ACC Weekend Review: 01.18.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2016

Saturday was a day for upsets in the ACC as four underdogs were victorious. Notre Dame won a shootout over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium in the marquee matchup of the weekend; the Clemson Tigers continued their amazing run with a home rally over Miami; Virginia Tech overcame a large late deficit to beat Georgia Tech in Atlanta; and Syracuse got its second ACC win by blasting Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The other two games on the day ended as expected – Pittsburgh handled Boston College at home and North Carolina, the ACC’s only undefeated team in conference play, overcame a slow start to finish off North Carolina State in Chapel Hill. In the only ACC action on Sunday, Virginia‘s road woes continued in a loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. Here are some of the other highlights from the weekend in the ACC.

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson's five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

Brad Brownell and Jaron Blossomgame have had plenty to celebrate during Clemson’s five straight ACC upset wins. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

  • Best Win: In one of the most improbable occurrences in college basketball this year, Clemson has overcome one of the ACC’s toughest early league schedules by winning five straight games as an underdog. The latest victim was Miami by a score of 76-65 on Saturday afternoon in Greenville. With seven minutes to go and Miami holding a six point lead, it looked like the Tigers’ streak was near its end. But Clemson closed out the game with a 25-8 run and has now won five straight ACC games for the first time since Rick Barnes was coaching the Tigers in 1997. Jaron Blossomgame led the way with 25 points on 9-for-15 shooting. During the Brad Brownell era, the Tigers have always played good defense, but the difference this year is the Tigers’ offense. After finishing among the bottom three in ACC offensive efficiency the last three years (and never above 1.00 points per possession), Clemson is currently sixth in the league at a much improved 1.12 points per possession. A huge part of that success is the Tigers’ ability to punish teams from the foul line – they rank second in the ACC in free throw rate (45.1%) and first in accuracy (79.6%).
  • Worst Loss: Even though Wake Forest’s dismal effort in a home blowout to Syracuse technically may be the worst performance, we instead will go with the squad that suffered the most heartbreaking defeat, mainly because of what it may mean for that team’s confidence going forward. The team in question is Georgia Tech, who suffered a total meltdown at home against Virginia Tech. In our last weekend recap, we lauded Brian Gregory’s team for finally getting over the hump in winning a close league game. Well, the praise may have been a bit premature. The end of Saturday’s game in Atlanta played out exactly like many of the Yellow Jackets’ league games did a year ago, as the Jackets blew a 10-point lead over the last 4:14 of the game. In its final 12 possessions, Georgia Tech had more turnovers (4) than points (3). It certainly didn’t help that Adam Smith, the Jackets’ main outside threat, only made one three-pointer in seven tries from deep.
Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish's big road win. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson punished Duke with 31 points in the Irish’s big road win.
(Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Most Outstanding Player: Notre Dame’s Mike Brey has many weapons at his disposal, and that includes sophomore Bonzie Colson, who apparently loves to play against Duke. Colson helped the Irish defeat the Blue Devils in last season’s ACC Tournament semifinals with a then career-best 17 points. He nearly doubled that output on Saturday afternoon, finishing with 31 points and 11 rebounds (eight offensive) to lead the Irish to their fourth win over Duke in five meetings as ACC members. Colson scored in a variety of ways: post moves, putbacks, free throws (5-5) and even from deep (2-3 on threes). Afterwards, Brey commented on his play, “He gets pretty fired up when he does play them. Bonzie’s a big game guy. He loves a big game, and I thought he helped his teammates get confident.” Colson did not start the contest but logged 33 minutes as Brey recognized early on that the burly forward was a huge matchup problem for the Blue Devils’ thin frontcourt.
  • Unsung Heroes: With North Carolina’s top three scorers struggling against NC State, Roy Williams needed someone else to step up. That someone turned out to be Kennedy Meeks, who scored 25 points, grabbed six boards and blocked three shots to help the Tar Heels pull away from their rival. In only his second game back from a knee injury, Meeks had his highest point total since he tallied 25 in the season opener. Syracuse has not been a balanced team this year, having been carried by its backcourt to this point. But in Saturday’s rout of Wake Forest, junior forward Tyler Roberson delivered a dose of frontcourt production with 16 points and 13 rebounds. That makes four consecutive double figure scoring games for Roberson, who also helped the Orange’s defense Saturday with three steals. Pittsburgh’s Cameron Johnson only played 15 minutes in the Panthers’ win over Boston College, but he maximized that time with 20 points on an efficient seven of ten shooting performance. The redshirt freshman wing flashed a nice touch from deep, making four of his seven long-range attempts. He is now shooting 42.4 percent for the season from three-point range.
  • Most Efficient Offense/Least Efficient Defense: With Notre Dame visiting Duke in a game featuring two of the top four offenses in the country, we expected a shootout. Boy did we ever get one. Rare are games in which both teams score at a rate higher than 1.30 points per possession, but that’s what happened in Cameron Indoor on Saturday. The Irish prevailed with an offense that posted 1.36 points per possession in the exciting 95-91 win. That’s the most points per possession allowed by Duke to an ACC foe at home in the 15-year KenPom era. As one might expect in a performance that efficient, Notre Dame was outstanding in multiple offensive areas. They made 51.8 percent of their two-point attempts; hit 43.8 percent from three-point range; converted 80 percent from the foul line; grabbed 16 offensive rebounds, and only gave the ball away six times. It took every bit of that efficiency to hold off a Duke team that made half of their 24 three-point attempts.
  • Most Efficient Defense/Least Efficient Offense: In the weekend’s most lopsided game, Wake Forest managed only 0.77 points per possession in its 83-55 home loss to Syracuse. The Deacons had a tough time figuring out how to attack the Orange’s 2-3 zone from the outset and finished with 18 turnovers. When the Demon Deacons did get shot opportunities, they failed miserably, making just two of 20 from deep and missing 17 of 42 free throw attempts. Coming into the game, Wake figured to take advantage of Syracuse’s normally weak defensive rebounding, but things played out differently, as the Deacons only grabbed 25 percent of their misses. That percentage is well below Wake’s season average (35.1%) and that of Syracuse’s opponents (also 35.1%). Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim said, “This was the best defensive game we’ve had all year. We just were tremendously active. We had been doing a good job at the three-point line, but not so much inside. We were much better inside tonight.”

