ACC Weekend Preview #8Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 21st, 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 19, 2014. The games are presented in the order of best combined Pomeroy overall team rankings (all times EST).
Saturday – Syracuse (25-1, 12-1 ACC) @ Duke (21-6, 10-4 ACC) – ESPN (7:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#5) Duke 70-65 (#9) Syracuse
A little of the shine came off this weekend’s national spotlight game, when Syracuse suffered its first defeat of the season Wednesday night, and then Duke stumbled Thursday night in Chapel Hill. It wasn’t surprising that the Orange finally lost one, given all the narrow victories they’ve had lately, but it is shocking that the culprit was Boston College, and also that the loss happened in the Carrier Dome. The fact that average teams keep taking Syracuse to the wire is probably of bigger concern right now. It’s quite possible that this depth-shy Syracuse team is starting to wear down a bit. Even though they play a zone defense which uses less energy than man-to-man, the heavy minutes played may be affecting the Orange’s starters. In ACC play, Syracuse has four players logging over 35 minutes per game. Duke also looked like a tired team Thursday. The Blue Devils’ normally high powered offense had no juice in the second half of that game, going a stretch of almost nine minutes without a field goal. Much of the credit should go to North Carolina’s defense and the outstanding Smith Center crowd, but when Duke did get an open look, they usually came up short -probably due to tired legs. So, we should not expect either team to repeat the offensive display from the first meeting, when each scored at an astounding rate – both over 1.30 points per possession. With their fourth game in eight days, the Blue Devils may have to depend on the Cameron Crazies and a bunch of minutes from the bench, to get over the energy hump.
Stat Watch. The key to this game may be who wins the free throw battle. In the first meeting, Duke held a huge edge in three pointers (15-to-3) but was outscored heavily from the foul line (26-to-12). With both teams coming in looking a bit worn down, outside shooting may not be pretty, so getting to the line will be even more important. Another key will be the rebound battle as both teams did well on the offensive glass when they met before, each grabbing over 40 percent of their misses. With this game likely to have more missed shots, getting extra scoring opportunities will be available, and whichever team takes advantage could be the game’s deciding factor.
Sunday – Florida State (15-11, 6-8 ACC) @ Pittsburgh (20-6, 8-5 ACC) – ESPNU (6:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#16) Pittsburgh 70-63 (#41) Florida State
Both of these teams have been struggling relative to how they started the conference season. Florida State started ACC play 4-2 but has now lost six of its last eight. Surprisingly, it’s the Seminoles’ defense that has let them down. In Florida State’s first four conference games, the best an opponent could muster was the 62 points Virginia scored in Tallahassee. But since then, seven opponents have scored at least 74 points in ten games. The latest defensive collapse came Monday night when North Carolina trailed the Seminoles 21-6 after ten minutes, but scored 75 the rest of the way for an important Tar Heel road win. Pittsburgh also lost a tough game to North Carolina in its last outing, last Saturday in Chapel Hill, giving the Panthers four losses in their last six games. The Panther’s hope the seven days off have allowed their two stars to get some needed rest. Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna have been banged up (Patterson’s thumb) and looked worn down (Zanna) lately. Comparing the numbers from their first seven ACC games to the last six, Patterson’s scoring average has dropped from 19.9 PPG to 14.0 PPG and his field goal shooting has gone from 50.0 percent to 29.3 percent. Likewise, Zanna’s scoring has dropped from 16.6 PPG to 8.5 PPG and his shooting from 66.7 percent to 34.1 percent.
Stat Watch. Pittsburgh looks primed to attack the two main Florida State weaknesses, offensive turnovers and defensive rebounding. An interesting subplot though could be how well the Panthers can finish inside against the tall Seminoles. Pittsburgh’s frontline is tough and experienced but does not have explosiveness – ranking last in the ACC in getting shots blocked. Florida State’s defense ranks #3 in defensive block percentage.
Saturday – Notre Dame (14-13, 5-9 ACC) @ Virginia (22-5, 13-1 ACC) – ESPN2 (2:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#8) Virginia 69-56 (#88) Notre Dame
Virginia continues to pile up ACC wins but the Cavaliers have not been as dominating lately, winning the last three by eight points or less. They even struggled to beat Virginia Tech Tuesday night in Blacksburg, after trailing by seven at half time. One could that chalk that up to playing a rival on the road, but being tested by the last-placed team in the league, along with close wins over middle-of-the-pack teams like Maryland and Clemson may be evidence that Virginia has slipped a bit. Even if they have, they should be able to handle Notre Dame fairly comfortably based on how easily the Cavaliers dispatched the Irish in South Bend in January. In that one, Virginia’s superior ballhandling won the day, with the Cavaliers finishing with 18 assists versus 12 turnovers, while the Irish had only 10 assists and committed 20 turnovers. Notre Dame could use a return to earlier form by Garrick Sherman. Sherman scored in double figures in six of the first seven ACC contests but has scored eight or less in four of the last six.
