Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 17th, 2020

With exactly 30 percent of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a look inside the ACC numbers. This is the first 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. 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 Wednesday, January 15.

Current Standings

This early in the conference slate, efficiency numbers can be highly skewed by blowouts. Case in point, Syracuse ranks third in efficiency margin, largely due to 25+ point wins over Georgia Tech and Boston College. Likewise, Jim Christian’s Eagles are .500 in the standings but dead last in efficiency margin because they’ve been outscored in their three losses by a total of 84 points. Virginia is worse in the standings compared to their per-possession play because of its inability to win tight contests. The Cavaliers have tasted defeat each time that they were in a game decided by fewer than eight points. Tony Bennett needs to figure that out as Virginia seems headed for more tight affairs due to its slow pace of play, stingy defense (ranking first in the ACC) and anemic offense (dead last in the leaguge). A depleted North Carolina squad has been reeling lately, and things may get even worse – the Tar Heels’ struggles have occurred against the easiest schedule in the league to date.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Offensive Efficiency Woes

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ACC Stock Report: Volume IV

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 15th, 2020

Stock Rising

What a Wild Four-Day Stretch for Clemson Basketball (USA Today Images)

Clemson. Weeks don’t come much better than this, football results notwithstanding, as the Tigers backed up an historic victory in Chapel Hill with a home stunner over conference unbeaten Duke on Tuesday night. Given the state of North Carolina basketball this winter, there was a reasonable expectation that this year’s opportunity was ripe for Clemson to put a halt to the mind-numbing string of 59 consecutive losses on the road. There was no such assumption, however, when #3 Duke came to town, but the Tigers put together their best 40-minute effort of the season on their way to upending the top-rated KenPom outfit in impressive fashion.

While the headlines were focused on snapping the ignominious and unprecedented losing streak at North Carolina, the details paint a less optimistic picture. The Tigers needed a miraculous comeback — they were down 10 points inside two minutes in Chapel Hill — just to force overtime, where they ultimately outlasted the Tar Heels. But the good vibes and positive momentum weren’t going to be good enough to take down Duke, who has been running roughshod through a very down ACC, and had seemingly separated itself as the team to beat. Instead, though, the 9-7 Tigers put together a remarkably well-balanced performance in handing Duke its first loss since an upset to Stephen F. Austin on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Clemson shot a scorching 56.6 percent from the floor, the best clip by a Blue Devils’ opponent in nearly six years. Perhaps even more pertinent to the upset was the Tigers’ ability to keep Duke from converting second-chance opportunities. This is not a vintage Duke team from the perimeter, but they have been able to maul teams on the offensive glass, rebounding their misses at the seventh-best rate in the country (37.2% Off Reb). Tuesday, Clemson limited Duke to just four offensive rebounds, and that, combined with its blistering shooting, was the combination that Brad Brownell’s club needed to climb back to .500 in league play and put a bow on one of the school’s most triumphant weeks in hardwood history.

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ACC Decade in Review, Part 2: The Five Best Players

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 10th, 2020

As the new new decade gets under way, it’s a good time to reflect on the past 10 years of basketball in the ACC. Recently, the Rush the Court ACC microsite team — Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) — got together to select the five best teams and players that the league has produced from the 2009-10 through 2018-19 seasons. Today we reveal our choices for the top five ACC players of the decade. Of course, selecting an All-Decade team is always a subjective exercise, but it’s now more difficult than ever, considering the current makeup of college basketball. How does one definitively compare one-and-done freshmen phenoms with solid four-year performers? And what about other players that leave school early after stellar sophomore or junior campaigns? No doubt, this was a much easier process when college basketball’s best stuck around campus for most of their careers. Case in point, in the past 10 seasons, only four players were selected first team All-ACC more than once. An average of 11 players earned that distinction in the prior three decades. With the current state of affairs in the sport, we are forced to put more weight on individual season accomplishments – all five of our selections below were consensus first team All-America selections in their last, or only, year of college action. Four won ACC Player of the Year honors in those decorated seasons, and the only one who did not was beaten out in the voting by another member of our top five. Here are our choices for the ACC’s All-Decade team.

