ACC Weekend Review: 01.15.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 15th, 2018

There were several exciting games in the ACC on Saturday, capped by North Carolina’s last-second survival in South Bend against a determined if undermanned Notre Dame squad. Earlier in the day, Florida State topped Syracuse in a two-overtime thriller in Tallahassee; Louisville beat Virginia Tech in a shootout; and Clemson took over late to outlast Miami. On Sunday night, Virginia handled NC State, leaving the Cavaliers as the lone remaining undefeated team in ACC play. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Donte Grantham leads the cheers in Clemson’s win over Miami.

  • Best Win: In the only ACC game of the weekend involving two ranked teams, Clemson broke open a close second half to topple Miami in Littlejohn Coliseum, 72-63. The Hurricanes have the seventh-best defense in the land according to KenPom‘s efficiency rankings, but thanks in large part to a 12-of-21 performance from three-point land, Clemson converted a robust 1.17 points per possession against Miami. Senior Donte Grantham led a balanced Tigers’ attack with 18 points, connecting on all four of his shots from deep, including a last-minute dagger that put the game out of reach. Brad Brownell‘s team next plays at North Carolina on Tuesday night, where Clemson has never won (0-58).

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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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Close Games in the ACC: Part II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 10th, 2018

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

In the second installment of our analysis we will test several common theories regarding close games. We’ll first determine if having an experienced squad helps a team prevail in tight match-ups. Next, we’ll figure out how important coaching is to a team’s chances to come out on top in those close games. Finally, we’ll discover whether winning tight contests in fact does prepare a team for greater postseason success. Alas, we couldn’t figure out how to test for one of the most popular theories across ACC fandom – that biased officiating decides most of these games. For many ACC fan bases, the fact that Duke and North Carolina consistently win a majority of their close games is the only proof necessary that Blue Blood bias exists among the league’s officials. Given that aside, here are the theories that we could test.

Theory 1: Experienced Teams Win More Close Games

FINDING: Not True. To test this hypothesis, we assigned a seasonal experience rating to each ACC team over the past 11 seasons by using the national experience ranking from KenPom – which is derived from average player experience in years and adjusted by minutes played. For example, a team where seniors play every minute of every game all season long will have an experience rating of 3.0. In the above chart we have plotted the experience level of each ACC team along with how that team performed in games decided by fewer than seven points or in overtime – expressed as Net Close Wins in such contests, e.g., a team that played six two-possession games and won four of them would have +2 Net Wins. A trend line in the graph reveals that the experience level of ACC teams has little to no influence on the outcomes of close game. In fact, only six of the 11 most experienced squads in this analysis had a winning record in close games.

Theory 2: Coaching Matters in Close GamesFinding: True (Experience Over Reputation). In order to get a decent sample size for this analysis, we evaluated the six current ACC head coaches that have been in the league for the last six seasons. It’s interesting to compare these coaches’ actual results in close games with their reputations for in-game coaching acumen. It should come as no surprise that Hall of Famers Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams consistently win when late game execution decides the outcome. What may be surprising to some longtime ACC fans is that Williams is every bit Krzyzewski’s equal when it comes to winning close games. Even among a substantial portion of his own North Carolina fan base, Williams is not highly regarded as an in-game tactician. But regardless of whether it’s actual coaching decisions or player preparation that drives these results, the numbers certainly show that the Tar Heels’ leader is getting it done at crunch time just as well as his long-time rival over in Durham.

