Tag Archives: Duke Blue Devils

Sorry Duke, Virginia is the New Taste in College Basketball

Reading some of national reporting on college basketball, particularly Virginia basketball, it might be easy to conclude that there was a crisis in college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia basketball was an infection slowly killing college basketball. It would be easy to conclude that Virginia was leading NCAA basketball down the path to attention deficit disorder-driven doom.

Such a conclusion couldn’t be more wrong.

I watched Duke play Florida State the other day. It is hard not to be impressed by the embarrassment of riches Coach K has brought to Durham. Duke starts 4 freshmen. At least 2 of those 4 will be one-and-dones. The other 2 could spend a second season in Durham pretending to be college students, but it is not likely. Smart money says all four call it quits on going to class in January and conclude their stints at the NBA’s minor league franchise-in-residence at Durham after March Madness concludes.

As I watched the track meet with FSU, I couldn’t help but wonder what Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer and Jay Williams thought. I can’t imagine what Bobby Hurley, Christan Laettner and Grant Hill think. I am sure they are happy with the continued success of the program. Duke is an unquestioned big dpg in NCAA basketball. However, watching Duke play basketball today has very little in common with Duke basketball that put the Blue Devils on the map. It looks nothing like the game that Battier, Booozer, Laettner, and Hurley played. Funny, I don’t remember many reporters griping about too much defense when defense was Duke’s calling card.

The Duke of old was known for discipline. Hard-nosed, aggressive man-to-man defense was Duke’s differentiation. While Duke had very talented players back in the day, they lived and died with their defense and the offense it so frequently spawned. Prior to the current incarnation of Duke basketball, players went to class and graduated with college degrees.

Not any more. The Duke of today is a staging area for NBA players. A way station, a holding bin. Duke no longer has a brand or calling card other than a roster stacked with kids who have no interest in a Duke education. Instead, they have every intention of leaving Durham before the first commencement ceremonies of their college “careers.” Remember when Coach K wouldn’t raise a championship banner in Cameron Indoor if a player on his team had not finished his degree? Yeah, those days are over.

Watching Duke play these days is like any other play ground game. it is festival of 1-on-1 moves and dunks. Duke’s defense is more happenstance than strategy & execution. When ridiculously talented players log enough minutes, eventually they will be in a position to make a remarkable play. Duke’s defensive success is more like looking down and finding a 4-leaf clover than the result of a well deployed plan.

On the other hand, I just got back from the Virginia/North Carolina game in Charlottesville. UNC came into today’s game averaging 85 points per game. They scored just over half of their average today as Virginia dominated the Tar Heels for the second year in a row in John Paul Jones Arena.

In past two games combined against Virginia, the Heels have scored 92 points for a per-game average of 46. That doesn’t happen by accident. It also is not a result of Virginia’s roster being stacked with 5-star, future NBA lottery picks. Rather it is the result of a program that is committed to winning differently and generally has its way setting tempo and controlling the pace of play.

Unlike Duke, Virginia wins based on stellar execution at both ends of the floor. They win by playing the best defense in the country. They win by frustrating offensive juggernauts used to having their way running up and down the court doing tomahawk and windmill dunks. UNC didn’t have any windmill jams on Saturday. Instead they got their butts kicked at both ends of the court by a team that, on paper, had no business staying within 20 points of the Tar Heels. What’s not to love about that?

David slaying Goliath has always been a popular theme in college athletics. Until Virginia started averaging close to 30 wins a season, no one ever evaluated David’s style points for how he slew Goliath. That Virginia fans went as crazy over 3 uNC shot clock violations as they did for De’Andre Hunter’s thunder jam over Joel Barry shows me that Virginia fans appreciate the full breadth of the college game.

Virginia can’t win playing UNC or Duke basketball, so they don’t. Instead, they play aggressive defense. They make the extra pass on offense. They play Virginia basketball. True basketball fans should at least appreciate if not relish the fact the Coach Tony Bennett has found a way to run with and beat the big dogs by intentionally not playing their game. Strategy and execution should be as appreciated as a part of college basketball as a break-away slam.

I suspect those who grimace at the way Virginia has creeped into the top tier of basketball programs are the same folks who like to see a winning score at the US Open of -20. On the surface a birdie-barrage looks more entertaining than hacking out of knee-deep cabbage.

However, what the run-and-gunners  and birdie fanatics miss is an appreciation for the strategy options and execution that turn an expected outcome on its head. Maybe what irks Virginia’s detractors the most is that Virginia wins enough big games now, that after a beatdown of UNC, no one even considered storming the court…since Virginia has now done this 5 times in a row.