MALCOLM BROGDON, VIRGINIA 2012-16 (Player of the Decade)

Malcolm Brogdon was the only player of the decade to be named a 3-time All-ACC First-Teamer. (Getty Images)

The most accomplished four-year performer of the past 10 seasons, Brogdon was the steady force behind Virginia’s rise to prominence. During his last three seasons, Virginia went 45-9 in ACC play with Brogdon being named first team All-ACC each year by the league’s coaches. As a senior, he not only won ACC Player of the Year, but was also selected as the conference’s top defender. National honors poured in as well – along with earning consensus first team All-America honors, he was named National Defensive Player of the Year by the NABC. During his time in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers won two ACC regular season crowns and captured the ACC Tournament title in 2014. The only blemish on Brogdon’s college basketball resume is the lack of a Final Four appearance. Virginia looked like a shoo-in for the 2016 Final Four, but the Cavaliers squandered a late 15-point lead and lost to Syracuse in the Elite Eight, the final game of Brogdon’s outstanding career.

ZION WILLIAMSON, DUKE 2019

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ACC Stock Report: Volume III

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 8th, 2020

Stock Rising

MJ Walker is Having a Year (USA Today Images)

M.J.Walker. Once considered a possible one-and-done candidate, the former McDonald’s All-American may finally be living up to his immense potential. In Saturday’s upset win over Louisville at the Yum! Center, Walker led the Seminoles with 23 points while making nine of his 13 attempts (including a season-high five threes). Walker has now reached double figures in five of his last six games, and is seemingly rounding into form after missing some time earlier in the year with a nagging leg injury. Once again, Leonard Hamilton’s calling card is great balance, as Florida State sports eight players averaging more than 5.9 points per game, but Walker is the one player with enough upside to carry the team to a deep run in March. While Trent Forrest is the unquestioned leader of the unit, and Devin Vassell’s sophomore production jump has been a very pleasant surprise, the light coming on for Walker may be the development that has the Seminoles vying for a conference title that seems up for grabs.

Stock Holding

Georgia Tech. While the story coming out of Chapel Hill on Saturday was predictably and justifiably centered on the mess that is North Carolina, it is worth noting Georgia Tech’s performance as well. Josh Pastner’s team was ruled ineligible for postseason play before the start of the season, right before coming out of the gates with an opening night upset win at NC State. Since, it has been the sort of nondescript, under the radar season we have grown accustomed to from the Yellow Jackets, so Saturday’s whitewashing of the Tar Heels definitively stands out. The Jackets started the game on a 27-4 run, providing the home team with its largest halftime deficit in the 34-year history of the Smith Center. Point guard Jose Alvarado led the way with 25 points, as Georgia Tech picked up its first victory on the road over the Tar Heels in a decade. Granted these aren’t your grandad’s, dad’s, or even your infant baby’s Tar Heels — especially given the Cole Anthony injury — but nonetheless, it was a great showing by Georgia Tech in a season sure to be devoid of many others.

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ACC Decade in Review, Part 1: The Five Best Teams

Posted by ACC Team on December 26th, 2019

As we approach the beginning of a new decade, it’s a good time to reflect on the past 10 years of basketball in the ACC. Recently, the Rush the Court ACC microsite team — Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) — got together to select the five best teams and players that the league has produced from the 2009-10 through 2018-19 seasons. Today we reveal our choices for the top five ACC teams of the decade. There were a bunch of excellent squads to choose from — 12 ACC teams earned #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament (four each for Duke, North Carolina and Virginia); eight of those advanced to the Elite Eight; and, four ultimately went on to cut down the nets on Monday night. To put these elite squads in order, we not only considered their specific accomplishments but also the competition that presented against them in any given year. Here are our choices for the top five ACC teams of the last decade.

