NCAA Game Analysis: Sweet Sixteen Thursday

Posted by Walker Carey & Andrew Murawa on March 26th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

While the early round upsets and Cinderella stories are what make the NCAA Tournament unique to any other sporting event in the country, there is always something to be said about the best competing against the best. No more might that be true than this season’s Sweet 16, which feature arguably a legitimate “Top 16″ team pool … and it all gets started today. Here are four previews of Thursday’s games:

#3 Notre Dame vs. #7 Wichita State – Midwest Region Sweet 16 (from Cleveland) – at 7:15 PM EST on CBS

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren't often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

Compared to the Pantheon of coaches, Gregg Marshall and Mike Brey aren’t often thrown in the discussion. But, both have their teams playing at the highest of levels at the moment. (AP & Getty)

The Irish and Shockers will meet Thursday night in what should be a very entertaining battle between two of the country’s best perimeter teams. Notre Dame and its four-guard lineup boasts one of the best scoring offenses in the country. USBWA first-team All-American Jerian Grant is one of the best offensive guards in the country. His scoring ability and ball distribution skills definitely makes him a player to watch each time he takes the court. For Notre Dame, sophomore point guard Demetrius Jackson and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia have each made a name for themselves this season. Jackson has greatly matured as Notre Dame’s floor leader on offense and his ball pressure on defense has been a greatly under appreciated facet of his game. Vasturia is the only Irish starter that does not have a scoring average in double figures, but his knack for hitting big shots coupled with some tenacious defense against some very good players (see his performance from last Saturday against Butler’s Kellen Dunham) has contributed to Notre Dame reaching its first Sweet 16 since 2003. When you think of the great glue guys in the country, Irish swingman Pat Connaughton has to be one of the first players who comes to mind. The captain has been an essential asset all season from his three-point shooting to his defensive rebounding to his overall leadership, Connaughton has been the heart of the Irish attack.

Wichita State is equally as talented on the perimeter. Junior point guard Fred VanVleet has had as good of an NCAA Tournament as anyone thus far, as he thoroughly outplayed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell in the round of 64 before having his way with Kansas guards’ Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham in the round of 32. The other two Shockers perimeter players — Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton — each bring a unique skill set that have lifted the team all season. Baker has a knack for leading the scoring effort and hitting big shots. Cotton is an elite defender and his athleticism results in him constantly being a slashing threat on the offensive end. This is going to be a very fun game and you have to figure that both team’s perimeter groups will get theirs. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Your bracket is busted and the Sweet Sixteen is set. Let’s do a Regional Reset. Follow @rtcMWregion for reporting from Cleveland this week. Check out all of the regional resets for the Sweet Sixteen here.

New Favorite: #1 Kentucky. The new favorite is the old favorite, as there was nothing that happened over the first weekend that suggested a change. Kentucky is now an ungodly 36-0 after easily dispatching #16 Hampton in the round of 64 before overcoming a brief first half scare to ultimately blow past #8 Cincinnati in the round of 32. We all know about Kentucky’s talent level, its excellent defense and its superior depth, but can the Wildcats get to the Final Four with an unscathed record? Right now, it looks like the answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Not much in standing in the way of Kentucky so far. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Horse of Darkness: #7 Wichita State. It is difficult to call a team whose core (with the exception of Cleanthony Early) went 35-1 last year a “horse of darkness,” but the Shockers had to battle through an offensively potent #10 Indiana squad and intrastate rival #2 Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Wichita State proved during the first weekend that it is a much better team than the #7 seed it earned on Selection Sunday. Point guard Fred VanVleet was terrific all weekend. Shooting guard Ron Baker recovered from a shaky performance against Indiana to greatly contribute to the win over Kansas. Gregg Marshall’s squad also had an unlikely hero step up against the Jayhawks, as forward Evan Wessell (who averaged 4.1 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season) tallied 12 points (4-of-6 threes) and collected nine rebounds.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): The way #8 Cincinnati defeated #9 Purdue. If you want to teach a course on how to NOT close out a basketball game, Purdue’s efforts in the final minute of Thursday’s round of 64 game against Cincinnati should be your textbook. The Boilermakers led by seven points with just 48 seconds left in regulation before allowing the offensively-challenged Bearcats to go on an unbelievable 10-3 run over to force overtime. Cincinnati ultimately emerged victorious in the overtime session, and after the final buzzer sounded, Bearcats associate head coach Larry Davis and his players appeared to be more stunned than anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Game Analysis: Third Round, Saturday

Posted by RTC Staff on March 21st, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The last time this crew of programs laced up the sneakers, they provided us with a slate to remember. From last-second thrillers to overtime upsets that came out of left field, Thursday was quite simply one of the most electric opening days in NCAA Tournament history. Could history repeat itself? Here are eight previews of Saturday’s games.

