Duke’s Lineup Change: Beginning of Something Special?

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

With Duke down 11 points after a listless first half against Miami on Saturday night, acting head coach Jeff Capel decided some personnel changes were in order. Starters Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles began the second half on the bench as Duke turned around the game — and maybe its season — with an overwhelming comeback performance to beat the Hurricanes by 12 points. Capel is now 2-2 in his new role, and it already appears that he is willing to shake things up to get his team’s attention. Capel was asked about the lineup change afterward, saying, “We just went with guys that we felt were going to give us energy.” It was something of a gamble for the interim coach — benching two of the team’s three top scorers and an elite freshman — but the results, both from a viewers’ as well as a statistical perspective, were dramatic.

Senior Matt Jones led Duke in its big comeback win over Miami. (Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

To begin the second half against Miami, regular starters Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum were joined by senior Matt Jones and freshmen Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. As a result, the tone of the game immediately changed. Over the first five minutes of the half, the Blue Devils converted five steals into 12 points, the beginning of a 20-0 run that shocked the confident Hurricanes and ultimately finished off the game. Jones was the catalyst, setting the pace defensively and scoring all 13 of his points in the first eight minutes. Jackson was also effective in finishing with 10 points and four assists versus zero turnovers. And with eight points, four rebounds and some impressive defense against Miami’s guards on the pick-and-roll, it was the breakout game from Bolden that Duke has been waiting for. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Jefferson back (especially on the defensive end) after missing the last two games with a bruised foot.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.23.17 Edition

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

We entered the weekend with a three-way tie at the top of the ACC standings and that is still the case as all three leaders were victorious on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina won a tight one at Boston College, Notre Dame handled Syracuse in South Bend, and Florida State held off visiting Louisville. In other action, Duke ended its two-game skid by coming back from a double-digit halftime deficit to defeat Miami on Saturday night. Then on Sunday evening, Clemson dropped its fifth straight–this time at home by a single point to Virginia Tech–putting the Tigers’ postseason hopes in major jeopardy. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Freshman Jonathan Isaac has been on fire lately for Florida State. (Phil Sears/AP)

  • Best Win: Leonard Hamilton‘s team has taken on all comers to begin ACC play and has done more than hold its own – going 5-1, all against ranked opponents. Saturday in Tallahassee, Florida State finished the tough opening stretch in style by beating Louisville by a score of 73-68. It wasn’t the prettiest contest as there were a total of 45 fouls whistled and both teams shot under 40 percent from the floor. Freshman Jonathan Isaac has ramped up his play recently. After finishing with 16 points and 10 rebounds, Isaac now has posted three consecutive double-doubles. After navigating that front-loaded conference slate, the Seminoles will probably only face two more ranked opponents when they meet Notre Dame and Duke in return games on the road in February. So even though Florida State now hits the road for three straight contests, they are primed to contend for the league regular season title.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

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

With approximately one-third of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a closer look inside the ACC numbers. This is the first edition of our weekly look at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records may indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ postseason aspirations.

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

Current StandingsWith a sample size of games this small, any one-game extreme performance can really impact the season numbers. This means that some of what we see in the table above is the result of two ACC blowouts — North Carolina’s 51-point rout of N.C. State, and Duke‘s 53-point beating of Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels are currently leading the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, mostly because of their incredible dominance on the boards. North Carolina’s 44.0 percent offensive rebounding rate in ACC play is even higher than its nation-leading mark for all games (42.7%). Florida State and Notre Dame have achieved great starts (both are 5-1) despite facing two of the three toughest league slates to this point. At the other end of the ledger is Clemson, which has only managed a single win over Wake Forest while playing the toughest conference schedule. The Tigers’ actual performance margin, however, is better than the three squads ahead of them in the standings, so maybe they are not struggling as much as it appears.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.16.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 16th, 2017

There were several marquee match-ups in the ACC this weekend, including two monster games on Saturday afternoon as North Carolina overcame some adversity to hand Florida State its first league loss and Louisville ensured that Duke continued its struggles on the road. Later that day, Notre Dame held off Virginia Tech to remain unbeaten in league play, while three schools that entered January with NCAA Tournament aspirations — Clemson, Pittsburgh and North Carolina State — all suffered devastating home defeats to drop to a last place tie in the standings. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Theo Pinson celebrates North Carolina’s big win over Florida State. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In a league as strong as the ACC this season, sometimes a team must show some collective toughness to pull out a win. That’s exactly what North Carolina did on Saturday afternoon in its impressive 96-83 home victory over a red-hot Florida State squad. Faced with the daunting task of playing the nation’s second tallest team without freshman center Tony Bradley (out with a concussion), the Tar Heels were already short-handed in the paint. With Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks battling foul trouble, Roy Williams was forced to play almost half the game with no true post player. North Carolina not only hung in with the bigger, deeper Seminoles, but the Tar Heels managed to dominate the glass in a surprisingly effective rebounding effort  (+22). Three Tar Heels — Hicks, Joel Berry and Justin Jackson — finished with over 20 points and Theo Pinson turned in a solid overall effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

