ACC Tournament Takeaways: Wednesday Afternoon

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 9th, 2016

Things got off to a shaky start in the Verizon Center on Wednesday – numerous clock malfunctions caused several delays in the opening game’s first few minutes. But once we moved past the technical difficulties, there was an afternoon of thrilling rivalries awaiting at the ACC Tournament. In the day’s opener, it looked more like an old Big East Tournament game, as Pittsburgh beat Syracuse 72-71 in an exciting game that featured huge runs by each team. A matchup of two of the more traditional ACC programs followed for the second act, as Duke and Tobacco Road rival NC State staged an old fashioned shootout, which was eventually won by the Blue Devils, 92-89. Here are quick takeaways for each of the Wednesday afternoon combatants.

Cameron Johnson's 24 points off the bench sparked Pittsburgh to victory over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament. (Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports)

Cameron Johnson’s 24 points off the bench sparked Pittsburgh to victory over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament. (Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh (21-10): The Panthers completed the season sweep of Syracuse and should now feel good about their chances for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Jamie Dixon received great production from his bench today, particularly redshirt freshman Cameron Johnson, who hit four three-pointers and scored a career-high 24 points. Dixon has definitely cracked the code of the Boeheim zone, as he improved to 15-6 against the Orange in his 13 seasons on the Pitt sideline. Up next for the Panthers: top-seeded North Carolina, who handled Pittsburgh rather easily (85-64) in Chapel Hill in the only meeting between the two teams this year.

Syracuse (19-13)The Panthers seem to just have Syracuse’s number, as the Orange have now dropped five consecutive meetings with Jamie Dixon’s club. Syracuse did a better job keeping Pitt off the glass this afternoon than they have in the past; the Panthers grabbed just 12 offensive boards after allowing them to grab 49 percent of their misses in the two previous meetings. The Orange made six of their eight second half three-point attempts, but even that wasn’t enough to complete a frantic comeback. After dropping this game, the Orange fall to 9-10 against ACC competition for the year. A sub .500 conference mark is not necessarily a disqualifier from NCAA at-large consideration, but it does mean that Jim Boeheim’s squad will be sweating it out until the field is announced Sunday night. Their ultimate postseason fate is anyone’s guess.

Duke (23-9): The Blue Devils once again won with outstanding offense, despite allowing the Wolfpack to score nearly as freely as they did. Duke trailed 53-50 at the half in the 2nd highest combined first half score in ACC Tourney history. For the game, both teams shot over 50 percent from the floor. Turnovers were also scarce – Duke finished with just four, while NC State only gave the ball away six times. Looking ahead, we would expect Thursday afternoon’s Duke-Notre Dame quarter-final matchup to display similar levels of offensive efficiency. Neither squad is known for playing with defensive intensity, and they each possess offenses rated in KenPom’s national top 10. Mike Brey has had recent success against his coaching mentor Mike Krzyzewski, including a wild 95-91 Irish victory this year in Cameron Indoor.

NC State (16-17): The Wolfpack’s season comes to an end with a third close loss to Duke this year. Much like the first meeting between the two (Jan. 23 in Raleigh), NC State was on fire in the first half and refused not go away at any point, even when Duke appeared to be in solid control in the second half. Anthony “Cat” Barber capped off a tremendous junior season with 29 points and seven assists. As was often the case this year, Mark Gottfried’s club was just not good enough defensively this afternoon, as they allowed the Blue Devils to score 1.35 points per possession. The Wolfpack should be a deeper team next year – two of their most talented players are sitting out this year, and high profile recruit Dennis Smith will join the mix. The big offseason question is easy: Will Barber forgo an early pro career to join Smith in a super talented backcourt?

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ACC Tournament Takeaways: Tuesday Afternoon

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 9th, 2016

The ACC Tournament tipped off Championship Week for the major conferences on Tuesday afternoon with two opening round games in Washington, DC. The first game was extremely tight (with 15 ties and 16 lead changes) as N.C. State rode a hot shooting freshman to edge Wake Forest, 75-72. In the second game, as expected, Florida State easily dispatched Boston College, 88-66. Here are some quick takeaways for each of the ACC Tourney’s opening day participants.

