NC State’s Cat Barber Becoming an Elite Point Guard

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

A discussion of the top point guards in the ACC will mostly focus on Duke’s Tyus Jones, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige and Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan, but N.C. State’s Anthony “Cat” Barber may be playing better right now than any of his conference peers at the position. Last night the sophomore scored 34 points to lead his team past Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament’s second round, propelling N.C. State into Thursday night’s quarterfinals against Duke, a team that the Wolfpack beat by 12 back in January.

Anthony Barber  (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

Anthony “Cat” Barber has improved dramatically over the ACC season. (Photo by Liz Condo, theACC.com)

With a solid win in its first ACC Tournament game, N.C. State should feel comfortable about receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. And as their quality wins will attest (Louisville and North Carolina in recent weeks), the Wolfpack could prove a tough out for the rest of the postseason. A big reason for the team’s overall improvement has been the dramatic midseason turnaround made by Barber. After an inconsistent freshman year, the wiry guard from Newport News, Virginia, showed flashes of brilliance during the non-conference portion of this season before regressing over the first half of ACC play. During that stretch of early 2015, he was a shaky ball-handler, a hesitant shooter, and he even lost his starting spot for a couple games in late January. That’s when the proverbial light came on. Read the rest of this entry »

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UNC’s Marcus Paige Getting Healthy at the Right Time

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

This season has been one of ups and downs for North Carolina, and much of that volatility can be attributed to the rash of injuries and illnesses that have beset the Tar Heels. Roy Williams’ team was without starting center Kennedy Meeks (illness) and guard Theo Pinson (still injured) in its opening round ACC Tournament game against Boston College, but it still handled its business in easily winning by a score of 81-63. A big reason for the comfortable margin was the all-around performance of junior point guard Marcus Paige, who appears healthier than he has been all season.

North Carolina's Marcus Paige is getting healthier and more productive with each passing game. (AP/Bob Leverone)

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige is getting healthier and more productive with each passing game. (AP/Bob Leverone)

Back in October, Paige was selected as the preseason ACC Player of the Year and a member of the preseason All-America First Team. While he has played well for most of the year, his performance has not been to that level. There’s no question that part of the reason he has not lived up to expectations is that his plantar fasciitis has caused continuing pain and has hampered his quickness. By his own admission, Paige’s last three outings have been his first pain-free games of the season, and the results are striking. While his scoring is only up marginally — 15.7 PPG over that stretch — his efficiency and all-around play have been especially impressive. When asked after yesterday’s game about what was benefiting most from his healthy foot, Paige cited an ability to finish two-point shots and be more active defensively. The stats clearly back up that notion — Paige has made all eight two-pointers he has attempted and has recorded 11 total steals in those three games, not  to mention six rebounds and nine assists in his latest outing. This increase in his production really bodes well for the Tar Heels as postseason play continues, assuming Paige’s foot ailments are behind him for good. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reviewing ACC Tournament Tuesday

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 11th, 2015

ACC Microsite writers Matt Patton and Brad Jenkins will be reporting live from Greensboro at the 2015 ACC Tournament throughout the week.

It was a surprisingly exciting pair of games that we witnessed on the first day of the 2015 ACC Tournament. In the opener, 12th-seeded Boston College and All-ACC first teamer Olivier Hanlan rallied late to edge 13th-seeded Georgia Tech, 66-65. After that, 14th-seeded Virginia Tech held off a late charge by Wake Forest to slip past the 11th-seeded Deacons by a score of 81-80. All four teams competed hard, and while there were plenty of airballs, silly fouls, and missed defensive assignments — these squads entered Tuesday at least five games south of .500 on the year — for most of the afternoon, the sparse opening-day crowd certainly left the Greensboro Coliseum entertained. Here are some takeaways on each team:

Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)

Virginia Tech freshman Jalen Hudson set a school ACC Tournament scoring record in the Hokies win over Wake Forest. (USA Today Images)