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Can Duke Still Put Together a Special Season?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 13th, 2017

Before this college basketball campaign tipped off back in November, recall that Duke was the near-consensus choice as the nation’s best team. With a nice blend of established veterans and ultra-talented newcomers entering the program — along with the Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski at the helm — it appeared as if the Blue Devils were in position to dominate (remember some of the 40-0 chatter?). Now, as we approach mid-January, things look a lot different in Durham. It feels like Duke has battled almost nothing but injuries and controversies since practice began. The conventional wisdom has been that the Blue Devils will eventually get healthy and begin to achieve some of those lofty expectations, but is the more likely scenario quickly becoming something far less than anticipated?

With multiple injuries and distractions, Mike Krzyzewski and Jeff Capel have had to coach through major adversity in 2016-17. (Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY Sports)

As far as all the injuries, suffice it to say that, among Duke’s top 10 players, only Luke Kennard and Matt Jones have been available for every game. Blue-chip freshmen Harry Giles (who missed the first 11 games), Jayson Tatum (eight) and Marquise Bolden (eight) sat out for most of the early going, putting Duke in the difficult position of building rotations and chemistry on the floor without its full roster. Initially, the Blue Devils played well with Kennard and Amile Jefferson emerging as upperclassmen stars. When Tatum joined the starting lineup in early December and preseason All-American Grayson Allen once again looked healthy and happy, things appeared to be coming around. After the Blue Devils destroyed UNLV in Las Vegas on December 10, many observers thought they were well on their way. Then the bottom fell out.

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ACC Home Court Advantage – Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 13th, 2017

This is the second part of a review of home court trends in the ACC. In Part I that published yesterday, we looked at overall home court winning percentage in ACC conference games over the last 15 years. Today we will look at the outcomes when ACC teams play each other twice in the regular season. In the days before major conference expansion, every league team played the others twice each year, a convention that ended when the ACC reached 11 members in 2005. The conference has since played an unbalanced schedule that features several home-and-home scenarios but mostly consists of one-time match-ups. TeamsPlayTwice2

As the above graph shows, we reviewed 312 double-meetings between ACC teams over the last 10 years. We broke the data into four discernible outcomes — sweeps by better and worse teams (as determined by KenPom‘s final rankings), and splits where home or away teams won both games. The data shows that there were 188 sweeps and 124 splits over the 10-year sample. The better team won both games 53.5 percent of the time; teams splitting games by defending their home floors occurred 32.7 percent of the time; while sweeps from the worse team and splits with the road teams winning made up the remaining 21.8 percent — on average, about twice per season.

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ACC Home Court Advantage – Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 12th, 2017

Through the first two weeks of conference play, ACC teams are an impressive 21-7 (.750) at home, flying in the face of a national trend. Over the past 15 years, there has been a slight but noticeable drop in home court advantage in college basketball. From 2002-09, teams won their conference home games at a rate of about 62 percent. It dropped to nearly 61 percent for the next four seasons from 2010-13, and then declined a bit further to approximately 60 percent over the last three campaigns. How has it looked in the ACC over the same span? This is the first of a two-part examination of home court advantage in the ACC.ConfHomeWin%15Yrs

As you can see above, the ACC at just over 63 percent ranks in the middle of the pack of the six power leagues over the last 15 seasons at defending home turf. Interestingly enough, home court advantage in the major conferences has not been as volatile as the nation overall. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.09.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 9th, 2017

After one of the craziest opening weekends in ACC history, things calmed down considerably in the second weekend of conference play. In fact, all seven ACC games were won by the favored squad, and only one of those contests was decided by fewer than 11 points. Even if the games weren’t all that scintillating this weekend, there were still a couple takeaways heading into this week. First, in an unanticipated surprise, the two remaining unbeaten schools in conference play are Florida State and Notre Dame — the Seminoles handled visiting Virginia Tech while the Irish rallied to defeat Clemson in South Bend. And then there’s the continued injury misfortunes for Duke — in the Blue Devils’ first game without head coach Mike Krzyzewski (back surgery), stalwart center Amile Jefferson suffered a first half foot injury and never returned. Early reports suggested that the team captain may miss substantial time, meaning even further interruption to a “dream season” that has been anything but smooth to this point. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