Maverick Rowan hit six three-pointers to lead N.C. State past Wake Forest in First Round action at the ACC Tournament. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Maverick Rowan hit six three-pointers to lead N.C. State past Wake Forest in First Round action at the ACC Tournament. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

N.C. State (16-16)The last time the ACC Tournament was played in the DC area (2005), a hot shooting guard named J.J. Redick led Duke to the title. We couldn’t help but think of Redick’s performance when Wolfpack freshman Maverick Rowan torched the Demon Deacons down the stretch yesterday. With the game on the line in the last few minutes, Rowan nailed three consecutive threes in a two-minute stretch to give N.C. State enough of a cushion to hold off Wake Forest. Rowan finished with 24 points on 6-0f-13 shooting from three-point range, as Mark Gottfried’s team moved on to a third matchup with Duke this season. We like the Wolfpack’s chances against a Duke team that has looked somewhat worn down lately, especially with a confident sharpshooter like Rowan around to help Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber in the scoring column.

Wake Forest (11-20)Some of the same old problems cropped up for Danny Manning‘s club on Tuesday afternoon. The Deacons were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers), squandered numerous opportunities at the foul line (14-of-21 FT), and couldn’t get defensive stops when they needed them. Manning’s disappointing second season in Winston-Salem started with great promise that included non-conference wins over Indiana (the Big Ten champions), UCLA, LSU and Arkansas. But Wake Forest never seemed to recover from a late January gut-wrenching meltdown versus Virginia, losing 17 of its last 19 games.

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2016 ACC Tournament Preview

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 8th, 2016

After 10 consecutive years of southern hospitality, the ACC Tournament moves north to Washington, D.C., for a year before heading even farther up the east coast to Brooklyn in 2017 and 2018. This will mark the fifth time the ACC Tournament has been held in the DC area, and the first time back there since 2005. In a bit of a public gaffe, the league’s marketing office apparently used the wrong dome in a stock photo advertising for the tournament. Let’s hope that’s the only embarrassment that the league suffers this week. As we move into day one of the tournament, here’s a preview of a few things we expect to occur.

20160222191642_page_header_2016_mbbt_jpg

Here’s a printable version of the Bracket: 2016 ACC Tournament

And The Winner Is: According to KenPom, there’s a 66 percent chance that one of the league’s two highest-rated teams (#2 Virginia and #1 North Carolina) wins the ACC crown this week. We agree that those are the two teams to beat, with the Cavaliers earning a slight edge over the Tar Heels. Led by newly-minted ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, the Cavaliers have been the league’s best team during the second half of conference play. North Carolina is certainly capable of beating any team in Washington, but we are a little leery of the Tar Heels’ tendency toward inconsistent shooting.

Dark Horse With a Chance: It would be a massive surprise if #4 Notre Dame repeats its historic run in Greensboro from last year, but there is a distinct possibility that this season’s bracket could break in favor of the Fighting Irish. It’s unlikely that Mike Brey’s squad will win the ACC title, but it could make a run to the championship game on Saturday. Could the 2016 ACC Tournament feature a narrative similar to that of 1976, the first time the league held its championship in the D.C. area? Virginia, the #6 seed, beat three higher-seeded teams on its way to the program’s first-ever ACC title. The Cavaliers were led by ACC Tournament MVP Wally Walker, who was supposedly motivated by a perceived snub by a media corps that neglected to vote him on to the all-ACC First Team that year. Many observers thought Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson would be an all-ACC First Teamer when the league announced its current season awards on Sunday, but the outstanding junior ended up as a Second Team selection. It would not shock anyone if Jackson is out to prove a point this week.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII – Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2016

Here is the final edition of our weekly look at the ACC standings and team performances, where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. This week we also examine how each ACC team performed on the road compared with its home performances, and we take a final stab at predicting postseason placement for all of the eligible ACC schools.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 5.