#5) 2018-19 DUKE

Zion Williamson and the 2018-19 Duke Blue Devils fell short of expectations, bowing out to Michigan State in the Regional Finals. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
  • Overall: 32-6 (AP-1)   ACC: 14-4 (3)
  • KenPom: AdjEM – 30.62 (4)   AdjO – 120.0 (7)   AdjD – 89.3 (6)
  • ACCT: Champs   NCAA: L in Regional Finals
  • Key Players: Zion Williamson (22.6 PPG), RJ Barrett (22.6 PPG), Cam Reddish (13.5 PPG).

The year of Zion started with a bang as the Blue Devils blew out Kentucky 118-84 in the Champions Classic season opener, thrusting Duke into an immediate role of national favorite. Led by its two consensus first team All-Americans, Williamson and Barrett, Duke was rolling right along before its season was turned upside down on February 20. That was the night that Zion blew out his shoe and injured his knee in the opening minute of North Carolina’s dominant win over the Blue Devils. Entering that game, Duke was 23-2 and sported a KenPom efficiency margin of 35.92, which was on pace to become the second-best mark of the entire decade (2015 Kentucky – 36.91). The Blue Devils would never be the same. As other top teams around the nation hit their stride in March, Duke regressed. When Williamson returned for the postseason, his young supporting cast appeared both tired and tentative. The Blue Devils were fortunate to get by UCF and Virginia Tech at the buzzer before bowing out to Michigan State, 68-67, in the Elite Eight. In the end, their elite top-end talent couldn’t overcome their woeful outside shooting (30.8% 3FG).

#4) 2009-10 DUKE

  • Overall: 35-5 (AP-3)   ACC: 13-3 (1-Tie)
  • KenPom: AdjEM – 33.29 (1)   AdjO – 121.0 (1)   AdjD – 87.5 (5)
  • ACCT: ACC Champs   NCAA: National Champs
  • Key Players: Jon Scheyer (18.2 PPG), Kyle Singler (17.7 PPG), Nolan Smith (17.4 PPG).

This was probably the toughest team on this list to rate. Their accomplishments and metrics rank among the best of the decade; only last year’s Virginia squad logged a higher KenPom rating; they are one of only two teams to finish among the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency; and they are the only team to win both the ACC Tournament and NCAA Tournament. But the consensus opinion is that this was the least talented of Mike Krzyzewski’s five championship teams. Perhaps it was its style of the play — Duke ranked 229th nationally in tempo –- or the lack of NBA lottery picks that the program is known for. Even though none of the players from this squad reached star status in the pros, five members carved out NBA careers of two or more years. That depth helped Duke rip West Virginia 78-57 in the national semifinals before hanging on to beat Butler in one of the most riveting title games ever. The entire game was played within a window of seven points – Duke’s largest lead was six and Butler’s biggest edge was one. It all came down to Gordon Hayward’s half-court fling that rimmed out at the horn, giving Duke the 61-59 win.

#3) 2016-17 NORTH CAROLINA

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Is It Time to Panic in Chapel Hill?

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 18th, 2019

Concerns about this version of North Carolina had been bubbling since its no-show home blowout loss at the hands of Ohio State two weeks back. Those concerns have now been heightened to crisis level after Sunday’s loss to Wofford, piggybacking the pregame news that star freshman Cole Anthony would be sidelined indefinitely with a knee issue.

Roy Williams Wears His Emotions (USA Today Images)

Because of the visibility of the game along with the scintillating performance by Anthony, the takeaway of the Tar Heels’ opening night win over Notre Dame now seems silly. The praise for Anthony, breathless as it was, was deserving, as he began the season in a manner few before him have — scoring 34 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out five assists. In the shadows of the analysis, though, was the fact that Anthony HAD to do that for his team to dispose of an average Notre Dame team, as only Garrison Brooks joined him in double figures.

As the schedule softened, Anthony’s productivity understandably dipped, but his efficiency also stumbled. The freshman hasn’t eclipsed 50 percent field goal shooting since the opener, and he is averaging nearly four turnovers per contest — and if you think there is an intimation that Anthony is the problem, citing these statistics is simply a way to take the opposite position.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume II

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 10th, 2019

With the intra-league docket on pause until New Year’s Eve, now is a good time for coaches to take a breath and evaluate where their teams sit in the wake of just completed holiday tournaments and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Finals and the holiday season dilute most schedules prior to the reconvening of the ACC slate, but there are still a few games with intrigue on the horizon. One of those occurs tonight, featuring the team that has established itself as perhaps the favorite to capture the league title.

