Wake Forest Still Looking For Its Signature Win

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 1st, 2017

A couple of Saturdays ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Wake Forest gave Duke all it could handle before eventually falling by five points in an exciting ACC shootout. The Demon Deacons followed that disappointment up with a comeback home victory over Pittsburgh, which improved their record to 16-12 overall and 7-9 in the ACC. Going into tonight’s home game against Louisville, Danny Manning‘s third team in Winston-Salem sits among Jerry Palm’s First Four In and Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out. The Deacs pass the eye test with an emerging star in sophomore big man John Collins and a host of additional young players playing beyond their years, but their resume still contains one glaring vacancy that a win over the Cardinals would undoubtedly resolve. With a dismal mark of 0-8 against the RPI top 25, Wake Forest’s best win came over Miami (FL) in mid-January and there are few remaining opportunities to notch an attention-grabbing signature win.

Wake Forest’s John Collins has emerged as the ACC’s best big man. (Brian Westeholt/Wake Sports)

For a program that has not sniffed meaningful postseason basketball since 2010, Manning acutely diagnosed his team’s mental hurdle after the loss at Duke: “We have to continue. We have to find a way. There are no close victories. There are no close feel-goods. There’s none of that. We have to find a way to get it done for the rest of our conference games.” If Wake Forest is to find that elusive quality win tonight against Louisville, it will assuredly be on the merits of an offense that ranks 11th nationally, per KenPom. The Demon Deacons’ defense (131st nationally) is still a work in progress, but with Collins quickly proving to be the ACC’s most talented big man and a number of capable shooters spotting up around him, a defense that bends but doesn’t break may be all they need.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.27.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 27th, 2017

Saturday was a great day for visiting ACC teams with one notable exception – Miami celebrated its Senior Day by beating Duke in a 55-50 defensive struggle. Road teams on Saturday came out on top everywhere else. North Carolina wrapped up the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament by winning at Pittsburgh; Florida State crushed Clemson’s NCAA at-large bid hopes; and Virginia ended its four-game losing streak by besting N.C. State. Home teams had better results on Sunday as Louisville handled Syracuse and Notre Dame topped Georgia Tech. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

Jim Larranaga has now led Miami to four straight ACC victories, including Saturday’s win over Duke.
(David Santiago-miamiherald.com)

  • Best Win: Prior to last week, Miami had been flying under the radar even with a cleary upward trajectory in the ACC. But after back-to-back upset wins over ranked opponents — at Virginia on Monday and at home against Duke on Saturday — the Hurricanes are finally getting some deserving national attention. Against the Blue Devils, Jim Larranaga’s club found a way to win despite shooting just 38.0 percent from the floor and giving up 21 offensive rebounds. Its defense saved the day, holding Duke to its lowest single-game point total in over eight years. The Hurricanes are now in a fifth-place tie with Duke in the ACC standings, and they still have a shot at a top-four finish and the ACC Tournament double-bye that comes along with it.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 24th, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we will look at the most extreme example of home court advantage in the ACC. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for each teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, February 22.

Current Standings

Thanks to Wednesday’s home win over Louisville, North Carolina has now taken the lead in efficiency margin to go along with its two-game cushion in the standings. Efficiency margins confirm that the Tar Heels and the Cardinals are the two best teams in the league, so we should not be surprised if they meet again in the ACC Tournament championship game. If neither squad loses until March 11, one of the NCAA’s #1 seeds would probably be on the line that Saturday night. The standings match up well with efficiency at this point, with two notable exceptions – Virginia has played quite a bit better than its record indicates, while Virginia Tech appears to be very fortunate to be 8-7 in league play. Perhaps the hottest team in the league right now is Miami, as the Hurricanes have posted seven victories in their last nine outings.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.20.17 Edition

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

Offense ruled on Saturday with one notable exception. In the biggest game of the weekend, Virginia managed only 41 points as North Carolina dominated the Cavaliers in Chapel Hill. Earlier that day, two other games produced four of the top eight offensive performances in ACC play this season, as Duke edged Wake Forest, 99-94, and Louisville outlasted Virginia Tech, 94-90. In other weekend action, Florida State continued its road woes in falling by 14 points at Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech grabbed another big home win by holding off Syracuse. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