#11 UCLA vs. #14 UAB — South Region Third Round (at Louisville, KY) — 12:10 PM ET on TBS.

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet 16. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Regardless of how they did it, Thomas Welch and UCLA are one step away from the Sweet Sixteen. (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Steve Alford has finally figured out this NCAA Tournament thing. All you have to do is put together an entirely mediocre season, inexplicably make the Tournament field (and avoid the First Four while you are at it), have the refs blow a call in the final 20 seconds of your opener that propels your team to victory, then find a #14 seed waiting for you in the third round. That’s all! What a charmed five days it was for the Bruins, whose season suddenly has meaning. Thursday wasn’t so bad for UAB, either, as the Blazers toppled Iowa State in what should go down as the biggest upset of the second round (apologies to Georgia State). Two double-digit seeds now face off with a bid to the Sweet Sixteen on the line. UCLA does not play as quickly as Iowa State does (the Bruins are 113th in the country in possessions per game), but UAB will try to recreate the muddle that was Thursday’s game with the Cyclones. The Blazers dominated the glass (outrebounding Iowa State by 15), enabling them to survive their unimaginative offensive (41% field goal shooting and 3-of-18 shooting from three-point range). UCLA’s Kevon Looney and Tony Parker are unlikely to submit to a similar assault on the backboards in this game, so Jerod Haase’s team may have to promote other strengths. The problem for the Blazers is that there really aren’t many. They don’t shoot the ball well from the field, turnovers are frequently an issue, and their work on the defensive end has been average at best this season. All this isn’t intended to make UCLA out to be an unbeatable monster of a team (they aren’t), but at least on paper, UAB just is not that great a team. They did find a way to get it done against a team better than UCLA on Thursday, and the Bruins, as mentioned, are very far from perfect themselves. But while anything is possible, a return to expectation (albeit a smaller one than we had two days ago) should be in the cards here. Steve Alford and UCLA, say hello to the Sweet Sixteen.

The RTC Certified Pick: UCLA

#1 Kentucky vs. #8 Cincinnati – Midwest Region Round of 32 (in Louisville, KY) – at 2:40 PM EST on CBS

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati's frontline fair any better? (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Karl-Anthony Towns was an absolute force to be reckoned with Thursday evening. Will Cincinnati’s frontline fair any better? (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Unbeaten Kentucky was not at its best Thursday, but it did not really matter as it still cruised to a 79-56 victory over Hampton. While Kentucky — as a whole — was a bit uneven against the Pirates, freshman forward Karl-Anthony Towns turned in a phenomenal performance. Towns was clearly the best player on the court all evening, finishing with 21 points (8-of-12 FG), 11 rebounds, and three blocks in just 25 minutes of action. Sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and freshman guard Tyler Ulis were also very good in the victory, as they totaled a combined 25 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Even though Hampton is not considered an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky’s defensive performance was still impressive. The Pirates were held to just a 17-of-59 (28.8%) shooting performance, and only one player converted more than two field goals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati showcased its great resiliency in its win over Purdue on Thursday. The Bearcats trailed by seven with with 48.5 seconds to play before going on a 10-3 run to force overtime where they ultimately prevailed with a 66-65 victory. Cincinnati does not have any stars, but it received strong contributions from sophomore guard Troy Caupain (10 points and four assists), junior guard Farad Cobb (14 points), and junior forward Coreontae DeBerry (13 points). The Bearcats frustrated Purdue with tenacious defense all night, as the Boilermakers were just 26-of-72 (36.1%) from the field, including 4-of-26 (15.4%) from the perimeter. Cincinnati has played hard all season under some less than ideal circumstances, and its coaches and players deserve credit for making it this far. Unfortunately for them, this run will come to an end at the hands of Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats just have way too much talent across the board for this to really even be all that close. Expect Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein to establish themselves early and lead Kentucky to the Sweet 16 with a comfortable victory.

