Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 60, #2 Virginia 54

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 22nd, 2015

rushedreactions 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.

Tom Izzo and Michigan State beat a higher seeded Virginia for the second straight year. (rushthecourt)

Tom Izzo and Michigan State beat a higher seeded Virginia for the second straight year.

  1. Michigan State’s defense is toxic for Virginia shooters. For the second year in a row, the Cavaliers struggled to put the ball in the hoop against the Spartans in NCAA play. In last year’s East Regional semifinal, Virginia shot 35 percent from the field and things were even worse in this one, as the Cavaliers went 17-for-57 (29.8%) from the floor. Malcolm Brogdon, in particular, has not liked seeing the green Spartan jerseys. Last year he suffered through a 4-for-14 shooting night and this time he only managed nine points, going 3-of-12 from the floor. As expected, the Cavaliers’ defense and rebounding kept them in the game, but in the end, Virginia’s offense just wasn’t up to par for the second year in a row.
  2. Michigan State is one tough #7 Seed.  As soon as the brackets came out last Sunday night, almost everyone agreed that the Spartans were underseeded. That certainly appears to be a correct assessment and Virginia paid the price for it. Perhaps if the Big Ten Tournament title game was played earlier in the day last Sunday, the Selection Committee would have had time to more properly seed Michigan State. In any event, that day’s tough overtime loss to Wisconsin, combined with this win, show that the Spartans are capable of getting Tom Izzo back to the Final Four again. And it doesn’t hurt that the East Region’s top seed, Villanova is already home too.
  3. Branden Dawson did it again. Last year, Dawson torched the Cavaliers with 24 points and 10 rebounds, and he proved to a tough match-up again – on both ends of the floor. Today, the senior forward punished Virginia in the paint, finishing the game with 15 points, nine boards, and four blocks. Just like we thought, it was a man’s game inside, and Dawson was the baddest dude of them all. His first leap is so quick and explosive, which enabled him to outreach everyone for many fifty-fifty balls.

Star of the Game. Travis Trice, Michigan State. The senior guard got the Spartans off to a blazing start with an amazing offensive display. In the first five and a half minutes of the game, Trice had 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting including three 3-pointers, as Michigan State grabbed an early 11 point lead. He finished with 23 points and his dagger three with just under three minutes to go giving the Spartans enough breathing room to close the game out.

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A Rusty Justin Anderson Returns for Virginia

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2015

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

After 20 minutes of play in Thursday’s ACC Tournament quarterfinal game against Florida State, Virginia was on pace to accomplish exactly what it wanted. As the tournament’s top seed, the Cavaliers looked sharp in cruising to a commanding 17-point lead. It had the look of a game that the Cavaliers would control comfortably the rest of the way, enabling head coach Tony Bennett to use his bench to keep the starters fresh for the rest of the weekend. Bennett played his reserves a lot –nine different Cavaliers played double-figure minutes — but it wasn’t necessarily by choice. Taking advantage of foul trouble that forced several Virginia starters to the bench, Florida State threatened to come back in the first 10 minutes after the intermission before the Cavaliers finally pulled away to win, 58-44.

Virginia will need a healthy and productive Justin Anderson to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. (USA Today Images)

Virginia will need a healthy and productive Justin Anderson to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. (USA Today Images)

Junior wing Justin Anderson made his return to the lineup exactly one week after undergoing an appendectomy. It was also his first action since fracturing a finger in a Cavaliers’ home win over Louisville back on February 7. Coming off the bench, Anderson only attempted two shots and didn’t score in his 12 minutes of play. Late in the first half, the Virginia faithful got another scare as Anderson fell hard to the floor in a collision at the rim, but he wasn’t seriously hurt and later returned. After the game, Bennett was asked about Anderson’s performance:

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ACC Regular Season Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 9th, 2015

