College Basketball Nation: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina’s loss that started a downward spiral now seems like it happened in a different season.
The Tar Heels were certainly a different team when they suffered a 73-67 loss at Wake Forest last month. That was the first of an 0-3 start to ACC play which had the Heels at their lowest point. They’ve risen quite a bit since then, avenging their previous defeat by obliterating the Demon Deacons, 105-72, on Saturday for their ninth straight win.
It’s the longest win streak since the 2011-12 squad also won nine. The 2008-09 national championship team was the last to win 10 consecutive.
After the loss at Wake, UNC coach Roy Williams pointed out the team didn’t pay enough attention to the scouting report. After his team's win Saturday, he praised their focus.
“Our kids have shown a greater attention to details,” Williams said. “They’ve shown a greater sense of urgency.”
The Heels’ loss at Wake was filled with botched defensive assignments and poor shooting. The Heels highlighted their win Saturday by shooting 57.4 percent from the field -- the highest for ACC play -- and holding Wake’s leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre scoreless for the first time all season.
More observations from Carolina’s victory:
• Senior Leslie McDonald followed his 21-point performance against Duke by scoring a team-high 19 points against Wake Forest. In both games, he has shot a combined 14 of 21 from the field. In his previous 12 ACC games he was shooting 30 percent (35-116) from the floor.
“He’s been rushing it a little bit, I think, pressing a little bit previously because he is a good shooter,” Williams said. “He’s been shooting it, it’s just not going in. The last two games he is taking better shots. Shot selection is always a huge factor in percentage, but it helps when that first shot goes in.”
The reason for McDonald’s turnaround can be summed up by a first half exchange against the Deacons. McDonald had the ball at the top of the key for a good shot. He passed it up, however, then ran off a screen and got the ball back for a better shot. He knocked down the 3-pointer, one of his five makes for the game.
Williams said McDonald has only taken two bad shots in the past two games.
• Thanks in part to McDonald, Carolina made a season high 11 3-pointers. The Heels shot 73.3 percent from behind the arc (11-for-15), which also set a school record for highest percentage* with at least 10 made in a game.
“Of all the teams to break that record,” Williams said. “Unbelievable.”
Walk-on Wade Moody, who was scoreless all season, came off the bench with the win secured to make both of his 3-point attempts. Nate Britt, who previously only had two made 3s this season, also made one in the game’s closing minutes.
Against better competition, the Heels will remain reliant almost exclusively on Marcus Paige and McDonald for their 3-point shooting. McDonald was 17 of 70 (24.2 percent) in ACC play, but has made six of his last 10. If he can remain hot the Heels will be a tough team to defend.
(*Carolina shot 12 of 15 from 3-point range against Duke on March 5, 1983, but the experimental line back then was just 17 feet, nine inches.)
• Carolina has shot above its season average from the free throw line for three straight halves now. The Heels have shot 62 percent as a team, which could end up being the lowest in school history for a season. Starting with their 13-for-17 performance in the second half against Duke then going 16-of-17 in the first half against Wake and 8-of-12 in the second half, are the Heels starting to turn the corner?
“Nobody can answer that question,” Williams said. “I got 100 letters from people this year who say they can fix free throws. It’s the dumbest damn thing I ever heard in my life. I’m not the smartest guy in the world but I’m not the dumbest either. If I could fix it I would have already fixed the thing.”
For a stretch between the end of the Duke game and the first half against Wake, eight different UNC players combined to make 21 consecutive free throws. Williams joked that the “stars and the moon aligned properly.”
North Carolina State forward T.J. Warren can’t catch much of a break. Even when I was ready to talk about how underappreciated he is nationally, he got overshadowed by Wake Forest guard Codi Miller-McIntyre.
Miller-McIntyre made the game-winning basket to cap off a 20-point performance in the Demon Deacons’ 70-69 win Wednesday.
Miller-McIntyre ranks in the top 10 in assists (3.9) and field goal percentage (45.5.) in the ACC and is 11th in scoring at 15.6 points per game.
Warren does it all for the Wolfpack. He entered Wednesday leading the ACC in scoring at 22.2 points per game. He's fourth in field goal percentage at 50.5, sixth in rebounding with 7.5 per game and 10th with 1.6 steals per game.
With conference play just starting to heat up, it’s time to take a look at a few other players whose impressive seasons have gone underappreciated:
Xavier guard Semaj Christon scored a team-high 18 points in the Musketeers' win over Georgetown, while shooting an efficient 9-for-12 from the field. Christon leads the team in scoring (16.2 points) and ranks third in the Big East with 4.4 assists per game. But really, he just has a knack for making whatever play is needed at the time. Against the Hoyas, eight of his points and two of his three steals came during a run that brought the Musketeers back from a 17-point deficit to take the lead.
UMass center Cady Lalanne isn’t going to score in bunches -- his 19-point effort against George Mason notwithstanding -- but he’s a big reason the Minutemen are sitting at 15-1 and ranked 16th. He leads the team with 9.0 rebounds, but more importantly, he’s a shot-blocking deterrent in the middle of the lane. Lalanne averages 2.5 blocks per game, each of which has been crucial since the emphasis on freedom of movement has made it easier to get to the basket.
West Virginia guard Juwan Staten is truly running things in Morgantown. Talk about a do-it-all player: He leads the Big 12 with 6.1 assists per game, is tied for third with 17.4 points and ranks third in field goal percentage at 53.4. Despite being just 6-foot-1, Staten is second on the Mountaineers with a 5.9 rebounding average per game.
SMU guard Nic Moore functions in what could be the toughest work environment of any player on this list. Playing point guard for Larry Brown isn’t easy, but Moore is making it look that way, averaging 13.3 points and 4.6 assists per game. He’s second in the American with a 51.5 3-point field goal percentage.
Texas Tech forward Jaye Crockett leads the Big 12 in field goal percentage at 57.9 -- that was before he shot 7-of-12 for 19 points in the upset of Baylor Wednesday. His 14.4 points and 6.3 rebounds rank in the top 15 in the league in both categories.
New Mexico forward Cameron Bairstow embraced his expanded scoring role this season and is second in the Mountain West averaging 20.0 points. Turnaround jumpers from the blocks, hook shots, step backs -- he does it all, which makes him difficult to defend because you don’t know what’s coming next. He was one shot short for the Lobos against UNLV Wednesday, scoring 27 points but missing what would have been a go-ahead basket with 35 seconds left.
Houston forward TaShawn Thomas is shooting 63 percent from the field en route to averaging 17 points per game. But his strength is rebounding (8.9) per game, which ranks second in the American.
California forward Richard Solomon is as dependable as it gets on the boards. He ranks 14th nationally in rebounding at 10.2 per game and has posted five double-doubles for the Bears this season. Who knows how well the Bears could have matched up with Syracuse had Solomon not injured his eye against Arkansas.
- Michigan State basketball ops man Kevin Pauga was back late last week with another look at the monthly trends in scoring in college basketball. November was a boon month for the NCAA’s attempts to increase scoring. But December marked a drastic decline in both points and, not accidentally, fouls called: “The increase in scoring was 43.4% lower in December than November when compared to full season data from 2012-13. In the numbers world, that’s a lot. That’s actually a real lot. … The bottom line is fewer fouls are being called. The increase in fouls from last year was 53.4% lower in December than it was in November. The explanations is likely as simple as players, coaches and officials have adjusted to the new rules. Teams are either fouling less or officials are passing on more calls.”
- SI.com’s Seth Davis brings back his annual “stock report,” which is both informative and gives me a mental image of Seth slamming on a big red “buy buy buy!” button as a bull roars in the background. Try to put a value on that.
- Michigan’s win over Northwestern on Sunday can’t really be boiled down to a handful of plays. Actually, that’s true of every game. In this instance, it’s true because the Wolverines beat the tar out of Chris Collins’ rebuilding project. Still, UMHoops’ breakdown of five big plays against the Wildcats is good insight on the kind of possessions Michigan would like to get all the time.
- Is Wake Forest’s victory over UNC a stepping stone? Or an aberration? Rush the Court discusses.
- Even after losses to Houston and SMU, UConn is still getting Top 25 votes. Gary Parrish Poll-Attacks the culpable parties.
