College Basketball Nation: ACC

North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks said Justin Jackson has only shown “a sprinkle” of his potential after their 89-58 victory over UAB on Saturday. The good news for the Tar Heels is Jackson might have finally figured out how to make it rain.

North Carolina has one last nonconference game against William & Mary before ACC play begins at Clemson on Jan. 3. The timing couldn’t be better if Jackson has, in fact, figured how to permanently blend his enormous talent into the flow of the offense.

“Coming in as a freshman, you have to get used to the system coach wants us to run, the new personnel,” Jackson said. “Over time you kind of start picking your spots, picking and choosing and roll with it.”

[+] EnlargeJustin Jackson
Lance King/Getty ImagesJustin Jackson is becoming more assertive, and that's making North Carolina very difficult to defend.
Jackson averages 9.8 points per game and has started every game for the Heels. He played in the background in losses to Butler, Iowa and Kentucky, but is starting to assert himself more.

He has put together arguably his best back-to-back performances against Ohio State (11 points, four rebounds, five assists) and UAB (13 points, six rebounds, four assists). The Heels are 6-0 in games he’s scored in double figures -- including the wins over UCLA and Florida -- and it’s no coincidence that they’ve won big each time.

Carolina has been clamoring for another perimeter shooter to complement Marcus Paige. When Jackson can oblige the way he did against the Blazers, the Heels are a completely different team to defend.

Jackson made consecutive 3s in the first half despite entering the game shooting just 4-of-24 from behind the arc this season.

“That was really good for him, but it was also good for our team,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “We need somebody to step up, and I’ve said all year I really think he is going to be a good shooter and I think those were big for his confidence.”

Jackson swears his confidence hasn’t taken a hit all season, but his actions indicate otherwise. In the first half against UAB, Williams threatened him with being benched if he passed up another open shot. That’s not the first time it’s happened. It’s been a constant dilemma for the 6-foot-8 forward.

He’s had to figure out when he needs to be assertive and when it’s best to defer. Paige believes Jackson is starting to have a better idea of how he fits in.

“Now we’re getting to the point of the season where you can see that we want to pound the ball inside and he’s going to be one of our perimeter options,” Paige said. “He’s just getting a feel for where he can attack and pick his spots. When he gets that down, he can be more effective.”

That, in turn, makes Carolina less predictable on offense. UAB coach Jerod Haase, who coached on Williams’ staff and played for him at Kansas, said the Tar Heels don’t have to make 10 3-pointers in a game to be effective because they’re so good in transition and getting the ball inside.

“The 3-point shot for them, when it’s going in, they’re almost unstoppable to guard,” Haase said.

Jackson’s contributions against the Blazers helped make them that way. It went that way against the Buckeyes, too. That’s why Williams will no longer let him refer to being a freshman and needing more time to figure out his role.

“I’m trying to push him through that; kids sometimes will keep using that as an excuse,” Williams said. “I don’t want that. I think he has a chance to be a really good player.”
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University of Louisville junior forward Montrezl Harrell can’t lose his cool.

Not the way he did with 38 seconds left in the first half of a win over Western Kentucky. Harrell was ejected for the first time in his career when officials deemed he threw a punch at WKU’s Avery Patterson after a scramble for a loose ball.

[+] EnlargeMontrezl Harrell
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyMontrezl Harrell was ejected Saturday when officials deemed he threw a punch at Western Kentucky's Avery Patterson.
Harrell might have to sit out the Cardinals' next game, against Cal State Northridge, and if there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that the next name on the schedule is not Kentucky. The Wildcats await Louisville on Dec. 27.

The Cardinals survived without Harrell against the Hilltoppers. But he’s too much of the heart of this team to put his teammates in this predicament.

Harrell sets the tone for Louisville. He was leading the Cards with 14 points, six rebounds and two assists before he was ejected.

It should be noted that within the Commonwealth, the Louisville-WKU rivalry is a little more intense than folks nationally probably realize. The Hilltoppers led the series 39-38 entering Saturday’s game.

When coach Rick Pitino first took over at Louisville, he wanted to delay playing the series. That prompted Western’s then-athletic director Wood Selig to openly suggest they would stop all sports from playing Louisville. There was even talk at the time that the state legislature would have to get involved. The acrimony died down, and from 2008 until now, the teams have played every year.

It’s hard to tell what exactly set Harrell off. He went after a loose ball with Western guard Brandon Price on the ground. There didn’t appear to be any extra pushing from Price, but Patterson and two other Hilltoppers players hovered over him. As Harrell stood up, Patterson shoved him, and Harrell swung back.

Harrell treats every opponent as a rival, anyway. That’s why Harrell drives the team -- it goes beyond just his physical skills. He’s always had an edge.

He expects his teammates to match his intensity. There is a hint of intimidation, too, that lingers and makes it so teammates don’t want to cross him by taking shortcuts.

After a lackluster performance against UNC Wilmington on Sunday, it was Harrell who essentially expanded on Pitino’s postgame speech as to why it was unacceptable. Harrell’s voice began rising to the point that he was doing more than speaking to reporters; he was also letting his teammates know their effort had to change moving forward.

The Cardinals can make a run for the ACC title in their first season in the league, with Harrell leading the way. They can make a deep run in March, with Harrell leading the way.

Harrell needs to keep his edge to keep the Cardinals running. But the Cards need him to keep his cool, too.
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ACC

Most North Carolina players could give a brief rundown on what they know about Ohio State guard Shannon Scott heading into Saturday’s game with the Buckeyes in Chicago.