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

RTC All-ACC Team

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

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

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

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ACC M5: 02.24.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 24th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. WDRB: It didn’t take long for Louisville’s Chris Jones to go from indefinitely suspended to reinstated to dismissed in what felt like a blink of an eye. The details certainly aren’t pretty and they’re made worse by what we don’t know yet. According to a police report, Jones allegedly threatened to hit his on-and-off girlfriend after she “messed up his room” after he stood her up. That’s a really bad look. What we don’t know yet is the other incident that Louisville Public Safety is looking into. Hopefully Jones can get the help he needs because it will be nearly impossible to get his career back on track if he doesn’t. His absence probably spells long-term trouble for Louisville, which only managed 17 first half points against Georgia Tech before coming back to win by a single point at the end.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: More bad news out of Chapel Hill, as Andrew Carter sat down with an ailing Bill Guthridge. If you don’t recall the name, Guthridge was Dean Smith’s right hand man for 30 years before taking over the program in the three years following Smith’s retirement (1997-2000). Sadly, Guthridge’s mental health is suffering because of a serious heart condition: “I’m not up with it,” he said while trying to recall his head coaching stint. Carter writes the hell out of this story, but it’s a really tough read.
  3. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Virginia got even more banged up when London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon smashed their heads together against Florida State (a game that’s been incredibly physical in recent years). Brogdon ended up with a pretty ugly bump while Perrantes came away with a broken nose and “concussion symptoms.” The injury also led to some rather grisly pictures of Perrantes’ bloody jersey. Virginia has struggled mightily on offense since Justin Anderson’s injury, so losing Perrantes for any extended time will only exacerbate the situation. Wake Forest has a real shot at a marquee win when the hobbled Cavaliers come to town this week (recall that the Deacs only lost by one on the road).
  4. Charleston Post and Courier: Gene Sapakoff has some pretty strong words about the state of the ACC and Brad Brownell‘s legacy. “Clemson head coach Brad Brownell in particular has an easier ACC path than Cliff Ellis or Rick Barnes had, and ought to be graded accordingly.” I agree with him that win totals are a little inflated these days, but I think that undersells the job Brownell has done with this year’s team. That said, if he keeps fielding teams with low expectations, that’s a problem of its own.
  5. Slap the Sign: Here’s a case for Mike Brey to win ACC Coach of the Year. Here are my cases for Mike Brey to come in third: Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Weirdly, the last time Coach K won this award was way back in 2000. That’s stupid (he probably should have won in 2010) and reflects the way (most of) the media votes for this award: How much does your team overachieve based on the preseason expectations that we set? The only slightly better voting dogma is to always vote for the coach of the team that wins the conference, which is inexcusable with an unbalanced round-robin schedule. If Virginia finishes with two or fewer losses or if Duke finishes with three losses, one of those two head coaches deserves the award (I would lean towards Krzyzewski, but Bennett’s case is strong too). Brey has had a great year and well exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, but that has as much to do with undervaluing Jerian Grant as it does with Brey’s coaching acumen.

EXTRA (via NJ.com): Whew boy, Roy Williams certainly let the North Carolina fan base have it. After a very cool opening four-corners set (shown below) that didn’t get enough love from the Tar Heels’ faithful, Williams lit into the crowd saying that “they were asleep most of the day anyway.” Feels like Williams almost slipped into a frustrated vulgarity, but that’ll have to wait for next time.

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Marching to Vegas: On Pace of Play in the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler on January 23rd, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

Earlier this week, our very own Andrew Murawa wrote thoughtfully and critically of college basketball. BLASPHEMY. But he’s not wrong. He was sure to cite his love of the sport no matter its flaws and I’d like to note a few of the tempo-related items concerning our Pac-12. Historically it’s been a frenetic pace. During a Thursday morning Twitter conversation, I was brought to this 1988 Arizona Wildcats highlight. In it you’ll notice the Wildcats crashing the offensive glass (possessions!) and sprinting out on the break off a turnover (more possessions!). Arizona would win that game, 78-70, a point total far lower than their season average this year. In 1988, Arizona scored 84.8 point per game, 15th-best in the nation. That would be a top-five scoring total in each of the last 14 seasons.

Up-tempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Uptempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Of course Total Points isn’t a statistic we love to note. It bypasses many important factors and qualifiers in understanding how the game is played. Unfortunately, tempo isn’t readily available for that historical context. A Google search, however, can easily deliver a handful of articles that articulate the slowing of the game. What I really want to do, though, is look at the history of this conference. One that saw UCLA and Cal split their 1995 series by a cumulative score of 197-188. That’s two games. By comparison, Cal’s 2012 sweep of UCLA looked like this: 132-158. This is anecdotal and perhaps not indicative of the quality of those respective games; however, there’s been a shift to how the game has been played, particularly in our conference. The century mark is a jaw-dropping feat. It used to get me tacos in McKale.

