2011-2012 ACC Preview: UNC, Duke and everyone else

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AWARDS

Player of the Year: Harrison Barnes, So., North Carolina

To say nothing of the talent level in the ACC, I’m not sure how anyone can possibly pick someone other than Barnes to be the Preseason Player of the Year in the ACC. We’re talking about a kid that could have been the No. 1 player in the NBA Draft had he decided to enter the 2011 NBA Draft. Barnes started off his freshman season slowly, struggling to gain confidence and find a rhythm playing along side Larry Drew. But once Kendall Marshall was moved into the starting lineup — and after Barnes hit a game-winning jumper to beat Miami in mid-January — he found his confidence and he turned into the player that made some preseason first-team all-america ballots. In his last 18 games, Barnes averaged 19.7 ppg and 6.5 rpg while shooting 45.5% from the floor and 37.8% from three. He’s a prototype for a small forward — he’s 6’8″ with advanced skills and an understanding of how to play the game. There may not be a better player in the country.

And a close second goes to…: Mike Scott, Sr., Virginia

Frankly, this spot probably belongs to another player on UNC or Duke’s Austin Rivers (see below), but since this is more than just a Tobacco Road preview, I decided to write about Scott here. Thanks to Virginia’s struggles as a program and the fact that Scott missed the majority of last season with an ankle injury, its easy to forget just how good he was before he went down, averaging a double-double at 15.2 ppg and 10.1 rpg. Scott is a difficult matchup on the block at this level. He’s capable of stepping out onto the perimeter and knocking down a jump shot, but he also has a variety of moves on the block. Perhaps the most difficult thing about guarding him is his strength. He’s not overly explosive, but got a mature build and can finish through contact given how hard he goes to the basket. The Cavs are a sleeper in the league this season, and if Virginia does make a run towards that third-place finish, don’t be surprised to see Scott’s name pop-up on Player of the Year ballots.

Breakout Star: Erick Green, Jr., Virginia Tech

As much as hype as Ryan Kelly has gotten this offseason, I’m going with Green to be the breakout star of the ACC this year largely due to the fact that he performed well in the ACC last year. Not much was expected of Green last season, but after Dorenzo Hudson went down with a season-ending injury, Green was called upon to fill the back court role alongside Malcolm Delaney, and he did so admirably. Green finished the year averaging 11.7 ppg, but he played his best basketball late in the year, even notching a trio of 20 points games. Green is a more natural point guard, and without Delaney dominating the ball, expect this junior and his 2.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio to have a very good year running the Hokies.

All-Conference First-Team:

POY: Harrison Barnes, So., UNC
G: Kendall Marshall, So., UNC
G: Austin Rivers, Fr., Duke
G: Malcolm Grant, Sr., Miami
F: Mike Scott, Sr., Virginia
C: Tyler Zeller, Sr., UNC

All-Conference Second-Team:

G: Seth Curry, Jr., Duke
G: Terrell Stoglin, So., Maryland
G: Durand Scott, Sr., Miami
F: Dorenzo Hudson, Sr., Virginia Tech
F: John Henson, Jr., UNC

Newcomer of the Year: Austin Rivers, Duke

This pick was almost as easy as choosing Barnes to be the league’s Player of the Year. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Rivers, if he lives up to the hype he has coming this season, will be Barnes’ biggest competition for the honor. Rivers can flat out score the basketball. He’s a bit of a streaky shooter, but his hot streaks are the stuff of legend, as he’s capable of putting on a show once he gets into a rhythm. Rivers has terrific range and a wide-variety of moves with the ball in his hands. He’s not limited to being a jump-shooter, although he does need to improve his handle as a driver, especially going left. Rivers needs to make sure he focuses on limiting his turnovers and poor shots, but this kid has the kind of ability that will remind some Duke fans of Jay Williams.

All-Freshmen Team:

G: Austin Rivers, Duke
G: Nick Faust, Maryland
F: Dorian Finney-Smith, Virginia Tech
F: Julian Royal, Georgia Tech
F: Ryan Anderson, Boston College

Five Summer storylines

– ACC expansion: The biggest news in all of college sports this summer was conference expansion, and for the ACC it was no different. With Texas and Oklahoma appearing to be on the verge of joining the Pac-12 and the Big 12 looking like it was on its death bed, most people believed that conference armageddon was upon us, and both the ACC and the Big East would be unable to survive the fire and brimstone that rained down. So the ACC made a preemptive strike, shocking the nation late on a Friday night in September with the news that they were adding both Pitt and Syracuse.

Conference armageddon didn’t happen — I guess Bruce Willis was able to set off the nuke in time, keeping Texas and Oklahoma from heading to the Pac-12 — and the Big 12 actually managed to solidify itself as a league by stealing TCU away from the Big East. With the nation’s premiere basketball league on the verge of collapsing, UConn made it abundantly clear to the ACC that they wanted in. As it turns out, the likelihood of that happening is fairly small. The ACC wanted the Huskies initially, but Boston College — who is still holding a grudge from comments UConn made eight years ago when BC left the Big East for the ACC — vetoed that move.

– Jim Larranaga dealt a bad hand: The Hurricanes certainly didn’t have a boring offseason. After losing Frank Haith to Missouri and ignoring to overtures from Frank Martin, Miami made an impressive hire by luring Jim Larranaga away from George Mason. After what happened this summer, I wonder if Larranaga ended up regretting that decision. First, his star center Reggie Johnson went down with a torn meniscus, which is a huge blow to the Hurricanes. Johnson was arguably the best big man in the conference that plays outside of Tobacco Road. A double-double machine, he game The U a post option to balance out their guard play. He is scheduled to be back in January, but given the weight issues he has, can Miami really count on him for a stretch run?

That was just the start of it. In August, Yahoo published their massive report on Miami’s booster Nevin Shapiro, and while the shrapnel hit all over the football program, the basketball team didn’t get away scot-free. Shapiro alleged that he paid DeQuan Jones, who is currently on the Miami roster, $10,000 to ensure that Jones joins the Hurricanes. Eight days after that came out, Julian Gamble — who likely would have started in Johnson’s place — tore his acl. That’s not an ideal way to start your new job.

– Wake Forest’s embarrassing summer: In the past 18 months, Wake Forest has lost five players from what was once a promising young core. Tony Woods was forced to transfer after assaulting his girlfriend. Ari Stewart transferred after their abomination of a 2010-2011 season. Melvin Tabb was kicked out of school because of an arrest involving breaking and entering and fraud. JT Terrell had to leave because he has a drinking problem. And Ty Walker is suspended for the first semester. Throw in the alleged rape during the 2009 NCAA Tournament that was announced on the Today Show back in May, and its safe to say Jeff Bzdelik probably hasn’t had a worse summer in his career.

– Allan Chaney’s career is over: The heart issues that kept the Florida transfer sitting out the past two years at Virginia Tech have ended the big man’s career. He was diagnosed with viral myocarditis, which is an infection in the heart that can cause scarring and inflammation of the heart.

– Maryland, NC State and Georgia Tech coaching changes: Three relevant ACC programs will be heading into the 2011-2012 season with new leadership. Georgia Tech replaced Paul Hewitt with Brian Gregory, a solid hire given the $7.2 million the school still owes Paul Hewitt as a buyout. NC State missed on a number of big names, but they were able to sign former Alabama head coach and ESPN announcer Mark Gottfried. Maryland lost Gary Williams to retirement, but hiring Mark Turgeon away from Texas A&M is as good of a hire as there was this offseason. Turgeon promptly locked in assistant coaches with very strong ties to the AAU programs in Baltimore (Bino Ranson) and DC (Dalonte Hill), all but ensuring himself success recruiting the I-95 corridor.

Five storylines to follow this season

– Will the Plumlees ever become quality post players?: With Marshall Plumlee joining his two elder brothers at Duke this season, we are entering year four of the seven year Plumlee experiment at Duke, and to date, none of the three has been able to manage any kind of consistency inside. Mason has the most potential — he’s the strongest, he is the broadest, and he probably has the most talent — but for every 25 points, 12 rebound, 5 block performance (win over Marquette) he has a 2 point, 4 rebound game (loss to St. John’s). Miles has had people talking about him at the start of practices, but we’ve heard that before. Marshall? If he’s anything like his brothers, he’ll be a non-factor early in his career.

All accounts have Ryan Kelly coming in much-improved this season. He was an offensive weapon last year, and with his versatility and ability to score on the perimeter, he’ll create some matchup problems. But if one of those three Plumlees can become a low-post scoring threat, Duke will have a dangerous high-low tandem.

– North Carolina best team in the country?: The last time that the Tar Heels had this much talent on their roster, Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and company cut down the nets in Detroit. In terms of raw talent, this group may actually be better than that 2009 UNC team — and the 2005 team as well — but they are not the hands down favorites to win the title this year. Kentucky is loaded, as they brought in one of the best recruiting classes in recent memory and actually returned a couple of players from last season. UConn added Andre Drummond, who may actually be the best freshman in the country, to a group that was already a top ten team. Ohio State and Syracuse — and even Duke — all bring back teams with enough talent to legitimately have a shot at winning it all.

