Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 13th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 11.

Current Standings


While Virginia maintains a clear lead in both the standings, and in points per possession margin (PPM), there was some shuffling right behind the Cavaliers last week. Almost entirely due to Duke’s 30-point rout of Notre Dame, the Blue Devils jumped to the top of the second tier and the Irish fell to such an extent that they now are closer to N.C. State and Syracuse than they are to the top four schools. We will examine in more detail below just how Notre Dame has achieved such a lofty 10-3 record despite a rather pedestrian PPM. Of course, Georgia Tech is the polar opposite of the Irish, as the Yellow Jackets own a better PPM than four teams above them in the standings.

Unlike the last few weeks, there are no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend. But we still have a few games of high interest on Saturday, led by Duke’s visit to Syracuse (6:00 PM ET – ESPN), probably viewed by the Orange as this season’s Super Bowl with no postseason play on the horizon. There are also two games featuring top tier schools against teams that are desperate for signature wins, as North Carolina makes its first ACC trip to Pittsburgh (Noon ET – ACCN) and N.C. State travels to Louisville (4:00 PM ET – ESPN). Those two games are absolutely crucial for the shaky NCAA hopes of the Panthers and the Wolfpack.

Advanced Stat of the Week: The Importance of Winning Close Games

Last week we mentioned that the ACC was playing a lot of close games, and the league still ranks third among the 32 Division I conferences in the percentage of contests decided by fewer than four points or in overtime. This week we take a closer look at which teams are playing in all of those close games, and more importantly, who is winning them. For our analysis we are including all games decided by five points or fewer along with any overtime contests. In other words, each of these outcomes could be reversed by merely changing the result of a single possession for each side.

Close Games

Now it’s easier to explain Notre Dame’s 10-3 record despite the fact that the Irish are only outscoring opponents by .04 points per possession. Likewise, Virginia and Syracuse have benefited from their winning performances in tight games. On the other end of the spectrum, we find that N.C. State and Georgia Tech are suffering the consequences of failing to finish strongly in close games. In fact, since the Wolfpack’s only close win was on Trevor Lacey’s buzzer-beater a couple of weekends ago at Georgia Tech, those two squads have combined to go 0-12 in close games against the rest of the ACC. It’s open for debate as to whether close game proficiency has more to do with luck than clutch play, as Ken Pomeroy wrote a blog post in which he found it difficult to statistically support the notion of clutchness as opposed to just being fortunate.  Either way there is no debating the importance of winning the games that could go either way. Just for fun, let’s take a look at what the ACC standings would be if those games really did go either way (50/50 split). For the chart below we have replaced actual records with projected records if every team had performed equally well in the above close games. For example, if we replace Virginia’s 4-0 record in close games with a more normally expected result of 2-2, the Cavaliers would now have two fewer wins.

Imag Standings

The narrative of Notre Dame’s season would certainly be different if the Irish had merely won only half of the eight close games it has played in the ACC. We would also probably be talking about N.C. State as a lock for the NCAA Tournament, with Georgia Tech still firmly on the bubble. None of that really matters now, though, thanks to the  inability of those teams to close out tight games. Out of curiosity, we also looked at whether playing at home seemed to matter in these close game outcomes. Last week we examined the surprisingly low home team winning percentage in ACC games this year. That trend carriers over in close contests as well, with home teams winning 26 of 37 (56.8%) of those games, which mirrors to the leaguewide mark of 55.8 percent. However, home court appears to be important when Wake Forest is involved, as the visiting team has lost all six close games in which the Demon Deacons have participated.

Future Forecast


The above table shows a predicted order of finish with final regular season records based on Ken Pomeroy’s current win probabilities. We have also included a few comparative rankings that are mentioned frequently when evaluating NCAA Tournament potential as well as projections from two bracketology experts, ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports‘ Jerry Palm. Note that while their projections are made as if the field was named tomorrow, we make ours based on final projected records. Even though Miami’s predicted record is unchanged since last week, we have dropped them from the NCAA field. Assuming the Hurricanes get their 13th loss in the ACC Tournament, it’s hard to see them making the field with bad home losses to Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky and Georgia Tech on their resume. It’s looking more and more like the ACC will be a five-bid league, but at least with high seeds predicted for all of them, the league should expect some deep tourney runs this March.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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One response to “Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV”

  1. G. Floyd says:

    Great article. The Importance of Winning Close Games was particularly interesting. I think this is why you are seeing Notre Dame’s projected seed slip and NC State getting some bubble-love, even with eleven losses.

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