V.J. Beachem’s six three-pointers helped Notre Dame defeat Clemson and remain unbeaten in the ACC. (Photo: slapthesign.com)

  • Best Win I: Notre Dame trailed Clemson by seven points at halftime, but the Irish prevailed by five to move to 3-0 in league play. Senior forward V.J. Beachem led the way, making six threes en route to 22 points. Bonzie Colson pitched in with 13 points and 12 boards — his third straight double-double performance to open league action. Notre Dame now faces a very daunting part of its schedule — a stretch of five games in just 13 days, with the first three on the road — beginning with a trip to Miami (FL) this Thursday.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2017

The opening weekend of ACC play was one of the wackiest we have ever seen. On Saturday afternoon two home underdogs pulled off massive upsets: Virginia Tech over Duke and Georgia Tech over North Carolina. Those games were followed by a trio of late afternoon contests in which the winner rallied from a late second half deficit to pull out a close victory on the road —Florida State nipped Virginia; Clemson beat Wake Forest; and Notre Dame edged Pittsburgh in overtime. It was certainly a wild way to close out 2016, but the fun didn’t stop with the calendar year. Boston College, a team that had not won an ACC game since March 2015, celebrated the New Year by blasting Syracuse to snap its 20-game ACC losing streak. Here are the highlights from opening weekend around the ACC.

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (Photo: hokiesports.com)

Virginia Tech players celebrate after the Hokies dismantled Duke 89-75 on Saturday in Blacksburg. (photo: hokiesports.com)

  • Best Win: In a normal situation, a 14-point win over the preseason pick to win the conference would warrant ‘Best Win’ accolades, but Virginia Tech’s rout of Duke comes in second this weekend. Instead the title goes to Leonard Hamilton‘s Florida State squad for handing Virginia only its second ACC defeat in Charlottesville since 2012. The Cavaliers came into the game ranked first in KenPom’s system, but the Seminoles rode Dwayne Bacon‘s hot hand in the second half to pull off the upset despite struggling to make shots from the field (41%) and foul line (50%). In addition to his great shooting performance (more on that below), Bacon exploited two rare Virginia breakdowns — scoring after an inbounds steal under the basket on one late possession, and converting an offensive rebound following his own missed free throw a few minutes later. Those are the kinds of plays that beat Virginia, a team that does not very often beat itself.

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North Carolina Readies Itself For ACC Play

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 30th, 2016

North Carolina wrapped up the non-conference portion of its schedule on Wednesday night by dispatching Monmouth, 102-74, at the Dean Smith Center. Now it is on to conference play, as Roy Williams’ squad visits Georgia Tech tomorrow (Noon ET – ACC Network) in the first of two ACC road trips. It has been an interesting season for the Tar Heels to this point. They started off by winning their first eight games, including a dominant performance in the Maui Invitational, that led ESPN’s Jay Bilas, among others, to proclaim North Carolina as the best team in college basketball. Williams’ team has taken a hit since with a road loss at Indiana in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge followed by a neutral court defeat to Kentucky in the Game of the Season. Now, on the eve of ACC play, let’s examine the Tar Heels’ prospects going forward.

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

Justin Jackson has been red-hot lately for North Carolina. (Gerry Broome-AP Photo)

The obvious strength of this squad is in the frontcourt. With seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks backed by solid freshman Tony Bradley, North Carolina may have a post trio as good as any in college basketball. Despite losing some of his efficiency with greater usage, Meeks has been outstanding in taking on a primary offensive role as well as on the boards at both ends of the floor. Hicks was expected to make a big splash as a first-time starter and he has delivered on that promise. The concern with him is that he has not performed nearly as well against tough competition — sporting a 101.5 Offensive Rating against the Tar Heels’ best four opponents — versus 118.4 in all games. Junior forward Justin Jackson looks like a potential All-ACC first-teamer right now. He converted 6-of-9 attempts from deep en route to a 28-point night against Monmouth, and unlike Hicks, Jackson has come through in big games — averaging 23.2 PPG against the Tar Heels’ five highest rated foes. Bradley, an important substitute off the bench, may have the most professional potential of the bunch. He currently leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and has displayed great hands and advanced footwork for a youngster.

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