Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 21st, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. This week, we will take our annual peak at how league teams are performing in close games and examine how that has impacted the conference standings. 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 Wednesday, February 19.

Current Standings

Even though the middle of the ACC continues to be highly congested, we are seeing some teams trending in opposite directions. Three schools have capitalized on improved health to suddenly get hot in mid-February. Georgia Tech and Clemson each went 2-0 for the week, with home victories over league leader Louisville. Similarly, Miami has won three in a row now that Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty have rejoined Jim Larranaga’s lineup. On the flip side, Syracuse and Pittsburgh have each dropped three games in a row, while Virginia Tech continues to struggle, having lost six of its last seven contests.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Close Games in the ACC

With so much parity in the ACC after the top four teams, it’s no surprise that many of the league’s contests are being decided by slim margins. Through 115 conference games this season, 25.2 percent of those match-ups have concluded as one-possession affairs. Obviously, performance in those nail-biters has had a big impact on the league standings.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 14th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. This week, we look at the best 3-point shooting teams (offensively and defensively) and see how they compare to recent ACC leaders in those categories. 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 Wednesday, February 12.

Current Standings

At this point in the season, team rankings in point per possession margin (PPM) line up well with overall league standings, but there are a couple of outliers. Based on PPM alone, one would expect North Carolina and Boston College to be flip-flopped in the standings — to explain why this is not the case, performance in close games tells the tale. The Eagles are an impressive 4-1 in games decided by two possessions or fewer, while the Tar Heels are 0-5 in similar situations. Among the teams in the upper middle of the ACC, Virginia and Notre Dame may have an advantage in short-term schedule difficulty. The Cavaliers will face four straight sub-.500 ACC squads in the next two weeks, while the Irish have a toughie at Duke on Saturday, but next comes four games in a row versus ACC schools with losing league marks. Meanwhile, Syracuse must play five of its next seven contests on the road, and NC State is looking at a three-game stretch that features a roadie at Boston College followed by challenging home tilts with Duke and Florida State.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Elite Three-Point Offense and Defense

Success from behind the arc has been very important to determining the outcome of ACC games this season – the team with a higher 3-point shooting percentage in a given game has tasted victory 78 percent of the time. The top two schools in the standings are excelling in this crucial statistic in historic fashion, but in very different ways.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 7th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. In this edition, we look at how high usage rate correlates to offensive efficiency for the players that are eating up the most possessions in league play. 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 Wednesday, February 5.

Current Standings

Last week we suggested that North Carolina and Notre Dame may be ready to make a surge in the standings based on how they were performing on a per possession basis. Well, we were half right. Even with star Cole Anthony back in the lineup, the Tar Heels dropped two in a row after showing signs of life the week before. But the Fighting Irish have indeed been on an upward trend, thanks to the performance of the second-best offense in the league. In winning its last three outings, Notre Dame has averaged a sizzling 1.22 points per possession. Its upcoming schedule will make it hard to keep up this momentum -– three consecutive road trips (Clemson, Virginia and Duke) are next for Mike Brey’s group.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Usage versus Efficiency

Since his return to game action (and even before), Cole Anthony has come under scrutiny for the high volume of shots that he launches for North Carolina. That criticism seems valid, considering how infrequently his attempts go in the basket (35.1% FG). In his four ACC games to date, Anthony has the highest usage rate (34.3% Poss) in the league but has an offensive rating of just 94.5. Let’s see how that compares to the other high-possession players in the conference.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 31st, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 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 Wednesday, January 29.

Current Standings

There are some interesting outliers when comparing ACC point per possession margins (PPM) with the current league standings. Despite being near the bottom of the league race at this point, North Carolina and Notre Dame are performing at a relatively decent level on a per possession basis. In fact, their PPM numbers are better than five teams above them in the standings. This suggests that we may see the Tar Heels and Fighting Irish make a move up the ledger in the second half of conference play. Based on how each squad is perceived nationally, it’s also surprising to see Florida State and Syracuse performing basically as equals on the court in ACC action.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Winning with Threes and Freebies

“Live by the three, die by the three” has been a popular phrase among college basketball followers since the three-point shot was was first introduced in 1987. Often when you hear this, the speaker is making a negative judgement on a team’s shot selection and implying that shooting a lot of threes is not conducive to winning consistently. Conventional wisdom also espouses the importance of free throw shooting when it comes to deciding the outcome of games. Let’s look at how these old axioms are playing out so far in the ACC this year.

