Evaluating Texas’ Top Three Candidates

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 31st, 2015

The head coaching job at Texas hasn’t been vacant for two whole days, but the search is already sending shockwaves throughout the college basketball landscape. Now, the top candidates for the gig had been rumored as successors even before athletic director Steve Patterson let Rick Barnes go on Sunday, and nothing has really changed since then, so none of the names are exactly surprising. But now that the wheels are actually moving, things could get real in a hurry. Here’s a quick rundown of the three coaches most likely to take the reins in Austin.

Say, that orange tie looks pretty good on Shaka. (sportsillustrated.com)

Say, that orange tie looks pretty good on Shaka… (sportsillustrated.com)

  1. Shaka Smart, VCU – Smart’s teams at VCU have turned heads ever since he led the Rams to the Final Four in 2011. While Smart hasn’t returned to the second weekend, much less the third, since that memorable run, that doesn’t make the 37-year old any less viable of a candidate. While some have doubts about his lack of experience as a head coach at a high-major program, he spent time on Billy Donovan’s staff at Florida and has successfully leveraged his track record, youth and enthusiasm to land commitments from some of the top prospects in the country. And he’s done it at a school with a fraction of Texas’ recruiting budget. Smart has notoriously rejected offers from plenty of high-major programs to stay at VCU, but turning down a top-10 job in terms of resources and access would be much tougher for him to do. Read the rest of this entry »
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Texas and Rick Barnes Finally Part Ways

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 2015

Rick Barnes‘ last four seasons with Texas were a rollercoaster ride. After failing to win an NCAA Tournament game in consecutive seasons for the first time in his 17-year tenure, Barnes reformed the team in 2013 without once-promising recruits Sheldon McClellan, Myck Kabongo, Julien Lewis, Jaylen Bond and Ioannis Papapetrou. His remaining players took him off the hot seat, riding stifling interior defense to a surprise third-place finish in the Big 12 and a thrilling NCAA Tournament win over Arizona State before bowing out to Michigan in the Round of 32. You probably know what happened next, but to bring you up to speed, the Longhorns came into this season as the leading candidate to knock Kansas from its conference perch, but injuries, inconsistent offense and lax perimeter defense kept the team from meeting expectations.

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Rick Barnes brought unprecedented levels of success to Texas, but rocky seasons and early NCAA Tournament flameouts finally caught up to him. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Texas finished with a losing record in the Big 12 for the second time in three years, and while they had a chance to redeem themselves in the NCAA Tournament last week, they petered out in an uninspiring loss to Butler. On Thursday night reports emerged that athletic director Steve Patterson gave Barnes an ultimatum: Replace your staff or I’ll replace you. Barnes wouldn’t acquiesce to those demands, and now the two parties going their separate ways.

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Reviewing ACC Tournament Tuesday

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 11th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

It was a surprisingly exciting pair of games that we witnessed on the first day of the 2015 ACC Tournament. In the opener, 12th-seeded Boston College and All-ACC first teamer Olivier Hanlan rallied late to edge 13th-seeded Georgia Tech, 66-65. After that, 14th-seeded Virginia Tech held off a late charge by Wake Forest to slip past the 11th-seeded Deacons by a score of 81-80. All four teams competed hard, and while there were plenty of airballs, silly fouls, and missed defensive assignments — these squads entered Tuesday at least five games south of .500 on the year — for most of the afternoon, the sparse opening-day crowd certainly left the Greensboro Coliseum entertained. Here are some takeaways on each team:

Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)