Game Plan is our Monday morning primer designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
There’s a great detail in the Associated Press recap of San Diego State’s 61-57 win over Kansas on Sunday, the Jayhawks’ first nonconference home loss in more than seven years and almost certainly the biggest win in SDSU basketball history. How, exactly, did the Aztecs end KU’s 68-game home nonconference streak? What set them apart from so many who came before?
"Our coach never gets rattled," San Diego State forward Winston Shepard said. "He's always even-keeled. After every timeout, he tells us to take a good thought out there."
"He just tells you to think something positive, whether it's basketball, family, whatever. Think something positive," guard Xavier Thames said. "I think that really helps."
Think happy thoughts. It is brilliant and endearing in its simplicity, a testament to the work Steve Fisher has done -- is doing -- with yet another of his irrepressible San Diego State teams.
If Sunday night was a bellwether in the long-term arc of Fisher’s program, it was also a noteworthy status update on the compressed short-term development of Bill Self’s 2013-14 Jayhawks. Back in November, we noted that this season would be the first in a decade in which Self would have to work with a team almost entirely composed of inexperienced players, freshmen or both.
There are no classic Self-ian four-year projects made good on this team, no one who’s had the intricacies of the high-low motion offense burrowed into his head every day for four years. Instead, there is talent. So compressed is the key word: Could Self get this team where it needed to be in a few months’ time?
On Sunday night, the answer was a resounding “not yet, anyway.” Rarely has so much talent been such an inconsistent viewing experience: When the Jayhawks unleash Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, as they did against New Mexico and Georgetown in the three weeks since that Dec. 10 loss at Colorado, the result can be thrilling. But just as often, they look like they did Sunday night: stagnant, predictable, easy to guard.
Shooting remains the issue: The Jayhawks are one of the nation’s most efficient teams around the basket but are merely sub-mediocre from the perimeter. Against inferior opponents, this doesn’t matter; Kansas gets points anyway. But against elite defenses with intelligent game plans that sink in and destroy KU’s spacing, the whole thing slows to a crawl. Twitter keeps telling Wiggins to “take over” and “be more assertive” without noticing the cluster of defenders standing between him and the rim.
Still, context is key. Kansas is in no risk of disappointing in any severe way; we’re talking about a would-be national title contender reaching its true potential (or not). These young Jayhawks have played the nation’s most unforgiving nonconference schedule and acquitted themselves fairly well. The upside potential is, to use an old NBA draft joke, tremendous. And, hey: When someone breaks your 68-game nonconference home win streak, it means you won that many games in the first place.
See? Happy thoughts.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
1. Wisconsin 75, Iowa 71. You wouldn’t like Fran when he’s angry (VIDEO): “What I feel bad about is getting the second one. The first one, I think it’s safe to say I kind of went after that one a little bit. The second one -- I’m not so sure about that.” That was Iowa coach Fran McCaffery after Sunday night’s 75-71 loss at Wisconsin. Late in the second half, McCaffery received two technical fouls in quick succession -- the latter of which he received after crossing midcourt and bumping into an official. The four points Wisconsin got at the free throw line were equal to the game’s final margin, which, of course they were. The narrative gods must be sated. The real takeaway, barring any discipline from the Big Ten office, is that two years on, this Iowa team keeps losing important, close, hard-fought and very winnable games.
2. Wake Forest 73, UNC 67: Signs of life in Winston-Salem. The past three years have been about as bad as it gets for basketball fans in Winston-Salem. Fans hated coach Jeff Bzdelik, then turned ire toward Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, then moved to some weird hybrid of pity, apathy and depression, and I’m not sure which is worst. You know the fastest way to cure all of that? Beating North Carolina, of course! Bzdelik got his first big win as Wake’s head coach and moved to 11-3 on the season; Wellman got his first real sign of progress from a coach on whom his reputation is staked. Big, big win.
3. Southern Illinois: Mother Nature’s Boys: How much of a mess is the entire upper Midwest right now? Southern Illinois spent the night on I-57 in Illinois stranded on its team bus. Also, it was 50 below in Minnesota. That’s how messy.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Colorado was so good in its 100-91 win over Oregon on Sunday -- the first loss of the Ducks’ season, by the way -- that the Buffaloes turned the ball over on nearly 22 percent of their possessions and still scored 100 points on 75 possessions. They shot 57 percent from the field, 42 percent from 3 and went 33-of-36 from the free throw line. They scored 56 points in the second half. Forget it: This entire box score is your stat of the week.
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
Tuesday: Ohio State at Michigan State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: January is kind of the worst for a whole lot of reasons (again: 50 degrees below zero!); college basketball is not one of them. This is a massive game, the Big Ten’s two clear favorites squaring off in the Breslin Center, made more so by the fact that it feels like the first calling-card conference road game of the season. I love January.
Baylor at Iowa State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: For all of Baylor’s lanky, NBA-bound talent, the Bears actually play shockingly methodical basketball -- through Sunday they averaged 63.3 possessions per game, 339th in the country. Iowa State, on the other hand, likes to churn possessions as quickly as any team in the country. The stylistic matchup here is good in and of itself; when you throw in the talent and a Big 12 up for grabs, it’s a no-brainer.
Thursday: Memphis at Louisville, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: An old C-USA rivalry from when the C-USA was still a thing. Let’s hope these two pick things back up next season, when Louisville is a member of the ACC. In the meantime, Louisville fans are still smarting from that loss at Kentucky, while Memphis was outclassed by Cincinnati on its own floor Saturday afternoon. Both have much to prove.
Arizona at UCLA, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Bruins have shown zero signs that they can put together a 40-minute defensive effort good enough to stop the best team in the country. But Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams are playing thrilling offensive basketball, and if the Bruins can get hot on their own end, the smattering of fans in the Pauley Pavilion might actually, like, applaud or something.
Saturday: North Carolina at Syracuse, noon ET, ESPN: Can someone explain the North Carolina Tar Heels? No? OK. For now, just know that they’ve beaten Louisville on a neutral court and Michigan State in East Lansing and, as of Sunday, lost to UAB, Belmont, Texas and Wake Forest. So obviously they could win at Syracuse.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Wake lost games to Kansas and Tennessee while Xavier fell to Iowa, Tennessee and USC during the Bahamas tournament. On the bright side, neither the Musketeers (9-3) nor Demon Deacons (10-2) have lost on U.S. soil. That, of course, will change Saturday.
The Deacs haven’t played the most imposing schedule. Their venture into the Cintas Center in their final nonconference game before ACC play represents their first true road game.
People outside of Winston-Salem don’t expect much from Wake, which was picked to finish 13th in the ACC's preseason media poll. Then again, many inside the city don’t either -- that’s why there were growing rumblings to fire coach Jeff Bzdelik last season. The Deacs' quick start has silenced those voices for the moment.
Wake boasts four players averaging double-figure scoring. Sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntyre averages 17.5 points and 4.0 assists, both of which are nearly double his freshman season stats.
A win over Xavier would be Wake's best victory of the season and signify Bzdelik is making some progress.
The Musketeers earned a confidence-boosting road win at Alabama last week after a satisfying triumph over rival Cincinnati the week before. Those wins put coach Chris Mack in position to earn a milestone 100th career victory should Xavier beat Wake Forest on Saturday.
Mack has the depth he lacked last season and has the Musketeers blending at the right time before beginning their first season in the new Big East. Along with Villanova and Creighton, who may just be a notch above the rest of the league, Xavier can establish itself in the league’s upper tier.
The Musketeers are getting solid leadership from leading scorer Semaj Christon and forward Matt Stainbrook, who leads the team in rebounds and blocked shots. Freshman Myles Davis has been an offensive spark off the bench, averaging 9.5 points while shooting 47 percent from 3-point range.
Prosser coached at Xavier for 15 years, including a stint as head coach from 1994 to 2001, and was head coach at Wake from 2001 until his untimely passing in 2007. He used to relish the chance to turn a team that was overlooked into a contender.
This year’s matchup, the fourth in a 10-year contract, will determine which team best fits that category.