But Carolina, on paper, is the best team in the country. Will that shine through come March?

– Will Florida State’s perimeter develop?: The Seminoles have one of the biggest and best front lines in the country. Bernard James anchors a group that legitimately goes five deep. The fifth guy on that depth chart? Seven-footer Jon Kreft, who was a five-star recruit back in 2006 before he got into some trouble with the law. They’ll block shot, they’ll rebound and they’ll generally make life miserable for their opponents, providing the foundation for what should once again be one of the best defenses in the country. The question for Florida State is going to be how their perimeter develops. Who is going to score? Who is going to be the zone-buster? Can anyone in that group create their own shot? Michael Snaer is the guy that will be facing the most pressure. He will be a junior this season and he will need to finally realize the potential that got him rated in the top 10 coming out of high school.

– Reggie Johnson’s knee: With Johnson anchoring the middle, Jim Larranaga’s Miami team is one of the most dangerous in the ACC. Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant form one of the most dangerous back courts in the country. With guys like Garrius Adams and DeQuan Jones to play defense and grab some rebounds, the ‘Canes do have some glue guys. But without Johnson, they are missing a low-post scoring threat to take pressure off of their perimeter guys. Johnson is scheduled to be out until the turn of the calendar. How healthy will he be for the ACC stretch run? Will he be in good enough condition to contribute immediately? Grant is a senior, so this is the year for Miami.

– Can Virginia or Virginia Tech make the jump this year?: Neither of the ACC’s two Virginia schools has made the NCAA Tournament since 2007, but both programs have enough talent on their roster to earn a bid this season. UVa caught a break when Mike Scott was cleared by the NCAA for a fifth-year after suffering an ankle injury last season. But Tony Bennett’s club is more than just one player. The Cavs have a young and talented back court that goes six deep while Assane Sene and James Johnson will join Mike Scott up front.

Tech, on the other hand, loses star guard Malcolm Delaney, but they do return Dorenzo Hudson, who averaged 15.2 ppg as a junior. Erick Green was impressive filling in for Hudson last season and should be able to slide in as Seth Greenburg’s point guard. With veterans like Victor Davila and JT Thompson being joined by newcomers like Dorian Finney-Smith and CJ Barksdale, the Hokies have the potential to be a sleeper this year.

Power Rankings

1. North Carolina: The Tar Heels looked like they were heading for a disappointing season early on in 2010-2011. They lost a number of close games early in the season, they were struggling to find consistent point guard play and their superstar freshman, Harrison Barnes, was anything but a superstar. But after an embarrassing 20 point loss at Georgia Tech in the third game of ACC play, things started to turn around for the Heels. It started with Larry Drew’s surprising decision to leave the team midway through the year. This allowed Kendall Marshall to slide into the starting point guard spot, a move that probably should have been made earlier in the year based on the results. And then Barnes hit a game-winner against Miami, which finally gave the freshman some much-needed confidence, and he all of a sudden transformed into the player that some had pegged as a first-team all-american in the preseason. The Heels found their groove and eventually went on a run that led to an ACC regular season title and a trip to the Elite 8.

This season, with essentially their entire roster intact and a loaded freshman class coming in, the Heels are arguably the most talented team in the country. Its starts with a front line that features as many as four potential first round picks. The name that is going to pop up on every all-american team is Barnes. A smooth, 6’8″ small forward, Barnes could have been the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft had he decided to go pro. Barnes proved down the stretch of last season that he has the ability to go for 25 on a given night and could end up being an 18 ppg scorer this season. The post spots will be manned by John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Zeller is the better offensive option, a talented seven-footer with a variety of moves on the low-block. Henson is less of an offensive weapon, but he might be the best shot-blocker in the country this year. Both Zeller and Henson are a night mare to keep off the offensive glass. James McAdoo is a supremely talented freshman that could start at any other school in the conference, while Desmond Hubert will provide some depth.

The back court is just as talented even with Leslie McDonald sidelined with a torn acl. Marshall is the engine that makes this UNC team go. He’s not all that fast or all that athletic, but he is a perfect fit for Roy Williams’ uptempo system thanks to his ability to pass the ball. He’s got the kind of court vision that will get his teammates the ball in a position to score before they even know they are open. Dexter Strickland will likely start along side Marshall. Strickland, a junior, is probably UNC’s best perimeter defender. It will be interesting to see how Williams divvies up the minutes in the back court, as both Reggie Bullock — who should finally be healthy as a sophomore — and freshman PJ Hairston are big time shooters and scorers on the wing that will be able to spread the floor for UNC’s big men inside. Senior Justin Watts will provide depth on the wing for the Heels. North Carolina is scary good this season, and will be a favorite to win the national title this year.

2. Duke: The Blue Devils went into the 2010-2011 season as the overwhelming favorite to win a second consecutive national title, and while they looked like they were going to fulfill that destiny early in the year, a freak toe injury to Kyrie Irving changed that. Without Irving, Nolan Smith flourished, but the Blue Devils didn’t live up to their lofty expectations. Kyle Singler struggled, the Plumlees were overwhelmed inside and Duke ended up losing the ACC regular season title on the last day of the year. The Blue Devils rebounded, beating UNC in the finals of the ACC Tournament before bowing out in the Sweet 16 when Irving returned for the NCAA Tournament.

Duke is going to have quite a bit of production to replace. Both Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith exhausted their eligibility while Kyrie Irving headed to the NBA after all of 11 games in a Blue Devil uniform. But Duke reloaded with yet another talented freshman class. The star of the group is Austin Rivers, a high-scoring combo-guard that can put on some incredible scoring displays when he gets into a rhythm. He’s a bit of a streaky shooter, but he has deep range and is also aggressive getting to the rim. Shot selection, turnovers and over-confidence — yes, its a thing — will be an issue, but expect Rivers to remind a lot of folks in Durham of one Jay Williams. Joining Rivers in the back court will be Seth Curry, Steph’s younger brother who will finally have a chance to step into the spotlight. Curry will need to embrace the role of point guard as opposed to a scoring guard playing alongside Rivers, but he was successful late in the year doing the same playing with Smith last season. The sharp-shooting Andre Dawkins will see a lot of time this year, likely battling with another touted freshman — Michael Gbinje, a fundamentally sounds, 6’7″ wing — for the third starting spot on the perimeter. Sophomore Ty Thornton and freshman Quinn Cook will be the two true point guards on Coach K’s bench.

Duke’s front line will be a question mark heading into the season not because of a lack of size or a dearth of talent, but because of disappointing performances in the past. Duke currently has three Plumlees on their roster — senior Miles, junior Mason and freshman Marshall. Mason is probably the best out of the group, as he led the Blue Devils in rebounding and blocks last season. He needs to become more of an offensive threat, however. Miles has been inconsistent throughout his career, but reports from practice have said that he’s impressed as much as anyone. Marshall is probably the tallest and the most athletic of the trio, but he’ll need some muscle and weight before he’s really effective in the ACC. The x-factor along the front line is going to be Ryan Kelly. Kelly was terrific when the Blue Devils went to China and has apparently become a more physical and aggressive presence. If he can become a threat as a face-up, he’ll be a weapon spreading the floor for the Blue Devils. Alex Murphy and Josh Hairston will also see minutes up front. UNC is the favorite in the ACC this season, but Duke was the favorite a year ago and ended up finishing second in the regular season. If the front line plays big, the Blue Devils will have a chance.

3. Florida State: The Seminoles had, by far, their most successful season under Leonard Hamilton last year. After finishing third in the ACC, Florida State came within two dumb decisions by Derwin Kitchen of making the Elite 8 and playing Kansas for the right to go to the Final Four. FSU is not a team that comes up in the conversation all that often when we’re talking college hoops, so last year’s success may seem like a surprise, but the Seminoles have slowly been building this program; the only other team in the ACC to win 20 games overall and 10 leagues games the past three years in Duke. This season will be the real test for Florida State, as they head into the year without their top two scorers from last season in Chris Singleton and Derwin Kitchen.

Singleton will be the most difficult piece to replace. Florida State built their team around their defense, and Singleton was the single best defender in the country last season. A versatile forward that could defend three or four different positions. As a result, Florida State is going to have to rely even more on their massive front line. Bernard James is the best of the group. A former staff sergeant in the Air Force, James took a while to really acclimate to playing this level of basketball, but he became a capable scoring option and a quality shot-blocking and rebounding presence by the end of the season. In March, he averaged 11.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 3.0 bpg while shooting 70.3% (26-of-37) from the floor. Okaro White, Xavier Gibson, Terrence Shannon and Jon Kreft will all see minutes in the front court as well. White, a sophomore, is probably the best offensive option out of the group while Gibson will be Hamilton’s first option when he is looking for more rebounding and shot blocking.

