Not only did Kurtis Blow have a jheri curl that rivaled ex-NBA champ and 40-year old virgin AC Green, but he found a less than adequate neighborhood dunk hoop-court for his video shoot. Those guys are all easily two feet taller than the rim. Anyone worth his salt recognizes that the best dunk hoops were 7.5 -8.0 feet exactly during that 10-14 year old age, where the dunk was finally attainable, usually at a local elementary school. It felt just real enough for the vertically challenged to do some cool _____.
It would just so happen that the middle schoolers would be there when we’d roll up and run Showtime on them. Kurtis ain’t even trying to pretend he has game, though he did have enough scratch to hire cheerleaders for his Lil’ Tykes backyard title bout, so he must have been doing something right.
I also believe Dr. J is probably only rivaled by MJ or Kobe in the rap game reference count, and was certainly the early leader in the clubhouse as the most hip hop name-dropped NBA player. The ’80s loved them some Doc and nobody other than me rooted harder for a close-but-no-cigar Sixers team that were only good enough to beat the Celts and Lakers to a title once. I mean, I had the Jeff Ruland Bullets, or the Sixers who visited seemingly 5x a year here in DC. I could see early that the Sixers did things right, and that is what today’s article is dedicated to.
Speaking of doing things right, yesterday I spent an inordinate amount of words on why the lowest eight teams in my ACC power poll weren’t quite getting it done, and the prognostications were a little grim on the postseason front for at least five of them. You can read about how the bottom half lives here. But today we discuss the contenders.
Today we start with number seven, errrr 6B. I’m ready to go. Strap-in.
#6B Miami Hurricanes (14-5, 4-2) RPI: 38 SOS: 42 Last Poll: 9
Last Five Games: They quickly lit fire and got it together having perhaps the most impressive five game stretch in the league for a team not named UVA or UNC. Shaking loose of the home court demons that have plagued their home dates, they beat BC before traveling up to Durham and shocking the world with flummoxing ball screen after flummoxing ball screen. Angel Rodriguez and Manuel Lecomte put up 47 (double their average) on a tested enough Duke backcourt, that couldn’t solve it all night long. and C Tonye Jekiri went to battle quite handsomely against Duke AA C FR Jahlil Okafor with his 10 and 10 to mitigate Okafor’s 15/15.
Coach L for Miami just kept picking that scab ’til Type-K blood gushed in waves over the Durham floor, as Miami set back several Blue Devil streaks in the process: A 41-game home win streak that dates back to to 2012, and the first time time since 1996 Duke lost two consecutive games of double digits.
It also allowed us a few more days without the Coach 1K branding (vomit for branding being the vernacular I have to use, not K’s fantastic achievement). Following that colossal win, they faltered in a tough ND venue in Purcell Pavilion and looked to be back to bi-polar ball. The wins this past week convinced me this team is on the right track. Beating NC State (always a tough out at home) and then traveling into the cold to steal one at Syracuse is indicative that this team can win any game. Unfortunately they are number 6-B because I cannot escape that Eastern Kentucky blowout in Coral Gables, or that 7-3 home mark, littered with inferior losses.
Just look at this team play. They have multiple cogs who can get it done, demonstrating depth that has become a little more scarce the past couple years. Coach L coaches his bench as though they should be ready to play at any moment (as they should). Miami runs a nine-man rotation at you that average double digit minutes. That’s 45 fouls, that’s max effort and speed from his rapidly gelling backcourt. UVA, Notre Dame and Duke stand out in theses stats for individual categories like offense/defense/FG%/Opp FG%, while Miami is just solid at everything. Observe here. There are two things Miami would be deemed lower half of the country in: FT attempts and offensive rebounds. Hardly a concern for Coach L.
Having watched his George Mason program intently here in Fairfax, he doesn’t often send two guys at the offensive glass, opting for sound transition defense. His team is on the up and up, and could wind up with a first round ACC tournament bye. With a late schedule that includes two vs Louisville and one vs UNC (home, which isn’t a harbinger of great things for this Canes team that has lost three of its five games on the home floor). But the fact that of the remaining 12, nine are imminently winnable, which puts them in 11-7 territory at worst. Sims have them at 12-6, which should be enough to have the Canes firmly in.
