machine that wooed computers early in the season, dominating Wake Forest by 29-points. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna looked healthy again. When the teams met during the regular season, the Tar Heels eked out the win thanks in large part to Zanna having a horrible game (2-11 from the field) while James Michael McAdoo and Marcus Paige had their way with the Panthers. The crowd will still heavily favor the Tar Heels (though I have no doubt NC State fans who come early will help out the Panther faithful), but this looks to be a tossup.

Key playerTalib Zanna, Pittsburgh. As mentioned above, Zanna was awful in Chapel Hill. That game he was still recovering from an ankle injury against Virginia. He needs to hold his own against the Tar Heel front line for Pittsburgh to have a chance. Over his last five games, Zanna is averaging over 15 points and nearly ten boards a game. That combined with better interior defense gives Pittsburgh a good shot at the upset.

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ACC Tournament Preview: Syracuse Over North Carolina For the Crown

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 12th, 2014

The 61st annual ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament will tip off Wednesday in Greensboro. This should be one of the more entertaining tournaments of recent years, as every team has something to play for from bottom to top. It’s startling that so many are dismissing Virginia, who just won their first outright ACC regular season championship in 33 years. Syracuse has been left for dead after once being projected to be the overall number one seed in the NCAA Tournament, losing four of their last six to close the regular season. Duke and North Carolina need late runs to continue to improve their seeding for the Big Dance. The lone likely bubble team in the conference, Pittsburgh, will seek to bolster its resume. Everyone else seeks to shock the world and win the whole thing to steal a tourney bid. Here is RTC’s ACC Tournament preview, with predicted champion included.

This year's ACC tournament field should be wide open.

This year’s ACC tournament field should be wide open.

The first round kicking off on Wednesday is a new wrinkle for a newly-enlarged conference, and there won’t be any big surprises there. Virginia Tech owns two wins (their only two conference wins) over Miami this year; that will change this time around. It’s very difficult for anyone to beat a team three times in the course of one season, and this isn’t a juggernaut squad by any means. Jim Larranaga’s team tops James Johnson’s. Maryland, fresh off of its stunning win over Virginia in the season’s final game, will keep their momentum rolling in knocking Wake Forest out on the first day. The Demon Deacons don’t win away from home, and that won’t change in Greensboro. Georgia Tech will continue the disastrous year that Boston College has endured by out muscling them inside with Daniel Miller and capping off the win with Trae Golden’s ace free-throw shooting.

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The Unofficial RTC ACC Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 11th, 2014

While the more official hardware is beginning to be handed out, like Player and Coach of the Year and the All-ACC team’s, it’s worth looking at some more under-the-radar superlatives that players and coaches have earned through the course of the regular season on the precipice of ACC Tournament time in Greensboro.

Here are five awards that RTC found to be equally as important as some of their more official brethren:

Most Selfless Upperclassman: Joe Harris, Virginia.

His scoring dipped more than four points a game from a year ago as he watched Malcolm Brogdon become the go-to scorer and clutch player on the team, plummeting from preseason ACC Player of the Year prognostications seemingly from the first game’s opening tip. Nonetheless, Harris’ willingness to play team ball and enlarge his leadership role helped Virginia to their first outright ACC Title in 33 years and a current two-seed projection in the NCAA’s. Harris is a senior, so it’s rare for a player to back off in his final season and allow team success to trump personal statistics. Harris is still a force, but now knows he can operate in the background to help his team’s season become even more special.

Joe Harris' selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Joe Harris’ selflessness helped Virginia win the ACC regular season (UVAsports)

Best Coaching Job Outside of Charlottesville: Roy Williams, North Carolina.