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ACC Stock Report: Volume VI

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 28th, 2020

It feels unreasonable to start any basketball related activity without the acknowledgement of the recent tragic passing of Kobe Bryant. Kobe was a single name icon whose reach stretched far beyond the 94 feet of the basketball court — yet it was through his majesty there that the world was introduced to him. From a basketball perspective, his influences are evident at all levels — every time a guard uses precise footwork to create space for a fadeaway, or when a defender guards his man with the ferocity of a lion trying to acquire his last meal. His death, so shocking and sad, shines a light on how transcendent he had become elsewhere in his life — the way people who had never met him feel a tremendous sense of grief and loss. Making people feel, and inspiring them to live their lives with a certain tenacity, seems like something that would put a smile on Kobe Bryant’s face and perhaps even outweigh his brilliant accomplishments in the game he so adored.

Stock Rising

Roy Williams Now Stands at 881 Victories (USA Today Images)

Roy and the boys. It took six tries, but Roy Williams mercifully and finally eclipsed the win total of his mentor and idol, the iconic Dean Smith, in Saturday’s trouncing of Miami. This has been an unusually trying season for the Hall of Famer, who has won 78 percent of his games in amassing 881 victories, so the overall perspective on his accomplishment may have been lost in the relief of finally ending a five-game losing skein. The Tar Heels then backed up their best offensive output of the year (94 points against Miami) with a crippling body blow on Monday to intrastate rival NC State, beating the Wolfpack for the seventh consecutive time in Raleigh and winning its first true road game since November 8.

Monday’s star was once again junior Garrison Brooks, who has now logged double-doubles in seven of his last eight games. Brooks was a one-man wrecking crew in Blacksburg last week, scoring 28 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out six assists in a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to the Hokies. Effort and execution were heightened a notch that night, causing North Carolina to look at least competent, albeit still considerably shy of a vintage Williams’ outfit.

With the carrot of Cole Anthony’s return still dangling in front of the team, along with Brooks’ recent emergence, North Carolina could presumably be a team to deal with in Greensboro. From now until then, though, Williams will look to add as many wins to that unbelievable career mark while hoping to get his club to relatively good health. Even in last night’s win, Brandon Robinson, who has been hampered with ailments all year, had to leave the floor multiple times, dealing with both a lingering ankle issue and a new rib injury.

Stock Falling

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 24th, 2020

This is the second 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 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 Wednesday, January 22.

Current Standings

Looking at the current standings, there are three tiers of teams at or above .500 in conference play. At the top, Duke holds a significant advantage over Florida State and Louisville in efficiency margin, but that margin is largely because the Blue Devils have played the weakest schedule in the ACC thus far — beating four bottom-dwellers by over 30 points each. Among the three schools with 5-3 records, Syracuse is playing the best basketball on a per-possession basis, thanks in great part to the Orange’s acumen on the road (more on that below). Virginia is the only team sporting a 4-4 league mark that has a positive efficiency margin, but the Cavaliers have struggled in close games, dropping all four contests by fewer than eight points. Miami looks like the ACC’s worst squad from an efficiency standpoint, but nobody has faced the ominous slate of conference games that the Hurricanes have to date. Miami has already met Duke and Louisville twice, and lost to Florida State in overtime last Saturday.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Home Court Advantage?

Things are not going as expected for host teams in the ACC this year. With 39 percent of league games already in the books, visiting squads are winning more than half of the time. The chart above shows how ACC home court advantage has worked over the last seven seasons. The national average for home court winning percentage has hovered around 60 percent in recent years and is at 59.9 percent so far in 2020. The ACC is clearly the outlier among major conferences this year – all other Power Six leagues have a home floor winning rate of over 63 percent (including the Big Ten’s incredible 80 percent).