Here are previews for each team in the ACC:
Boston College Eagles
Clemson Tigers (free)
Duke Blue Devils
Florida State Seminoles
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Virginia Tech Hokies
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 21-22), at Purdue (Dec. 4), vs. VCU (Dec. 28 in Brooklyn), at Harvard (Jan. 1)
Next-toughest: at Providence (Nov. 8), vs. UMass (Nov. 10 at TD Garden, Boston)
The rest: Toledo (Nov. 14), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 17), Sacred Heart (Nov. 26), at USC (Dec. 8), vs. Philadelphia (Dec. 15), at Auburn (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 — The differences between Boston College's 2012-13 schedule and its slate in 2013-14 mirror the differences in the two squads' expectations. Last season's Eagles were young and still very much rebuilding; this year's group, led by Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan, has serious sleeper potential. We'll get to see just how much in late November, when Steve Donahue's team takes on UConn and then either Indiana or Washington in Madison Square Garden, followed by a trip to Purdue, a New Year's date at Harvard, and what should be a fascinating nonconference sojourn to New York City to play VCU.
Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at Arkansas (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 17)
The rest: Stetson (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 13), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 29), South Carolina State (Dec. 3), Furman (Dec. 14), at Auburn (Dec. 19), VMI (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 — I'm not sure whether it's possible to hand out a zero in these nonconference rankings. I'm pretty sure it's never been done. And I haven't seen every schedule in the country yet, I admit. But still: Clemson's schedule is … not great. It is possessed of exactly one interesting event -- the Charleston Classic, aka "a bunch of so-so teams and New Mexico" -- and, save a trip to Arkansas (if that), nothing else. (This isn't actual criticism, by the way. Clemson looks as if it's in the process of a big rebuild, and you wouldn't expect it to schedule hard in advance of this loaded ACC. But still. Ick.)
Toughest: vs. Kansas (Nov. 12 in Chicago), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 27-29), Michigan (Dec. 3), vs. UCLA (Dec. 19 in New York City)
Next-toughest: Davidson (Nov. 8)
The rest: Florida Atlantic (Nov. 15), UNC Asheville (Nov. 18), East Carolina/Norfolk State (Nov. 19), Vermont (Nov. 24), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 16), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 28), Elon (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 — The Blue Devils rarely overdo it with their schedules, but just as rarely make it to ACC season without at least a handful of solid results on their docket. So it is again in 2013-14, if slightly tougher than the norm. That's true for a few reasons: Duke drew high-powered Michigan in its ACC/Big Ten matchup; Duke plays Kansas, which landed uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins this summer, in the Champions Classic in November; the Blue Devils look likely to get Arizona in the NIT Season Tip-Off; and UCLA could be formidable if the leftover talent from Ben Howland's tenure jells under Steve Alford. But all of these games are safely within the Blue Devils' sphere of influence. Somehow, Coach K managed to get two of the West Coast's marquee programs without going any farther west than Chicago. Same as it ever was.
Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), at Florida (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: at Minnesota (Dec. 3)
The rest: Jacksonville (Nov. 8), at UCF (Nov. 13), UT-Martin (Nov. 17), Jacksonville State (Dec. 8), Charlotte (Dec. 17), vs. Massachusetts (Dec. 21 in Sunrise, Fla.), Charleston Southern (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 — Florida State's season would have looked much different if two freshmen -- Wiggins, who looked hard at his parents' alma mater before choosing to go to Kansas instead; and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a top-50 recruit who did not get through the NCAA clearinghouse this spring -- had joined up. Without them, star forward Okaro White has a daunting challenge ahead of him all season, beginning with a really good field in Puerto Rico (with first-round opponent VCU, plus Michigan, Georgetown, Kansas State in the mix), followed by road trips to Florida and Minnesota in close succession.
Toughest: Barclays Center Classic (Nov. 29-30), Illinois (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Georgia (Nov. 15), Dayton (Nov. 20) The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 11), North Carolina A&T (Nov. 24), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 26), East Tennessee State (Dec. 7), Kennesaw State (Dec. 16), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 21), at Charlotte (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 — The Yellow Jackets don't have a ton here, but what they do have is solid enough, given where the program is sitting (probably best described as "getting better, if slowly") under third-year coach Brian Gregory. The Barclays Center Classic is a better-than-you-think event, with Ole Miss (and Marshall Henderson, which should be fun) followed by Penn State or St. John's, both of which should be improved over 2012-13. Illinois is the other notable nonconference game, a rematch of last season's 75-62 loss in Champaign, Ill.
Toughest: UConn (Nov. 8 in Brooklyn), at Ohio State (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: Oregon State (Nov. 17), Paradise Jam (Nov. 22-25)
The rest: Abilene Christian (Nov. 13), Morgan State (Nov. 29), at George Washington (Dec. 8), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 14), Boston University (Dec. 21), Tulsa (Dec. 29), North Carolina Central (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — The Terrapins won't get much in the way of RPI boost out of their early-season tournament; La Salle, Providence and maybe Northern Iowa appear to be the only reasonable challengers in the Virgin Islands. But the Terps do have a good opening night date with UConn in Brooklyn, similar to last year's near miss against Kentucky, and the Big Ten-ACC Challenge sends them to Ohio State, which is guaranteed to be a win on the RPI sheet no matter what happens on the floor.
Toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: La Salle (Dec. 22)
The rest: St. Francis (Nov. 8), Georgia Southern (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Nov. 14), at Charleston (Nov. 18), UCF (Nov. 21), Nebraska (Dec. 4), at Savannah State (Dec. 19), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — After a thoroughly euphoric 2012-13 season marked by an ACC regular-season and tournament title, a No. 2 tournament seed, and a first-round draft pick (point guard Shane Larkin), the Hurricanes are due for a serious hangover in 2013-14. Fortunately, their nonconference schedule shouldn't be too punishing. Other than the Wooden Legacy -- a quality field featuring Creighton, Marquette, San Diego State and Arizona State -- La Salle is the one real opponent of note, and the Explorers have to come to Coral Gables.
Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff (Nov. 23-24), at Michigan State (Dec. 4), Kentucky (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: Texas (Dec. 18)
The rest: Oakland (Nov. 8), Holy Cross (Nov. 15), Belmont (Nov. 17), at UAB (Dec. 1), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 7), Davidson (Dec. 21), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 27), UNC Wilmington (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 — The usual North Carolina scheduling partners are all here. There's that trip to Michigan State (this time thanks to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge), the home-and-home with Texas, the huge mid-December date with Kentucky -- it's all there. This year, UNC even adds to that with the Hall of Fame Tipoff tournament, which, if expectations hold, will put the Tar Heels up against defending national champion Louisville in Uncasville, Conn. (after an opening game against Richmond). That means the Heels are likely to face the preseason No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country before the middle of December. Not too shabby.
Toughest: at Cincinnati (Nov. 12), at Tennessee (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Missouri (Dec. 28)
The rest: Appalachian State (Nov. 8), Campbell (Nov. 16), North Carolina Central (Nov. 20), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 26), Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 30), Northwestern (Dec. 4), Long Beach State (Dec. 7), Detroit (Dec. 14), East Carolina (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- NC State's young but promising batch of talent might surprise some people this season, particularly if the Wolfpack are ready for those key road dates at Cincinnati and Tennessee. It's hard to know what to expect from Missouri this season, but that could end up being a quality chance for a nonconference win in Raleigh. A two-loss nonconference run -- or better -- would have folks jumping aboard the T.J. Warren bandwagon just in time for ACC play.
Toughest: at Iowa (Dec. 3), vs. Ohio State (Dec. 21 in New York)
Next-toughest: vs. Indiana (Dec. 14 in Indianapolis, Ind.)
The rest: Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 8), Stetson (Nov. 10), Indiana State (Nov. 17), Santa Clara (Nov. 22), Army (Nov. 24), Cornell (Dec. 1), Delaware (Dec. 7), Bryant (Dec. 9), North Dakota State (Dec. 11), Canisius (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Notre Dame's official welcome to the ACC doesn't come in January but rather in the first week of December, when the Irish travel to Iowa for their first ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup. At any point in the past few years, that would have been a perfectly manageable game, but the ascending Hawkeyes are one of the best defensive teams in their league, and Carver-Hawkeye is close to full, rollicking buy-in once more. The Crossroads Classic draw against Indiana is interesting, if not as intimidating as last season, and the Gotham Classic will match Mike Brey's team with the stifling Ohio State defense in Madison Square Garden just before Christmas break.