Georgia Tech (12-19): Attention in Atlanta will now turn to the coaching status of Brian Gregory with the season now complete. When you look at his four-year win totals (11-16-16-12), it’s tough to make a compelling case for keeping Gregory in charge of the program. While it’s true that Georgia Tech was incredibly unlucky this year — the Jackets were 0-11 in ACC games decided by five points or less, or in overtime — many will view that failure as the head coach’s responsibility. Offense has been bad for his entire tenure, with the team ranking outside the top-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency three out of four years. In fact, it’s fair to say that the only thing Georgia Tech has done well under his direction is to rebound the ball. Per the recent norm for ACC schools when a coach misses the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four years at the helm, look for a change to be made this spring. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 03.11.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 11th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Atlanta Journal Constitution: Whew… Mark Bradley is not impressed by Brian Gregory. Georgia Tech continued its floundering play in close conference games, losing to Boston College by one with an admittedly ugly last possession. Bradley pulls no punches here — my favorite jab was “I’m not sure Tech has designed plays.” I don’t think it’s totally Gregory’s fault that Georgia Tech went 0-11 in close ACC games this year, but I do think it’s time for change in Atlanta. It’s never a good sign when you hire a coach away from a mid-major and a majority of its fan base seems relieved or even jubilant. That said, if the Yellow Jackets can steal another coach away from Flyer Nation, Archie Miller would be a great hire.
  2. Washington Post: Why did Buzz Williams leave Marquette? I mean, he was just one more underperforming Rick Barnes season away from being the media favorite for Texas! This is a terrific profile of Williams and all of his peculiarities. Williams is a character and a bit of a control freak (most elite coaches are), but he’s also got the motor and patience to build Virginia Tech into a much better program over time.
  3. The ACC: Moving back to Georgia Tech, Max Skinner talked to Bobby Cremins, who will join the group of ACC Legends this year. It’s a fun conversation talking about everything from conference expansion to one-and-dones to his nickname (Cake, which apparently came from South Carolinians not being able to understand his New York City accent). Best line? “Anybody that thinks Virginia basketball is boring is either not a fan of Virginia or is an idiot.” Well said, sir.
  4. Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer: Let’s start with the first article. North Carolina needs more from its bigs — Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks — especially when the going gets tough. Let’s move to the second article. Kennedy Meeks will likely miss the ACC Tournament due to an undiagnosed illness. That spells bad news for the Tar Heels, which already have an uphill battle to fight thanks to a Wednesday start (though Ken Pomeroy gave UNC the third-best odds to win the tournament). With Meeks out of the lineup that means a lot more Joel James, who probably deserved consideration for the Most Improved Player award, and a lot more scoring weight on Marcus Paige and Johnson’s collective shoulders.
  5. Hampton Roads Daily Press: David Teel talked with John Swofford about a not-so-new idea to move college basketball forward to avoid so much of an overlap with college football. Swofford wasn’t terribly into the idea but said that he thought basketball should work harder to come out of the gates with some momentum. I disagree. College basketball should accept its place as a niche sport and work on more important problems. Pushing the season ahead would only make an athlete’s decision whether to declare for the NBA Draft more stressful. It also would mean more overlap with the NBA season, possibly including the playoffs. Leave things the way they are! Although I’m totally on board with the idea of moving the NCAA Tournament to ESPN.

EXTRA: Thank Martin Rickman for reminding me that this happened 20 years ago this week.