The significance of his father? That was a bit harder for the young Tar Heels to remember, even though Charles Scott’s journey is extremely significant.

Willie Cooper was the first to integrate the Tar Heels freshman team in 1964. Scott was the first black scholarship basketball player at North Carolina in 1966. He paved the way for them all: Phil Ford, Michael Jordan, Antawn Jamison, Sean May, Ty Lawson.

[+] EnlargeShannon Scott
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesShannon Scott might be an Ohio State Buckeye now, but his father Charles was one of the most influential players in North Carolina history.
Scott is the school's sixth all-time leading scorer and has his No. 33 jersey among those honored -- not retired -- in the Dean E. Smith Center rafters. He helped lead the Tar Heels to Final Four appearances in 1968 and 1969.

“Did I go with the idea of being a pioneer? It was the ‘60s and at that time you do things because they needed to be done, not with the concept of being a pioneer,” said Scott, who lettered from 1967-70. “It was the era of integration in many circumstances and I just happened to be one of instruments of integration for the University of North Carolina.”

His love for his alma mater and his former coach is unquestioned. Scott’s other two children, Simone and Shaun, both graduated from UNC. He returns to Chapel Hill at least once each year and visits coach Dean Smith.

Scott might not wear scarlet and gray at the United Center, but this is the one time he won’t exactly be “shouting N.C.U.” as the fight song suggests.

“Luckily it has only come up once in four years and I hope it comes up once again, maybe in the NCAA championship,” Charles Scott said. “It’s going to be tough rooting against North Carolina, but that’s my son out there. Make no mistake about it, I will be rooting for my son and his team.”

Scott once envisioned seeing his son follow in his footsteps to Chapel Hill. Many summers he would bring Shannon Scott back for basketball camps.

Shannon Scott, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard, also dreamed of playing in Carolina blue when he got serious about basketball in middle school. Things changed as he got older and he thought about forming his own legacy in a program.

Carolina made the decision easier for him, with a roster that included Larry Drew II and Kendall Marshall. Scott, who was rated No. 34 in the class of 2011 by Recruiting Nation, didn’t want to be the third point guard.

“I had to decide did I want to go and be my own person or the son of somebody,” said Shannon Scott, who currently leads the Buckeyes and is second nationally with 7.8 assists per game. “I felt like trying to have my own name, I had to go somewhere else rather than become ‘Charlie Scott’s son’ had I gone there.”

Truth is, being the son of Charles Scott would carry weight wherever he attended school. Shannon Scott could never really just stay in the background on any team. His dad shared stories here and there, but mostly he heard from other Tar Heels fans of the sacrifices his dad made to play.

Shannon Scott heard about his father being passed over for the ACC Player of the Year award as a junior and senior. He heard the stories of isolation and how his father didn't really form lasting and deep bonds with his teammates because he could not hang with them socially outside of basketball. And he heard about his father playing in front of crowds that threw objects at him on the court and stopping at restaurants that wouldn’t serve the team.

“The server would just never come over, the whole team would be waiting to get their food and they would never have anything just because he was there with them,” Shannon Scott said. “Stuff like that is crazy, but I understand that it happened.”

As inconceivable as segregation is to players who saw Barack Obama elected president in their teenage years, they all respect what Charles Scott went through in order for them to play.

North Carolina freshman forward Justin Jackson met Charles Scott, whom he called “one of the great Tar Heels,” when Shannon Scott came to Houston to work out at a John Lucas’ camp.

“Playing college basketball isn’t easy, let alone having to keep up with your academics, and we don’t even have to deal with the whole race issue and everything like that,” Jackson said. “He definitely made a huge mark on college basketball as a whole and the University of North Carolina.”

Scott joked that when he’s recognized by current players for being the first, it just makes him feel old.

Such was the case when Carolina’s sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks sought out Scott for a project in a history class last semester. Hicks said he got a B on the paper, but talking to Scott about his experience was the real lesson.

“Nowadays you can’t imagine going through that stuff, you can’t picture it because it’s not happening to you,” Hicks said. “Of course, I had to thank him.”

Kentucky adds new dimension

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
4:14
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LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky lost junior forward Alex Poythress for the rest of the season, but still managed to add another reason for its opponents to worry. The outside shooting that had been so suspect? Now it looks like it could be a strength.

The Wildcats, who entered Saturday shooting 27.7 percent from 3-point range, made 7 of 15 en route to an 84-70 win against North Carolina at Rupp Arena.

North Carolina guard Marcus Paige said going into the game that he would have picked outside shooting as UK’s weakness, but not so much now.

"They came out and I don’t think they hit the rim from 3 to start," Paige said. "We were going under ball screens and play zone, but they started making 3s. That’s a tough team to beat if they start making outside shots."

Kentucky coach John Calipari will tell you Poythress can’t be replaced. And in some respects he’s right. Poythress was arguably the Cats’ most versatile defender, often making plays to jump-start the team. What Poythress didn’t do is keep opponents honest from the perimeter.

Carolina’s game plan was to force outside shots. The Tar Heels had never played zone before Saturday’s game, but tried both a 2-3 early in the game and a 1-3-1 at one point in the second half. The Cats' shooting rendered both zones ineffective.

