Ten Questions To Consider: Weekend Adversity Ahead?

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 19th, 2018

As conference play continues this weekend, teams across the country are having to face different types of adversity. Here are 10 questions for games to be played over the next few days:

Michigan State Will Try to Right the Ship This Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Are turnovers killing Michigan State? Michigan State has lost two of its last three games and needed overtime to escape at home with a win against Rutgers. The Spartans were -18 in turnovers in those three games. They must limit their giveaways against an Indiana team that ranks second in the Big Ten in forced turnover rate during conference play.
  2. Will Wichita State bounce back from its first conference loss? In Wichita State’s first AAC loss of the season, the Shockers allowed SMU to shoot 76 percent on two-point attempts and 50 percent on three-point attempts. It was the fifth time this season in which Wichita State has allowed an opponent to score more than 1.1 points per possession — something that happened only four times last year. For Wichita State to win the American in its first year in the league, it will need to become more consistent defensively.
  3. Will Kentucky be able to follow up another loss with a win? After each of its previous three losses, Kentucky has returned home and won its next game. After falling Tuesday to South Carolina, Kentucky returns home to play Florida. Kentucky’s current SEC defensive efficiency of 104 points per 100 possessions is the worst of any group of Wildcats since Tubby Smith’s 2005-06 team. Their defensive struggles come from a season long inability to force turnovers, an area where Kentucky currently ranks outside of the top 200.
  4. How troubling is West Virginia’s offense? Since Big 12 play began, West Virginia’s offense has undergone a steady decline. The Mountaineers currently own the second worst offensive efficiency, effective field-goal percentage, and turnover rate in the conference. The Mountaineers will host a Texas team that held Texas Tech to just 58 points in its last game. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Big Ten’s Biggest Early Surprises

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 19th, 2018

Now that we’re roughly one-third of the way through the Big Ten slate, let’s take a look at the biggest surprises and storylines taking shape in the Midwest.

Who had Ohio State pegged as a Big Ten title contender? (Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Chris Holtmann, Keita Bates-Diop, and the Buckeyes. Forget the Big Ten for a moment — Ohio State might be the biggest surprise in the entire country. The Buckeyes began the season ranked 74th overall by KenPom and picked to finish 11th — yes, 11th — in the conference. And after getting blasted by Gonzaga in the PK80 on Thanksgiving Day, those projections appeared to make sense. That is, until Big Ten play rolled around. Since losing to Clemson on November 29, Ohio State has gone 11-1 overall and 5-0 in league play, including a 25-point road drubbing of Wisconsin and dominant win against top-ranked Michigan State. Its KenPom ranking has skyrocketed as a result to 12th overall nationally. Junior forward Keita Bates-Diop (19.8 PPG, 8.8 RPG) has emerged as the frontrunner for Big Ten Player of the Year — highlighted by a 32-point effort against the Spartans — while his coach, Chris Holtmann, may be on track for conference (if not national) honors in his own right. Perhaps Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith put it best: “None of us, including me, expected to be here.”
  • Purdue is the clear Big Ten favorite. Who would have expected to be saying that in mid-January? It’s not that Purdue wasn’t expected to be good — the Boilers were picked to finish second, after all — it’s just that Michigan State was supposed to be that much better. Roughly one-third of the way through Big Ten play, however, that’s clearly not the case. Whereas Michigan State has lost two of its last three games, both by double-figures, Matt Painter’s club has been on an absolute tear. Since November 24, Purdue is 14-0 (7-0 in Big Ten play) with eight wins by 25 or more points — including wins against Arizona, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Boilermakers rank among the top six nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency while boasting the third-highest three-point shooting mark (42.6%) in America. 7’2″ center Isaac Haas has been more efficient than ever (122.7 ORtg); sophomore guard Carsen Edwards (17 PPG) has been the breakout player some thought he could be; put simply, Purdue has looked infallible. With home games against Ohio State and Michigan left, Painter’s group is in great position to win the conference outright — even if it were to stumble in East Lansing on February 10.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2018

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

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 16.

