Rushed Reactions: #4 Louisville 66, #5 Northern Iowa 53

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 23rd, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

All Smiles as Louisville Advanced to Its Fourth Straight FInal Four (USA Today Images)

It Was All Smiles as Louisville Advanced to Its Fourth Straight Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

  1. Four-Point Swing. With 3:45 remaining on the game clock and Northern Iowa still hanging around, sophomore guard Jeremy Morgan was racing upcourt with the ball and a clear path to the basket. With Louisville’s athletes chasing him and their spectacular blocked shots surely in the back of his mind, Morgan opted for a nice dump off pass to teammate Wes Washpun. Washpun’s layup attempt was caught up to and rejected from behind by Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear, leading to a transition opportunity the other way and a Montrezl Harrell dunk to complete a four-point swing that extended the Cardinals’ lead back to eight points. From that point on, the game was never again in doubt.
  2. Athleticism. Northern Iowa is a very good basketball team with a spectacular leader in senior Seth Tuttle. But Louisville’s athleticism and length were definitely something the Panthers hadn’t seen a whole lot of. It had a massive effect on that fast break attempt mentioned above and it was a factor throughout the game. The Panthers think they’ve got an open look at a three? Not so fast, as a long and athletic player in white comes swooping in to challenge the attempt. The final numbers show just four Louisville blocked shots for the game, but clean looks were hard to come by for the Panthers. In the first half, the Cards’ defensive pressure forced Northern Iowa into eight turnovers (they average 10.8 turnovers per game) in large part because that athleticism bothered them. The Panthers adjusted and got used to it in the second half, but by then much of the damage was done.
  3. Three-Point Shooting. Louisville came into the game shooting 30.5 percent from three on the season, good for 312th in the nation. Northern Iowa’s defensive strategy all year long has been to take away something that its opponent does really well and give up the things it doesn’t do that well. The goal tonight was to pack it in and encourage the Cardinals to shoot a bunch of those threes that they’ve struggled with all year. But when the Cards started the game 5-of-8 from three, it appeared like that decision was backfiring. The Cards cooled down, missing their final three attempts from behind the arc, but still wound up shooting 45.5 percent from three for the game. On the other end, Northern Iowa came in shooting 40 percent from three, good for 10th in the nation. Tonight? Just 6-of-19, or 31.5 percent. This kind of noise in a single-elimination setting is hard to make up for.

Star of the GameTerry Rozier. On a team without a bunch of guys who can create their own offense, Louisville puts a lot of pressure on Rozier to score. Against a far less athletic team that those typically found int the ACC, Rozier was mostly unstoppable. He notched 25 points for the game and his early offensive explosion caused the Panthers’ defense to divert another defender to stymie his penetration. He used that newfound attention to dish to his open teammates, leading to seven assists, the second-highest single-game total of his career.

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ACC M5: 02.26.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 26th, 2015