Caution though: The Miami SOS in league play down the stretch is projected to lower their RPI into the 40s (not dangerous territory, but makes them more “seedy”, and maybe traveling West). They can’t afford to lose to teams that aren’t UNC or Louisville really, if they want to optimize what has grown into one of the weirder campaigns I recall.
This week: at home against GT, at Florida St. I’d beware of the FSU game, that’s Hamilton’s old team, and the Tucker Center is not usually kind to the shooters. When I saw a game there a number of years back, it reminded me of an atmosphere in the movie theaters where they are beginning to lower the lights, but they are still bright enough to see clearly. Sight lines at court level seemed cavernous, as though threes were five feet deeper. Few people realize that the seats that surround the court provide a ballast for shooters, and at Tucker it takes getting used to. Miami for being a 37% shooting team from the arc, needs to recognize early if that’s how they want to play things if shots aren’t dropping.
Mobility: If they move to 6-2 in the league, they’ll probably have the most upward mobility of any team in the top half outside of UNC. They could squeeze into a solid #5, depending on how things shake out.
#6A North Carolina State Wolfpack (13-8, 4-4) RPI: 45 SOS: 3 Last Poll: 4B
Last Five Games: After kickstarting Wolfpack hearts with a decisive home win over Duke, they faltered losing three of four to very tough teams: They got Marcus Paige’d at home again, rebounded on the road over a scuffling FSU squad, and then dropped to Miami in FLA (a winnable road game), before flopping hugely against a Notre Dame team that came from 16 behind at PNC. Putting the Irish away might have led to dreams of a top four or five NCAA seed had things not unraveled. Once again, Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant is trying to keep up with Rakeem Christmas of Syracuse in the POTY award (all respect due to Olivier Hanlan and Jahlil Okafor). Grant’s 25 and three outpaced the usually in control Trevor Lacey on the offensive end to lead the way back, and the Irish put it away in OT.
In the OT stanza there were seven negative plays by Lacey to just one positive (an offensive rebound), trying to force the action. Grant to the contrary let Demetrius Jackson go to work and his supporting cast put up this W. Grant led them back and the rest of ND finished. Quite a team these Irish, they battle through whatever they need to.
Lacey takes great pretty good care of the ball, but is prone to hero-ball, which I saw help the Pack stay close in the Purdue loss, and almost got a win against Wofford but the officials waved off that bucket by Lacey. That loss will hurt seeding, but this team playing stoutly against such a tough SOS should make it even if they finish 9-9 in league play.
They continue to protect the rim at an elite rate, which helps them against Duke and UNC, who sport big, physical converters. They rank 8th nationally in blocks, and that’s with Beejay Anya playing part-time. He ranks 11th in the limited minutes and if stamina weren’t an issue along with foul trouble, Beejay might be an historic shot blocker next year.
While their SOS will drop a bit in the 2nd half of league play it stands to reason more wins will be a byproduct. Eventually I expect a strong finish from the Pack, winning seven of their final 10 to solidify things for a top six seed.
This Week: Clemson at home on Wednesday will be a Royal Rumble in the paint. @ GT on Saturday seems to be one everyone is penciling in. That game will also feature big immobiles, who hack as much as they defend. As well as some real, real bad three point shooters: Clemson and GT rank 13th and 15th respectively in % in the ACC. Clankfest 2015.
Mobility: Since both teams are lesser in my opinion, Miami and NC St. will remain in lockstep until one loses. Both have favorable schedules this week. I am fine with the co #6s by now. It’s the end of the year when the tough decisions will come.
ACC basketball in the new AP top 25: 2 Virginia, 4 Duke, 8 Notre Dame, 10 Louisville, 13 North Carolina, 23 Miami.
— Aaron Brenner (@Aaron_Brenner) January 26, 2015
#5 North Carolina Tar Heels (17-4, 7-1) RPI: 11 SOS: 8 Last poll: #4A
Last Five Games: All wins, one point at home v Louisville, escaping on the road at NC St. at Marcus Paige Arena, two easy wins vs VT and Wake, before being snapped back to reality with an FSU team that wouldn’t go away despite never leading after the 16:20 minute mark of the first half.
