Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 7th, 2018

Here is the latest 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 compare the importance of three-point shooting and free throw shooting to determine which has the most influence on winning games in the league this year. 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 Monday, February 5.

Current Standings

It’s interesting to consider the impact that conference schedule strength is having on the standings. Duke has clearly benefited from two games each against the worst teams in the league, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. Aside from those four games, the Blue Devils are 3-3 in ACC play with a points per possession margin (PPM) of just 0.04. Among the five six-win teams in the conference, NC State and Florida State have faced a tougher slate than the others. After Saturday’s rematch against North Carolina, the Wolfpack will have played six games against the leagues best four teams, using the KenPom ratings. The upside of that, of course, is that Kevin Keatts’ growing squad will be no worse than .500 in the standings at that juncture, with a much easier road down the stretch. That bodes well for NC State to finish the season above both their norm in the standings as well as in PPM.

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Perimeter-Oriented Florida Struggling to Find Inside Consistency

Posted by David Changas on February 7th, 2018

In the era of advanced metrics and a discerning understanding of the importance of efficiency in college basketball, it seems unusual to contend that a team’s success is predicated on its ability to knock down the three. But with this year’s Florida team, that belief is an appropriate one. After the Gators’ third consecutive SEC loss on Saturday – a 68-50 drubbing at the hands of Alabama – it is all too apparent that Florida’s inconsistency on the offensive end is the corresponding reason for its overall inconsistency. The Crimson Tide outscored Florida 41-17 in the second half in what was the Gators’ second straight conference loss at home and whopping fifth overall in Gainesville. Remember when they were ranked as high as sixth in the AP poll earlier this season?

Rice transfer Egor Koulechov has been great for Florida, but a limited inside game may limit the Gators’ postseason prospects. (Alan Alvarez/Alligator Sports)

A common theme in each of Florida’s eight defeats has been its inability to knock down the perimeter jumper. The Gators are shooting 29.5 percent from beyond the arc in those losses while they are at 41.9 percent in their 15 wins. In other words, when things are going well for Florida, they go really well. But when those outside shots are not falling, ugly and somewhat inexplicable ones – such as Saturday’s beatdown, as well as home losses to Loyola (Chicago) and South Carolina – occur. This significant disparity from three-point range has led to an overall effective field goal percentage of 50.9 percent, which ranks 171st in the nation. While the ability to make shots and score in bunches will still make the Gators a dangerous team in March, it also puts them at significant risk of being an early out in postseason play.

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Five Trends to Track During a Big Week in the Big Ten

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 7th, 2018

Ohio State vs. Purdue and Maryland vs. Penn State tonight. Purdue vs. Michigan State on Saturday. Several potential bubble-busters in between. Needless to say, it’s a big week in the Big Ten. Let’s take a look at a few quietly-important trends worth keeping an eye on.

Purdue’s defense has been mediocre in recent weeks. (Anthony Souffle – Purdue Exponent)

  • Purdue’s Struggling Defense. Just because because the Boilermakers own the nation’s longest winning streak of 18 games doesn’t mean all is rosy in West Lafayette. After holding 12 of its previous 14 opponents to less than one point per possession, Purdue has recently allowed five straight opponents to exceed that mark — including Rutgers, which scored 1.17 PPP in a near-upset of the Boilermakers on Saturday. In just a few weeks, Purdue has dropped from fifth nationally in defensive efficiency to 15th, a slump that’s coincided with four straight games decided by fewer than 10 points. Purdue won all four, of course, but when you consider that 10 of its previous 11 victories were absolute blowouts, you begin to understand why it’s worth pointing out. Matt Painter’s group has looked visibly less active in guarding the perimeter over that stretch, and part of the problem may also be rim protection: shot-blocking maven Matt Haarms has only swatted six shots since January 20, his lowest five-game stretch of output this season. It will be interesting to observe how the Boilers fare against Keita Bates-Diop in tonight’s big showdown with Ohio State.
  • Michigan State’s Troubling Late-Game Execution. On January 22, Michigan State led Illinois by 18 points with 4:29 left, only to see the Illini cut the lead to eight in a matter of three minutes. Against Penn State last week, a 15-point lead with 1:09 to play shriveled to six — and nearly three — in just 30 seconds. Up 10 at Indiana on Saturday night, Michigan State mustered just three field goals in the game’s final 12 minutes, giving the Hoosiers a chance to tie it at the buzzer. Part of Sparty’s problem has been shear boneheadedness, like Miles Bridges’ and-1 foul of Devonte Green in the closing seconds against Indiana. But these late-game struggles also shed light on a broader weakness: the Spartans are simply less productive and more turnover-prone in the half-court, where their offense has often lacked rhythm. It wasn’t an issue in Tuesday night’s scare at Iowa, but it could be against Purdue on Saturday.

