RTC Rewind: Virginia Survives, Others Not So Lucky…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 5th, 2015

Last Tuesday, in the first Weekly Primer of conference play this season, I wrote the following: “The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams.” A little later on, I concluded the paragraph with this: “We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have.” With one week in the books – for some, two games; for others, one game; for still others, none – it’s time to start making decisions. What do we think we know? Which 2-0 conference starts are flukes? Which upsets are signs of bigger and better things to come? Which conference races are starting to take shape? Which are still complete crapshoots? These are the types of questions to consider.

Headliner: Virginia 89, Miami 80 (2OT)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia Got All It Wanted from Miami, But Had the Last Laugh on Saturday (USA Today Images)

Virginia is still undefeated… but barely. After controlling much of Saturday’s contest at Miami, Virginia’s usually-stout defense was carved up late, and the Cavs eventually needed a clutch Justin Anderson three to stave off their first loss of the season. But while this was a game that should have been more comfortable for the defending ACC champions, this shouldn’t reflect negatively on them. In fact, it further drives home the point that Virginia isn’t just a defensive juggernaut. The Cavaliers can score, too, which is what makes them a top-five team in the country. But what originally looked like smooth sailing for Tony Bennett’s team turned into a perfect example of just how hard it is to go unbeaten in college basketball. Virginia escaped in Coral Gables, but the alarm bells that were sounding during overtime once again alerted the nation that anything can happen in conference play. Miami entered Saturday’s game having lost three of its last five contests by double figures, including a 28-point defeat to Eastern Kentucky. But when conference foes meet, they are generally in the same ballpark athletically. That means all it takes is an outstanding performance here, a subpar one there, sprinkled with a little underdog luck, and an upset is brewing. Louisville almost proved that point as well late Sunday at Wake Forest. Virginia and Duke are both really good teams, but neither will run the table. Kentucky might be a different story in the SEC, but the ACC is just too murderous this season.

And then there were three…

While Virginia scraped by Miami, Saturday wasn’t nearly as kind to three of the six remaining undefeated teams. For Colorado State and TCU, that’s probably no surprise. TCU had feasted on the nation’s weakest schedule, and the Horned Frogs are still a bubble outsider until they show they can win games in the Big 12. Colorado State had won an unsustainably high number of close games, and a trip to New Mexico proved to be its tipping point. The big name that fell over the weekend, though, was Villanova. The Wildcats traveled to Seton Hall on Saturday, but their lack of a true go-to scorer — the generally reliable Ryan Arcidiacono was dreadful — did them in. As a result, Villanova far too often settled for three-pointers outside of the natural flow of its offense, and, as other teams with similar makeups can attest – I’m looking at you, Iowa State – that is a recipe for an upset. Villanova can’t change the composition of its lineup, and that’s why the Wildcats will remain a step or two below the top tier of teams nationally.

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RTC Top 25: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 5th, 2015

Conference play got off to a frenetic start last week, and no team took better advantage of the start of league place than #19 Seton Hall. Playing both conference-opening games on their home court, the Pirates dispatched #16 St. John’s on Wednesday and #8 Villanova on Saturday. The Big East looks to be a little deeper this season than many anticipated, and the emergence of teams like Seton Hall are one of the major reasons why. #13 Oklahoma also did an admirable job of distinguishing itself in its first conference game on Saturday, as the Sooners took care of #21 Baylor, making it clear they will be a force to be reckoned with in Big 12 play. With conference play now in full swing in nearly every league, expect teams to continue to distinguish themselves from the pack in coming weeks. It is going to be a fun couple of months.

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

rtc25 w7

Quick n’ dirty Analysis.

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ACC Stock Watch – New Year’s Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 2nd, 2015

As we welcome 2015, the ACC’s 15 teams have all concluded their non-conference seasons. In the New Year’s edition of this week’s ACC Stock Watch, we’ll examine the league’s trending players and teams based on how they were predicted to finish in conference play (you can view the preseason ACC media projections here) and how they’re playing now.