Georgia Tech (12-19): Attention in Atlanta will now turn to the coaching status of Brian Gregory with the season now complete. When you look at his four-year win totals (11-16-16-12), it’s tough to make a compelling case for keeping Gregory in charge of the program. While it’s true that Georgia Tech was incredibly unlucky this year — the Jackets were 0-11 in ACC games decided by five points or less, or in overtime — many will view that failure as the head coach’s responsibility. Offense has been bad for his entire tenure, with the team ranking outside the top-200 in adjusted offensive efficiency three out of four years. In fact, it’s fair to say that the only thing Georgia Tech has done well under his direction is to rebound the ball. Per the recent norm for ACC schools when a coach misses the NCAA Tournament in each of his first four years at the helm, look for a change to be made this spring. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 03.09.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 9th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse.com: By now, most people know that Jim Boeheim skipped the postgame press conference after Syracuse wrapped up their 2014-15 season with a loss at North Carolina State on Saturday. Instead, the embattled coach sent out long time assistant Mike Hopkins to face the media rather than have to personally take questions in public for the first time since the NCAA announced their findings and punishments for the Syracuse program after a lengthy investigation. Most basketball media viewed Boeheim’s refusal to appear as cowardice, but this article claims that Syracuse’s administration told him not to attend. Perhaps they recognize that Boeheim has a tendency to be confrontational and defiant when faced with harsh questions about how his program is run, and sometimes says more than he should – like his initial reaction to the Bernie Fine situation.
  2. Stateoftheu.com: If Miami can get past the winner of Wake Forest/Virginia Tech they would be a formidable match-up for third-seeded Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. The Hurricanes and the Irish are similarly constructed as both are perimeter oriented offensively. So that game could come down to who makes the most 3-pointers, and don’t be surprised if that team is Miami, after they drilled 15-of-25 from deep against Virginia Tech in Saturday’s regular season finale. This article wonders if the Hurricanes are actually better off without injured point guard Angel Rodriguez, who has been in an icy shooting slump for quite a while. While it’s true that his replacement, Manu Lecomte is clearly the superior shooter, the Hurricanes probably still need Rodriguez’s defense and creativity to beat elite teams.
  3. Fox Sports Carolinas: In this piece, Lauren Brownlow has a pretty good take on the current status of North Carolina State, as the Wolfpack head into Greensboro as a very dangerous 7-seed. As she points out, sophomore center BeeJay Anya is a big key to the Wolfpack’s success. When he is playing well – protecting the rim, grabbing offensive boards, and finishing alley-oops, N.C. State has shown they can compete with elite teams. When Anya is not as aggressive, or in foul trouble, the Wolfpack is more vulnerable in the paint to teams with good interior players. Another interesting factoid presented here is that Mark Gottfried and N.C. State have amassed an impressive 4-and-1 record this season in games against teams with active Hall-of-Fame coaches.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: Probably the most surprising hero in college basketball this past weekend has to be Louisville‘s Mangok Mathiang, who knocked down the game-winning jumper to take out Virginia. Afterwards, Rick Pitino joked that “Mangok was the 64th option” on the play, but when the Cardinal’s Terry Rozier got trapped and passed him the ball, Mathiang calmly knocked in only his second field goal in the last month. Unlike the first meeting between the two teams – when Virginia only committed two turnovers – this time the Louisville pressure defense forced 13 Cavalier miscues. That defensive effort, and a big game from Montrezl Harrell were enough to send the Cardinals into postseason on a much higher note than seemed possible just two weeks ago, when Chris Jones was dismissed from the squad.
  5. USA Today: It certainly has been the season of good will in what is widely acknowledged as the best rivalry in college basketball: Duke and North Carolina. First came the moving tribute to Dean Smith in the first match-up in Durham in mid-February, when the coaches/players locked arms and knelt together in a moment of silence. Then before Saturday’s rematch in Chapel Hill, Roy Williams and his team captains – Jackson Simmons and Marcus Paige – met Mike Krzyzewski at midcourt to honor him for becoming the first coach to reach 1000 career wins. In his postgame press conference, Krzyzewski discussed the uniqueness of the rivalry with the level of respect between the two programs. By comparison, think how laughable it is to imagine Nick Saban being honored by Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, or Urban Meyer receiving a standing ovation at the Big House.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 2015

Here is this season’s final edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, March 4.

