Close Games in the ACC: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 18th, 2017

There’s no doubt that winning close games is pivotal to a team’s success. A few bounces here and there over the course of a 30-game season can mean the difference between a protected NCAA Tournament seed in your own backyard versus a Thursday morning start in somewhere like Spokane, Washington. With that in mind, we decided to dig into the historical data to test some theories concerning close game performance in the ACC. Some of the questions we considered include: Which schools perform the best when games go down to the wire? What are the common characteristics of teams that excel in such situations? Is it player experience that matters most or game-coaching expertise? Or is it just plain luck? Are teams that win most of their very close games better prepared for postseason play? We will also review some recent extreme team performances – both good and bad – in games decided by one to three possessions. Finally, we’ll determine if history helps us predict what will happen to the ACC squads that were either very good or extremely poor in close games last season. In today’s first installment of a three-part series, let’s tackle the historical component.

First of all, let’s look at the breakdown of victory margins in ACC regular season games over the last 11 years. As you can see in the above pie chart, approximately a quarter of all ACC league games are decided by a single possession or in overtime. And over half the time, the final margin is fewer than 10 points. This data makes it abundantly obvious that a team’s performance in so many tight affairs will have a huge impact on its placement in the conference standings. Which schools fare the best in all those tight games? Read the rest of this entry »

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On Florida State: It May Not Be A Down Year After All

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 14th, 2017

Last season was one of the best in Florida State basketball history — the Seminoles won 26 games, finished tied for second place in the ACC, and earned a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Given the losses of his three best players from that squad (Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes), however, head coach Leonard Hamilton was not expected to keep Florida State among the league’s elite. Yet here we are in mid-December and the Seminoles are 9-0 and ranked 19th in the latest AP poll. Their schedule has not been very challenging to date (ranked 283rd nationally, according to KenPom), but Florida State has been pounding the teams it is supposed to beat and also owns a big road win at Florida. So are the Seminoles for real?

Terance Mann leads a balanced Florida State attack this year. (Getty Images)

Hamilton prefers to spread out his playing time more than most coaches, and last season was a great example of that. Eleven Seminoles averaged double-figure minutes with the top three seeing over 25 minutes per game. This year’s squad is not quite as deep but it has a more balanced scoring attack. Four Florida State players averaged more than 5.5 points per game last year but this version has seven scoring over 7.0 points per outing. Hamilton likes his team’s balance and unselfishness, saying recently, “They’ve bought into the idea that we need each other in order to be successful. We don’t have anybody that feels like they have to carry us. Everybody feels like they have to carry their part.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Opener Analysis: Boston College Stuns Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 11th, 2017

We witnessed a number of surprising results in college basketball last week — Ball State winning at Notre Dame; Washington and Arizona State beating Kansas; Florida dropping a home game to Loyola-Chicago — but the biggest shocker might have occurred at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on Saturday afternoon. Led by its dynamic backcourt of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson, Boston College knocked off top-ranked Duke, 89-84, in the teams’ ACC season opener. Here are a handful of takeaways for the Eagles and Blue Devils going forward.

Boston College fans rush the court after the Eagles upset Duke in Saturday’s ACC opener.
(Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

Getting behind in games this season is nothing new for Duke — the Blue Devils’ 11-0 start included several second-half rallies, most notably against Texas and Florida in the PK80 Thanksgiving weekend event. It looked like Duke was going to the well yet again on Saturday, trailing Boston College by 10 after halftime before making a late run to take a four-point lead. Jim Christian’s team had other ideas, however, failing to wilt down the stretch like the others and instead making all the winning plays in the game’s final moments. Duke’s starting backcourt of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval were dominated by the Eagles’ underrated pair of Bowman and Robinson. The former was outstanding throughout the game — logging 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists — while the latter was deadly from deep (5-of-5 from three-point range), including two late dagger threes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Improved Junior Class Keeping North Carolina in the Hunt

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 7th, 2017

After losing four key pieces from its 2016-17 National Championship team, many observers expected North Carolina to take a significant step backward this year. And with no proven frontcourt players returning to Chapel Hill, it was widely expected that head coach Roy Williams would need to make some major adjustments to his traditional style of inside-out offense. Through 10 games so far this season, neither of those assumptions have proven true. The nation’s eighth-best team, per KenPom, suffered its only defeat against a powerful Michigan State squad in the finals of the PK80 event — a game in which the Tar Heels logged their worst shooting night (24.6%) in school history.

Juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams have given North Carolina fans much to cheer about in the early season. (Jim Hawkins/Inside Carolina)

Joel Berry and Theo Pinson — the Tar Heels’ returning starters — were expected as seniors to shoulder the burden of carrying the team. And while each has made slight increases to his usage and production, they are getting far more help than was originaally anticipated. Berry scores (16.5 PPG) and takes good care of the basketball (10.1% TO Rate) while Pinson anchors the defense and leads the team with 4.1 assists per game. But the main reason these Tar Heels appear to once again be national contenders is because of the improved play of juniors Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. After missing the final 14 games of last season with an injury, Williams was a forgotten man coming into this campaign. He has responded to his new role by becoming the team’s third leading scorer (13.4 PPG) and scoring in double-figures in all but one outing this season. As for his classmate Maye, the numbers speak for themselves. In the below table, we compare Maye’s production with the eight forwards in college basketball who received votes on the AP Preseason All-American First Team. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 12.04.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 4th, 2017

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  1. Washington Post: Friday night in Atlanta, Georgia Tech suffered the league’s worst non-conference loss in years — a 64-63 defeat to Grambling State — in ultra-embarrassing fashion by tipping the game-winning shot into its own basket. College basketball’s 338th ranked team (per KenPom) had lost 63 straight contests against teams from the six basketball power conferences, but led by 16 points midway through the second half and was able to hang on for the shocking upset. Granted, Ben Lammers was playing hurt (four points) and the Yellow Jackets were still without the services of star guard Josh Okogie (serving a six-game NCAA suspension), but that doesn’t excuse such a terrible loss. Georgia Tech lost again at home on Sunday night to Tennessee, and Okogie — dealing with complications involving a finger injury — may not be back until ACC play begins at the end of the month.
  2. Card Chronicle: Louisville dropped its second game in a row as well, falling to Seton Hall by a basket in a back-and-forth affair on Sunday afternoon. There’s no shame in losing games at Purdue and against a veteran Big East squad, but new head coach David Padgett is already facing some tough lineup decisions. His two best interior defenders — Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding — are giving him almost nothing on the offensive end of the floor — a combined two points and five turnovers in 37 minutes against the Pirates. However, the Cardinals’ defense becomes vulnerable when Padgett turns to freshmen forwards Jordan Nwora and Malik Williams looking for offense. It would certainly help matters considerably if Quentin Snider would break out of his shooting slump — the senior guard went 1-of-7 on threes Sunday and is shooting a frosty 21.9 percent from deep for the season.
  3. Roanoke Times: Virginia Tech got a nice road win in coming from behind to edge Ole Miss in overtime on Saturday afternoon. The Hokies trailed by 18 points early in the second half but recovered nicely in using a 16-3 run to get back into the game. It’s a good sign for Buzz Williams that his team won a tough road game while having a mediocre shooting performance (7-of-22 on threes), and one reason it can withstand such a night is because Virginia Tech does a great job in getting to free throw line (third nationally in FTA/FGA) — the Hokies outscored the Rebels by 13 points from the charity stripe. Last year, Williams typically brought his best player (Zach LeDay) off the bench, and he is using the same approach with Chris Clarke so far this season. Clarke led the Hokies with 16 points, 12 boards and four assists on Saturday.
  4. Syracuse.com: The Orange took their first loss of the season on Saturday, falling to Kansas on a neutral court in the Miami Hoophall Invitational — a south Florida double-header featuring two ACC schools (Miami). Syracuse has clearly struggled from behind the three-point line this year (27.7%), and did so again over the weekend, making only 6-of-27 from distance. On the bright side, Jim Boeheim‘s zone defense forced 16 turnovers against an experienced Kansas backcourt, but the Orange couldn’t keep Devonte’ Graham (35 points) under control. Syracuse is now down to eight scholarship players following Friday’s announcement that graduate transfer Geno Thorpe has left the program for personal reasons.
  5. Fox Sports: Miami finished off an impressive week by cruising past Princeton in the second Saturday game at American Airlines Arena. A big surprise for Jim Larranaga‘s squad has been sophomore guard Dejan Vasiljevic. A native of Australia, Vasiljevic has started all seven games of the season and ranks third on the team in scoring (11.3 PPG). On Saturday, he notched a game-high 20 points on 5-of-7 shooting from deep. Another good sign for the Hurricanes is the improved ball handling of senior Ja’Quan Newton (23.0 TO% last season). In the past two games, Newton contributed 14 assists while committing only one turnover. Attendance for Saturday’s game was down because of an unforeseen scheduling issue — tip-off came at the same time as the kickoff of the Hurricanes’ ACC football championship game in Charlotte. Considering the beatdown that Clemson gave them en route to another College Football Playoff appearance, Miami fans should have stayed home.
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ACC/Big Ten Challenge Preview: Part IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2017

