2016-17 RTC Top 25: Week Seven

Posted by Walker Carey on January 3rd, 2017

The first full weekend of conference play was quite a doozy. From several head-scratching results (e.g., #22 Indiana falling in Bloomington to what was supposed to be an overmatched Nebraska team) to last second heroics (e.g., #11 Oregon beating #4 UCLA on a Dillon Brooks three-pointer), the start of conference play reminded us why college basketball is great theater. No conference that had a more dramatic opening weekend than the ACC, a fact that was driven home on New Year’s Eve when league stalwarts #6 Duke, #13 Virginia and #14 North Carolina were stunned by #21 Virginia Tech, #15 Florida State and Georgia Tech, respectively. While it is probably unreasonable to expect each subsequent week to provide as much drama, it is fair to assume that we will see flashes of this unexpectedness throughout the remainder of the season. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty Analysis of the RTC25 is after the jump.

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Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2017

The opening weekend of ACC play was one of the wackiest we have ever seen. On Saturday afternoon two home underdogs pulled off massive upsets: Virginia Tech over Duke and Georgia Tech over North Carolina. Those games were followed by a trio of late afternoon contests in which the winner rallied from a late second half deficit to pull out a close victory on the road —Florida State nipped Virginia; Clemson beat Wake Forest; and Notre Dame edged Pittsburgh in overtime. It was certainly a wild way to close out 2016, but the fun didn’t stop with the calendar year. Boston College, a team that had not won an ACC game since March 2015, celebrated the New Year by blasting Syracuse to snap its 20-game ACC losing streak. Here are the highlights from opening weekend around the ACC.

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (Photo: hokiesports.com)

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (photo: hokiesports.com)

  • Best Win: In a normal situation, a 14-point win over the preseason pick to win the conference would warrant ‘Best Win’ accolades, but Virginia Tech’s rout of Duke comes in second this weekend. Instead the title goes to Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State squad for handing Virginia only its second ACC defeat in Charlottesville since 2012. The Cavaliers came into the game ranked first in KenPom’s system, but the Seminoles rode Dwayne Bacon‘s hot hand in the second half to pull off the upset despite struggling to make shots from the field (41%) and foul line (50%). In addition to his great shooting performance (more on that below), Bacon exploited two rare Virginia breakdowns — scoring after an inbounds steal under the basket on one late possession, and converting an offensive rebound following his own missed free throw a few minutes later. Those are the kinds of plays that beat Virginia, a team that does not very often beat itself.

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Breaking Down Ivan Rabb vs. Virginia’s Defense

Posted by Adam Butler on December 26th, 2016

Virginia basketball doubles the post. This is less opinion than fact. Tony Bennett’s teams double the post and they double it effectively. In using Internet search devices you’ll discover a fifty-two-second video compilation of Virginia post-doubles when searching the terms, “VIRGINIA BASKETBALL DOUBLES POST.” And then another video with three minutes of post-doubles. Core to the pack-line defense is denying the paint, to ensure help is always available. In sending the immediate double-team, these tenets are fulfilled: help arrives immediately, and the post – and player – is denied.

Ivan Rabb Was Often Swarmed by Cavaliers (USA Today Images)

Ivan Rabb Was Often Swarmed by Cavaliers (USA Today Images)

The ultimate point I’m beleaguering here is that California center Ivan Rabb didn’t touch the ball for the final four minutes in last week’s 56-52 loss to Virginia. Rabb, the second-highest vote-getter in Preseason All-America voting, took only four shots on the evening and did not touch the ball for the final four minutes of a crucial non-conference home game. OK, to be fair, he did get a touch with 18 seconds remaining. It was with his back turned 24 feet away from the basket and resulted in an immediate handoff to teammate Jabari Bird (and zero threat to score). Ignoring that touch fits this final four-minute narrative but also demonstrates two key points: 1) Bennett is indeed the best defensive coach in America; 2) Cal is ineffectively using its greatest asset.

