Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 22nd, 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 how ACC teams have performed in the nail-biter games — conference games decided by one or two possessions. 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, February 20.

Current Standings

With very few exceptions, the standings to date correspond well with each team’s points per possession margin (PPM). Notre Dame is the only school with a losing conference record that doesn’t also have a negative PPM — mostly because of the Irish’s 30-point thumping of N.C. State in early January. Without that abnormal game included in the data, Notre Dame would have logged a -0.03 PPM, which is more in line with its record. Speaking of the Wolfpack, they join Virginia Tech as the only two ACC squads with winning records despite a negative PPM. In our special statistical focus of the week below, we will explain why that is the case.

Without Pittsburgh

With the season winding down to the final couple weeks of the regular season, almost every team has taken its turn at beating Pittsburgh. What’s interesting here is that there are clear breaks separating the league’s top three  and bottom three teams from the rest of the pack. In between those two extremes are eight schools that are +/-.03 in PPM. It should make for an exciting Wednesday of basketball in Brooklyn in two weeks, when most of those teams will face off in the ACC Tournament’s second round.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Winning Close Games

Back in January we posted a three-part series that examined ACC schools’ performance in close games in recent years. Here’s a look at how league teams are doing in the tight contests this season.

Now it’s easy to see why N.C. State and Virginia Tech have achieved winning ACC records despite underperforming on a PPP basis — each team has done extremely well in contests that came down to the wire. It seems that Leonard Hamilton in particular is up to his old tricks again. As we pointed out in Part II of our series, the veteran Seminoles coach is a veritable maestro in one-possession contests. Over the last seven years, Hamilton has logged an incredible 20-3 record in league games decided by fewer than four points or in overtime. In Part III of the analysis we also charted how ACC teams perform in the season following an unusually high number of net wins/losses in one-possession games, finding that teams that benefited from a lot of close wins do not improve their ACC records the following year. Two teams fit this description heading into the 2017-18 campaign — Virginia Tech (+5 Net Close Wins in 2016-17) and Florida State (+3). Even though both squads are again winning the tight ones this year, neither is currently projected by KenPom to top its ACC win total from a year ago. On the other end of the spectrum, we predicted that Clemson (-6 Net Close Wins in 2016-17) and Virginia (-4) would exceed last year’s league win totals based on bad luck last season, and both have already done so with several games yet to play.

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. While N.C. State continues to rise up the standings and in the projected NCAA brackets, Miami and Louisville are trending in the opposite direction. Virginia has most likely locked up a spot in Charlotte for its NCAA First and Second Round games. Duke’s win over Clemson last weekend put the the Blue Devils in the driver’s seat to gain the coveted second Charlotte placement, but don’t count out red-hot North Carolina for that spot should Duke falter down the stretch.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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