Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 14th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 look at the best 3-point shooting teams (offensively and defensively) and see how they compare to recent ACC leaders in those categories. 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, February 12.

Current Standings

At this point in the season, team rankings in point per possession margin (PPM) line up well with overall league standings, but there are a couple of outliers. Based on PPM alone, one would expect North Carolina and Boston College to be flip-flopped in the standings — to explain why this is not the case, performance in close games tells the tale. The Eagles are an impressive 4-1 in games decided by two possessions or fewer, while the Tar Heels are 0-5 in similar situations. Among the teams in the upper middle of the ACC, Virginia and Notre Dame may have an advantage in short-term schedule difficulty. The Cavaliers will face four straight sub-.500 ACC squads in the next two weeks, while the Irish have a toughie at Duke on Saturday, but next comes four games in a row versus ACC schools with losing league marks. Meanwhile, Syracuse must play five of its next seven contests on the road, and NC State is looking at a three-game stretch that features a roadie at Boston College followed by challenging home tilts with Duke and Florida State.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Elite Three-Point Offense and Defense

Success from behind the arc has been very important to determining the outcome of ACC games this season – the team with a higher 3-point shooting percentage in a given game has tasted victory 78 percent of the time. The top two schools in the standings are excelling in this crucial statistic in historic fashion, but in very different ways.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 7th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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. In this edition, we look at how high usage rate correlates to offensive efficiency for the players that are eating up the most possessions in league play. 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, February 5.

Current Standings

Last week we suggested that North Carolina and Notre Dame may be ready to make a surge in the standings based on how they were performing on a per possession basis. Well, we were half right. Even with star Cole Anthony back in the lineup, the Tar Heels dropped two in a row after showing signs of life the week before. But the Fighting Irish have indeed been on an upward trend, thanks to the performance of the second-best offense in the league. In winning its last three outings, Notre Dame has averaged a sizzling 1.22 points per possession. Its upcoming schedule will make it hard to keep up this momentum -– three consecutive road trips (Clemson, Virginia and Duke) are next for Mike Brey’s group.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Usage versus Efficiency

Since his return to game action (and even before), Cole Anthony has come under scrutiny for the high volume of shots that he launches for North Carolina. That criticism seems valid, considering how infrequently his attempts go in the basket (35.1% FG). In his four ACC games to date, Anthony has the highest usage rate (34.3% Poss) in the league but has an offensive rating of just 94.5. Let’s see how that compares to the other high-possession players in the conference.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 31st, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 29.

Current Standings

There are some interesting outliers when comparing ACC point per possession margins (PPM) with the current league standings. Despite being near the bottom of the league race at this point, North Carolina and Notre Dame are performing at a relatively decent level on a per possession basis. In fact, their PPM numbers are better than five teams above them in the standings. This suggests that we may see the Tar Heels and Fighting Irish make a move up the ledger in the second half of conference play. Based on how each squad is perceived nationally, it’s also surprising to see Florida State and Syracuse performing basically as equals on the court in ACC action.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Winning with Threes and Freebies

“Live by the three, die by the three” has been a popular phrase among college basketball followers since the three-point shot was was first introduced in 1987. Often when you hear this, the speaker is making a negative judgement on a team’s shot selection and implying that shooting a lot of threes is not conducive to winning consistently. Conventional wisdom also espouses the importance of free throw shooting when it comes to deciding the outcome of games. Let’s look at how these old axioms are playing out so far in the ACC this year.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 24th, 2020

This is the second 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 22.

Current Standings

Looking at the current standings, there are three tiers of teams at or above .500 in conference play. At the top, Duke holds a significant advantage over Florida State and Louisville in efficiency margin, but that margin is largely because the Blue Devils have played the weakest schedule in the ACC thus far — beating four bottom-dwellers by over 30 points each. Among the three schools with 5-3 records, Syracuse is playing the best basketball on a per-possession basis, thanks in great part to the Orange’s acumen on the road (more on that below). Virginia is the only team sporting a 4-4 league mark that has a positive efficiency margin, but the Cavaliers have struggled in close games, dropping all four contests by fewer than eight points. Miami looks like the ACC’s worst squad from an efficiency standpoint, but nobody has faced the ominous slate of conference games that the Hurricanes have to date. Miami has already met Duke and Louisville twice, and lost to Florida State in overtime last Saturday.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Home Court Advantage?

Things are not going as expected for host teams in the ACC this year. With 39 percent of league games already in the books, visiting squads are winning more than half of the time. The chart above shows how ACC home court advantage has worked over the last seven seasons. The national average for home court winning percentage has hovered around 60 percent in recent years and is at 59.9 percent so far in 2020. The ACC is clearly the outlier among major conferences this year – all other Power Six leagues have a home floor winning rate of over 63 percent (including the Big Ten’s incredible 80 percent).

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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 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 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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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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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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This is a Different Looking Duke Team

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 11th, 2019

After just two games, it’s obvious that this year’s Duke team is not going to look (or play) like any of head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recent Blue Devils’ squads. His roster this season is devoid of NBA Lottery talent, so success in Durham in 2019-20 will be much more dependent on a group effort.

Sophomore point guard Tre Jones is Duke’s clear leader at both ends of the court. (AP Photo)

Typically, Duke features two players that dominate the team’s offensive touches — think Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett last season; Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter the year prior; and Jason Tatum and Luke Kennard the season before that. So far, Duke’s new points by committee approach has resulted in good balance – five Blue Devils are averaging between 10.0 and 16.0 points per game. Also, Coach K appears to be altering his traditional method of minutes distribution, i.e., playing more than seven guys. Through the Blue Devils’ first two outings, nine players are seeing more than 12 minutes of action per contest. It’s been a long time since Krzyzewski has employed this approach, a fact he acknowledged after Duke’s 89-55 win over Colorado State on Friday night. “I need to learn how to sub again.” What remains to be seen is whether the lack of a go-to scorer will cost his team in tight-game situations. There is an advantage to having multiple options that defenses must prepare for, but there are also times when somebody just needs to go get a bucket. Early signs suggest that perhaps Cassius Stanley will develop into that guy. Though less heralded than fellow freshmen Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt, Stanley has been Duke’s most impressive rookie to date — leading the team in scoring (16 PPG), while being extremely efficient (13-of-17 FG).

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