Let’s expand on the latter because to this point we’ve effused on the former. Bennett’s teams have never finished outside the top 100 in defensive efficiency and have been among the top 25 in nine of his 11 head coaching seasons. That point is clear. So, back to Rabb. If Virginia denies the post and Rabb is one of the nation’s best post players, what’s a Berkeley to do? First of all, one of the things that makes Rabb special is his pronounced versatility. He can score from all over the floor, create on his own and draw fouls. To quantify: he shoots 84 percent at the rim and 41 percent in the mid-range; only half of his shots are assisted; and he owns the 45th best free throw rate in America. Furthermore, his 12 percent assist rate suggests that, while he won’t soon rival Lonzo Ball in his passing capabilities, Rabb will find the open man (for context, that’s roughly the fifth-highest assist rate among Pac-12 bigs). So what was Cuonzo Martin‘s team trying to do at the end of a winnable game against a top 10 team? Well here’s a detailed look at Rabb’s 34 touches on the evening (including the last second, back-to-the basket, moment):

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ACC Trends: The Rise of Three-Point Shooting, Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 20th, 2016

*Ed. Note: This is a repost of an article that first appeared on the site November 8, 2016. 

Throughout its long and illustrious history, the sport of basketball has gone through numerous stylistic changes. For many years, the focus was on dominant post players with names like Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar and Walton. In the 1980s a shift to the era of great all-around players began. With apologies to Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson led the charge and Michael Jordan took it to the highest level. This trend of the two-way superstar continued to present day, with Kobe Bryant giving way in the last decade to LeBron James. Now, in the mid-2010s, we may be entering the dawn of a new era — the age of the three-point bomber. And if this trend is here for awhile, how will it affect the short-term future for ACC schools? In this first of a two-part look at the issue, we will examine some recent conference trends on three-point shooting.

Stephen Curry's long range bombing represents the new stlye of basketball that's already changing the college game. (Credit: www.sportingnews.com)

Stephen Curry’s long range bombing represents a new style of basketball that’s already changing the college game. (Getty)

To a great extent nowadays, college coaches borrow ideas from both the NBA and international basketball. High-major programs with a number of future pros like to use pick-and-roll or isolation sets. Coaches with less talented squads often mirror European offenses that feature a drive and kick approach with multiple long-range shooters available. Of late we have seen a dramatic stylistic shift in the NBA that incorporates much of the European model. Despite coming up short to James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in last June’s NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are the hottest thing in basketball right now. Led by two-time MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors set an NBA record by averaging 13.1 made threes per game last season. But Golden State isn’t the only professional team prospering from the deep shot. Clearly seeing the value of good three-point shooting, the average NBA team attempted 24.1 three-pointers last season, compared with an average of only 18.0 just five years prior. And in terms of overall success, the five NBA teams that made the most shots from behind the arc all finished with winning records – including both championship round finalists (the Cavaliers finished second in made threes). Read the rest of this entry »

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Handicapping the Early Race For At-Large ACC Bids

Posted by Shane McNichol on December 15th, 2016

The conversation about the ACC potentially placing a record number of teams in the NCAA Tournament has already started. There are currently 11 ACC teams among the RPI top 70, and that number excludes two more quality teams that have played weaker schedules to date in Syracuse and Miami (FL). Using an expected RPI calculation (per RPIforecast.com), 13 of the ACC’s 15 teams are projected to finish the season among the RPI top 100. With the possible exception of Boston College and its four albatross losses to Nicholls State, Richmond, Harvard and Hartford, the rest of the ACC has yet to remove themselves from at-large contention. North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Virginia and Notre Dame can feel pretty safe about inclusion barring an unprecedented collapse, a rash of injuries or some sort of unanticipated scandal. Georgia Tech is an interesting case with losses to Ohio, Penn State and Tennessee, but it doesn’t seem as if Josh Pastner’s group has enough talent to make a run in conference play. Let’s review the eight teams that fall somewhere in the middle.

The Resume Builders: Florida State, Clemson

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

Florida State Appears in Good Shape to This Point (USA Today Images)

The Seminoles are off to a nice 10-1 start with wins already over Illinois, Minnesota and Florida. On top of that, Florida State is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ACC’s unbalanced schedule this season. Of the league’s presumptive top four teams, only Duke appears twice on the schedule. If Leonard Hamilton’s bunch can hold serve at home and do no worse than the middle of the pack in conference play, they should be in.