Current StandingsACCStand-Mar7

North Carolina and Virginia were pegged in the preseason as the two best teams in the ACC and that’s exactly how it turned out. Each team went through a tough stretch of games — Virginia began conference play with a 2-3 record while North Carolina was 4-4 in the month of February, but the Tar Heels and Cavaliers will enter the ACC Tournament as the clear co-favorites based on efficiency margins and seeding. Speaking of that, both teams are also still in the hunt for #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament along with favorable opening weekend placement in friendly Raleigh.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.07.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 7th, 2016

The ACC regular season came to an end on Saturday, and despite persistent congestion at the top of the league standings for much of the campaign, we finished with an outright champion as North Carolina claimed its first regular season conference title since 2012. The Tar Heels collected this year’s title in a similar fashion to how they did so that season, beating archrival Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium after suffering an earlier crushing home loss to the Blue Devils. Miami was not able to tie the Tar Heels for the league’s top spot because of another poor showing on the road — this time at the hands of surging Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Virginia also easily handled Louisville for the second time this season. The Cavaliers (now ranked #1 in KenPom) are perhaps the favorite to win the upcoming ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the league.

Brice Johnson slams home two of his 18 points as North Carolina dominated Duke in the paint. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

Brice Johnson slams home two of his 18 points to help North Carolina dominate Duke in the paint. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: There was a lot at stake for North Carolina in its annual season-ending meeting with Duke. Not only were the Tar Heels playing their archrival for a regular season crown and a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Roy Williams’ team was also playing to prove its toughness against good competition — something this squad has struggled with. The game certainly wasn’t pretty (both teams shot less than 40 percent from the field), but North Carolina finally got over the hump to notch the big win (Duke had won 11 of their 14 previous meetings). To say that the Tar Heels dominated the glass would be a gross understatement. Led by Brice Johnson’s 21 boards, North Carolina held an incredible +35 edge in that category. Duke never led but managed to stay close by making 13 threes and committing eight fewer turnovers. The Tar Heels iced the game by going 8-of-8 from the foul line in the last 30 seconds of play. Saturday’s outcome continued an interesting recent trend in this rivalry. Over the last 14 seasons, Duke and North Carolina have split their regular season games eight times. On seven of those occasions, the Tar Heels claimed the season finale.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 4th, 2016

Here is the latest edition of our weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. Each week we delve into the advanced metrics to find a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. With the season winding down, we’ll look at which ACC schools are getting hot as the postseason beckons. We’ll also forecast how the final standings may look (this will be easier now than ever!) and what it means for each ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, March 2nd.

Current StandingsACCStand-Mar2

With just seven games left to play in the ACC regular season (all on Saturday), these numbers shouldn’t change much. As you’ll notice, efficiency margin and win-loss record correlate as strongly as you would imagine. No team with a losing record has a positive efficiency margin, although one team over .500 in the standings does have a deficit in points per possession. Virginia Tech has achieved its winning mark in the ACC despite being outscored by 0.03 points per possession. The Hokies have pulled off this neat trick by winning the close ones in Cassell Coliseum – Virginia Tech is 4-0 in home games decided by three points or less or in overtime. With his team picked to finish 14th in the league in the preseason, Buzz Williams is rightfully garnering support as a potential ACC Coach of the Year. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 1st, 2016

It was tough sledding on the road for four ranked ACC teams this weekend. In Saturday’s premier match-up, Virginia led most of the way and knocked off league leader North Carolina in Charlottesville. The outcome was not a big surprise, but we didn’t expect the Cavaliers to win the way they did — Virginia usually keeps the score in the 60s when it is most successful. Also on Saturday, Miami broke open a close game late to beat visiting Louisville, and Notre Dame was hammered on the road against Florida State. Pittsburgh captured a huge resume-building win against Duke at the Peterson Events Center on Sunday, and while most experts already projected Pittsburgh into the Big Dance, the one thing missing for Jamie Dixon’s squad was a signature win. Consider that box checked now. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Malcolm Brogdon made a strong case to be ACC Player-of-the-Year in Virginia's win over North Carolina. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Malcolm Brogdon made a strong case to be ACC Player-of-the-Year in Virginia’s win over North Carolina. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

