A Look at the ACC in the NIT

Posted by Charlie Maikis on March 14th, 2017

March Madness is now upon us, but let’s take a moment to consider a different postseason tournament as the ACC is sending three teams to the NIT this season. In a year where many observers thought the NCAA Tournament bubble was one of the weakest in years, the Selection Committee was not particularly kind to the conference. Of the three ACC bubble teams, Wake Forest made the field of 68 while Syracuse and Georgia Tech were left at home. Clemson joins the Orange and Yellow Jackets in this year’s NIT, meaning that the 12 of the 15 ACC teams were invited to one of the two prestigious postseason tournaments. Before the NCAA Tournament vacuums all the oxygen in the college basketball universe, let’s discuss the trio of ACC teams playing in the NIT.

Syracuse and Clemson are two of the strongest teams in the NIT field this year and give the ACC a great chance at success. Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse

Syracuse was a curious case as the Orange were left out of the NCAA Tournament presumably because of a lackluster non-conference performance. Teams that go 10-8 in what is widely regarded as the nation’s best conference usually get an invitation to the Big Dance, but that factor alone clearly wasn’t enough this season. The result was Syracuse’s placement as the top overall seed in the NIT bracket, but perhaps in the toughest region of the four. Their region also contains four other power conference teams, and the average Kenpom ranking of of the group is five spots better than the rest of the field. Luckily Syracuse doesn’t have to play the other seven teams but just the ones in front of it, starting on Wednesday night at home against UNC-Greensboro. Remember, after Jim Boeheim blasted the city of Greensboro (site of ACC headquarters and numerous ACC Tournaments) at last week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the municipality fired back:

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

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

The ACC received nine bids to the NCAA Tournament today, as the Selection Committee rewarded one of the league’s two bubble teams with Wake Forest making the field over Syracuse and its 2-10 record away from the Carrier Dome. Another big question going into today was whether regular season champion North Carolina or ACC Tournament winner Duke would get a #1 seed? The Tar Heels, on the strength of their regular season work, ultimately got the nod from the committee. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for each of the nine ACC teams in the field.

North Carolina (#1 South)

  • Best Case: The Tar Heels’ size and experience results in another appearance in the National Championship game with a chance for the school’s sixth national title.
  • Worst Case: North Carolina has another bad shooting night away from the Smith Center against an opponent (e.g., Butler) that will not allow the Heels to dominate the offensive glass.

Duke hopes to continue to play like it did in Brooklyn where they won four games in four days to capture the ACC Tourney Title. (abc11.com)

Duke (#2 East)

  • Best Case: Duke builds on its current momentum all the way to Phoenix, giving Coach K a shot at his sixth National Championship.
  • Worst Case: On a day when Duke’s threes are not falling, the Blue Devils get picked off in the Second Round by South Carolina, which benefits from a friendly local crowd in Greenville.

Louisville (#2 Midwest)

  • Best Case: Louisville’s defense overwhelms its foes and the Cardinals hit enough shots to get Rick Pitino back to the Final Four for a chance at his second title at the school and third overall.
  • Worst Case: The threes and free throws don’t connect for the Cardinals and they can’t get turnovers against a hot Michigan or Oklahoma State squad in the Second Round.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Notre Dame 77 #2 Florida State 73

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

Three Key Takeaways.

It’s Brey Day in Brooklyn (USA Today Images)

  1. Notre Dame was the harder playing, smarter, better team. The Irish were the beneficiaries of its characteristically hot shooting from beyond the arc (13 made threes), but they also impressively took the fight to the bigger, stronger and more athletic Seminoles. Led by fearless floor leader Matt Farrell, Notre Dame was the aggressor in racing out to a 16-point halftime lead, leaving Florida State struggling to match the intensity of the Irish. A flurry of hot shooting from little-utilized Braian Angola-Rodas (17 points, 4-of-7 from three) was all that kept the game moderately competitive, but Florida State never applied any legitimate pressure to Notre Dame.
  2. This is why it’s impossible to trust Florida State. Just 24 hours ago, I sat in the same seat convinced that this version of the Seminoles was somehow different and perhaps worthy of discussion as a potential Final Four participant. Now I’m not so sure… or maybe I’ve just flat out changed my mind. It was not so much the loss but rather the uninspired, listless nature of the Florida State performance that makes trusting it so disconcerting. An illustration of the Seminoles’ substandard effort came early in the second half. After watching Notre Dame drill eight, mostly uncontested triples in the first 20 minutes, there is very little doubt that Leonard Hamilton addressed this point in the locker room. Just 1:15 after the half, though, Farrell found himself with a wide-open look from the corner as a lazy, last-second closeout effort by Dwayne Bacon once again proved late and futile.
  3. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Farrell and Bonzie Colson look like a pair of guys likely to be picked last in some of the more competitive pickup games in Brooklyn. But tonight, in a circumstance that becoming far from unusual, they were the two best players on the floor. The senior point guard (15 points, six assists) controlled the game from the tip, employing his grit and intellect that sometimes tends to unfairly overshadow his ability. The behemoth front line size of Florida State was somehow no match for the undersized Colson (18 points, six rebounds), who at 6’5” continues to amaze with his nose for the ball and penchant for scoring over taller opponents.