Florida State’s back court will have a few question marks — namely, they need a player that can create shots on the perimeter and a couple of players that will hit open threes and prevent defenses from collapsing on the interior. At the point, sophomore Ian Miller — who was disappointing as a highly-touted freshman — and senior Jeff Peterson — a transfer from Arkansas — will split time. Junior Michael Snaer will be the most talented player on the wing, but the former five-star recruit has yet to find offensive consistency. He settles for too many tough jumpers for someone with his ability to slash to the bucket. Snaer and Deividas Dulkys are probably the Seminole’s best perimeter defenders that return. Offensively, Dulkys does some things well, but he needs to become more of a consistent spot-up shooter. The same can be said for Luke Loucks. Both of Hamilton’s perimeter recruits — Antwan Space and Terry Whisnant — have a reputation as good shooters, which will definitely help. The Seminoles will, once again, be an elite defensive team with their size around the rim and their ability to pressure the ball defensively. It will enough to make the Seminoles the favorite to finish third in the ACC. How far they go into the postseason, however, will be determined by how good they can become offensively.

4. Virginia: Tony Bennett as done a solid job of turning this Virginia program into a successful one early in his tenure as the Cavalier’s head coach. The Cavs, who were picked to finish 11th in the ACC last season, managed to string together some wins and climb all the way to seventh in the league standings by the time the season was done. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that they were able to do so with Mike Scott sidelined with an injury. In his absence, Mustapha Farrakhan became UVa’s star, and while his career in Charlottesville has come to an end, the NCAA cleared Scott to return for one more year, putting Virginia into a very good position heading into the 2011-2012 season.

The anchor for this team — and perhaps the determining factor as to whether or not the ‘Hoos will earn themselves an NcAA Tournament — will be Mike Scott. When he’s healthy, Scott is a double-double machine. He was averaging 15.2 ppg and 10.1 rpg when he went down last season, an improvement that was likely the result of his increased ability to draw fouls early in the season. Joining Scott on the front line will be fellow senior Assane Sene. Sene is a legitimate seven-footer that developed into a legitimate presence in the lane, rebounding the ball well and blocking shots as well as anyone on the Virginia team. There isn’t much experience behind those two, but sophomore Akil Mitchell and redshirt freshman — and former top 100 recruit — James Johnson also in the fray, UVa will have a front line that can, at the very least, hold their own against most competition.

The back court will be an interesting one to keep an eye on, as there is quite a bit of talent on the roster, but a lot of youth as well. Senior Sammy Zeglinski and junior Jontel Evans will likely share the point guard duties. The two compliment each other well, as Zeglinski is a more dangerous shooter and a better scorer while Evans is the team’s most talented creator. One of the biggest boosts the Cavs should get will come from their wings. Both KT Harrell and Joe Harris played very well as freshmen, and with a year under their belts playing an expanded role, both should be expected to be better as sophomores. But their spots in the starting lineup are far from guaranteed, as Bennett brings in a couple of talented wings in Malcolm Brogdon and Paul Jesperson. With Miami’s Reggie Johnson out with a knee injury to start the season, Virginia will be the trendy sleeper pick in the ACC.

5. Virginia Tech: With a talented and experienced roster returning and thanks to a pumped-up non-conference schedule put together by head coach Seth Greenburg, 2010-2011 was supposed to be the year that Malcolm Delaney finally got a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the Hokies suffered through some terrible luck on the injury front. Big man Allan Chaney was never cleared to play due to a heart condition. JT Thompson blew out his acl in July. Dorenzo Hudson and Cadarian Raines both had their season shut down in December and took a medical redshirt. Throw in Jarell Eddie’s suspension and Victor Davila’s bum shoulder, and by the time the NIT rolled around, Greenburg was using a 6’3″ walk-on to provide him with post minutes.

If there is a silver-lining to that awful string of luck, its that those injuries mean that the cupboard won’t be completely bare for Tech heading into this season. Not only will Thompson and Hudson return for another season, but the open minutes freed up playing time for some of the youngsters. One of the guys that benefitted was sophomore point guard Erick Green, who averaged 11.7 ppg and 2.7 apg despite Delaney dominating the ball on the offensive end of the floor. Green will need to shore up his perimeter jumper, but one of the most promising signs for his future is the 2.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted. The key for Tech this season may be the health of Hudson. As a junior, he averaged over 15 ppg and posted a couple of big games, including dropping 41 on Seton Hall when Delaney was injured. If Hudson is back to his old form and Green continues to improve, Greenburg has a solid back court to work with. There are a couple of talented youngsters as well — sophomores Tyrone Garland and Jarell Eddie and freshman Robert Brown and Marquis Rankin will provide some minutes off the bench.

The front court will be anchored by the senior Davila, a bruising, 6’8″ power forward that will provide Greenburg with some toughness in the paint. Thompson will be back as well and should be healthy. He’s only 6’6″, but he’s a tough defender and will get to the glass on both ends of the floor. Freshman CJ Barksdale will likely see minutes as well, but the x-factor may end up being Dorian Finney-Smith, a versatile, 6’8″ combo-forward that is the highest-rated recruit Greenburg has landed in quite a while. A trip to the NCAA Tournament would not necessarily be a surprise for this group, but it shouldn’t be an expectation. There is potential here, but there are also quite a few question marks and unproven youngsters penciled in for big minutes.

6. Miami: The Hurricanes finished last season at 19-14 and just 6-10 in the ACC, but that final league record is a bit misleading. Miami was not a bad basketball team. Of those 10 ACC losses, only two came by double digits — both to Duke, and by a combined 21 points. They were within a Harrison Barnes three of knocking off North Carolina early in the season before losing the the Heels by two in the ACC Tournament. With only one player from last season’s rotation gone, there was plenty of reason to be excited about the ‘Canes prior to their disastrous offseason (see the summer storylines).

With all the drama surrounding Miami, the biggest blow to the program came in the form of a knee injury suffered by center Reggie Johnson in July. Johnson tore his meniscus and had surgery which will keep him out until conference play starts. Even if he is able to return for the season, there is no way to tell how long it will take him to get into game shape — the 300 lb Johnson isn’t known for being in the best shape as is — and whether or not he will be effective when he returns. The gaping hole in the middle of the Miami lineup is made even bigger when consider that Julian Gamble went down with a torn acl. It will put a ton of pressure on Florida transfer Kenny Kadji to become an effective post player, and also throws undersized Erik Swoope and seldon-used sophomore Raphael Akpejiori into much more influential roles.

Without Johnson, the Hurricanes are going to have to rely heavily upon their talented back court duo of Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. Both Scott and Grant are above-average guards in the ACC. Grant, who is 6’1″ and the better shooter of the two, is more of a ball-handler while Scott, who checks in at 6’5″, is the better slasher. As a duo, they combined for 28.4 ppg and 6. apg last season, numbers that are going to have to go up next season. Small forward Garrius Adams came on strong late in the season, winning the starting small forward job away from Adrian Thomas. DeQuan Jones is a ridiculously athletic wing, although he has yet to live up to the hype he had coming out of high school. UMKC transfer Trey McKinney Jones will also see quite a few minutes in the back court, while freshmen Shane Larkin and Bishop Daniels will provide depth. If Johnson can return from his injury and be effective in ACC play, the Hurricanes will be a sleeper this season. If not, there is enough firepower in the back court for this team to compete on a nightly basis and, in all likelihood, pull off a couple of upsets along the way.

7. Clemson: The Tigers were expected to be rebuilding in 2010-2011. Not only were they losing their star big man in first round pick Trevor Booker, but head coach Oliver Purnell made the decision to take the DePaul head coaching job. With a new coach running a new system, it only made sense that the Tigers would take time to rebuild. But Brownell, who had led both UNC-Greensboro and Wright State to the NCAA Tournament, didn’t miss a beat, leading Clemson to their fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance through stout defense, offensive execution and a team that continued to compete and get better throughout the season. After consecutive losses to Michigan, South Carolina and Florida State put the Tigers are 5-4 on the season, Clemson responded with an eight game winning streak and eventually finished tied for fourth in the ACC.

Perhaps the most noteworthy accomplishment Clemson had last season is that they were never blown out. Their 70-59 loss to Duke at the end of the regular season was the only time the Tigers lost by double figures. And while Clemson does lose Demontez Stitt and Jerai Grant, there is still more than enough talent on this team to expect another push for a tournament bid. Clemson will be anchored by their senior back court of Tanner Smith and Andre Young. Both are terrific on-ball defenders, which makes them ideal for Brownell’s system. Young, who played off-the-ball last season, will be forced to take on more of a point guard role this year. It will be interesting to see how that works out, as he is more of a natural scorer. The change should be made easier by the fact that Smith is a capable creator as well. The rest of the Clemson perimeter attack will be made up of freshmen. KJ McDaniels is an active and athletic small forward that will have a shot of starting at the three, while a trio of guards — Daniel Sapp, Devin Coleman, and Rod Hall — will provide depth.

