Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 7th, 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 compare the importance of three-point shooting and free throw shooting to determine which has the most influence on winning games in the league this year. 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 Monday, February 5.

Current Standings

It’s interesting to consider the impact that conference schedule strength is having on the standings. Duke has clearly benefited from two games each against the worst teams in the league, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. Aside from those four games, the Blue Devils are 3-3 in ACC play with a points per possession margin (PPM) of just 0.04. Among the five six-win teams in the conference, NC State and Florida State have faced a tougher slate than the others. After Saturday’s rematch against North Carolina, the Wolfpack will have played six games against the leagues best four teams, using the KenPom ratings. The upside of that, of course, is that Kevin Keatts’ growing squad will be no worse than .500 in the standings at that juncture, with a much easier road down the stretch. That bodes well for NC State to finish the season above both their norm in the standings as well as in PPM.

Without Pittsburgh

While three schools (Duke, Miami and Syracuse) have had the good fortune to face Pittsburgh twice already, six ACC teams have yet to face the Panthers. Two of those squads will give Kevin Stallings his best chance to avoid a winless ACC campaign. According to KenPom’s win probabilty metric, the only games where Pittsburgh has a greater than 19 percent chance of winning are home dates with Boston College (February 13 – 32%) and Wake Forest (February 21 – 35%).

Advanced Stat of the Week: Three vs Free

In last week’s edition of Inside the ACC Numbers we reviewed how performance in the Four Factors translates to winning ACC games. Today we analyze the importance of both three-point shooting and getting work done at the free throw line.

In the modern game, three-pointers are more important than ever. Teams nationally are taking more threes (37.4% of all shot attempts) and sinking them at a higher rate (35.1% 3FG) than ever before. So it’s not surprising that the team that makes more threes in a given game owns a distinct advantage. In 79 ACC games this season, the winning team sank more shots from deep 49 times, and on eight occasions the number of made threes was even. This equates to the squad with fewer long-range makes triumphing only 28 percent of the time. The caveat is that it’s obviously more important to shoot a high percentage from three-point range than it is to count on hoisting a high volume of deep shots. And yet, as important as long-range shooting is to a team’s game success, it appears that winning the free throw battle is even more influential. And unlike three-point shooting, the volume of attempts from the foul line seem to be more important than overall shooting accuracy.

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. What a difference a week can make. Just five days ago Louisville had the resume of a #7 seed, but after consecutive home losses to Florida State and Syracuse, the Cardinals are now sitting squarely on the NCAA bubble as a #11 seed. It’s beginning to look like a .500 mark in ACC play may be the cutoff for inclusion in the Big Dance this year — although nine wins would probably not be enough for a Virginia Tech squad with a very weak overall strength of schedule.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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