I am not asking everyone to be a Virginia fan. All I am asking is for an accommodation, for a grudging acceptance that there is more than one way to succeed mightily in college basketball. Virginia might be an acquired taste, I understand that, but so is good bourbon, good scotch, and stout beer. Beating the tar out of the Heels two years in a row is a great reason to celebrate the acquired tastes in life, wherever we find them.

Virginia Football: Do You Believe?

Virginia’s record stands at 4-1 six weeks into the 2017 season. It’s been ten years since Virginia has been 4-1. Four wins doubles last year’s total, and matches the full season win total the year before. The natural question to ask at this point is – do you believe in Virginia football? Long suffering Virginia fans who have had their hearts broken dozens of times over the years probably aren’t there yet. I don’t blame them. I am not sure I’m there yet either. What matters though, is that I think the players are there. They believe and after 5 games it is clear that their faith is not misplaced.

In the second quarter of Saturday’s win against Duke, the Blue Devils had just driven 88 yards down the field for a go-ahead touchdown. It was an impressive drive, as well as a disheartening drive for well conditioned Virginia fans. A passionate, long time Virginia fan in our section noted that lots of teams can put themselves in position to make plays, but good teams make plays when it matters.

He was right on the money. Virginia simply didn’t make the plays needed to halt the Duke offense. Virginia didn’t give up an 88-yard drive because they were out of position, missed coverage rotations, or made mental mistakes. At least 3 times during that drive Virginia was in position to make a drive-killing play, but missed a critical a tackle or failed to blow up a block on the edge. Duke took advantage and scored in impressive fashion.

It was the last time all day Duke scored in impressive fashion.

From that point on Virginia was not only in position to make plays, but they executed on the plays that mattered. An offense which to that point in the game had four 3-and-out series and two picks, scored 3 touchdowns and most importantly ran time off the clock with Virginia leading, when burning the clock was the path to victory. The defense that gave up the 88 yard touchdown drive forced Duke into four 3-and-outs and most importantly stopped Duke on downs to seal the victory for the Wahoos.

Two weeks ago, when Virginia shocked Boise State as a 13 point road-dog, they played very good football for 60 minutes. Against Duke, Virginia had to grind. Virginia didn’t have the A-game against Duke. In years past, this is a recipe for Virginia disaster. Duke is very well coached and always very well prepared under the miracle worker David Cutcliffe. Well prepared teams playing a Virginia team not hitting on all cylinders usually walk away with wins.

Not on Saturday.

There was never any panic on the Virginia sideline. Surprisingly, I didn’t get a sense of impending doom in the stands either. Instead, there was resolve on the sideline and steadily improving execution on the field. As Virginia went deeper into the game, they grew more confident, made more plays, and closed out a win against a Duke team that will certainly be bowl-bound in 2017.

Across the board, when the game was on the line, Virginia made plays. Offense, defense, and a much improved special teams. Lester Coleman averaged 50.8 yards per punt and made a couple of nice plays to avoid special teams disasters. He believes. Olamide Zaccheaus took a flair pass that looked to be a no gainer to the house by reading the defenders and picking the right angle to the end zone. He believes. Freshman linebacker Charles Snowden came in for his first action of the game to relieve a gassed Chris Peace. Snowden recorded a critical 4th quarter sack that killed Duke’s late game rally. Charles Snowden believes.

Virginia travels to Chapel Hill this week for a big game against a talented, but under-performing UNC team. In a refreshing change of heart, I think Virginia can win this game. I have no doubt however, that the Virginia players know they can win this game. They expect to win this game. They believe.

I am starting to as well.

A quick note to add…as mentioned in last week’s column, Virginia is playing well for the first time in 10 years. It was unfortunate that Virginia drew a 12:20 kickoff time against Duke, as any game starting within the noon hour is always less well attended than a 3:30 kick. While the crowd Saturday was @ 6,000 fans larger than the UConn game, it was still under 40,000. As noted before, this team has earned better fan support. The students are the biggest laggards, which is a shame. I hope that a win in Chapel Hill and favorable kickoff time the following week against Boston College will get the student section filled and give this team the support it deserves.

The New Era of College Football: The Haves Trump The Have-Nots

The evolution of college football has created a new reality. Thanks to the college football arms race in facilities, fan support, and money as well as the nascent playoff system, there are two types of college football programs:

  1. Those that have a chance to win a national championship
  2. Those that have no chance to win a national championship

There is no migration between the types of programs. You either have a chance to win it all or you don’t. The rich teams get richer, everyone else treads water or drowns.

While there are two types of college football programs, there are three types of college football fans:

  1. Those fans who correctly recognize that their teams have a chance win a national championship
  2. Those fans who correctly realize their teams have no chance to win a national    championship
  3. Those fans who incorrectly believe their team has a chance to win the national championship, when in reality, they have no chance.