 

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.11.16 Edition

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

The ACC currently has five teams that rank among KenPom’s top 10, but two of that group fell on the road in the second weekend of conference play. On Saturday afternoon, Georgia Tech finally won a close ACC game by knocking off Virginia in Atlanta. Clemson also pulled off a solid upset by beating Louisville in the Tigers’ makeshift home gym this year – Greenville’s Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Syracuse put up a good fight in Jim Boeheim’s return on Saturday before wilting down the stretch at home against North Carolina. In other action, Duke blew out Virginia Tech in Cameron Indoor Stadium; Miami cruised at home over Florida State; and red-hot Pittsburgh won a shootout over Notre Dame in South Bend. Wake Forest got its first conference win last night by holding off N.C. State in Winston-Salem. Here are some of the other highlights from the weekend in the ACC.

Brian Gregory finally got over the hump with Georgia Tech's big win over Louisville. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Brian Gregory finally got over the hump with Georgia Tech’s big win over UVA. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

  • Best Win: It’s been a long time coming for Georgia Tech fans, but Brian Gregory’s team was able to close out a tough conference opponent for the first time in a long while. After suffering through a brutal stretch of tight ACC defeats last season, the Yellow Jackets started this year in similar fashion, dropping their first two games on the road. But those demons were exorcised Saturday in McCamish Pavilion as Georgia Tech outplayed two-time defending ACC regular season champion Virginia. The Jackets flashed their newfound long-range marksmanship by making 8-of-15 three-point tries, including three straight during a crucial 11-0 spurt when the score was tied with six minutes to play. Georgia Tech also owned the glass, finishing +12 in rebounding margin for the game. For Virginia, this loss, coming just days after a shocking defeat at Virginia Tech, completes the Cavaliers’ roughest week of ACC play in a very long time.

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ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Week 1 Edition

Posted by Matt Auerbach on January 8th, 2016

With the first full week of conference play now in the books, results have mostly held to form thus far (Virginia falling in Blacksburg notwithstanding). The presumptive favorites appear to be as good as advertised, and perhaps even a little better in some cases (see: Brice Johnson’s 39-point, 23-rebound exercise in absurdity in Tallahassee). In fact, Johnson doesn’t even make this week’s Stock Watch because that kind of performance can’t be defined by any sort of trajectory — it’s off the graph entirely.

