Close Games in the ACC: Part III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 12th, 2018

This is Part III of a three-part series. Part I can be found here.  Part II can be found here.

In our final examination of close games in the ACC, we will examine the extreme cases in both directions — the best and worst seasons over the last 11 years with respect to performance in tight games. Then we’ll see if history gives us any indication of what to expect for the four ACC teams with extreme results in one-possession games last year.

Brian Gregory and the 2015 Georgia Tech squad were historically inept in close games. (AP Photo)

  • Most 1-Possession Games – 2012 Virginia Tech (10), 2012 Virginia (9). These intrastate rivals chose the same season to participate in the highest number of games decided on the game’s final possession. Each team won four of their tight contests but the Cavaliers (9-7 ACC record) did much better in the rest of their league outings than the Hokies (4-12). As you might expect, both meetings between these two schools in 2012 came right down to the wire, with each team winning on the other’s home floor.
  • Least 1-Possession Games – 2007 N.C. State (0), 2011 Duke (0). These two squads avoided nail-biters in different ways. Duke (13-3 ACC) won most of its games comfortably in 2011, including 11 of their 16 conference games by double-figures. Meanwhile the Wolfpack (5-11) were often on the short end in lopsided affairs, posting a mark of 3-9 in games decided by 10 points or more. Ironically, in its ACC Tournament opener that year, N.C. State finally experienced a close game – beating Duke in overtime in Sidney Lowe’s first year at the helm.
  • Best Record in 1-Possession Games – 2013 Florida State (6-0). A year after their first and only ACC Championship, the Seminoles (9-9 ACC) would have been in much worse shape if they didn’t dominate their six close games.
  • Worst Record in 1-Possession Games – 2015 Georgia Tech (0-8). Brian Gregory’s squad in 2015 (3-15 ACC) was so snake-bitten that the next highest number of losses during this era was four.

  • Most 3-Possession Games – 2016 Georgia Tech (17). A year after being the most inept team in close games spanning more than a decade of ACC basketball, the Yellow Jackets got plenty of opportunities for redemption and performed much better in winning eight games decided by single-digits.
  • Least 3-Possession Games – 2011 Wake Forest (2). In Jeff Bzdelik’s first year in Winston-Salem, the hapless Deacons (KenPom #256) were simply not competitive and got blown out by double figures 14 times en route to a 1-15 record in ACC play.
  • Best Record in 3-Possession Games – 2015 Duke (8-1). The eventual National Champions excelled in games decided by fewer than 10 points. The only loss came in a four-point defeat at Notre Dame, a team which later topped Duke again in the ACC Tournament. With three freshmen in that season’s starting lineup, those Blue Devils support our previous finding that experience is not related to close game success.
  • Worst Record in 3-Possession Games – 2015 Georgia Tech (0-12). The 2015 Yellow Jackets were amazingly ineffective in single-digit games but still managed to win three games in league play by more than 10 points. Go figure!

Next we list all the ACC squads that posted Net Wins in one-possession games of +/- two wins during the past 11 years. For each of those teams, we’ll show how that same school performed the following season and whether that meant anything for the next campaign.

Looking at the table above, the most significant takeaway is that, among the 14 teams on this list prior to 2017, not a single one improved its conference record in the following season. Some of those teams probably suffered a talent drop the next year, but in most cases we suspect that it represents a regression to the mean after an unusually bit of good fortune. So what does this mean for Virginia Tech and Florida State this season? Both teams have come out of the gates slowly, with the Seminoles starting out 1-3 (1-0 in one-possession games) and the Hokies 2-2. Next up – the other end of the spectrum.

This group is not exactly a mirror image of the first set but there are some similarities. Among the 10 unfortunate teams listed from prior to last season, three also managed to lose more often the following season. But the average record for the whole group improved by 2.10 wins, which corresponds very well to the “lucky” group’s average drop of 2.14 wins. It will be interesting to see if Virginia and Clemson follow the normal improvement trend after posting such weak numbers in one-possession contests. Currently, the answer projects well. The Cavaliers are 4-0 (1-0 in one-possession games) and the Tigers 3-1 (1-1). But remember that Tony Bennett and Brad Brownell have done poorly in close games for a period of longer than just one season. So something has to give – either the coaches reverse their personal history or their teams buck the bounce-back trend.

As we wrap up our analysis of close games in the ACC, we have one final discovery to share. While we feel that luck is a big factor in one-possession game outcomes, winning most of those nail-biters is still a great characteristic for a team to have. In the last 11 years, 29 squads recorded Net Wins of more than one in one-possession ACC games. Of the 28 that were eligible for the NCAA tournament, 24 of them went to the Big Dance (85.7 percent). Sometimes it might just be a different bounce of the ball.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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