Current Standings

Boasting a large lead in points per possession margin (PPM) to go along with an undefeated record, Virginia clearly looks like the ACC’s top squad to date. And what is it with Josh Pastner? For the second consecutive year, Georgia Tech is off to a surprisingly good start in league play after a woeful non-conference performance. It isn’t odd to see some striking differences in win-loss records versus PPM performances this early in conference play, but that is not the case so far this year — the current PPM numbers match up pretty well with existing ACC standings.

Advanced Stat of the Week: 3FG% Defense

One of the things we like to look at early in league play is to identify which teams have experienced both good and bad fortune with their opponents’ performance. A useful metric for this is opponents’ three-point field goal percentage. Although defenses have some role to play in limiting wide-open looks, it is the offense that for the most part controls accuracy from deep. So when a team’s opponents are hitting threes at an extremely high or low rate over a small sample size, we can expect a regression to the mean to occur down the line. With this in mind, expect Virginia Tech’s defense to look better once its opponents cool down from three-point land, much like Duke’s defense has correspondingly improved lately. In their first three ACC contests (two losses), the Blue Devils were blitzed from deep to the tune of a combined 48.6 percent. But during its current three-game winning streak, Duke’s opponents have made just 32.9 percent from long-range. Likewise, expect Virginia’s vaunted defense to look a bit more vulnerable once the other side sinks a few more threes against them.

As a whole, the ACC is attempting more three-pointers than ever (37.1% 3FG rate in ACC play), but making fewer of them than a year ago. After a record-setting accuracy rate of 37.2 percent in 2017, the league is sinking 35.4 percent of its deep tries this conference season. That number is almost identical to the NCAA average of 35.1 percent nationally, so we should expect the ACC’s success rate from deep to remain pretty close to its current pace while individual team defensive three-point percentage normalizes.

Future Forecast

The above table shows predicted order of finish with final regular season records based on KenPom’s current win probabilities for each team. Also included are a few comparative rankings that are mentioned frequently when evaluating NCAA Tournament potential, as well as projections from two bracketology experts — ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports‘ Jerry Palm. Note that while they project the field as if it was to be named tomorrow, we make our projections based on the final KenPom projected records.

It’s clear that the ACC is not as strong at the top as it was a year ago when the league offered six schools that were seeded #5 or higher. Interestingly, the ACC looks particularly strong in the RPI and normally that results in being awarded seeds that appear higher than deserved — using computer power ratings and opinion poll rankings. But with the Selection Committee’s stated desire to modernize its criteria for selection and seeding, will high RPI metrics still drive its decision-making? If the RPI’s influence is in fact lessened this year, it could hurt the NCAA’s chances for the bulging middle of the ACC — the five schools projected with either eight or nine wins.

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Three Keys to a Texas A&M Turnaround

Posted by David Changas on January 16th, 2018

After Texas A&M opened the season in Germany with an 88-65 dismantling of a West Virginia team that has only lost twice since (both to top-10 teams), you could have gotten pretty good odds against the Aggies being winless in SEC play with nearly a third of the conference season complete. But that is exactly where they stand following a pair of road losses against Kentucky and Tennessee last week. An 11-1 pre-conference performance, with the only loss coming at Arizona, puts the Aggies at 11-6 overall (0-5 SEC), and although still projected by the bracketologists as an eventual entrant into the NCAA Tournament, Billy Kennedy’s squad needs to quickly get things turned around. Here are three ways that can happen.

Tyler Davis has been a consistent performer for the Aggies, even during their slump. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

  1. Get Robert Williams going. Williams surprised many observers when he decided to return for his sophomore season despite the widespread belief that he would be an NBA Draft first-round pick. The reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year has been disappointing so far, especially on the offensive end, where evidence of any real development in his game has been scant. The big man is averaging just 8.7 points per game this season, and while he leads the Aggies in rebounding (9.6 RPG), he has not at all been the equal to fellow frontcourt star Tyler Davis. If Texas A&M is going to turn things around over the next few weeks, it starts with getting more productivity out of the talented Williams. Read the rest of this entry »
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A Quick Whip Around the ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 16th, 2018