Clemson’s front court is intriguing. Milton Jennings was a big-time recruit coming out of high school, a McDonald’s all-american that was recruited by just about everyone. But he has yet to come close to living up to those expectations. As a sophomore, Jennings averaged 8.3 ppg and 5.2 rpg while playing 20 mpg coming off the bench. With the graduation of Jerai Grant, Jennings is going to be a guy counted on for a big season. The same can be said for Devin Booker, the younger brother of Trevor. Devin didn’t have quite as much hype coming out of high school, but he did start over Jennings last season and put up similar numbers. If those two can put it all together, they will give Brownell an athletic and versatile (they both have three-point range) front court. The uber-athletic Bryan Narcisse and freshman big man Bernard Sullivan will program front court depth. Clemson will, once again, be a tough out everytime they step on the court.

8. NC State: The Wolfpack headed into the 2010-2011 season with lofty expectations. They returned a number of key pieces and brought in the best recruiting class of former head coach Sidney Lowe’s tenure. But thanks to a myriad of injuries and a couple of ill-timed suspensions, NC State once again struggled, falling into a 10th place tie with Georgia Tech in the ACC standings. The disappointing season was enough to get Lowe fired. After a coaching search that missed on a number of big name targets, the Wolfpack settled on Mark Gottfried, the former Alabama head coach that had taken a job as an analyst for ESPN broadcasts.

Gottfried will have a decent young core to build on in Raleigh. It starts with CJ Leslie a maddeningly inconsistent but supremely talented sophomore big man. Leslie, who averaged 11.0 ppg and 7.2 rpg as a freshman, struggled at times but also showed the kind of promise that make some pundits believe he’ll be an all-ACC performer before his is done at NC State, possibly as early as this season. Leslie will be joined on the front line by Richard Howell. Howell is a 6’9″ junior that is the best offensive rebounder on the team. He started when Tracy Smith was out with a knee injury and was quite productive when he was on the court. Juniors Deshawn Painter and Jordan Vandenburg will both be counted on to improve this season with more minutes, while they will be pushed for playing time off the bench by Terrel Harris, the younger brother of first round pick Tobias.

In the back court, Lorenzo Brown will be the guy that is called upon to run this team. With Ryan Harrow transferring out of the program and into Kentucky, Brown is left as the one point guard on the roster. Joining Brown in the back court will be junior sharp-shooter Scott Wood, who is capable of getting hot and carrying the team for stretches. After that, however, there are a lot of question marks in the back court. CJ Williams has been a starter before and has had his moments for the Wolfpack, while freshman Jaqawn Raymond will also be counted on to provide some minutes. After that, however, there isn’t much on NC State’s roster. There are some pieces for Gottfried to work with in his first season running this program, but the depth isn’t there for this team to make a serious run in the ACC.

9. Maryland: Things are going to look quite different at Maryland than they did last season. Jordan Williams made the decision to enter the NBA Draft, which, when combined with three key players — two starters — graduating, leaves the Terps without four of their top five scorers and their only real inside presence. Without Williams on the roster, head coach Gary Williams decided that he no longer wanted to coach the Terps, surprising just about everyone with his decision to retire in early May. Maryland did make a homerun hire, however, pulling Mark Turgeon away from Texas A&M. But the coaching change wasn’t without collateral damage, as two-thirds of Maryland’s solid recruiting class decommitted and ended up elsewhere.

Turgeon was able to keep the jewel of the class in Baltimore native Nick Faust, an off-guard with a dangerous offensive repertoire. At 6’6″, Faust brings some much needed size to the Maryland perimeter, because the rest of the back court is small. It starts with Terrell Stoglin, a (generously listed) 6’1″ point guard. Stoglin really came on strong late in his freshman season, eventually become the best ball-handler on the Maryland roster. He needs to develop into more of a point guard role, but some of that pressure will be taken off with Pe’Shon Howard sharing the back court with him. Howard look like he was going to be the young star of this Maryland team early in the season, and while he struggled a bit through the middle of the year, Howard also played well late in the year. Throw in Sean Mosley, who has been consistently solid for three years now, and the Terps have a talented back court.

The front court is a different story, however, as losing Jordan Williams left them with bare bones. James Padgett, a 6’8″ junior that has never been able to earn more than a handful of minutes a game, is going to be heavily counted on by Turgeon to provide some kind of production in the paint. As will senior Berend Weijs, a 6’10” native of the Netherlands that also struggled to get consistent minutes last year. Mychal Parker, a 6’5″ athlete and former four-star recruit, should be able to help in the front court with his athleticism, but the key may end up being getting Alex Len eligible. Len is still waiting to hear from the NCAA if he has to miss any games this season, but the 7’1″ Ukranian should help provide some depth inside. Losing Williams was a killer for this team. Their back court is good enough to compete with teams that don’t have much size, but without Williams, the Terps are going to get dominated in the paint.

10. Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech may have been the worst team in the country on the road last season. That’s not an exaggeration, either. Their losing streak started with an 17 point beatdown at the hands of Kennesaw State in the second game of the season and didn’t end until their very last road game, which just so happened to come against a Wake Forest team that had long since given up on the season. When it was all said and done, the Yellow Jackets were 13-18 on the season and 5-11 in the ACC, which was enough to finally get the Georgia Tech athletics department to terminate Paul Hewitt. To get an idea of how fed up the higher-ups at Tech were with Hewitt, think about this — it cost them a $7.2 million buyout to get rid of him.

The Yellow Jackets brought in Brian Gregory from Dayton, which wasn’t exactly a homerun hire but was far from a worst case scenario given how hamstrung the school was by Hewitt’s buyout. Gregory’s first task was to re-recruit both Iman Shumpert and Brian Oliver, but it didn’t work. Shumpert went pro and Oliver transferred to Seton Hall, leaving the Yellow Jackets short-handed heading into this season. There still is some talent on the roster, however. When junior shooting guard Glen Rice Jr gets into a rhythm, he’s a dangerous scorer that is capable of putting up some pretty impressive numbers. He’s a bit streaky, however, and can get into situations where he has to force some tough threes off the dribble. With Moe Miller’s graduation, expect Mfon Udofia to get another shot at running the team. Udofia was a highly-regarded recruit in high school but has not developed into a playmaker at this level. If Udofia can’t perform this season, don’t be surprised to see Brandon Reed take over the reins. Reed was a high-scoring combo-guard at Arkansas State — he averaged 16.8 ppg in Sun Belt play as a freshman — before transferring to the Yellow Jackets. Sophomore Jason Morris, a wing player that shot 40% from three and came on strong late in the year, will also see a lot of minutes.

Up front, Gregory is going to need someone to develop into some kind of scoring threat. Daniel Miller proved to be a capable rebounder and an excellent shot blocker, but he averaged 4.4 ppg and managed to get to the line just 46 times all season (he only made 17 of those). Kammeon Hosley is a terrific athlete when he’s healthy, but he looked like he was still shaking off the effects of a torn acl during the season. Sophomore Nate Hicks showed some potential as a defensive presence as a freshman. Freshman Julian Royal may end up being the best option, as he has a reputation for being able to put the ball in the bucket. Gregory’s team is fairly young, but there are some talented scorers, especially in the back court, that could spark an upset similar to the one Tech pulled off against North Carolina last season.

11. Boston College: All in all, 2010-2011 should probably be considered a successful season for Boston College. After being predicted to finish in the cellar of the ACC, the Eagles managed to scrap their way up to a tie for fourth place in the conference. And while they won a game in the ACC Tournament and earned themselves a bid to the NIT, there could have been so much more. What if the Eagles hadn’t lost to two Ivy Leagues opponents early in the season? What if the last-second three in a 48-46 loss to North Carolina hadn’t rimmed out? What if BC hadn’t lost at home to Miami late in the season, or had been more competitive in their ACC Tournament loss? Could this group have earned an NCAA Tournament bid?

That question will loom large this season as the Eagles are in full-on rebuilding mode. Seriously. Their leading returning scorer is walk-on Danny Rubin at 4.1 ppg; he averaged 1.9 ppg in ACC play. Only three other players that were in the program last year are back — Matt Humphrey, who sat the season out as a transfer from Oregon; Gabe Moton, who averaged a whopping 2.5 ppg; and Peter Rehnquist, another walk-on. Steve Donahue did manage to bring in a nine-member recruiting class. Ryan Anderson, a 6’8″ power forward out of California, is probably the most-highly regarded prospect of the group. KC Caudill, a 6’10” center that also hails from Cali, joins the group as well. Patrick Heckeman is a versatile, 6’5″ guard out of Germany. 6’10” Dennis Clifford is a fairly skillled big man from the area. There is some potential for down the road, but don’t expect too much out of BC this season.

12. Wake Forest: The good news for Wake Forest is that, front this point forward, there is no where for them to go but up. The bad news? It may take quite a while for the Demon Deacons to get up. Wake struggled through a non-conference schedule that featured embarrassing losses to the likes of Stetson, Presbyterian, Winthrop and UNC-Wilmington. There was no rebound, either. After halting a four game losing streak by knocking off High Point right before ACC play started, Jeff Bzdelik’s club went on to lose 16 of the 17 games their played against ACC competition. Throw in the flurry of defections from the program — both voluntary and mandated — and Wake is in big trouble heading into the season.