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils are on fire to start the season. Their veterans have ceded major roles to the star freshmen without complaint or drop-off in production. Their 12-0 start includes good wins over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Temple and Stanford.
  • Tyus Jones, Duke. Taking over the reins of a national championship contender is difficult enough, but unseating a senior in Quinn Cook and maintaining harmony on the floor is really something else. Jones has emerged as a true revelation and has made the Duke offense (the most efficient in college basketball) hum. Even his high school coach didn’t think he’d be this good so fast.
Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he's been a revelation for Duke (Lance King)

Tyus Jones may fly under the radar on a team with Jahlil Okafor, but he’s been a revelation for Duke (credit: Lance King)

  • Virginia. Everyone knew the Cavaliers would be good again, but possibly better than last year? They’ve already held two teams to single-digit points in a half, and Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris have been capably replaced. Hopefully the recent defensive showing against Davidson was an aberration (72 points allowed by a Virginia team that had holds opponents under 50 per game on the year).
  • Notre Dame. A 13-1 start is great and this team is rolling on the offensive end. The Fighting Irish currently rank third in the country at 86.0 points per game and are shooting an otherworldly 55.4 percent from the field (best in the country). However, questions exist about the strength of Notre Dame’s non-conference schedule.

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ACC Stock Watch: Holiday Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 26th, 2014

As the holiday break kicked in, some ACC teams and players were probably thrilled to review their last few weeks of action with family and friends. Others were undoubtedly just glad they had some time away from the hardwood to refresh and reset expectations. We’ve now had three weeks since we last evaluated the state of the conference’s players and coaches, so here’s the Holiday Edition of the ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. All the Fighting Irish have done since we last checked in is to reel off five straight wins, bringing their overall record to 12-1 (including an early ACC win over Florida State). Mike Brey’s team is one of the most dynamic offensive groups in the country, averaging 86.1 points per game and putting up 94 and 91 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois. More impressive than the overall offensive output in those two games is that Jerian Grant scored a total of 21 points on just 5-of-22 shooting from the field. Once the All-American candidate returns to form, look out.
  • Virginia. Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers are finally getting their due as a serious national title contender. Tony Bennett’s team may be even better defensively this year than last, holding a talented Harvard team to eight first-half points en route to an impressive 76-27 win following a 17-point victory over rival VCU in Richmond two weeks prior. Duke and Louisville have gotten the majority of the attention so far, but the Cavaliers’ 11-0 start is something more pundits on the national scene are paying attention to.
Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia's throttling of Harvard proved they're a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia’s latest win, a throttling of Harvard, proved the Cavaliers are a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

  • North Carolina. For all of the talk about this team’s uneven play and noticeable deficiencies, the Tar Heels actually have put together a nice stretch since our last stock watch. Although they fell to Kentucky in Lexington, it took the Wildcats’ best shooting day of the year to knock off the Tar Heels by a mere 14 points (plus North Carolina actually outscored the Cats in the second half). In addition to blowout wins over East Carolina and UNC-Greensboro, the Heels won an important non-conference battle with a good Ohio State team last weekend. At 8-3, there are still some reasons for pessimism in Chapel Hill, but you can’t ignore that Roy Williams’ team has earned some solid wins while playing the ACC’s toughest non-conference schedule.

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Evaluating ACC Non-Conference Schedules: UNC Has the Toughest

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 24th, 2014

Back in late August when the ACC released complete team-by-team schedules for this season, North Carolina‘s non-conference slate prompted Roy Williams at the time to say, “This one may be a little off the charts.” As we will see below, perhaps his quote should be rephrased: “top of the charts” might be more appropriate. Now that we’ve reached the Christmas break for every ACC school, let’s evaluate this year’s non-conference schedules for all 15, considering different ways to judge the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. Keep in mind that each program must schedule according to its own needs that season, so some disparity in schedule strength is expected. But some of following numbers are still disappointing, to say the least.

ACC NonConf

In the chart above, we used current KenPom rankings and included all past and future opponents (most ACC teams have one or two non-conference contests remaining). As usual, the two most blue-blooded ACC programs top the list in most areas of evaluation. North Carolina has a clear edge in nearly every measurable factor, including average opponent rating, fewest home games, and most Top 25 opponents. The Tar Heels own the best average opponent rating by such a wide margin that even if #1 Kentucky is removed from the schedule, it would still lead the conference in that metric. Triangle neighbors Duke and N.C. State are in a tight race for the second-toughest non-conference schedule, with the Blue Devils earning the nod here due to the Wolfpack’s lack of a Top 25 opponent and their tendency to play so many home games. Mark Gottfried has always scheduled with the infamous RPI strength of schedule rating in mind, and who can blame him? The RPI rewards a win over a team ranked #150 much more than it does versus a team ranked #300, even though good teams should beat both squads relatively easily. Therefore, many of N.C. State’s opponents are chosen because they are expected to fall in that upper middle tier of the RPI: nine of N.C. State’s 13 non-ACC opponents currently have KenPom ratings between #59 and #114. Virginia has upgraded its schedule this season in accordance with the newly-elite status of the Cavalier program. Tony Bennett’s group only plays two games against bottom-150 teams and Virginia has already played (and won) three true road games in non-conference play.