Toughest: vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 17 in New York)
The rest: Savannah State (Nov. 8), Fresno State (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 17), Lehigh (Nov. 20), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn), Duquesne (Nov. 30), Penn State (Dec. 3), Loyola Marymount (Dec. 6), Youngstown State (Dec. 14), Cal Poly (Dec. 21), Albany (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1. In recent seasons, few coaches have proved as good at gaming the Rating Percentage Index as Jamie Dixon. This is not a criticism; the NCAA's current system is made to be gamed, and, by this point, coaches who don't at least try to use the faulty system to their advantage are leaving potential seed-line improvements on the table. So I'm guessing that, by the end of the season, Pitt's RPI will be in solid shape. (And maybe the new-look ACC will take care of that on its own.) But that aside, this is a straight-up awful basketball schedule. Just … ugh. Cincinnati in Madison Square Garden is the only "marquee" game on the list, and that's a generous application of the term. The Legends Classic features an opening game against Texas Tech and a second-round matchup against either Stanford or Houston. None of those teams is truly awful -- same goes for Penn State on Dec. 3 -- but they're hardly inspiring opponents, either.
Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), Indiana (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: Villanova (Dec. 28), at St. John's (Dec. 15)
The rest: Cornell (Nov. 8), Fordham (Nov. 12), Colgate (Nov. 16, St. Francis-N.Y. (Nov. 18), Binghamton (Dec. 7), High Point (Dec. 20), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This score is awarded mostly for the Maui Invitational, which boasts a typically deep, if not vintage, field (Gonzaga, Baylor, Minnesota, Cal, Dayton, Arkansas, Chaminade). But it's worth noting that Indiana game at the Carrier Dome, which will be more of a test for the young Hoosiers, sure, but is nonetheless a big rematch of Syracuse's dominant Sweet 16 win in March. There are also two fixtures against former Big East foes Villanova and St. John's. The former is an improving, defensive group that took down the Orange in Philly last season; the latter is a road game against a talented but disjointed Red Storm.
Toughest: VCU (Nov. 12), Wisconsin (Dec. 4), at Tennessee (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Dec. 21)
The rest: James Madison (Nov. 8), vs. Davidson (Nov. 16 in Charlotte), Navy (Nov. 19), Liberty (Nov. 23), Hampton (Nov. 26), Corpus Christi Challenge (Nov. 29-30), at Green Bay (Dec. 7), Norfolk State (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- VCU and Virginia don't have much of a historical basketball rivalry because why would they? But now that Shaka Smart's program has become the state's most notable, it makes sense for Tony Bennett to schedule the Rams, whose pressure defense will be a huge stylistic test for the slow-and-steady Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Wisconsin, which lost to Virginia in Madison last season, won't be that but will be a tough home date in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a road trip at Tennessee rounds out the slate. UVa missed the tournament last season mostly thanks to (a) a bad noncon schedule and (b) a bunch of really bad noncon losses. This slate should help nullify both concerns.
Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23), vs. VCU (Dec. 21 at Richmond Coliseum)
Next-toughest: West Virginia (Nov. 12)
The rest: USC Upstate (Nov. 9), Western Carolina (Nov. 15), VMI (Nov. 18), Furman (Nov. 26), Radford (Nov. 29), Winthrop (Dec. 3), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 28), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn features a first-round game against Michigan State and a matchup against either Oklahoma or Seton Hall, and the home date against VCU at the Richmond Coliseum is really more like a road game. And honestly, that's probably good enough for the Hokies right now. Virginia Tech was a bit of a mess in James Johnson's first season, and that was with guard Erick Green, who submitted one of the best, most efficient all-around offensive seasons of the past half decade or so. Without him, it's going to get ugly.
Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30), at Xavier (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Dec. 7)
The rest: Colgate (Nov. 8), VMI (Nov. 12), Presbyterian (Nov. 15), Jacksonville (Nov. 18), The Citadel (Nov. 21), Tulane (Dec. 4), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 17), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 — Even if Xavier still isn't back to Top 25-level hoops by late December, the Cintas Center is a brutal place to play. But the main feature of this nonconference schedule is Wake's trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, where it will play Wiggins and Kansas in the first round (which, good luck with that), followed by USC or Villanova, with Iowa, Tennessee, UTEP and Xavier lurking on the other side of the bracket. This is a crucial year for maligned coach Jeff Bzdelik and his boss, athletic director Ron Wellman. The Deacs absolutely have to show some signs of progress early on.
Here’s a look at the ACC products who have enjoyed the most successful NBA careers since 1989, the year the draft was whittled down to two rounds.
2. Chris Paul, Wake Forest -- Paul is arguably the top point guard in the NBA. He’s a three-time first team all-NBA selection (2008, 2012, 2013) and a six-time All-Star. Paul is averaging 18.6 points and 9.8 assists for his career along with 2.4 steals. He’s been named to the All-Defensive first team each of the past two seasons and won gold medals with the United States Olympic team in 2008 and 2012. Paul led the once-lowly Los Angeles Clippers to the playoffs in 2012 and 2013.
3. Vince Carter, North Carolina -- Carter has averaged 20.8 points and five rebounds across 15 NBA seasons. He has spent time with five teams: Toronto, New Jersey, Orlando, Phoenix and Dallas. His leaping and dunking ability has made him one of the most popular players in the NBA, as he's joined Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Julius Erving as the only players to lead the All-Star fan voting more than three times. Carter is an eight-time All-Star, with his best season coming in 2001, when he averaged a career-high 27.6 points.
4. Grant Hill, Duke -- Hill retired this month after 18 years of NBA service. He averaged 16.7 points, six rebounds and 4.1 assists in 1,026 career games. Hill was the 1995 NBA Rookie of the Year, a seven-time All-Star and a five-team all-league selection. Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists in his first six seasons with the Detroit Pistons, but his next 12 years in the NBA were injury-plagued. Hill was a member of the 1996 Olympic team.
5. Chris Bosh, Georgia Tech -- As a member of the “Big Three” along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, Bosh has helped spark Miami to the NBA Finals in three straight seasons. The Heat won the title in 2012 and are one win away from a repeat in 2013. Before that, Bosh was a standout forward for the Toronto Raptors from 2003-2010. He averaged more than 22 points for five straight seasons with the Raptors. In 2009-10, he posted career-high averages in points (24.0) and rebounds (10.8).
6. Antawn Jamison, North Carolina -- The fourth overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft has averaged 18.8 points and 7.6 rebounds in 15 NBA seasons. He was the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2004 and made the All-Star team in 2005 and 2008. He’s averaging 17.2 points in 46 playoff games. Jamison’s best season came in 2000-01, when he averaged a career-high 24.9 points and 8.7 rebounds for Golden State. He spent five seasons with the Warriors and has also played for Dallas, Washington, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers.
7. Elton Brand, Duke -- Although he has tapered off in recent years, Brand was one of the NBA’s top post players in the early-to-mid-2000s. He averaged 20 or more points in five of his first eight seasons. His best performance came in 2005-06, when he averaged 24.7 points and 10 rebounds. Brand earned second-team All-NBA honors that season and was also selected to the All-Star Game. He has averaged less than 14 points in each of his past five seasons. He scored just 7.2 points per game for Dallas in 2012-13.
8. Carlos Boozer, Duke -- Boozer has averaged more than 15 points in each of the past 10 seasons and boasts career averages of 16.2 points and 9.8 rebounds. A two-time All-Star, Boozer was named third-team All-NBA in 2008 after scoring a career-high 21.1 points per contest. Boozer has averaged 17.8 points and 11.3 rebounds in 76 playoff games with the Jazz and Bulls. He played for the Olympic team in 2004 and 2008. Not bad for a player who was selected in the second round of the 2002 NBA draft.
9. Jerry Stackhouse, North Carolina -- Stackhouse has averaged less than nine points per game in each of his past five seasons, but that shouldn’t diminish his overall accomplishments in a standout career. He averaged a career-high 29.8 points for the Pistons in 2000-01 and set a franchise record by scoring 57 points in one game. Knee problems began to hamper Stackhouse a few years later. He hasn’t averaged more than 29 minutes per game since 2003, but still boasts a career scoring average of 16.9 PPG.