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  1. Orlando Sentinel: Let’s start with our game of the night. Florida State almost came back to knock Miami right out of any NCAA Tournament talk thanks to Xavier Rathan-Mayes turning into a video game character for four minutes. Rathan-Mayes scored 26 points in just 3:36 of action (h/t to Michael Rogner). I’m calling it right now: We’re seeing a serious shakeup in the ACC next year. I think Florida State and NC State are both going to be really, really good. Duke needs Tyus Jones to return and Virginia needs Justin Anderson to do the same. North Carolina will be good with most of its players returning, but the Heels desperately need a shooter. Notre Dame and Louisville will both take steps backwards. That leaves plenty of room for a team or two to jump in from the periphery.
  2. SBNation: In our other game of the night, Duke managed to stave off Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Duke’s defense looks awful (if you had the Hokies putting up an offensive efficiency of over 130.0 — easily the worst Duke has given up this year — please take your lies elsewhere), and while Jahlil Okafor will get the press (and his 30 points that easily could’ve been 35 if he had made some free throws), Quinn Cook is what kept Duke from being blown out of the gym. The Hokies couldn’t miss a three but Cook answered every volley with a shot of his own (including a dagger in overtime). This game highlighted the weird conundrum that is Duke this year: When they’re on, they can beat anyone (and badly); but when the Blue Devils’ defense is struggling, they’re quite average. Nick Fasulo does a good job pointing out how overlooked Cook has been this year, as he’s quietly been one of the most efficient players in the country. His usage doesn’t merit a first team All-ACC selection, but Cook deserves more credit for this team’s success.
  3. Washington Post: Moving on to a less competitive game, Wake Forest forgot to show up against an undermanned Virginia team in Winston-Salem last night. It looked like Tony Bennett’s squad was out for blood (the Demon Deacons should have bested the Cavaliers in Charlottesville a couple of weeks ago), and this is a good story on Virginia’s eraser in the paint, senior Darion Atkins. He’s a huge reason why the Cavaliers’ defense is still one of the best in the country even after losing Akil Mitchell and Joe Harris. He’s also a quiet part of why Virginia hasn’t fallen off too much in Justin Anderson’s absence.
  4. CBSSports.com: Sam Vecenie took a look at the ACC Player of the Year race, and it’s pretty amazing. You have the National Player of the Year candidates (Jahlil Okafor and Jerian Grant); the stat machines without the accompanying team success to make the national spotlight (Olivier Hanlan and Rakeem Christmas); and you have the awesome players who struggle because a teammate is so good (Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson; Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell). That doesn’t even get us to guys like Trevor Lacey or Tyus Jones who have been unreal in the clutch this year. Pretty awesome problem to have.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: As we approach bracket season, it’s important to not only think about the bubble but also how personnel losses will affect teams’ seeds. It’s unlikely that Rasheed Sulaimon’s dismissal will have any bearing on Duke’s line (the Blue Devils are undefeated with wins over Virginia and North Carolina since he was dismissed), but Louisville without Chris Jones is another story. This is a really thorough look at Louisville’s current profile (along with some explanations of the bracketing rules).

EXTRA (via Will Brinson): Abdul-Malik Abu promised two of the Chapel Hill shooting victims that NC State would beat Duke and North Carolina this year (as a wedding present), and with the win over teh Heels he made good on the gift.

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Without Chris Jones, Louisville’s Fatal Flaw is Tough to Mask

Posted by CD Bradley on February 24th, 2015

Louisville’s first game of the post-Chris Jones era looked a lot like the the last one in which the senior point guard suited up. The Cardinals struggled to score, fell behind, went on a second-half run and found a way to eke out a nail-biting win. The question is whether they can replicate that outcome when the challenges get tougher as February turns into March.

The Dismissal of Chris Jones (USA Today Images)

The Dismissal of Chris Jones Leaves Louisville in a Tough Spot (USA Today Images)

Jones was dismissed from the team on Sunday, the day after hitting the crucial shot in a home win over Miami and the day before a road trip to ACC also-ran Georgia Tech. The University of Louisville police released a statement about an hour before tip-off that Jones had threatened to “smack TF (the f—) out of” an on-again, off-again girlfriend via text message on February 17, the day before the Cardinals lost at Syracuse. Jones was suspended for that game and did not make the trip with the team. He was reinstated the next day, played against Miami on Saturday, and then was formally dismissed from the team on Sunday. The Courier-Journal reported that Jones was also involved in a separate incident but the university declined to release a report, citing the ongoing investigation. “I feel awful for the young man, but unfortunately we just have to move on,” head coach Rick Pitino said about Jones after Monday’s 52-51 win. “Mistakes were made, and sometimes in life you’ve got to pay for those. […] There’s no way he’s coming back. It’s over.”

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ACC Stock Watch: 02.06.15 Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on February 6th, 2015

Another week, another slate of terrific basketball from the ACC. While some teams seemingly riding high got a dose of reality this week (hello Virginia and Notre Dame), others showed their ability to overcome adversity (Duke), while others flew under the radar entirely (Clemson). This is this week’s ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Duke. The Blue Devils showed the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon was not going to be a distraction for them, as they went into John Paul Jones Arena Saturday and knocked off previously unbeaten Virginia. Avoiding a letdown after that big win in knocking off Georgia Tech at home was nice to see from such a young squad, too.
  • Louisville. The Cardinals had an impressive week, exacting revenge on North Carolina in an impressive comeback fashion at home and emerging victorious from a road trip at Miami. The offense is coming around, making Rick Pitino’s team look as if it may be peaking at the right time.
  • Clemson. How many casual ACC fans realize that the Tigers have reeled off four straight wins? Their demolition of NC State in Raleigh was particularly impressive on January 28th, but taking care of two teams they should defeat in Boston College and Florida State this week showed the team is still battling for a ticket to the Dance for Brad Brownell.
Sidy Djitte and Clemson smothered NC State on their way to another solid week (AP Sports)