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RTC Rewind: Drubbings, Drama, and Misfortune in Michigan

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 22nd, 2014

If you’re a fan of the sport, you know the feeling: of the impossible-to-keep-up-with, full slate of games; of the constant twists and turns; of the incessant storylines. It’s the feeling of conference play. It’s the feeling of a mid-January Saturday. It’s the feeling of a day on which college basketball is king. In an awkward, premature way, that’s kind of what this past Saturday felt like. It didn’t have the same intensity. It didn’t have the same weight or meaning. But, if you were so inclined, you could have plopped yourself on a couch and let college basketball gloriously eat away your entire day. And given how the day and the games played out, you would’ve been happy with your decision.

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford's UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

It Was That Kind of Day For Steve Alford’s UCLA Team (USA Today Images)

Or, at the very least, happier than Steve Alford.

Headliner: Insanity in Philly. They used to meet at the Garden on Fridays in mid-March. They used to battle on Big Mondays in February; on Saturdays in January. Rather unfortunately, they no longer do. But whereas for others, conference realignment has terminated great rivalries, Syracuse and Villanova play on. And even if they do so in mid-December, we should all be thankful that that is the case. Saturday showed us why.

Saturday also showed us why you NEVER, EVER LEAVE A BASKETBALL GAME EARLY unless the result is entirely out of question. Hundreds of spectators had already filed out of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia when undefeated Villanova trailed unranked Syracuse by five with 17 seconds to play. The Orange had led wire to wire, and it appeared as if the Wildcats’ valiant comeback attempt would fall just short. But then chaos ensued. Josh Hart hit a 3. Trevor Cooney fell down. A pass intended for Rakeem Christmas was broken up. Players scrambled. The ball found Ryan Arcidiacono. He found JayVaughn Pinkston. He found the basket. The place exploded. Villanova students jumped up and down, mobbing each other out of sheer joy. When overtime began, they hadn’t yet stopped. There were still five extra minutes to play, but, even though Jay Wright’s team still hadn’t held one lead all game, the result seemed inevitable. Villanova was going to stay unbeaten.

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RTC Top 25: Week Five

Posted by Walker Carey on December 22nd, 2014

After a week of chalk, the unexpectedness of college basketball reemerged this week with several shocking results. First, previous #22 Miami (FL) was blown out by 28 points at home to Eastern Kentucky. An even more shocking upset took place Saturday night in East Lansing when Texas Southern – which entered the game with a 1-8 record – defeated previous #19 Michigan State in an overtime stunner. While things went against the grain for the Hurricanes and Spartans, they were certainly status quo last week for #1 Kentucky and #5 Virginia. The top-ranked Wildcats scored the first 24 points of the game en route to a laugher of an 83-44 victory over UCLA on Saturday. One day later, the Cavaliers held Harvard to just 27 total points in a dominant 49-point victory of its own.

This week’s Quick n’ Dirty after the jump….

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 1.51.52 AM

Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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O26 Game of the Week: Hawkeye State Showdown, Harvard-Virginia & SDSU-Cincy…

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 17th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on.

Northern Iowa (9-1) vs. Iowa (8-3) – 7:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network, Saturday.

Northern Iowa has a knack for playing in really good basketball games this season. The Panthers upended Stephen F. Austin by two in overtime during last month’s Tip-Off Marathon, ending the Lumberjacks’ 33-game home winning streak; they squandered a big second-half lead against George Mason earlier this month before escaping in overtime; and on Saturday, Ben Jacobson’s group lost its first game in one of the best games of the season, a double-overtime thriller at VCU. So what does UNI have in store this week, bumping up against intrastate foe Iowa in Des Moines? Probably another barnburner.

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

Seth Tuttle and the Panthers look to take down Iowa on Saturday. (UNI Athletics Communications)

KenPom currently ranks the Hawkeyes and Panthers 29th and 31st overall, respectively, which – on a neutral floor – results in a virtual coin-flip projection. Iowa is one of the nation’s top-30 fastest teams offensively (15.9 seconds per possession), while Northern Iowa is among the 30 slowest (20.4 seconds), yet the Hawkeyes’ strong suit has been its defense thus far this season, while the latter unit has been more offensively proficient. The Panthers, despite their preferred snail’s pace of play, demonstrated an ability to get out and run against VCU, so they should have no problem adjusting if Iowa’s uptempo pace wins out. The Hawkeyes’ most notable strength is its frontcourt, which provides much of the team’s scoring and prevents easy looks on the interior – which might actually suit Northern Iowa just fine, considering the majority of its points come from behind the arc and at the free throw line. This match-up may come down to Jacobson’s guys hitting perimeter shots – they went just 3-of-16 from distance in the game two years ago – and whether Fran McCaffery can get quality production from his backcourt. This should be a really good, really close contest either way.