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ACC Stock Report: Volume V

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 22nd, 2020

Back to back losses by previously unbeaten Duke have opened up the standings at the top of the league, as Florida State and Louisville are now tied for the conference lead at 6-1. Below those three schools, however, is an unusually soft middle, littered with a number of teams that have proven capable of pushing their respective seasons in either direction during the final six weeks.  One of those teams leads our stock report this week.

Stock Rising

C’mon, Boeheim, You Team is Looking Up (USA Today Images)

Syracuse. After an 8-7 start, the Orange have reeled off three consecutive victories, putting themselves squarely back in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament berth. Generally speaking, Syracuse seasons turn most often on a tightening of the defensive screws, but this turnabout has been sparked by an offensive renaissance, highlighted by an uncommon adeptness from beyond the arc.

In the last nine seasons, Syracuse finished among the top 100 in three-point shooting just once. This year, however, the Orange rank 49th, at a respectable 36.3 percent, with 170 total makes. Armed with the league’s two most prolific long-range shooters in Buddy Boeheim and Elijah Hughes, Syracuse has shifted its style to fit those pieces, taking nearly 46 percent of its field goal attempts outside of the arc. This represents the highest percentage of those shots by a Jim Boeheim squad in the KenPom era.

While Hughes was the centerpiece of any Syracuse success this year, the coach’s son was far from a known commodity after experiencing some struggles. But, Boeheim came into his sophomore year confident and improved, and his recent heater has resulted in 67 made triples, good for fifth nationally. His 16.2 PPG, combined with Hughes’ 19.3 PPG, make the duo the highest scoring pair in the ACC, giving aid to a Syracuse defense which rates surprisingly low this season (96th) in defensive efficiency. In fact, if the Orange finish in that range, it would represent the second-worst defensive unit for Boeheim in the KenPom era.

In an unusually mediocre year for the league, the team that captures the ACC crown may just end up being the hottest outfit, warts and all. Syracuse may have found something here, playing to its strengths offensively and hoping that its historically good defensive scheme can overcome non-ideal personnel. Its remaining schedule is manageable enough, but if the two sharpshooters remain hot, it is conceivable that Syracuse could head to Greensboro in March as a top-three seed.

Stock Also Rising

David Johnson Spent Ample Time on the Rims at Duke (USA Today Images)

David Johnson, Louisville. Let’s stay positive this week: Hello to Virginia’s presence on the bubble, and North Carolina’s cellar-dwelling. But even the most pollyanna of Louisville supporters acknowledged that the team’s point guard play could prove to be the factor that holds the team back from achieving its maximum potential. But, following his two best games as a collegian, freshman David Johnson went a long way in allaying some of those concerns.

Good in the mid-week victory at Pittsburgh, Johnson was dynamite in the upset of Duke, leading the Cardinals with a career-high 19 points and seven assists. Named the league’s Freshman of the Week after nearly eclipsing his entire year’s production in two victories, Johnson is a player who possesses elite size at the point guard position. Johnson sustained a shoulder injury with three minutes remaining in Saturday’s contest, but all indications are the injury is reportedly nowhere near as serious as the shoulder ailment that caused him to miss the first four games of his rookie campaign. If healthy, Johnson could be the missing ingredient to elevate Chris Mack’s club back into the conversation of the nation’s elite.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 17th, 2020

With exactly 30 percent 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 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 Wednesday, January 15.

Current Standings

This early in the conference slate, efficiency numbers can be highly skewed by blowouts. Case in point, Syracuse ranks third in efficiency margin, largely due to 25+ point wins over Georgia Tech and Boston College. Likewise, Jim Christian’s Eagles are .500 in the standings but dead last in efficiency margin because they’ve been outscored in their three losses by a total of 84 points. Virginia is worse in the standings compared to their per-possession play because of its inability to win tight contests. The Cavaliers have tasted defeat each time that they were in a game decided by fewer than eight points. Tony Bennett needs to figure that out as Virginia seems headed for more tight affairs due to its slow pace of play, stingy defense (ranking first in the ACC) and anemic offense (dead last in the leaguge). A depleted North Carolina squad has been reeling lately, and things may get even worse – the Tar Heels’ struggles have occurred against the easiest schedule in the league to date.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Offensive Efficiency Woes

