Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 25th, 2018

Here is the latest edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. This week we will look at the upcoming heavyweight match-up between Duke‘s potent offense and Virginia‘s stingy defensive unit. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 23.

Current Standings

Virginia continues to steamroll through the ACC in dominant fashion. Since its one-point win over Boston College in their conference opener, the Cavaliers have pummeled seven straight ACC opponents by an average score of 66-49. The always effective pack-line defense reached a new level of excellence on Tuesday night when Virginia held Clemson to a meager 0.58 points per possession in a suffocating 61-36 win. At this point in the conference schedule, one extreme result can have a huge impact on the points per possession margin (PPM) rankings. For example, if we remove Notre Dame’s 88-58 blowout of N.C. State from the data set, the Irish (-.03) and Wolfpack (-.04) would have almost identical PPM during league play. The huge margin of victory in that single game is really the only thing that prevents almost perfect alignment between the current ACC standings and the PPM rankings.

Without Pittsburgh

To further clean the data, we have decided to make the ACC PPM standings without Pittsburgh a weekly table. Don’t take this as a slap at Kevin Stallings‘ team, but the Panthers are so far below the rest of the ACC in available talent that we need to discount their games to fairly evaluate the rest of the league. For instance, the PPM gap between Virginia and Duke is dramatically greater once the Blue Devils’ two blowout victories over Pittsburgh are removed.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Clash of the Efficiency Titans

This coming weekend will feature an intriguing match-up of styles that is akin to the famous ‘boxer-versus-slugger’ title fights of yesteryear. On Saturday in Durham (2:00 PM ET – CBS), the nation’s leader in KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency, Virginia, will try to stop the high-powered offense of Duke (second in adjusted offensive efficiency). This clash of efficiency titans has become the norm in recent years. Mike Krzyzewski‘s teams have finished among the nation’s top eight teams in adjusted offensive efficiency for each of the past nine years, while Tony Bennett‘s defenses have finished no lower that seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency in five of the last six seasons. In preparation for Saturday’s titanic struggle, let’s review what’s happened when these two powerful opposing units have hooked up in recent years.

The table above shows that the Blue Devils have triumphed whenever they met or exceeded their expected PPP for the game against Virginia. The Cavaliers’ lone win came in the 2014 ACC Tournament title game, which is also the only game of the five contests where Duke failed to meet its expected PPP. Virginia has controlled the tempo of each of the past five meetings — slightly under 60 possessions — while KenPom’s predictive algorithm forecasts Saturday’s game to feature 63 possessions. Adjusting slightly downward, that gives us a scoring threshold for Duke of 65 points this weekend. Anything under that point total would put the Blue Devils below their expected PPP of 1.04 and likely result in a Virginia win.

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 was to be named tomorrow, we make our projections based on the final KenPom projected records. With six schools projected to finish the regular season with between eight to 10 wins, it looks like a crowded middle of the ACC standings will result in a bunch of NCAA bubble teams. We currently project Notre Dame to make the field based on an anticipated .500 finish, but without Bonzie Colson (broken foot) available for another month, we doubt the Irish will be able to achieve nine league wins. Among the projected 10-loss squads right now, only Syracuse would be a viable candidate for NCAA selection based on its strong overall strength of schedule.

Brad Jenkins (349 Posts)

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