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ACC M5: 02.11.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 11th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Deadspin and Sports Illustrated: The great stories about the life of Dean Smith just continue to come off the press. Deadspin this week reprinted a profile of the North Carolina legend from a 1982 edition of Inside Sports, and it may do a better job describing Smith the competitor than anything written about him in the last 20 years. Sports Illustrated, on the other hand, got some of its senior writers together (many with connections to North Carolina) to share a bunch of short, personal stories. Most of the the pieces linked to so far have been about Smith’s legacy and accomplishments, but these stories do a better job in painting the mosaic of a complex human being.
  2. Washington Post: Here’s some good news and bad news for Virginia. The good news is that the Cavaliers managed to get past the brutal part of their schedule with only one loss. The bad news is that Justin Anderson has to sit out for 4-6 weeks recovering from hand surgery. Wednesday night’s game at NC State won’t be easy, but Tony Bennett’s group should still be the clear favorite for the ACC regular season crown. I have two questions. Will Virginia improve over the long run because other players will have to shoulder more of the scoring load in Anderson’s absence? And will the star junior come back right where he left off? The answer to the second question likely depends on how long he’s out. If it’s just four weeks, he’ll have more time to get back in the swing of things before postseason play begins. The answer to the first question, though, will decide if Virginia gets caught by any ACC foes.
  3. Richmond Times Dispatch: Buzz Williams made an interesting halftime wardrobe change that’s gotten his friend Scott Barber some free publicity. It didn’t hurt that Virginia Tech managed to eke out a win over Georgia Tech on Monday, but Williams switch to a “loud” (according to Barber) sweater got plenty of attention. My question is how hot is a wool sweater? It doesn’t seem like great coaching wear for someone who moves around the sidelines a lot (especially for someone just waiting on a more talented team to inspire opposing students to replace Gary Williams’ name in cheers). Regardless, you can buy a orange and purple argyle sweater of your own, and support charity while you’re at it.
  4. Syracuse Post Standard: You don’t often hear Jim Boeheim apologize. I’m sure it’s happened before, but not nearly as often as he snaps at reporters. So it’s pretty surprising that Boeheim called Joe Starkey to apologize after the reporter had asked about the hygiene of the Syracuse program. Starkey responded by ripping Boeheim in a weekend column (comparing him to Bill Belichick, of all people). This whole series of events makes me wonder whether the NCAA is poised to drop the hammer on Syracuse and Boeheim wanted to do some pregame damage control.
  5. Pittsburgh Post GazettePittsburgh has a 14-person committee convened to find a new athletic director. Not impressed? Don’t worry, they’ve also burned a large pile of money hired a search firm to help identify their top candidates. Jamie Dixon isn’t on the committee, but I’d expect him to have some weight with the final decision. The good news is that Pittsburgh expects to have its new athletic director hired by the spring.
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ACC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 30th, 2015

This week was an eye-opening one for ACC teams, with several marquee match-ups that shed greater light on the haves and have-nots of the conference race. Now moving into February, the teams with staying power are starting to emerge and those that are disappointing are showing their true colors as well. This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish keep beating good teams and are a stellar 8-1 in ACC play at the turn. They withstood a 10-point deficit from Duke on Wednesday night and never lost their composure. This is starting to look like a team that has major potential come NCAA Tournament time.
  • North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ six-game winning streak has put them in the thick of the conference race through four weeks. Marcus Paige seems to have regained some of his missing star power, and some timely shots falling for Justin Jackson and Nate Britt make the team more dangerous from the perimeter. Don’t forget Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are expected to return before year’s end, too.
  • Virginia Tech. Hokies’ fans had been waiting to see some early returns on Buzz Williams’ hiring, and this may have been the week they got a glimpse of what he’s building. Virginia Tech nearly knocked off undefeated Virginia last weekend before bowing out by just three points, then procured an overtime win over Pittsburgh on Wednesday for Williams’ first ACC win. Progress, people.
Adam Smith's game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams (USATodaySports)

Adam Smith’s (far left) game-winning three in OT gave Virginia Tech its first ACC win under Buzz Williams and reason for hope in the future (USATodaySports)

  • Nate Britt, North Carolina. After learning of the emotional state Britt was in prior to North Carolina’s ESPN Big Monday match-up with Syracuse, his performance became that much more admirable. Britt set a career high with 17 points, but perhaps more importantly for Roy Williams’ team was his 4-of-5 shooting from three. Could he finally be the long-range complement to Paige the Tar Heels desperately need?
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. No need to talk too much about how outstanding Grant’s season has been as the national media has that pretty well covered, but anyone who watched his performance live against Duke had to be amazed. He was the best player on the court in that game (yes, including Jahlil Okafor) en route to a stat line of 23 points, six rebounds, 12 assists, three steals and two blocks. Yes, he’s for real.
  • Louisville’s Backcourt. The much-maligned Cardinals’ offense has shown signs of life, largely because of the clearly improved shooting of their guards. Terry Rozier and Chris Jones had an especially dominant week in wins over Pittsburgh and Boston College on the road; combined, they scored 94 points in the two contests on 65 percent shooting from the field and 67 percent from three.