Star of the Game: Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame.  While the aforementioned dominated the tilt, Vasturia matched Colson’s 18 points in hitting some big shots to stem the tide and grabbed g a critical offensive rebound in the final minute.

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Rushed Reactions: Duke 93, North Carolina 83

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s Second Half Comeback Shocked the Tar Heels (USA Today Images)

  1. No matter the venue, Carolina, Duke gonna Duke, Carolina. The rivalry that almost never fails to deliver traveled north and didn’t disappoint an electrified Brooklyn crowd. North Carolina often appeared in complete control in the first half as the Tar Heels’ lead swelled to 13 points a pair of times, but Duke’s Grayson Allen (four first-half threes, including three in a 95-second span) and Jayson Tatum (18 first half points) managed to keep the Blue Devils within striking distance. North Carolina maintained control in the early second half until point guard Joel Berry picked up his fourth foul at the 15:04 mark with the Heels up nine. What ensued was a 23-7 Duke blitz, sparked by Allen, a rejuvenated Kennard and Jackson. The previously weary Blue Devils ended up being the team that imposed its will down the stretch, and the seemingly punch drunk Tar Heels failed to respond the way anyone expected.
  2. Grayson Allen is back. While the ACC Tournament title has its own cachet and the importance of the rivalry cannot be overstated, North Carolina and Duke always play with an eye toward the trophy awarded in early April. For Duke to become a legitimate contender, though, Allen must perform like an All-American. The junior guard’s travails have been well-documented, but more pertinently from a basketball perspective, his emotional and physical struggles have sometimes made him a marginal player. And after the no-show that was Wednesday’s 12 minutes of scoreless action, he was vital in keeping Duke alive early before spearheading the victory late. He looked healthy, focused, determined and generally back to his peak self. In short, the Duke team we thought we’d see in November simply waited until mid-March to show up. This is a major problem for the other 67 teams hoping to join the Blue Devils in Phoenix.
  3. Joel Berry is the most valuable Tar Heel. While Justin Jackson was deservedly tabbed as the ACC Player of the Year, it is Berry who is the Tar Heels’ most valuable player. He is the only pure point guard on the roster, and North Carolina simply looked lost while he was in foul trouble on the bench. Kennedy Meeks, who dominated Duke on the interior in the first half, became largely uninvolved without Berry on the flo0r. The team just appeared totally discombobulated with its junior floor leader on the pine, with a litany of out of whack possessions.

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Forgotten Florida State Still Very Much a Contender

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

It has been said, often with a pejorative undertone, that there aren’t many teams that look better getting off the bus than Florida State. If the second half of Thursday night’s ACC quarterfinal was any indication, you’d be hard pressed to find many teams who look better on the court either. Down a bucket at the half, the Seminoles utilized a pair of dominant scoring runs to dispatch a game Virginia Tech squad to advance to tonight’s ACC Tournament semifinals. The second-tallest team in college basketball, Florida State played to its strengths in bullying the smaller Hokies, snatching 18 offensive rebounds to eventually wear them down. And while Virginia Tech mostly employed a lineup with its tallest player standing at just 6’7”, there just aren’t many teams in the national landscape that can match the overwhelming size and depth that Leonard Hamilton has at his disposal.