Sidy Djitte and Clemson are riding a four-game winning streak in the ACC. (AP)

  • Wake Forest. Danny Manning’s team, so close in so many defeats this year, had a nice week in dispatching of Virginia Tech and defeating a talented (but hard-to-figure out) NC State team. More importantly than that is that the Demon Deacons may be regaining some of the home-court edge they lost during Jeff Bzdelik’s tenure.
  • Terry Rozier, Louisville. Rozier has four straight 20-point games, but his matching 22-point performances this week were huge for Louisville in overcoming the Tar Heels in overtime and winning the tough road test against the Hurricanes. He and Chris Jones continue to make life easier for Montrezl Harrell down low, and some argue Rozier is the Cardinals’ most dangerous offensive threat.
  • Justise Winslow, Duke. Whether or not it was accurate that Winslow was hitting the “freshman wall,” he broke out of it in fine fashion this week. With Jahlil Okafor hounded by Virginia’s double teams, Winslow willed the Blue Devils to victory with a 15-point, 11-rebound performance. He matched that effort with another stat-stuffer against the Yellow Jackets: 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals. Some believe he’s the key cog in the Duke machine going forward.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 2nd, 2015

Once again the ACC enjoyed a highly entertaining weekend full of buzzer-beaters and furious comebacks. Much like last year when Syracuse beat Duke in an ESPN Gameday event on the night before the Super Bowl, the ACC grabbed the national spotlight again with a pair of high-level Saturday games. They both lived up to their billing, as Louisville capped off a big comeback to beat North Carolina in overtime before Duke closed its game with a stunning offensive flurry to hand Virginia its first loss of the season. In a few other Saturday nail-biters, Notre Dame lost a surprising final-possession game at Pittsburgh; N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to knock off Georgia Tech; and Wake Forest held off Virginia Tech for its second conference win. Also on Saturday, Clemson won its third in a row by beating Boston College handily in Littlejohn Coliseum. In the only Sunday ACC action, Miami missed a shot at the buzzer to fall to rival Florida State in a game where the Hurricanes blew a big first half lead. Here are some of the other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Montrezl Harrell grabs one his game-high 15 rebounds in Louisville's big comeback win. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Montrezl Harrell grabs one of his game-high 15 rebounds in Louisville’s big comeback win.
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

  • Most Outstanding Player: In a weekend full of superb performances we will give the nod to Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, the driving force behind the Cards’ comeback from an 18-point second half deficit to North Carolina. Harrell finished the game with 22 points and 15 rebounds, including eight offensive boards after the half, but it was more than his stellar numbers that merit praise for the junior forward. He played 44 ferocious minutes and his energy on both ends of the floor was responsible for turning the game around. He was so utterly dominant inside that both of North Carolina’s power forwards — Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks — fouled out of the game trying to keep up with him. Behind Harrell’s man-sized effort, Louisville was able to overcomes its cold shooting and beat the Tar Heels at their own game, utilizing a 28-to-24 edge in points from the paint.

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What’s Trending: Comeback Saturday Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 2nd, 2015

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Pitino Steals the Spotlight

And it wasn’t because of his team’s come-from-behind win over UNC (more on that later). Pitino went with the Colonel Sanders white suit to go along with the beginnings of a beard.

A bold look, but I guess it paid off.

A Wild Saturday in the ACC

As mentioned above, Louisville came back from an 18-point second half deficit to give Pitino his first career victory over North Carolina (now 1-6). Junior Montrezl Harrell went off with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and a one-handed alley-oop that brought The House That Colonel Sanders Built completely down.