10. Rasheed Wallace, North Carolina -- Wallace announced his retirement in April after 16 seasons. He averaged 14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds during that span. His best season came in 2001-02, when he posted career-highs in both points (19.3) and rebounds (8.2). A four-time NBA All-Star, Wallace appeared in 177 playoff games and averaged 13.5 points and 6.3 boards -- helping the Pistons win the 2004 NBA title. He was the fourth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft.
Ten more notables: All of these players have excelled in the NBA, including a few who almost cracked the top 10 (names in alphabetical order).
Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech
Shane Battier, Duke
Sam Cassell, Florida State
Luol Deng, Duke
Raymond Felton, North Carolina
Steve Francis, Maryland
Tom Gugliotta, North Carolina State
Josh Howard, Wake Forest
Corey Maggette, Duke
Stephon Marbury, Georgia Tech
Too soon to tell: These guys haven’t been in the league long enough to make the top 10, but all appear to have bright futures (names in alphabetical order).
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Ed Davis, North Carolina
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
John Henson, North Carolina
Kyrie Irving, Duke
Austin Rivers, Duke
Iman Shumpert, Georgia Tech
Kyle Singler, Duke
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina
*Note: Of the 30 names on these lists, nine are from North Carolina, nine are from Duke, five are from Georgia Tech and four are from Wake Forest. Maryland, North Carolina State and Florida State have one representative each.
Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989
- Tim Duncan (1997)
- Chris Paul (2005)
- Josh Howard (2003)
- Rodney Rogers (1993)
- Jeff Teague (2009)
The rest: Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson, Loren Woods, Ish Smith, Chris King, Rusty LaRue, Anthony Tucker, Randolph Childress
Why they're ranked where they are: At this point, you really shouldn't need me to explain just how good Tim Duncan has been over these past two decades. (If you do, I highly recommend Bill Simmons's epic accounting of Duncan's career published over on Grantland this week. It has a lot of words. You've been warned.)
To gaze upon his Basketball Reference page is to look upon a lasting work of art, and I'm really not being tongue-in-cheek. If Duncan's career had gone the way Larry Johnson's did -- if he had shown a world-bending talent before losing it to injury around Year 6 -- he would still have won three NBA titles and two MVPs. He'd still be a Hall of Famer. But Duncan didn't burn fast and hot for a short period of time. His legacy is not secured by mere longevity. Instead, Duncan has managed to be both incandescent and reliable for nigh on two decades. Imagine an alternate world in which the Beatles stayed together as long and made as many records as the Rolling Stones -- only all of those records were at least as good as "Rubber Soul," and more often than not they were "Revolver."
That's Tim Duncan. He is widely regarded as the best power forward of all time, and among the best five or six players in the history of the game. Those points are always fun to debate, but I do know one thing for sure: Duncan is the best NBA product any school has produced since 1989, and it's honestly not even that close.
As such, Duncan's presence alone would have been enough to get Wake Forest into our top 20. He's that far ahead of the rest of the field. But Wake has more than Duncan to offer, much more.
Chris Paul is arguably the best point guard in the league today. Whether you agree with that statement -- Tony Parker might not -- at the very least Paul exists in that rarified territory so few NBA players reach: He changes franchises. He also works games. As good as he's been in L.A., some of my favorite moments to this effect came during his days in New Orleans. There was 2007-08, when he led the league in both assists and steals and turned a previously lost Tyson Chandler into one of the most efficient players in the game. Or Game 1 of the Hornets' 2011 playoff series against the Lakers, when he went for 33/14/7/4 and so thoroughly silenced the Staples Center that by the end of the game the TV microphones picked up his trash talk. Paul has always been the most cerebral player on the floor; his court instincts and vision are second to none. It's almost hard to believe he's only 27, with tons of productive basketball left in the tank.
Wake Forest's list takes a pretty significant dive from there; Rodney Rogers was a nice pro but nothing more, and Jeff Teague is carving out a solid career as a starting point guard, even though he'll probably never be a star. But let's not forget Josh Howard. Before multiple ACL injuries sent his career careening off a cliff, Howard submitted some really strong seasons, particularly in his 2006-07 All-Star campaign, when he averaged 18.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game for a Mavericks team that finished 67-15 in the regular season. Then he averaged 21 and 10 in the playoffs and followed up with 20 and 9 in the 2007-08 regular season. Don't forget Josh Howard.
Really, though, this list is about Duncan and Paul: the first, a Hall of Famer had he retired 10 years ago; the latter, on his way to inclusion 10 years in the future. That would be quite a leading duo for any school. For Wake Forest, a small private school with an undergraduate enrollment of less than 5,000 students, it's something like a miracle.
Why they could be ranked higher: It really comes down to the same dynamic we've been confronting throughout these rankings. Which do you value more: a deep group of solid if unspectacular NBA regulars? Or singular stardom? As singular stardom goes, well, you know … Tim Duncan. And Chris Paul. We've already placed a noticeable premium on legend-level talent, but we've done our best to temper it against the rest of each team's résumés. I think this is just about the right spot for Wake, but if you think the Duncan trump card is worth even more, I could dig it.
Why they could be ranked lower: I might be willing to push Wake up on the list; I'm not willing to push them down. Just below sits Texas, which is likewise a two-stars-and-then-some-other-guys entity, except that Texas' two stars are Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. Don't get me wrong; those guys are awesome. Durant has a chance to leave the NBA as the best scorer of all time. But he is still at the dawn of his own era; Duncan has been in this game since honeys was wearin' sassoons. No NBA GM would trade Paul for Aldridge. And the rest of Texas' group doesn't stand up to Howard, Rogers and Teague, solid inclusions all. Wake can go no lower.
What’s ahead? Not a whole heck of a lot. Teague, for all his strengths as a ball handler and penetrator, has probably hit something close to a ceiling. Fourth-year man James Johnson is still trying to find a productive NBA role. The program that produced Duncan and Paul in less than eight years has since fallen into severe disrepair, and with the possible exception of rising senior Travis McKie, there are no pro prospects in the pipeline.
Final thoughts: It was really fun to dig into Tim Duncan's numbers, and I recommend you spend the rest of your morning doing the same. Oh, you meant about Wake Forest. Right. There may be no program with a wider gap between what a list of its NBA products since 1989 implies it is (a powerhouse) and the reality (a bit of a mess). If you're wondering why Demon Deacons fans are so ticked off, it's because they remember when one of the greatest players in the history of basketball played four years at the Joel. They remember Howard's career, and they remember Paul, and why not? It wasn't so long ago.
The only thing more frustrating than losing in the NCAA tournament is losing in the NCAA tournament when you have a ton of talent.
Or worse what if you don't even get there?
No team is immune to an upset. Even the best programs have inexcusable slip-ups from time to time. There are legitimate reasons for concern, however, when it begins to happen consistently.
Here are eight schools who have made underachieving a trend in March despite touting rosters stocked with NBA-caliber talent.
Alabama: Football might be the most-popular sport in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but Alabama has a history of producing some of basketball’s best pros. Latrell Sprewell, Antonio McDyess, Robert Horry, Mo Williams, Gerald Wallace, Alonzo Gee you’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty impressive list. Unfortunately, it never led to much for the Crimson Tide, which owns just one SEC regular-season championship (2002) in the past 26 seasons. Even worse is that Alabama has advanced beyond the Sweet 16 just once in school history. That occurred in 2004, and Bama has made just three NCAA tournament appearances since. Perhaps things will change this season, as Anthony Grant welcomes back a top 25-caliber squad.