Aaron Harrison, he of the big 3-point shots in the NCAA tournament run, had been shooting just 22 percent from 3-point range this season but was 3-for-7 against the Tar Heels. Tyler Ulis kept their defense honest by making one. And Devin Booker, who has led the team in 3s this season, scored 15 points and was perfect in three attempts from behind the arc.

"We didn’t come out going 1-for-12, which is what we have been doing," Calipari said. "And everybody talks about us offensively, when you’re 1-for-12 from the 3 I don’t care what you do, it’s not going to look good."

That means the formula to beat Kentucky -- or at least, what had seemed like would beat Kentucky -- has been altered.

Consider North Carolina’s fate in the first half of Saturday’s game:

• The Wildcats led the nation in percentage of blocked shots, according to KenPom.com, but didn’t have any against the Heels through the first 20 minutes.

• The Cats had been outrebounding opponents by 12 per game, yet Carolina had a three-rebound advantage.

• Their superior size had dominated points in the paint, outscoring opponents by an average of 21.4 per game. But North Carolina held an 18-14 edge in that area, too. And still found itself trailing by 15 at halftime.

That’s because the early 3s opened up the floor offensively for the Wildcats. And they exploited the Heels at every turn.

"It makes it easier for the bigs," Booker said. "I wouldn’t say everyone looks at us as a shooting team, so they came out in a 2-3 zone to start, to try to cram up the middle, but we were able to open it up making 3s."

It’s a tough choice for opponents to handle. Double Kentucky’s post players on the blocks and potentially leave open Booker, Ulis or Aaron Harrison. Or respect the perimeter shooting and leave post defenders to fend for themselves 1-on-1 on the blocks.

North Carolina did not choose well.

"It affected us as far as we had to guard the ball better, because they drove and kicked [out] a lot," UNC guard Nate Britt said. "And as far as us doubling down on a big with a guard, we had to rotate faster, and when we didn’t they got open looks and knocked them down."

It was the first look at UK after Poythress tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Thursday, and no question there was a bit of an emotional lift for the Wildcats. Calipari chose Poythress to deliver the team’s pregame prayer. Players wore T-shirts as their warm-ups with the slogan "Roar for 22."

"Coach [Dean] Smith used to always think if you lose a guy, the next game you’re going to be so much better because everyone is going to try to pull for him, give a little more effort," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "But over the long term, no one is going to be better if you lose one of your better players."

It was hard to top the emotions of the day. Yet Kentucky's shooting managed to do so, and in the process make beating the Wildcats harder than before.
Tags:

ACC, SEC

Carolina's big barometer at Kentucky

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
5:00
PM ET
North Carolina’s post players face arguably the biggest challenge of the season against a Kentucky frontcourt rotation that -- even with the loss of Alex Poythress -- will be a bit longer and a bit deeper than any other team they will play.

The successes or failures of Carolina’s Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks against that front line could be the biggest barometer in determining the outcome. The Tar Heels are still unbeaten when both score in double figures, including four games this season.

"We’ve got to play the best game we’ve played all year," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. "We have to make some outside shots to open things up inside ... we’ve got to have the best rebounding game of the year."

[+] EnlargeBrice Johnson
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeThe Tar Heels need a motivated performance from Brice Johnson if they are going to beat Kentucky.
Meeks has been the Heels’ most consistent post player. He leads the team with 10.1 rebounds and is second behind Marcus Paige in scoring with 13.8 points.

Meeks was a non-factor in Carolina’s win against Kentucky last season. He scored one point and had four rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench. His conditioning is much better now, and he represents the kind of physical presence the Wildcats don’t have on the blocks. Their big men tend to be on the leaner side. For all the pounds Meeks has shed, he’s still 270 pounds and will have to wield his weight as a weapon against UK.

The 6-foot-9 Meeks could potentially be matched against 6-foot-11 Karl-Anthony Towns or 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein. What he loses in height, he might make up for by taking the game to his opponent.

"We’re not going to make them lose six inches of their height, you just have to be more aggressive with it," Williams said.

Kentucky leads the nation according to KenPom.com in percentage of blocked shots. But Williams said the worst thing to do against shot-blockers is play intimidated.

Johnson’s biggest opponent at times this season has been himself. He joked that Williams told him before his 19-point, 17-rebound outing against East Carolina that he needed to find his brain.

"I told him I found it in a corner somewhere, dusty, I mean it’s been hiding from me," Johnson said.

It’s been a major difference when Johnson comes out focused or, for whatever reason, he’s been off his game. Johnson has fallen into a pattern since the second game of the season of alternating double figures in scoring with single-digit outings. That doesn’t bode well for the Tar Heels considering he scored 19 against East Carolina on Sunday.

If he ever were to break the trend, this would be the game to do it.

"I’m not satisfied at all with that up-and-down play, because you’re a junior now," Williams said. "I’m one of those guys who says, 'if you can do something once, you can do it a second time.'"

Johnson had some success off the bench against Kentucky last season, albeit against an entirely different frontline than he will face on Saturday. With the injury to Poythress, Cauley-Stein is the only post player who played substantial minutes last season.

But the opponent rarely matters with Johnson. He tends to be swayed by his early shots. If he makes them, then he’s generally into the game mentally. If he misses early on, it brings down the rest of his play. Paige said he’s been trying to make Johnson understand that he can be effective by more than just scoring points.

