Ten Questions to Consider: Regular Season Comes to a Close

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 8th, 2019

With several conferences already in the midst of tournament action and others still wrapping up regular season play, this weekend is setting up to be a great warm-up for the upcoming wall-to-wall action. Here are 10 questions I have for a set of games that could set the tone for the next few weeks.

Will He or Won’t He? (USA Today Images)
  1. If Zion Williamson is held out against North Carolina, will Duke be looking at a similar result? (Duke @ North Carolina, Saturday 6 PM EST, ESPN) Duke’s defense surrendered 58 points to the Tar Heels’ duo of Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson a few weeks ago. The Blue Devils allowed a total of 88 points despite North Carolina shooting a season-worst 10 percent from deep.
  2. Will Michigan have any luck slowing down Cassius Winston? (Michigan @ Michigan State, Saturday 8 PM EST, ESPN) In Michigan State’s win in Ann Arbor, Cassius Winston scored 27 points, with 19 of those coming in the second half. In that particular match-up, the Spartans turned the ball over at a season low rate of just 9.6 percent.
  3. Which Carsen Edwards shows up for Purdue as the Boilermakers look for a share (or more) of the Big Ten regular season title? (Purdue @ Northwestern, Saturday 2:30 PM EST, Big Ten Network) After shooting a robust 41.7 percent on his three-point attempts last season in league play, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards is shooting just 30.2 percent in Big Ten games this season. In Purdue’s four league losses, Edwards has shot an icy 19.6 percent from beyond the arc.
  4. Can San Diego State get the best of Nevada again? (Nevada @ San Diego State, Saturday 10:30 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Aztecs have won three consecutive games against Nevada, including an inspiring victory in San Diego two weeks ago. Brian Dutcher’s team forced 10 first half turnovers in that game, which led to a 17-3 edge in points off turnovers over the opening 20 minutes.
  5. Is Anthony Cowan the barometer of success for Maryland? (Minnesota @ Maryland, Friday 7 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) In Maryland’s 21 wins this season, Anthony Cowan is shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc; but in the Terrapins nine losses, Cowan is shooting just 28.6 percent. The junior has shot a mere 1-of-11 from distance in the Terps’ last two games, both losses.
  6. Will the Big South’s best get revenge in the conference’s semifinal match-up? (Radford vs. Charleston Southern, Friday 6 PM EST, ESPN+) The Big South’s top seed Radford trailed at the half in its opening round win against Presbyterian, but the Highlanders take on Charleston Southern next, a team that recently beat Radford by a single point. Made shots were far from plentiful in that game, however, as Charleston Southern went 5-of-25 from inside the arc and Radford was just 5-of-28 on its three-point attempts.
  7. How will Virginia Tech respond to its midweek collapse at Florida State? (Miami @ Virginia Tech, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN2) The Hokies led by 14 points in the second half at Florida State before ultimately losing to the Seminoles in overtime. Virginia Tech’s bench was outscored 28-0 in regulation and has tallied just 31 points combined in the team’s six conference losses.
  8. Can Louisville put together a full 40-minute effort against Virginia? (Louisville @ Virginia, Saturday 4 PM EST, ESPN) While Louisville was +30 from behind the arc in its February loss to Virginia, the Cavaliers owned a 38-4 advantage in the paint. The Cardinals held Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome without a single three-point make, but the duo of De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite put together a 40-point performance.
  9. Will Arizona State avoid disaster against Arizona? (Arizona State @ Arizona, Saturday 4 PM EST, CBS) While the Pac-12 is likely going to be given no favors come Selection Sunday, a conference record of 12-6 with non-conference wins against Kansas and Mississippi State would seemingly put the Sun Devils in good shape. A loss against struggling intrastate rival Arizona, however, could easily send Bobby Hurley’s squad to the wrong side of the bubble.
  10. Where will conference tournament chaos break out? With nine conferences in tournament action this weekend, it’s not a matter of if chaos will ensue, but when and where. Four tournament tickets will be punched over the weekend, but will the top seeds prevail? A potential Ohio Valley Conference title game between Belmont and Murray State would be must-see mid-major television.
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Three #1 Seeds Still a Possibility as ACC Finishes League Play

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 7th, 2019

On the strength of a second-half long-range assault, Virginia bludgeoned Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Monday and all but ensured that the Cavaliers will repeat as regular season ACC champions. They are set to host Louisville this weekend to close the regular season, while co-leader North Carolina, which Virginia defeated in its lone meeting this year, will host a third-place Duke team likely to be without Zion Williamson for a fifth straight game.