Clemson hit the ground running with early wins over Georgia and Davidson and the Tigers have avoided any ugly losses to date. As most schools drift through exams and the holidays without much of a test, Brad Brownell’s team will do the opposite with upcoming tough games against South Carolina, Alabama and a strong UNC-Wilmington squad. After that stretch, the Tigers will enjoy an even easier conference schedule than Florida State, catching all five of the ACC’s best teams only once this season.

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ACC M5: 12.05.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 5th, 2016

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  1. For Duke this season, the injury bug giveth and the injury bug taketh away. After missing the first eight games of their freshmen campaigns, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden made their season debuts in Saturday’s blowout win over Maine. Given the new additions to his lineup, head coach Mike Krzyzewski decided it was a good time to rest two other ailing Blue Devils: guards Grayson Allen (toe) and Frank Jackson (foot). Afterward Krzyzewski also mentioned that Harry Giles is also close to full health, perhaps as soon as exams are over in two weeks. Luke Kennard took full advantage of the extra possessions, posting a career-high 35 points in the easy win. If the Blue Devils get healthy, it may not be wise to reduce the role of a player sporting an offensive rating of 130.9 on the season.
  2. Speaking of injuries, North Carolina suffered one of its own in Sunday’s rout of Radford in the Smith Center. Star point guard Joel Berry sprained his ankle early in the second half and did not return to the game. In the press conference afterward, Roy Williams said he hopes Berry can return to practice soon: “We’ll have to see what they say tomorrow, but I’m encouraged about it right now.” The next two games for the Tar Heels are at home against Davidson (Wednesday) and Tennessee (Sunday), both of which are winnable games even without their junior point guard. That will be followed by a six-day break, so hopefully Berry can return to full strength when North Carolina clashes with Kentucky in Las Vegas on December 17. In other injury news, Theo Pinson may be getting close to returning from his preseason foot injury.
  3. After bursting out of the gate with six impressive victories, Virginia quickly climbed all the way to the top of KenPom’s national ratings. Following a lackluster week that included squeaking by Ohio State and losing to West Virginia at home, however, the Cavaliers have slipped back to sixth. The Mountaineers came into Charlottesville on Saturday and handed Tony Bennett‘s team its first loss of the season — perhaps a sign of things to come when the competition gets consistently tough once ACC play begins. Great defense alone will not be enough to beat talented squads.
  4. At the other side of the spectrum we find North Carolina State. Mark Gottfried‘s team can score but are not very good on the other end of the floor. The Wolfpack are 6-2 on the year, with the two losses coming to the only two KenPom top-100 teams on the schedule to this point. Even more disturbing is the margin of victory against those inferior foes — three of their six wins came by four points or fewer. This is shaping up to be a very similar NC State team to last year’s version. Freshman guard Dennis Smith looks just as dynamic as Cat Barber was a year ago, but the Wolfpack’s defense looks just as porous as well.
  5. At first glance, Pittsburgh‘s loss to crosstown rival Duquesne on Friday night looks like a classic letdown game against a highly motivated opponent. The Panthers were coming off their most impressive win of the year — easily handling Maryland on the road in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge — and the Dukes hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh since 2000, a streak of 15 consecutive losses. It also didn’t help that senior star Jamel Artis was serving a one-game suspension for what Kevin Stallings said was a failure to “meet our high standards.” The Panthers’ offense struggled mightily without Artis in the lineup, posting a miserable 0.80 points per possession. Even ACC leading scorer Michael Young was off his game — he finished with 19 points on 8-for-21 shooting. So much for an easy transition for new head coach Kevin Stallings.
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 23rd, 2016

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings.