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ACC M5: 02.02.15 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 2nd, 2015

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  1. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Welcome casual college basketball fans! Unfortunately you missed a hell of a weekend in the ACC. Seriously, this weekend was bonkers. Miami went out and totaled its NCAA Tournament resume with back-to-back bad losses, Duke scored on fourteen of its last fifteen possessions in one of the most impressive comebacks of year to knock off Virginia at home. And to all of the people saying this is proof “playing slow” lets opponents hang around, I say check the scoreboard (for all of the Cavaliers’ other games). Virginia is still a national title contender. They ran into a team that got hot and hit some crazy shots. Offensively, Duke matches up pretty well with Tony Bennett’s squad (good perimeter shooters and an All-American big who can pass well out of double teams). Now suddenly Duke goes from danger zone to being back in a pretty good place (at least in terms of getting a double-bye in the ACC Tournament), and Virginia has to worry about playing North Carolina. If the Tar Heels beat Virginia, maybe I’ll start worrying about the pack-line. But that Duke loss was just a team playing out of its mind.
  2. Durham Herald-Sun: Still no news about Rasheed Sulaimon‘s dismissal, which is good news. Duke is being pretty tight-lipped and the Matt Jones said the team would be “behind Rasheed 100%.” Coach K said it was a very difficult decision but wouldn’t say anything else. What remains to be seen will be how Sulaimon’s dismissal will affect the team’s chemistry. That win against Virginia was because Duke got hot at the right time. They played very well at the start and the end of the game. You can’t overstate the value of the win from a confidence standpoint because it allows the team to move on from Sulaimon’s departure. But I want to see how they react to the next loss.
  3. Louisville Courier-Journal: Speaking of big comebacks this weekend, Louisville came back from 18 down to steal a game against North Carolina. Montrezl Harrell looked like the man, going for 22 and 15 (and did this) while playing a big role in shutting the Tar Heels out of second-chance points in the second half. But the craziest stat was that Rick Pitino was 0-6 against the Tar Heels over his career (0-3 at Kentucky and 0-3 at Louisville).
  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: This was the most surprising result of the weekend for me. Pittsburgh isn’t good. This weekend had basketball gods written all over it. Louisville avenged its earlier loss to North Carolina with a huge comeback. Duke made up for blowing a double-digit second half lead at Notre Dame with the upset at Virginia (and double-digit second half comeback). And to finish everything, Steve Vasturia (the one who hit the dagger to do in Duke) missed a good look and allowed the Panthers to walk away big winners. I disagree that Pittsburgh is a NCAA Tournament team, but there’s still plenty of season left. What is certainly true is every team’s conference schedule is brutal this year.
  5. Syracuse Post-Standard: Trevor Cooney is chasing an impossible ACC record. He’s averaging more than 40 minutes a game in conference play. Somehow he’s still behind Georgia Tech’s Dennis Scott who averaged a ridiculous 40.3 minutes a game in 1990. Cooney has only sat for four minutes all of conference play. With his slim roster, don’t expect Jim Boeheim to sit Cooney now.
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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 M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 23rd, 2015

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  1. ESPN: Dana O’Neil penned a must-read profile of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski by talking with many of his longtime friends and family. It’s a long but great read. With Coach K getting a shot at 1,000 wins this weekend, there are plenty of profiles to go around. Pat Forde took a look back at Coach K’s first win, and in more normal M5 fare, Marshall Plumlee will be sworn in to the US Army today.
  2. Winston-Salem Journal: Tributes to Coach K are everywhere, including Winston-Salem, as Danny Manning told Dan Collins that the Demon Deacons aren’t a zone team and would stick to man-to-man even if they struggle with it. But the real reason Collins’ article is worth the click is for all the Wake Forest historical nuggets he hides inside it. I’ll side with Manning on his defensive trademark, though. Assuming a style of play that isn’t totally ludicrous, it’s good to work on molding your players into the type of team you want to coach. If he chose to play all zone, Manning might get a different type of player at Wake in the future (NBA teams often complain about prospects that play too much zone defense in college).
  3. Syracuse Post-Standard: Were we just talking about zone? Well, Syracuse plays a lot of zone. And is under NCAA investigation. If (and only if) the NCAA hands down or the Orange self-impose a postseason ban, they wouldn’t be allowed to compete in the ACC Tournament. That seems like a remote possibility at this point, but you’ll have better luck winning six-figure scratch-off prizes than predicting NCAA punishments. The other wrinkle is what a 14-team ACC Tournament would look like. If such a serious a punishment is coming, I’d expect more details to leak out first.
  4. Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia looks like it will run away with the ACC this season. You don’t want to put too much stock in games against Georgia Tech, but the Cavaliers held Brian Gregory’s squad to a ridiculous output of 28 points, while the Cavaliers scored at least 28 points in both halves. Accompanying Virginia’s rise is something of a bandwagon effect. Apparently Cavaliers fans showed up in force at Boston College (which is common for Duke and North Carolina, but both programs have national followings). Tony Bennett has done something really special in Charlottesville. The questions now are: How far can this team go? And can it beat the 76ers hold on to its head coach when the next really big job opens?
  5. Card Chronicle: More details on the Montrezl Harrell situation. Apparently Harrell pulled himself out of the position after Rick Pitino rode him about being more positive. This is plausible and is probably the best-case scenario from a chemistry perspective, but I wouldn’t start celebrating just yet. In more tangible analysis, North Carolina’s Brice Johnson gave an honest and somewhat critical scouting report on Harrell to Lauren Brownlow.