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ACC M5: 01.23.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 23rd, 2015

morning5_ACC

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

Posted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2015

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

Three Key Takeaways.

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

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

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

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ACC M5: 01.07.15 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 7th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. The ACC: Well folks, I’m happy to announce that the ACC Tournament is finally big time. Yes, contractual obligations and some inexplicable nostalgia mean the conference tournament won’t be moving to New York until next year, but even then, the center of the universe NYC will only be one of the cities in the rotation. Will it be a big deal since the even will not be at the Garden? Clearly this question was plaguing the league offices, along with ESPN. Thankfully, they found a solution: New York Life will now sponsor the ACC Tournament. So the next time some national media member gives you attitude about the ACC, feel free to use this exchange:

    National Media Member: [lazy narrative about the ACC Tournament being small time because it’s often played in Greensboro]
    You: That’s the New York Life ACC Tournament to you, pal.

  2. Roanoke Times: Don’t look now, but Tony Bennett has another excellent defensive team with great offensive balance and several legitimate all-ACC level players (I’m looking at you, Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill). Actually those three guys aren’t just all-ACC level guys, they’re all among the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year race. The trio is a big reason why Virginia’s offense is so much scarier than normal this season.
  3. Macon Telegraph: Time for a small dose of crow for yours truly. Before the season I noted that Georgia Tech was one of the few ACC teams that I didn’t think was moving in the right direction as a program. I may have been wrong. The Jackets are certainly not world-beaters, but this year’s team looked solid in last week’s double-overtime loss in South Bend (we’ll also ignore my preseason skepticism of Mike Brey and Jerian Grant). Georgia Tech still can’t shoot, but man do they ever crash the glass. Let’s give Charles Mitchell his due. He’s becoming the player we all thought he could be at Maryland: an efficient big man (ignoring the turnovers) and a machine on the glass.
  4. Boston Herald: Jim Christian wants Conte Forum to become a tougher place for opponents to visit. He certainly has his work cut out for him, as a mostly apathetic basketball culture has settled in around Chestnut Hill (a small group of students excluded). But Boston College students like sports (see: hockey), and Conte is warm in the winter, so that gives Christian a fighting chance to turn things around. In the long run he needs significantly more community and alumni support. Those groups tend to be more fair-weather than students and will likely show up when the team starts winning. However, Boston College’s loss last night to Pittsburgh is exactly the kind of game the program needs to start winning to get that crowd out in force.
  5. Charlotte Observer: Welp. NC State basketball player Terry Henderson was arrested for allegedly shooting an air gun at a vehicle on Monday night. Henderson is a transfer from West Virginia who is sitting out but should be expected to play a big role next season. That said, a surefire way to screw up your college career is to do something dumb during a redshirt season. The main reason I bring up this article is to point out how very young NC State is this year. While Ralston Turner is a senior and Trevor Lacey is a junior, everyone else on the team is either a freshman or a sophomore. That means a couple of things: first, this team could be very scary if it keeps improving over the next couple of years, and second, there are limited roster spots available.
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O26 Weekly Awards: Sycamores, Kyle Collinsworth, Bob McKillop & Fresno State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 6th, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Indiana State. The Sycamores entered the week 4-8, having lost seven straight games against Division I programs, including the last two – home defeats to Eastern Illinois and UMKC – against teams ranked well below 200th in KenPom. Sure, three key seniors did graduate in the offseason and Greg Lansing’s program was picked sixth in the Missouri Valley, but the first two months of 2014-15 failed even to live up to those modest expectations. Conference play can do funny things to a basketball team, and it certainly did something to the Sycamores this past week; despite all signs pointing the other way, Indiana State upended two of the MVC’s better squads to begin its league slate.