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ACC Stock Watch: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on January 23rd, 2015

Some of the ACC’s squads righted the ship in a relatively quiet week, while still others affirmed their descent to the cellar of the conference standings. With six weeks remaining in the regular season, there is still plenty of time for teams to ascend or plummet, and we’ll continue to track their progress on a week-to-week basis. Below is this week’s ACC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • North Carolina. While the Tar Heels’ win over Virginia Tech was less than enthralling, their more impressive road win over a Wake Forest team that was competitive with both Duke and Louisville at home lends credence to the notion that they may be hitting their stride. However, mounting injuries in the backcourt are a concern for Roy Williams.
  • Duke. After the entire college basketball nation wondered what was wrong with the Blue Devils with consecutive losses to NC State and Miami, Duke responded with an impressive road win over Louisville and an easy dismantling of Pittsburgh on Monday night. Coach K may have found some defensive relief with the zone he’s employed much more heavily in the past two contests.
  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Jackson’s emergence over the last week has finally given everyone a glimpse into the player he can become: an efficient offensive threat to complement Marcus Paige on the perimeter. In wins over Virginia Tech and Wake Forest this week, he scored 33 points on a combined 11-of-18 shooting (3-of-6 from three).
Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

Justin Jackson continued his impressive stretch for the Tar Heels in a win over Wake Forest (espn.com)

  • Tyus Jones, Duke. The Blue Devils’ freshman point guard endured a rough initiation to ACC play but rebounded with two strong efforts this week. His 10-point, eight-assist performance in a hostile environment at Louisville was steady and important, but he really broke out with a 22-point effort against Pittsburgh, including four three-pointers. Jones made his recent freshman jitters appear to be just that, rebounding individually very nicely along with his team.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. His week began by being named ACC Player of the Week on January 19 and ended with a demonstration on just how important he is to this Syracuse team. Riddled with foul trouble and available for only 23 minutes, the Orange’s big man still contributed 12 points and seven boards against Boston College. His absence made it possible for the Eagles to hang around in that game, showing once again that Jim Boeheim doesn’t have many options outside of his star center.

Flat

  • Clemson. Holding serve against Syracuse at home was nice, but losing to Florida State was something the Tigers couldn’t afford. Clemson still appears to be a team trending towards the bottom of the standings as its inconsistent offense remains a major issue.
  • Syracuse. 5-1 in the ACC and not trending up? Get back to me when the Orange actually beat a good team. While it was nice that Jim Boeheim’s team held on against Boston College with Rakeem Christmas barely on the floor (see above), this team had better improve dramatically before it enters the final phase of a lopsided schedule (its final seven games include Duke twice, Louisville, Virginia, and Notre Dame). Having one of the least productive benches in the country doesn’t bode well for the Orange’s NCAA Tourney chances.

Trending Down

  • Louisville. Perhaps the loss to Duke wasn’t unexpected with the Blue Devils coming off of consecutive defeats, but the Cardinals’ continued offensive struggles is a major concern. They’re still only shooting 42.7 percent as a team, and Rick Pitino can’t seem to find consistent shot-making from Chris Jones or Wayne Blackshear. Their admittedly outstanding defense can only carry them so far in a conference this loaded with offensive talent.
  • Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ 8-10 overall record and 0-5 ACC start aren’t a surprise, but with the recent announcement that leading rebounder Joey Van Zegeren is leaving the team, their outlook for the remainder of the season became even more bleak. The notion was that Buzz Williams could perhaps coax some surprises out of this roster, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.
  • Georgia Tech. Now 0-6 in the ACC. And yes, Virginia is a great team, but scoring a mere 28 points for an entire game (12 in the second half)? Brian Gregory’s team may not be able to recover from such an awful start to the conference season. The Yellow Jackets are at or near the bottom in the ACC in both scoring and stopping their opponents from doing so. That translates to 0-6.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville. As we noted last week, it’s not just that his shots and productivity are down; but now the junior has been stripped of his captaincy by Rick Pitino (later clarified, to some extent, by Pitino on his radio show). Even if this maneuver was a mutual decision or some kind of motivational ploy, it’s not a good sign for the Cardinals if their star needs to tone down his act. Coupled with his earlier suspension for throwing an elbow, Harrell is on the precipice of becoming a bit of a malcontent to the detriment of his team’s success.
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ACC Exam Week: Grading Out the 15 Schools

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 11th, 2014

It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).