Current Standings

ACCStandings3.4

Hats off to Tony Bennett’s Virginia squad for becoming the first school other than Duke and North Carolina to win consecutive outright ACC regular season titles since the David Thompson-led N.C. State teams of the 1970s. Those Wolfpack squads also won the ACC Tournament both years and brought home the 1974 NCAA championship — lofty but certainly achievable goals for this season’s Cavaliers. Last week we congratulated Virginia for its record-setting performance on the defensive end of the floor, but this week we pay homage to Duke as the Blue Devils should claim the title of the league’s best offense for the sixth year in a row. Despite Mike Krzyzewski’s deserving reputation as a defensive guru, it’s been the Blue Devils’ offense that has carried his teams during the last several seasons. North Carolina, thanks to a second blowout of Georgia Tech in as many weeks, has moved solidly into third place in points per possession margin (PPM). If you’re looking for a team outside the top two to challenge for and perhaps capture the ACC Tourney crown, the Tar Heels would be a good choice even if they end up as the #5 seed. As the only school to play both of the ACC’s heavyweights twice this year, Wake Forest’s PPM is a little deceptive, with Virginia and Duke both inflicting severe beatings in their second meetings with the Deacons.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 2nd, 2015

It was not a productive weekend for ACC teams currently vying for NCAA Tournament consideration. After an impressive resume-enhancing road win last week over North Carolina, N.C. State laid an egg at Boston College in a non-competitive loss to the Eagles on Saturday afternoon. Miami was also hoping to improve its resume with a victory over North Carolina, but the Tar Heels prevailed in Coral Gables and left the Hurricanes wondering about its postseason future. Pittsburgh let a seven-point second half lead slip away at Wake Forest on Sunday night, allowing the Demon Deacons to notch a rare ACC win. This sets up a potential bubble-elimination game this week when Miami travels to Pittsburgh on Wednesday evening. In other weekend ACC action, Virginia clinched a share of its second consecutive ACC title by pulling away from Virginia Tech in the second half; Duke cruised to a comfortable home win over Syracuse; Louisville dominated Florida State in Tallahassee; and Clemson blew a huge first half lead at home before edging Georgia Tech in overtime. Here are some of the other highlights from a busy weekend of ACC action:

N.C. State had no answer for Olivier Hanlan and Boston College in a bad loss for the Wolfpack. (Winslow Townson/Boston Globe)

N.C. State had no answer for Olivier Hanlan and Boston College in a bad loss for the Wolfpack. (Winslow Townson/Boston Globe)

  • Best Win: After suffering that disappointing loss to N.C. State in the Smith Center, North Carolina was in need of a bounceback performance when it traveled south to face a hungry Miami team. The Tar Heels came through with a solid win in Coral Gables, making several big plays down the stretch to break open a tight contest. With the score tied midway through the second half, North Carolina spurted ahead and iced the game at the foul line, as Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson combined to make 10-of-10 free throws in the final two minutes of play. After getting handled on the boards by the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels were instead dominant on the glass against Miami, grabbing 14 more total rebounds than the Hurricanes. The win keeps North Carolina in the hunt for a top-four league finish and the ACC Tournament two-day bye that comes with that distinction.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 27th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 25.

Current StandingsACC Stand - Feb26N.C. State and Pittsburgh continue to surge in the standings, with both schools winning twice in the last week. The Wolfpack in particular have been impressive lately, and Tuesday night’s rare win in Chapel Hill has their faithful feeling much better about making the Big Dance. In fact, based on points per possession margin (PPM) in conference play, Mark Gottfried’s squad has performed every bit as well as any ACC team other than Virginia and Duke. Speaking of the Cavaliers, what they are doing defensively continues to amaze. After holding Wake Forest to just 34 points on Wednesday night in Winston-Salem, Tony Bennett’s guys have practically assured themselves of finishing ACC play with the best defensive points per possession mark in recent conference history — the advanced stats era began in the 2001-02 season. And it will come as no surprise that the existing record for defensive efficiency performance was achieved by last year’s Virginia team — a group that held ACC opponents to a chilly 0.91 points per possession.

There are no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend, but there are some interesting games to observe as teams fight for postseason seeding. Jim Boeheim brings Syracuse to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (Saturday @ 7:00 PM ET – ESPN) in hopes that this game doesn’t end in a similar fashion to last year’s trip to Durham, which featured Boeheim’s dramatic ejection in the closing moments (and spawned a fun meme). In the only other game involving two teams with winning ACC records, North Carolina travels to Miami (Saturday @ 2:00 PM ET – CBS) in another crucial game for the Hurricanes and their NCAA Tourney hopes. There are also a couple of important games for a pair of hot ACC teams that take to the road for meetings with league bottom-dwellers, as N.C. State visits Boston College (Saturday @ Noon ET – RSN) and Pittsburgh travels to Wake Forest (Sunday @ 6:30 PM ET – ESPNU). Neither the Wolfpack nor the Panthers can afford a bad loss on their resumes as the season winds down.