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Has St. John’s Figured Out an Offense?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 6th, 2018

Make no mistake about it, the St. John’s offense is average at best. Its 1.06 points per possession (160th nationally) showing is propped up by decent free throw shooting and a remarkably low turnover rate, but nothing else from three-point shooting to scoring inside to rebounding, is commensurate with the team’s preseason expectations. So while the Red Storm’s stout interior defense and the scoring antics of sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds (20.3 PPG) have kept St. John’s competitive, an 0-11 Big East record tells the full story of its shortcomings.

Shamorie Ponds Lit Up Duke Over the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coming off a string of four paltry offensive performances in which the team averaged 0.88 points per possession, expectations were understandably low when Duke arrived in New York City on Saturday. Yet, despite a 10 percent implied win probability (per KenPom) and a projected scoring output of 73 points, Chris Mullin‘s group at one point commanded an 11-point second half lead on its way to 81 points and a four-point win. All told, St. John’s hung 1.19 points per possession on the Blue Devils, its second-best effort of the season. Yes, Duke’s defense leaves much to be desired, but it grades out at similar levels as Xavier, Creighton and Georgetown, all of which the Red Storm struggled against (averaging 0.98 PPP).

So, what changed? Was Saturday’s performance a fluke or did St. John’s flip a switch on the offensive end? The answer is probably a mixture of both. For one thing, while a 33-point scoring outburst from Ponds has happened numerous times this season, a more-than-50 percent variance from his average cannot be consistently counted upon. Second, a 47.1 percent outside shooting performance from a team that has connected on just 32.7 percent of its three-pointers is unlikely to be replicated. Looking at game film, however, shows that St. John’s found continued success in pick-and-roll sets. Those sets are the reason Ponds seemingly got to the rim at will, why Justin Simon notched seven assists, and why junior forward Tariq Owens accumulated 17 points.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.05.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 5th, 2018

It may have been Super Bowl weekend everywhere else, but it was a Super Saturday for ACC teams on the road this weekend. The two Florida schools picked up a pair of key wins away from home, as Miami took out Virginia Tech and Florida State avenged an earlier loss to Louisville. League leader Virginia had no problem at Syracuse and Clemson moved into second place in the conference standings by virtue of its road triumph over Wake Forest. But life on the road was not nearly as enjoyable for Duke as the Blue Devils fell to Big East cellar-dweller St. John’s in Madison Square Garden — a performance that head coach Mike Krzyzewski described as “disgusting.” Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Trent Forrest led Florida State down the stretch in the Seminoles huge road win at Louisville on Saturday. (Jamie Rhodes – USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: In early January, Louisville went to Tallahassee and came away with an impressive four-point win over Florida State. The Seminoles on Saturday returned the favor with an 80-76 victory in Louisville. As usual, Florida State got key contributions from several sources, with six Seminoles ultimately scoring in double-figures. A huge defensive key for Leonard Hamilton‘s squad was an abnormally impressive performance on the glass. Coming into the game ranked 267th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, Florida State held a decisive 33-6 edge in that category. The Seminoles, at one time just 1-3 in ACC play, have since won five of seven games to get back over .500. Florida State will have another opportunity for a resume-booster on Wednesday when unbeaten Virginia visits Tallahassee.