"The effort on the glass, diving for loose balls, contesting every rebound and going up over three or four guys to get the ball, that’s the type of Brice we need," Paige said. "We don’t need the one that shoots fadeaways, we need the one that goes at the rim."
Marcus Paige leads North Carolina in scoring and is still unequivocally the guy Roy Williams wants handling the ball if they were in need of a potential game-winning shot. But the junior guard acknowledges that something is off right now with his game and it's not just his shooting.

Paige said it has nothing to do with the trying to live up to lofty expectations including being named the ACC's preseason Player of the Year.

“I think I'm handling it alright,” Paige said. “Obviously I'm not killing the game right now. I know what I need to do for this team. (Against ECU) I was 6-to-1 assist-turnover, J.P. (Tokoto) was 8-to-1 -- that's the type of thing we need. We need me to be a steady presence on the court, be a leader and be a vocal leader too.”

[+] EnlargeMarcus Paige
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports"There's something funky going on with my shot right now and I'm going to go back, look at some film," Marcus Paige said.
There is a certain feeling that as Paige goes, so will the Tar Heels. He feels a bit of that pressure and that caused his leadership to slip when his shot wasn't falling.

“Because I was struggling, I got a little bit away from that trying to get myself going,” Paige said.

Not much has changed from last season in Paige's role on the team. He may not have to score as much as he did last season -- his average of 14.0 this season is down from 17.5 points last year while Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson have emerged as reliable scorers.

But Paige does still need to carry the Heels from the perimeter. And that's where he's falling off. Over the past five games, he's 11-of-39 (28.2 percent) from 3-point range.

Paige said defenses have been pretty much playing him the same way all season, aside from North Carolina Central's use of a box-and-1.

Through the first eight games he's shooting career-lows across the board: 35.5 percent from the field, 34.0 percent from the 3-point line and 80 percent from the free throw line.

OK, so independently the free throw thing may seem a bit nitpicky, but considering the decreases in the two other categories it is more proof that something's amiss. Besides, Paige shot 87.7 percent from the line last season when he openly stated he want to chase the single-season free throw percentage mark of 91.1 held by Shammond Williams.

“There's something funky going on with my shot right now and I'm going to go back, look at some film,” Paige said. “I might be kicking my leg, not holding my follow through or something. I've got good looks so it's not necessarily anything there. I just need to start knocking them down.”

He may have to rediscover his mid-range game. The only two games he's attempted more shots inside the arc than out came in the opener against N.C. Central and Sunday's game against East Carolina.

In his first two seasons, he shot about the same amount of two-point attempts as he had 3s. This season, 56 percent of his shots have been 3-pointers.

Facing a Kentucky team on Saturday where shots in the lane will be tough to come by, Paige has to get things worked out in a hurry.

Arguably the No. 1 center in college basketball -- Duke’s Jahlil Okafor -- squares off Wednesday night against the player who could be labeled No. 1A -- Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky.

Okafor’s traditional, dominant play in the post meets Kaminsky’s versatility and ability to step out on the perimeter. Okafor represents the latest, greatest potential one-and-done talent against the old-school, four-year formula of improvement by Kaminsky.

[+] EnlargeJahlil Okafor
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeJahlil Okafor has proven powerful in the paint for Duke, averaging a team-best 17.7 points per game.
There’s intrigue and contrasts aplenty in the matchup of the Blue Devils freshman and potential 2015 top overall NBA draft pick versus the Badgers’ quirky senior leader.

Except Okafor’s not buying into the matchup hype. If anything, he’s downplayed it.

"Frank Kaminsky, he’s had a great career and he’s a proven big man with myself who’s a freshman who’s only played seven games in college basketball," Okafor said. "So that’s going to be a challenge in itself."

Okafor’s ability not only to score but to open up shots for the rest of the Blue Devils will challenge the Badgers’ defense. Okafor leads Duke with 17.7 points per game, is second on the team with 7.9 rebounds and is shooting 63.6 percent from the floor.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said he was most impressed by Okafor’s size and maneuverability.

"I haven’t seen him dance, but I bet he can dance, he’s got good feet," Ryan said. "That baseline move he has, he’s pretty good that way. You can put names on guys -- McDonald’s All American, Player of the Year, freshman Player of the Year, but he backs it up, just like the guy before him."

Kaminsky can dance, too, sort of. At least he goofs around in a viral video to Taylor Swift’s "Shake It Off."

"I didn’t see it," Okafor said. "How was he?"

Good enough to know he’ll stick to basketball, where Kaminsky leads the Badgers with 16.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and is shooting 40.7 percent from the 3-point line. Asked about the challenge of guarding Kaminsky on the perimeter, Okafor shrugged.

"I feel fine," he said.

Okafor deflected questions about the matchup with Kaminsky with the ease that he blocks shots. It wasn’t in Marshawn Lynch’s don’t-care-to-be-bothered kind of way, either. Okafor didn’t repeat one-word answers until reporters got tired of asking.

He simply doesn’t believe in making it a personal battle. Frankly, he’s never had to make a name for himself by outperforming another top player.

"I never had to worry about putting a target on somebody else’s back. Usually the target was on my back," Okafor said. "So, I never had that problem."

[+] EnlargeFrank Kaminsky
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsFrank Kaminsky has developed the ability to score in the post and on the perimeter in his four-year career.
Okafor said he watched the Badgers’ 68-65 win over Georgetown last week in the Battle 4 Atlantis. But it wasn’t to scout what Kaminsky was doing. The Chicago native was supporting the Hoyas’ Paul White, his former teammate at Whitney Young High School.