The real-time eulogies for Duke on Monday night at Miami (FL) were erased as quickly as they were written. The consensus preseason favorite shrugged off a listless opening 12 minutes of the second half, saving its energy for a scintillating four-plus minute stretch of 18 straight points, swinging the margin from down 13 points and in trouble to up five and in control. While just a snapshot on a canvas of maddening inconsistency, what Monday’s game-changing run proved, once again, is that Duke’s best is still better than anyone else’s. The Blue Devils’ intoxicating freshman class was on full display during the surge, most notably the pure shooting stroke of Gary Trent, Jr. The 6’6” shooting guard knocked down a trio of triples during the decisive run, on his way to a career-high 30-point evening. Wendell Carter, Jr. added 15 points, 14 boards and four blocks; Marvin Bagley contributed a quiet 13 points and 12 rebounds; and point guard Trevon Duval (17 points; eight assists) navigated Miami’s generally stingy defense like a seasoned veteran. The issues with this team remain legitimate: its man-to-man defense is an atrocity (its zone, however, stagnated Miami and helped to swing the game) and Grayson Allen’s needs to find his stroke, but the height of the Blue Devils’ ceiling with all cylinders firing re-entered our collective consciousness last night.

Duke’s Comeback Kids Did It Again Last Night (USA Today Images)

Left for dead in the wake of the manhandling Kentucky put on the Cardinals to close out 2017, Louisville has recovered nicely from that 30-point defeat in Rupp Arena. After splitting a pair of games with Pittsburgh and Clemson, the Cardinals then halted Florida State’s 28-game home winning streak in Tallahassee with a second half comeback victory that nobody saw coming. Next, David Padgett’s team followed that up with an impressive 94-86 home win over Virginia Tech, featuring 13 three-point field goals from a team that typically doesn’t shoot or make many. While Deng Adel’s career-high 27 points was the most notable performance, sophomore Ryan McMahon’s contributions of 21 points in the pair of victories seemed to inject some life into a bench that has been noticeably devoid of offensive spark. It was convenient and perhaps even justified to dismiss Louisville as an ACC or national contender given the backdrop of an ongoing FBI investigation and the loss of its Hall of Fame head coach. But with only an overtime road loss to Clemson keeping the Cards from sitting atop the league standings, now is the time to remember that this roster was always considered NCAA Tournament second weekend good.

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Five Reasons Why Michigan is For Real

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 15th, 2018

After losing three of its top four scorers from last year’s Sweet Sixteen team — including point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. — Michigan was a mystery heading into this season. An NCAA tournament bid seemed likely but debatable; a Big Ten title seemed out of the question. After upsetting Michigan State in East Lansing on Saturday and nearly toppling Purdue earlier in the week, though, expectations have changed. Now 15-4 (4-2 Big Ten) with wins over the Spartans, Texas and UCLA, Michigan — ranked higher in KenPom now than it finished last season — is in position to compete for a conference championship and a favorable seed on Selection Sunday. The Wolverines have come a long way fast, and here’s why they’re legit.

Moritz Wagner shredded the Spartans on Saturday. (UM Hoops)

  • They play defense. Michigan is playing some of its best defense in years, ranking 15th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which — if the season ended today — would be the second-best ever under head coach John Beilein. His stingiest team wound up as the 2013 National Runner-Up. Against the Spartans over the weekend, the Wolverines fought through ball screens, rotated consistently and limited Michigan State’s looks from the three-point line (especially Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford, who attempted just three triples). Down low, the Michigan big men prevented Nick Ward (four points) from catching the ball in the deep post, where he’s been nearly unstoppable this season. Perhaps most importantly, Beilein’s group limited transition buckets and forced the Spartans to work hard in the half-court. Even while Beilein’s offense is somewhat less efficient this season, the Wolverines’ improvement on the defensive end could ultimately make them more complete.
  • They finally found a point guard. If there was any question left as to who had won Michigan’s point guard battle, it was put to rest this week. After averaging just 18 minutes per game prior to January 2, Zavier Simpson saw 30-plus minutes of action for the fourth straight game on Saturday, scoring 16 points and dishing out five assists in the win over Michigan State. In Michigan’s near-miss against Purdue on Tuesday, the sophomore scored 15 points and secured a career-high six rebounds. In both games, Beilein’s offense was firing on all cylinders. “Zavier Simpson has been key for us,” the coach said on Saturday. “He’s been able to make plays. Especially in the second half.“ Not only is Simpson playing his best basketball of the season, but he’s doing so against the best teams in the conference — if not the country. What began as a dead-even three-man race between Simpson, Ohio transfer Jaaron Simmons and freshman Eli Brooks has now become Simpson’s job to lose. And Michigan’s the better for it.

