Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 3rd, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we will look at the how ACC teams have performed in the nail-biter games — conference games decided by one or two possessions. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for each team’s postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, March 1.

Current Standings

Hats off to North Carolina for clinching at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the second straight season and for the eighth time in Roy Williams’ 14-year tenure at the school. The Tar Heels took advantage of a scheduling imbalance in their favor this year, with only three road games coming versus the top nine schools in the ACC standings. Despite being generally regarded as the ACC’s sixth best team in both the efficiency metrics and the national polls, Notre Dame sits alone in second place in the standings. With the Irish traveling to Louisville this weekend, though, the odds are against Mike Brey’s squad in catching the Heels. If all the home favorites win their games this weekend, Virginia Tech could rise all the way to the #5 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament, even with a likely negative points per possession margin. See below for how Buzz Williams’ guys have made this a legitimate possibility.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Performance In Close Games

In a league that is as competitive as any ever assembled, winning close games is extremely important. As the above table shows, North Carolina leads the league in overall wins as well as in games decided by two possessions or fewer. In a similar vein, last place Boston College is winless in its three tight contests. It’s interesting to note that these two schools at the opposite end of the standings mirror each other by having been involved in the fewest number of down-to-the wire affairs — three each. The Tar Heels have shown that the best way to avoid close defeats is to not enable them to begin with. Meanwhile, the undermanned Eagles simply cannot hang with many other squads long enough to keep games close in the final minutes.

Virginia‘s 1-5 record in tight games explains why the Cavaliers’ overall record is not reflective of their lofty computer ratings. A deeper analysis reveals that Tony Bennett’s sixth-place squad is actually just four possessions removed from the top of the ACC standings. As it turns out, Virginia is the only school with a winning conference record that is under .500 in close games. Finally, Virginia Tech and Clemson are prime examples of how crucial endgame execution can be. The majority of both teams’ conference seasons have been tight, but it is the Hokies that are comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field almost entirely because they won five last-possession games. On the other hand, Brad Brownell’s job probably would be safe if the Tigers had come through just three more times. The results of this year’s two meetings between Virginia Tech and Clemson tell the story — the Hokies won by a single point in both contests.

Future Forecast

The above table shows predicted order of finish with final regular season records based on KenPom’s current win probabilities for each team. Also included are 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 they project the field as if it were named tomorrow, we make our projections based on the final KenPom projected records. It’s almost a certainty that the ACC will have at least eight teams in the field, but likely no more than 10. Georgia Tech’s visit to Syracuse on Saturday is basically an elimination game — the loser will have 14 overall losses with another defeat likely to come in Brooklyn. There has never been a 15-loss school invited as an NCAA at-large selection. Wake Forest finally got that elusive highly-significant win of the season by beating Louisville on Wednesday night in Winston-Salem, but we think that the Deacons still need a little more shine on their resume since they now project to have 14 losses. A win at Virginia Tech on Saturday would take care of that — otherwise Wake may need to win at least two games in Brooklyn.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)


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