Top of the Class

  • Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
  • Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
  • Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)

  • Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
  • Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.

Those With Potential

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ACC M5: Who’s Been a Turkey Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 26th, 2014

morning5_ACC

Here’s a look at some of the most disappointing performances so far by ACC teams.

  1. Clemson: The Tigers already have two bad losses on their resume. First came a 77-74 home loss to Winthrop on Monday, November 17, and then Clemson suffered an unimpressive 72-70 defeat at the hands of Gardner Webb, this past Friday in the opening round of the Paradise Jam Tournament in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The shocking thing about both losses is that we expected Brad Brownell’s Tigers to struggle on offense and be stingy as always on the defensive end, but that was not the case in either game. In fact, Clemson shot over 48 percent from the field in both contests but surprisingly allowed over 70 points to two offenses that kenpom currently has ranked #194 (Gardner Webb) and #244 (Winthrop). In the two games combined, Clemson gave up 20 made three-point baskets, allowed 24 offensive rebounds, and only forced 14 turnovers. It should be noted that the Tigers did respond to these losses with back-to-back wins over Nevada and LSU in the Paradise Jam, but those bad losses will stick with them (and the ACC) all season long.
  2. Florida State: Picked by most to finish in the upper-middle part of the ACC, Leonard Hamilton’s squad has been a huge disappointment so far by dropping three of its first four games. All of the defeats are to teams ranked in kenpom’s top-75, so looked upon individually, no loss is considered terrible, but in two of them the circumstances are troubling. First of all, a mid-level ACC team should not lose at home to any team from the Colonial Athletic Conference, but that’s exactly what happened as Northeastern edged the Seminoles, 76-73 in Tallahassee last Tuesday. Then Florida State dropped back-to-back games over the weekend at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic in Uncasville, Connecticut. Providence destroyed them, 80-54 on Saturday by scoring at will (1.26 points per possession) on the normally stout Seminoles’ defense. That’s the second worst defensive performance by Florida State since the 2007-08 season. Sunday’s 75-69 loss to Massachusetts was much more competitive, especially considering that star guard Aaron Thomas missed the second half after being rushed to the hospital for apparent dehydration due to an illness. This isn’t the first time that Florida State has struggled during the early nonconference part of the season, and often they are able to turn things around in conference play and contend for a bid to the NCAA tournament. However if the Seminoles drop many more games before January, they may be in too big a hole to dig out of in the newly improved ACC.
  3. Pittsburgh: In a game that went largely unnoticed, Pittsburgh took a tough 74-70 loss at Hawaii, last Friday night. It was the first of four games in Maui for the Panthers as they are now competing in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Perhaps due to jet lag, Pitt allowed the Rainbow Warriors to connect on 53 percent of their field goals. The defense didn’t get much better though in Monday’s 81-68 win over Chaminade, as the Division II Silverswords also topped the 50 percent mark from the field. The Panthers won because they were able to dominate the glass by a huge +34 rebound margin, which included 27 offensive boards for Pitt. Even before this trip, Pittsburgh was not very impressive in a seven point win over Samford, currently ranked #306 in kenpom. Jaime Dixon’s squad still has a chance to right the ship before returning stateside, but at least thus far, Pittsburgh’s reputation as a tough team to score against looks to be in jeopardy this season.
  4. Virginia Tech: We hesitate to include the Hokies here, since Buzz Williams’ team was not expected to be very good, especially early in the season. But when an ACC school loses on it’s home floor to the 312th ranked team in the country, they don’t deserve a pass. Appalachian State went in to Blacksburg this past Saturday afternoon and beat Virginia Tech, 65-63. The Hokies shot better than Appalachian State from the field and held a +4 edge in turnovers, but couldn’t overcome a shocking rebound deficit of -15. The Mountaineers turned 19 offensive boards into 23 second chance points, while Virginia Tech only scored five from its eight offensive rebounds. Certainly that does not bode well for the Hokies, when stronger ACC frontlines come to town.