Because this was a day later, I must also commend UNC on dropping 93 on Syracuse at home tonight. That is a good defensive Syracuse team, though not up to their usual standards, and missing their 2nd or 3rd best player.
But to score 93 showed a different level of octane out of UNC. Especially considering they trailed at the half. Whatever Roy told his guys in the locker room took effect immediately as Paige matched Christmas with 22 apiece, and dropped eight dimes. The huge difference was Nate Britt who hit for 17 and busted that Syracuse zone to pieces. Roy once again a supreme tactician, opted to sit his three bigs (Tokoto, Meeks, Johnson) a few minutes extra so that UNC could get more wing production. Boeheim doesn’t have the wings to fly with the best of the ACC this year. A sad, but simple fact.
Typically the UNC M.O. had been to work the bigs and then try to pass out of double teams to open shooters. The main problem is that UNC is not a good 3-point shooting team this year. But what North Carolina is, is one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country thanks to Marcus Paige and the big frontline. They lead the country in rebounding, are 2nd in offensive rebounding, and share the ball enough to earn the five spot in assists. And even though Paige takes his risks into the paint that wind up in lost possessions, the team is still good enough for 21st in the country in A/TO ratio. Even their FT numbers are uncanny attempting them at a 22nd best clip while converting at 27th. You don’t want to see some of the other league teams’ deltas there (ahem *paging Wake Forest*)
The reason I have UNC at five is because although I am a believer they have Sweet Sixteen in them (as if that weren’t written in some ancient cave wall somewhere anyway), but the four teams ahead of them just have a little more scoring talent and more options to go deeper. Also the UNC second half schedule is brutal. They have Duke twice, Louisville on the road, NC St. at home, and Miami. If they drop all five and win the rest, they’ll be 12-6 and that’s fantastic. It’s just not enough to make me believe they belong in the top four just yet. I think they can get there but it’ll take Notre Dame to finally crack.
This Week: Already handled the ‘Cuse tonight, so that’s plus points. Beating U of L at the Yum on Saturday will be a task. In my opinion a win over Louisville in the Yum will drop Louisville from the three they are at as Duke and UNC will have waltzed out on consecutive Saturday’s with victories. Not to mention the home loss to KY. The Yum Center while not healthy for the spectator eating its wares, is breathing life and giving momentum to critical opponents the Cards may face down the road.
Get it going at home Louisville fans! I know nothing will ever match watching Denny Crum pace the sidelines at Freedom Hall while dunk contests occurred, but this unit is good enough to win a 2nd title if they play the right way and hit their stride at the right time.
#4 Duke Blue Devils (17-2, 4-2) RPI: 7 SOS 10 Last Poll: 2
Last Five Games: Whatever problems Coach K was experiencing with his young squad seem to have been addressed. Particularly on the defensive end. After being the butt of jokes for a week following heratyy losses to NC State and Miami (@home being especially galling), he drew up great game plans, and with three straight wins (decisively at Louisville, easily over an undermanned Pitt team, and then in MSG against St. John’s) the Blue Devils are back in position.
If Coach K can get 99 more wins, he would be the winningest coach in men's or women's Division I college basketball pic.twitter.com/xrvMA772tn
— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) January 26, 2015
The problem is they still have 12 league games to play, and the schedule will therefore get tougher. I can see a lot of potential pitfalls: two v UNC, two v Syracuse, two v ND, and one vs UVA (in Charlottesville)….that’s seven potential losses. Could Duke fall to 9-9? They’d still be 22-11 and in place for a middling seed in the dance, but that’s not what the Cameron Crazies expect!
