ACC Weekend Preview #6Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 7th, 2014
It’s another weekend of conference play in the ACC, so let’s take a look at the match-ups from an advanced statistics perspective. All statistics used are for results in ACC conference games only along with team rankings (#1-#15) in each category. For each game we will show how the two teams compare in efficiency ratings and the four factors, offense versus defense. We will also look at interesting areas of particular strength and weakness that could hold the key to the outcomes of these games. All numbers are from Ken Pomeroy’s site and are current through games of February 5, 2014. The games are presented in the order of best combined Pomeroy overall team rankings (all times EST).
Sunday - Clemson (15-6, 6-3 ACC) @ Syracuse (22-0, 9-0 ACC) – ESPNU (6:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#4) Syracuse 59-49 (#47) Clemson
Syracuse continues to win in different ways which is really the mark of a true winner. The Orange win on off-shooting nights, when they fall behind like they did against Miami, or when they blow a late leads like they did last Saturday versus Duke. Trevor Cooney carried them on Monday night against Notre Dame, which is a good sign, as Cooney is the only scary three-point shooter on the roster. With Tyler Ennis running the show, and the front line featuring C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant playing well on both ends of the court, the Orange are still undefeated and now ranked #1 in the country. If Cooney has regained his touch, this becomes a team that is really tough to guard. On the other hand, Clemson is a team of extremes when the Tigers take to the road in the ACC. They have won three of their five conference road contests but lost the other two in non-competitive blowout losses to Pittsburgh and North Carolina. This looks like another tough road trip for Clemson where its offensive struggles will be magnified against Syracuse. To beat the Orange, you need some shooters to come through and the Tigers are only making 31.2 percent of their threes. Even worse for Clemson may be the disparity in turnovers in this game, as the Tigers are (statistically) the worst ball-handling team in the ACC.
Stat Watch. Look for Syracuse to return to a slow, low-scoring affair after the high scoring classic against Duke last weekend. These are two of the three-slowest tempo teams in the ACC. Not only are turnovers the key statistic to watch for in this game but the type of those miscues will be critical. Syracuse leads the conference in steals per game (7.1 SPG) while the Tigers are last in the league (3.8 SPG). So, look for Syracuse to turn Clemson live-ball turnovers into points that makes the turnover margin even more decisive.
Saturday - Florida State (14-8, 5-5 ACC) @ Maryland (13-10, 5-5 ACC) – ESPN2 (3:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#27) Florida St. 71-70 (#65) Maryland
Although Florida State appears in all of the pundits’ current NCAA brackets right now, they are not a lock by any means. Road wins are always a resume-builder so this is a big game for the Seminoles. As for Maryland, this is really a must-win to keep its postseason hopes alive. With road games looming against Virginia and Duke next week, time may be running out on the Terrapins. Florida State has been very inconsistent offensively in ACC play. In three of their conference wins, the Seminoles have scored over 1.2 points per possession, while in three of the losses they have been under 0.90. One of those offensive outbursts came at the expense of Maryland, a game in which Florida State won handily behind a surprising three-point barrage. The Seminoles hit a remarkable 16-of-24 from three in that one, easily their best outside shooting game of the season. Dez Wells of Maryland is quietly putting up good numbers in ACC play — the junior is third in scoring (16.8 PPG) and second in the league in field goal shooting (52.1%).
Stat Watch. Here’s a suggestion for the Seminoles - block out Charles Mitchell. On a team that only ranks #12 in offensive rebounding in the ACC, Maryland’s Mitchell is a real horse on the boards, ranking sixth nationally in individual offensive rebounding percentage. Florida State has struggled all year at protecting its defensive glass, but at least in this game, they only have to really worry about one guy — but that one guy is a force.
Saturday - North Carolina (15-7, 5-4 ACC) @ Notre Dame (12-11, 3-7 ACC) – ACCN (12:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#30) North Carolina 74-73 (#80) Notre Dame
The Tar Heels come in on a legitimate roll after starting the ACC season 1-4. While most of the media attention has been given to North Carolina’s improved offensive production during its four-game winning streak, the Tar Heels’ defense has been really good all along. Consider this fact – the overall league average is 1.04 points per possession in conference games, yet North Carolina has held all but one of its opponents below 1.01. Only Virginia has had an above average offensive performance against a defense that ranks second behind the Cavaliers in the ACC. Marcus Paige seems to have regained his shooting touch after making 4-of-7 threes on the way to 25 points in Tuesday’s win over Maryland. On the other side of it, Notre Dame is running out of time to turn things around in its first year in the ACC. They played well for much of Monday’s loss at Syracuse and won their last home game over Boston College in overtime. ACC leading rebounder Garrick Sherman will be challenged by the deep Tar Heels’ front line, and he must have a productive game to create openings for the Irish shooters. To this point North Carolina has been fortunate that opponents are only making 30.8 percent from behind the three-point line, but to their credit the Tar Heels are defending better on the perimeter now, allowing fewer open threes than in years past, as evidenced by currently ranking seventh in three-point attempts allowed.