No convinced? Take a look at the following videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVC3UziHeGk and this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU4NXtu2T5E.

These are, theoretically, facilities for college students. But we all know what these really are. Recruiting tools to draw top athletes to Texas and Texas A&M. These are “in-kind” payments to players who are ostensibly amateur athletes.

I have no doubt that the other programs with a chance to win a national championship have (or will soon have) facilities on par if not better than these. We all know the names of these programs – Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Ohio St, Michigan, Clemson, Florida State, & Oklahoma. You could probably add Oregon, Tennessee, Notre Dame and a small handful of other programs to this list, but that’s it. No other programs have a chance.

It is not shocking for fans of programs like Virginia, Wake Forest, Duke, Boston College, Vandy, Kansas, and Northwestern that they have zero chance to win a national championship…ever. I think the fans of these programs understand that they will never have facilities like Texas or Texas A&M. They will never compromise their integrity to the extent that the contending programs must to get the numbers of top players needed to compete for a national championship. Fans from these programs and many more like them realize their role in the world of college football. They are fodder for the teams with a chance to win it all. They can have successful seasons and win bowl games, but they will never hoist the national championship trophy. Maybe that’s okay. The point of college, after all, is to educate young minds, not win national championships. College athletics is supposed to be entertaining, so if you recognize your place and revel in reaching the heights of success within the boundaries of your possibilities, college football is a great deal of fun.

What might be shocking to the vast majority of the fans of programs not listed above, is that their teams also have no chance to win a national championship. None, zero, zilch, nada… they just don’t realize it. Many programs fit this description…we can all name these programs with perpetually frustrated fans who mistakenly think they are on the cusp of breaking into the top tier of college programs – Virginia Tech, NC State, UNC, West Virginia, Michigan State, South Carolina, TCU, Baylor, Arizona, Missouri, Maryland, Iowa, Kansas St, and Arkansas among many others, have no chance to win a national championship. Unfortunately, their fans think they do.

Think about how excited fans of these programs are when they land a big-time recruit. A 5-star or high 4-star kid who is a “can’t miss” prospect. There are high-fives all around and dreams of winning the college football playoff. The sad reality is, the teams that have a real chance to win it all, get at least a half a dozen of these players – every year. Not one per year or every other year like the wannabe programs. So the teams with a real chance to win it all have 30 or more can’t-miss players on their teams. The wannabe teams might have 5.

None of this is lost on the best coaches in the industry either. Do you think Nick Saban is going to leave Alabama to coach Northwestern anytime soon? Urban Meyer going to Wake Forest? Which programs have huge donor bases that make space-age locker rooms possible? (hint: it’s not Duke and it’s not Virginia…nor NC State or West Virginia) The best coaches go to the programs with the biggest donor bases that pay the biggest salaries & fund the best facilities, which draw the best talent…and so the cycles continues.

Like gambling in Vegas, the college football game is rigged. Over the course of any season, there will be exciting times when wannabe teams beat the odds and score big upsets. But over the course of a full season (including the playoffs), a single wannabe program cannot beat the system. There are too many 30+ mega-recruit teams out there, getting better every day and one of those teams will win the national championship every time. It’s why house wins over time in Vegas. The swanky trappings of the Bellagio are not there because gamblers go home winners. The odds favor the house, so it always wins. The system favors the top programs, so they will always win.

As we begin the 2017 college football season, we could create a list of 18-20 programs with a chance to win it all. It would be the same list from 2016. The participants in the football championship will be from that list – with no chance for an upstart to crash the party. It’s like the list to get into the VIP section of a popular night club. Not on the list? Not getting in.

The downside of this could be that as more college football fans realize the game is rigged against them, fans will lose interest and the game’s popularity could begin to fade. Then again, Las Vegas doesn’t seem to be losing its steam and state lotteries continue to be wildly popular. Maybe the fans of the wannabe programs understand their fate better than they let on. Maybe they are like the lottery players, thinking that someone is going to win this jackpot, if I buy a ticket it might be me, so every season, misplaced hope springs eternal. Unfortunately, the odds of winning the Powerball are better than their team winning the national championship.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Will ACC Football Continue Its Roll After Last Season?

Will ACC football do it again? I could answer this question in a couple sentences, but that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone.

ACC football was on a roll at the end of the year last year, with ACC teams winning the overwhelming majority of the bowl games in which they played. Not to mention, Clemson eventually won the National Championship Game.

With a new season less than a few weeks away, now is definitely the time to ponder whether the ACC can (and will) do it again. For me, it depends on what exactly “it” is. If the ACC must win the title and win the same number of bowl games, I just don’t see that happening again. If the ACC simply must have a playoff participant and win most of its bowl games, then maybe “it” can be done.