Justin Jackson scored 20 points in North Carolina’s impressive win over Virginia. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: No one is surprised that North Carolina defeated Virginia on Saturday night — after all, the Tar Heels have yet to lose in the Smith Center this season. What was shocking, though, is how easily they dispatched a team that really never gets blown out. The 24-point loss represents the only time that Virginia has been defeated by more than 12 points in the last four years of conference play. Justin Jackson shredded the vaunted Virginia defense for 18 of his 20 points in the first half, continuing a string of amazing consistency in ACC action where he has averaged 19.6 PPG with only one outing topping 22 points. The Tar Heels won with defense and rebounding this weekend, holding the Cavaliers to just 27.8 percent shooting and finishing with a +18 edge on the boards.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 17th, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics, and trends. This week we will compare how ACC teams defend the three-point line. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, February 15.

Current Standings

ACC teams continue to be bunched close together at the top of the standings as well as in efficiency margins — the schools that have played easier conference schedules look better in points per possession. Things are about to even out with respect to schedule difficulty, however, among the league’s top six squads. Here’s what each of those schools has remaining against one another:

  • North Carolina (4 games) – Virginia, Louisville, @ Virginia, Duke
  • Louisville (2) – @ North Carolina, Notre Dame
  • Duke (2) – Florida State, @ North Carolina
  • Virginia (2) – @ North Carolina, North Carolina
  • Florida State (1) – @ Duke
  • Notre Dame (1) – @ Louisville

North Carolina clearly has the toughest remaining slate, but at least three of those four difficult contests will come in the Smith Center where the Tar Heels have yet to taste defeat this season. Florida State and Notre Dame have the easiest closing batch of games, with just one each against the rest of the top tier. According to KenPom, North Carolina’s conference schedule has been about four points per game easier than those faced by the Seminoles and Irish. That gap is about to shrink considerably, and by year end we would expect ACC strength of schedule to essentially even out among the top six contenders. Read the rest of this entry »

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Brad Brownell’s Days May be Numbered at Clemson

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

It’s been six long years since Clemson has been invited to the Big Dance, and based on recent history, we are likely witnessing Brad Brownell’s farewell ACC campaign. Just six weeks ago, the prospect of the Tigers ending their NCAA drought looked promising — a 10-2 mark in non-conference play included four wins over Power Five schools. After a comeback road win over Wake Forest to begin ACC play, however, the bottom has since dropped out. Clemson now rests near the bottom of the ACC with a conference record of 3-9. Saturday’s 64-62 loss at Duke was a typical outcome, as six of the Tigers’ ACC defeats have been by five points or fewer. Now holding an overall record of 13-11 going into tonight’s rematch against Wake Forest, Clemson faces a steep uphill climb to earn an NCAA bid and save Brownell’s job.

Brad Brownell’s Clemson Tigers suffered yet another close defeat at Duke on Saturday.
(Travis Bell/SIDELINE CAROLINA)

There was considerable discussion of Duke’s emotional state entering Saturday’s meeting with Clemson, tipping off just 38 hours after the Blue Devils’ draining win over rival North Carolina. But Clemson was also dealing with negative vibes stemming from its own gut-wrenching last second loss to Syracuse. In Saturday’s postgame press conference, Brownell commented, “You know, give our kids a lot of credit; we took a major punch in the gut this week on that loss against Syracuse. We’ve been a little snake-bit, but at the end of the day we’ve got to figure out ways to make the winning plays to change these things.” Mike Krzyzewski echoed Brownell’s view by saying, “I feel bad for Brad’s team because I have watched six of their games. Five that I watched, they could have won easy with one possession. This was another one, and that is the heartbreak of our league.”