Trending Up

Buzz Williams continues to clean house as he turns around Virginia Tech's basketball program. (Michael Shrayer - USA TODAY Sports)

In just his second year, Williams has Hokies’ fans buzzing earlier than expected in Blacksburg. (Michael Shrayer/USA TODAY Sports)

Virginia Tech: Even after an 11-22 campaign a season ago, few seemed to doubt that Buzz Williams would eventually build Virginia Tech into a competitive ACC program. After an inauspicious start in this year’s non-conference season (nobody forgets that opening night loss to Alabama State), the Hokies probably shocked even themselves with their opening week of ACC play. An overtime win over struggling NC State is one thing, but following that up with a win over intrastate bully and two-time defending league champion Virginia is quite another. The victory put a halt to the Hokies’ seven-game losing streak to the Cavs and shows that Williams might actually be ahead of schedule in generating some excitement in Blacksburg. With his trademark passion and intensity, it is only a matter of time before Virginia Tech becomes a consistent winner.

Jordan Roper: The senior guard from Clemson proved there is more than one way to skin a cat in leading his team to a pair of impressive victories last week. On Saturday, Roper connected on a career-best seven three-pointers en route to a team-high 23 points, boosting the Tigers to a nine-point win over Florida State. His shots weren’t falling on Wednesday — Roper was unable to manage a single made field goal — but he set a career-high of 10 assists in an impressive overtime victory at Syracuse. Roper is averaging career-bests in points, rebounds and assists for the 2-1 Tigers, which next host Louisville in a game on Sunday where his steadiness will be critical.

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LSU’s Resume Might Be Better Than You Think…

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on January 7th, 2016

LSU has suddenly gone from a team likely to miss the NIT to potentially the top dog in the SEC after knocking off the top two teams in the preseason SEC coaches poll. Everyone who was resigned to Ben Simmons having the most forgettable of one-and-done college careers is now again dreaming of him lighting up March Madness. Clearly no team did more for their NCAA Tournament profile over the past week than the Bayou Bengals, which added a top 15 RPI signature win (Kentucky) to a top 100 RPI road win (Vanderbilt). Granted, LSU’s 9-5 overall record with an RPI of #127 means there’s a lot more work ahead, but let’s take a deeper dive into the Tigers’ profile to date — it may not turn out to be as poor as it initially looks.

And just like that, Ben Simmons and LSU are right back in the national picture. (Getty)

And just like that, LSU is right back in the national picture. (Getty)

  • Houston might end up a “good” loss. The Cougars are now 13-2 and 3-0 in the American (having won at Temple on Saturday by a whopping 27 points), and it’s possible that No. 120 RPI Houston is the best team other than SMU in this league. But the key here is getting inside the top 100 of the RPI so that LSU’s 105-98 overtime defeat to the Cougars on December 13 won’t be classified as a “bad loss.” If Kelvin Sampson’s squad can continue putting together a great season, this loss will look increasingly better on the Tigers’ resume.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.04.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 4th, 2016

The ACC tipped off the New Year’s first weekend of conference play without many high profile match-ups. The league currently has eight teams rated in KenPom’s top-40, but only one game this weekend matched two of them together. In that game, Virginia cruised past Notre Dame in Charlottesville, leading by double digits the entire second half. Three of Saturday’s contests featured second half comebacks – North Carolina trailed by three at the half before passing Georgia Tech late; Miami needed a huge second half to overcome Syracuse; and in the most exciting game of the day, Virginia Tech rallied from a big second half deficit to defeat North Carolina State in overtime. Also on Saturday, Clemson knocked off Florida State, and Duke beat hapless Boston College. In the only Sunday ACC action, Louisville held off Wake Forest at the KFC Yum! Center. Note that so far this season, home court matters in the ACC – visitors have only won once (Duke at Boston College) in the first nine league games. Here are some of the other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC:

Jordan Roper was red-hot - making 7 threes in Clemson's win over Florida State. (Dawson Powers/USA TODAY Sports)

Jordan Roper was on fire Saturday – making 7 threes in Clemson’s win over Florida State. (Dawson Powers/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Even though Virginia beat a higher rated team in Notre Dame (KenPom #31), we will go with Clemson and it’s win over a good Florida State (#40) squad. Brad Brownell’s team was desperate for a win after dropping three straight, and losing all six of its previous meetings with teams rated in KenPom’s top-220. Surprisingly, the Tigers did it with offense, scoring 1.25 points per possession against a Seminoles’ defense that had previously not allowed better than 1.07. Senior guard Jordan Roper led the way with 23 points and made a sizzling 7-of-10 from deep. Five other Tigers scored at least nine points, and Clemson controlled the boards by a +11 margin. Brownell hopes this performance can give his team confidence, because the Tigers will be underdogs in its next five games – at Syracuse on Tuesday, followed by four straight games against top-25 ACC teams.