  5. Wake Forest: The Deacons have two early losses that are pretty bad, but for different reasons. Last Wednesday, Wake Forest got hammered at Arkansas, 83-53 and followed that by falling at home to Iona on Friday night, by a score of 85-81. While no one expected the Deacons to roll into Fayetteville, Arkansas, and beat a team expected to finish near the top of the SEC, the 30-point margin was disappointing. Even though Iona is a good team and the preseason favorite in the MAAC, and Wake Forest had a quick turnaround following the trip to Arkansas, Danny Manning wasn’t happy with how his team responded in terms of early effort. The new Deacon head coach also wasn’t pleased with himself for calling a timeout that he didn’t have, with Iona up by two and 23.1 seconds left. The Gaels made 2-of-4 subsequent free throws to ice the game. In a recent blog, longtime Wake Forest beat writer Dan Collins discussed how Manning is drawing a line in the sand, regarding the effort level of all his players, including supposed stars Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre. We will soon see if that message is getting results, as the Deacons get an early ACC road game, at N.C. State next Saturday, December 6.
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ACC M5: 11.19.14 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 19th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse.com: It is well-known that the Syracuse basketball and football programs have been under NCAA scrutiny for a while now. Other than eligibility concerns surrounding Fab Melo, though, there hasn’t been much information about what the alleged transgressions were. Recent news of a link between a YMCA in Oneida and Orange athletes has brought to light some of the other issues the school is contending with. Questions are being asked about internship programs that athletes supposedly completed at the Y, administered by graduate students. Additionally, a former supervisor at this YMCA was sued for siphoning money from the organization into a private account. That supervisor, Jeff Cornish, had no previous ties to Syracuse but has been seen with former stars Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick, among others, at various times over past years. If nothing else, this helps to clarify some of what Syracuse is experiencing, and the possible issue with the internships draws some resemblance to the paper classes scandal at North Carolina, although on a much smaller scale.
  2. ESPN: Angel Rodriguez‘s name was everywhere in the past 24 hours, thanks to the game-winning three pointer he nailed that ended Florida’s 33-game home winning streak. Miami is largely dependent on Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, both transfers, to make this a much-improved Hurricanes team. Rodriguez’s heroics led ESPN.com‘s Myron Medcalf to delve into whether transfers like those two are a good thing for college hoops. Medcalf notes that some players transfer, even multiple times, for purely selfish reasons, but said that he regarded Rodriguez and N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey as examples of players who had good reasons to move on to a new school. Clearly some of the best transfer talent in college basketball can be found in the ACC this season.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: One of the key takeaways from N.C. State’s win over Hofstra on Monday night was the offensive production of Lennard Freeman. The Wolfpack’s frontcourt was always going to be a focal point this year due to its relative youth, and, so far, early results are mixed. Kyle Washington and BeeJay Anya, the two frontcourt players most projected to make the biggest impact, performed poorly in that contest. If Freeman can have more nights like he did against Hofstra (nine points, 13 rebounds) it would go a long way towards helping head coach Mark Gottfried develop the impact frontcourt he’s desires. Overall, though, all three of his big men need to play integral roles each and every night for the Wolfpack to have a successful season.
  4. The Courier-Journal: In short, Montrezl Harrell is a beast. His 30-point, seven-rebound performance in Louisville‘s opener over Minnesota was jaw-dropping not so much because of his production but how he produced it. Harrell, always a monster around the rim, displayed a newfound ability to hit jump shots from deep (3-of-4 from three-point range) that he did not have last season. As Gary Parrish from CBSSports.com noted, “Suddenly, it appears this physical specimen and unique athlete is now also capable of scoring 20-feet from the basket. That, I think, makes him nearly impossible to guard…” Harrell’s opening-night salvo earned him the ACC Player of the Week award and placed him atop the first Player of the Year rankings from ESPN.com, CBSSports.com, and CollegeSportsMadness.com. Oh, and he followed that great game up with 15/7 in game number two against Jacksonville State.
  5. Richmond Times-Dispatch: As noted before here on RTC, there are low expectations for Virginia Tech this season. When a win over Maryland-Eastern Shore in the season opener is a relief, it really hits home from a reality perspective. As the author writes, the standout from that game was freshman Justin Bibbs. Bibbs’ 15 points and two assists were a welcome sight for Hokies fans unsure of what all of these newcomers would mean for the team this year (four true freshmen played in the team’s opener). Devin Wilson was really the only sure thing on the roster returning, but if the Hokies have some under-the-radar talent among their newcomers, perhaps Buzz Williams’ reclamation project in Blacksburg won’t take as long as most thought. Bibbs certainly gave everyone a reason to get excited over the weekend.
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ACC Preseason Power Rankings