The good news is that the Demon Deacons do return their best player from last season in Travis McKie. McKie developed into one of the better freshman in the conference last season, averaging 13.0 ppg and 7.7 rpg as one of the lone bright spots on the Wake Forest roster. Carson Desrosiers, a seven-foot sophomore, and Nikita Mescheriakov, a Georgetown transfer, also are back. Throw in 6’10” freshman Daniel Green, and Wake has a decent front line to work with. The back court will return Tony Chennault and CJ Harris, two important pieces from last season’s team that will be counted on to provide some scoring and offensive creativity. Was last season’s debacle the result of a lack of talent in the program, or was it simply what happens when a team completely lacks chemistry? I’ll go with all of the above. Don’t expect too much improvement this season, although I do think Wake will get more than a single ACC win.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

March Madness 2020: Conference tournament brackets, schedules

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It’s time for the 2020 conference tournament brackets and the 2020 conference tournament schedules to be unveiled.

You know why?

Because it’s time for March Madness 2020!

Below, you will find an image that details every 2020 conference tournament schedule, and as you scroll down you will find each and every 2020 conference tournament bracket.

Make sure that you are ready for the madness.

(Click on the photo chart to enlarge and view all of the 2020 conference tournament schedules.)

To download a full graphic with all of the March Madness games, click here.

Below you will find a link to every one of the 2020 conference tournament brackets.

ACC

  • DATES: March 10-14
  • LOCATION: Greensboro, N.C.
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET and SCHEDULE

AMERICAN

  • DATES: March 12-15
  • LOCATION: Fort Worth, Texas
  • TITLE GAME: March 15, 3:15 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET

AMERICA EAST

  • DATES: March 7, 10, 14
  • LOCATION: Campus sites
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 11:00 a.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

ATLANTIC 10

  • DATES: March 11-15
  • LOCATION: Brooklyn
  • TITLE GAME: March 15, 1:00 p.m., CBS
  • BRACKET

ATLANTIC SUN

  • DATES: March 3, 5, 8
  • LOCATION: Campus sites
  • TITLE GAME: March 8, 3:00 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET

BIG EAST

  • DATES: March 11-14
  • LOCATION: New York
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 6:30 p.m., FOX
  • BRACKET

BIG SKY

  • DATES: March 11-14
  • LOCATION: Boise, ID
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 8:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • BRACKET

BIG SOUTH

  • DATES: March 3, 5, 6, 8,
  • LOCATION: Campus sites
  • TITLE GAME: March 8, 1:00 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET

BIG TEN

  • DATES: March 11-15
  • LOCATION: Indianapolis
  • TITLE GAME: March 15, 3:30 p.m., CBS
  • BRACKET

BIG 12

  • DATES: March 11-14
  • LOCATION: Kansas City
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 6:00 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET

BIG WEST

  • DATES: March 12-14
  • LOCATION: Anaheim
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 11:30 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

COLONIAL

  • DATES: March 7-10
  • LOCATION: Washington DC
  • TITLE GAME: March 10, 7:00 p.m., CBSSN
  • BRACKET

CONFERENCE USA

  • DATES: March 11-14
  • LOCATION: Frisco, Texas
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 8:30 p.m., CBSSN
  • BRACKET

HORIZON LEAGUE

  • DATES: March 3, 5, 9, 10
  • LOCATION: Indianapolis
  • TITLE GAME: March 10, 7:00 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET

IVY LEAGUE

  • DATES: March 14-15
  • LOCATION: Cambridge, Mass.
  • TITLE GAME: March 15, 12:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

MAAC

  • DATES: March 10-14
  • LOCATION: Atlantic City, NJ
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 4:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • BRACKET

MAC

  • DATES: March 9, 12-14
  • LOCATION: Campus sites, Cleveland
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 7:30 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

MEAC

  • DATES: March 10-14
  • LOCATION: Norfolk, Va.
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 1:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

MISSOURI VALLEY

  • DATES: March 5-8
  • LOCATION: St. Louis
  • TITLE GAME: March 8, 2:00 p.m., CBS
  • BRACKET

MOUNTAIN WEST

  • DATES: March 4-7
  • LOCATION: Las Vegas
  • TITLE GAME: March 7, 5:30 p.m., CBS
  • BRACKET

NEC

  • DATES: March 4, 7, 10
  • LOCATION: Campus sites
  • TITLE GAME: March 10, 7:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

OHIO VALLEY

  • DATES: March 4-7
  • LOCATION: Evansville
  • TITLE GAME: March 7, 8:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

PAC-12

  • DATES: March 11-14
  • LOCATION: Las Vegas
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 10:30 p.m., FS1
  • BRACKET

PATRIOT

  • DATES: March 3, 5, 8, 11
  • LOCATION: Campus sites
  • TITLE GAME: March 11, 7:30 p.m., CBSSN
  • BRACKET

SEC

  • DATES: March 11-15
  • LOCATION: Nashville
  • TITLE GAME: March 15, 1:00 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET

SOCON

  • DATES: March 6-9
  • LOCATION: Asheville, N.C.
  • TITLE GAME: March 9, 7:00 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET

SOUTHLAND

  • DATES: March 11-14
  • LOCATION: Katy, Texas
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 9:30 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

SUMMIT

  • DATES: March 7-10
  • LOCATION: Sioux Falls, S.D.
  • TITLE GAME: March 10, 9:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

SUN BELT

  • DATES: March 7, 9, 11, 14-15
  • LOCATION: Campus sites, New Orleans
  • TITLE GAME: March 15, 2:00 p.m., ESPN2
  • BRACKET

SWAC

  • DATES: March 10, 13-14
  • LOCATION: Birmingham, Alabama
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 6:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • BRACKET

WAC

  • DATES: March 12-14
  • LOCATION: Las Vegas
  • TITLE GAME: March 14, 11:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • BRACKET

WCC

  • DATES: March 5-7, 9-10
  • LOCATION: Las Vegas
  • TITLE GAME: March 10, 9:00 p.m., ESPN
  • BRACKET

Best Bets: Maryland-Michigan State, Auburn-Kentucky highlight a loaded weekend slate

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Saturday’s lines have not yet been put out by the fine folks running sportsbooks. Until they are, we will be using projections from KenPom, Torvik and Haslametrics to analyze Saturday’s games.

No. 24 MICHIGAN STATE at No. 9 MARYLAND, Sat. 8:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Maryland 70, Michigan State 67
  • TORVIK: Maryland 69, Michigan State 68
  • HASLAM: Maryland 68, Michigan State 67

The biggest knock on this Maryland team has been their inability to start games well, which is ironic given the fact that the last time these two teams played, the Terps needed a miracle, 14-0 run in the final three minutes to avoid losing a game they led by 15 points in the first half.

I cannot imagine the Terps finding a way to dig a hole like they did against Minnesota on Wednesday, or Ohio State on Sunday, or Northwestern, or Indiana, or Illinois in either of the games they played against the Illini. Gameday will be in town! It will be an 8 p.m. tip! They will be getting the Scott Van Pelt bump! All the narratives!

I expect that, combined with some of the issues that Michigan State has had this season, to push this line up past Maryland (-3), and that makes me want to bet on the Spartans. I know, I know, maybe I just can’t quite Michigan State, but with Rocket Watts, Marcus Bingham and Malik Hall starting to play better, it’s allowed Aaron Henry to focus on being more than just a third-scorer. I also think Xavier Tillman should be able to shut down Jalen Smith the way he shut down Luka Garza in the second half on Tuesday night.

BEST BET: I’m going to stay away from this game unless I can get Michigan State at (+4.5) or higher.

No. 15 AUBURN at No. 8 KENTUCKY, Sat. 3:45 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Kentucky 73, Auburn 68
  • TORVIK: Kentucky 73, Auburn 67
  • HASLAM: Kentucky 73, Auburn 68

This is such a weird matchup between two teams that have been brutally inconsistent. Auburn has been depantsed on the road too many times to feel comfortable betting them in this spot, but Kentucky’s shooting splits — they are significantly better from beyond the arc away from home than they are in Rupp — makes terrified to wager on them when they are laying six or seven points. I will not be on a side in this game unless the line just gets complete out of hand in either direction.

BEST BET: My favorite bet here is going to be the under, especially if the total creeps up past 143.

ARIZONA at UCLA, Sat. 10:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Arizona 71, UCLA 67
  • TORVIK: Arizona 70, UCLA 66
  • HASLAM: Arizona 69, UCLA 64

First and foremost, there is no way in hell that this line opens at UCLA (+4). The Bruins are the hottest team in the country. They beat Arizona in Tucson. They have won six in a row, ten of their last 12 and are coming off of a win over Arizona State to take over first place in the Pac-12 race. This game will be played in Pauley Pavilion, which was rocking on Thursday night against the Sun Devils. Arizona is the team that is actually UCLA’s rival, and that’s to say nothing of the fact that Mick Cronin and Sean Miller hate each other from their time as rival head coaches in Cincinnati.