These three teams were expected to carry the ACC flag heading into the campaign, and they collectively have done nothing to dispel those preseason expectations. All three remain very much alive for #1 seeds in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, with Virginia closest to lock territory. Duke, assuming Williamson suits up and acquits himself well in the ACC Tournament, seems comfortably entrenched on the top line too, while North Carolina has put itself in very good position to move up if it can complete the season sweep of Duke on Saturday.

The two outfits trailing the conference elite played an overtime thriller on Tuesday night, as Florida State protected its home floor in squeaking by a Justin Robinson-less Virginia Tech, and clinched the coveted double-bye at next week’s ACC Tournament in the process. The Seminoles and Hokies are both viable sleepers to make a run to Minneapolis this April, while the top three could each be considered favorites to do so when the brackets are revealed a week from Sunday.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VII

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 28th, 2019

Sitting alone atop the conference at 11-1 and with a sweep in hand over defending champion Virginia, the smart money a little over a week ago was on Duke to cruise to its first ACC regular season title since 2010. An explosive sneaker appears to be the only thing that can slow down the freight train known as Zion Williamson, and his freak injury has led the Blue Devils to drop two of its last three games, leaving the door open for the Cavaliers and North Carolina. At 13-2 in the standings, they both now sit a game clear of Duke with only three left to play.

Stock Rising: Kerry Blackshear, Jr.

Kerry Blackshear Has Been a Stalwart for Virginia Tech This Season (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech was looking like a fashionable dark horse Final Four contender after winning 17 of its first 20 games this season. However, when senior point guard Justin Robinson went down with an injury that has kept him sidelined all February, those high hopes turned into a matter of survival. The play of Kerry Blackshear, Jr., however, has the Hokies back on the attack.

After losing two of their first three with Robinson out, Buzz Williams’ squad has now won four of five, including Monday’s upset victory over Duke. In that game, Blackshear led the Hokies in scoring for the fourth consecutive time, finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds. The junior has averaged 22.6 points per game and 10.0 boards per contest over this key stretch. Holding on to fourth place in the ACC standings and maintaining its relative KenPom placement (11th at the time of Robinson’s injury and now) has been no small feat without its floor general and best overall player around — the inspired play of Blackshear is the reason why.

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What’s Trending: An Impactful Week at the Top

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 25th, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

LSU and Tennessee went back and forth on Saturday afternoon giving each other everything they could handle. After a frantic tip-in tied things up for LSU, the Volunteers had a chance to win the game. The Vols’ Lamonte Turner, who had made only four of his last 22 three-point attempts, took this quick look after dribbling upcourt. What happened next was a bit of misfortune on Grant Williams’ part to give LSU the break it needed.

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1099393801846693890

Rivalry Week began with the primary focus, as usual, on Tobacco Road. A mere 30 seconds into the game in Cameron Indoor Stadium, though, the focus swung onto Zion Williamson and his shoes…

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/1098404362148208640

For as much grief as Charles Barkley deservedly gets when it comes to analyzing the NCAA Tournament, the Round Mound of Rebound delivered a spot-on take with respect to the Zion Williamson situation….

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VI

Posted by Matt Auerbach on February 19th, 2019

With Virginia’s win over Virginia Tech on Monday night, North Carolina is now in position to create a three-way tie at first place in the ACC standings with an upset victory at Duke on Wednesday. 

Stock Rising

Florida State is Riding High Again (USA Today Images)

Florida State: Just one short month ago, the Seminoles blew a 10-point halftime lead at Boston College to extend their losing streak to three games. That defeat dropped Florida State to 1-4 in ACC play and out of the national polls. With a promising season circling the drain, Leonard Hamilton’s veteran squad has responded by winning every game since. In ripping off those seven consecutive wins, Florida State has vaulted itself back into the second tier of the league behind Virginia, North Carolina and Duke. Only a dramatic comeback overtime victory over Louisville and a nine-point handling of Clemson were close games. In typical fashion, the Seminoles are winning with balance, depth, length and defensive acumen. Five different players have led the team in scoring over the past seven games, and only the Cardinals reached 70 points against their top-20 defense.