  1. AdvoCare Invitational: Miami (#17) will travel a few hours north to participate in Orlando’s AdvoCare Invitational. This event has a sneaky good field this year — one of the best of Feast Week. The Hurricanes open play against Stanford (#64) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPN2 – 2:30 PM) and then hopefully will take on the winner of Iowa State (#30) and Indiana State (#163) on Friday. Three powerful teams are lurking on the other side of the bracket, with Gonzaga (#20), Florida (#13) and Seton Hall (#36) all vying to make it to Sunday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – 1:30 PM). Jim Larranaga’s team burst onto the national scene last year by winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in convincing fashion. Miami’s head coach would love to repeat that performance in Orlando this week.
  2. Wooden Legacy: After three easy home wins to start the season, Virginia Tech (#45) will head out west for the Wooden Legacy in Orange County. There are two other top-80 clubs in the Hokies’ half of the draw, so getting to Sunday night’s finals (ESPN – 8:30 PM) will be a challenge. Virginia Tech will take on New Mexico (#80) in Thursday’s opening round (ESPN – 4:30 PM) and then will meet either Texas A&M (#33) or Cal State Northridge (#184) on Friday. The top schools in the opposite side of the bracket are UCLA (#23) and Dayton (#38). With only two other non-conference opponents rated in the top 275 remaining on their schedule, it is very important that Buzz Williams’ club performs well in California this week.
  3. Barclays Center Classic: The ACC will be back in Brooklyn later this week as Boston College (#191) plays in the Barclays Center Classic beginning with a match-up against Kansas State (#41) on Friday (RSN – 7:00 PM). The other semifinal game will feature former ACC member Maryland (#54) taking on Richmond (#97). The Eagles will be heavy underdogs in this event but they can still take some positives from it even if they drop both games. This weekend’s pair of games will be Boston College’s only non-league action against good competition, which should serve to help prepare a young team for what it will face once ACC play begins in January.
  4. Emerald Coast Classic: Virginia (#4) travels south to Niceville, Florida, for the Emerald Coast Classic, a four-team tournament. The Cavaliers will square off with Iowa (#59) in one of Friday’s semifinals (CBSSN – 7:00 PM) and hope to advance to the championship game on Saturday (CBSSN – 7:00 PM) against the winner of Providence (#63) and Memphis (#98). It’s safe to say that the team that draws Tony Bennett’s group will have its hands full with the Cavaliers’ incredibly stingy defense. Virginia is allowing opponents to score a measly 38.7 points per game through its first four contests.
  5. Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational: This is a non-traditional event in which the games are pre-scheduled. Syracuse (#8) hosts three games as part of the event and then heads to Brooklyn for the finale of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational on Saturday afternoon (ESPN3 – 2:30 PM). There, the Orange will take on South Carolina (#58) in a Power-5 matchup. For those keeping score, that game will be one of seven played by ACC squads in the Barclays Center in a six-day period. In less than two weeks, Jim Boeheim will bring his squad back to the Big Apple as Syracuse hooks up with former Big East foe Connecticut in Madison Square Garden on December 5.
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With Austin Nichols Gone at Virginia, Who Takes His Place?

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 18th, 2016

Earlier this evening, Virginia made a shocking announcement that not only affects the outlook of the Cavaliers season, but that of the entire ACC. Forward Austin Nichols, who sat out last season after transferring from Memphis, has been dismissed from the program. In the announcement, Tony Bennett said, “It’s a privilege to be a part of this program and Austin has lost that privilege. We have standards for our student-athletes and when those standards aren’t met, there are consequences and this is the unfortunate consequence.”

Despite some issues at Memphis, Nichols had (apparently) been a model citizen in Charlottesville during the 2015-16 season while he was practicing with the team. It was a bit of an eyebrow raiser when Nichols was suspended for Virginia’s first game of this year, and there were a few questions asked when he came off the bench in the Cavaliers’ second contest against St. Francis (Brooklyn). Still, nobody expected this to be the next act in this saga.

When Anthony Gill graduated following last season, most in the Virginia program weren’t worried thanks to the presence of Nichols. They felt Nichols could replace Gill by stepping right into the role of an effective scorer on the low block and an elite shot blocker on the defensive end of the floor.