I also think it’s important to point out that the metrics have tended to overvalue Arizona this season while UCLA — who ranks outside the top 75 in all metrics — has been playing like a top 35 teams over the last six weeks.

Should I mention that Arizona’s Josh Green will not be playing in this game?

BEST BET: I will be checking this line early and often to see if I can snag the UCLA moneyline while they are getting points. I would probably take the Bruins all the way up to (-1).

No. 13 SETON HALL at MARQUETTE, Sat. 2:30 p.m. (FOX)

  • KENPOM: Marquette 75, Seton Hall 72
  • TORVIK: Marquette 76, Seton Hall 73
  • HASLAM: Marquette 76, Seton Hall 73

I’ve said over and over against that I hate betting on Marquette games because it feels like I am betting on whether or not Markus Howard is going to have himself a day. And I know the numbers. Last season, in three games against the Pirates, Howard averaged just 17.7 points while shooting 21.4 percent from the floor and 21.7 percent from three. In their first matchup this season, Howard finished with 27 points, but it took an 8-for-22 shooting night to get there. Quincy McKnight has been his kryptonite.

That said, this does feel like a sell-high spot for the Pirates. They are coming off of back-to-back home wins and, prior to that, had developed a bit of a habit for slow starts. The last time they played a road game Providence led 34-9 before Seton Hall finally decided to play.

And I think it is worth noting that this will be Howard’s senior night. He’s going to be gunning.

BEST BET: If you can find a player prop for Markus Howard shot attempts, take the over. And if there was ever a time to bet on Howard finding a way to have a blow-up game, this is it. I like Marquette (-3).

No. 19 MICHIGAN at No. 23 OHIO STATE, Sat. 4:00 p.m. (CBS)

  • KENPOM: Ohio State 71, Michigan 67
  • TORVIK: Ohio State 70, Michigan 66
  • HASLAM: Ohio State 70, Michigan 65

This is such a weird matchup. Prior to Wisconsin lighting up Michigan on Thursday night, I would have said that this was a battle between the two Big Ten teams that were playing the best basketball in the league. I think the matchup here actually favors Michigan, to a point. Ohio State plays a gapping defense, which means that they are going to try and prevent penetration by sacrificing open threes. The way that Wisconsin beat Michigan on Thursday night was to stick to shooters in the corner and allow Zavier Simpson to try and win a game by himself. He had 32 points, and Michigan shot just 10 threes on the night, the fewest they’ve attempted in a game since John Beilein’s first season.

On the other hand, Michigan is really good at running teams off of the three-point line, and Ohio State shoots a ton of threes. Put it all together, and if we like the matchup for the defenses on both sides of a rivalry game that will be the second matchup between the two teams on the season, the best bet seems to be obvious.

BEST BET: The total looks like it will be somewhere around 136.5. The first game was 61-58. Hit that under.

No. 16 PENN STATE at No. 18 IOWA, Sat. 12:00 p.m. (BTN)

  • KENPOM: Iowa 78, Penn State 75
  • TORVIK: Iowa 78, Penn State 77
  • HASLAM: Iowa 78, Penn State 75

I love this spot for Iowa. For starters, it’s the ideal spot play that we look for. Penn State is coming off of a home win that they maybe didn’t deserve — they blew a big lead to Rutgers and needed a three with 12 seconds left for a one point win that prevented a three-game losing streak — and will not have to go on the road to play an Iowa team that is coming off of a road loss to Michigan State. Now throw in that the Nittany Lions did not have an answer for Luka Garza the first time these two teams squared off, and all signs point to the Hawkeyes.

BEST BET: I’ll be on Iowa up to about (-4.5).

No. 7 DUKE at VIRGINIA, Sat. 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)

  • KENPOM: Duke 62, Virginia 58
  • TORVIK: Duke 60, Virginia 58
  • HASLAM: Duke 63, Virginia 58

UCLA is my favorite bet of the day. Virginia is my second-favorite bet of the day. As it currently stands, Duke is a top eight team in the metrics and Virginia is more of a borderline top 50 team. But over the course of the last month, the Wahoos have gone 8-1 and are playing as the 31st best team in college basketball. During that same stretch, Duke, who has lost two of their last three games, is playing like the 28th-best team in the country.

As far as the matchup is concerned, I think that Virginia has the size inside to be able to limit Vernon Carey’s effectiveness, and their Pack-Line defense forces opponents to have to settle for jumpers over the top of the defense, and Duke’s shooting is not exactly a strong-suit.

BEST BET: I will be on the Virginia side here without a doubt. If the line is +2.5 or below, I will be on the UVA moneyline. If it’s +3 or above I will take the points.

Bubble Watch: Breaking down every team in at-large conversation

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It’s that time of the year again, which means that we are diving head first into our annual NCAA tournament bubble watch.

The way that it will work is simple: We’ll be looking at every team that our Dave Ommen, the best bracketologist in the business, considers in the mix for an at-large bid. In an effort to keep this somewhat manageable, we are going to assume that the top 36 teams in the field — every team that is a No. 9-seed or above — is “off the bubble”. This does not mean those teams are a lock to dance, it just means that they have given themselves enough room for error that we can take them out of the conversation until they do something dumb.

Dave’s latest bracket can be found here. The full NET rankings can be found here.

So with all that in mind, let’s get into the full NCAA tournament bubble watch:



ACC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Florida State (NBC: 2), Duke (NBC: 3), Louisville (NBC: 4)

VIRGINIA (NET: 51, NBC: 9): Virginia won for the fifth straight time on Wednesday, blowing a huge lead at Virginia Tech (84) before Kihei Clark saved the day with a buzzer-beating win. They only have three Quad 1 wins and a 10-6 mark against the top two Quads with home dates left against Duke (6) and Louisville (10). They’re getting closer to a spot where they can afford a slip-up, but picking up one of those elite wins should do the trick and get them dancing.

N.C. STATE (NET: 57, NBC: First four out): The Wolfpack fell to 17-11 on the season as North Carolina (94) finished off a season sweep with an 85-79 win in Chapel Hill. N.C. State has a weird resume. They are the proud owners of three Quad 3 losses as well as four more losses to sub-70 teams on the road. That’s not good. But they beat Duke (6) by 22 points in Raleigh, which is just one of their five Quad 1 wins. They are 8-8 against Quad 1 and 2 opponents on the season. It’s worth noting that Markell Johnson, N.C. State’s best player, did not play in one of the three Quad 3 losses — Georgia Tech (78) — so that will be something to monitor for the Selection Committee.


AMERICAN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Houston (NBC: 9)

WICHITA STATE (NET: 48, NBC: Play-in game): Wichita State bounced back from a tough loss at Cincinnati (53) by knocking off Temple (110) at home. The Shockers likely will not feel comfortable on Selection Sunday regardless of how things play out. They have a pair of low-end Quad 1 road wins, they have beaten VCU (60) and Oklahoma (49) at home, and they don’t have any truly terrible losses, but with just one potential Quad 1 games left on their schedule — all of which are on the road — and with just a single top 50 win on the season, I think the Shockers are going to have an uncomfortable Selection Sunday. The fact that they are 8-7 against the top two Quads without a bad loss is something of a saving grace at this point.

MEMPHIS (NET: 62, NBC: Next four out): Memphis is hanging on by a thread right now, and losing at SMU (81) on Tuesday night is certainly not going to help anything. They are still alive after landed a critical win over Houston (23) at home over the weekend, but Memphis still only has a pair of Quad 1 wins compared to three Quad 3 losses. Memphis is also playing with D.J. Jeffries right now, which complicates matters as well. They end their season like this: at Tulane (172), Wichita State (48), at Houston. I think they need to win all three at this point.

CINCINNATI (NET: 53, NBC: 12): The Bearcats shot themselves in the foot on Wednesday, losing at home to UCF (127). They bounced back and beat Wichita State (48) at home on Saturday, which gives Cincinnati an eighth win over Quad 1 and 2 opponents. As of this very moment, Cincinnati has just two Quad 1 wins and four Quad 3 losses, all of which came to teams sitting outside the top 100. They’re in a bad spot right now, and with just one more potential Quad 1 win on their resume, I’m not sure just how much they’ll be able to do to fix it. Beating Houston (23) on the road next Sunday has become a must-win.


ATLANTIC 10 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Dayton (NBC: 2)

RHODE ISLAND (NET: 40, NBC: Play-in game): Disaster almost struck for the Rams on Wednesday, as they went into Fordham (272) and barely avoided what would have been a devastating loss. They’re now 20-7 overall with just one Quad 1 win, but they are 7-6 against the top two Quads. The loss to Brown (234) is ugly, but as long as URI avoids the landmines on their schedule, I think they can get an at-large even with a loss to Dayton (5) at home in March.

RICHMOND (NET: 52, NBC: First four out): The Spiders avoided disaster at George Washington (190) on Wednesday. Richmond had their five-game winning streak snapped on the road against St. Bonaventure (113), which is not a bad loss in real life but is a bad loss on an NCAA tournament resume. The Spiders only have one truly terrible loss to their name — Radford (162) got them on a neutral court — but with only three Quad 1 wins and a 4-6 record against the top two Quads, their margin for error is completely gone.