Sophomore Mfiondu Kabengele has been a revelation, leading the Seminoles in scoring despite not starting a single game. Senior Terrance Mann is the only other player averaging in double figures, but Florida State’s lack of an explosive scorer is made up in the balance of having eight guys notching 6.5 points per game or better. The Seminoles face a stiff test in keeping its current winning streak alive, as a trip to a desperate Clemson team looms tonight followed by a visit to Chapel Hill. But, with a split, and with all of its final four games coming in Tallahassee and at Wake Forest, Hamilton’s squad could find itself right where most envisioned prior to its slow start — as the #4 seed heading into the ACC Tournament.

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What’s Trending: The NCAA Tournament is Closer Than You Think

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 11th, 2019

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

Saturday marked the initial release of the Selection Committee’s top 16 seeds for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. While the choices lacked much in the way of surprise, the release was followed by five of those teams losing later that day.

Earlier in the week, the college basketball world was reminded of the drama that comes along with NCAA violations, as Arizona decided to place assistant coach Mark Phelps on administrative leave. The Wildcats have struggled both on and off the court this season.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 9

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 8th, 2019

It’s a busy weekend around the ACC, including the #1 vs. #2 rematch we’ve all been waiting for in Charlottesville. Rush the Court ACC writer Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) gets you prepped. (All rankings via KenPom)

Saturday, February 9

Clemson Needs a Win and Virginia Tech Visits on Saturday (USA Today Images)

#9 Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3) at #35 Clemson (14-8, 4-5). This feels like the kind of game Clemson needs to win if it realistically hopes to make the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers’ current resume has no meat on the bone, so an opportunity to beat a top 10 KenPom team is one they can’t squander. They’ll need to take advantage of a Virginia Tech club without much interior size, which means feeding Elijah Thomas (29.6 PER, 65.9% eFG) like they did in their win over Wake Forest last Sunday (23 points on 10-of-11 FG). What cannot happen is that Thomas instead gets into foul trouble, like he did on Wednesday night at Georgia Tech (seven points in 17 minutes). Given the Hokies’ firepower from the outside, it’s difficult to envision a Clemson victory without another monster performance from its big man.

#42 NC State (16-7, 4-6) at #75 Pittsburgh (12-11, 2-8). My, how things can change in just a week. Only 10 days ago, NC State was *this close* to taking down Virginia. After losing in overtime, however, the Wolfpack followed up with embarrassing displays on both offense (24 points in a home loss to Virginia Tech) and defense (allowing 113 to North Carolina in Chapel Hill). So what we have is something that feels like an important game for Kevin Keatts, one in which he really needs a breakout performance from Torin Dorn. The senior shot just 35.3 percent from the field and made only one three-pointer in the last two games, but the bigger issue is that Dorn hasn’t played well since conference play began. In league games only, Dorn (14.3 PER, 41.9% eFG) has been much worse than his overall numbers (20.8 PER, 50.7 eFG%) — if the Wolfpack expect to turn things around, it starts with their small-ball four recovering his groove.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume IV

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on February 1st, 2019

Virginia played perhaps its worst game in conference play on Tuesday night — an uncharacteristically sloppy, and mistake-riddled effort — and still managed a road win against a top-30 team. Duke, despite devolving somewhat into a two-man show, is still running roughshod through its opposition. And while there is a four-way tie in the loss column at the top of the standings — Louisville and North Carolina are maintaining contact with the top two — it is looking increasingly likely that the teams perched #1/#2 on the KenPom ratings will ultimately separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Stock Rising

Virginia Survived NC State Earlier This Week (USA Today Images)

Virginia Offense: While not on display in Tuesday’s victory in Raleigh, these Cavaliers are arguably the best offensive group Tony Bennett has coached in Charlottesville. Virginia now ranks as the fifth most efficient offense in college basketball — up from 30th a year ago, a season in which it earned the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers have already exceeded 80 points six times this year, which is more than they have in their two previous campaigns combined. Bennett’s club ranks 12th nationally in making 39.6 percent of its three-pointers, led by the ACC’s best long-range shooter, Kyle Guy (45% 3FG). Combined with the versatile Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter, who currently rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in the KenPom Player of the Year standings, the Cavaliers own a trio of versatile shot creators and makers that it hasn’t had before. Its lockdown defense (second nationally in defensive efficiency) and stinginess with the ball (third in turnover percentage) haven’t gone anywhere, so the traditional ingredients of Bennett’s success still remain. But now, with a pinch of offensive explosiveness thrown into the mix, Virginia is an absolute nightmare to play.