Posted by mpatton on November 14th, 2014

Over the last two weeks, we have previewed each team individually to go with several more articles to get you ready for ACC basketball (first tip: 6:00 PM ET in Durham). Links to the previews can be found in each of the preseason power rankings listed below. Also look for our preseason conference awards which will publish later today.

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS

Duke Blue Devils 1. Duke (58): Everyone knows about the freshmen, and they are sensational. But are Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon ready to put together a consistent season from start to finish? That answer may determine whether the Blue Devils are Final Four-bound or facing another early departure from the Tourney.
Virginia Cavaliers T2. Virginia (53): Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell didn’t light up the scoreboard in Charlottesville, but their leadership and savvy was key in Virginia’s magical run last year. Can Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson assume larger roles and keep Tony Bennett‘s team in the national limelight?
North Carolina Tar Heels T2. North Carolina (53): Everyone knows about Marcus Paige, and the Tar Heels should be better at the line and from three with the addition of some talented freshmen in the backcourt and on the wing. Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks have to bring it every night in the paint for this team to reach its potential.
LouisvilleLogo 4. Louisville (52): The Cardinals probably have as good a shot as any of the top four. While they will have to learn how to play a new set of conference opponents in unfamiliar arenas, the ACC will have to adjust to Rick Pitino’s style of pressure defense with multiple schemes. Most of the key contributors are now gone from the 2012-13 National Championship squad, but the program brings a culture used to winning at the highest level.
Syracuse Orange 5. Syracuse (42): There are a lot of questions about the Orange after Tyler Ennis’ and Jerami Grant’s early departures. Jim Boeheim has a talented team that won’t be an easy out, but there are a lot of questions about how the offense will run with another freshman, Kaleb Joseph, at the helm.
Florida State Seminoles 6. Florida State (38): The Seminoles haven’t been their usual defensive selves the past two seasons, but this year Leonard Hamilton has three experienced big men along with a cadre of long perimeter players. Aaron Thomas may be the most underrated player in the ACC, which bodes well for things in Tallahassee this year.
Pittsburgh Panthers 7. Pittsburgh (37)Jamie Dixon has a tradition of replacing departed stars with veterans. For Pitt to win games against the ACC’s elite, Cameron Wright and James Robinson must continue that trend and get some help, maybe a year earlier than the norm, from the talented sophomore class. One would think they are due for a healthier year than last, when midseason injuries really set the team back.
NC State Wolfpack 8. NC State (34): T.J. Warren is gone, so this team has to find its offense by committee. Tyler Lewis is too, so Cat Barber will have to be efficient and also seek his own shot. The maturation of a young frontcourt will be key. Mark Gottfried has historically impressed with low expectations.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish 9. Notre Dame (32): It won’t be a surprise if Zach Auguste makes a big jump in production as a junior, but beyond that is nothing but unproven post players. With the perimeter filled with talent and experience, keeping Auguste healthy and out of foul trouble may be the key as the Irish try to make a dramatic jump in the standings. Jerian Grant is a contender for ACC Player of the Year.
Miami Hurricanes 10. Miami (25): Arguably the best coaching job in the country last year happened in Coral Gables. If Jim Larranaga gets this team to improve, the Hurricanes will be significantly better than many expect. Manu Lacomte needs to make the leap and lead a young team in a very tough conference.
Clemson Tigers 11. Clemson (18): Brad Brownell showed that even without a ton of obvious roster talent, the Tigers will be competitive — especially on defense. This season he has to prove that again without K.J. McDaniels. It’s unclear who the go-to player will be, so Clemson’s offense could hold this team back.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 12. Wake Forest (17): Wake may be ready for a solid rise in the ACC standings as early as next year. This year will be a challenge, but momentum could be built towards a good 2015-16 season. Juniors Devin Thomas on the inside and Cody Miller-McIntyre in the backcourt will dictate how good this team is.
Boston College 13. Boston College (12): A year and coach removed from last year’s disappointing effort leave a lot of questions in Chestnut Hill. Olivier Hanlan will always be worth the price of admission, but he may not have enough supporting cast to escape the dregs of the ACC unless Dennis Clifford can finally stay healthy.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 14. Georgia Tech (10): It’s really hard to see Brian Gregory surviving as coach here if the Yellow Jackets don’t make the postseason this season. It’s also hard to see this Georgia Tech team finishing in the top half of the ACC, which is what it would probably take to get that NCAA bid — or even a trip to the NIT. The odds of Gregory being in Atlanta after March 2015 are not very good.
Virginia Tech Hokies 15. Virginia Tech (6): Virginia Tech will again be among the cellar-dwellers in the ACC, but at least it has come cachet with the hiring of Buzz Williams. They’ll be serviceable in the backcourt with Devin Wilson returning, but it will be a year or two before we can evaluate the viability of the Hokies as competitive in the conference.