The RTC Certified Pick: Kentucky Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Regular Season Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 9th, 2015

The ACC regular season has come to a close, which means it’s time for conference tournament play and postseason dreams that stretch deep into March. For now, though, it’s a great time to look back at the standout performers and performances of the regular season that was. Here are your 2014-15 ACC superlatives:

RTC All-ACC Team

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Okafor lived up his immense preseason billing and single-handedly turned a dangerous Duke team into a dominant one. Okafor was the conference’s second-leading scorer (17.6 PPG), third-leading rebounder (9.2 RPG) and top shooter by field goal percentage (66.8%). His ability to make the team a dual threat instead of the perimeter-reliant teams of yore means these Blue Devils have a very high ceiling come NCAA Tourney time.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. The remarkable year that the Fighting Irish enjoyed can be traced to the return of Grant from a suspension related to academic improprieties. In addition to his highlight-reel dunks and numerous clutch baskets, Grant was a stat-sheet stuffer for a vastly improved Notre Dame team, logging 16.8 PPG, 6.7 APG and 1.8 SPG on the season. He also shot an outstanding 49.4 percent from the field.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. The Orange ultimately had little to play for because of their self-imposed postseason ban, but they may have produced the best on-court individual success story of the year. Christmas’ amazing improvement from his junior to senior season (17.5 PPG, +11.7; 9.1 RPG, +4.0) proved he could flourish as the team’s primary option. He served as the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season for Syracuse hoops and has positioned himself for a bright future in the professional ranks.
Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Brogdon’s inclusion on this list speaks to his ability to play whatever role Tony Bennett asks of him. With Justin Anderson stealing the early headlines, Brogdon was content to act as the team’s best on-ball defender and late game shot-maker. When Anderson fell to injury, Brogdon resumed his role as a primary offensive weapon. He averaged nearly 14 points per game while shooting 34 percent from three and 86 percent from the line. Traditional statistics never do Virginia players much justice, though, but Brogdon’s intangible ability to meet the demands made of him showed his true value to the ACC regular season champs.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College. Hanlan played on a mediocre Boston College team but his offensive prowess was rivaled by none in this year’s ACC. The conference’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, he remained a deadly offensive weapon despite playing the point guard position for the first time in his career. He scored 30 or more points four times, including a stellar 39 points on just 20 shots against Pittsburgh.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC M5: 01.20.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 20th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Virginia looks like the team to beat in the ACC (and maybe the country) so far, and part of the reason the Cavaliers are so successful is the team-oriented mindset of the entire roster. Individual accolades and national love may be hard to come by for this team, but the Cavaliers keep on winning. Don’t expect them to go undefeated, though. Even though they get Duke at home, there’s a good argument to be made that they’re actually a better team on the road. This team has a chance to do something special, and between the Cavaliers and Blue Devils, this season feels like the end of the ACC’s Final Four drought (which dates back to Duke’s National Championship in 2010).
  2. CBS Sports: Well, that de-escalated quickly. After rumors swirled around Notre Dame center Zach Auguste‘s recent academic suspension, he was back in the lineup in the Irish’s win against Miami this weekend. That’s great news for Mike Brey, as Auguste is one of the most important offensive players on a team that is completely locked in on that end of the floor. That said, Notre Dame’s best lineup (and the one that led to the comeback) had Auguste sitting on the bench in favor of a faster group.
  3. Boston Globe: Boston College is showing signs of moving the right direction. This year’s team has a much different energy than last year’s group, and it could easily be 2-2 in ACC play (instead of 0-4). But after five straight losses to Harvard, the Eagles got revenge on the Crimson, which may prove a good omen. Playing Miami and Pittsburgh to close losses also shows that this team is ready to contend with borderline NCAA Tournament teams. And with the way Louisville and North Carolina shoot, counting out any decent offensive team is a mistake. Jim Christian now just has to find a way to make these moral victories into real ones (or risk the team’s self-esteem plummeting).
  4. Virginia Tech Collegiate Times: Speaking of winless ACC teams, Virginia Tech is also a member of that notorious club. The Hokies put up a strong effort against North Carolina over the weekend (if not for a late game turnover, Virginia Tech looked like it would make Roy Williams sweat until the final horn), but a team that has been forced to play five guards at different points this season can’t really expect to compete with elite competition every night out. Justin Bibbs may be the real deal, though.
  5. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Syracuse can thank former ACC member Maryland for helping balance its athletic budget this year. Most athletic departments aren’t known for running profits, and all the extra money that the Orange owed the Big East from its separation agreement wasn’t helping things from an accounting standpoint. The Terrapins had to pony up $31 million to be split among the ACC member schools and the cut Syracuse gets will cover more than a year of payments. Another interesting tidbit from this article is that all of the non-revenue sports at Syracuse made half as much as its basketball teams, which seems like a pretty strong showing. Even at a basketball school with a bad football team, pigskin still drives the bus.
Share this story