Tony Bennett absolutely deserved the COY award for his unbelievable reclamation job with Virginia, but no one dealt with more adversity this year than Williams. Between the PJ Hairston and Leslie McDonald saga, the academics issues brought to light by a former adviser, and the up-and-down start to the year with no set rotation and inconsistent effort, Williams had a ton on his plate in trying to get this team into postseason play. The Tar Heels won 12 conference games in a row, including a split with rival Duke, and own possibly the best non-conference wins of any team in the country. It’s arguably Williams’ best coaching job in Chapel Hill to date. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 03.10.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 10th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. The ACC: So the ACC Tournament bracket is set! And it’s loaded with juicy match-ups. We’ll definitely have more on this soon but you can see the bracket below to start setting your DVR (although make sure to extend it, because there’s no way the second games in the pairings will start two hours after the first ones). Might I suggest the potential Maryland-Virginia rematch (or a desperate Florida State’s chance to avenge the Cavaliers’ beatdowns from early in conference play), North Carolina getting a bubbly Pittsburgh team, Miami getting another chance to spoil NC State (and if not another chance for the Wolfpack to avenge their controversial loss at Syracuse), or Clemson getting another shot at Duke? And that doesn’t even look forward to the semifinals.
    ACC-bracket
  2. Backing the Pack: Austin Johnson brings the goods on the history of TJ Warren‘s number at NC State. The Wolfpack have only retired one jersey (David Thompson), but #24 has been worn by a series of great NC State players (including Warren’s father, Tom Gugliotta and Julius Hodge). Warren is earning his spot in the rafters this week with simply ludicrous offensive production (83 points in two games!). It’s a shame All-American awards generally rely so heavily on team quality because Warren’s play the second half of the season has been other-worldly. He should at least walk away with the ACC Player of the Year award and a lottery pick, which isn’t bad recognition at all.
  3. The Daily Orange: It’s oral history time! This time David Wilson travels back in time for the Big East ACC-American classic six-overtime game between Syracuse and Connecticut. There are very few games that stick with me (especially games that I didn’t attend live and didn’t involve ACC teams), but this one qualifies. I was writing a paper and watching the game in the background back when WatchESPN was still ESPN360 and was just starting to take off with live events. That game forced me to pull an all-nighter to finish the paper because it just sucked me in. And never ended. But let the people involved in the classic tell the story.
  4. Wall Street Journal: Here’s an amusing article on more enterprising Duke students (and possibly random people sneaking into the Duke-North Carolina game instead of camping out. Students have tried everything from ambushing the stadium to masquerading as a band member to hiding out inside.) Duke is a weird team. For around 30 minutes on Saturday against North Carolina they looked unbeatable. And for the other quarter of the game, no lead felt safe. Go ahead and put me down for having no clue what the top four ACC seeds are going to do over the next few weeks. All feel like they can lose to just about anyone on the wrong night or blow anyone out of the building.
  5. Hampton Road Daily Press and Charlottesville Daily Progress: Maryland has played (and won) its last regular season ACC game. Time to get nostalgic! It was fitting that the Terrapins played Virginia on the way out. The schools have been playing each other for a century, and the Cavaliers closed out Cole Field House a while ago. Maryland and Rutgers may prove the ultimate litmus test for super-conferences (Notre Dame would also count if not for its continued independence in football). If college sports continues increasing television revenues despite hurting geography and natural rivalries, super-conferences make sense. If this backfires, look for more emphasis to stay with the geographic footprint.
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ACC Bracket Watch: March 8 Update

Posted by Chris Kehoe on March 8th, 2014

A lot can change in the world of college hoops as it relates to the NCAA Tournament, and recently, a lot has. Since the last update we did in early February, Syracuse is no longer undefeated; Virginia is the regular season champion; and UNC has embarked on a mind-boggling winning streak. While the top tier of the ACC has become even more clear since Pittsburgh fell off the face of the Earth, most of the ACC bubble teams living in the #7-#10 seed range have largely disappointed on their way to the outside looking in — surely perennial bubbler and current ESPN personality Seth Greenberg can relate from his ACC days. But while tallies in the loss column have mounted high enough for Syracuse and Duke to be largely removed from #1 seed consideration, Virginia has quietly pushed itself into the discussion. The Cavaliers find themselves in this position thanks to its 16 conference wins and the startling point differential in which they secured them.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett must be ecstatic with the Cavaliers' most recent bracket projection (photo: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia coach Tony Bennett must be ecstatic with the Cavaliers’ most recent bracket projection (photo: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)

So while North Carolina and Virginia’s stocks are soaring, Syracuse and Duke have taken a hit. It remains to be seen if the ACC can land a bid outside of its top four programs, but at this juncture it seems improbable. Since the last update, Florida State and Pittsburgh have both fallen into a steep decline. Jamie Dixon’s team remains close, residing in and around most people’s ‘Last Four Out’ category, but the Seminoles are nowhere to be found. N.C. State also created some February rumblings about making a run at the bubble until the Wolfpack lost badly to Clemson and Miami in a period of two weeks. The ACC Tournament provides the sole venue for teams seeking an automatic bid, but a team running through the slate of Syracuse, UNC, Virginia and/or Duke seems rather daunting at this point.