Miscellaneous Power Rankings Notes:

  • Coach K reloadsDuke was the top choice again this year with another one-and-done big man, but the Blue Devils weren’t the unanimous pick. Virginia and Louisville both got a first place vote.
  • Clear Contenders: North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia (in some order) rounded out everyone’s top four, marking a distinct upper tier in the conference.
  • Media/Microsite solidarity: For the second season in a row, no teams differed from the preseason media poll by more than two spots.
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One on One: An ACC Preview With Bret Strelow

Posted by Walker Carey on November 5th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the ACC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an ACC expert in Bret Strelow (@bretstrelow), the ACC basketball reporter for The Fayetteville Observer.

Rush the Court: Duke was an extremely talented unit last season, but it was ultimately done in by its defensive deficiencies in its stunning NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer. The Blue Devils once again have a talented roster and are widely projected to win the league. Will this season be any different than last when it comes to the defensive end of the floor?

Bret Strelow: It would be hard to get much worse. The Blue Devils ranked in the 100s in defensive efficiency, which is a far cry from what a Mike Krzyzewski-coached team usually is. With Jabari Parker, defense was not his calling card. Rodney Hood took on some tough assignments and struggled at times. The current thought around the Duke camp is that Jahlil Okafor at 6’11” and 270 pounds is a legitimate rim-protector. Duke can clean up some of its mistakes and pressure the ball a little bit more with Okafor back there. I think Duke should ultimately be a better defensive team, but we will see how much of a difference that will make.

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

Marcus Paige could be NPOY This Sesason. (credit: Ethan Hyman / Raleigh News & Observer)

RTC: Marcus Paige alone can probably keep North Carolina competitive in the ACC, but if the Tar Heels want to compete for the league crown, they are going to need a supporting cast to step forward. What Tar Heels can you see breaking out this season?

Strelow: It really might be a little bit of everybody. If Marcus Paige has to carry the load like he did for much of last season, North Carolina is probably not going to reach the goal that it has of contending for a Final Four and a national title. I think you can expect a little bit from everybody. Brice Johnson was extremely efficient last season in a secondary role behind James Michael McAdoo. If Johnson can stay out of foul trouble and guard well enough, I think his offense will be there. Kennedy Meeks has slimmed down. His offense has never been a problem. With Johnson and Meeks, you have two solid front line guys. When you look at the North Carolina freshmen class, Justin Jackson is a guy who has the uncanny ability to score. He has a way of scoring quickly and scoring in a way that does not require a lot of dribbles. I think he can really have a big year. He is probably more of an offensive threat than fellow freshmen Theo Pinson and Joel Berry II. I think outside shooting might still be an issue for North Carolina outside of Paige and if Jackson can hit a few. When you look at a guy like J.P. Tokoto, outside shooting is not his game. I think the Tar Heels have enough inside and with Jackson coming along, they are going to have enough to help Paige carry the load this season.

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