Georgetown: Yes, the Hoyas are just months removed from winning a Big East title. And it was only six seasons ago that John Thompson III’s squad advanced to the 2007 Final Four. Still, this list is based largely on postseason accomplishments, and no one can argue that, overall, Georgetown has been a disappointment in March. That aforementioned Final Four berth was the Hoyas’ first since 1985 -- and they haven’t advanced to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend since. Even worse is that their past five tournament losses are to Davidson, Ohio, VCU, NC State and Florida Gulf Coast (as a No. 2 seed). That’s an ugly mark on a program that boasts recent alumni such as Greg Monroe, Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert and Otto Porter.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets’ loss to Connecticut in the 2004 NCAA title game marked the only time in 17 seasons that they’ve advanced beyond the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. To be fair, Georgia Tech has been hit hard by the one-and-done era, with players such as Stephon Marbury, Chris Bosh, Thaddeus Young and Derrick Favors spending only one season in school before turning pro. But there have also been enough quality players who stuck around longer to make this level of inconsistency avoidable (Jarrett Jack and Iman Shumpert come to mind). Former coach Paul Hewitt did a good job of luring talent to Atlanta yet always seemed to be fighting an uphill battle.
New Mexico: The Lobos might not be known for churning out NBA players in the same fashion as Georgetown, Texas or any of the other schools on this list -- although they’ve certainly had a handful of good ones including Danny Granger, Kenny Thomas and Luc Longley. Still, for a program that owns four of the past five MWC titles as well as a WAC championship in 1994, you’d figure the Lobos would’ve made at least one NCAA tournament run in their 11 appearances since 1989, but they haven’t. Instead, New Mexico has lost in the first or second round in each of those seasons. One of the most gut-wrenching defeats occurred just months ago, when Steve Alford’s No. 3-seeded Lobos fell to 14-seed Harvard. Not once in school history have the Lobos advanced to the Sweet 16.
Texas: It might seem unfair to include the Longhorns on this list. Texas, after all, made 14 straight NCAA tournament appearances under Rick Barnes before being left out of the field this spring. That’s an amazing feat. Still, considering the talent that has flocked to Austin in recent years, simply earning a berth to the Big Dance isn’t enough. Since losing to Syracuse in the 2003 Final Four, Barnes’ squad has been bounced during the opening weekend six times in 10 seasons, with three of the setbacks coming in the opening round. The most-disappointing defeat occurred in 2007, when the Kevin Durant-led Longhorns were upended by USC 87-68 in the second round. More should be expected from a program that had 10 players (Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, D.J. Augustin, Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson, P.J. Tucker, Daniel Gibson, Cory Joseph, Jordan Hamilton and Royal Ivey) on NBA rosters this season.
USC: It seems almost unfathomable that a school located in such fertile recruiting territory could boast just two second-weekend NCAA tournament appearances since 1961. But that’s the case with USC, whose only claim to fame is a Sweet 16 berth in 2007 and an Elite Eight cameo in 2001. It’s not as if the Trojans haven’t had talent. O.J. Mayo, Taj Gibson, Nick Young, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic are all holding their own in the NBA. It would’ve been interesting to see if Tim Floyd could’ve taken USC to new heights, but an off-court scandal forced Floyd to resign in the summer of 2009, setting back the Trojans’ program just as it appeared primed to take off. Perhaps new coach Andy Enfield can get things going in Los Angeles.
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have been one of the dregs of the ACC the past few seasons, but it wasn’t long ago that Wake Forest had the talent to contend for an NCAA title. The 2008-09 squad featuring Jeff Teague, Al-Farouq Aminu, James Johnson and Ishmael Smith soared to the top of the Associated Press rankings after opening the season with 16 straight wins, but it floundered down the stretch and lost to Cleveland State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The postseason failure was nothing new for Wake Forest, which has advanced to the Sweet 16 just once in the past 17 seasons. That’s pretty disappointing for a program with an alumni base that includes Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, Josh Howard and Darius Songalia.
Washington: Lorenzo Romar has done a solid job since taking over the Huskies program in 2002. Washington has won two Pac-12 titles and finished second three times. Still, fans want results in the postseason, and Romar can’t get over that “Sweet 16 hump.” The Huskies have never advanced past that stage of the NCAA tournament -- not just under Romar, but in school history. Heck, the past two seasons, Washington didn’t even make the NCAA tournament. That’s a shame for a program that’s produced six first-round draft picks (Nate Robinson, Brandon Roy, Spencer Hawes, Quincy Pondexter, Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten) since 2005 -- not to mention second-rounders Jon Brockman and Isaiah Thomas. The talent at Washington has simply been too good to not make at least one or two significant runs.
2. Davidson didn't strategically plan to be in the A-10. But the Wildcats best move was not making a move a year ago when they turned down an offer to go to the CAA. The decision to stay put created an opportunity that could change the Davidson athletic department for the foreseeable future. Davidson president Carol Quillen said Wednesday during the news conference announcing the Wildcats admission into the A-10 in 2014-15 that they had surveyed the national scene and were anticipating something happening due to the volatility. But no one anticipated or dreamed of the chance to go to the A-10, said Davidson AD Jim Murphy. "Choosing to wait was the right one,'' he said. Murphy said access to at-large bids made the move from the Southern to the A-10 an easy option. The school isn't worried about additional travel for non-revenue sports since Murphy said there are enough schools in the region where they could get there in a cost-effective manner and then travel to a championship site. Murphy said rearranging schedules made moving by August too disruptive. But the Southern Conference, unlike the CAA, is allowing Davidson to participate in all championship events, which is why they are not forcing the move this year. Reaction to adding Davidson was overwhelmingly positive. George Mason coach Paul Hewitt called it a great move. UMass coach Derek Kellogg said it gives the A-10 another perennial NCAA team and will only add to the great tradition. VCU coach Shaka Smart said it made a deep league even stronger. And Richmond coach Chris Mooney added, "Their record speaks for itself. Great name recognition. Adds another strong team in the South.''
3. The ACC had to cut loose three teams -- Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest -- from the ACC-Big Ten Challenge with the imbalance of teams (Big Ten has 12 and the ACC has 15). In 2014-15, the ACC will have 15 teams and the Big Ten 14, so one ACC team will not be in the event. But the ACC knew it was going to trim the three teams with the lowest power ratings. So, how will those schools replace a potential quality nonconference opponent? Clemson coach Brad Brownell said he's still working on the schedule. Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik said the Demon Deacons will get three strong opponents in the Battle 4 Atlantis, play at Xavier and host Richmond, Tulane and St. Bonaventure. Virginia Tech coach James Johnson said the Hokies will get West Virginia at home, play VCU at the Richmond Coliseum and are in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic in Brooklyn with Michigan State, Oklahoma and Seton Hall.
Actually, scrap that last part. There will be nothing silent about it. For now, anyway.
This is a profoundly strange decision.
There are the simple facts of the matter: In three years, Bzdelik is 34-60 at Wake with an 11-42 record in the ACC. He is 2-47 on the road in conference play at Wake Forest and Colorado combined. Bzdelik's Wake teams have finished ranked No. 251, No. 210, and No. 128 in the KenPom efficiency rankings, respectively, since he took over in 2011. This season, even as it was beset by scores of fans calling for his firing, was by far his best at the school, featured a few young players that could take on larger roles down the line, and included a home win over Miami. The Demon Deacons still finished 6-12 in the ACC.
And then there are the extenuating circumstances of the matter, which remain as baffling now as when Bzdelik was installed. In 2011, Wellman fired coach Dino Gaudio -- whose ties to beloved and suddenly deceased former coach Skip Prosser stretched back to high school coaching in West Virginia -- after two straight NCAA tournament appearances and a 61-31 record. Why? Because his teams weren't performing well down the stretch. Which is a valid concern for an athletic director to have, provided he knows he can do better; it's the only way you can pull the plug on the guy who had your team program No. 1 in the country 14 months prior.
But Wellman didn't have a slam-dunk replacement. He had Bzdelik, his buddy going back to the early 80s, who had made exactly one NCAA tournament appearance in his career to date, and whose record in his three previous years at Colorado was 36-58. Bzdelik was 57, had no ties to the ACC, ran a Princeton style that the current players had no idea how to play. Even at the time, the hire seemed remarkable.
With each passing year, the hire has looked worse, and Wellman and Bzdelik's ability to address it less grounded in reality, than ever. Bzdelik once told our own Andy Katz that he studied Indiana's turnaround under Tom Crean as a model for Wake Forest, the vast differences between the two situations (NCAA sanctions and recruiting probation vs. neither; a coach who had revitalize a program at Marquette vs. one with two .500-or-better seasons in his career) going casually unmentioned. Wake's decision to close down the coach's show to avoid call-in criticism made Wellman sound disinterested in his fans' feedback; his telling a reporter that Wake Forest had always had empty seats in November and December felt like an insult. This is a shame. Wellman is a 22-year veteran, the athletic director of the year in 2008, the same athletic director who hired Prosser in the first place, who created the expectations for a consistently competitive Wake hoops program. Now many Wake fans want him gone, too.