It’s not an act for the media. His Duke teammates say they haven’t noticed Okafor having an extra bounce because of the opponent.

Freshman guard Tyus Jones has known Okafor since grade school and was also his teammate on the U.S. Under-17 national team.

"Many people are talking about it but Jah’s really good at looking at it as a whole and not really making it him against Kaminsky," Jones said. "He’ll be ready to play and we’ll be ready to play."

Okafor said playing against Kaminsky is no different than preparing to face Kevin Ferguson, the starting center at Army whom Okafor faced in the Blue Devils’ 93-73 win on Sunday.

Okafor said he was a little nervous before that game the same way he’s nervous before every game. That game was in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Wednesday’s game at Wisconsin marks Duke’s first true road game.

"We’ll see, I’ve never played in any game like I’m about to play in Wednesday night," Okafor said. "I’m looking forward to it. I really don’t know what to expect."

Maybe not from the Kohl Center crowd, but he’s quickly gotten up to speed on what to expect from Kaminsky.

"He’s just a different type of post man, he averages the most 3-point field goals on his team, he’s also made the most," Okafor said. "He’s just a phenomenal player. Like I said, he’s proven and has had an amazing career. It’s definitely going to be a hard test for me. I’m looking forward to it."

Big Ten proves ACC soft in the middle

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
12:49
AM ET
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Maybe talk of an emerging ACC juggernaut was again premature. Maybe more teams -- it's the second year with 15 basketball members -- will never equate to more muscle. It sure seems that way after the Big Ten dominated the first two days of the ACC/Big Ten challenge, winning Tuesday's matchups 4-2 to go along with wins from Rutgers and Nebraska on Monday.

The Big Ten made the ACC look awfully shallow.

The strength remains at the top of the league. The ACC won the only games that pitted two ranked teams.

No. 5 Louisville, which just joined the league this season, started strong then held on for a 64-55 win over No. 14 Ohio State. Miami's emergence from an unknown quantity and unranked preseason status to a No. 15 ranking was solidified with its 70-61 win over No. 24 Illinois.

The conference's remaining heavyweights -- No. 4 Duke, No. 7 Virginia and No. 12 North Carolina -- all play on Wednesday.

[+] EnlargePurdue's A.J. Hammons
Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY SportsThe middle of the Big Ten has looked more impressive than the middle of the ACC so far.
The only true mismatch from Tuesday was Minnesota and Wake Forest. There's a reason why a coaching change was made and Danny Manning is in his first season at the helm for the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest was overwhelmed by the Gophers' pressure and tempo, losing 84-69.

But those second-tier teams that were truly supposed to make the ACC stronger this season? Well, they all came up short on the road. (It's not as simple as blaming playing on the road; Florida State and Clemson lost at home on Monday.)

Syracuse had turnovers on two separate chances to take the lead in the final 15 seconds at No. 17 Michigan and fell 68-65. Wolverines guard Spike Albrecht, filling in like he did in the 2013 Final Four matchup between the teams, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 30 seconds left.

NC State went back and forth at Purdue, but also squandered its chances in the closing seconds. Down three with 29 seconds left, the Boilermakers didn't allow them a good look for a 3-pointer. Trevor Lacey was fouled on a drive with 13 seconds left and missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Purdue finished them off with two free throws by A.J. Hammons for a 66-61 win.

Pittsburgh had a horrid shooting night as Indiana held them to 36 percent from the floor and just 7-of-26 on 3-pointers. The Panthers led Indiana only twice in the game -- the last time being 4-2 -- and fell to the Hoosiers 81-69.

Maybe it won't stay that way for the ACC. There were many reasons to believe that vast improvements could be forthcoming.

The Orange are still very much a young team. Syracuse has been spoiled by freshmen who were just plugged into the lineup without a dropoff or even a learning curve -- like Tyler Ennis did last season.

Freshmen forward Chris McCullough and point guard Kaleb Joseph, who accounted for the team’s final two turnovers, can learn from their mistakes and improve.

The Pack handled their first road game of the season with poise, but they just have to learn to close out.

The Panthers will get a boost when senior guard Cameron Wright is expected to return from his left foot injury within the next few weeks. They also found a bright spot against the Hoosiers with sophomore Chris Jones erupting for 18 points, which was just his second game in double figures scoring this season.

Until and unless those teams come around, the ACC will be left to lean on its ranked teams for any bragging rights.

Miami continues to get better as its newcomers continue to jell. The Hurricanes committed a season-low five turnovers and freshman DeAndre Burnett came off the bench to score a season-high 19 points.

Although Louisville squandered a 19-point lead against the Buckeyes, it never allowed them to have the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. And in what may be the most encouraging sign for the Cardinals, former McDonald's All-American Wayne Blackshear showed a flash of the potential they've waited four years to come to fruition. He scored a season-high 22 points with six rebounds.

The ACC may turn out to have the best collection of elite teams, but there's no super league here. It stops at the top.
Tags:

ACC, Big Ten

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- North Carolina center Kennedy Meeks' previous appearance in Time Warner Cable Arena was as a 12-year-old brought out for the Charlotte Bobcats' (now-Hornets) halftime entertainment scrimmaging with the rest of his little league teammates.

Saturday against Davidson, the Charlotte native was the Tar Heels' main attraction, recording a team-high 19 points with a game-high 12 rebounds in their 90-72 win.

It seems as the sophomore’s waistline shrinks, his game continues to grow. And it’s a concept he’s still getting used to.

