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College Hoops Takes Center Stage
by Jim Feist - 02/03/2014
With the Super Bowl in the rear view mirror, the next big event on the sports stage is college basketball's season-ending tournaments. Since 1997, college basketball's national champion has come from several different conferences: the Pac 10 (Arizona), SEC (Kentucky and Florida), Big 10 (Michigan State), the ACC (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina), Nig 12 (Kansas) and the old Big East (UConn, Syracuse, Louisville). Over the next few weeks, let's examine some of the top hoop teams in each conference, starting this week with the ACC.
Duke: A down year for Duke? For losses already for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a pair against the Top 10 but also a pair of defeats (Notre Dame, Clemson) outside the Top 25. It’s a young team with 6-8 freshman Jabari Parker (19 ppg, 7.7 rpg) team with sophomores Amile Jefferson and Rodney Hood. They like the uptempo style, tops in the conference in scoring averaging 87 ppg in ACC play.
One problem is defense, ranked second to last in the ACC in field goal shooting defense, giving up 45% shooting. It’s not a big team in the low post and they can be pushed around by power frontcourts. In the last to Clemson, Duke was outrebounded 48-30. The Blue Devils are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 home games, 10-4 over on Saturdays. Duke has at least 4 losses in its first 16 games for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
Syracuse: Coach Jim Boheim has a powerhouse team that has met every challenge, including wins over No. 8 Villanova (78-62), No. 18 Baylor (74-67) and No. 22 Pitt (59-54). Freshman guard Tyler Ennis (12 ppg, 5.5 apg) leads a unit that is tops in the conference in steals, while 6-8 senior C.J. Fair (16.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and 6-8 sophomore Jerami Grant (12.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) provide frontcourt muscle. They turn up the defense on the road, 4-1-1 under the total away. Syracuse is in the middle of a stretch playing 5 of 6 at home. The Orange is 8-2-1 ATS in their last 11 games vs. a team with a winning record.
Pitt: The Panthers have been impressive, with a pair of losses to Cincinnati and Syracuse by a total of 5 points. Their calling card is defense, third in the ACC in points allowed with 6-9 senior Talib Zanna (13 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-8 Mike Young in the paint. In the backcourt, 6-5 senior Lamar Patterson (17 ppg) and sophomore James Robinson are highly efficient, as the team doesn’t score a ton of points but ranks 7th in the nation in assists. Despite all that defense this team is 60-29-1 over the total on Saturdays. They only play one top 20 team before the ACC tourney, hosting Syracuse next week.
Virginia: The Cavaliers are getting it done with a terrific one-two punch of 6-5 sophomore Malcolm Brogdon (11 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-6 senior Joe Harris (12.3 ppg). Virginia plays great defense, second in the ACC in points allowed, as well as third in field goal shooting defense (36% allowed).
Virginia hasn’t done well when stepping up, losing to Wisconsin (48-38), VCU (59-56) and Duke (69-65), slowing the pace down. The Cavaliers are 22-8 ATS in their last 30 Saturday games. One flaw that could be fatal in March is free throw shooting, one of the worst in the ACC at 62.5%.
Clemson: The Tigers are one of the poorest offenses in the country (64 ppg), but stay alive by strangling opponents with defense, tops in the ACC in points allowed (53.6 ppg), field goal defense (32% allowed) and three-point defense (22%). 6-6 junior K.J., McDaniels (16 ppg, 7 rpg) is a workhorse in the paint along with 6-10 sophomore Landry Nnoko. It’s no surprise they started the season 8-5 under the total. But do they have the offense to come back against good teams when needed? Clemson got thumped by Florida State (56-41) and Pitt (76-43) shooting 30% and 32%. Against Pitt Daniels got into early foul trouble and this team doesn’t have other offensive options. Clemons is in the middle of a stretch now playing 5 of 6 on the road.
Florida State: The Seminoles are a tough team to play because they attack opponents in a variety of ways. Florida State is a dynamite defensive team allowing 36% shooting in ACC play (third), solid from the line and tough on the road. They lost at No. 15 Florida by one point and a two-point loss to Michigan in overtime.
The Seminoles have a lot of depth and balance with 6-9 senior Okaro White (12 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and 6-7 Montay Brandon up front, plus senior Ian Miller and 6-5 sophomore Aaron Thomas in the backcourt, both averaging 13 ppg. The under is 14-5 versus a team with a winning record.