Three Takeaways as Notre Dame Rallies Past Miami

Posted by Walker Carey on January 17th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Miami (FL) and Notre Dame in South Bend.

There are very few teams in the country that have the backcourt talent and depth of Notre Dame. That was illustrated again on Saturday afternoon as Irish coach Mike Brey relied on small ball to secure a 75-70 come-from-behind victory over Miami (FL). With his team trailing 40-31 at the 15:32 mark of the second half, Brey inserted a five-guard lineup featuring seniors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton along with sophomores V.J. Beachem, Demetrius Jackson, and Steve Vasturia. The perimeter-oriented lineup played the balance of the game and it outscored the Hurricanes 44-30 while it was on the court. Saturday’s victory concluded another successful week for the Irish, as they moved to 17-2 overall and 5-1 in ACC play. The following are three takeaways from Saturday’s action.

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

Notre Dame is Playing Together (USA Today Images)

  1. Jerian Grant broke out of his mini-slump in impressive fashion. In each of Notre Dame’s last three games (wins over North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and a loss to Virginia), Grant was held below his season average of 16.3 points per game. That trend changed in the victory over Miami today, as Grant was without question the best player on the floor for the duration of the afternoon. He finished the game with 23 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with eight assists. None of those 23 points were more impressive than the three he got from hitting a ridiculous step-back three-pointer at the 6:19 mark of the second half. That three put Notre Dame up 61-58 and it did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game. The Irish trailed by as many as 12 in the second half, but it was the steadiness and leadership of Grant that kept the Irish in the game and eventually earned his team the victory. Great players make big plays in winning time, and that was exactly what Grant did for Notre Dame on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »
Share this story

ACC Stock Watch: Conference Play Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 16th, 2015

Conference play got under way for the ACC roughly two weeks ago, and the early games have lived up to their lofty billing in providing us with valuable insights. Some teams are clearly playing up to their potential and possibly even beyond it, while several others are already searching for answers for disturbing trends. Welcome to this week’s ACC Stock Watch, the first since the ACC’s teams started beating up on each other.

Trending Up

  • Virginia. It would be hard to imagine that a team entering ACC play at 12-0 could be trending up after just two weeks of action, but the Cavaliers have the look of a serious national title contender. The only team boasting both a defense and an offense among the top 10 in efficiency metrics, the Cavaliers have shown a keen ability to win games in a myriad of ways. It’s not just an elite defense carrying Tony Bennett’s team, as it showed in its awesome 89-80 double-overtime win over Miami two weeks ago. Virginia has already toppled the Hurricanes and Notre Dame and have shown no signs of slowing down.
  • North Carolina. With the best of the Tar Heels’ non-conference wins losing some luster (Ohio State, Florida), North Carolina badly needed a marquee win in conference play. Last weekend’s victory over Louisville qualified as such, and holding on to beat NC State in Raleigh on Wednesday night showed the team may have regained some of the toughness that was so sorely lacking. Could a 3-1 ACC start propel North Carolina to bigger things?
Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

Marcus Paige and North Carolina are off to a very promising ACC start (newsobserver.com)