‘Busting the Bracket’ Projected ACC Seeding*

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ACC Weekend Preview #10

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2014

It’s the final weekend of conference play in the ACC, so let’s take a look at the match-ups from an advanced statistics perspective. All statistics used are for results in ACC conference games only along with team rankings (#1-#15) in each category. For each game we will show how the two teams compare in efficiency ratings and the four factors, offense versus defense. We will also look at interesting areas of particular strength and weakness that could hold the key to the outcomes of these games. All numbers are from Ken Pomeroy’s site and are current through games of March 5, 2014. The games are presented in the order of best combined Pomeroy overall team rankings (all times EST). This weekend features some important matchups that will determine seeding in next week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro.

Saturday – North Carolina (23-7, 13-4 ACC) @ Duke (23-7, 12-5 ACC) – ESPN (9:00 PM)

Marcus Paige Clutch Play Has Been Key To North Carolina's Winning Streak. (Photo: Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige’s Clutch Play Has Been Key To North Carolina’s Winning Streak.
(Photo: Robert Willett/newsobserver.com)

Pomeroy Prediction: (#8) Duke 80-72 (#23) North Carolina

nc-duke

While neither of these teams have played their best basketball lately, North Carolina has managed to keep winning (12 straight) while Duke took a bad loss on Wednesday at Wake Forest. In that one Duke collapsed down the stretch, much like they did in earlier ACC road losses at Clemson and North Carolina. On the other hand, the Tar Heels have made enough plays to win three straight close games against teams with losing conference records. North Carolina’s improved offense has dipped lately, having its two worst offensive efficiency games during the winning streak in the last two contests. But the Tar Heel defense has remained solid, holding four of their last five opponents under 1.00 points per possession. Duke is mired in a team wide shooting slump which continued with a miserable 6-of-27 effort from three on Wednesday night. And unlike many Blue Devil teams of the past, the defense is not elite enough to overcome such shooting woes. Duke has been unbeaten at home since losing at the end of the 2012 season to North Carolina. If they want to stay unbeaten at home this year, the Blue Devils probably need to have a comfortable lead late. If it comes down to team toughness and resiliency, the Tar Heels may have the edge.

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XV, Player and Coach of the Year Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on March 6th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

As the college basketball regular season wraps up, I thought this would be a good time to run down my Coaches of the Year and Players of the Year in each of the major conferences. Here goes…

ACC

  • POY: T.J. Warren, NC State (24.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.8 SPG). Warren has been a tremendous bright spot on an otherwise mediocre Wolfpack squad. Since a rough four-point game against Virginia on January 11, Warren has scored at least 20 points in every game he has played (he missed one game due to injury). At 6’8” and an athletic 215 pounds, Warren is a match-up problem for nearly every opponent. He has had eight 30+ point games (only one fewer than Doug McDermott), including Monday’s 41-point explosion in a road win at Pittsburgh. Some may disagree because NC State is not at the top of the ACC, but a season like this where Warren brought it night after night deserves special recognition.
Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

Tony Bennett has done a tremendous job at Virginia. (virginiasports.com)

  • COY: Tony Bennett, Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC). Bennett’s teams have always been terrific defensively and this one is no exception. Ranked third nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia has allowed only four ACC opponents to score 60 or more points this season. Even in a league with a tempo as slow as this year’s ACC, that is a remarkable statistic. Virginia was a trendy surprise pick but I am not sure anyone thought it would turn out to be this good. The Cavaliers were picked fourth in the preseason ACC poll but currently hold a three-game lead over Syracuse and North Carolina with just one game to play.

American

  • POY: Russ Smith, Louisville (18.0 PPG, 4.5 APG, 2.0 SPG). This was a really close call between Smith and Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick but I am giving Smith the slightest of edges. Both mean so much to their respective teams but Smith’s decision to return to Louisville for his senior year has proven to be a wise one. Smith is enjoying the best shooting season of his career (46.8 percent) and has matured greatly. He is playing smarter and has led this Louisville team to a 25-5 overall record. The Cardinals again have the look of a Final Four contender and Smith is the primary reason why.

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