[+] EnlargeKennedy Meeks
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonKennedy Meeks was all smiles after recording a double-double in North Carolina's win on Saturday.
“Kennedy was huge inside,” said UNC coach Roy Williams, no pun intended. “He’s got to get his mind correct that he does have a different body, that it can do certain things.”

Meeks flashed the raised fist to Williams to signal he needed a break with just under four minutes left in the game. Before Williams could replace him, Meeks denied a pass and came up with a steal at halfcourt that he took in for a dunk.

“I guess I wasn’t as tired as I thought I was,” Meeks said.

He finished off some buckets with a flex for the cameras. He blocked two shots, had two steals and three assists in playing a season-high 31 minutes.

Meeks showed flashes of this potential last season, but couldn’t consistently pull off such performances in part because of his conditioning. It’s not so much a problem this season.

His new diet includes drinking more water with fewer carbonated and sugary drinks. He’s eliminated pizza, too. It’s helped him get down to about 270 pounds from 319 when he arrived on campus last year from West Charlotte High School.

He was so eager for a good showing in front of the block of 15 friends and family members in attendance that he started off the game flat.

Sophomore guard Nate Britt said the bounce in Meeks’ step was obvious as early as his pregame dance routine when the team gathers in a circle before taking the floor.

“You could tell that we were in Charlotte and he was happy to be home,” Britt said.

But early on Meeks appeared headed for the dreaded homecoming dud performance.

Three minutes into the game, after two blown defensive assignments, Meeks found himself being benched.

“I was like, 'Aw, man, this isn’t going to be good,'” Meeks said. “I was holding my head down but I have great teammates.They kept encouraging me to just post hard and stuff will fall through, and it did.”

The Wildcats tried double-teams on the post that for the most part Meeks either bullied through or passed out of without problems. In other words, he didn’t become, what the character-limited scoreboard overhead displayed, “Kennedy Meek.”

“Coach [Steve] Robinson always tells me every day, be aggressive and good stuff will happen for you,” said Meeks, who is the only Tar Heels player to score in double figures in each of their first three games.

It wasn’t just his scoring that helped the Heels. With the pace of the game more to Davidson’s liking early, Meeks helped get the Heels out running with his ability to turn a rebound into a quick outlet pass. Williams said he’s the best at doing that than anyone he’s ever coached and it helped the Heels get transition baskets they would not have scored otherwise.

“We know that his outlet passes are some of the best in the country,” freshman forward Justin Jackson said. “If the bigs get the ball, then we just get out.”

Even that was an adjustment. Meeks said his teammates haven’t always run out after rebounds, so he didn’t have the option of making a quick throw down the floor.

“Now they know I’m looking every single time, no matter who is in front of them or who is behind them,” Meeks said. “I think they’ve prepared themselves more for that.”

The Heels head to the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas next week, where the competition level will increase and they could potentially face two ranked teams, including No. 3 Wisconsin. The Heels will need Meeks to continue to be a strong post presence and it seems he's prepared to deliver.
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It won’t always be as easy as it was Sunday night for North Carolina forward Brice Johnson and center Kennedy Meeks. After all, Robert Morris was woefully undersized in the post. Even playing zone defense against the Tar Heels didn’t help mask its deficiency.

Johnson scored a game-high 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the No. 6 Tar Heels' 103-59 victory. Meeks made his first six field goal attempts and scored 21 points with a game-high 12 rebounds.

But their performances were as much a function of their growth as it was simply taking advantage of a weaker opponent.

[+] EnlargeBrice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsThe production of Brice Johnson, left, and Kennedy Meeks in the season's first weekend should have North Carolina fans all smiles.
“I guess it just comes with experience with me and him being there a lot last year,” Johnson said. “… It carried over to this year -- it’s just gotten a lot better.”

Johnson has led the team in scoring in both games this season, including just 12 against N.C. Central. Meeks has been the second-leading scorer in both games, including 10 points and nine rebounds in the opener.

Any prediction of where the Heels can end up this season includes the scenario where the tandem of Johnson and Meeks are playing at a high level.

“Since last year they have been offensive go-to guys,” junior J.P. Tokoto said. “… They finish pretty much everything. It takes about two to three guys to get them stopped and it results in a foul most of the time, so they are going to be very, very [instrumental] to our success.”

Guard Marcus Paige said the team even talked about as much identifying their frontcourt scoring as one of the keys to their season.

“They’ve shown that they can do it and they’re willing to do it,” Paige said. “I mean that’s big for our team. If they can keep up -- maybe not 20 [points] and 12 [rebounds] every night, but this level of production -- against quality opponents then we’re going to be pretty happy with that.”

Carolina was undefeated last season in the seven games both Johnson and Meeks scored double figures -- including two of its biggest wins of the season against Louisville and Michigan State.

Meeks singled out the Louisville game for when the pair really learned how to complement each other’s play. It was the first games where both played extended minutes in the same lineup.

“That’s when we really started clicking with the high-low and him cutting to the basket and me being in the short corner,” Meeks said.

He added that both take pride in their ability to make interior passes and they’re always looking for each other. Two of Johnson’s three assists against RMU came in passes to Meeks and the lone assist for Meeks was a dish to Johnson.

It’s one of the reasons their results can’t be easily dismissed by the level of competition. Paige said the high-low that Meeks and Johnson worked would be effective against all zones they might face.