  • NC State. A 3-2 start in the ACC may not blow anyone away, but the Wolfpack’s demolition of Duke and their near-win over a surging North Carolina team shows Mark Gottfried’s group is capable of making some noise this year. Add in a blowout win over Pittsburgh an is there a reasonable argument that NC State belongs with the heavyweights?
  • Miami. There were plenty of questions about the direction in which the Hurricanes were heading when they closed the non-conference schedule by losing three of four. But Angel Rodriguez and company have answered the bell in the ACC, pushing Virginia to double-overtime and handling Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. With Notre Dame and NC State up next, we’ll know even more about Miami by this time next week.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 01.16.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 16th, 2015

morning5

  1. Notre Dame has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season, but they took their first big hit earlier this week when they announced that Zach Auguste will be out indefinitely while dealing with an academic matter (reportedly not a suspension). While Jerian Grant is the headliner for the Irish, Auguste comes close in terms of his impact as the 6’10” junior has been averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this season. Without Auguste, the Irish are very short up front (relatively speaking of course) with 6’5″ Pat Connaughton. While they were able to sneak out of Georgia Tech with a win without Auguste on Wednesday night things will get significantly tougher for them in the coming weeks in the ACC. If Auguste is unable to return, this would be the second straight season the Irish were undone by academic issues as Jerian Grant had to temporarily leave the school last year as the result of an “academic misstep”.
  2. James Madison dismissed junior guard Andre Nation from its basketball team on Wednesday saying “he no longer fits within our program and the vision we have for the future”. We are not sure what made Matt Brady finally come to that decision, but it had been a rough season for Nation as he was suspended for the first five games of the season following an arrest for disorderly conduct and misdemeanor assault (which as JMU Sports Blog pointed out at the time was not exactly something new) and saw his scoring drop from 15.4 points per game last season to 9 points per game this season. Nation will remain on scholarship through the spring semester, but we would not be surprised to see him turn up at another mid-major school very shortly given his proven ability to score at that level.
  3. If you wanted a reminder of the difference between the haves and have-nots of the college basketball world, we would direct you to Adam Himmlesbach’s look at Kentucky‘s trip to the Bahamas this year. The eight-night trip that included games against a French pro club and the Dominican and Puerto Rican national teams at the Atlantic Resort in the Bahamas cost $792,845.68. While some of this was offset by 57 boosters who agreed to pay $6,000 to fly along, but that only generated a little over $347,000 when combined with the nearly $18,000 from their share of ticket revenues the overall cost to the school was $431,836.10, which is nearly three times as much as North Carolina (certainly not paupers) spent for a trip the year before. While some of the costs were from the flying out opposing teams and providing them with hotel rooms and meal money, the Wildcats certainly treated themselves well from John Calipari’s $1,550-per-night suite to the $150 per diem for meals the players and staff members received (compare that with the $124 per diem NBA players received in 2013). We aren’t aware of the costs of trips for other schools, but outside of Duke’s ridiculous 2011 trip to China and Dubai that included a chartered Boeing 767 with an estimated charter price of over $1 million we have a hard time seeing anybody approaching a trip that might exceed the overall budget of the basketball program of their first opponent in the NCAA Tournament.
  4. Speaking of big sums of money, Kentucky might be spending it, but Kent State will be collecting it after an appeals court ruled in their favor saying that Geno Ford will have to follow the terms of his contract requiring him to pay the school $1.2 million for leaving them for Bradley in March 2011. That figure is the result of Ford’s 2008 contract that required him to pay back his salary multipled by the years remaining if he left before his contract expired. So when Ford left the school a year after renegotiating a five-year deal that was worth $300,000 per year he opened himself up to the clause. Before you feel too bad for Ford, he is making $700,000 per year at Bradley even though he is just 42-74 at the school and we are pretty sure he can find an accountant who will find a way to let him write off the $1.2 million over a couple of years.
  5. One of the most confusing things about college basketball recruiting over the years is why cities like Chicago and New York City don’t have better college basketball teams. Regardless of how you feel about which city produces the best talent it is clear that these cities underachieve on the college level. New York has one decent program in St. John’s, but Chicago can’t even claim that much. Adam Doster of Grantland has a good piece on why a city that is so loaded with basketball talent cannot produce a single respectable college basketball program. While much of it is attributable to the administrations at the schools and how much they are willing to invest in the program, some of it also falls on the coaches in and around the city who have not been able to make local talent and high school/AAU coaches buy in. If a young coach (like Chris Collins) really wanted to make a mark, there are certainly worse places to set up shop than the Chicago area.
Share this story

