ACC Conversation: Pre-Conference Edition – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), Mick Mcdonald (@themickmcdonald) on January 4th, 2019

Rush the Court ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald recently got together to chat about the ACC heading in to conference play. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation.

Justin Robinson has guided Virginia Tech into contender status in the ACC. (accsports.com)

Brad Jenkins: Can Florida State or Virginia Tech crack the top three in the ACC? They both look like solid clubs, but are they being overlooked?

Matt Auerbach: I like both teams, and they deserve to be ranked inside the top 10 nationally. But I don’t believe that either will elevate above the aforementioned three squads when the league plays out.

Mick McDonald: Both definitely could, although I like Buzz Williams’ club a bit more. They are lethal offensively with so many guys who can light it up, and they play really hard on the defensive end. Their schedule has been light so far, so I’m very much looking forward to some bigger opportunities coming up shortly. Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Justin Robinson can make an argument for best backcourt in the country and Kerry Blackshear is a match-up nightmare.

Matt Auerbach: Truthfully, there’s no denying both belong inside the top 10 based on merit, but I don’t view either as a legitimate threat to make a Final Four without some unusual breaks falling their way.

Mick McDonald: Agree with Matt. These two are rightful top 10 teams, but the ACC is just so loaded that could mean finishing fourth or fifth.

Matt Auerbach: If forced to choose one team over the other, I’d definitely lean towards the Hokies because of the backcourt. With a guy like Robinson surrounded by elite shooters, they can be impossible to stop if they get rolling.

Brad Jenkins: My only concern with the Hokies is that they are so reliant on great shooting. I’m just not sure how they can beat good teams on off shooting nights. I actually think Florida State may be better now that Phil Cofer is back in the lineup, but the Seminoles tend to not always progress very well through league play. Let’s move on to some surprise teams. Are NC State and Louisville legit?

Mick McDonald: I think NC State is legit in terms of a lock NCAA Tourney and potential second weekend team. Kevin Keatts is proving himself as one of the best young coaches in the country — that team looks like a nightmare to prepare for.

Matt Auerbach: Well, you saw the Pack in person, Brad, and your bird’s eye view confirmed what we had been seeing from afar. NC State is the real deal. Balanced, explosive, efficient and great chemistry makes for beautiful offensive basketball and that’s what Keatts’ team has going right now.

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Reviewing the ACC’s Five Early Losses

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 16th, 2018

We’re just over a week into the season and the ACC has suffered a total of five losses. Two of those defeats came from teams that were expected to struggle, two others were from teams that were hoping to be on the fringe of the NCAA Tournament, and one came from a potential contender. RTC ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) breaks each of those early losses down. (All rankings via KenPom as of November 15.)

Syracuse Struggled Against Old Enemy UConn Last Night (USA Today Images)

  • #96 Connecticut 83, #7 Syracuse 76. As the old saying goes, throw out the KenPom rankings when two old rivals get together. Syracuse had to scratch and claw to make the NCAA Tournament last year despite an elite defense because the Orange simply couldn’t score (135th nationally). Last night against Connecticut in Madison Square Garden, they were up to their old tricks again. The Orange shot just 39.4 percent from the field and made just six threes while allowing Connecticut to nail 12-of-21 from three-point range. Most teams won’t shoot nearly that well against Syracuse’s length this year, but its lack of consistent offense leaves the Orange vulnerable when a team gets hot.
  • #259 IUPUI 76, #90 Boston College 69. Whatever dreams Boston College had at making a run at an at-large bid this year may already be over with its bad loss earlier this week to IUPUI. Jim Christian’s team simply isn’t making enough shots, hitting only 29.5 percent of its three-pointers so far this season and getting limited production from its frontcourt of Steffon Mitchell (46.4% eFG) and Nik Popovic (47.4% eFG). Most importantly, Boston College needs to find some depth — through only three games, the Eagles’ five starters are averaging at least 28 minutes per contest. Freshman Jairus Hamilton is playing just over 18 minutes per game off the bench. Nobody else is seeing more than five minutes per contest. If Christian can’t find anyone else he trusts to give the occasional spell to Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman, Boston College is in major trouble in the ACC.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part I Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 15th, 2018

