CBT Weekly Roundtable: Figuring out the ACC

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In a new series here on College Basketball Talk, every Friday we’re going to have a discussion about some of the hot topics in college basketball. The inaugural installment focuses on the ACC, the now 15-team conference that some stated was the greatest conference ever assembled before a game had been played. Now that we’ve seen the teams in action, who’s the favorite to win the regular season crown? And who else can make a run at challenging for the title? 

Rob Dauster: The ACC, especially the teams at the top, started out the season in fairly ugly fashion, with Duke losing to Kansas, UNC losing to Belmont and Virginia losing at home to VCU. But over the last couple weeks, Duke bounced back with a win over Michigan, Syracuse won the Maui and UNC has proven they’re going to be Team Schizophrenia this year.

Who’s your pick for winning the league? Right now, I’m still riding with Duke, especially if Marshall Plumlee can find a way to be as effective over 15-20 minutes as he was on Tuesday in six minutes. I think Syracuse is right there with the Blue Devils as well, and I’d probably slot North Carolina 4th and Notre Dame, UVA and Florida State from 5-to-7 in some order. Here’s the sleeper though: Pitt. They’re the third best team best team in the league, period.

Raphielle Johnson: I like Duke, especially with Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker on the wings and an improved point guard in Quinn Cook running the show. But who are they going to defend? The Blue Devils have put forth better efforts in their last three games, and they won’t be as bad as they were against either ECU or Vermont as the season wears on. That being said, those who are thinking that a player who isn’t even averaging ten minutes per game could potentially be the “rim protector” the Blue Devils need may not be thinking clearly.

Enter Syracuse, who has no such issues on the defensive end of the floor. Their 2-3 zone has length on the wings, and what starting guards Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney lack in that department they’ve made up for with sheer activity. And offensively this is a group that will only get better, especially as Cooney improves after struggling last season. C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are two high-level forwards, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of Michael Gbinije either. This should definitely be a fun race to watch, but I’m taking Syracuse to win it with Duke, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Virginia and North Carolina next in line.

RD: I don’t think Duke necessarily needs a rim protector to be good enough to win the ACC, especially if they are going to defend on the perimeter the way they did against Arizona and Michigan. The Blue Devils game-plan well to take away what their opponents want to do and have a long track of success executing those game plans. That’s not to discredit Syracuse, because I think they’re awesome this year, but writing Duke off is just dumb, especially if Marshall Plumlee can find a way to build on the game he just played.

Seriously, though, Pitt! I’m telling you, this team is legit. Outside of Casey Prather and Xavier Thames, I can’t think of another senior that is having a more pleasantly surprising season that Lamar Patterson. Frankly, if the season ended today, he’d be an all-american. He’s been that good.

RJ: Point taken regarding Duke, and I’m with you on Pittsburgh. Outside of the one hiccup in which they landed in the CBI (and ended up winning it), the Panthers have been a consistent factor under Jamie Dixon. I don’t think that changes in the ACC, with Patterson and Talib Zanna leading the way in the front court. But here’s another name for you: Cameron Wright. He may not be the most improved player in the ACC (Maryland’s Jake Layman and Syracuse’s Jerami Grant), but Wright’s name will come up in those discussions as the season wears on. He’s given Pitt the perimeter scorer they needed with Tray Woodall graduating, and that also relieves a little of the weight on James Robinson’s shoulders.

But here’s something else I want to touch on. Prior to the season Boston College and Georgia Tech were two teams expected to show signs of improvement this season, but it can be argued that their W/L records won’t be the greatest indicator based on the strength of the ACC. Now that we’ve played some games, it’s become evident that the Eagles would have trouble guarding stationary objects. Can they turn things around before the start of league play? I like the offensive pieces, but I’m not sure they can based upon how they defend.

RD: I’ve given up on BC. Eight games into the season. Awesome.

Olivier Hanlon and Ryan Anderson are still two of the best players in the ACC, but there just isn’t the kind of toughness up and down that roster that will allow them to compete in a league as strong as the ACC.

And while we’re here … look, you shouldn’t have listened to anyone who told you that this year’s ACC was going to be the best conference of all time. If you did, that’s your fault. Maybe one year, when Syracuse, Duke, Louisville and North Carolina all are having a top ten-caliber season, we can revisit this conversation. Until then, no.

But that doesn’t mean the ACC isn’t good this year. I mean, this is still the ACC. Florida State beat the brakes off VCU. North Carolina, a team that I think will struggle to finish in the top four of the conference, has beaten Louisville on a neutral court and won at Michigan State. This is still a tough league.