Now will be the time to see if Quin Cook can provide the veteran leadership required and if the young trio of freshman (Tyus Jones, Justice Winslow and the inestimable Okafor) can get them four wins of the seven. I feel that is a fair expectation. If they go 8-4, that puts them smack dab in the middle of a cluster of clubs here with 12-6 potential. It may come down to how Duke plays in the ACC Tournament to see where the selection committee puts them. With what I’ve seen this year, they have the ability to turn it up a notch and make a run. It could still net them familiar territory in March as a one or two seed in the East. But more defensive breakdowns and they could be playing the unfamiliar underdog role in the tourney this Spring.
This Week: @ND and Coach K protege Mike Brey on Wednesday (if K doesn’t bludgeon them on the interior with Okafor and Amile Jefferson and Buzz Lightyear off the bench in the youngest of the Plumlee Duke baby factory, they should take back 100 wins for lack of paying attention. The Irish play small). Then the Devils get to travel to Charlottesville on Saturday in what will be the tête-à-tête to determine whether Coach K can penetrate “The Pack Line” or be relegated to taking jumpers with the the shot clock expiring as so many Wahoo opponents do.
Mobility: They beat ND and UVA at home and they’re 1A. They lose these games and UNC wins their pair and we got a switch at hand. If they split, I’ll be torn, but we’ll have more empirical evidence as I do my last one of these just prior to the tourney.
#3 Louisville Cardinals (16-3, 4-2) RPI: 19 SOS: 49 Last Poll: 6
Last Five Games: Just 3-2, Coach Pitino wants more cohesiveness. He stripped Montrezl Harrell of his captaincy (I hope because they had words over how Pitino was wasting him having him wander around the perimeter and set high screens and not roll if his guard got the step on his man). But wins over Clemson, VT, and Pitt won’t raise a single eyebrow. When you couple those two losses (@UNC, and at home vs a Duke team on the ropes) with their game long uphill battle vs #1 KY, you have a team that is on the cusp of elite, but isn’t doing the things it needs to do to get there.
And though they are 3rd this week, I have little doubt that unless they begin focusing on trying to balance their offense more between the front and backcourts they will struggle, and possibly could be a candidate for an early NCAA exit. I love watching their top four guys play (Harrell, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, and Wayne Blackshear make up an exciting nucleus)….but that gaping hole in the middle where they should just stick Harrell and make Anton Gill the fourth wing is killing them.
Chinanu Onuaku, Mathia Mathiang, and Anas Mahmoud are giving them nothing right now but negative minutes. Harrell has the physique of former Detroit Pistons Center Ben Wallace, he is more than up to the task.
Also of concern is the three-point shooting. Harrell is trying to add to his pro stock and attempting way too many and it’s not Blackshear’s best shot either. Rozier and Jones have taken their numbers up a tick to where at least it’s a true shooting % above 50%. But I’m sorry, the ball dominant Jones/Rozier combo is combining to lower Harrell’s overall rating to 0.3 per SCACCHoops which isn’t even good for top 20, and behind the likes of VT’s Will Johnston (a surprising 21st, a former walk-on).
Jones comes from a JUCO background and Pitino at times has grown frustrated enough with him to lash out against him on early in the half TOs. But he has little choice but to play him. Both guards are ball hawks who execute the Pitino press well, and work their men hard in full-court man coverage. They have boundless energy. But do they have the temerity when it counts to make the right “team” decision? That will be Louisville’s main question.
Another reason I like Louisville is that they’ve been the beneficiaries of John Swofford’s new member hospitality package, the schedule gets much easier in the second half. Though this might wind up being the 4th or 5th best team in the league at the end of the year, but finishing 14-4 probably sees them finishing in 2nd place.
This Week: Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill beckon on Wednesday, home vs a confident UNC club on Saturday.
Mobility: A loss to UNC at home sees them dip. A win at home coupled with a ND loss of some sort could mean rising up to #2.
Credit: Ivan Morozov
#2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-2, 7-1) RPI: 35 SOS: 107 Last Poll: 3
Last Five Games: After a close home loss to UVA, the Irish have rattled off four straight wins, including Miami and @NC St. And aside from a poorly officiated neutral site loss that featured a career game from Providence star LaDontae Henton in the early going, this team would be perfect outside the UVA loss (no shame there). And all while averaging just over 24 minutes a game from their lone starter above 6’8 Zach Auguste. Smoke and mirrors, or just a well-tuned offensive machine?