That's why the decision to keep Bzdelik for a fourth year is either a) incredibly brassy, b) incredibly dumb, or c) all of the above. If he cut ties this season, and went out and found a replacement, Wellman may have been able to calm folks down: Jeff's my guy, I thought it would work, it didn't work, my bad. Let's just all move on.
Now Wellman has knotted himself even tighter to the big Acme-emblazoned anchor that is his head coach. Fans are staying away from the Joel. Boosters are deflated. Wake Fans' anguished voices won't be silenced. That small but proud fan base will grow louder and angrier and more widespread, right up until that magical breaking point when they decide they're done fighting, done screaming, done being consumed by an entertainment that no longer gives them pleasure.
It hasn't happened yet, but it could, and it's the outcome to be feared above all else. If people are screaming, at least they still care. It's when the voices disappear that the problem truly begins.
1. Duke. Ryan Kelly missed two months with a foot injury, but he sure hasn’t looked like it. The Blue Devils forward has averaged 27 points in the two games since his return, scoring 36 in Duke's down-to-the-wire nail-biter Saturday against then-No. 5 Miami, and then 18 on Tuesday's Senior Night against Virginia Tech. Duke is now 17-0 this season with Kelly in the lineup -- and will be trying for 18-0 in Saturday’s showdown at UNC.
2. North Carolina. One of the keys to the Tar Heels going small? Getting some big play out of wing Reggie Bullock. The junior has posted three double-doubles in UNC’s past four games, and is averaging 15.5 points and 9 rebounds during his team’s six-game winning streak. The Tar Heels have secured a first-day ACC tournament bye. And as for that NCAA tournament bubble -- what bubble?
3. Miami. Just two weeks ago, it looked as if the Hurricanes were going to win the ACC regular season in a runaway. But they’ve now dropped three of their past four -- including the down-to-the-wire classic at Duke last weekend and Wednesday's loss to Georgia Tech when they squandered a double-digit lead. Miami can still clinch the outright regular-season title versus Clemson on Saturday. But the Canes drop in these power rankings after an 0-2 week.
4. NC State. In his last game of the season at PNC Arena on Wednesday, forward C.J. Leslie played his most complete game of the season -- recording 19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks against Wake Forest. The Wolfpack have now won six of their past seven games and this weekend still could earn the third seed in the league tournament.
5. Michael Snaer. Florida State could be lower in these rankings, but the senior guard deserves an upper-half slot all by himself. After all, if not for his four game winners this season -- the latest on a left-handed runner with 4 seconds left against Virginia on Thursday night -- the Seminoles would be 4-13 in ACC play, instead of 8-9. FSU has now won two of its past three games, with Snaer averaging 18.3 points during that stretch.
6. Virginia. Is there an odder team out there, NCAA projection-wise, than the Cavaliers? Thursday night’s last-second loss at Florida State means UVa now has lost four of its past six games -- and its past two, at Boston College and at FSU, have come against teams with sub-.500 ACC records. Entering the game, the Cavs already had won four games this season against teams with a top-50 RPI, but lost four games against teams with RPIs below 150. What would you do if you were on the selection committee?
7. Maryland. Too many turnovers; too much inconsistency. As a result, the Terps are now 2-3 since their Feb. 16 upset of Duke, and they’re probably going to need the league’s automatic bid (via winning the ACC tournament) to make the NCAA field. It has been a disappointing, frustrating few weeks for coach Mark Turgeon and Maryland fans, and for good reason.
8. Georgia Tech. Talk about a confidence boost: Marcus Georges-Hunt's tip-in at the buzzer against Miami secured the Yellow Jackets’ first victory over a top-25 team since March 2010. Chris Bolden's career-high 21 points were also key to Tech winning for the second time in three games.
9. Boston College. It was a positive week for the Eagles, who got a game-winning 3-pointer from Joe Rahon with 8.2 seconds left against Virginia, followed by a solid Olivier Hanlan-led victory at Clemson. It marked the first time Rahon has scored in double figures in back-to-back games in league play, and it was Hanlan’s fourth conference game with 20 or more points.
10. Wake Forest. The Deacs have now lost three straight since upsetting Miami -- including Wednesday at NC State, where they were missing point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre because of strep throat. Senior C.J. Harris has made only 9 of 31 shots over his past three games.
11. Clemson. The Tigers have now lost five straight, and eight of their past nine. Senior forward Devin Booker is finishing strong individually, however, averaging 17.6 points over the last quintet of losses. Clemson travels to Miami on Saturday for its regular-season finale.
12. Virginia Tech. Guard Erick Green enters his final regular-season ACC game (at Wake Forest on Sunday) as the nation’s leading scorer (25 points per game). How many ACC Player of the Year votes will he get?
1. Miami: The now-No.-5 Hurricanes bounced back from their first ACC loss of the season (by 15 points at Wake Forest) by beating up on Virginia Tech. Since then, they’ve been able to focus on the game everyone’s been talking about: Saturday’s rematch with Duke: "It's going to be a blast," guard Trey McKinney Jones said, according to The Associated Press. "We beat them here this year, and we beat them there last year, so they're going to be gunning for our heads."
2. Duke: Plus, the No. 3 Blue Devils should be especially fired up after shooting worse than 40 percent and never leading during the 73-68 loss at Virginia on Thursday. Forward Ryan Kelly, sidelined since January with a foot injury, returned to practice this week, but isn’t expected back until after Saturday’s game.
3. Virginia: Nothing like beating the No. 3 team in the nation to bolster your NCAA tournament hopes. Joe Harris scored a career-high 36 points and teammate Akil Mitchell added a double-double Thursday night as the Cavs toppled the Blue Devils and remained tied for third place in the ACC standings.
4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels are now 4-1 since they went to a four-guard starting lineup, and as their momentum grows, so does their NCAA tournament résumé. UNC secured another 20-win season with Thursday night’s victory at Clemson, and junior Reggie Bullock has averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds the past two games.
5. NC State: The Wolfpack bounced back from their loss at UNC by blasting Boston College, securing back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since Herb Sendek was coach. Next up: a trip to Georgia Tech, with an eye on trying to work back into the top four of the conference standings. State now stands in fifth place, a game behind the Cavs and Tar Heels.
6. Maryland: The Terps are 1-6 on the road in conference play after losing at Georgia Tech, with their only ACC road win coming at last-place Virginia Tech. They still travel to Wake Forest and Virginia, and play UNC at home, during the regular season, but Maryland’s at-large NCAA tournament bid hopes are diminishing.
7. Florida State: The Seminoles remain the worst rebounding team in the league (31.3 per game) but could get a boost when 6-foot-8 Terrance Shannon -- who suffered a neck injury on Jan. 19 but has been cleared to play -- returns. FSU beat Wake Forest earlier this week, but has still lost four of its past six games.
8. Wake Forest: After scoring 23 points en route to a court-storming win over then-No. 2 Miami, Demon Deacon C.J. Harris made only one field goal, and finished with nine points, in a loss at Florida State. So continue Wake Forest’s road woes. As some consolation, two of its final three games are at home.
9. Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory called his team’s win over Maryland earlier this week the most consistent 40 minutes of basketball it has played this season. Freshman forward Robert Carter Jr. posted his fourth double-double; and at 15-12 with three games left, Tech is guaranteed at least a .500 regular-season finish.
10. Clemson: Even with double-doubles from big men Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, the Tigers couldn’t outmatch the Tar Heels’ smaller starting lineup. Thursday’s defeat marked Clemson’s third consecutive loss and sixth in its last seven games, as the Tigers continue to struggle to score.
11. Boston College: It was a tough week on Tobacco Road for the Eagles, who followed a 21-point loss at Duke with an 18-point loss at NC State. Ryan Anderson averaged 17.5 points in the two defeats.
12. Virginia Tech: The Hokies snapped a nine-game losing streak by besting FSU, only to lose at Miami. The Canes held senior guard/nation's-leading-scorer Erick Green to 16 points, only the second time during the conference season that he’s failed to score at least 22.