RJ: I agree with your point on the “best of all time” talk. I know people were excited about the programs the ACC was adding, but that’s crazy talk based upon the fact that the league had yet to play a season in its new form. And while I get your point about the high-level programs needing to have top-ten caliber seasons, I’m not sure they’re the ones who will ultimately determine how great this league is. I know March and national polls are what most people use to determine strength in college basketball but hear me out. We know (mostly) what we’re going to get from a Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina or Louisville, and programs such as Notre Dame and Pittsburgh are solid as well. But if this league is to be the “best ever” it’ll take the improvement of the programs in the middle and lower portions of the league pecking order.

Yes they’re going to take losses in conference play, but the number of “bad” losses outside of the ACC can’t be what they’ve been in recent years. For example Georgia Tech, with the amount of talent in the Atlanta area, needs to take steps in the right direction and Wake Forest needs to do enough to get its fans to stop buying billboard space calling for the jobs of their head coach and AD. That all takes time, and that’s why there shouldn’t have been so much chatter about this being the best league ever during the preseason. But is also means that the folks who immediately jumped to bury the league last month need to exercise restraint as well. Let’s allow it all to play out, and it’ll definitely be fun to watch.

RD: Agreed.

And when North Carolina ends up winning the ACC title over Notre Dame and Virginia, we’ll just pretend this conversation never happened.

Rutgers lands upset win over No. 15 Seton Hall

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Corey Sanders scored 22 points and Deshawn Freeman added 12 points and 16 boards as Rutgers landed the biggest win of the Steve Pikiell era to date, erasing a 13-point deficit to knock off in-state rival No. 15 Seton Hall, 71-65.

The Scarlet Knights finished the game on a 17-2 run over the final six minutes of the game, answering a 9-0 Seton Hall run that put the Pirates up 63-54. Rutgers did not lead until a free throw from Sanders with 2:22 left put them up 64-63.

The win was the first for Rutgers over Seton Hall in four tries, roughly the time frame that the Pirates have been relevant nationally, and it is precisely what Pikiell needed to continue building a program in Piscataway. Rutgers is now 10-3 on the season, but their three losses have all come to teams are in – or getting votes in – the top 25: Florida State, at Minnesota and Michigan State. As the saying goes, it isn’t really a rivalry until both teams have a chance to win the game, and this win proves just that.

But that’s not the only reason to be bullish on this program. Rutgers is also starting to recruit a little bit better. They sold out the RAC for this game.

He still has a long way to go, and building something out of nothing in the Big Ten is never going to be simple, but Pikiell has this thing going in the right direction.

As far as the Pirates are concerned, there is some reason to be worried here. A team with this kind of veteran presence should not be getting rattled and blowing leads down the stretch. Khadeen Carrington, who is making the adjustment to playing the point this season, was 4-for-17 from the floor with five turnovers, and he struggled to make plays when Seton Hall needed them in the final minutes. Angel Delgado finished just 3-for-9 from the floor.

I’m not sure this is the kind of situation where you need to be worried about their long-term prospects, but it is something to monitor.

No. 17 Purdue takes down Butler in Crossroads Classic

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The annual Crossroads Classic opened with No. 17 Purdue running past Butler for a solid 82-67 win on Saturday afternoon. The Boilermakers continued a recent strong stretch of play with another road or neutral win against a power-conference opponent.

Here are three takeaways from this one.

1. Purdue is the second best team in the Big Ten (and the gap might be growing).

The Big Ten is a mess so far. Only Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State are 2-0 in league play. The Buckeyes aren’t expected to maintain their surprising hot start. Obviously, others in the Big Ten like Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern could all be dangerous. But those four teams have also been underwhelming and have a lot of glaring holes.

For the current moment, Purdue (11-2) clearly looks like the second best team in the Big Ten. And the gap seems to be getting wider during a seven-game winning streak. Outside of a weird two-game stretch at the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Boilermakers have put together a solid stretch that now includes road or neutral wins over Arizona, Maryland and Butler in the last few weeks.

Purdue has experience, unique size with 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot-3 Matt Haarms, and capable perimeter shooters who can space the floor. The Boilermakers have good defenders at multiple positions. They outplayed Butler in nearly every facet of the game during a solid win on Saturday. Carsen Edwards (18 points) has matured as a solid leading scorer and plenty of players around him are double-figure scorers.

Butler isn’t likely to be a second-weekend NCAA tournament team, but they’re a solid postseason-caliber group that the Boilermakers made look silly for much of the game. Purdue knows itself. The Boilermakers know their personnel and they’re a veteran group. There’s a lot to like about Purdue at this point in the season.