Isaiah Wilkins is one of several Cavaliers who will need to step up in the absence of Austin Nichols. (AP Photo/Ryan M. Kelly)

No one player on the roster can solely take over for Nichols so it will take a committee. On the offensive end, Isaiah Wilkins will be asked to be more of a volume scorer. Through two games, Wilkins is shooting 62.5% from the field, and he will now have to be the go-to scorer in the Virginia frontcourt, a role he has never played before. He is much more of an inside-out scorer than a typical back-to-the-basket player, however. That role will likely go to Jarred Reuter, who played sparingly last year but is a favorite of Tony Bennett thanks to his creative back-to-the-basket play. He has averaged 17 minutes per game in the Cavaliers first two contests, and you can expect that to rise in the coming games. Finally, they will need to replace Nichols on the defensive end, which will fall to Jack Salt and Mamadi Diakite. Both Salt and Diakite are quite raw with Salt playing limited minutes last season and Diakite redshirting, but both can be effective defenders. Salt is a bruiser at 6’10” and 240 pounds and can be a load to try to keep off the boards. Diakite is smaller at 6’9” and 195 pounds, but Bennett loves his athleticism. He should end up being an excellent shot blocker, but it remains to be seen how he will handle the physicality of the ACC.

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Two Key Players Off to Promising Starts in Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 18th, 2016

Virginia and Virginia Tech are both off to 2-0 starts with both teams posting a pair of easy victories. Given the quality of their opponents, these results were neither surprising nor particularly interesting. However, one takeaway from the first week of action is that a pair of players we thought might be key to their success are off to promising starts. The caveat of course is that this is just two games against sub-175 KenPom teams, but fans of both the Cavaliers and Hokies should be optimistic about what they have already seen from Marial Shayok and Ahmed Hill.

Marial Shayok as a consistent scoring threat will be key for Virginia. (Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports)

Shayok has been a source of frustration for Virginia since his arrival two seasons ago. He has regularly mixed snippets of his obvious talent with games where he was a complete non-factor. The Cavaliers could afford to live with his volatility when Malcolm Brogdon was around to provide offensive punch, but the time has come for Shayok to be a more consistent presence. After one week of action: so far, so good. Although Virginia has spread the wealth with nine players averaging between 6.0 and 12.0 points per game, Shayok so far leads the way (11.5 PPG). He has clearly embraced his role as a go-to scorer and his improved mid-range game has resulted in shooting a scorching 64.3 percent from the field. After the victory over St. Francis (Brooklyn) on Tuesday night, Shayok told reporters that plenty of offseason hard work has helped him feel less tired during games. He also noted that he “lost about 20 pounds because I stopped eating Domino’s and cookies.“ While less pizza and cookies is probably a good suggestion for all of us, Tony Bennett has to be pleased that Shayok has gotten serious about his conditioning and is much improved this season.

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Opening Weekend in the ACC: Early Goals For All 15 Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 11th, 2016

As we welcome back college basketball this weekend, all 15 ACC schools will be in action, with several suiting up more than once. While teams like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville have Final Four aspirations as their ultimate objective, others like Boston College and Georgia Tech would probably be content with a winning record. Whatever the preseason expectation level of each team, there are some specific things each would like to accomplish right out of the gate. Here’s our best guess of what each ACC school’s coaching staff will be focused on this weekend.

ACC schools are presented in alphabetical order. (opponent’s preseason KenPom ranking in parenthesis)

Boston College: Find out who can play.

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Nicholls State (#321): The Eagles have a plethora of new players, including three transfers and four freshmen. Jim Christian has watched all of them perform in the preseason, but he will be anxious to see which newcomers can emerge as dependable options when the real games begin.

Clemson: Start building the resume.

Clemson's Brad Brownell has an improved offense and a surprisingly big home court edge in ACC play. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

Clemson’s Brad Brownell needs a much better performance in non-conference play this year than the 7-5 mark posted by the Tigers a year ago. (Bart Boatwright/greenvilleonline.com)

  • Friday Nov. 11, 7:00 ET vs. Georgia (#58): A horrible performance in the non-conference portion of the Tigers’ schedule cost them dearly last year. One of those resume scars was a blowout loss to Georgia in Athens. The Bulldogs are the highest rated opponent on the ACC docket this weekend, so a revenge win by Clemson would represent a great start for Brad Brownell.

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