“That passing can be done against bigger, more athletic guys as well,” Paige said. “It’s an unselfishness and a willingness to throw the ball inside a lot. That’s not going to change.”

Coach Roy Williams hopes nothing changes from their fast start. Both Johnson and Meeks have the talent to rank among the best big men during his tenure at Carolina. They could be out to prove it this season.

“What we have to do is see that over the course of the season,” Williams said. “I thought last year those guys had some good games -- some really good games -- every now and then. But it’s got to be on a consistent basis like Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Tyler Hansbrough and Sean May. Those guys [gave] it to you every night.”
Syracuse University's men's basketball and football programs are under NCAA investigation for allegations, including providing extra benefits and academic issues, that date back at least 10 years, a source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy.

Syracuse will go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis on Oct. 30-31, sources said.

The majority of the allegations -- and the most serious -- involve the men's basketball program. Among the allegations facing the men's basketball team are receiving extra benefits and academic issues, a source said. Those allegations go back about 10 years and are as current as the 2013 season, a source said.

"There were things going on consistently (with the men's basketball program) for a long time," a source said.

Jim Boeheim has been Syracuse's head basketball coach since 1976.

The football team is also facing allegations involving extra benefits, but only for a two-or-three-year stretch around 2004 or 2005, a source said. From 1991-2004, Paul Pasqualoni was Syracuse's football coach, followed by Greg Robinson from 2005-08. Pasqualoni is now a defensive line coach with the Chicago Bears, while Robinson is defensive coordinator at San Jose State.

To read the rest of Brett McMurphy's report click here.

Where are UNC's outside shooters?

August, 29, 2014
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There are plenty of reasons North Carolina should be excited about this season.

Marcus Paige is one of the best point guards in college basketball. (Ask Connecticut how invaluable that can be.)

The Tar Heels' big men Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson should be among the best scoring and rebounding duo of post players in the ACC. Meeks also has proved to possess an added weapon of the outlet pass, which is crucial for a team that likes to run as much as Carolina does.

Junior forward J.P. Tokoto is the lone player returning in the league who made the all-defensive team last season.

And with a recruiting class ranked No. 3 by RecruitingNation, the Heels have depth at every position.

It all adds up to Carolina likely vaulting into a preseason top-10 team on paper. It should compete for an ACC title and be right up there among the Final Four contenders.

There’s just one not-so-slight problem that could keep the Heels from accomplishing those feats. For now, forget the fact that they had one of the worst free throw shooting teams in program history last season. That was partly because of James Michael McAdoo, who shot over 100 more free throws more than the next closest teammate. McAdoo is gone along with his 53.7 free throw percentage.

The question that should scare those in Chapel Hill is where is the outside shooting going to come from outside of Paige?

Paige is their lone proven shooter. He led the team in 3-point percentage last season converting 38.9 percent of his attempts. With the departure of Leslie McDonald, Paige is the only returning player on the roster to reach double digits in 3-pointers. His 2.5 average makes per game is second in the ACC among returnees only to Syracuse guard Trevor Cooney.

Paige accounted for almost 60 percent of the Heels' made 3-pointers last season. That’s why they ranked 339th nationally out of 345 NCAA Division I teams with just 4.3 made 3s per game.

Tokoto was 8-for-36 (22.2 percent) and Nate Britt made 3 of 12 (25.0 percent), but obviously neither player commanded a full closeout from opposing defenders. Tokoto’s midrange game improved toward the end of last season, but that may be his limit. Britt’s shooting from behind the arc is a total mystery given his switch from shooting left-handed last season to right this season.

With limited options from 3-point range, Carolina’s 434 attempts were the fewest 3-pointers in program history since the NCAA adopted the line in 1986-87. (That does not include 302 attempts in the 1982-83 season when the ACC played with an experimental line.)

Carolina might have to wait until the 2015 class to get a pure shooter on its roster. But it would settle for any of the freshmen emerging as a threat.

At 6-foot-7, Justin Jackson has no problem shooting over smaller defenders. He’s comfortable at shooting guard or small forward and has shown enough promise that he could develop into a viable 3-point option alongside Paige. If freshman wing Theo Pinson and point guard Joel Berry II can make enough to keep defenses honest, it could change the entire scouting report for opponents.

Many teams played zone against the Heels last season, a few resorted to exotic defenses such as a box-and-one to contest Paige on the perimeter, but allow anyone else to shoot from deep. (Texas even ran a triangle-and-two, choosing to defend Paige and McDonald.)

Carolina should again expect to see a lot of zone this season as teams pack it in and dare anyone but Paige to prove he can shoot from outside.
Glancing over the many challenges of North Carolina’s schedule prompted coach Roy Williams to say, “This one may be a little off the charts.”

The Tar Heels face a nonconference slate that’s highlighted by the Battle 4 Atlantis with a field that could lead to potential matchups against Oklahoma or UCLA and Florida or Wisconsin. The marquee games continue at home against Iowa in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago’s United Center against Ohio State.

Both of those games are sandwiched around a trip to Lexington to face Kentucky on Dec. 13.

In a released statement, Williams said the advantages of being successful against a tough nonconference schedule can be “enormous.”

“If you have some success, you can say that I am more prepared than just about anybody to get into conference play and that’s what we are trying to do,” Williams said. “In the pre-conference, get ready for conference play, but also to play some of those national-type games to measure yourself to see how you can do outside the league as well. It is planned to try and get better, get better, get better so that you are hopefully playing your best basketball at the end of the season, when it’s the most important.”