BIG 12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Baylor (NBC: 1), Kansas (NBC: 1), West Virginia (NBC: 6), Texas Tech (NBC: 9)

OKLAHOMA (NET: 49, NBC: 10): The biggest winner of the week was, without question, Oklahoma. The Sooners picked up a fourth Quad 1 win of the season with an impressive, 65-51 win over Texas Tech (20). It snaps a three-game losing streak that had dropped Oklahoma to 17-11 on the season and sets them up for a massive trip to West Virginia (17) on Saturday, who they beat at home earlier this month. They are now 17-11 on the season and are sitting with a 4-9 record against the top Quad and nine total wins against the top two Quads. It’s also worth noting they only have two road wins on the season — at Texas (65) and at North Texas (89).

TEXAS (NET: 65, NBC: Next four out): The Longhorns won their third straight game on Monday night, as they beat No. 20 West Virginia (17) despite playing without Jericho Sims, Gerald Liddell and Jase Febres. Suddenly, a team that we had all written off is right back in the mix, as the Mountaineers are a top 20 team in the NET and the kind of elite win that Texas was sorely lacking on their resume. As it stands, the Longhorns are sitting at 17-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big 12. They have three Quad 1 wins, Monday night’s win as well as roadies at Purdue (37) and Oklahoma State (70), and a 5-11 mark against the top two Quads without a bad loss to their name. Saturday’s trip to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech (20) is going to be the make or break game. It’s not a win-and-you’re-win type deal, but I do think that taking a loss to the Red Raiders would mean that the Longhorns will have to beat one of the Big 12’s top four teams in the conference tournament to have a realistic shot at getting to the dance.


BIG EAST BUBBLE WATCH

Top 9: Creighton (NBC: 2), Seton Hall (NBC: 3), Villanova (NBC: 3), Butler (NBC: 7), Marquette (NBC: 7)

XAVIER (NET: 42, NBC: 10): The Musketeers shook off a loss to Villanova (12) at home on Saturday by knocking off DePaul (75) on Tuesday night. The best thing about this Xavier team’s resume is that they really have not taken all that many bad losses. Their worst loss of the season came at Wake Forest (104), which is a Quad 2 loss. It’s the only team ranked outside of the top 35 in the NET that Xavier has lost to. They only have three Quad 1 wins — and two of them are at St. John’s (73) and at DePaul (75) — but they do have a win over Seton Hall (17) in Newark, which helps quite a bit. I personally think that Xavier has to do more work that it looks like. They are just 3-9 against Quad 1 opponents, and that could drop to 1-9 if St. John’s and DePaul fall outside the top 75. With games at Georgetown (58), at Providence (50) and Butler (21), they’ll have three more chances to land Quad 1 wins. I think Xavier probably should win two of those to really feel comfortable.

PROVIDENCE (NET: 50, NBC: Play-in game): The Friars are now the official owners of the strangest resume in college basketball. On Friday, Marquette (24) paid a visit to The Dunk and lost. Providence has now won three straight games and have now won five of their last seven. All five of those wins are Quad 1 wins, and they include a road win over Butler (21), home wins against Creighton (8) and Seton Hall (15), and Saturday’s win against Marquette. The Friars now have seven Quad 1 wins. If you only look at wins, Providence is like a five seed.

The problem is the losses. There are 12 of them, and some of them are really, really bad. Providence lost to Charleston (145) and Long Beach State (298) on neutral courts, at Northwestern (177) and to Penn (144) at home. That’s two Quad 3 losses and two Quad 4 losses. It’s wild that the Friars are even in the conversation with all of that garbage on their resume, but they very much are.

GEORGETOWN (NET: 58, NBC: Off the bubble): The Hoyas are now sitting at 15-13 overall with a 5-10 record in the Big East and games left at Creighton (8) and against Villanova (12) at home. They have four Quad 1 wins and nine wins against the top two Quads, but they are just 4-11 against Quad 1 opponents. I think they need to win out during the regular season to get an at-large bid.


BIG TEN BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Maryland (NBC: 2), Penn State (NBC: 4), Michigan (NBC: 5), Ohio State (NBC: 5), Michigan State (NBC: 5), Iowa (NBC: 6), Wisconsin (NBC: 6), Illinois (NBC: 7), Indiana (NBC: 9)

RUTGERS (NET: 34, NBC: 10):  The Scarlet Knights have one of the weirder resumes on the bubble right now after losing at Penn State (25) on Wednesday. They’re 17-11 overall and they are 9-9 in a Big Ten that is as deep as any league I can remember. They have three Quad 1 wins, just one Quad 3 loss and a 7-10 mark against the top two Quads. Eight of their ten losses are to Quad 1 opponents. They played a tough non-conference schedule, and they have some really impressive home wins. The problem? They’ve only won a single game outside of the RAC this year, and that came at Nebraska (189), who is the worst team in the Big Ten. Their season finishes with Maryland (9) and at Purdue (35). Rutgers has some work left to do, and I really think they will want to win both to feel comfortable on Selection Sunday.

PURDUE (NET: 35, NBC: Off the bubble): Purdue snapped a four-game losing streak when they knocked off Indiana (56) at home on Thursday night. They’re sitting here with a 15-14 record and a 4-11 mark against Quad 1 opponents and an 8-13 record against the top two Quads. They do actually have some pretty good wins, but the issue Purdue is currently facing is the the number of losses, including a Quad 3 loss to Nebraska (189). The most losses an at-large team has ever had is 15. For context, Indiana last season was 17-15 with six Quad 1 wins and nine Quad 1 and 2 wins and they were left out. Their best road win is at Indiana (58). They’re in a tough spot, and I think they need to win their last two regular season games and at least one game in the Big Ten tournament to have a real shot at this.


PAC-12 BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Oregon (NBC: 4), Colorado (NBC: 5), Arizona (NBC: 7), Arizona State (NBC: 8)

UCLA (NET: 76, NBC: Play-in game): The Bruins are making a push to get into the NCAA tournament. After a weekend where they completed a sweet of the mountain schools — the toughest road trip in all of college basketball — the Bruins knocked off Arizona State (45) on Thursday to take over first place in the Pac-12. They have won six in a row and 10 of the last 12. They now own a sweep of Colorado (22), they won at Arizona (9) and while they do have a Quad 3 loss — Hofstra (114) — and a Quad 4 loss — Fullerton (261) — the Bruins are now sitting on five Quad 1 wins, three of which came against top 15 teams, two on the road. The metrics don’t love the Bruins, but this win will help and if the metrics love Arizona and Colorado this much, it should mean quite a bit that UCLA was able to beat them. Their resume isn’t quite as weird as Providence’s, but both of these teams are going to give the Selection Committee a headache on Selection Sunday.

With games left against Arizona and USC (44), the Bruins will have the chances to play their way in. It’s wild to think that we’re here after the way the season started, but we are.

USC (NET: 44, NBC: 10): The Trojans snapped a two-game losing streak with a home win over Arizona (11), which is exactly what Andy Enfield’s team needed. They now have four Quad 1 wins and are sitting with a 9-8 against the top two Quads with an 8-7 mark away from the Galen Center, including five road wins. The home loss to Temple (111) is not ideal, but it is survivable. The Trojans still get Arizona State (45) and UCLA (76) at home. I think they’re still in a pretty good spot, but it’s not going to be comfortable if they don’t win at least one of those two games to finish out the regular season.

STANFORD (NET: 30, NBC: First four out): The Cardinal are now on a three-game winning streak after beating Utah (88) at home. They are just 3-5 against Quad 1 opponents, 6-8 against the top two Quads and have a Quad 3 loss — at Cal (136) — to their name, but they are playing well at the most important time of their season. They still get Colorado (12) at home and Oregon (19) on the road, so there will be chances to improve their resume, but the Cardinal will need to capitalize on those to feel good on Selection Sunday.


SEC BUBBLE WATCH

TOP 9: Kentucky (NBC: 3), Auburn (NBC: 4), LSU (NBC: 8), Florida (NBC: 8)

ARKANSAS (NET: 41, NBC: Next four out): Arkansas won the second straight game with Isaiah Joe back on Wednesday, working over Tennessee (69) in Fayetteville. They have a pair of Quad 1 wins and a 5-10 mark against the top two Quads, but the more important record is this: They are now 17-5 on the season with a healthy Isaiah Joe. It will be very interesting to see how the selection committee handles Arkansas.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (NET: 54, NBC: First four out): Mississippi State significantly dinged their at-large chances by losing at Texas A&M (117) on Saturday. That’s the third bad loss on their resume, and with a win at Florida (32) and a sweep of Arkansas (41) the only notable accomplishments to date, the Bulldogs find themselves in a tough spot. Saturday’s win against Alabama (39) at home on Tuesday helps, but that’s only a Quad 2 win. The Bulldogs have just two Quad 1 wins to date. What’s worse is that they only get one more Quad 1 opportunity in the regular season, and that’s a game at South Carolina (64).