Stock Holding

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.22.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 22nd, 2019

The first ACC clash of the titans lived up to the hype as Duke edged Virginia, 72-70, in an electric Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday night. And luckily for us, those two league heavyweights will do it all over again in three weeks in Charlottesville, with one or even two more meetings possible in the postseason. Elsewhere in the league, two other Triangle schools picked up hard earned road wins. North Carolina used a late three-point shooting barrage to pull away from a pesky Miami team, 85-76, and NC State (still playing without point guard Markell Johnson) held off Notre Dame, 77-73. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Duke’s freshmen stars Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett combined for 57 points in Duke’s big win over Virginia. (Rob Kinnan – USA TODAY Sports)
  • Best Win: Ever since Tony Bennett raised Virginia to elite status in the ACC hierarchy beginning in the 2013-14 season, the Cavaliers’ games in Durham have been instant classics. To say this game between co-#1 teams could have gone either way would be a vast understatement – for an eight-minute stretch in the middle of the second half, neither school held more than a one-point lead. While the rest of the ACC has struggled to score against Virginia’s pack-line defense, Duke seems to have cracked the code. Only nine league opponents have scored over 1.12 points per possession against Virginia over the last six seasons, but Duke has managed to do it four times, including a 1.14 mark on Saturday. Of course, it may be more a matter of talent than strategy. Mike Krzyzewski has had numerous elite players to call on lately, including, most recently, the transcendental talents of Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. Playing without injured point guard Tre Jones, the Blue Devils relied on Barrett (30 points) and Williamson (27 points) to become the first pair of opponents to score more than 25 points against the Cavaliers in the Bennett era. Both teams were effective in the paint but less so from distance – Duke went 2-of-14 from deep while Virginia connected on only three of its 17 three-point tries. That’s where Virginia must feel it let a huge road win get away. While Duke has been struggling with the three-pointer all year, the Cavaliers have been one of the nation’s best outside shooting teams. Expect another classic when the two face off again in three weeks.
  • Worst Loss:  Call it the Duke Hangover, Part 2. Last Saturday, Florida State was one second away from stunning the top-ranked Blue Devils, but now, Leonard Hamilton‘s team is looking at a three-game losing streak after back-to-back road upsets at Pittsburgh and Boston College. The Seminoles blew a 10-point halftime lead Sunday afternoon in Conte Forum en route to an 87-82 loss to the Eagles. As has become the custom, Florida State was killed from behind the arc – the Seminoles went 8-of-25 from deep while allowing Boston College to make 13-of-21 from long distance. In five ACC games to date, Florida State ranks last in the league in three-point shooting (24.8%) and is tied for worst in opponents’ success from deep (41.7%).
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2018-19 RTC16: Week Eight

Posted by Walker Carey on January 14th, 2019

The early portion of conference play often comes with observations about how new coaches are working out in their programs. Those quick-hit observations can often be misguided because of a small sample size, but there are times where such declarations can clearly be taken as a sign of positive things to come. For example, take a look at what Kermit Davis is doing in his first season at #13 Ole Miss. The Rebels went just 12-20 last season and were picked to finish dead last in the SEC preseason media poll, but a 13-2 start featuring a resounding 82-67 home win over #11 Auburn on Wednesday and a comeback victory over archrival Mississippi State on Saturday have gotten everyone’s attention. It will be interesting to see how Davis’ squad handles the role of the hunted now that it has earned a national ranking. That said, the Rebels have not experienced defeat since the week of Thanksgiving and figure to be home favorites this week in games against LSU and Arkansas. The regular season is far from over, but Davis has already shown in his first year that he is ready to make Ole Miss a contender in a very competitive SEC race. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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