The playoff participant I’d expect to emerge from the ACC this season would not be the Clemson Tigers, though. If anything, I expect the Florida State Seminoles to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs this postseason and be the ACC team mostly likely to win the title. Vegas says I’m not alone in this expectation.

Florida State may have lost running back Dalvin Cook, but it looks ready to reload and move forward this season. Cam Akers is expected to pick up where Cook left off, so Seminole fans need not worry about that loss. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois also has an entire season of experience now, which should help him better lead the Florida State offense. The Seminole defense returns countless starters and will have Derwin James back this season (if he can stay healthy). This combination of offensive and defensive power is what makes Vegas (and me) hot on Florida State this year.

On the other hand, Clemson is in for a rebuilding year after losing its dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers lost multiple other starters that leave a few big holes on both sides of the ball. Two major departures that come to mind are Ben Boulware (defense) and Mike Williams (offense). Clemson fans might place their confidence in Dorian O’Daniel and Hunter Renfrow to step up to replace those two, but I don’t have that same confidence—yet.

As far as the non-conference games during the season and the bowl games during the postseason go, there are countless other ACC football teams that look ready to take on formidable opponents. I’ll be brief, but here are a few teams worth giving some attention.

Virginia Tech had a great first season under one of my favorite head coaches, Justin Fuente. If the Hokies can improve their ball security, they may even finish above that 9-3 mark from last season.

Miami had a solid season under Mark Richt as well. Hurricane fans remain confident as ever, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of this team now that quarterback Brad Kaaya is gone. He may not have been elite, but he was an important part of Richt’s offense.

Louisville was flying high behind Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson early last season, but fell from grace by the end of the year. After watching that collapse, the Cardinals are another team that I really don’t know what to think about yet.

Georgia Tech had an interesting season last year, finishing 8-4 in the regular season and beating two SEC teams during that time. The Yellow Jackets beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and the in-state rival Georgia Bulldogs during the regular season. Georgia Tech also went on to beat Kentucky in its bowl game. This season, Georgia Tech gets a chance to prove itself early against another SEC foe—the Tennessee Volunteers. Let it be known right now that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yellow Jackets take down the Vols in this season opener.

The Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels, and NC State Wolfpack are a few other teams to keep on the radar in the ACC this season.

To wrap things up I’m also going to give you my prediction for the end-of-year standings in the ACC.

ACC Atlantic Division:
  1. Florida State
  2. Clemson
  3. Louisville
  4. NC State
  5. Syracuse
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Boston College
ACC Coastal Division:
  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Miami
  3. Georgia Tech
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. North Carolina
  6. Duke
  7. Virginia

With those being my standings, I would expect Florida State to beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and secure a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

While the ACC may not be quite as good as last year, I do still expect a championship contender from the conference and a strong record in non-conference games.

 You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Ashley Romanosky.

Virginia Basketball, It’s Complicated

Nothing is easy with Virginia athletics. Games that look like Virginia blowouts turn into nail-biting wins or heart-breaking losses. National recruits that bring joy when they commit to Virginia have run into academic troubles or been booted for violating team rules. So it’s understandable that Virginia fans forgot their heritage the past 3 years when Virginia basketball won 89 games along with ACC regular season & tournament titles.  We got a little bit spoiled. We thought after grueling football seasons, basketball would be easy. Nothing is easy. Many Virginia fans forgot the first rule of Virginia athletics this winter.

While not easy, Virginia basketball is different. Virginia is led by a coach who has a system that wins…a lot. Like a good investor coach Tony Bennett sticks by his principles and with his system even when short term results are not what Virginia fans have come to expect. Defense first, protect the ball, never get into a run & gun shoot out against a team full of sprinters when you are a team packed with distance runners. Play the game you can win, not the game casual basketball fans and many high school recruits want to see. Ahhh… the recruits. This is where Virginia basketball gets hard.

Let’s get one thing straight about Virginia basketball. Virginia will never seriously compete for the double-elite high school players who want spend a year auditioning for the NBA while pretending to be college students.  Kentucky signed more 5-star recruits (6) in 2013 than Virginia has signed in the history of the program. Kentucky signed five more 5-star kids in 2016 and 3 more the year before that. Virginia will never sign recruits with the high school resumes of kids that Kentucky and Duke sign every year. If an 18-year old’s objective is to build a highlight reel while breezing through a semester of pseudo-college classes, then playing in the pack-line defense (or sitting on the bench of you don’t learn it well enough) for Tony Bennett at Virginia is going to be a perpetual non-starter.