morning5_ACC

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

  1. Myrtle Beach InvitationalWake Forest (#101) tipped off the ACC’s early season tournament action with a loss this morning, taking on St. Joseph’s (#90) in the first round of the Myrtle Beach Invitational and folding in the second half by a score of 89-69. On Friday, the Demon Deacons will play the loser between UCF (#74) or Cal State Fullerton (#132). West Virginia (#14) is the prohibitive tourney favorite in this event, being the only team in the field rated among KenPom’s top 70. Danny Manning‘s team figures to be in some close games during the rest of the weekend, and winning a couple of tight games in Myrtle Beach would be a huge confidence boost for Wake’s young players.
  2. Charleston Classic: Virginia Tech (#31) also had an early tip time today, knocking off Ball State (#99) in the first round of the Charleston Classic. The Hokies will likely see Alabama (#56) in Friday’s semifinals (1:30 PM), giving Buzz Williams’ club a chance for some payback — recall that the Crimson Tide knocked Virginia Tech out of last season’s NCAA Tournament in a first round meeting. In the other half of the bracket, Purdue (#16) looks like the most likely school to reach Sunday evening’s title game (ESPN2 – 8:30 PM). With seven top-100 KenPom teams in Charleston, the Hokies have a chance to grab some nice resume-building wins this weekend, and they may need them because the rest of their non-conference schedule is rather soft.
  3. 2K Empire ClassicSyracuse (#8) heads to Madison Square Garden tonight for the 2K Empire Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project. The Orange will meet their old Big East rival Connecticut (#97) in tonight’s opener (ESPN2 – 7:00 PM) with Oregon (#19) and Iowa (#38) squaring off in the nightcap. The two winners will meet in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 6:30 PM). So far this year, three-point shooting has been horrendous when Syracuse plays — at both ends of the floor. The Orange are only converting 18.2 percent of their deep tries, and Syracuse’s opponents are not much better in sinking just 22.0 percent from behind the arc. A Syracuse-Oregon championship game would probably be the nation’s best match-up of the week. The Ducks would provide a stiff challenge for Jim Boeheim’s zone, having made 43.8 percent of their three-point attempts in two blowout wins last week.
  4. Gotham Classic: This is a non-traditional event in which the games are all pre-scheduled. Notre Dame (#51) has already hosted two games as part of the event, beating Illinois-Chicago (#190) on November 6, and suffering an upset to Radford (#158) last night. Next up for Mike Brey’s club are home games with William & Mary (#150) this Saturday (ACCN – Noon) and Duquesne (#165) on Tuesday, November 20 (ACCNE – 7:00 PM). In years past, this event wrapped up with a game in Madison Square Garden, but apparently this particular field of teams was too weak to make that happen. This event is unlikely to boost the Irish’s NCAA resume, but Notre Dame’s upcoming schedule will take care of that. The Irish’s next five games are against top-80 KenPom teams from power-six basketball leagues.
  5. Barclays Center ClassicPittsburgh (#120) is also not participating in a traditional winner-advance tournament this season, instead opting for four pre-scheduled games as part of the Barclays Center Classic. On Monday, the Panthers beat Troy (#163) in their first game of the event. Next up for Jeff Capel’s squad are a pair of home match-ups with directional schools – Central Arkansas (#289) tonight and North Alabama (#336) on Saturday. The main event will take place in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where Pittsburgh will meet Saint Louis (#81) on Wednesday, November 21 (ACCNE – Noon). A win over the Billikens would indicate that Capel is ahead of schedule as he rebuilds the Panthers’ once proud program. It could also help him reestablish a strong presence in New York City, which was once a very fertile recruiting spot for the program.
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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 1

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 1 of that conversation.

