Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 27th, 2019

Here’s another edition of our weekly view of 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 examine how ACC teams are faring in conference nail-biters. Finally, we will forecast how the final league 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 25.

Current Standings

The standings mostly line up with performance, especially among the top six squads in efficiency margin. At the bottom of the league, there is a logjam of six more teams in the 2-4 victory range, but there is a clear best (Miami) and worst (Wake Forest) of the bunch in efficiency performance. Based on their play on a per possession basis, Clemson should not be trailing Syracuse and NC State in the standings, but that is the Tigers’ current reality. Below we will explain why that is the case.

Statistic of the Week: Winning Close Games

Despite its reputation for competitiveness, the ACC ranks 30th among the nation’s 32 conferences in the number of one-possession games played this year. You have to go back to 2002 to find a year when the league had fewer close games than this season’s 15.7 percent rate. No matter how you define close games (one or two possessions), Clemson has struggled mightily in those tight league contests. To rub more salt into the Tigers’ wound, all three of their close defeats this season literally occurred on the game’s final play. NC State has been involved in more (8) nail-biters than any other school and the Wolfpack have pulled out six of those games. Combined with last year’s impressive performance — Kevin Keatts‘ team was 5-2 in games decided by six points or fewer — he is off to a start to his ACC coaching career that can best be described as Leonard Hamilton-esque.

When it comes to late-game magic, Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton is still the Houdini of the ACC. The table above compares the close game results in league action for the six coaches who have been at their jobs for the last eight seasons. Amazingly, the Seminoles have won 84 percent of their games that have been decided by three points or fewer, or in overtime. Hall of Famers Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski win close games almost as much as they win ACC games overall, but it’s a little surprising that Tony Bennett has not been very effective in tight contests. Virginia’s numbers are actually much better lately, however — his club is 4-2 in one-possession games over the past two seasons. As we can see, Clemson struggling in ACC nail-biters is nothing new. Unfortunately for Brad Brownell, his teams’ inability to win close games has plagued his career — in games not decided by three points or less, the Tigers have gone a solid 61-56 over the last eight years.

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. Clemson is now on the wrong side of the bubble. Even in a year where the competition for selection to the NCAA Tournament may be as weak as it’s ever been, the Tigers’ profile screams NIT. Brownell’s club is just 4-11 in games that fall into either Quadrant I or Quadrant II, and it only has two wins on the road (against teams that are not projected to make the NCAA field — South Carolina and Georgia Tech). This basically puts Clemson into a must-win situation when North Carolina comes to Littlejohn Coliseum on Saturday night. Without that boost to their resume, the Tigers’ chances of making the Big Dance are looking extremely slim.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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