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The Pros and Cons For Clemson’s Brad Brownell

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2015

Brad Brownell is now in his fifth season at the helm of Clemson’s basketball program, and it appears that this will be the fourth consecutive year under his direction that the Tigers will fail to make the NCAA Tournament. For an ACC coach, a four-year hiatus from the Big Dance typically inspires discussion of the hot seat, so this is a good time to take stock in Brownell’s program and project if he will still be coaching there next season. To help with the analysis we have put together some key data from Clemson’s last eight seasons — including Brownell’s five years and former coach Oliver Purnell’s three years before him. Purnell, now at DePaul, was the head coach at Clemson for seven seasons and exceeded 20 wins in each of his last four years, including one-and-done NCAA Tournament appearances during the last three. Brownell reached the Dance in his first year at Clemson and even won an NCAA Tourney game when he got there (something Purnell could not do), but the program has only had one 20-win season since.

Clemson 8yrTrend

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons with Brownell’s tenure at Clemson.

Positives

  • Expectations. For the most part Brownell’s squads have met or exceeded expectations in comparison with preseason ACC media predictions. The lone exception was in 2012-13, when Clemson lost 10 of 11 games to close the year and finished with a 13-18 (5-14 ACC) record. The Tigers’ best result versus preseason expectations came the following year when K.J. McDaniels led the Tigers to a surprising 23-win season that included a trip to the NIT semifinals.
  • Off-Court Behavior. Off the court, Brownell and his players have performed well: The coach seems to have an easygoing and cooperative relationship with both fans and media, and there have been no major off-the-floor issues with players or staff with respect to rules compliance. His players are also performing well in the classroom – nine of Brownell’s 10 seniors have graduated.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 23rd, 2015

With no match-ups between the ACC’s elite teams this weekend, the focus instead was on two important road contests for teams trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Miami let a big lead slip away to lose at Louisville on the game’s final possession, and Pittsburgh improved its resume in completing a season sweep of Syracuse. Around the rest of the league, both Duke and North Carolina were able to put Wednesday’s emotionally draining overtime epic behind them and score comfortable home wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively. The Blue Devils played without star center Jahlil Okafor, who is still nursing an ankle injury suffered in that win last Wednesday. At the start of North Carolina’s game, Roy Williams paid homage to Dean Smith by running Smith’s famed Four Corners offense on the Heels’ first possession. In other weekend action, Virginia outlasted Florida State in a defensive struggle; Notre Dame cruised to victory at Boston College; and N.C. State took care of business by beating Virginia Tech in Raleigh. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Pittsburgh's Chris Jones came off the bench to score 19 as the Panthers keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh’s Chris Jones came off the bench to score 19 as the Panthers keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive.
(Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Pittsburgh plugged a gaping hole in its NCAA Tournament resume by getting its first road win of the season versus an RPI top-100 team at Syracuse. The Panthers’ win at the Carrier Dome featured yet another productive offensive performance by Jamie Dixon’s squad against the vaunted Syracuse zone. Pittsburgh scored 1.18 points per possession on Saturday after posting 1.22 in its earlier win over the Orange, giving the Panthers the two highest totals allowed by Jim Boeheim’s squad all year long. A look at previous meetings over recent years suggests that Dixon may have cracked the zone’s code. In the teams’ last 10 meetings dating back seven years, Pittsburgh has averaged 1.08 points per possession against a Syracuse defense that annually finishes among the nation’s best. If they haven’t already done so, perhaps ACC coaches around the league should study and emulate that strategy (easier said than done).

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 20th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 18.

Current Standings

ACCStandings2.19

With three weekends of conference play remaining, things are now mostly as they should be in the standings with respect to matching points per possession margin (PPM) with actual wins and losses. Virginia maintains a clear lead in both the standings and in PPM, and Duke can lay claim to being the second best team, with a clear PPM edge over Notre Dame. Last week we showed how the Irish have achieved their impressive 11-3 record by performing so well in close games, noting that Georgia Tech is the exact opposite reflection of Notre Dame in both PPM and actual record. It’s seems fitting then that those two teams have squared off twice already, and each game ended with a close Irish victory. Another interesting situation involves two teams fighting for NCAA Tournament consideration, N.C. State and Pittsburgh. Each school picked up a nice win over a ranked opponent last weekend but both the Wolfpack and the Panthers remain a game below .500 in the standings. That’s where the similarities end, though, as N.C. State has been the far better team in possession-based performance, with Pittsburgh’s defense surprisingly ranked as the league’s worst.