- New Mexico’s 91-82, come-from-behind victory over Colorado State was the most entertaining game of the afternoon -- and it also featured the best performance not just of the day, but arguably of the entire season. New Mexico junior guard Kendall Williams made 10 of his 13 attempts from 3-point range en route to a career-high 46 points as the Lobos snapped CSU’s 27-game home winning streak. At 10-2 in the Mountain West, New Mexico now has a two-game lead over the Rams (8-4) in the conference standings. These teams are not who you want to play in the NCAA tournament. Even in the loss, Colorado State looked more than worthy of its No. 22 national ranking. But the No. 16 Lobos were more resilient Saturday, fighting back from a six-point deficit with six minutes remaining thanks to Williams, who entered the game averaging just 13.1 points. That New Mexico was able to rally in such a tough environment is a credit to Lobos coach Steve Alford, who is on pace to win his fourth MWC title in five seasons. Alford’s name will surely be mentioned during the offseason coaching carousel, but I think it’d take a phenomenal offer to get him to leave Albuquerque. He’s well compensated, adores that part of the country, will have both of his sons on the roster next season and is beloved by the fan base. Why leave?[+] EnlargeRon Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsKendall Williams was locked in Saturday, hitting 12 of 16 shots en route to 46 points.
- Miami point guard Shane Larkin had a great quote after his Hurricanes lost 80-65 at Wake Forest on Saturday. “Who ever thought Miami beating Wake Forest at home would cause a court-rushing scene?” Larkin said. Given that history has more often seen Miami near the bottom of the ACC standings and Wake Forest near the top, the point was a valid one. The excitement Demon Deacons fans showed over beating the No. 2 Hurricanes was a testament to just how far Miami’s program has come under second-year coach Jim Larranaga. The question now is how far it will fall. Miami, which saw its 14-game winning streak snapped, lost for the first time in ACC play and is now 22-4 overall and 13-1 in conference. Miami might also have a difficult time holding on to its projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament; another loss could all but negate that possibility. Miami plays three of its final four games at home, but a March 2 tilt at Duke will be tough to win. In some ways, Saturday’s loss shouldn’t have been all that surprising, as the Hurricanes had been playing with fire in recent weeks. Their previous three victories had come by a combined 12 points. Included in that stretch was a four-point win over Virginia and a two-point victory over Clemson. It all caught up to the Hurricanes Saturday at Wake Forest. “We weren’t prepared to play the game, and they came out and punched us in the mouth,” Larkin said.
- Speaking of Miami, if the Hurricanes put Saturday’s loss behind them and win the ACC as expected, I’ll have no problem if Larrranaga is named national coach of the year. But some folks are acting as if the race for that award is already over, that Larranaga is a shoo-in. I disagree. What if Marquette wins the Big East title a year after losing Darius-Johnson Odom and Jae Crowder (and replacing them with basically nothing)? I think that’d be a bigger accomplishment than Miami winning the ACC -- the Big East is a much tougher league -- so I’d vote for Buzz Williams. John Thompson III will have a case, too, if Georgetown wins the Big East crown. His team lost second-leading scorer and leading rebounder Greg Whittington in December and actually got better. And, oh yeah, the Hoyas lost their three leading scorers (Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims) from last season. What if K-State snaps Kansas’ streak of eight consecutive Big 12 titles and wins its first conference championship since 1977? Wouldn’t Bruce Weber be a candidate -- especially considering this is his first season in Manhattan? I think so. Then there’s Jim Crews at Saint Louis and Gregg Marshall at Wichita State. This race is hardly over. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
- Every time I post something on Twitter about how impressed I am with the Memphis Tigers, the responses are always the same. They play in a weak league. Who have they beaten? Just wait until the NCAA tournament. Something tells me the folks saying these things haven’t watched Memphis play in recent weeks. Saturday’s 89-73 victory over Southern Miss marked the 18th straight win for Josh Pastner’s squad. That’s impressive no matter what league you’re in. Yes, I realize Conference USA doesn’t offer up the best competition, but Southern Miss -- an NCAA tournament team a year ago -- is still darn good. So is Central Florida, which features one of the better forwards in the country in Keith Clanton. Neither of those teams has come close to beating Memphis, which is 24-3 overall and 13-0 in league play. Talent has never been an issue for the Tigers, but lately, they’ve also looked extremely well-coached. Great ball movement, good shot selection, selfless play, tons of energy. Tell me, what’s not to like? I’m not ready to peg Memphis as a Final Four team, but I’ll be disappointed if it doesn't make it to the Sweet 16.
- I like VCU’s team -- a lot -- but I’m not quite as high on the Rams as I was after watching them in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in November. Back then, I was convinced that Shaka Smart’s squad was better than the unit that made the 2011 Final Four. I realize VCU made an incredible comeback against Xavier on Saturday, rallying from a 17-point deficit in the second half en route to a 75-71 victory. But why were the Rams down by 17 points in the first place? And if they are truly that good, why did they lose by 14 points at Saint Louis on Tuesday? It wasn’t the defeat that bothered me. It was the margin. Saint Louis is very, very good. But VCU got dominated in that game. Cuff me, officer. I’m guilty of over-hyping the Rams.
- The worst team in a "power six" conference is easily Mississippi State. Seriously, would someone please give first-year coach Rick Ray a big hug? I can’t remember a time when a program was this decimated by injuries, suspensions, graduations and transfers. The Bulldogs only have eight active players on their roster. Saturday’s 72-31 loss to Vanderbilt marked Mississippi State’s 12th consecutive defeat. Its 31 points were the second-fewest in Humphrey Coliseum history. It was also the lowest scoring output for MSU in the shot-clock era.
- I’m not ready to move him into the No. 1 slot, but I’ll definitely be elevating Georgetown forward Otto Porter into the top five of my weekly Wooden Award ballot, which is released each Wednesday. Porter scored a career-high 33 points on 12-of-19 shooting Saturday to help the Hoyas surge past Syracuse, 57-46. That’s right. Porter scored 33 of his team’s 57 points -- and he did it on the road. He also chipped in eight rebounds and five steals. There might not be a more versatile big man in college basketball.
- Every time I turn on a Texas Tech game, I always hear television announcers talk about what “an excellent job” interim coach Chris Walker is doing in a “tough situation.” What am I missing here? The Red Raiders are 9-16 overall and 2-12 in conference play. All but two of their league setbacks have come by double digits. On Saturday, they lost to Iowa State by 20 points, 86-66. That’s what passes for doing a good job these days? Walker inherited a tough situation, to be sure. But so did USC’s Bob Cantu, who was named interim coach last month after the school fired Kevin O’Neill. USC has gone 5-4 under Cantu. Now that’s doing a good job.
- One team that has quietly gotten better over the past few months is LSU, which defeated Alabama on Saturday, 97-94 in triple overtime. Johnny O’Bryant scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the Tigers, who have won seven of their past 10 games. Sure, LSU beat some duds during that stretch, including Mississippi State (twice) and South Carolina. But there have also been victories over Missouri and Texas A&M and, of course, Saturday’s big win over Alabama. The most encouraging thing is that LSU will return virtually every key piece of this year’s team next season, including O’Bryant and guard Anthony Hickey, who leads the nation in steals with 3.2 per game.
- Stick a fork in Baylor. The Bears are done. Scott Drew’s squad was embarrassed in a 90-76 loss at Oklahoma on Saturday. Or, heck, maybe they didn’t feel embarrassed at all. For the past few weeks, the Bears -- who trailed 47-21 at halftime Saturday -- have hardly seemed like they care. Baylor has now lost six of its past eight games. Drew’s team is 7-7 in league play but only 1-7 against teams in the top five of the Big 12 standings. The Bears aren’t going to make the NCAA tournament, which is inexcusable for a squad that features the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year in Pierre Jackson -- who leads the conference in scoring and assists -- along with future lottery pick Isaiah Austin and one of the nation’s premier 3-point shooters in Brady Heslip. Sure, the Bears lost three players from last year’s Elite Eight squad to the NBA draft. But there are still enough pieces on this roster to have significant success during a somewhat down year for the Big 12.