For the first time in its 19-year history, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is being played over four days. With high profile schools such as Duke, Michigan State and North Carolina participating in last weekend’s PK80 tournament in Portland — which involved a handful of late Sunday night games — ESPN and the two leagues decided to push the event out an extra day rather than put all the marquee matchups on Wednesday. After three days of action, the ACC leads the challenge 11-2, clinching the overall event for the second year in a row in dominant fashion. Still, tonight’s finale between Notre Dame and Michigan State in East Lansing (ESPN – 7:00 PM ET) has a lot on the line for both teams. Here are some key storylines to follow.

Strength Against Strength: Notre Dame Offense vs. Michigan State Defense

Senior point guard Matt Farrell leads a talented Notre Dame offense into East Lansing to face the imposing Michigan State defense. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

The Fighting Irish come into this game with the fifth-best effective field goal percentage (60.4%) in college basketball, while the Spartans’ defensive rate (39.9%) ranks third nationally. Something’s got to give, right? It’s a little early in the season to make any sweeping statistical judgments, but perhaps it’s fair to gather predictive data from the few challenging games each school has played thus far. Notre Dame has faced one elite defense already — Wichita State in the Maui Invitational finals — and the Shockers held the Irish to a 52.9 percent effective field goal rate. Michigan State’s defense has faced two of the nation’s top-15 offenses (Duke and North Carolina) so far, holding both under 40 percent shooting on two-point shots. With that kind of rim-protection exhibited by Tom Izzo’s big men, expect the Irish to struggle to reach its normal shooting acumen.

Key Stat to Watch: Shot Volume

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 28th, 2017

Ten ACC schools saw action in early season tournaments over the last week-plus and the results of those games for conference teams were mixed. A shaky 5-7 start in the first five events caused some early concern, but those tournaments mostly involved lower-tier ACC clubs, and the results improved as the better teams took the court later in the week. Below we will review some Feast Week comparison statistics with the other six major basketball conferences (Power 5 plus the Big East and American) as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

The Big 12 solidified its position during Feast Week as the best and deepest conference in college basketball, taking home five tournament titles (remember, Kansas — the league’s best team — didn’t even participate), defined as neutral site victories in a winners-advance format. This restriction means that Virginia’s pair of wins in the NIT Season Tip-Off over Vanderbilt and Rhode Island count toward the ACC’s 15-10 overall record, but the Cavaliers’ home wins over Austin Peay and Monmouth do not. Also, games against non-Division I competition do not count either, so wins by Notre Dame and Michigan over Chaminade (as well as California’s loss to the Silverswords) are not included. Up next are some of the highs and lows involving ACC squads last week.

THE GOOD

Three Tournament Titles for ACC Teams. They are listed below.

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part III Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 23rd, 2017