Before we curl into the fetal position and start rocking ourselves to sleep, Virginia just smoked a very good North Carolina team. UNC is packed with McDonald’s high school All-Americans who can practice all day because their ‘classes’ aren’t really classes at all. North Carolina runs the up-tempo offense that NBA scouts and high school recruits adore, yet Virginia beat them convincingly playing Tony Bennett basketball.

The soothing reality for Virginia fans is that unlike football, Virginia can win a basketball national championship. However, it is going to look dramatically different than Kentucky, Duke, or Louisville who are more than willing to sell their basketball souls for another championship banner.

Virginia is different. Not just because it plays good defense and routinely wins games scoring less than 60 points. Virginia is different, in a good way, because it develops its players. It has seniors. Virginia signs kids who are solid top 100 recruits the nation, sometimes top 50 recruits…and then it frequently redshirts them. Devon Hall, Mamadi Diakite, Jay Huff, and Diandre Hunter were all top 100 recruits and they all have been redshirted or are redshirting.

Devon Hall is a redshirt junior. He is having the best season of his career. He is a leader on the team. He is an incredibly smart player.  He plays ridiculous defense. At 6-5 he is developing into a solid offensive presence, both in the paint and out. He is stronger and more athletic than at any time in his career. Thanks to Tony Bennett’s system and the maturity of the kids he recruits; Devon Hall will be back next year. Tony Bennett traded what would have been a largely unproductive and frustrating freshman year for Devon Hall for what will be by far his best and most productive season…next season.

What makes Tony Bennett’s program so interesting and I would argue exciting, compared to the traditional college basketball blue-bloods-turned-opportunists, is that he is playing the long game. He knows he is not going to sign top 10 recruits unless one of those actually kid wants to actually go to college… and learn to play grueling defense before he shows off his windmill thunder dunk. To steal a baseball analogy, Tony Bennett plays small ball. He is not banking on big homerun hitters to win games with dramatic grand slams. He is going to hit singles, bunt, steal bases, hit & run to manufacture enough offense to win while his stifling defense frustrates the opposition into mistakes.

There are no surprises when kids come to play for Tony Bennett. The players are bought-in to the system and want to do what it takes to win in a proven system. They clearly like winning and do it a lot, despite the sheer talent stacked against them on any given night in the ACC. While Virginia is not often the Las Vegas betting line underdog based on the success of the program, Virginia is the non-NBA farm team underdog every season. Virginia is different, winning the hard way. Virginia has more in common with “Rudy” than the Fab-5 or Phi-Slamma-Jamma. Winning year in and year out using an unusual system with underdog kids has tremendous appeal.  I think that’s a big part of why John Paul Jones arena is one of the most exciting venues in college basketball and Scott Stadium…is not.

The chatter amongst those who know basketball far better than me is that Jay Huff and Diandre Hunter have the most NBA potential of all the players on the Virginia roster.  Neither will play a minute this season for a team that has at times struggled to close in games it clearly should have won.  Why aren’t these kids playing now? Would Virginia have won one or all of the Villanova, Miami, Va Tech, or Syracuse games with a little help from these talented freshman? Probably, but it’s not part of the plan for Virginia basketball. It’s not how Tony Bennett plays the long game.

It’s complicated.

E-mail David at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: David Rayner

2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

Grayson Allen is Trippin’ (Again)

If you were watching Duke beat Elon last night, or if you turned on Sports Center in the last day, you will see Grayson Allen decided it was a wise decision to trip Elon’s Steven Santa Ana. This is the third time Allen has tripped an opposing player in the last year and it has since been announced that Allen will be suspended indefinitely. This is a change of pace as he was not suspended the first two times he tripped an opposing player.

Grayson Allen is a damn good basketball player and he is the face of one of the best programs in the country. He also needs help. Allen showed last night that he clearly has a hard time dealing with the stress of competition. After he was assessed a technical foul for the trip and was consequently benched, Allen threw a temper tantrum on the bench as if he was a toddler and his favorite toy was taken away.  Then after the game he proceeded to break down and cry through his whole media session. This behavior is what is expected of a 12-year-old playing 6th grade basketball and dealing with having a bad game for the first time. It should not be the behavior of one of the top 20 college basketball players in the country.

Allen was suspended indefinitely by Duke and most would assume this will be a few games until they play a good team.( See #21 Florida State Jan 10) I think Allen needs to be out for a way longer period. This tripping incident is a symptom of a bigger issue and Allen needs to get his head on straight before he seriously injures someone or has an episode like this off the basketball court.

Allen is not the only one that is to blame. Coach K and the Duke basketball staff are also at fault. Forget for a second he has done this twice before in a game. He has to have acted out like this in practice before. There is a behavior pattern with Allen and it looks like whatever, if anything, was done to prevent the behavior is not working. For whatever reason, winning was put ahead of discipline and respect for the game. Allen was not reprimanded enough the first two times he behaved this way and the person who is hurt the most is Allen.