Indiana State picked up two Missouri Valley huge wins this week. (gosycamores.com)

Indiana State picked up two Missouri Valley huge wins this week. (gosycamores.com)

Lansing’s club opened the week on the road against shorthanded-but-talented Illinois State, a good team (which beat Old Dominion by 19 in November) with a 91 percent chance of winning, according to KenPom. But despite those long odds, and although it had not beaten the Redbirds in Normal since 2011, Indiana State came out hot from the perimeter (43 percent from behind the arc), limited Illinois State top-scorer Daishon Knight to just five points, and overcame a halftime deficit to pull off the road upset. Neither team managed more than 0.90 points per possession – “We’ve always been a program that wins ugly games,” Lansing said afterwards – but the Sycamores produced enough late buckets and a big, last-second block to secure the victory. “That’s a really good start for us beating a good team.” Next up was Evansville on Sunday, a team fresh off a win over 23rd-ranked Northern Iowa on New Year’s Day. Again substantial underdogs and again hitting from the three-point line, the Sycamores kept pace with the Aces all afternoon and ultimately forced overtime tied at 70. Momentum swung towards Indiana State when Evansville big man Egidijus Mockevicius fouled out with 3:20 left in the extra period, and another big defensive play – this time a Devonte Brown steal – put Lansing’s group up for good. Big man Jake Kitchell led the way for Indiana State with 21 points and 11 rebounds.  “A lot of us struggled at the start of the year, including me. Guys are playing better now and the results are showing,” Lansing noted after the game. Indeed. One week ago, his team looked like it’d be hard-pressed to win two conference games all season. Now? The Sycamores sit coolly atop the MVC standings at 2-0. “It’s only a couple of wins, but we’re happy with them.”

Honorable Mentions: New Mexico (2-0: vs. Fresno State, vs. Colorado State); Coastal Carolina (2-0: at High Point, vs. Charleston Southern); St. Francis-Brooklyn (2-0: vs. Columbia, at Sacred Heart); BYU (3-0: vs. Portland, at Santa Clara, at San Francisco); Idaho (2-0: vs. Idaho State, vs. Weber State) Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Stock Watch: Holiday Edition

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 26th, 2014

As the holiday break kicked in, some ACC teams and players were probably thrilled to review their last few weeks of action with family and friends. Others were undoubtedly just glad they had some time away from the hardwood to refresh and reset expectations. We’ve now had three weeks since we last evaluated the state of the conference’s players and coaches, so here’s the Holiday Edition of the ACC Stock Watch:

Trending Up

  • Notre Dame. All the Fighting Irish have done since we last checked in is to reel off five straight wins, bringing their overall record to 12-1 (including an early ACC win over Florida State). Mike Brey’s team is one of the most dynamic offensive groups in the country, averaging 86.1 points per game and putting up 94 and 91 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois. More impressive than the overall offensive output in those two games is that Jerian Grant scored a total of 21 points on just 5-of-22 shooting from the field. Once the All-American candidate returns to form, look out.
  • Virginia. Don’t look now, but the Cavaliers are finally getting their due as a serious national title contender. Tony Bennett’s team may be even better defensively this year than last, holding a talented Harvard team to eight first-half points en route to an impressive 76-27 win following a 17-point victory over rival VCU in Richmond two weeks prior. Duke and Louisville have gotten the majority of the attention so far, but the Cavaliers’ 11-0 start is something more pundits on the national scene are paying attention to.
Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia's throttling of Harvard proved they're a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

Malcolm Brogdon and Virginia’s latest win, a throttling of Harvard, proved the Cavaliers are a player in the national conversation (AP Photo)

  • North Carolina. For all of the talk about this team’s uneven play and noticeable deficiencies, the Tar Heels actually have put together a nice stretch since our last stock watch. Although they fell to Kentucky in Lexington, it took the Wildcats’ best shooting day of the year to knock off the Tar Heels by a mere 14 points (plus North Carolina actually outscored the Cats in the second half). In addition to blowout wins over East Carolina and UNC-Greensboro, the Heels won an important non-conference battle with a good Ohio State team last weekend. At 8-3, there are still some reasons for pessimism in Chapel Hill, but you can’t ignore that Roy Williams’ team has earned some solid wins while playing the ACC’s toughest non-conference schedule.