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Ten Questions to Consider: MLK Weekend Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 13th, 2018

Last weekend 11 of the 25 teams in the AP Poll lost a game. As we already know, in conference play, anything is possible. Here are 10 things to watch for this weekend.

Mike Brey Really Needs His Point Guard Back (USA Today Images)

  1. Can a short-handed Notre Dame find a way to stay close against North Carolina? Without the injured Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell available in its last two games, Notre Dame has shot 38.2 percent on two-point attempts and 23.1 percent on three-point attempts (yet still managed to beat Syracuse — go figure). With Farrell’s status still unclear heading into this weekend, the Irish will need production from T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, and Martinas Geben.
  2. Will the Cintas Center be the difference for Xavier? After dropping two straight games on the road, Xavier returns home to play Creighton. The Musketeers allowed both of their opponents last week (Providence and Villanova) to shoot the ball considerably better than what they typically allow.
  3. Can Texas A&M avoid an 0-5 start in the SEC?  Since starting the year 11-1, Texas A&M has lost its first four SEC games. The Aggies are coming off of a pair of one-point losses and need to find a way to turn its fortunes around very quickly. A&M hosts a Tennessee team that has struggled to keep its opponents off the offensive glass all season long, an area in which Texas A&M has shined.
  4. Is this an early “must-win” if Michigan State plans on winning the Big Ten? At 4-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan State is off to a fine start. That said, with the only loss coming to Ohio State and only a single game against Purdue to come, the Spartans could find themselves on the short end of several tie-breakers if they lose some games at home. Michigan State barely defeated Rutgers this week and now intrastate rival Michigan comes to town. Last season, star forward Miles Bridges shot over 54 percent on two-point attempts in conference play, but so far this year he is shooting just 37 percent on those same shots. Read the rest of this entry »
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Close Games in the ACC: Part III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 12th, 2018

This is Part III of a three-part series. Part I can be found here.  Part II can be found here.

In our final examination of close games in the ACC, we will examine the extreme cases in both directions — the best and worst seasons over the last 11 years with respect to performance in tight games. Then we’ll see if history gives us any indication of what to expect for the four ACC teams with extreme results in one-possession games last year.

Brian Gregory and the 2015 Georgia Tech squad were historically inept in close games. (AP Photo)

  • Most 1-Possession Games – 2012 Virginia Tech (10), 2012 Virginia (9). These intrastate rivals chose the same season to participate in the highest number of games decided on the game’s final possession. Each team won four of their tight contests but the Cavaliers (9-7 ACC record) did much better in the rest of their league outings than the Hokies (4-12). As you might expect, both meetings between these two schools in 2012 came right down to the wire, with each team winning on the other’s home floor.
  • Least 1-Possession Games – 2007 N.C. State (0), 2011 Duke (0). These two squads avoided nail-biters in different ways. Duke (13-3 ACC) won most of its games comfortably in 2011, including 11 of their 16 conference games by double-figures. Meanwhile the Wolfpack (5-11) were often on the short end in lopsided affairs, posting a mark of 3-9 in games decided by 10 points or more. Ironically, in its ACC Tournament opener that year, N.C. State finally experienced a close game – beating Duke in overtime in Sidney Lowe’s first year at the helm.
  • Best Record in 1-Possession Games – 2013 Florida State (6-0). A year after their first and only ACC Championship, the Seminoles (9-9 ACC) would have been in much worse shape if they didn’t dominate their six close games.
  • Worst Record in 1-Possession Games – 2015 Georgia Tech (0-8). Brian Gregory’s squad in 2015 (3-15 ACC) was so snake-bitten that the next highest number of losses during this era was four.