Don’t worry about Duke. They have a roster loaded with talent and could probably win a national title without Allen. That doesn’t change the fact that Allen needs to get himself under control. If he doesn’t, there will be a headline with his name in it, but it will be for something far worse than tripping.

 

Photo Via Wikipedia

Hoosiers Fall as Soon as They Rise

The Indiana Hoosiers were finally back on top.  They had beaten Kansas in their opener, and after a few years of mediocrity (relative to Indiana basketball history) Tom Crean finally had his boys headed in the right direction.

Even ESPN couldn’t ignore the hype, placing the Bloomington Basketball Boys at the very top spot of its latest power rankings (by the way, Indiana was in the 14 spot the week before).  That’s right, it was Indiana first, then Kentucky, Villanova (defending National Champs), Kansas, Duke, Louisville, North Carolina. That’s a big list of big programs.

You know what big time programs have in common? They don’t lose regular season games to mid-major opponents.

If you haven’t heard, the same week Indiana jumped 14 spots to number one on ESPN’s power rankings, they lost to the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne Mastodons, more commonly known as IPFW, in overtime.

What a way to solidify your spot at the top, right?

Well, it was an away game for Indiana, which had to shift the odds just a little bit, right?

Please.

Indiana basketball is to Indiana what Kentucky basketball is to Kentucky, or what Ohio State football is to Ohio. If Kentucky were to travel to Newport to play Northern Kentucky, the stadium would be full of blue and white.  If Ohio State were to travel to Bowling Green, you would be hard pressed to find any orange and brown in the crowd.

It was no different for the Hoosiers last night in Fort Wayne’s Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.  Bloomington, the home of Indiana University, is around a three-hour drive from Ft Wayne, so fans from the far eastern part of the state that don’t generally get a chance to see their beloved Hoosiers gobbled tickets up. In fact, tickets to the game sold out in less than an hour.

How did this happen?

Indiana’s starting five included a former three-star recruit, three former four-stars, and a five-star.

IPFW’s starting five consisted of three guys that weren’t ranked as high school recruits, plus a two-star, and a three-star transfer.

That three-star transfer, Fort Wayne native Bryson Scott, shot 50 percent from the field while scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds (he’s 6’1”).  It was the first time Scott had ever amassed over 10 rebounds in a game.

As you can expect from a 71-68 game, the numbers in each statistical category were pretty similar.  Indiana had a slight edge in rebounds, free throw percentage, and field goal percentage.  The most lopsided categories fell IPFW’s way as the Mastodons accumulated 11 steals to Indiana’s four and seven blocks to the Hoosiers’ three.  Indiana finished with 15 turnovers, seven more than IPFW’s eight.

As far as Indiana and its fans are concerned, though, none of that matters.

Indiana has been revealed as a phony and we’re only a few weeks into the season.  With a non-conference schedule that includes North Carolina, Butler and Louisville, plus a tough Big Ten slate, you can probably expect quite a few losses from the Hoosiers, and don’t even think about a national title.

This is a knee-jerk reaction based on one bad result.

No it’s not.  This is an educated prediction based on NCAA history.  I’m not claiming the Hoosiers won’t win the Big Ten or make the tournament, but you’d be hard pressed to go back in history and find a team, ANY TEAM, that has lost to a mid-major opponent and proceeded to prove itself a championship contender.

That’s my challenge to you, actually. Find me a team that matches that description and tweet it to me @evanskilliter or email me at [email protected].  I’ll be happy to hear from you.

E-mail Evan at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @evanskilliter.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

How Young Is Too Young? The Average Class of NCAA Basketball Champs In The One & Done Era

Two teams have dominated recruiting headlines during the one and done era– each has won a national championship led by mainly freshman.

While Kentucky laid the blueprint under coach John Calipari, Duke soon followed suit under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Since 2006, Florida, Connecticut and Duke have won multiple national championships. If you include UNC in 2005 (the last year the NBA allowed players to go straight from high school to the NBA) eight of the last 11 national championships have been won by four schools.

Go back a year farther to 2004 and there’s another Connecticut title thrown in there. That makes nine of the last 12 (75 percent) championships won by four schools.

I’ll save the “is there parity in college basketball?” conversation for a different piece.

(It lies somewhere between maybe and not at all, depending on how you determine success–titles vs. deep tournament runs)

For now, I’d like to focus on the winners themselves during the one and done era (since 2006). Breaking down their average age (by class), mainly concerning myself with the players who had an impact on their team that season.

At first I locked in on KenPom, taking players who played at least 40% of their team’s minutes and/or were labeled at worst as role players on their team– meaning they were used in at least 16.1% of possessions.