Stock Rising: Louisville

Louisville is the Early Favorite in the ACC (USA Today Images)

I had some reluctance to fully buy in to this Louisville ensemble being the league’s best team, but given its performance through nine games, it may be time to cede to the results. The Cardinals were barely tested in seven November victories, winning all but one of those contests by double figures, while defeating zero top-80 KenPom teams. However, in vanquishing Michigan, a team that ran roughshod over stiff competition on its way to winning the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, the Cardinals definitively proved worthy of inclusion among the nation’s elite.  Chris Mack’s squad is doing it on both ends of the floor, the only team nationally inside the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. A microcosm of that balance is the team’s best player Jordan Nwora, who is about as an efficient three-level scorer as there is in college basketball. The 6’7” junior forward, who tested the draft waters last summer, is also excelling on the defensive end and on the glass, and is currently the leader in the KenPom Player of the Year standings.

In a year devoid of dominant outfits, consistent output needs to be acknowledged, and thus far, no one in the league has come close to the Cardinals’ level of consistency. Tonight, they get another chance to prove their worthiness of the nation’s top ranking against last year’s national runner-up, Texas Tech, at Madison Square Garden. Get past that, and it should be an undefeated Louisville entering Rupp Arena to face intrastate rival Kentucky on December 28.

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ACC Feast Week in Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2019

Overall, the ACC showed out well in the many early season tournaments over Feast Week. Of the 10 league schools that participated in an event, four of those teams collected championships. Below we will review some comparison statistics with the other five major basketball conferences as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

The ACC logged as good a Feast Week as any other conference. The Big Ten had a slightly higher winning percentage, but only snared two championships. As a lead-in to this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the ACC claimed a 3-2 edge in tournament meetings between schools from those leagues.

THE BEST

Four Tournament Titles for ACC Teams.

  • Duke – Empire Classic. What a difference a week makes. After taking care of business in New York by thrashing California and beating Georgetown, the Blue Devils were flying high atop the polls. Now, Duke is reeling. First came a historic upset in Cameron Indoor Stadium to Stephen F. Austin and now Mike Krzyzewski’s guys will be without Cassius Stanley (hamstring) for at least a month.
  • Virginia – Air Force Reserve Tip-Off. The Cavaliers faced some adversity in Uncasville, rallying from nine points down in the second half of the title game against Arizona State. As usual, Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense was the difference, holding both the Sun Devils and Massachusetts under 50 points.
  • Pittsburgh – Fort Myer’s Tip-Off. Jeff Capel’s team picked off two Power Six opponents in Fort Myers to close an up and down month on a high note. The Panthers beat Kansas State in a tight one in the opener, and then handled Northwestern to earn the tournament title.
Florida State celebrates its Emerald Coast Classic Championship after beating Purdue in overtime. (Mark Wallheiser/AP)
  • Florida State – Emerald Coast Classic. The Seminoles have been on fire since dropping their season opener at Pittsburgh. In nearby Niceville, Leonard Hamilton continued his mastery of close game situations – Florida State edged Tennessee by three points and then bested Purdue in overtime, Hamilton’s eighth straight win in games decided after regulation.

THE WORST

 Bad Looks for ACC Teams with NCAA Tourney Aspirations.

  • Miami – Charleston Classic. The Hurricanes got off to a decent start in Charleston by beating Missouri State, but it was all downhill from there. Following two blowout losses to Florida and Connecticut, Jim Larranaga’s squad does not look like the improved team we expected to see this season.
  • Syracuse – NIT Season Tip-Off. Jim Boeheim went to Brooklyn with a great opportunity for some impressive wins, but his Orange laid a big egg. The Syracuse zone certainly needs some work, as was evident in two lopsided losses to Oklahoma State and Penn State, which posted 86 and 85 points respectively.

MIXED BAG

Four ACC Teams Didn’t Win Titles but Showed Promise.