EXTRA: He’s not in the ACC anymore, but Chris Collins joined the tribute to Coach K and absolutely lost it after a questionable no-call from the officials at last night’s Northwestern-Ohio State game.

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ACC M5: 01.22.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 22nd, 2015

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  1. Duke Basketball Report: Good read from Al Featherston on Coach K and his new zone defense. I have a theory that Krzyzewski’s views on using the zone have softened somewhat because of his close friendship with Jim Boeheim. I also agree with Krzyzewski’s observation that Duke‘s defense is tied to its offense. The notion makes sense for a couple of reasons: most importantly, making shots allows a team sufficient time to set its defense (either through a press or in the half-court); but secondly, making shots also keeps players’ confidence high. Zone will not win Duke a championship. This is still a really young team and the head coach needs to figure out how to keep things under control when adversity hits (my guess is that it starts and ends with the team’s All-American center).
  2. Orangeburg Times and Democrat: This article reads a little like a bitter coach’s presser, but Clemson does have an attendance problem, which is really unfortunate because Littlejohn Coliseum is one of the best arenas in the ACC (and it might just be the loudest when at capacity). While I agree that some impetus has to be put on the students and fan base, Clemson also currently plays an ugly style of basketball. KJ McDaniels provided Top 10-worthy dunks and blocks on a regular basis, but this year’s team doesn’t have that must-watch player. Combine that lack of star power with a sluggish and inefficient offense, and you have a recipe for general apathy.
  3. Orlando Sentinel: Jim Larranaga threw his entire Miami team out of practice earlier this week in an effort to find the right message for a team that struggles with consistency. Part of Miami’s roller coaster tendency is because Angel Rodriguez is such a mercurial player, but some part of it may also lie with the team’s overall effort. Miami is in good shape as far as NCAA Tournament consideration is concerned (assuming the Selection Committee continues to reward strong wins), but it’s far from a lock for the Big Dance thanks to some head-scratching losses. Someone on this team needs to step up and become a steadying force down the stretch.
  4. South Bend Tribune: The ACC needs to rework its broadcasting contract. In expanding the conference (from numerical and geographic perspectives), the TV deal hasn’t caught up. Sure there are plenty of options to watch ACC teams play under the lights on ESPN, but it’s the third-tier games that are still frustratingly hard to find. Having a dedicated network (instead of the piecemeal “ACC Network” across local stations) would help, but I think they should keep the web of local networks in addition to the games shown on any future network.
  5. Louisville Courier-Journal: There may be some trouble brewing in Louisville, as junior All-American Montrezl Harrell is no longer a team captain. The school hasn’t yet released anything else on the matter, but such a move doesn’t make me confident in where the team stands. In order to make a run in March, Harrell needs to be a vocal leader on this team. Maybe Rick Pitino is trying to send him a message, but the move is more than likely punitive. Don’t expect much more to come out about this, but the Cardinals’ team chemistry and Harrell’s engagement are a couple of things to keep an eye on over the Cards’ next few games.
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Handicapping the Wooden Award Finalists

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 21st, 2015

The Wooden Award released its midseason top 25 list last week. College basketball’s top individual honor will likely go to a player named on that list, but there’s still time for others (attention: Wichita State’s Fred VanVleet, Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon and Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas) to work their way into the picture. However, it’s also true that the field of real contenders for the award is thinning as we near February and March. RTC handicaps the race for the Wooden…

Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Odds To Win = 3/2.