Danny Manning needs his young stars to come through for Wake Forest to move up the ACC standings. (Walt Unks/Winston-Salem Journal)

  • Brad Jenkins: Happy New Year, gentlemen! Let’s start with a look at the projected bottom of the league. Matt, you did our preview piece on Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Can any of these teams surprise us and contend for an NCAA bid like the Yellow Jackets did two years ago?
  • Matt Auerbach: Great to be back, guys! The short answer to that, Brad, is no. I just can’t see it. The best-case scenario for the first two, particularly Pittsburgh, is that they are competitive and playing a more exciting brand of basketball than they have the last two years. Jeff Capel was a home run hire that will ultimately steer the Panthers back to relevance. Josh Pastner built up some equity with his run to the NIT finals two years ago, but there doesn’t seem to be much to be excited about in Atlanta. As for Wake, if Jaylen Hoard could have a Trae Young or Deandre Ayton type of impact, sure. While extremely talented, I think the odds of that occurring, however, are near nil, and the pressure will be mounting on Danny Manning if another disappointing season ensues.
  • Mick McDonald: Great point on Capel, Matt. Pitt basketball at least feels interesting again. They’ll be bad this year but I’ll be interested to see how guys like Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens begin their careers. I think they may actually be better than Georgia Tech. Pastner’s team looks rough.
  • Matt Auerbach: Without a doubt, of the three, I’d be least surprised if Pittsburgh won four or five games.
  • Mick McDonald: I know Manning keeps pulling good recruits but it feels like he needs to have a team make some noise sometime soon.
  • Brad Jenkins: I think there’s a chance for Capel to do something like what Pastner did in his first year in Atlanta based on the new energy he has in the Pitt program, but the ACC schedule rotation did him no favors — they have zero home games against the predicted bottom four in the league. Is Manning the ACC coach on the Hot Seat this year?
  • Mick McDonald: I guess, but given how his recruiting is going, I’d bet Manning gets at least one more year.

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ACC Year in Review: Virginia’s Disappointment Stains Otherwise Strong ACC Season

Posted by Matt Auerbach on April 13th, 2018

For the first time since the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas, the ACC was without representation during the season’s final weekend. Despite that disappointment, the ACC still finished the year rated as the second strongest conference via KenPom, with two of its nine NCAA Tournament entrants — Florida State and Duke — falling just a game short of a trip to San Antonio. That said, ACC regular season and tournament champion Virginia dominated the conference in stupendous fashion, winning the regular season by four games over runner-up Duke in large part thanks to the stingiest defense since the 38-1 Kentucky team in 2015. A convincing three-day run in Brooklyn left little doubt that Virginia was a worthy #1 overall seed heading into the Big Dance. We all know what happened next.

Virginia Became the First #1 Seed to Lose to a #16 Seed (USA Today Images)

  • Biggest Surprise: What happened in Charlotte several weeks ago defied all the laws of common sense and conventional basketball wisdom. The ignominious distinction of becoming the first #1 seed to fall to a #16 will sting the Virginia program for years — perhaps decades — but given the passage of time we can also start to begin to appreciate a tremendous season submarined by an inexplicable 40-minute sample size. And while that upset alone is the exact definition of a surprise, a Cavaliers team that was picked to finish sixth in the preseason laying waste to the entire ACC for three months qualifies as a legitimate surprise on its own right.

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Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 2018

Here is the latest edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics, and trends around the conference. This week we will compare how each ACC squad performed in its last nine league games, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. Finally, we will examine the ACC standings and project what it may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 3.

Current Standings

The final points per possession margin (PPM) figures suggest that there are a pair of ACC teams (Virginia and Duke) that are clearly superior to the rest of the league, and one squad (Pittsburgh) that is exceptionally worse. There is also a lot of parity in the middle of the league this season, with six schools posting +/- 0.01 in PPM. Among that group, Miami at 11-7 stands out as the most fortunate. By winning their last four games by three points or fewer — and thanks to the league’s tie-breaking procedures — the Hurricanes landed the #3 seed in Brooklyn this week. They accomplished this feat despite only outscoring their ACC foes by a total of nine points all season long. It’s also interesting to consider the relative strength of schedule among the 15 league members. Note that there is some bias built into the standings — Virginia and Duke only met once and can’t play themselves, partially explaining why they have the ACC’s two weakest schedules. But North Carolina clearly played a much tougher slate, with two games each against three of the top five seeds in this week’s tournament (Duke, Clemson and NC State). Even that gauntlet, though, doesn’t match what Buzz Williams‘ crew at Virginia Tech faced this year — the Hokies logged two meetings with each of the top three seeds in Brooklyn (Virginia, Duke and Miami). Additionally, hats off to Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers for submitting the ACC’s best defense for the fourth time in five years, while North Carolina finished with the league’s top offense for the second straight year.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.05.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 5th, 2018

