ACC Weekend Preview #10Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2014
It’s the final 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 March 5, 2014. The games are presented in the order of best combined Pomeroy overall team rankings (all times EST). This weekend features some important matchups that will determine seeding in next week’s ACC Tournament in Greensboro.
Saturday – North Carolina (23-7, 13-4 ACC) @ Duke (23-7, 12-5 ACC) – ESPN (9:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#8) Duke 80-72 (#23) North Carolina
While neither of these teams have played their best basketball lately, North Carolina has managed to keep winning (12 straight) while Duke took a bad loss on Wednesday at Wake Forest. In that one Duke collapsed down the stretch, much like they did in earlier ACC road losses at Clemson and North Carolina. On the other hand, the Tar Heels have made enough plays to win three straight close games against teams with losing conference records. North Carolina’s improved offense has dipped lately, having its two worst offensive efficiency games during the winning streak in the last two contests. But the Tar Heel defense has remained solid, holding four of their last five opponents under 1.00 points per possession. Duke is mired in a team wide shooting slump which continued with a miserable 6-of-27 effort from three on Wednesday night. And unlike many Blue Devil teams of the past, the defense is not elite enough to overcome such shooting woes. Duke has been unbeaten at home since losing at the end of the 2012 season to North Carolina. If they want to stay unbeaten at home this year, the Blue Devils probably need to have a comfortable lead late. If it comes down to team toughness and resiliency, the Tar Heels may have the edge.
Stat Watch. The obvious key to the game is Duke’s shooting. But keep an eye on the other two factors that were instrumental in North Carolina’s earlier win over Duke in Chapel Hill. In that one, the Tar Heels were the aggressor which led to a huge edge in free throw attempts (31-to-12) as well as a 15-to-11 advantage in offensive rebounds.
Sunday – Syracuse (26-4, 13-4 ACC) @ Florida State (18-11, 9-8 ACC) – ACCN (3:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#36) Florida State 65-64 (#15) Syracuse
Syracuse continued it’s free-fall on Tuesday with its second puzzling home loss to an ACC bottom dweller, this time to Georgia Tech. Forward Jerami Grant missed that one with a bad back, and the Orange’s lack of depth showed up again. The excessive minutes played by the starters has taken its toll and Syracuse is just no longer the same team that jumped out to that 25-0 start. Meanwhile, Florida State has played its way back into NCAA Tournament contention by winning four of its last five, including three on the road. Tuesday, the Seminoles won a close one in Boston College behind a great performance by freshman Aaron Thomas, who matched his season high with 26 points. Going against the Syracuse zone, Florida State (40.3% from three) is capable of hurting the Orange from deep. Syracuse has not been shooting well and that’s not a good omen against the Seminoles who rank #2 in opponents’ effective field goal shooting.
Stat Watch. With Florida State likely to shoot better than Syracuse, the Orange must take advantage of the shaky Seminole ball-handling. Syracuse is #1 in forcing turnovers and Florida State commits more than any other ACC team. Specifically, if Syracuse can get steals (#1 in ACC) they may get a chance to convert those into much needed easy scoring opportunities.
Sunday – Virginia (25-5, 16-1 ACC) @ Maryland (16-14, 8-9 ACC) – CBS (12:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#2) Virginia 65-61 (#50) Maryland
Virginia and long-time rival Maryland meet in the Terrapins’ last regular season contest as an ACC member. Virginia is coming off an impressive win last Saturday over Syracuse that clinched the Cavaliers’ first ACC regular season title since Ralph Sampson was patrolling the lane back in 1981. Much has been made of the fact that Virginia had an easier conference schedule than the other top teams in the league, but they have nothing to apologize for. While Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina have all lost two or more games to teams with losing ACC records, Virginia has rolled through the conference without any such losses. Lately, the Cavaliers have been red-hot from three point range, hitting 24-of-47 in their last three outings. In fact, surprisingly, Virginia is now #1 in the ACC shooting over 40 percent from deep. Although the records of these two teams would not indicate that this would be a close game, that kenpom predictor of a four point margin is not a typo. Maryland has competed well against top teams but just hasn’t been able to win those games. In the first meeting between these two in Charlottesville, Maryland had the ball – down four with 1:30 to go in the game. So the Terrapins should have confidence that they can play with Virginia, especially in the Comcast Center.
Stat Watch. The outcome may be decided by Maryland’s ability to hang with Virginia on the boards. A main reason that the first matchup between these two was close, was the 31-to-28 overall rebound edge that the Terrapins had.
