College Hoops Takes Center Stage
Courtesy of Jim Feist
With the Super Bowl in the rear view mirror, the next big event on the sports stage is college basketball's season-ending tournaments. Since 1997, college basketball's national champion has come from several different conferences: the Pac 10 (Arizona), SEC (Kentucky and Florida), Big 10 (Michigan State), the ACC (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina), Big 12 (Kansas) and the old Big East (UConn, Syracuse, Louisville). Over the next few weeks, let's examine some of the top hoop teams in each conference, starting this week with the ACC.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team bounced back from back-to-back losses to NC State (87-75) and Miami (90-74) with an impressive thumping at No. 6 Louisville (77-68) as an underdog. They are Top 20 in the nation in scoring and shooting behind super 6-11 freshman Jahlil Okafor (18.5 ppg, 9 rpg).
It's not all about youth, either, with senior guard Quinn Cook (14 ppg) and 6-9 junior Amile Jefferson (9 ppg, 7.5 rpg) helping out. They topped Michigan State (81-71) early in the year shooting 54% and Wisconsin (80-70) on the road, shooting 65% and allowing .407%. Duke outscored Wisconsin 32-22 in the paint. It was Duke's highest field goal percentage against a ranked team in the last 15 seasons.
The Cavaliers are getting it done with a terrific one-two punch of 6-5 junior Malcolm Brogdon (13 ppg) and 6-6 junior Justin Anderson (14 ppg). Both are outstanding free throw shooters, over 80% from the line, and from beyond the arc. Virginia plays great defense, holding Georgia Tech to 28 points and No. 13 Notre Dame to 56 points and 34% shooting on their home court. They are currently in the middle of a stretch playing three Top 20 teams in Duke, North Carolina and Louisville, so this is a big week for the Cavs. Totals players take note: They have been on a 5-0-1 run under the total in midseason with that strangling defense.
The Tar Heels have a powerhouse offensive team that is Top 20 in the nation in points and rebounds and assists. They have a power frontcourt of 6-8 sophomore Kennedy Meeks (13 ppg, 8 rpg), 6-9 junior Brice Johnson (12 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-5 junior J.P. Tokoto (9 ppg, 5 rpg) up front.
The sparkplug on offense is junior guard Marcus Paige (14 ppg), leading a recent 5-1 run over the total. North Carolina has a pair of wins over No. 22 UCLA (78-56), No. 5 Louisville (72-71) and No. 18 Florida (75-64), but also lost 71-70 to No. 13 Notre Dame and got thumped by Kentucky (84-70).
The Irish have been scorching the nets all season, Top 10 in the country in scoring and shooting, over 52% as a team. 6-5 senior Jerian Grant (17 ppg) leads the team in scoring, but three other guys average over 10 ppg in 6-5 senior Pat Connaughton (14 ppg), 6-10 Zach Auguste (13.5 ppg) and sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson (13 ppg). The Fighting Irish are 21-6 over the total after a win.
But have they really been tested? Notre Dame won at North Carolina (71-70) and needed OT to beat Michigan State at home (each game by 1 point), plus needing 2 overtimes to top Georgia Tech. They had home court against Virginia, but allowed 49% shooting in a 62-56 defeat. Notre Dame is 7-15-1 ATS against a team with a winning record, plus 6-18-2 ATS home.
The Cardinals are no pushovers in the low post, Top 20 in the nation in rebounding behind 6-8 junior Montrezl Harrell (15 ppg, 9 rpg), 6-5 senior Wayne Blackshear (12 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-10 freshman Chinanu Onuaku and 6-10 Mangok Mathiang (5.5 rpg).
But the offense hasn't exactly impressed when stepping up, losing 63-52 at home to Duke, 58-50 to Kentucky and blowing a 13-point lead at banged up North Carolina. Louisville took a 63-50 lead over UNC with 8:43 to play in the 2nd half. From that point on, UNC outscored Louisville 22-8, shooting 8-13 from the floor while Louisville shot a dismal 3-12. They were also outscored 40-26 in the paint. That was part of a stretch where Louisville went 2-8-1 against the spread.
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