Each class was assigned a number 1-4, with one being a freshman and four being a senior. Redshirt years were ignored, players were assigned a number based on their listed class for that season.

After going through each champion under these guidelines the results shook out like this:

  1. 2012 Kentucky, Seven players accounted for with an average of 1.6

      T2. 2011 Connecticut, Seven players accounted for with an average of 2.0

      T2. 2015 Duke, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.0

  1. 2006 Florida, Nine players accounted for with an average of 2.
  2. 2013 Louisville, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.5

      T5. 2016 Villanova,Eight  players accounted for with an average of 2.6

      T5. 2009 UNC, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.6

      T5. 2014 Connecticut, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.6

  1. 2007 Florida, Eight players accounted for with an average of 2.9

      T7. 2008 Kansas, Nine players accounted for with an average of 3.0

      T7. 2010 Duke, Seven players accounted for with an average of 3.0

The 2012 Kentucky team makes an appearance just where you’d expect them, as the youngest title winner in the one and done era. A team led by freshman Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague would be expected to be one of the youngest champions we’ve had.

2015 Duke also makes an appearance near the top, just as we’d expect– that team led by freshman Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow.

The surprise is easily the 2011 Connecticut championship team. A team best known for junior Kemba Walker comes in tied with Duke for the second youngest champion in the past ten years. Not sure this team would come to mind for many of us when considering the youngest national champions during the one and done era.

Tied for the oldest champions, we have 2008 Kansas (thanks to older role players), and 2010 Duke (led by juniors and seniors)– before Mike Krzyzewski sold his soul (smart man) and copied the Calipari blueprint for recruiting.

After going through the numbers I decided to cross check the rankings by comparing each national champion’s top five scorers. If you want to skip to the bottom, or close out the article now I don’t blame you– In fact, if you haven’t already, I question your life choices.

Once again, 2012 Kentucky leads the pack as the youngest champion since 2006. 2014 Connecticut is the oldest team (by top five scorers) during the one and done era, finishing 0.2 points higher than 2009 UNC.

  1. 2012 Kentucky (1.4) led in scoring by Anthony Davis (Fr), Doron Lamb (So), Terrence Jones (So), Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Fr) and Marquis Teague (Fr).
  2. 2011 Connecticut (1.6) led in scoring by Kemba Walker (Jr), Jeremy Lamb (Fr), Alex Oriakhi (So), Shabazz Napier (Fr) and Roscoe Smith (Fr).
  3. 2015 Duke (2.0) led in scoring by Jahlil Okafor (Fr), Quinn Cook (Sr), Justise Winslow (Fr), Tyus Jones (Fr) and Rasheed Sulaimon (Jr).
  4. 2006 Florida (2.2) led in scoring by Joakim Noah (So), Taurean Green (So), Corey Brewer (So), Al Horford (So) and Lee Humphrey (Jr).
  5. 2008 Kansas (2.8) led in scoring by Brandon Rush (Jr), Darrell Arthur (So), Mario Chalmers (Jr), Darnell Jackson (Sr) and Sherron Collins (SO).

T6. 2013 Louisville (3.0) led in scoring by Russ Smith (Jr), Peyton Siva (Sr), Chane Behanan (So), Gorgui Dieng (Jr) and Luke Hancock (Jr).

T6. 2016 Villanova (3.0) led in scoring by Josh Hart (Jr), Kris Jenkins (Jr), Ryan Arcidiacono (Sr), Daniel Ochefu (Sr) and Jalen Brunson (Fr).

T7. 2010 Duke (3.2) led in scoring by Jon Scheyer (Sr), Kyle Singler (Jr), Nolan Smith (Jr), Brian Zoubek (Sr) and Miles Plumlee (So).

T7. 2007 Florida (3.2) led in scoring by Taurean Green (Jr), Corey Brewer (Jr), Al Horford (Jr), Joakim Noah (Jr) and Lee Humphrey (Sr).

  1. 2009 North Carolina (3.4) led in scoring by Tyler Hansbrough (Sr), Ty Lawson (Jr), Wayne Ellington (Jr), Danny Green (Sr) and Deon Thompson (Jr).
  2. 2014 Connecticut (3.6) led in scoring by Shabazz Napier (Sr), DeAndre Daniels (Jr), Ryan Boatright (Jr), Niels Giffey (Sr) and Lasan Kromah (Sr).

What sticks out again is how young the 2011 Connecticut team really was. Kemba Walker, as the only upperclassmen in the top five scorers, was able to carry them through that memorable postseason.

2007 Florida finds itself as one of the three oldest champions thanks to all top five scorers from the 2006 championship team returning. 2009 North Carolina and 2014 Connecticut find themselves as the two oldest teams thanks to being led in scoring by all upperclassmen.