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ACC Weekend Preview: February 3

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 3rd, 2018

While all eyes will be on Minneapolis tomorrow, the ACC gives us some important action for its bubble teams today. (All rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 3

Are the Pack Back? (USA Today Images)

  • Notre Dame (#35) at NC State (#65). The Wolfpack are riding high (as our Matt Auerbach outlined this week) after their huge overtime win in Chapel Hill last weekend. If NC State hopes to snag an eventual NCAA Tournament bid, it still needs to pick things up on the defensive end. In nine ACC games, Kevin Keatts’ defense is allowing teams to shoot a healthy 49.2 percent from the field, the worst such mark in the conference. In fact, NC State does not have a single rotation player with a Defensive Rating below 108.0. It’s uncertain whether the Wolfpack will be able to fix this issue, especially given that the cause of it is also what has made them so effective offensively this year. First, the blossoming of Omer Yurtseven into an offensive star has resulted in more minutes, but he is hopeless when pulled away from the basket and forced to guard in space. Secondly, Keatts has been playing two of his three smaller guards (Braxton Beverly, Markell Johnson and Lavarr Batts, Jr.) on the floor together. This leads to defensive mismatches, specifically against the less-physical Beverly. It will be interesting to see how the Pack perform against a Notre Dame team that will be deliberate and wants to limit possessions without injured star Bonzie Colson.
  • Miami (#32) at Virginia Tech (#39). The Hokies have won three straight games to surge back into the NCAA Tournament discussion. The key all season for Buzz Williams’ team has been making threes, and his guys have gotten their shooting stroke back lately. During this three-game winning streak, Virginia Tech is making 42.2 percent from long-range and nailing nearly 13 threes per game. In their eight prior games, the Hokies made just 30.4 percent from distance and correspondingly went 4-4. They’ll look to stay hot against Miami, who will be without star Bruce Brown for the foreseeable future. The match-up to look for  in this game is down low — can Miami’s Dewan Huell (116.6 ORtg, 54.8% eFG) get the offensively-challenged Hurricanes some easy baskets against a Virginia Tech front line that only features Kerry Blackshear?

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Friday Figures: WVU’s True Problem, Mo Bamba’s Crazy Block Rate, More…

Posted by Chris Stone on February 2nd, 2018

Friday Figures is back after a brief hiatus to run down some of the most interesting statistics from the Big 12 conference. This week we’ll focus on West Virginia’s recent struggles, Keenan Evans’ outlier season and Mo Bamba’s soon-to-be record setting rim-protection.

West Virginia’s shot volume problem. Way back in November, this column made reference to the importance of shot volume for the Mountaineers. Simply put, Bob Huggins‘ squad shores up its lack of shot-making by taking more true shot attempts [FGAs + (0.44*FTAs)] than its opponents. Over the last three-plus seasons of the Press Virginia era, tracking the difference in true shot attempts for the Mountaineers and their opponents has become a seemingly reliable indicator for success. Take 12 or more than the opponent (demarcated by the grey line below) and West Virginia wins nearly 90 percent of the time. Dip below that number and it’s just 43 percent.

Source: Sports-Reference

Offensive rebounds and opponents’ turnovers are critical to creating the differential, but they’ve dipped below that magic number in all five of the team’s recent losses. Why? Iowa State, Kansas, TCU and Texas Tech all protected the ball. Those four games represent the lowest opponent turnover rates for West Virginia’s foes this season. Kentucky, meanwhile, rebounded 55.3 percent of its own misses, creating plenty of true shooting attempts of its own. If the Mountaineers are going to get right over the next six weeks, this is the issue they need to figure out.

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The Drive for Five: What Lies Ahead for the Big Ten Bubble Dwellers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 2nd, 2018

The Big Ten has put at least five teams in the NCAA Tournament in every season since 2008, four years before the league expanded to 12 schools and seven years before it expanded to 14. In fact, you’d have to go back to the pre-Rutgers era (2013-14) to reach the last time the conference sent fewer than seven teams to the Big Dance. That will almost certainly change this season. According to Bracket Matrix, only three of 68 recently-updated bracket projections have more than four Big Ten schools in the NCAA Tournament. The fact is, outside of Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan, the league’s bubble hopefuls still have considerable work to do before earning serious consideration. With February now upon us, let’s examine which teams still have a shot and what they’ll need to do in order to punch a ticket.