SOUTH CAROLINA (NET: 64, NBC: Next four out): The Gamecocks snapped a two-game losing streak and avoided disaster by beating Georgia (90) in overtime at home on Wednesday. With just one Quad 1 opportunity left on their schedule — at Alabama (39) on Saturday — I think Frank Martin’s club needs to win out to get in, and even that might not be enough.


BUBBLE WATCH FOR EVERYONE ELSE

TOP 9: Gonzaga (NBC: 1), San Diego State (NBC: 1), BYU (NBC: 6), Saint Mary’s (NBC: 8)

UTAH STATE (NET: 38, NBC: 11): After wiping the floor with San Jose State (280), the Aggies have won six in a row and nine of their last ten games, ensuring they are still in the NCAA tournament mix and fully turning around a season that looked like it was lost as recently as five weeks ago. Wins over LSU (29) and Florida (33) are nice, but with three road losses to sub-85 teams and no more chances to land marquee wins, how are they going to make up for those losses? They don’t play another top 100 team the rest of the season. I don’t see how they can feel comfortable about getting in without beating San Diego State (5) in the MWC tournament.

EAST TENNESSEE STATE (NET: 39, NBC: 11): The Buccaneers survived a trip to Wofford (151) on Wednesday night. ETSU has gotten through the toughest part of their schedule. They have a win at UNCG (60) and a win at LSU (33). With a 22-4 record and a Quad 4 loss to Mercer (197) at home, the Buccaneers have to win out and lose to only UNCG or Furman in the SoCon tournament to have a chance, and even that might be a bit of a longshot.

NORTHERN IOWA (NET: 46, NBC: 11): Northern Iowa took care of business against a bad Evansville team on Wednesday. UNI has a win at Colorado (22) and they beat South Carolina (64) on a neutral court, but they are 5-3 against the top two Quads with a pair of Quad 3 losses. I want to see them get an at-large — every one of their non-Quad 1 losses is a road game in league play — but I’m not sure they have done enough to beat out some of these power conference teams.

Bracketology: UCLA makes a case for an at-large

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Here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

With just over two weeks until Selection Sunday, this year’s Selection Committee is once again going to have some challenging resumes to dissect.

Today’s Case Study is UCLA.

Relegated to a rebuilding year after a sluggish 6-6 start, the Bruins have won six straight games (7 of 8 overall) in the Pac-12 and enter today tied with Oregon atop the league standings. That’s important, because should the Bruins end in a tie – or win an outright regular-season title – it would add a profile component the Committee values.

Back to the most recent stretch, UCLA’s streak includes road victories at Arizona and Colorado, and a home win last night over Arizona State.  In all, UCLA’s profile now includes five Quadrant 1 wins (including the aforementioned two Top Tier Quad 1 road wins) and four wins against likely NCAA teams.

Much like Providence, the Bruins are squarely back in the at-large picture.  Whether they remain is still in question.  They have work to do.  The NCAA’s NET isn’t overly fond of UCLA, but the Bruins are in a similar place to St. John’s (NET 72) a year ago – and the Johnnies went to Dayton, too.

Anyway, here is today’s updated NCAA tournament bracketology. If you’re looking for the NBC Sports Bubble Watch, it can be found here.



The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: February 28, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION Rhode Island vs. UCLA
WEST REGION Providence vs. Wichita State
SOUTH REGION  PR VIEW-AM vs. SIENA
MIDWEST REGION ROBERT MORRIS vs. NC A&T

MIDWEST Indianapolis SOUTH – Houston                    
Omaha St. Louis
1) KANSAS 1) Baylor
16) ROB MORRIS / NC A&T 16) PV-AM / SIENA
8) Saint Mary’s 8) Florida
9) Houston 9) Indiana
Sacramento Omaha
5) Michigan 5) Colorado
12) UCLA / Rhode Island 12) CINCINNATI
4) Auburn 4) Penn State
13) NORTH TEXAS 13) VERMONT
Albany Greensboro
6) Wisconsin 6) Iowa
11) NORTHERN IOWA 11) Utah State
3) Villanova 3) KENTUCKY
14) COLGATE 14) BOWLING GREEN
Greensboro Tampa
7) Butler 7) Illinois
10) USC 10) Xavier
2) MARYLAND 2) FLORIDA STATE
15) WRIGHT STATE 15) LITTLE ROCK
EAST – New York WEST – Los Angeles
Sacramento Spokane
1) SAN DIEGO ST 1) GONZAGA
16) E. WASHINGTON 16) RADFORD
8) Arizona State 8) LSU
9) Virginia 9) Texas Tech
Cleveland Spokane
5) Ohio State 5) Michigan State
12) LIBERTY 12) S.F. AUSTIN
4) Louisville 4) OREGON
13) YALE 13) NEW MEXICO ST
Albany Tampa
6) West Virginia 6) BYU
11) EAST TENNESSEE ST 11) Providence / Wichita St
3) SETON HALL 3) Duke
14) HOFSTRA 14) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
Cleveland St. Louis
7) Marquette 7) Arizona
10) Rutgers 10) Oklahoma
2) DAYTON 2) Creighton
15) BELMONT 15) UC-IRVINE

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
USC Rhode Island Stanford Arkansas
Oklahoma Providence NC State Memphis
Rutgers Wichita State Richmond South Carolina
Utah State UCLA Mississippi State Texas

Top Seed Line
Kansas, Baylor, Gonzaga, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (6)
Big 12 (5)
SEC (4)
ACC (3)
West Coast (3)
American (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (2)

OK, how good are you guys at NCAA tournament bracketology?

Not too bad. Our bracketologist, Dave Ommen, is sitting atop the ranks for the bracket matrix, which cobbles together everyone who does this for a living. So yeah, we’re on our game.

When do conference tournaments begin?

Conference tournaments — when teams can earn automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament — begin on Tuesday, March 3. Most of the league tournaments for that week are mid-major and low-major schools (though those can often be the most exciting games to watch).

There is a full schedule for all 32 conference tournaments here, though check back with us later on for previews for all those tournaments, recaps and highlights from the buzzer-beaters and many dunks for the start of March.

When do Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament begin?

Selection Sunday for the 2020 NCAA Tournament is on March 15 (about 4 pm ET), while the games begin a couple days later. The First Four is on March 17 and 18, while the craziness of Round 1 starts on Thursday, March 19.

The Final Four, held in Atlanta this year, starts on Saturday, April 4. The National Title Game is Monday, April 6.

Thursday’s Things To Know: UCLA leads the Pac-12 and Wisconsin wins at Michigan

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Thursday night got weird on the west coast, as the Pac-12 seems to only get drunker and drunker as the season goes on.

1. UCLA IS IN FIRST PLACE IN THE PAC-12 RACE

One of the wildest stories in college basketball this season is that of the UCLA Bruins.

Just two months ago, UCLA lost at home to Cal St. Fullerton, a team that ranks in the bottom 100 in college basketball on every metric that we use to measure these things. It was the second time this season that the Bruins had lost a game to a mid-major opponent in Pauley Pavilion. It dropped UCLA to 7-6 on the season as the calendar turned, which was the same record on the same date that got Steve Alford fired a year prior.

And that wasn’t even the low point!

As of January 15th, UCLA was under .500 on the season. That’s what happens when you start league play by losing three of your first four games. Since starting the season 8-9 and starting Pac-12 play 1-3 and having half of the known world question whether or not he was the right hire for UCLA to make, Mick Cronin has reeled off 10 wins in 12 games. He’s swept Colorado in the last six weeks. He’s won at Arizona. And on Thursday night, the Bruins got a three from freshman Jaime Jaquez with 0.6 seconds left on the clock to knock off Arizona State, who was all alone in first place in Pac-12 entering the night.

I was bullish on UCLA entering the season, but I’ll be honest: I did not think that there was any chance that they could be two games away from winning a Pac-12 title.

But here we are.

2. THAT WASN’T THE ONLY INSANITY OUT WEST

Arizona had a chance to move into a first-place tie with a win at USC on Thursday night, but they weren’t able to get that done thanks to a double-double from Onyeka Okongwu and a 3-for-14 shooting performance from Nico Mannion. The Wildcats shot just 28 percent from the floor and 3-for-26 from three on the night.

And Colorado? They had the same opportunity, but they slept-walked through a half at Cal and ended up losing by 14 points. The only team other team that won with a chance to play their way into first place in the league was Oregon, who beat up on Oregon State despite the fact that they were playing without Chris Duarte.

As it stands, the Ducks and the Bruins are tied for first place. Arizona State is a half-game out in the win column while Arizona and Colorado are a game off the pace.

3. OH, AND WISCONSIN MIGHT BE GOOD AGAIN

The Badgers went into the Crisler Center and beat up on Michigan, who had a healthy Isaiah Livers at their disposal. D’Mitrik Trice had 28 points and Aleem Ford and Micah Potter both chipped in with 18 in the 81-74 win.