  • Best Win: We had been anxiously waiting on the only meeting between the two preseason league favorites all season, and we weren’t disappointed. Virginia led most of the way but North Carolina stayed within striking distance due to some surprisingly hot shooting from deep (9-of-19 on threes). In the end, however, it was Virginia’s offense that was the difference (the Cavaliers scored 1.20 points per possession), representing its second-best output and the highest allowed by North Carolina in conference play. Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon may now be the front-runner for ACC Player of the Year after scoring 26 points and grabbing six boards while Brice Johnson only managed 12 points and five turnovers. Much of the credit for the Tar Heel star’s subpar performance goes to Virginia’s Anthony Gill, who was the primary defender on him for much of the night.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2016

Here is the latest edition of our weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. Each week we delve into the advanced metrics to find a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we examine the relative shooting expertise among ACC schools. We’ll also forecast how the final standings may look and what it means for each ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

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

Current StandingsACCStand-Feb24Since last week’s analysis, North Carolina outscored its two opponents by a total of 37 points in extending its lead in efficiency margin while also reclaiming sole possession of first place in the standings. Miami seems to be the outlier among the crowded group of teams just below the Tar Heels. The Hurricanes’ continued struggles on the road is the reason for it. After last Saturday’s blowout loss to North Carolina, not only has Miami lost four of its seven away games, but Jim Larranaga’s team has also been outscored by .08 points per possession in ACC games away from Coral Gables. That makes the Hurricanes the 4th worst team in the league in road efficiency margin. Looking further down the standings, Georgia Tech’s record now corresponds to its efficiency margin, thanks to back to back home wins by a combined three points. This newly found phenomenon in Atlanta (winning close games), has many wondering if Brian Gregory might keep his job for next year, something that was regarded as an impossiblity just two weeks ago. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.22.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 22nd, 2016

In Saturday’s two headline ACC contests, one ended up a shocking blowout while the other turned out generally as expected. Most anticipated that a game between teams tied for first place would be a tightly-fought battle, but North Carolina easily handled Miami to reclaim sole possession of the top of the standings. In the other big game of the weekend, injuries and a corresponding lack of depth finally caught up with Duke, unable to hold off Louisville’s second half charge. Elsewhere around the league, it was a bad weekend for three ACC schools fighting for NCAA Tournament consideration. Syracuse lost at home to Pittsburgh, while Clemson and Florida State lost to teams with losing conference records. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Brice Johnson recorded another double-double and North Carolina routed Miami in Saturday's battle for first place in the ACC. (Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

Brice Johnson recorded another double-double and North Carolina demolished Miami in Saturday’s battle for first place in the ACC. (Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

  • Best Win: The battle for first place in the ACC was completely one-sided as North Carolina dominated Miami  in Chapel Hill. For anyone worried about the Tar Heels after their heart-breaking loss last week to rival Duke, those concerns were erased early in the second half when UNC quickly extended a nine-point halftime lead to as many as 38 points. Brice Johnson led a balanced Tar Heels’ attack with 16 points and 15 rebounds, while five teammates joined him with double figures. For Miami, it was the first of four straight games against ranked ACC opponents — a stretch that will undoubtedly test the Hurricanes’ legitimacy among the league leaders.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 19th, 2016

Here is the latest edition of our weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. Each week we delve into the advanced metrics to find a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we consider which of the Four Factors are most important to winning in the ACC on a team-by-team basis. 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 17th.