The ultra athletic Dwayne Bacon is just one of many stalwarts on Florida State’s impressive squad. (24/7)

Depth tends to get overvalued at this time of year, but there is something to be said for the quality of Florida State’s roster that 12 guys can see action without performance dipping. With 10 players averaging double-figure minutes, the Seminoles not only have the sufficient confidence and trust that comes with so much shared on-court experience, but they can also separate themselves in one essential regard. At this time of year, a team can’t just win with bodies — it needs guys who can take over a game. And within Hamilton’s lengthy rotation, he has three such players. Read the rest of this entry »

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Computers and Eyes Tell Divergent Stories About Virginia

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 10th, 2017

What I’m about to write won’t make me very popular with the majority of new wave, analytically-obsessed fans, who comprise a majority of today’s young college basketball devotees. But forget what KenPom’s formula spits out. Use your eyes. Virginia stinks. Inexplicably, prior to its ACC quarterfinal loss last night — a game in which the Cavaliers were thoroughly outplayed by Notre Dame from tip to buzzer — Virginia was still rated seventh by KenPom’s analytical formula. After its 10th loss of the season, Tony Bennett‘s team probably won’t slide all that much. But if you watch Virginia play and can honestly tell me it is an elite team — and in this model that means the Cavs would be favored to beat all but Gonzaga, Villanova and North Carolina on a neutral floor — then fly me to Vegas with all the money you can get your hands on to take, let’s say, UCLA.

Tony Bennett and Virginia are still a very strong team, but not quite where they have been. (USA TODAY Sports)

I use UCLA as an example because, first, the metrics don’t care much for the Bruins (17th nationally, per KenPom), and second, they have pros. And while their defense leaves much to be desired at times, the Bruins have a roster full of studs who are not very far away from earning a handsome living playing basketball. And that matters at this time of year. A tremendous pack line defense and slow tempo can only get you so far. Who for Virginia can blow by his defender and get to the rim himself or create an easy opportunity for a teammate? The answer is as startling as it is obvious. Bennett has done a remarkable job in revitalizing a moribund program in Charlottesville by winning a pair of ACC regular season titles and making a trip to the Elite Eight, so it would be disingenuous for me to disparage the Cavaliers’ style of play without acknowledging that his teams have  all utilized an identical strategy. Still, successful systemic pedigree can only get you so far. This iteration doesn’t have a Justin Anderson or a Malcolm Brogdon on the roster, a pair of players who, by the way, are now NBA professionals. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Bubble Waiting Game Begins For Syracuse…

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on March 9th, 2017

It’s going to be a long 96 hours for Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim as his team waits to see if it has done enough to warrant inclusion in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Yesterday’s five-point loss to Miami (FL) dropped the Orange to 18-14 on the season (10-9 ACC) and have firmly planted the tradition-rich powerhouse on the bubble. With six wins over the RPI top 50, Syracuse has proven it can beat NCAA Tournament quality teams (all of which came on its home floor). But with 14 losses overall, including five outside of the RPI top 100, is Syracuse anything more than a mediocre beneficiary of playing in one of the strongest conferences in college basketball history?

Jim Boeheim (USA Today Images)

Losers of five of their last seven games and with a scary RPI rating of #84, Syracuse faces two enormous barriers to entry based on historical precedent. Despite the persistent narrative that an entire body of work is what the committee evaluates, there has been a subtle preference for taking teams that are playing their best basketball down the stretch. The RPI is another albatross, as inclusion in this year’s NCAA Tournament would make the Orange the lowest at-large selection since the peculiar inclusion of Air Force in 2004.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VIII – Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2017

Here is the final 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. With the regular season now complete, we will look at which ACC teams performed better in the second half of league play and how that may impact the upcoming ACC Tournament. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins and what that means for each team’s postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Saturday, March 4.