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ACC Stock Report: Volume IV

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 15th, 2020

Stock Rising

What a Wild Four-Day Stretch for Clemson Basketball (USA Today Images)

Clemson. Weeks don’t come much better than this, football results notwithstanding, as the Tigers backed up an historic victory in Chapel Hill with a home stunner over conference unbeaten Duke on Tuesday night. Given the state of North Carolina basketball this winter, there was a reasonable expectation that this year’s opportunity was ripe for Clemson to put a halt to the mind-numbing string of 59 consecutive losses on the road. There was no such assumption, however, when #3 Duke came to town, but the Tigers put together their best 40-minute effort of the season on their way to upending the top-rated KenPom outfit in impressive fashion.

While the headlines were focused on snapping the ignominious and unprecedented losing streak at North Carolina, the details paint a less optimistic picture. The Tigers needed a miraculous comeback — they were down 10 points inside two minutes in Chapel Hill — just to force overtime, where they ultimately outlasted the Tar Heels. But the good vibes and positive momentum weren’t going to be good enough to take down Duke, who has been running roughshod through a very down ACC, and had seemingly separated itself as the team to beat. Instead, though, the 9-7 Tigers put together a remarkably well-balanced performance in handing Duke its first loss since an upset to Stephen F. Austin on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Clemson shot a scorching 56.6 percent from the floor, the best clip by a Blue Devils’ opponent in nearly six years. Perhaps even more pertinent to the upset was the Tigers’ ability to keep Duke from converting second-chance opportunities. This is not a vintage Duke team from the perimeter, but they have been able to maul teams on the offensive glass, rebounding their misses at the seventh-best rate in the country (37.2% Off Reb). Tuesday, Clemson limited Duke to just four offensive rebounds, and that, combined with its blistering shooting, was the combination that Brad Brownell’s club needed to climb back to .500 in league play and put a bow on one of the school’s most triumphant weeks in hardwood history.

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ACC Decade in Review, Part 2: The Five Best Players

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 10th, 2020

As the new new decade gets under way, it’s a good time to reflect on the past 10 years of basketball in the ACC. Recently, the Rush the Court ACC microsite team — Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) — got together to select the five best teams and players that the league has produced from the 2009-10 through 2018-19 seasons. Today we reveal our choices for the top five ACC players of the decade. Of course, selecting an All-Decade team is always a subjective exercise, but it’s now more difficult than ever, considering the current makeup of college basketball. How does one definitively compare one-and-done freshmen phenoms with solid four-year performers? And what about other players that leave school early after stellar sophomore or junior campaigns? No doubt, this was a much easier process when college basketball’s best stuck around campus for most of their careers. Case in point, in the past 10 seasons, only four players were selected first team All-ACC more than once. An average of 11 players earned that distinction in the prior three decades. With the current state of affairs in the sport, we are forced to put more weight on individual season accomplishments – all five of our selections below were consensus first team All-America selections in their last, or only, year of college action. Four won ACC Player of the Year honors in those decorated seasons, and the only one who did not was beaten out in the voting by another member of our top five. Here are our choices for the ACC’s All-Decade team.

MALCOLM BROGDON, VIRGINIA 2012-16 (Player of the Decade)

Malcolm Brogdon was the only player of the decade to be named a 3-time All-ACC First-Teamer. (Getty Images)

The most accomplished four-year performer of the past 10 seasons, Brogdon was the steady force behind Virginia’s rise to prominence. During his last three seasons, Virginia went 45-9 in ACC play with Brogdon being named first team All-ACC each year by the league’s coaches. As a senior, he not only won ACC Player of the Year, but was also selected as the conference’s top defender. National honors poured in as well – along with earning consensus first team All-America honors, he was named National Defensive Player of the Year by the NABC. During his time in Charlottesville, the Cavaliers won two ACC regular season crowns and captured the ACC Tournament title in 2014. The only blemish on Brogdon’s college basketball resume is the lack of a Final Four appearance. Virginia looked like a shoo-in for the 2016 Final Four, but the Cavaliers squandered a late 15-point lead and lost to Syracuse in the Elite Eight, the final game of Brogdon’s outstanding career.

ZION WILLIAMSON, DUKE 2019

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