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. PK80 – Victory: In a unique affair this Thanksgiving weekend, Portland is hosting the PK80–Phil Knight Invitational, a 16-team, two-bracket event in honor of the Nike co-founder’s 80th birthday (the actual milestone birthday is February 24, 2018). All of the participating schools have a business relationship with the footwear company, including North Carolina (#10), slotted into the Victory Bracket. The Tar Heels, fresh off an impressive 96-72 road thumping of Stanford on Monday night, will face co-host Portland (#302) today (ESPN – 2:30 PM) in the opening round. Assuming they win, Roy Williams‘ team would then take on the winner of Oklahoma (#22) and Arkansas (#38) in Friday’s semifinals (ESPN – 3:30 PM). The Victory Bracket championship will be decided on Sunday (ESPN – 8:30 PM). Lurking on the other side of the bracket are Michigan State (#12) and Oregon (#33), so the Tar Heels will have a chance to claim some impressive early season scalps this weekend in Portland.
  2. PK80 – Motion: Each Power Five conference + Big East has two schools in the PK80 event, with teams from the same league slotted in separate brackets to avoid meeting each other. Duke (#5) is the ACC’s other representative and will be part of the Motion Bracket. It appears that tournament officials along with ESPN have set the schedule to maximize the national drawing power of the Duke-North Carolina rivalry. As long as both teams win, the Blue Devils’ games this weekend will always directly follow the Tar Heels’ contests in a wrinkle of savvy marketing. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad meets Portland State (#217) in today’s opener (ESPN – 4:30 PM) and will see either Texas (#31) or Butler (#49) on Friday. If it reaches the Motion Bracket title game on Sunday (ESPN – 10:30 PM), Duke would likely get either Florida (#9) or Gonzaga (#23) in what would be a compelling tournament finale.
  3. Hoophall Miami Invitational:  This is a non-traditional event in which the games are all pre-scheduled. Syracuse (#58) hosted and already won three games as part of the event, beating Texas Southern (#259), Oakland (#110) and Toledo (#156) in the last five days. To wrap up the event, the Orange will travel to Miami to face Kansas (#3) on Saturday, December 2 (ESPN – 5:30 PM). This is Jim Boeheim’s least experienced squad in years but it has performed well so far against some decent mid-major teams. The Jayhawks will obviously present a much different level of competition, but if Syracuse can keep it close, it may indicate that the Orange won’t have the very down year many have projected.
  4. Gotham ClassicLouisville (#27) is also not participating in a traditional winner-advance tournament this season, instead opting for four pre-scheduled games in December as part of the Gotham Classic. They will host Siena (#273) on December 6, Bryant (#321) on December 11, and Albany (#102) on December 20. The main event will take place in Madison Square Garden, where Louisville will meet Memphis (#138) on Saturday, December 16 (ESPN2 – Noon). Rookie head coach David Padgett’s team did not exactly storm out of the gate this season, struggling to beat George Mason and Nebraska-Omaha in its first two outings. But the Cardinals looked much better on Tuesday night in destroying Southern Illinois by 42 points at the KFC Yum! Center.
  5. Diamond Head ClassicMiami (#19) will be the last ACC school to see holiday tournament action this year with a late December trip to Hawaii. The Hurricanes will take on the host school, Hawaii (#205), in the wee hours on Saturday, December 23 (ESPNU – 1:00 AM), and later that night, that they will face either Davidson (#68) or New Mexico State (#103) in the second round of action. The favorite on the other side of the bracket will be USC (#15), which means we could get a heavyweight matchup in the championship game on Christmas Day (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). A victory over the Trojans would propel Jim Larranaga’s squad into ACC play on a high note.
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On a Different Kind of Duke Team So Far…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 22nd, 2017

Most of the Duke teams of recent vintage have been known for talented perimeter scorers and three-point shooters. With the exception of the 2015 National Championship squad anchored by freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils have often been relatively weak defensively and particularly soft on the interior, resulting in several early exits from the NCAA Tournament (e.g., South Carolina, Oregon, Mercer). So far this year, things are looking different in Durham. The strength of Mike Krzyzewski’s current #1 team appears to be in its overall balance — great options in the post to go along with a solid backcourt and a somewhat improved defense. However, there are still a few areas of concern that Coach K will need to address in order to feel good about making a run at his sixth national title next March.