Current Standings

ACCStand-Feb17

Things are incredibly bunched up at the top of the ACC right now, with four schools only a game behind Miami and North Carolina in the loss column. Those two will battle for temporary league supremacy this weekend in Chapel Hill, as the Tar Heels try to bounce back from their crushing midweek loss to rival Duke. Note that the Tar Heels have faced the easiest slate of ACC games among the group of six, which may explain why they hold a slight edge on the rest of the league in efficiency margin. Meanwhile, Duke’s recent tough stretch of games has boosted its strength of schedule from 10th to seventh in the last two weeks. There’s an interesting situation also taking form in the lower middle of the ACC standings. N.C. State and Georgia Tech have performed about as well in conference play as Pittsburgh and Florida State, but because of their middling records, only the latter two are considered bubble teams. Maybe then it isn’t so surprising that the Wolfpack knocked off the Panthers and the Yellow Jackets bested the Seminoles, both on the road, earlier this season. And while most ACC fans will be watching the battle for first place this weekend, there will also be an intriguing matchup on Sunday night in Winston-Salem when 1-13 Wake Forest entertains 0-13 Boston College. In a twist of the old axiom, it will be the resistible force (Eagles’ offense) versus the movable object (Deacons’ defense). Something has to give!

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 15th, 2016

It was a weekend for favorites in the ACC as all seven underdogs lost. Two of those victims were higher-ranked schools that fell on the road in close games. In the most anticipated matchup of the weekend, Duke edged Virginia by a point on Grayson Allen’s controversial last-second shot in a game that lived up to the hype. Notre Dame rallied to take down Louisville after trailing by 11 points in the second half, making it consecutive Saturdays when the Irish rallied from double-figure deficits to take down a league heavyweight. The team the Irish conquered last weekend, North Carolina, returned home after a rough three-game road swing for head coach Roy Williams, to dominate Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon. In the final contest of the weekend, Florida State missed out on a golden chance to improve its resume when late-game execution faltered against Miami. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Grayson Allen drives in for his controversial game-winner against Virginia. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Grayson Allen drives in for his controversial game-winner against Virginia. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

  • Best Win: This game turned out to be as competitive and hard-fought of a game as we’ve seen in ACC play this year. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski must be thankful that Virginia‘s Malcolm Brogdon could only guard one of his stars at a single time. The senior was Grayson Allen‘s primary defender for the first 25 minutes of play, holding him to only four points during that time. Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram was busy carrying the Blue Devils’ offense — during an eight-minute stretch of the game that overlapped halftime, he scored 20 of Duke’s 22 points. With 15 minutes to go in the contest, Tony Bennett moved Brogdon over to Ingram, and the star freshman only managed two more points the rest of the way. That move, however, allowed Allen to become Duke’s go-to man down the stretch, culminating in his acrobatic driving buzzer-beater to win the game. Did Allen travel on the play? Replays showed he probably took at least three steps. Did he get fouled on the play? Replays showed two bumps that are normally called on such a drive. Did the officials swallow the whistle? Absolutely! The end result was a huge win for the Blue Devils, regardless of what should have or shouldn’t have been called.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 12th, 2016

Here is the latest edition of our weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, where we focus in on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to find a few interesting teams or player stats and trends. This week we will also look at which of the Four Factors are most important to winning in the ACC. 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 10th.

Current Standings

ACCStand-Feb10

Things have tightened up at the top of the standings as North Carolina has come back to the field following its recent road trip, which included losses to Louisville and Notre Dame. The depth of the ACC is on display here – 10 teams have winning records and all are even or better in points per possession performance. In a bit of bad news for the rest of the league – Virginia’s stingy defense is back! After allowing each of their first eight conference opponents to top 1.00 points per possession, Tony Bennett’s team has held the last four foes to an average of 0.81 PPP. None of those last four opposing offenses have scored over 50 points, and the Cavaliers have now won their last seven contests. It will be interesting to see if Virginia can maintain its defensive acumen this Saturday at Duke, where it will face the nation’s 2nd rated offense. The Blue Devils have been the one ACC school that has been able to handle Bennett’s pack line defense over the last four years, averaging 1.07 points per possession against the Cavaliers in five meetings.

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