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Wake Forest Enters ACC Play Firmly Ahead of Schedule

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 3rd, 2016

As the calendar flipped to 2016, even the most pessimistic Wake Forest fan would have to admit that second-year head coach Danny Manning is a full year ahead of schedule in his rebuild of the once proud Tobacco Road program. After winning nine of their 12 contests in this year’s non-conference slate, the Demon Deacons enter league play at Louisville tonight with a realistic, if not likely, opportunity to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2010.

The senior Thomas, has led an otherwise young Demon Deacons' squad to a surprisingly strong start

The senior Thomas has led an otherwise young Demon Deacons’ squad to a surprisingly strong start

Patience was the buzzword in Winston-Salem after Manning, the 1988 National Player of the Year at Kansas, took over the program at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season. After winning just 13 games a season ago, Manning welcomed a highly regarded recruiting class headlined by Bryant Crawford, but it was widely assumed that this season’s youthful roster would act as a bridge to a brighter future. Someone, however, forgot to relay those plans to Devin Thomas. The senior forward, who has started all but one game in his Wake Forest career, has led the way in building a resume which includes four KenPom top 100 wins, highlighted by victories over Indiana and UCLA, at the Maui Invitational.

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Playing ACC Secret Santa: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 24th, 2015

In offices all across the nation this week, people are playing the Secret Santa game. So let’s pretend that our company is made up of the ACC’s 15 men’s basketball teams, and we drew every head coach’s name out of the hat. As tempting as it may be to hand out traditional gifts like cheese logs and fruitcakes (yuck!), we instead will look at the specific needs for each squad right now and try and make each team better with our gifts. In the first of two installments of this piece (check back on Christmas Day for Part II), let’s look at the eight ACC teams that need Santa’s help the most.

presents

It’s Secret Santa Time in the ACC!

Here are our gifts of choice for the eight ACC schools that need them most (in alphabetical order):

  • Boston College (Jim Christian) – This is the easiest coach of all to shop for. When you already don’t have anything, there is no such thing as a bad present. The Eagles desperately need quality players. Among the 65 power-five conference programs, only hapless Rutgers is lower in the current KenPom rankings than the Eagles are. So we would give Christian what he needs the most – a recruiting budget that is comparable with the upper level schools in the ACC. The only way this program is going to improve is for his staff to evaluate and talk with as many high school players as possible, all over the country. That takes money.
  • Clemson (Brad Brownell) – What Brownell needs more than anything right now is a quality win. Actually, just a halfway respectable win would do right now. So far, the Tigers’ best victory this season is over Wofford (KenPom #234). Against teams rated higher than that, Clemson is 0-5 after being blown out by Georgia on Tuesday night. The next opportunity will come next Wednesday at North Carolina, but asking Santa Claus to help Brownell and company break their famous winless streak in Chapel Hill feels very greedy.

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Drawing Battle Lines, Day Two: Making a Case For Tuesday’s Games

Posted by Brad Jenkins and Patrick Engel on December 1st, 2015

After one day of competition, the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge is tied at one game a piece, with 12 more matchups to come tonight and tomorrow (schedule below). Wake Forest tipped things off Monday night by using a furious late rally to top Rutgers, 69-68, while Minnesota held off Clemson, 89-83, in the evening’s nightcap behind a strong performance by freshman Jordan Murphy. Both of those games were played at Big Ten venues, but the ACC will have the home court edge tonight by hosting four games. To prepare for this evening’s action, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are once again here to defend the schools they cover. Patrick Engel (Big Ten) and Brad Jenkins (ACC) make the case for each team in their respective leagues for all six contests that will take place tonight on the ESPN family of networks.

acc big ten schedule

Michigan at N.C. State (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2)

  • Patrick: We’ve seen Michigan at both its best and its worst so far this season. As I detailed on Monday, it’s becoming clear that the Wolverines have plenty of shooters but are going to once again struggle in the paint. NC State isn’t great at either defending the three (35.7%) or shooting it (32.4%), but the Wolfpack are one of the biggest teams in the country (ninth in height). Michigan has to find space against NC State on the perimeter without getting beat in the paint or on the glass to earn a win here.
  • Brad: The obvious advantage here for the Wolfpack is in the paint. N.C. State should control the boards, and it will need to because Michigan is bound to hit more threes than Mark Gottfried’s team. As long as he can stay relatively fresh, Anthony Barber (39.2 MPG) should win the point guard matchup with Derrick Walton. The Wolfpack aren’t deep and must avoid foul trouble, but they can’t shy away from being physical in defending the offensively-potent Michigan wings.