Any national Player of the Year discussion must begin with Duke’s freshman sensation. Okafor’s averages of 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game begin to explain his value to the Blue Devils, but the impact of his presence runs much deeper than that. His steadiness (double-figure points in every game this season) has stabilized a Duke attack that was far more reliant on the three-point shot a season ago, while his unselfishness has helped the Duke guards find space on the perimeter. The presumptive top pick in next June’s NBA Draft has looked like the best player in college basketball from opening night, but an April coronation as the National Player of the Year will surely depend on Duke’s success. Balance has fueled the rise of other national title contenders (Kentucky and Virginia most notable among them), but there is no question that Okafor will continue to lead the Duke charge. Pole position has been well-earned: This is Okafor’s award to lose.

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

At The Midway Point Of The Season, Duke Freshman Jahlil Okafor Is The Frontrunner To Win The Wooden Award. (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Odds To Win = 5/2.

Kaminsky nabbed the national spotlight last March with a show-stopping regional final performance against Arizona. He has not given it up since. ‘Frank the Tank’ is grabbing more rebounds (8.2 RPG this season), blocking more shots (1.8 BPG) and even handing out more assists (2.4 APG) than he did a year ago. The Wisconsin center has been outstanding all season, but his value to the Badgers may have been best exhibited in a 40 minute stint on the bench. As their star sat out with a concussion on January 11, Wisconsin fell to Rutgers in one of the most shocking results of the season. The loss showed just how important the versatile center has become for Bo Ryan’s team. A balanced Badgers’ lineup may pose some threat to Kaminsky’s Wooden Award chances, but that surrounding talent is also what’s made the his team legitimate national title contenders. And as Wisconsin chases that elusive championship, its versatile big man is making a serious push for the most prestigious of individual accolades.

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ACC M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 21st, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Streaking the Lawn: Here’s a cool visualization from Streaking the Lawn looking at the winners of every ACC game for home games versus away games. Right now the conference gives a slight edge to the home teams (which have won 23 of 40 games counting Syracuse’s win over Boston College), but it’s still a little early to put too much stock in this. Once all the teams have played each other, this will be a very interesting graphic. On its own it will still say as much about match-ups as it does home-court advantage, but charts are a quick way of getting into the M5.
  2. Washington Post: College GameDay is coming to Charlottesville for the first time in its admittedly short history! It should be a really fun day with Duke coming to town in one of the more anticipated games of the regular season. The funniest part of this story is that ESPN host Karl Ravech accidentally slipped the news before the Worldwide Leader had officially announced it, but that game has been on everyone’s radar for a while so it’s not exactly a surprise. For the time being, though, I don’t have much insight on it (I’d favor Virginia, but Duke will win if it’s hitting threes).
  3. Sporting News: Speaking of the Blue Devils, don’t immediately label Duke‘s recent dabbling with a zone a defensive cure-all. That said, this Duke team will likely need to play more zone than any other group under Mike Krzyzewski (they are too small and laterally challenged in the backcourt to make up for Okafor’s learning curve). In some games Duke’s man-to-man may do the trick (see the game at Wisconsin), but in other games, a zone might be the way to go (see the game at Louisville). Learning to play both competently will determine how tough this team is to beat in March.
  4. Busting Brackets: Is Louisville overrated? It depends on how good you think the Cardinals are. What we know about Rick Pitino’s team is that it doesn’t have a consistent halfcourt offense. The Cards don’t shoot well and Montrezl Harrell isn’t your classic back-to-the-basket post player. That said, their defense is elite. Louisville will crush most undermatched teams on their defense alone, but they too will struggle to score against better teams. This is a really good squad, but it is missing some key offensive pieces that it has had over the last few years (as many expected coming into this season).
  5. John Gasaway: Tuesday Truths are back! Unsurprisingly, Virginia is running away with the league from an efficiency standpoint. Look for Duke and another challenger (maybe North Carolina or Notre Dame?) to close the gap a little as the season progresses. The biggest surprises here were NC State and the Tar Heels taking the runner-up spots. Gasaway thinks North Carolina has the best shot at becoming a well-rounded team, but I worry about the Tar Heels’ ability to make shots.
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