Stat Watch. This is a matchup of the league’s top two-point offensive team (Notre Dame – 50.8%) and the best two-point defense (Virginia – 42.3%). Virginia’s great defense leads the league in three of the Four Factors. They are only average in opponents’ free throw rate but Notre Dame probably can’t find an advantage there, as the Irish rank last in free throw attempts and were only 6-for-9 in the first meeting.
Saturday – Wake Forest (14-12, 4-9 ACC) @ North Carolina (19-7, 9-4 ACC) – ACCN (12:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#22) North Carolina 80-66 (#117) Wake Forest
North Carolina will be fighting mental and physical fatigue, playing its fourth game in eight days and coming off the emotional court-rushing win over Duke on Thursday night. Of course, they may not have to be at their best to handle Wake Forest, who comes in on a six game losing streak. Even worse for the Deacons is that they haven’t really been competitive, losing all six contests by at least seven points. It seems like a long time since Wake Forest opened ACC play with a home win over North Carolina and both teams have gone in opposite directions ever since. In that first meeting, each team was able to exploit a big advantage they have against one another. Wake Forest is the best in the ACC at getting to the foul line and North Carolina struggles to keep teams off the charity stripe. The Deacons were 19-of-33 from the line in the first game. On the other end, North Carolina is #1 in offensive rebounding and Wake forest is last in defensive rebounding. Sure enough, the Tar Heels grabbed 24 offensive boards in the first meeting.
Stat Watch. These are the two worst three point shooting teams in the league, with both making under 30 percent from deep, so don’t expect long range shooting to be a deciding factor. It’s more likely that North Carolina uses their rebounding edge to win the points-in-the-paint battle. Also watch out for Wake Forest to struggle with ball-handling, as the Deacons have turned the ball over on more than 25 percent of their possessions in their last three road games.
Saturday – Clemson (16-9, 7-6 ACC) @ Georgia Tech (13-13, 4-9 ACC) – RSN (12:00 PM)
Clemson comes off a big win over fellow-NCAA Tournament hopeful N.C. State on Tuesday. To have a realistic shot at making the NCAA field, the Tigers probably need to win four of their last five to get to 11-7 in the ACC. With a horrible RPI non-conference strength of schedule (#269) Clemson needs all the wins it can get. Georgia Tech has been battling injuries all year, the latest of which has limited Trae Golden to only five points in 43 minutes in the last five games. At least Robert Carter, Jr. is back and has been shaking off the rust, scoring 13 points in 26 minutes in Tuesday’s lost to Duke. Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels is making a strong case for ACC Defensive Player-of-the-Year, blocking six shots in the N.C. State game. This one may not be easy on the eyes. In their first meeting of the year, a 45-41 Clemson home win, neither team shot over 35 percent from the field, and they each turned the ball over on more than 24 percent of their possessions.
Stat Watch. The game may come down to how well Georgia Tech can keep Clemson off the offensive glass. The Yellow Jackets are #2 in defensive rebounding and the Tigers are #5 in grabbing offensive boards. In the first meeting, Clemson held a 13-to-10 edge in offensive rebounds which was about the only statistical difference between the two teams in that game.
Saturday – Boston College (7-19, 3-10 ACC) @ Miami (13-13, 4-9 ACC) – ACCN (12:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#84) Miami 65-58 (#131) Boston College
Prior to Wednesday’s upset (nation’s biggest of the season?) of Syracuse in overtime, Boston College had not beaten an ACC team not named Virginia Tech. But it’s not like the Eagles haven’t been competing well, with only Duke able to beat them by more than 11 points. Still, the win over the Orange was a major surprise – Ken Pomeroy’s predictor gave the Eagles a four percent chance of winning. They pulled it off by making 9-of-14 three pointers after half time. Miami is coming off a tight win over Notre Dame on Wednesday in Coral Gables. Surprisingly, that’s the Hurricanes’ only ACC win at home. To get another one Saturday, Miami’s zone defense will have to cover Boston College’s multiple outside shooters better than Syracuse’s zone did.
Stat Watch. Naturally, Boston College’s three point shooting will be the key to the game. But another matchup to watch will be the ability of the Eagles to get to the free throw line, a strength for them, against a Miami defense that doesn’t foul much.
Saturday – N.C. State (16-10, 6-7 ACC) @ Virginia Tech (9-16, 2-11 ACC) – RSN (2:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#79) N.C. State 67-65 (#182) Virginia Tech
N.C. State still has hopes for making the NCAA Tournament but they are running out of time. To get consideration, the Wolfpack has to win at least four of their last five and this needs to be one of those wins. N.C. State star T.J. Warren needs to bounce back from a tough ball-handling night at Clemson on Tuesday, when he committed six turnovers. Virginia Tech has been playing pretty well lately, with a win over Miami sandwiched by close losses at Pittsburgh and Virginia (at home Tuesday). That comes after a stretch in which Virginia Tech lost four straight games by at least 20 points. The turnaround has been on the defensive end, with the Hokies holding their last three opponents to an average of only .93 points per possession.
Stat Watch. N.C. State has not been much of a three point shooting team in conference play, ranking #14 in attempts, and #13 in percent. But they may not be able to resist taking some shots from deep against a Hokie defense that allows more threes per game (8.15) than any other team in the ACC.