ACC M5: 01.15.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 15th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Charlotte Observer and Sporting News: So, what should we make of Duke‘s back-to-back losses to NC State and Miami? Mike Krzyzewski thinks Duke has a confidence problem. Tom Gatto thinks it may be more serious than that. Both may be right. Duke is in a tough spot. If it is confidence, the upcoming schedule isn’t exactly a cake walk (four of the next five are on the road, including games at Louisville, Notre Dame, and Virginia). That means Coach K needs to find a way to inspire his team or risk a really bad stretch that could derail a season. But this Duke team is still really, really good. It’s not a finished product, but the pieces are all there.
  2. Riddick and Reynolds: Hopefully the future leadership of the NC State Technician reads James Curle’s thoughtful piece on doing the satirical “Daily Tar Hell” edition for next year. This is the second straight year NC State’s student newspaper opted to avoid the parody, which is too bad. Ravi Chittilla’s response is a reasonable one. National newspapers aren’t doing great these days, much less college ones. But I’m sure there are some passionate NC State alumni who would help finance the venture through crowdfunding.
  3. Indianapolis Star: Bad news out of South Bend as Zach Auguste is suspended indefinitely for academic issues. Notre Dame plays everything close to the vest so don’t expect many details leaking out. It’s a good sign he’s still enrolled (the school has a very strict honor code), but that may mean it’s something that is being appealed or something related to the NCAA instead of the school. While the Fighting Irish managed to beat Georgia Tech, Auguste was a very high usage player that will be impossible to replace.
  4. Syracuse Post-Standard: Rakeem Christmas put on a show in order to beat Wake Forest in overtime. This isn’t the first time his development has showed up in the Morning Five (and it probably won’t be the last), but Christmas is earning himself some money the way he’s playing this year. While his field goal percentage isn’t quite as gaudy, Christmas’s scoring and rebounding numbers look a lot like Jahlil Okafor’s. Syracuse isn’t great this season, but as long as they can steal a win against a good team, they’ve done well enough in close games to be on the bubble.
  5. Orlando Sun Sentinel: Miami‘s been up and down this season (having mercurial star players will do that), but the Hurricanes are young. As Jim Larranaga said, “We’re still on the ground floor.” Larranaga has cobbled together one of the better teams in the ACC, recruiting transfers and international players especially. This team is only going to get better next year. That’s what should worry ACC opponents (especially those normally residing in Durham). Even if Larranaga plans on retiring in four or five years, he’s made Miami into a much better job than it was when he took it. Success should mean decent fan support (Miami is and always will be a pro sport town), and that will only help.
Share this story

Rushed Reactions: #3 Virginia 62, #13 Notre Dame 56

Posted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2015

Walker Carey is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday evening’s game between Virginia and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

Virginia Came Through in the Clutch on Saturday at Notre Dame (USA Today Images)

  1. Virginia’s defense is as good as advertised. The Cavaliers entered play Saturday second in the country in both points per game defense and field goal percentage defense. They lived up to those high marks Saturday, as Notre Dame was held to a season-low 56 points and shot just 33.9% from the field. Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon was instrumental to the suffocating defensive effort, as he played lockdown defense on Notre Dame star guard Jerian Grant all night. Grant finished the game with just six points on 2-of-8 shooting. Virginia also did an exceptional job in taking the Notre Dame bigs out of the game, as Notre Dame’s post players  finished with just a combined five points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with just seven rebounds. The win moved Virginia to 15-0 on the season and if it can maintain this level of defensive intensity, that unbeaten mark may stay clean well into league play.
  2. The Cavaliers saved their best basketball for winning time. After Notre Dame swingman Pat Connaughton hit a three-pointer to give the Irish a 51-50 lead at the 4:53 mark of the second half, Virginia went on a 12-5 run to finish the game. Brogdon and fellow backcourt mate Justin Anderson each hit important three-pointers down the stretch that helped lead to the Virginia victory. In close games, the victor is usually determined by which teams executes better and plays with more poise down the stretch, and that was no different Saturday as Virginia made the right plays at the right times to help secure the win.
  3. Notre Dame needs more out of its frontline if it wants to be a factor in the ACC race. When Notre Dame won at North Carolina this past Monday night, Irish forward Zach Auguste led the way with 18 points. Saturday was a different story for Auguste, as the junior battled foul trouble for much of the game and finished with just four points and five rebounds to go along with a team-high four turnovers in 22 minutes. Virginia forward Darion Atkins was able to take advantage of Auguste’s off-night, as the senior finished with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting to accompany his team-high eight rebounds. There are plenty of solid big men in the ACC, and if Notre Dame wants to finish near the top of the league, it is going to need Auguste to become a much more consistent post presence on each side of the court.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Notre Dame’s Supporting Cast Provides Staying Power