  • Clemson – MGM Resorts Main Event. The Tigers split a pair of tight ones against good competition in Las Vegas. In the opener, Brad Brownell’s guys edged TCU in overtime before acquitting themselves well in a four-point loss to a ranked Colorado squad.
  • Virginia Tech – Maui Invitational. Picked to finish 14th in the ACC preseason media poll, the Hokies shocked Michigan State to open play in Hawaii. The rest of the trip didn’t go so well for first year coach Mike Young, as his squad got handled by Dayton and BYU.
  • North Carolina – Battle 4 Atlantis. The Tar Heels started and ended well in the Bahamas, but the middle part of the trip wasn’t so good. After dispatching Alabama in the first round, North Carolina ran into a buzzsaw situation against Michigan. But Roy Williams’ team rebounded to beat a good Oregon club in their final outing.
  • Wake Forest – Wooden Legacy. The Deacons made it all the way to the finals before falling to highly rated Arizona by seven points. Victories over Charleston and Long Beach State aren’t eye-opening wins, but Danny Manning’s team showed some promise in Anaheim by giving a competitive effort in the title game.
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Virginia Picking Up Right Where It Left Off

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 26th, 2019

A week ago on the Eye on College Basketball Podcast, hosts Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander started a benign dialogue aiming to contextualize the greatness of Virginia head coach Tony Bennett. It began with the duo opining on how many games Bennett would be able to win against the Cavaliers’ 2019-20 schedule with a top-10 level Division II roster, and evolved into a more interesting and reasonable hypothetical — how high would Bennett finish with the roster that Danny Manning has at Wake Forest? Neither was willing to pick a Bennett-coached Demon Deacons’ squad lower than sixth, with Norlander capitulating that he could envision a scenario yielding a team that could crack the league’s top four. Such is now the universal adulation of Bennett’s prowess that none of the proclamations of his greatness, in this context or others, feels hyperbolic.

Tony Bennett is a Pundit’s Dream Coach (USA Today Images)

A year ago at this time, despite the fresh wounds of the ignominy of being the first #1 seed to ever lose an NCAA Tournament game to a #16 seed, Bennett was still thought of as one of the games’ premier coaches. The questions remained, fairly or not, however, whether his style could yield a National Championship, a question ultimately put to bed forever last April. With all the subsequent roster turnover (Virginia lost its top three scorers, all three with eligibility remaining), it was fair to expect the Cavaliers to retreat substantially this year — but early returns suggest otherwise.

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Key ACC Non-Conference Games For NCAA Hopefuls

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 19th, 2019

The top five schools in the ACC preseason poll (Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and Florida State) look like good bets to make the Big Dance this season, but right below that group sits a trio of teams that appear likely to finish in the middle of the league standings. To warrant inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, it may come down to how these squads perform in a handful of key non-conference games. Here’s a look at each team’s three most important contests outside of ACC play, along with a sneaky tough opponent for the trio.

NC State

Kevin Keatts needs his NC State squad to pick up some key non-conference wins in case the Wolfpack is on the NCAA bubble again next March. (Jerome Carpenter/WRAL)
  • Memphis (Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center Classic) – Thu Nov 28 (4:00 ET ESPN2)
  • Wisconsin (Big Ten/ACC Challenge) – Wed Dec 4 (9:15 ET ESPN2)
  • @ Auburn – Thu Dec 19 (9:00 ET ESPN 2)

The Wolfpack may catch a break on Thanksgiving Day if Memphis freshman phenom James Wiseman is still sitting out with eligibility issues. Either way, if Kevin Keatts finds his team on the NCAA bubble once again, a neutral site win over a top-20 team would look mighty good on its resume. The other two contests are rematches from last year in which the home team triumphed in tightly contested affairs.

Upset Alert: @ UNC Greensboro – Sun Dec 15 (3:00 ET ESPN+)

The Spartans return three starters from a campaign in which they won 29 games and were closer to making the NCAA Tourney than NC State. According to KenPom’s win probability metric, the Wolfpack currently has a 57 percent chance of coming out on top.

Notre Dame

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