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London Perrantes Proves Again Why He’s Mr. Indispensable

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 7th, 2014

It’s easy to look at the team Tony Bennett has put together at Virginia and say that his players are interchangeable. After all, his defense-first philosophy and the offensive identity of continually working for the best available shot don’t seem individual-specific. One could point to the program’s rise and success under Bennett as further evidence of that theory, as Virginia looks every bit as good in starting 9-0 this season as last year’s ACC champion, despite some key personnel losses. Even when the Cavaliers were down two starters (including the team’s leading scorer, Justin Anderson) in a tough road game against Maryland on Wednesday night, Virginia still ran away to a 76-65 win.

London Perrantes proved once again why Virginia can't succeed without him (USAToday Sports)

London Perrantes proved once again why Virginia can’t succeed without him (USAToday Sports)

But the truth is that Virginia does have an indispensable player: London Perrantes. The sophomore point guard is the heady, sure-handed player that makes this team capable of playing a variety of styles and still have a chance to beat anyone. That was obvious in the Cavaliers’ emphatic 74-57 defeat of rival VCU in Richmond on Saturday. The Rams once again employed their HAVOC defense, and any team facing their relentless full-court gauntlet needs an efficient, smart ball-handler to navigate through it. On Saturday, Perrantes deftly kept the ball moving and expertly broke through the press time and time again, often leading to dunks or fouls in transition as a result.

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Battle for the Commonwealth: Previewing VCU vs. Virginia

Posted by Lathan Wells & Tommy Lemoine on December 6th, 2014

Last year, VCU went into John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville and shocked Virginia on a Treveon Graham buzzer-beater. This year, both teams entered the season ranked in the top 15 nationally with the rematch set to take place on VCU’s home turf in Richmond. Some may think that the luster of this game wore off with VCU’s two early-season losses and subsequent plummet from the rankings, but that’s far from the case in Virginia’s capital city (need evidence? see here). The Cavaliers will be the highest-ranked team ever to play at VCU’s Siegel Center.  RTC’s Tommy Lemoine and Lathan Wells preview one of the biggest games in recent Virginia collegiate basketball history here.

Tommy Lemoine: Joe Harris scored almost a third of Virginia’s points against VCU last year, but he’s since graduated. Justin Anderson has done a nice job of filling that void (alongside Malcolm Brogdon), but the reigning ACC Sixth Man of the Year appeared to injure his ankle against Maryland on Wednesday. If he is limited – or worse, can’t play – who steps up as an additional offensive creator in his absence?

Last year in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham broke UVA's heart with a last-second shot (AssociatedPress)

Last year in Charlottesville, Treveon Graham broke UVA’s heart with a last-second shot (AssociatedPress)

Lathan Wells: The logical choice is Brogdon himself, who some may forget was a preseason All-ACC selection before Anderson overshadowed him in the team’s early slate. Brogdon is still the player who can make the most plays for this team in crunch time, and he rivals Anderson’s ability to get to the basket off the drive. If he is contained, however, it becomes much dicier for the Cavaliers. Either Mike Tobey or London Perrantes may need a career night if points are at a premium. While Virginia has largely lived up to its billing, VCU has underwhelmed to this point after being lauded as Shaka Smart’s best team yet at VCU. There are numerous issues that need to be cleaned up from the Rams’ 5-2 start, but what do you think is the biggest area that needs to be addressed to knock off the unbeaten Cavaliers?

TL: There are problems on both ends of the court, but against a team like Virginia that limits its own mistakes, the Rams have to be more patient on offense. Too often, their half-court ‘sets’ amount to launching threes (and not all of them the result of dribble-penetration) or isolated attempts to attack the basket. They combined for a staggeringly low four assists in the loss to Villanova and just 10 against Old Dominion. VCU would be wise to shore up its offensive rotations and ramp up its off-the-ball movement against the Cavaliers, whose pack line defense is virtually impenetrable without sharp execution. Speaking of defense, it’s all about forcing turnovers with VCU, but Virginia has done a really nice job taking care of the ball so far this year. Still, the Cavaliers coughed it up 19 times in last season’s match-up – a big reason why they lost. Any cause for concern as they head to Richmond, or is London Perrantes ready to handle the HAVOC?

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