Northwestern at Virginia Tech (7:00 PM ET, ESPNU)

  • Brad: There’s no way to sugarcoat Virginia Tech’s opening home loss to a SWAC team (Alabama State), but Buzz Williams’ guys have shown some recent signs of improvement. Iowa State beat them handily in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic last week, but the Hokies bounced back to beat a decent UAB squad in overtime the next night. If Virginia Tech is to win this game, it probably will have to do so by living at the foul line.
  • Patrick: The Wildcats have survived without Vic Law so far. They’re not elite in any one area, but they also don’t have a singular glaring weakness. They’ve been a perimeter-oriented team to this point, but Alex Olah’s ability to get to the free throw line will challenge a Virginia Tech team that rarely lets its opponents get there. Northwestern has a good chance of winning this game on the road if it can earn charity stripe opportunities while keeping the free throw-minded Hokies (nation-leading 60.9% free throw rate, per KenPom) away from the line.

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 1st, 2015

Thirteen ACC schools saw action in early season tournaments over the last week-plus, and the results of all of those games were mixed. There were a number of championships won by league representatives (a total of five), but also a handful of puzzling losses. Overall, the ACC probably missed an opportunity to stake an early claim as the best conference in the land, but it certainly did enough during Feast Week to remain in that conversation. Below we will look at some comparison numbers with the other five major basketball conferences (Power Five plus the Big East), as well as some of the best and worst team performances from Feast Week.

ACCFeastTot

As you can see, the ACC was the busiest conference in early season tournament play, with both the most schools participating and the most overall wins. We are only counting games played in tournaments at neutral sites in a winners-advance format. This condition means that Duke’s wins in the 2k Classic semifinals (VCU) and finals (Georgetown) count towards these totals, but the Blue Devils’ home wins over Siena and Bryant (labeled as 2K Classic exempt games) do not. Also, non-Division I competition doesn’t count (if the NCAA Selection Committee won’t count ’em, neither will we), so wins over Chaminade in Maui by Kansas and St. John’s are not included. Finally, we also shouldn’t overlook the fact that the perceptions of some leagues have been influenced by teams that were not a part of any Feast Week events (see: Kentucky, Oregon, Louisville).

The ACC had the most tournament champions. They are listed below.

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Drawing Battle Lines: Making a Case For Monday’s Games

Posted by Brendan Brody and Brad Jenkins on November 30th, 2015

It’s that time once again. The annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge tips off at 7:00 PM EST on the ESPN family of networks, with 12 more games to come on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings (schedule below). Some matchups are of course better than others, but there is plenty of quality among the 28 teams and national bragging rights on the line. Keep in mind that the ACC hasn’t won this event since 2008 after winning the first 10 in a row. To prep for tonight’s start to the big event, the ACC and Big Ten microsites are here to defend the teams they cover. Brad Jenkins (ACC) and Brendan Brody (Big Ten) lead off the week by breaking down why their sides will prevail in tonight’s two games.

acc big ten schedule

Wake Forest at Rutgers (7:00 PM EST, ESPNU)

  • Brad: Wake Forest is coming off an impressive performance in the Maui Invitational, beating UCLA for a third place showing in that event. The Demon Deacons have already claimed a Big Ten scalp in rallying to knock off a ranked Indiana squad a week ago, but the main reason Wake should win tonight is that Rutgers just doesn’t appear to be very good at basketball right now.
  • Brendan: They don’t appear to be very good at basketball right now, but they are 3-0 at home. The Scarlet Knights get to play this one in their own gym and they surprised everyone last season by knocking off Clemson in this event. Look for Wake to be feeling somewhat full of itself after its surprising performance in Hawaii, and look for Rutgers to shake off its perimeter shooting drought with Mike Williams leading the charge.
Mike Williams looks to lead the charge tonight for Rutgers against Wake Forest. (Jim Mone)

Mike Williams looks to lead the charge tonight for Rutgers against Wake Forest. (Jim Mone)

Clemson at Minnesota (9:00 PM EST, ESPN2)

  • Brendan: Minnesota has been pretty brutal in guarding the three-point line this season (36.8%), but Clemson doesn’t have anyone shooting over 40 percent from distance. These teams appear even on paper, but look for sophomore Bakary Konate and the improving freshman class to show progress as the Gophers squeak out a close win.
  • Brad: Clemson is a slight underdog on the road in Minneapolis, but the Tigers should be used to traveling as their home games this season are located 30 miles from campus. And they say that defense travels. Neither team looks like an offensive juggernaut this season, but Minnesota’s defense (133rd nationally) is also suspect. Brad Brownell’s unit has held opponents to 0.83 points per possession thus far, so expect that defense to carry them to a win tonight.
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