Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 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 compare how each ACC squad performed in its last nine league games, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. Finally, we will examine the ACC standings and project what it may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 3.

Current Standings

The final points per possession margin (PPM) figures suggest that there are a pair of ACC teams (Virginia and Duke) that are clearly superior to the rest of the league, and one squad (Pittsburgh) that is exceptionally worse. There is also a lot of parity in the middle of the league this season, with six schools posting +/- 0.01 in PPM. Among that group, Miami at 11-7 stands out as the most fortunate. By winning their last four games by three points or fewer — and thanks to the league’s tie-breaking procedures — the Hurricanes landed the #3 seed in Brooklyn this week. They accomplished this feat despite only outscoring their ACC foes by a total of nine points all season long. It’s also interesting to consider the relative strength of schedule among the 15 league members. Note that there is some bias built into the standings — Virginia and Duke only met once and can’t play themselves, partially explaining why they have the ACC’s two weakest schedules. But North Carolina clearly played a much tougher slate, with two games each against three of the top five seeds in this week’s tournament (Duke, Clemson and NC State). Even that gauntlet, though, doesn’t match what Buzz Williams‘ crew at Virginia Tech faced this year — the Hokies logged two meetings with each of the top three seeds in Brooklyn (Virginia, Duke and Miami). Additionally, hats off to Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers for submitting the ACC’s best defense for the fourth time in five years, while North Carolina finished with the league’s top offense for the second straight year.

Without Pittsburgh

As a reminder, four ACC schools had the luxury of two cracks at Pittsburgh in league action this season — Duke, Miami, Louisville and Syracuse all clearly benefited. The Hurricanes probably gained the most from this good fortune — Miami was outscored by the rest of the league by 17 total points.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not

In an effort to identify which teams are on the rise and which are heading in the wrong direction, we will now split the season in half for every ACC team and compare how they performed in each nine-game section of conference play.

Despite Virginia’s wire-to-wire dominance of the league standings and #1 ranking in college basketball, the splits suggest that Duke has been slightly better than the Cavaliers over the last month of play. Duke’s surge can be attributed to its improving defense, which is now exclusively of the zone variety. After allowing 1.02 PPP in their first nine league outings, the Blue Devils have only given up 0.92 PPP since the midpoint. Believe it or not, that’s even slightly better than Virginia’s stingy defense has been over its last nine games (0.93 PPP). North Carolina’s offense really caught fire in February to spur its jump in efficiency margin — the Tar Heels scored 1.21 PPP in its last nine contests after posting a solid 1.10 PPP in the first half of league play. The conference’s most improved squad over the course of the year has been NC State. Even though they only triumphed once more in the back half of the season than they did in the front, Kevin Keatts’ team improved dramatically on both ends of the floor. Not only did the Wolfpack’s offense get better (+0.09 PPP in their last nine games), but so did their defense (-0.05 opponents’ PPP).

Looking to this week in Brooklyn, another team to watch is Notre Dame — the Irish were already improving before the return of star senior Bonzie Colson, but should be downright dangerous now that he’s fully back in action. A Notre Dame vs. North Carolina semifinal match-up may not look likely based on seeding alone, but it begins to look quite possible from an efficiency trend perspective. In today’s opening round finale, Syracuse will be a solid favorite against Wake Forest as the Orange try to keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive — after looking at each team’s profile in the second half of the year, however, we won’t be surprised if the Demon Deacons pull off the upset in Brooklyn.

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. Currently, it looks like eight ACC schools are solidly in the NCAA field, with three more on the proverbial bubble. Among those three, Notre Dame is the most likely to gain admission to the Big Dance. That’s because Colson and the Irish are much more likely to win two or even three games in the ACC Tourney this week, thereby showing the selection committee that Mike Brey’s group is back among the nation’s elite teams.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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