It’s been all smiles for Nebraska lately. But will the Huskers go dancing? (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Nebraska (17-8, 8-4) RPI: 57 | KenPom: 56. Nebraska turned a nine-point second-half deficit at Wisconsin on Monday into a runaway 11-point win, the type of season-saving — perhaps season-defining — win its fans won’t soon forget. The Huskers have no RPI sub-150 losses to their name, but also don’t have much to speak of in the “good win” category. Outside of its home win over Michigan, Nebraska is winless against the RPI top 50. With four of their final six games at home — including contests against fellow NCAA Tournament hopefuls Maryland and Penn State — the Huskers will probably need to hold court and avoid a road loss at Illinois on February 18. Even then, at least one quality Big Ten Tournament win (think Michigan or Ohio State) might be necessary for Tim Miles’ group to feel good heading into Selection Sunday. Considering how well James Palmer Jr. and Isaac Copeland have played in recent weeks, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

  • RPI Top 50 Wins: vs. Michigan
  • RPI Sub 150 Losses: None
  • Opportunities Left: vs. Maryland (February 13); vs. Penn State (February 25)

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Pac-12 Needs the Two Cs to Recover

Posted by RJ Abeytia on February 1st, 2018

The Pac-12 is struggling. About that there can be no doubt. The conference has no teams in the top 10 in the RPI and only two among the top 40 (#16 Arizona, #37 USC). Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of bracketology holds those two teams plus Arizona State in his field of 68, with only Washington landing among the first four out. Jeff Sagarin ranks the conference sixth overall with only (again) the Wildcats and Trojans cracking his top 40. Nothing amazing is going to happen in February to salvage the league this year. The question is whether there are any signs of daylight cracking through the wall of despair the league has built between it and the upcoming NCAA Tournament. First, let’s look to youth. A quick scan of the PER leaders among freshmen shows a pretty impressive group of players.

Player School
DeAndre Ayton Arizona
Kenny Wooten Washington
Romello White Arizona State
Jalen Nowell Washington
McKinley Wright IV Colorado
Donnie Tillman Utah
Justice Sueing California
Kris Wilkes UCLA
Remy Martin Arizona State
Troy Brown Oregon

 

Now, this list does not encapsulate the entirety of elite freshman talent in the Pac. Stanford alone has Daejon Davis, who has already won a Pac-12 Player of the Week award, and KZ Okpala, who despite not playing until the final non-conference game is already garnering calls to the Cardinal offices from NBA scouts. Speaking of Players of the Week, Arizona’s Dusan Ristic and Utah’s Justin Bibbins just ended a three-week stretch from the new year onward when a freshman was the conference player of the week. The most intriguing part of this list is that, aside from Ayton, there isn’t a surefire NBA lottery pick in the group. That’s not to say there isn’t NBA talent on that list or elsewhere across the league. It’s to say instead that, aside from Ayton, most of this group should be back for at least one more season. That certainly matters, because Ayton’s ongoing brilliance isn’t going to single-handedly bring the conference back to glory.

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Take Me Home, Country Woes…

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 1st, 2018

Who knew that John Denver could predict the future? Fine, so West Virginia basketball probably wasn’t on the forefront of the late country star’s mind when he wrote his 1971 hit, but the title nonetheless aptly sums up the Mountaineers’ January performance. Bob Huggins‘ team had an absolutely dreadful month, illustrated by a 1-3 mark away from WVU Coliseum and punctuated by last night’s 93-77 defeat to eighth-place Iowa State — a loss as surprising as it was debilitating for West Virginia’s regular season Big 12 title chances. Throw in a second second-half meltdown against Kansas in as many years, and just like that, the team’s hopes of giving the conference a new champion for the first time in 14 years are dead and buried.

A 1-5 skid has Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers searching for answers. (Richard W. Rodriguez/AP)

We can point to a few factors when diagnosing the current skid. The first is a smattering of blown second-half leads. The Mountaineers held such advantages in their games against Texas Tech, Kansas and Kentucky, but let all three opponents overtake them and grab hold of the victory. On one hand, the abundance of high-quality competition in the Big 12 means that top teams aren’t fazed by their peers in any location, but on the other hand, perhaps the biggest distinction between the program that has a seemingly generational lock on the conference title and those that do not is a keen ability to close games out. A dip in effectiveness in West Virginia’s vaunted press has also betrayed the team, as the Mountaineers’ last six opponents have each posted turnover rates below the season-average 25.4 percent clip. As we saw against Kansas, when West Virginia’s opponents avoid mistakes, not only does their shot volume increase but the Mountaineers fail to score in transition. This correspondingly forces them to rely on their half-court offense, which has never been a particular strength.

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