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.13.17 Edition

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

Saturday was a day for home cooking in the ACC as all six road teams went down to defeat. In the only meeting between top-half teams, Notre Dame ended Florida State’s three-game winning streak. In other action, Louisville rallied late to beat Miami, Syracuse lost at Pittsburgh in a payback game, and Duke held off Clemson on the game’s final possession. The best game of the weekend came Sunday night as Virginia Tech rallied from 14-point halftime deficit to beat Virginia in a two-overtime thriller. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Mike Brey had a lot of positive things to discuss after Notre Dame’s impressive win over Florida State. (espn.com)

  • Best Win I: After Notre Dame’s 84-72 win over Florida State, Irish head coach Mike Brey noted: “That was probably the best we’ve played in league play on both ends of the floor.” Considering that the Seminoles had won their previous three games by an average margin of 33.0 PPG, it’s difficult to find fault with Brey’s statement. The Irish did a great job on the boards (+7) against the taller Seminoles and used superb foul shooting to maintain a comfortable margin throughout the game. Notre Dame converted 19 of its 21 attempts from the stripe while Florida State only made 7-of-22 (31.8%)

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 10th, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we will compare some ACC player usage rates with offensive efficiency, seeing where some teams might benefit from a shift in possessions. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, February 8.

Current Standings

Syracuse‘s rise up the league standings is the story of the week. Jim Boeheim‘s club has now won five straight games by 10 points or fewer. The Orange’s close game effectiveness is why their record outshines a relatively low efficiency margin. For similar reasons, North Carolina continues to top the league standings despite trailing Louisville and Virginia in per possession performance. Florida State‘s efficiency margin now lines up nicely with its record after blasting its last three opponents by an average of 30 points per game.

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Pittsburgh’s ACC Slump: Where Does It End?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2017

Just one short month ago, Pittsburgh was coming off an overtime win over Virginia that evened its ACC record at 1-1. Since then, the Panthers have dropped eight straight contests to take a position of solidarity at the bottom of the conference standings. The fact that Pitt’s last two defeats were highly competitive affairs only enhances the sting as North Carolina and Duke beat the Panthers by a combined margin of only 10 points. Considering the team’s good work in the non-conference portion of its schedule — a defeat of Maryland on the road, as well as a win over Marquette on a neutral floor — Kevin Stallings’ squad has been among the most disappointing teams in the nation since the new year. Is there any hope going forward?

Kevin Stallings still believes in his Pittsburgh squad despite eight straight defeats.
(Joshua Lindsey – USA TODAY Sports)

Former head coach Jamie Dixon put together a strong 13 years at the helm after his predecessor Ben Howland had re-established the program in the early 2000s. Despite making 11 trips to the NCAA Tournament over that span, a clear downward trajectory that included two NCAA misses in the last five years led to a move to his alma mater, TCU, last offseason. Pittsburgh raised some eyebrows by hiring longtime Vanderbilt head coach Stallings to replace him, but he inherited some experienced talent in senior forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis — currently the ACC’s top two scorers. The issues that he has struggled with is that there is no true point guard on the roster — at least one good enough to compete at an ACC-quality level — and the Panthers have the ACC’s toughest conference schedule, including two games each with heavyweights North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville and Syracuse.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.06.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2017

Even though surprises and upsets galore dotted the national landscape on Saturday, the ACC experienced a fairly normal weekend of results. Still, there were some good conference storylines throughout the weekend: Jim Boeheim attained a milestone in his team’s home upset of Virginia; Mike Krzyzewski returned to the sideline following back surgery as Duke held off visiting Pittsburgh; and North Carolina triumphed over Notre Dame in a game that had to be rescheduled to Sunday in the Greensboro Coliseum due to a water crisis in Chapel Hill. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC:

Jim Boeheim celebrates Syracuse’s big win over Virginia, the 1,000th victory of his career.
(Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Syracuse‘s 66-62 comeback win over Virginia on Saturday was important for several reasons. First, the fourth consecutive victory moved the Orange to a solid 7-4 mark in league play. Next, it also provides another high-quality win that will get them closer to the 10 or possibly even 11 conference wins that will be necessary for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Finally — even though the NCAA doesn’t agree — the 72-year-old Boeheim earned his 1,000th win as a head coach, every one of which came at his alma mater. The Orange were led by freshman Tyus Battle, who finished with a season-high 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting, as they rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to notch the big win. Tony Bennett‘s Virginia teams have only suffered two defeats when leading by double-figures at the half — last year’s Elite Eight loss and Saturday’s defeat.

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