This team hasn’t skipped a beat, when Zach Auguste had to miss the GT game due to what was originally miscategorized as a season-ending academic suspension (he only missed one game), the Irish managed to rebound better without him and managed to win just fine. Their spacing destroys teams, most everyone on the team is a shooter and they eschew the offensive rebound unless Zach can get a tip out.
Jerian Grant is making it awful difficult to say he’s anything but co-ACC POTY with Rakeem Christmas at this point. His team is doing more than Christmas’s. He’s part of the reason the Irish have the 2nd best FG % in the nation. He distributes to several sharpshooters and the Irish defend the arc better than most. It’s sorcery is what it is. This group collectively loves to run the floor together, and it shows. The don’t turn it over (4th in country), and shoot it better than most, even if the ACC has bogged down their style of play and reduced them to the 9th best ppg in the country. Again the only thing the Irish stink at is offensive rebounds and that’s because A) There aren’t many to be had and B) Transition D on a small team is so important. You have to beat those big guys to their spots.
This Week: Home vs Duke (Weds) Teacher vs Pupil (Rat vs Beaver, sorry low blow, but I couldn’t resist). And then Saturday @Pitt. Not an easy week for a team riding high, that’s stolen a couple wins. The question remains though: Will the Irish let down? Will Jerian Grant allow them to lose?
#1 Virginia Cavaliers (19-0, 7-0) RPI: 3 SOS: 10 Last Poll: 1
Last Five Games: Tough road wins @ND and @lowly, lowly VT sandwiched around three dominant wins true to the Coach Bennett script. Holding teams to 40 or less used to be noteworthy, UVA has made it fashionable.
I don’t have much to say here, because this team has what it needs whenever it seems to need it. It has two stars in Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon who will likely steal POTY votes from one another, and that’s ignoring the steadiest play of any PG in a conference full of steady PGs in London Perrantes. Anthony Gill has made great strides and may yet be a 20 pt scorer if he could get a few more touches, and Mike Tobey the 7-foot “stiff” is anything but, battling hard for every loose ball and contesting each shot he can. As of late Darion Atkins has come along as that 3rd big real contenders need if they want to go deep.
The early ’80s teams revolved around Big Ralph and to some degree Olden Polynice, but you never know where the scoring will come for a particular game with this Cavs squad. Usually Anderson or Brogdon, but how do you explain the 26 LP dropped on Miami? The guy takes four shots a game.
Gregg Popovich you have dibs on the top NBA system, but I am daring anyone to come up with a better college system than Bennett has implemented at UVA. Their success these past two years was not a flash in the pan. Tobacco Roaders and Big East refugees, you will have to contend with this until the NBA comes calling for TB (and they will soon enough).
This Week: Bye this week to get ready for Duke at home on Saturday. I’m sure Coach K has now removed himself from all the Coach 1K stuff from yesterday and is firmly focused on how to get revenge for last year. He has also sent numerous threatening emails to the league office due to the fact that he is now in charge.
Momentum: Even if UVA lost at home to Duke I still need them to lose one more to bump them off the pedestal, and this is coming from a non-UVA supporter. I hope I did you guys justice.
Taking Note of Coach K’s Momentous Occasion
Finally, before signing off, a momentous occasion yesterday as Coach Mike K-too many consonants to remember in order was the first male coach to 1,000 wins. I imagine The General Robert Montgomery Knight went thru a bottle of scotch and threw a potted plant at somebody (“IT SHOULDA BEEN ME!”) /”Hey Knight!”
This win firmly puts Coach K on the Rushmore with Wooden, Smith, Rupp or Iba (if you want to rep the old school). Congratulations to Duke and Coach K for 30+ years of excellence and giving me a reason to root against you. The class and genuineness shown by this man over the past several years has softened me in my old age. I root against Duke for sure, but he just gets it done right, and he’s now coach of the USMNT, so how can any of us HATE as much as we might have circa 1991, 2001, or even as recently as 2011. (No need to answer Carolina fans, I know nothing will sway you).