Star big men Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter have given Duke a different look this year.
(Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

Over the past two decades, Krzyzewski has mostly utilized a four-around-one offensive scheme that was heavy on floor spacing and light on post touches. However, with the frontcourt size and talent at his disposal this year, he has adopted more of an inside-out approach. In most of the Blue Devils’ half-court sets, they first look to feed freshmen Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter on the blocks. Both Bagley (19.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 62.1% FG) and Carter (13.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 61.5% FG) are off to fast starts this season, and Bagley’s numbers would be even better if he hadn’t left last week’s game versus Michigan State with an eye injury. In that 88-81 win over the Spartans, Carter came up huge in Bagley’s absence, tallying second half marks of 10 points and 10 rebounds. Even more talent exists on the perimeter, and perhaps for the first time since the championship season, the pieces seem to fit well together. Grayson Allen (18.4 PPG, 50.0% 3FG) and Gary Trent, Jr. (11.6 PPG, 37.9% 3FG) have been very effective on the wings, and freshman Trevon Duval (13.6 PPG, 38 assists/7 turnovers) is running the point guard position like a seasoned veteran. But not everything with the new-look Blue Devils is rosy — after five games, Duke is shooting a measly 61.7 percent from the foul line, and Bagley (50.0%) in particular is leaving too many points at the charity stripe. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 20th, 2017

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Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. Maui Invitational: Notre Dame (#17) will be the ACC’s representative this season in the Maui Invitational, the traditional marquee event of Feast Week. The Fighting Irish will face host Chaminade in tonight’s opening round (ESPNU – 9:00 PM) and will follow that game by playing either Michigan (#43) or LSU (#76) in Tuesday’s semifinals. If they can get through that draw, Notre Dame would likely get a shot at Wichita State (#3) in Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 10:30 PM). This will be the third appearance in Lahaina for the Irish — Mike Brey‘s squad reached the championship game in 2008, falling to a North Carolina team that would go on to claim the National Championship later that season.
  2. Legends Classic: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will once again be the site of this season’s ACC Tournament so it’s no coincidence that the facility is hosting two early season events that feature ACC schools. Pittsburgh (#142) finally picked up its first win of the year last Wednesday — rallying to beat UC Santa Barbara at the Petersen Events Center — but is likely to go 0-2 in this event.  The Panthers will meet Penn State (#46) tonight (ESPN3 – 9:30 PM), right after Texas A&M (#9) and Oklahoma State (#41) square off in the opener. The winners will play in Tuesday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). Pittsburgh has won seven straight against its intrastate rival from the Big Ten, but expect the Nittany Lions to break that long-running streak this evening.
  3. Battle 4 Atlantis:  N.C. State (#97) has cruised so far under new head coach Kevin Keatts, easily handling four bottom-50 teams in the friendly confines of Raleigh. But Keatts’ guys will step right into the fire in the Bahamas with an opening game against mighty Arizona (#2) on Wednesday night (ESPN3 – 7:00 PM). On Thanksgiving Day, the Wolfpack will take on either SMU (#23) or Northern Iowa (#114). There are a couple of heavyweights on the other side of the bracket as well — either Villanova (#1) or Purdue (#11) is likely to be in Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – Noon). But unless N.C. State pulls off an opening round stunner against the Wildcats, it is unlikely to face any teams that will do much to boost the Wolfpack’s weak strength of schedule.
  4. NIT Season Tip-Off: Another ACC team will be playing in Brooklyn this week too, as Virginia (#8) ventures to the Barclays Center for the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Cavaliers will battle Vanderbilt (#51) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPNU – 4:00 PM), and if they win that game, they will play in Friday evening’s championship game (ESPNU – 7:30 PM or ESPNews – 10:00 PM). Tony Bennett’s guys are guaranteed to get two games against quality opponents here, as Seton Hall (#26) and Rhode Island (#56) are the other schools involved. These two tilts will give Virginia a chance to test its new offensive prowess — the Cavs scored 93 last week against Austin Peay, the most points tallied by a team in the Bennett era.
  5. Ramblin’ Wreck Showcase: For the second consecutive season, Georgia Tech (#59) chose not to play in a traditional winners-advance holiday tournament. Instead, the Yellow Jackets’ exempt event — the Ramblin’ Wreck Showcase — consists of four separate home games against extremely weak competition. The first of those took place on Sunday with Georgia Tech barely beating Bethune-Cookman (#334), 65-62. Later this week, the Yellow Jackets will play Texas-Rio Grande Valley (#281) and North Texas (#296), with the last exempt game coming against Grambling State (#344) on December 1. Obviously, Josh Pastner’s team should have no problem in any of these four contests, even without suspended star Josh Okogie, scheduled to return after the Grambling game.

 

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