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 6th, 2015

Most of the accolades associated with Notre Dame’s 14-1 start have been bestowed on star senior Jerian Grant, the ACC’s second-leading scorer and top assist man. Skepticism over the Irish’s relatively unimposing non-conference slate were correlated questions about how the team would operate when Grant was held in check. After a thrilling one-point win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill last night, the Notre Dame trio of Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton have silenced those questions and put the rest of the conference on notice that the Irish are a team capable of contending with the ACC’s elite.

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

Zach Auguste has had a great start to ACC play, including the winning bucket against North Carolina (AP Photo)

It was apparent early in Monday’s game that North Carolina’s top defender, J.P. Tokoto, was tasked with slowing Grant. He and the other Tar Heels who took turns defending the explosive wing were extremely successful, as Grant contributed a season-low eight points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field and eventually fouling out. With as much as Grant has produced this year — he uses a quarter of the Irish’s offensive possessions — such a performance would have appeared to doom the Irish in a tough road environment. Instead, Mike Brey’s team showed that its supporting cast is strong enough to overcome his occasional lack of production by contributing a combined 49 points and 16 rebounds.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Duke and Notre Dame: Why the Nation’s Top Two Offenses Are So Efficient

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 19th, 2014

Basketball is a very complicated game. It is littered with intricacies, and like any sport, there are many different ways to be successful. Almost every weekend in college basketball, many of those ways are on display. But sometimes, in a sense, basketball can also be simple. We’re a little over a month into the college basketball season, and at the moment, there’s a bit of a surprise atop the raw offensive efficiency leaderboard: Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s team is averaging 130.5 points per 100 possessions, and, albeit against a fairly weak schedule, Notre Dame’s mark is a full 10 points higher than last year’s season leader, Creighton. Duke is right behind the Fighting Irish at 125.6 points per 100 possessions, good for second in the country. And since Brey spent eight years as an assistant on Mike Krzyzewski’s staff, it should come as no surprise that the two offenses, in some ways, are strikingly similar. But why exactly are they so efficient?

The ACC's Notre Dame and Duke Sport the Nation's Most Efficient Offenses (USA Today Images)

The ACC’s Notre Dame and Duke Sport the Nation’s Most Efficient Offenses (USA Today Images)

At a very rudimentary level, the efficiency of the two offenses comes down to three things:

  1. Talent. Great offenses can’t be great without great players.
  2. Scheme and spacing. Both teams space the floor impeccably, and their offenses are extremely well-structured.
  3. The offenses are well-structured because they are designed to get two things: shots at the rim and three-pointers. These are, fundamentally, the two best shots in basketball – the first one is self-explanatory, and threes are efficient because shooting 40 percent from three is equivalent to shooting 60 percent from two – and both offenses are tailored to get the ball to these areas of the court to players in positions to score.

The third point above gives us a great idea of why the offenses at Duke and Notre Dame have been so successful this season. One of the most important stats in basketball is effective field goal percentage. It measures how much value a team gets out of the shots it takes, regardless of what those shots are. And consistently, the teams with the best effective field goal percentages are the ones that, of course, have good shooters, but also the ones that take as many high-percentage shots as possible. Prior to Duke’s Thursday game against Connecticut, Notre Dame and Duke were the top two teams nationally in two-point field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage (in large part because they don’t shoot many mid-range jumpers). Their offenses are structured to allow players to take the right shots – to allow players to either get to the rim or free behind the arc.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story