There are once again no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend. In the only game involving two teams with winning conference records, Louisville travels to Miami (Saturday @ 2:00 PM ET – ESPN) in a crucial game for the Hurricanes and their NCAA Tourney hopes. There are also a couple of games that feature an ACC heavyweight hosting a school that’s looking to get over the .500 mark, as Clemson visits Duke (Saturday @ 4:00 PM ET – ESPN), and Virginia entertains Florida State (Sunday @ 6:30 PM ET – ESPNU). In another important contest, Pittsburgh needs to win at Syracuse (Saturday @ Noon ET – ACCN) to keep any hope alive of making the Dance.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 16th, 2015

The big story of the weekend was that two middle-of-the-pack ACC teams got huge resume-building wins. Pittsburgh dominated North Carolina at the Petersen Events Center Saturday afternoon, and N.C. State picked up a surprising road win at Louisville later that same day. Conference leader Virginia had to hang on to edge Wake Forest by a single point in Charlottesville, and Duke rallied from a double-figure first half deficit to win at Syracuse. In other weekend action, Clemson easily handled visiting Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech lost yet another heart-breaker, this time at home to Florida State. There was only one game scheduled on Sunday, but Miami’s game at Boston College had to be postponed until today. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Michael Gbinjie had a career-high 27 points against his former team. (Dennis Nett/Syracuse.com)

Michael Gbinjie had a career-high 27 points against his former team.
(Dennis Nett/Syracuse.com)

  • Best Win: It’s hard to say for sure, but N.C. State’s win over Louisville in the KFC Yum! Center could be more important than its earlier home win over rival Duke. While its fans obviously wouldn’t trade the two wins, this victory filled a major hole in N.C. State’s postseason resume. The victory proved that the Wolfpack can win on the road against high level competition, and they did it with a solid all-around performance: outscoring Louisville in the paint (32-16), only committing eight turnovers and holding stars Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier to a combined 14 points and 3-of-15 shooting. Anthony Barber led the way for the Pack with 21 points, his third 20-plus scoring game in the team’s last four outings.
  • Worst Loss: It’s been an emotional seven days for North Carolina’s basketball program, starting with last weekend’s passing of legendary former head coach Dean Smith. With all the attention that came with that situation it’s certainly understandable that the Tar Heels were a little flat on Saturday. But some of the problems on display at Pittsburgh over the weekend are not one-game issues. North Carolina’s defensive points per possession mark in ACC play is now up to 1.06, which is surprising considering that the Tar Heels returned much of last year’s group that finished at a very good 1.01 PPP. Even more disturbing is that opponents have scored at an way-too-easy 1.15 PPP rate over the last five games.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 13th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 11.

Current Standings

ACCStandings2.12

While Virginia maintains a clear lead in both the standings, and in points per possession margin (PPM), there was some shuffling right behind the Cavaliers last week. Almost entirely due to Duke’s 30-point rout of Notre Dame, the Blue Devils jumped to the top of the second tier and the Irish fell to such an extent that they now are closer to N.C. State and Syracuse than they are to the top four schools. We will examine in more detail below just how Notre Dame has achieved such a lofty 10-3 record despite a rather pedestrian PPM. Of course, Georgia Tech is the polar opposite of the Irish, as the Yellow Jackets own a better PPM than four teams above them in the standings.

Unlike the last few weeks, there are no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend. But we still have a few games of high interest on Saturday, led by Duke’s visit to Syracuse (6:00 PM ET – ESPN), probably viewed by the Orange as this season’s Super Bowl with no postseason play on the horizon. There are also two games featuring top tier schools against teams that are desperate for signature wins, as North Carolina makes its first ACC trip to Pittsburgh (Noon ET – ACCN) and N.C. State travels to Louisville (4:00 PM ET – ESPN). Those two games are absolutely crucial for the shaky NCAA hopes of the Panthers and the Wolfpack.

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