It was a great Saturday to be an ACC player in his final appearance in front of the home crowd, as all seven home teams were victorious this weekend. In the headline match-up in Durham, Duke overcame a double-figure deficit to avenge an earlier loss to North Carolina. Surging Miami won its fourth consecutive game — all by three points or fewer — by edging Virginia Tech, leaving the Hurricanes as the #3 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament. Regular season champion Virginia held off a Notre Dame squad that is suddenly more dangerous with a healthy Bonzie Colson back in the lineup. In other action, Syracuse kept its NCAA at-large hopes alive with a win over Clemson, Florida State took down Boston College, and NC State topped Louisville. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Grayson Allen and Coach K celebrate Duke’s win over rival North Carolina in Allen’s last game in Cameron Indoor Stadium. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

  • Best Win: It was a tale of two halves for Duke in its 74-64 rivalry win over North Carolina. The Blue Devils trailed by 10 points at the break following an ice-cold shooting start — Duke sank only one of 10 shots from deep and 4-of-14 from the free throw line. But the offense picked up in the second half, as Duke scored 49 points and made eight threes on 15 attempts. Much has been made of Mike Krzyzewski’s decision to go zone, and the Blue Devils’ defense continues to improve as a result (now ranked 10th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings). North Carolina came into the game having scored at least 1.20 points per possession in its last seven outings, but the Tar Heels only managed 0.91 points per possession on Saturday evening. It didn’t help that star Joel Berry had an off night — the senior finished with just six points in going 0-of-7 from distance. With the win, Duke earned the #2 seed in the upcoming ACC Tournament, while the Tar Heels fell all the way to the #6 seed position. Given that the Tar Heels are ranked seventh nationally in KenPom, we are looking at a very deep ACC this postseason.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 1st, 2018

Here is the latest edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics, and trends around the conference. This week we will compare usage rate with offensive efficiency for the league’s top scorers, with an eye on who should be named to this season’s All-ACC First Team. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, February 27.

Current Standings

With the regular season race already wrapped up for Virginia, the attention now leads to the group of seven teams immediately behind the Cavaliers in the standings, all with five to seven losses. Incredibly, there’s a distinct possibility that the ACC ends up with a four-way tie for second place, provided that Clemson and NC State both win out and North Carolina beats Duke on Saturday night. When comparing records with points per possession margin (PPM) it’s easy to see how important performance in close games can be. Other than Virginia, Duke (0-2 in one-possession games) and North Carolina (1-3) have proven to be notch above the rest of the league based on PPM performance, but neither was able to separate itself from the rest of the pack this season. In contrast, Virginia Tech (3-0) and N.C. State (2-0) have ACC records that are superior to the merely average PPM numbers each has posted.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.26.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2018

Several ACC teams enhanced or maintained their NCAA Tournament chances with important victories over the weekend. Slumping Louisville picked up a crucial road win over Virginia Tech on Saturday, and Miami dodged a bullet by rallying to edge Boston College at home. On Sunday night, NC State continued its rise up the standings by blasting Florida State in Raleigh. In other action, Virginia clinched first place in the ACC regular season race — for the third time in five seasons — by dominating Pittsburgh. Also, Duke welcomed Marvin Bagley III back to the lineup and handled Syracuse in a slugfest in Durham. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

David Padgett was rewarded for his decision to put Dwayne Sutton (#24) in the starting lineup as Louisville gained a big win at Virginia Tech on Saturday.
(Michael Thomas Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: It’s been a rough February for Louisville, both on and off the court. The Cardinals entered the weekend having lost four of their last six games, and the NCAA recently denied the school’s appeal of punishments handed down in the wake of the school’s stripper scandal. Nevertheless, David Padgett’s team got off the mat to score a much-needed 75-68 win in Blacksburg. Louisville dominated the offensive boards to the tune of a 39.4 percent offensive rebounding rate, and got hot from deep down the stretch by sinking six consecutive threes near the end of the game. There’s something about the Hokies that brings out the best in Louisville’s shooters. In two wins over Virginia Tech this year, the Cardinals have gone 25-of-50 from behind the arc. More importantly, Louisville got its third road win over a KenPom top-40 team and a nice boost to its NCAA Tournament resume.

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