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Friday Figures: Big 12 NCAA Tournament Chances, TCU’s Rough Start & Texas Goes Big

Posted by Chris Stone on January 12th, 2018

Friday Figures is back with a look at some of the various statistical trends in the Big 12. This week we’ll dive into how many teams can make the NCAA Tournament with a losing conference record, TCU’s disparate start on offense and defense, and Texas’ move to a super-sized lineup.

The Big 12 is going to put the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in a strange spot. As the calendar ticks towards March and bracketology posts populate the web, the question of how many Big 12 teams will make the field of 68 should be a fun one. The safest bet is on six teams in, while the most ambitious estimate suggests eight entrants. Either way, the league could put the committee in a weird position if KenPom’s conference projections hold in place. Right now, just four teams — Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia — are projected to finish the regular season with Big 12 winning percentage of .500 or above. Four additional schools — Baylor, Kansas State, TCU and Texas — are lumped together at 8-10. Why’s that interesting? Since the Big 12 took on its current incarnation in the 2012-13 season, just five teams from the country’s top six conferences have made the NCAA Tournament with a losing league record. Three of those have come from the Big 12 and two hailed from the Big Ten. No ACC, Big East, SEC or Pac-12 teams have made the Dance with a losing record in that time frame. If these projections hold, the Selection Committee could be forced the push that number quite a bit higher.

Source: KenPom

TCU’s Big 12 start is awfully unique. The Horned Frogs are out to an inauspicious 1-3 start in league play with their lone win coming over Baylor in overtime. The optimist among us will point out that their three losses came by a combined six points. The pessimist will instead point to the above chart, which plots every Big 12 teams’ offensive and defensive efficiency from conference play dating back to 2012-13. The two circled points? On the right, 2017-18 TCU. On the left, the 2013-14 TCU squad that went 0-18 in conference play. The link between them? Poor defense. These Horned Frogs would rank as the second worst defense in the Big 12 of the last six seasons, second — by just 0.1 points per 100 possessions — to the group that won a grand total zero games in league play. While it appears head coach Jamie Dixon has resolved the offensive issues that plagued the 2013-14 team, he’ll need to work some magic on the defensive end for TCU to live up to its new expectations.

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Peaking at the Margins: Washington’s Luck and Other Pac-12 Points

Posted by Adam Butler on January 10th, 2018

According to KenPom’s luck rating, Washington is the most Irish team in the country. Let’s now dissociate ourselves from preconceived notions of luck and consider both what the rating means (you can read about it here) and more relatable measures of success and expectations. To synopsize the luck statistic, this is a measure of a team’s success relative to expectations (as established by their efficiency ratings). At 12-4 overall, with an adjusted efficiency differential of just +5.44, the Huskies sit ahead of similarly efficient teams in terms of wins and losses (although most have between one to three more losses). Consequently, they rate 108th by KenPom, or slightly above average. What do other margins say about the rest of the Pac-12? As we’ve established, the Huskies are the luckiest team, but what else can 17 or so games tell us about the remaining and critical two-and-a-half months of Pac-12 Hoop?

To start the conversation, I examined scoring differential (total points for minus points against), the Synergy Sports points per possession margins and the aforementioned KenPom adjusted efficiency margins. The Pac-12 results:

Team W L Scoring difference PPP difference KP difference
Arizona 12 4 171 0.127 20.17
Arizona State 13 2 252 0.185 20.08
UCLA 12 4 130 0.100 13.91
USC 11 6 142 0.078 13.87
Utah 10 5 121 0.122 11.88
Oregon 11 5 179 0.125 10.66
Washington 12 4 55 0.050 5.34
Colorado 10 6 28 0.016 4.89
Oregon State 10 5 95 0.077 4.6
Stanford 8 8 -6 0.002 4.34
Washington State 8 7 1 0.043 0.51
California 7 9 -84 -0.088 -2.59

 

Some quick notes followed by a few takeaways: 1) scoring differential is a predictor of success and usually an indicator that you’re a really good team regardless of record, 2) The PPP difference column is based on Synergy data, which accounts raw points per possession information into its metric (i.e., it’s neither a prediction of possessions nor adjusted for strength of schedule, home/away or otherwise), 3) a reminder that the KenPom difference includes the aforementioned adjustments.

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