Current Standings

North Carolina finished with an impressive two-game lead in the standings to edge out Louisville with the league’s top efficiency margin. Since the Cardinals finished as the #4 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the two best teams in the conference landed on the same side of the bracket. The Tar Heels finish with the league’s top offense for the first time since 2009 — incidentally the last time North Carolina won the National Championship. This year, Roy Williams’ club used an outstanding offensive rebounding rate (42.5%) to overcome a modest shooting year — the Heels finished 10th in the league in effective field goal percentage (51.7%). Virginia reclaimed its status as the ACC’s best defensive squad, as Tony Bennett‘s teams have now finished as one of the ACC’s two best defenses in each of the last six seasons. Virginia’s pack line defense led the league in forcing turnovers (20.1%) and finished third in opponents’ effective field goal percentage (48.5%). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: ACC Tourney Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on March 7th, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. Greensboro News & Record: HB2 strikes again. This year an NCAA Tournament first weekend site was moved from Greensboro to Greenville, South Carolina; now commissioner John Swofford says the league would “be remiss if [it] didn’t” plan on alternative future locations for the ACC Tournament. This could serve to precipitate the inevitable decentralization of the ACC and/or the ultimate evolution to a national entity (much as the Duke/North Carolina rivalry has become a national phenomenon). According to a February poll, approximately 60 percent of North Carolina residents disagree with large parts of HB2 (including the part that led the NCAA to pull its events out of the state). Potentially losing the ACC Tournament may be what forces the North Carolina legislature to move forward with a full repeal. We’ll learn very soon how much the Tar Heel State cares about the ACC Tournament.
  2. The ACC: The league got it right with the all-ACC first team (and based on the vote totals, it was a no-brainer): North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, Wake Forest’s John Collins and Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson should have joined Duke’s Luke Kennard as unanimous first-teamers (the same probably goes for Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell, though he’s a hair below the top four). I thought Collins would finish a bit closer to Jackson in Player of the Year votes (although it’s likely that many voters rewarded Jackson for being on a better team). The only head-scratcher among the group was that Kennard didn’t get more votes for Most Improved Player.
  3. KenPom: Ken Pomeroy projects the ACC Tournament as a three-team race (Florida State gets an honorable mention) between North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. Dark horse: Wake Forest has a pretty favorable path to the semifinals and will have the best player on the floor in nearly every game. A fun (potential) matchup I’m most looking forward to: the Duke vs. NC State rematch on Wednesday. Either way should be a great week of games. Food for thought: Florida State is the most well-balanced team efficiency-wise (although North Carolina and Louisville both rank among the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency). That should bode well in the postseason.
  4. Charlottesville Daily Progress: London Perrantes had quite the career at Virginia. Even as part of a program that doesn’t get any one-and-dones, a four-year college starter is exceedingly rare. He owns the most starts in Virginia history (a number inflated by the modern schedule, but still impressive nevertheless). He’s also defined the program as an unflashy, never flustered, quietly efficient point guard. He’s left Ty Jerome some pretty big shoes to fill in his absence.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: NC State fans probably need a sincere pick-me-up, so how about a retrospective on the Wolfpack’s last ACC championship? It’s somewhat bittersweet since it also highlights the slow decline of the program as Duke grew into a national powerhouse in the 1980s and 1990s. Barry Jacobs’ stories are always tremendous, and this one comes through as well.

EXTRA: This piece on the ACC’s historic ties to the Big Apple is fascinating. Like I mentioned in this morning’s first blurb, the ACC may be nearing the end of its transition from a regional to a national brand. This story sheds more light on the beginning of that history, and how the league pushed recruiting well beyond its footprint.

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Taking Stock of Jaron Blossomgame’s Senior Season

Posted by Charlie Maikis on March 6th, 2017

Jaron Blossomgame entered this season with sky-high expectations. After winning the ACC Most Improved Player award a year ago, the senior forward was selected to the preseason All-ACC First Team. And while his statistical output was very similar to last season, Clemson’s disappointing performance in a league full of stars assuredly hurt him given an All-ACC Third Team placement in the postseason awards. Was returning to school a good idea for the senior forward? Let’s take a deeper look at Blossomgame’s performance this season to find out.

Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame has been the focus of opposing defenses (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Across the board, his numbers in scoring, rebounding and assists are slightly down, and his overall efficiency has suffered as a result. The primary reason for this decrease is related to his shooting ability. According to Hoop-Math, Blossomgame’s field goal percentage on shots at the rim improved this season by 6.3 percent. His field goal percentage on other shots inside the arc increased by 2.0 percent. For a player whose game is generally predicated on athleticism and conversions at the rim, those are good signs. The problem area, however, has come on Blossomgame’s perimeter game. Strangely, a player who converted 44.1 percent of his three-point attempts a season ago has regressed to 26.4 percent this year. Perhaps this should be unsurprising given that he was a 24.8 percent long-range shooter during his first two years of college, but for someone who shot so well to drop so precipitously is suggestive that his norm is much closer to the 32.2 percent he has converted in his career.

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