More to Watch

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RTC Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

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VCU’s Win Over Northern Iowa Does Little to Mask Defensive Deficiencies

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 14th, 2014

Sometimes a team, if it has enough overall talent and a few breaks, can win a game in which its major flaws are exposed by an opponent. That’s exactly what happened in VCU’s thrilling double-overtime 93-87 win over an excellent Northern Iowa team on Saturday night in Richmond. Coming in, VCU’s detractors were wondering how the team dubbed Shaka Smart’s best since he took over the Rams program in 2009 could be a mere 5-3 and out of the national rankings already. The answer(s) to that question surfaced early and often against the Panthers; luckily the Rams’, buoyed by an always boisterous home crowd, overcame their nagging issues on the defensive end to win.

Shaka Smart's Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)

Shaka Smart’s Rams got a much-needed resume-builder, but defensive issues remain (vcuramnation.com)

VCU’s HAVOC defense is now a nationwide buzzword, and their pressing style can be utterly infuriating for opponents. But what has caused this Rams team to struggle in the non-conference schedule is the fact that once that press is broken or has been rendered impossible to set up, they’re a subpar half-court defensive team. Coming into the Northern Iowa matchup, the Rams were allowing opponents to shoot nearly 41% from three-point range. For a team that loves to chuck from long-range themselves, that can negate any good three-point shooting night they have. They’re not a whole lot better inside the arc, either, mostly because they take chances with their guard-heavy lineup and don’t have any true rim-protectors on the roster.

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And Then There Were 10: A Look at the Remaining Unbeatens

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 12th, 2014

We are exactly four weeks – four eventful and enthralling weeks – into the 2014-15 college basketball season. And while at times the non-conference season can get a bit monotonous, this time around it’s been anything but. Most of the top teams have challenged themselves, and we’ve already had several marquee match-ups that gave us a telling look at some squads that we assume will be contenders come March. As far as the hunt for a perfect season goes, there have already been significant casualties. Wichita State’s 35-game regular season winning streak was shot down in overtime by Utah. Top 10 teams Wisconsin and Kansas fell to Duke and Kentucky, respectively, in two titanic clashes. A strong Gonzaga team also came up just short against Arizona, which is easily the best team the Zags will play all season.

Ten teams now retain unblemished résumés through the first 28 days of action. And whereas in many seasons there are multiple mid-majors who feast on weak teams and get through the first month without a loss, that’s not the case this year. Two of the 10 come from non-power conferences, but neither is a fluke – both are decent bets for an at-large bid come March (if they don’t win their conference tournaments, of course). And only one of the 10 might be considered a total fluke. Let’s now take a look at these 10 teams, their remaining schedules, the biggest threats to their unbeaten records, and their chances to progress into January, February and beyond, unscathed.

Note: teams listed in order of KenPom probability of an undefeated regular season as of December 11, 2014.

Given Kentucky's Talent, Coaching and Conference, the Wildcats Easily Have the Best Shot to go Unbeaten (credit: USA Today)

Given Kentucky’s Talent, Coaching and Conference, the Wildcats Easily Have the Best Shot to Go Unbeaten (credit: USA Today)

  1. Kentucky (10-0) | Probability of perfect regular season: 4.6%

“Kentucky” and “undefeated” have been appearing in the same sentence a lot ever since the Wildcats demolished Kansas in Indianapolis in mid-November, and the Wildcats are by far the most likely team to accomplish the feat. KenPom’s model in fact probably undersells their chances. The biggest potential impediment to the notion might actually be the three-game stretch that begins this weekend in Lexington with a visit from North Carolina. Kentucky then plays UCLA in Chicago next weekend followed by a true road game at Louisville. The third of those three games is particularly tough, but John Calipari will have a week ahead of time to prepare for his team’s biggest rivalry game. And with the SEC down this year – like, waaaaay down – if Kentucky can get through these next three, the possibility of an unbeaten regular season is quite real. A February 7 trip to Florida could present a challenge if the Gators correct some of their current issues, but other than that, the toughest other conference games are either at Georgia, at LSU or at South Carolina. I’d put Kentucky’s chances to run the table somewhere around 15 percent.

  1. Duke (8-0) | Probability of perfect regular season: 1.1%

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ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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