2. Butler struggles mightily against length

Butler’s offense couldn’t get much of anything going on Saturday. The Bulldogs were ice-cold from the perimeter (7-for-22 from three-point range) and they didn’t fare much better when they tried to go inside (26-for-69).

The Bulldogs haven’t been a very good perimeter team in general this season — entering Saturday’s game with only 31 percent three-point shooting — and those problems were very apparent against Purdue. Without an ability to space the floor, attackers like Kelan Martin (15 points) and Kamar Baldwin (13 points) struggled to get anything going with the drive as the Boilermakers had a great defensive game plan to limit Butler’s looks. Senior big man Tyler Wideman (seven points) also had a hard time finishing over the length of players like Haas and Haarms at the rim.

Paul Jorgenson (15 points) had a big second half and he has been solid at times this season as a floor-spacing threat. The Bulldogs need more help for him on the outside. Sean McDermott has been labeled as a perimeter specialist, but he’s also returning from a recent injury and the Bulldogs are slowly bringing him back.

Butler’s offense is at its best when they can rely on Martin and Baldwin to attack. That wasn’t even close to the case on Saturday as both struggled to get going. It meant Butler didn’t stand much of a chance.

3. Purdue has some late-game turnover issues

Purdue has been generally solid with closing out games this season but they weren’t able to do so against Butler on Saturday.

It looked like the Boilermakers were going to cruise to an easy win before turnovers became an issue and Butler crept back in this one. While Purdue maintained most of its defensive intensity, its offense took a foot off the gas as Butler’s aggressiveness defending on the perimeter led to 18 Boilermaker turnovers.

Purdue is great at closing out games from the free-throw line if they need to. But their ball handlers need to limit turnovers and continue to run good offense if they build up a lead.

Purdue had trouble at times defending late leads last season. They’re now 10-0 this season when they have a halftime lead. Could this be an issue that comes back once again? It doesn’t seem likely but the second half on Saturday brought some ugly flashbacks.

VIDEO: Miami’s Lonnie Walker skies for ridiculous putback dunk

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Miami freshman guard Lonnie Walker timed this one perfectly.

The 6-foot-4 McDonald’s All-American came from across the floor to hammer home a left-handed putback on Saturday as Walker showed why many consider him to be a potential one-and-done prospect.

After a career-high 26 points in a win over Boston on Tuesday, it appears that Walker might be gaining confidence as ACC season approaches.

VIDEO: Memphis’ Jimario Rivers catches lob on Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud

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Memphis senior forward Jimario Rivers caught a tough one-handed alley-oop on Saturday as Louisville senior big man Anas Mahmoud found himself on the receiving end.

This is one of the better lobs we’ve seen this season. Rivers got way up there for this one.

Northern Colorado basketball placed on probation by NCAA

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The NCAA placed the University of Northern Colorado men’s basketball program on three years’ probation among other sanctions Friday after finding academic fraud and recruiting violations by ex-coach B.J. Hill and some of his assistants.

The violations by Hill and eight members of his staff over a four-year span included completing coursework for prospects, paying for classes prospects needed to become academically eligible and arranging off-campus practice sessions with an academically ineligible student-athlete.

In addition to probation, penalties in the case include a one-year postseason ban (already served) for the men’s basketball team; a financial penalty; scholarship and recruiting restrictions; and a vacation of records.

Seven coaches received “show cause” orders, including a six-year penalty for the head coach, five years for two assistant coaches, four years for another assistant coach and three years for two assistant coaches and the graduate assistant. During the show cause periods, if an NCAA school hires the coach, that school must demonstrate why restrictions on the coach’s athletically related duties should not apply.

The NCAA concurred with the university’s self-imposed one-year postseason ban last season, a reduction of three scholarships and recruiting restrictions. Also, the school must return all proceeds from its 2011 NCAA Tournament appearance.

The rules violations spanned four years under Hill, a first-time head coach who personally completed coursework for a prospect and enlisted an athletic director to do the same, the NCAA found.

The NCAA said Hill recruited ineligible players, then broke rules to get them on the court.

Hill was fired last year when the NCAA began looking into the violations. He had gone 86-98 with two postseason appearances in six seasons after taking over the program in 2010 following a stint as an assistant in Greeley to current Colorado coach Tad Boyle.

The NCAA commended the university for its “exemplary cooperation” in the case and said Hill “admitted that he failed in his responsibilities to promote an atmosphere of compliance and monitor his staff.”

The panel said two assistant coaches violated ethical conduct rules for lying to investigators and a third failed to cooperate with the probe.