Saturday – Pittsburgh (22-8, 10-7 ACC) @ Clemson (19-10, 10-7 ACC) – ACCN (4:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#51) Clemson 57-56 (#26) Pittsburgh
Although unlikely even a week ago, this game is a battle for fifth place in the final ACC standings. It seems like long ago now that Pittsburgh started the ACC season 6-1. Since then the Panthers have dropped 6-of-10 on the way to a place on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Clemson has moved in the opposite direction, with four wins in its last five contests. Considering that the Tigers were picked next to last in the league in the preseason, much credit should go to Coach Brad Brownell. Also, K.J. McDaniels has probably earned first team All-ACC status as maybe the most versatile player in the league. Not only does he lead the Tigers in scoring (16.9) and rebounding (7.2), but also in blocks, steals and made three pointers. The first meeting between these two teams resulted in a blowout win for Pittsburgh, but that was a long time ago and Pittsburgh is not nearly the same team that shot 56 percent from the field that night.
Stat Watch. It may come down to Pittsburgh’s ability to overcome its shooting problems by dominating the offensive boards. Also look for a strength-against-strength matchup between Pittsburgh’s great offensive free throw rate against a Tiger defense that allows fewer opponent free throw attempts than any other ACC team.
Saturday – Wake Forest (16-14, 6-11 ACC) @ Miami (15-15, 6-11 ACC) – RSN (2:00 PM)
Just when you thought Jeff Bzdelik and Wake Forest were done, they rose up and smacked Duke on Wednesday, giving senior Travis McKie his first career win over the Blue Devils. And to his credit, during the postgame court rush, McKie helped get Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon safely off the court, before rejoining the celebration. The Deacons stormed to victory with a 17-0 run late in the game to overcome a seven point deficit. Miami returns home after a three game road swing that featured a nice win at N.C. State last Saturday and a close loss at Clemson on Tuesday. Hurricane senior Rion Brown has scored 20 or more in four of the last five games, while shooting an impressive 26-for-42 on his two point attempts.
Stat Watch. Wake Forest leads the league in free throw attempts and in two point shooting percent. Miami is among the best in the ACC defensively in those two areas. Something has to give there, and it may determine who wins.
Sunday – Boston College (8-22, 4-13 ACC) @ N.C. State (18-12, 8-9 ACC) – ESPNU (6:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#76) N.C. State 78-70 (#140) Boston College
T.J. Warren continues to make his case for ACC Player-of-the-Year, after scoring a league best 41 points in Monday’s win at Pittsburgh on 13-of-17 shooting. The Wolfpack star is bidding to join Tim Duncan and Horace Grant as the only players to lead the ACC in both scoring and field goal percentage. Boston College is coming off a close home loss to Florida State on Tuesday. Normally a good ball-handling team, the Eagles were hurt by 16 turnovers in that one. Both of these teams have been plenty of close games, with each involved in six ACC contests decided by five points or less. N.C. State is 3-3 in such games, with all three losses by a single point. Boston College has a 2-4 record in those close games, with one of the wins being that stunner in the Carrier Dome which gave Syracuse its first loss of the season.
Stat Watch. For Boston College to win this one they probably need to exploit the free throw attempt advantage they appear to have. N.C. State does a good job limiting opponents’ three point attempts, so Boston College may not get as many open looks from deep as they normally do.
Saturday – Virginia Tech (9-20, 2-15 ACC) @ Georgia Tech (14-16, 5-12 ACC) – ESPN2 (2:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#115) Georgia Tech 65-58 (#184) Virginia Tech
These are the two worst offensive teams in the league and they are bad across the board. Notice that both teams are in the bottom six in all “Four Factors”. At least the defenses are not nearly as bad, with both ranking in the top 85 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. Georgia Tech pulled off a big surprise when they handled Syracuse on the road Tuesday. Senior Daniel Miller was excellent on both ends of the court in that one, finishing with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting, four assists and six blocks. Virginia Tech is stumbling to the finish line, with only one win in its last 16 contests. At least 6’10” sophomore Joey van Zegeren has been progressing nicely for the Hokies, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds in Tuesday’s loss at Maryland.
Stat Watch. Each team will try and take advantage of what they do best defensively. Georgia Tech is outstanding at limiting opponents’ second chances after misses, and Virginia Tech’s zone has done well at keeping opponents off the free throw line.