North Carolina opens against its other Durham rival, N.C. Central. The Eagles are coming off their first NCAA tournament appearance last season.

The “All in the Family” portion of the schedule includes dates against former Carolina players or coaches. It starts at home on Dec. 7 against East Carolina, coached by Jeff Lebo, who lettered from 1985-89; Dec. 16 versus UNC Greensboro, coached by Wes Miller, who lettered from 2004-07; Dec. 27 against UAB, coached by Jerod Haase, who played for Williams at Kansas and served on his UNC staff when he arrived in 2003 until 2012; Dec. 30 against William and Mary, coached by William Shaver, who lettered from 1972-75.

The ACC schedule is highlighted by a tough, five-game stretch that entails four road games including at Louisville, Pittsburgh and Duke. The Heels haven’t had a stretch like that since Dean Smith’s final season in 1997. It will mean 19 days away from home between facing Virginia on Feb. 2 and Georgia Tech on Feb. 21. The silver lining during that span is that the Heels have a week off between the Boston College and Pitt road games.

The Heels play Louisville, NC State, Georgia Tech and Duke twice in league play. Their road-only games are Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College and Miami. Their home-only opponents are Florida State, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Syracuse.

North Carolina landed a top-five recruiting class and, with the return of national player of the year candidate Marcus Paige, will likely be ranked in the preseason Top 10. The season begins, in earnest, on Oct. 3 with the team’s annual “Late Night with Roy” celebration.

At least 20 of the Tar Heels’ regular-season games will be televised on the ESPN family of networks.

“The season is a long journey,” Williams said. “… We are going to have some incredible opportunities or incredible challenges; it depends on the way you want to look at it.”

I'm excited to see: the ACC

August, 21, 2014
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Before we talk about the upcoming season, let's first glance back to 2010-11.

Back when the Big East Conference lived up to that "Beast" nickname. Back when a record 11 of 16 league teams received NCAA tournament bids.

Half of the Big East finished ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll that season.

Connecticut, which finished just .500 in the league and ninth in the standings, did not lose a game outside of conference play the entire season en route to capturing the 2011 national championship.

Think about that a minute: from ninth-best in the Big East to national champions.

I'm excited to see whether the ACC has that kind of depth this season.

It could.

The league could have three teams ranked in the preseason top 10 and at least four in the top 15. (Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia.) That last happened 10 seasons ago when Wake Forest, Duke, Carolina and Maryland achieved the feat in the 2004-05 campaign.

Having four potential heavyweights at the top of the standings is fun in and of itself -- especially with Louisville making for a new rival as it replaces a Maryland program that had become stagnant.

But just having four contenders is not why the league should be so competitive this season. The strength comes in the teams that should be fighting in the middle tier:

Syracuse: I don't expect Kaleb Joseph to simply step in and do what Tyler Ennis did at point guard last season. But if he can at least stabilize the position, coach Jim Boeheim will have enough talent around him. Fellow freshman Chris McCullough could make an immediate impact at power forward, and Tyler Roberson is ready for an expanded role with C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant gone.

Pittsburgh: It's time the ACC got used to what the Big East knew: Coach Jamie Dixon always finds a way to have the Panthers in the mix. Cameron Wright and James Robinson form an experienced backcourt, and, if forward Durand Johnson comes back strong from his knee injury, Pitt will again prove to be a tough out.

Notre Dame: Guard Jerian Grant led the team in scoring and assists before being sidelined after just 12 games because of academic issues. Grant's return gives the Irish instant credibility. Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson will help make them one of the best 3-point-shooting teams in the league.

NC State: Could have one of the better backcourts in the league with sophomore Anthony Barber and Alabama transfer Trevor Lacey. There's no way to replace T.J. Warren, but coach Mark Gottfried signed a solid class with three top-100 recruits led by power forward Abdul-Malik Abu.

Miami: It might seem odd to expect the Canes to make a leap with just three players and 15 percent of their scoring returning from last season. But transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) will help them get better in a hurry, not to mention redshirt freshman guard Deandre Burnett, a four-star recruit who was sidelined with a wrist injury last year.

Florida State: The Seminoles could be the sleeper of the league. They return six of their top nine players from last season, including leading scorer Aaron Thomas. Coach Leonard Hamilton's teams are always tough defensively, and, with a trio of 7-foot rim protectors, they'll be tough to score on again.

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons return their leading scorer (Codi Miller-McIntyre) and leading rebounder (Devin Thomas). Now, if first-year coach Danny Manning can just get them to win on the road, where they have been just 2-32 against league opponents the past four seasons, he'll have them turned in the right direction.

Even Clemson, which lost K.J. McDaniels to the NBA but returned almost everyone else of note, could pull off a few surprises.

North Carolina and Duke have carried the mantle for the ACC for far too many years. This season there will be plenty more teams that can shoulder the load.
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Fans with tattoos commonly get their favorite team's logo or maybe its mascot, but rarely do they tattoo an image of the head coach on their body.

But that's exactly what 28-year-old Richard Miner asked for Wednesday when he walked into Tymeless Tattoo in Baldwinsville, New York, and had tattoo artist Kyle Proia ink his best Jim Boeheim on Miner's leg.

"I'm a lifelong Syracuse fan," said Miner, a chef at a barbecue restaurant in Syracuse. "He's done remarkable things for the program for more than four decades."

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