Stat Watch. With these two teams pretty evenly matched with respect to rebounding and turnovers, the outcome will probably depend on shooting and that clearly favors the Tar Heels. Notre Dame is the worst in the league at defensive effective field goal percentage. In their last game, North Carolina faced the second worst team in that metric, Maryland, and shredded them by making 53 percent of their twos and 40 percent of their threes.
Saturday - Virginia (18-5, 9-1 ACC) @ Georgia Tech (12-11, 3-7 ACC) – ACCN (12:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#10) Virginia 63-56 (#113) Georgia Tech
After winning last Sunday at Pittsburgh, Virginia is finally getting some national respect in the polls, entering the AP rankings for the first time at #20. Don’t expect the Cavaliers to leave the rankings anytime soon, as Virginia may be the favorite to win the league despite trailing undefeated Syracuse by a game right now. The Cavaliers only have one remaining game – at home against Syracuse - with one of the other five ACC squads that are currently regarded as NCAA Tournament teams. Just how good is the Virginia defense? The gap between their defensive efficiency of 0.89 points per possession and the second-best defense (North Carolina) is greater than the difference between the Tar Heels and the 10th best defense. This game kicks off a crucial four-game home stand for Georgia Tech. If it doesn’t have a winning record after the next two weeks, then postseason play is not going to happen for this Yellow Jackets group. Senior center Daniel Miller has really played well lately, averaging just under 17 points and 10 rebounds in his last four games.
Stat Watch. Virginia will look to exploit what looks like a huge advantage in ball-handling. The Cavaliers lead the league in turnover margin (+4.7) while Georgia Tech is at the bottom (-3.0).
Saturday - Duke (18-5, 7-3 ACC) @ Boston College (6-16, 2-7 ACC) – ESPN (6:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#2) Duke 86-72 (#144) Boston College
This could be a surprisingly close game as Boston College has been playing much better lately. Even though they have only beaten Virginia Tech in ACC play, the Eagles are not getting blown out by anyone. The latest example was Tuesday’s loss at Virginia, a game in which Boston College trailed by 19 at the half but cut the lead to six late. The Eagles scored 46 second half points on the best defense in the ACC and now face a Duke team that sometimes has trouble stopping opponents. What the Blue Devils don’t have trouble with is their own attack, leading the nation in offensive efficiency by a wide margin. A recent concern for Duke has been fouling on defense. In the last three games, Duke’s opponents have shot 88 free throws compared to Duke’s 58. That could be an issue again versus Boston College, a team that shot 33 free throws in a loss at Duke last season. Last year’s game in Conte Forum was a nail-biter that Duke hung on to win after Olivier Hanlan missed a short jump shot late.
Stat Watch. Three-pointers are often a key to Duke games, and that could be the case again in this one. Both teams like to shoot from long range; in fact Boston College leads the league in attempts, taking over half of their shots from behind the arc. The difference between the teams lies on the defensive end with respect to defending the three. Duke takes away the three better than any team in the league, allowing fewer than 10 attempts per game, so the Eagles must find another way to attack, probably by trying to get to the foul line.
Saturday – N.C. State (14-8, 4-5 ACC) @ Miami (11-11, 2-7 ACC) – RSN (2:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#75) Miami 62-58 (#88) N.C. State
Surprisingly, Miami is still looking for its first ACC home win. In fairness, though, the last four conference opponents to visit Coral Gables are all probable NCAA Tournament teams. The last of those games was the closest, an overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. N.C. State is in a critical stretch right now that features five out of six games on the road. At least the Wolfpack has had a week off to prepare for Miami’s match-up zone defense. It would be helpful if they found a way to attack that defense without having to rely on jump shots. Not only are the Wolfpack last in the ACC in three-point percentage but they are also at the bottom in made threes per game (3.3). Miami is no offensive machine either, ranking in the bottom five in the league in all offensive Four Factors.
Stat Watch. Perhaps N.C. State can find a way to do what they do best on offense – get to the free throw line. The problem is that Miami is #2 in the league in keeping opponents off the foul line. But with their lack of outside shooting, attacking the basket looks like the best bet for the Wolfpack.
Saturday - Virginia Tech (8-14, 1-9 ACC) @ Pittsburgh (19-4, 7-3 ACC) – RSN (12:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#13) Pittsburgh 75-55 (#220) Virginia Tech
Pittsburgh has been a little shaky lately, losing two home games and then needing overtime to beat Miami on the road on Wednesday. On the other hand, Virginia Tech has not been very competitive at all, losing nine straight games with the last four by more than 20 points. This looks like a tune up for Pittsburgh with Syracuse on the horizon, but don’t expect a letdown from the Panthers. One of the reasons that Pittsburgh always seems to do well in computer rankings is that they consistently beat bad teams by a large margin.
Stat Watch. Pittsburgh has many statistical edges but perhaps the biggest will be at the free throw line. The Panthers make 18.4 free throws per game while the Hokies only average 10.4 makes from the charity stripe. Not only is Virginia Tech not getting to the line very often, but even when they do, they rarely convert (56.2%).