So what does it all mean?

By the numbers, Kentucky was easily the youngest team to win a national championship during the one and done era averaging just over one and a half years of eligibility on their 2012 team. On the flip side, 2014 Connecticut found themselves as the oldest team to win a title averaging just over three and a half year of eligibility.

Teams who have won a national title have averaged 2.7 years of eligibility during the one and done era– just a tick over the 2.5 average of the youngest and oldest teams. While Kentucky and Duke have gotten the press for their superior recruiting, and ability to get players into the nba during the era, each have only won one title (with youth) during it.

While 2015 Duke was young, they were guided by second leading scorer Quinn Cook, leaving 2012 Kentucky as the only team to truly win a national title while being led in scoring by underclassmen during the era.

In the end these stats are limited and don’t tell the entire picture. While they’re helpful getting an idea of how these teams were built, they only give us a small glimpse into each champion. If anything, the numbers show that it’s tough to win a national title with just elite young talent– more often than not you need some upperclassmen mixed in.

Email Zak at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @playorbplayd.

Image via Photo Courtesy of Dave Hogg, wikimedia.org

Coastal Division Is Worse for ACC Football than East Is for SEC Football

One thing I always seem to hear from those who don’t support the SEC the way I do is “Well, the East is garbage.” Garbage? With two teams still in the top 25, I wouldn’t call the SEC East garbage. The SEC West may be better, but the SEC East isn’t that bad. If you want to know about garbage, look no further than the Coastal Division of ACC football. Not only is the Coastal Division worse than the Atlantic, it also isn’t much good compared with any other division out there.

I wrote an article earlier this season about ACC football finally deserving some respect. Now, I want to amend my statement. The ACC Atlantic Division still deserves respect, but the Coastal Division has quickly fallen from grace.

Of course, the three main teams that have been carrying ACC football this season are Clemson, Louisville and, at times,  Florida State. But you know what those three teams have in common? They’re all part of the Atlantic Division.

You see, the Atlantic Division is home to the number #4 Tigers, the #7 Cardinals and the number #13 Seminoles. The Coastal Division’s highest-ranked team, on the other hand, is the #22 Tar Heels.

While the Miami Hurricanes and the Virginia Tech Hokies may have looked good a few weeks ago, neither team is impressing anyone now. So when I say that the Coastal Division is garbage, I mean it. Yes, they’re closer to garbage than the SEC East is. If I were the Atlantic Division of ACC Football, I would definitely want to disown them.

North Carolina, the best part of the division, is 5-2 so far this season. One of those losses was to the Georgia Bulldogs and one was to division opponent Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels did manage to get a win at Florida State, though, and this is likely why they’re still in the top 25. How long the Tar Heels will remain in the top 25 depends on the rest of the country’s teams. At this point there are no more impressive opponents left on the schedule for the Tar Heels, so anything but wins will not be acceptable.

As I said, one of North Carolina’s losses was to the Virginia Tech Hokies, who were briefly in the top 25. After a two-touchdown loss to Syracuse, the Hokies are no longer part of that club. The most difficult teams remaining on the Hokies’ schedule are the Miami Hurricanes and Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the Fighting Irish have proven to not have all that much fight in them this season. The Miami Hurricanes may be better than they were last year, but “The U” is still not back.

Let’s talk about those Hurricanes, though. In their first season under Mark Richt, the Hurricanes got off to a 4-0 start. Since then, the Hurricanes have lost two games. While the loss to Florida State is somewhat excusable, the loss to North Carolina is not quite the same. The Florida State loss came on a missed extra point during what was otherwise a pretty close game. The North Carolina loss wasn’t quite the same, with the Canes losing to a lower-ranked team in their own less powerful half of the conference. Not to mention, they didn’t lose by one point; they lost by one touchdown.

The Coastal Division of ACC football also includes the Pittsburgh Panthers (5-2, 2-1), the Virginia Cavaliers (2-4, 1-1), the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-3, 1-3) and the Duke Blue Devils (3-4, 0-3).

Just for laughs, let me go ahead and end this article by equating each ACC Coastal team to their SEC East counterpart. North Carolina is like Tennessee, near (or at) the top of the division, with the hardest games already behind it. Virginia Tech is like Florida, near (or at) the top of the division, with a top ten defense. Miami is like Georgia (and not just because of the Mark Richt factor). Pittsburgh is like Kentucky. Virginia is like Vanderbilt. Georgia Tech is like South Carolina. Duke is like Missouri. Poor Duke…

I’m sorry, ACC Coastal fans. Well, not really. It’s about time somebody makes the SEC East look okay. But hey, look on the bright side! At least basketball season is well on its way.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by Brian Allen.