What may surprise some is that Williams is Krzyzewski’s equal when it comes to winning close games (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Two other coaches on this list exhibit close game results that are well-aligned with what their reputations would suggest. Miami’s Jim Larranaga is highly regarded in college basketball coaching circles, and, as expected, his teams have done very well in tight contests. Meanwhile, Clemson’s Brad Brownell has been on the ACC coaches’ hot seat list for the better part of the last half-decade in large part because of his inability to close out games in the final minutes. With respect to the remaining two coaches in the chart, their results are quite surprising. In fact, no other result in our entire analysis of close games was as eye-opening as the performances of Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton. Bennett is nationally well-respected and considered one of the brightest minds in coaching, but his Cavaliers have performed below average in close games. In fact, the tighter the contest, the less effective Virginia has been. Conversely, Hamilton has never been described as a late-game coaching wizard, yet his Seminoles have put together an incredibly impressive 16-3 record in nail-biters over the past six seasons. Maybe Hamilton’s calm sideline demeanor has a positive influence on his players at the end of games? The caveat in the data is that he’s not nearly as good at preventing his team from being blown out – an average of five losses each year by double-figures — while Bennett’s team has only lost by 10 or more points once per year.

It’s also important to point out that the four older coaches on the list are much more successful in close games than Bennett or Brownell. So while we didn’t see any advantage to having experienced players when the games are tight, it could be that experienced coaches make a difference.

Theory 3: Winning Close Games Prepares Teams for the Postseason

Finding: Not True. In the above table we divided all ACC teams over the past 11 years into three groups based on their performance in one-possession games. Since we’re only concerned with how these teams ultimately perform in the postseason, we removed the two teams that were ineligible for postseason play (2015 Syracuse and 2016 Louisville). That leaves us with a decent sample size of 142 teams. To measure postseason success, we looked at how each of these squads performed in the ACC Tournament compared with how their respective seed number would be expected to perform. The group in the middle that went .500 in close games performed almost exactly as expected in the postseason. But teams that had positive Net Wins of two or more did not meet seed expectations. Conversely, squads with negative Net Wins of two or more outperformed their expected tourney wins. There is a slight bias at work here because several #1 seeds fell into the top group and it is mathematically impossible for those teams to outperform expectations. However, even when those four teams are removed from the analysis, the average wins for that group versus expected only improve to -0.25.

This is admittedly not a huge data set so there is a distinct possibility of some random noise in these numbers. Still, there may be something else going on here. It’s obvious that there is some luck involved in winning games that are decided by one possession, so it’s also logical to assume that sometimes the final ACC regular season standings are skewed – teams can be seeded higher or lower than their actual ability because they were either very fortunate or very unlucky in close games. So while those teams may play to their actual ability in the ACC Tournament, it doesn’t necessarily correspond with how they were seeded

On Friday we will find the most extreme cases of ACC close game performance for a season since 2007 and see how those teams performed in the following season.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.08.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 8th, 2018

After the second full weekend of league action, three ACC teams have surged to the top of the standings with identical 3-0 records. Virginia handled North CarolinaClemson edged Louisville in overtime; and Notre Dame staged a frantic rally to overtake Syracuse. While the two ACC preseason favorites — Duke and North Carolina — have struggled to 1-2 records, their misfortune has given other teams an opportunity to make early claims to the league crown. On Sunday night, Miami defended its home court by defeating intrastate rival Florida State to cap off a wild weekend. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Duke suffered another road loss and court-rushing at NC State’s PNC Arena on Saturday night.
(Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Things were looking bleak for Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon. The Irish were without their two injured senior stars — Bonzie Colson (broken foot) and Matt Ferrell (sprained ankle) — and they came out ice cold early. But Mike Brey‘s team hung around as it always seems to do, pulling out the tough road win thanks to Rex Pflueger‘s putback basket moments before the final horn. The Irish won with defense and hustle, holding the Orange to 39.1 percent field goal shooting and capturing seven steals. Notre Dame also held a huge edge on the boards, including a +13 advantage in offensive rebounds. Considering all of the injuries he is dealing with, Brey has already emerged as a front-runner for ACC Coach of the Year honors.

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Close Games in the ACC: Part I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 8th, 2018

There’s no doubt that winning close games is pivotal to a team’s success. A few bounces here and there over the course of a 30-game season can mean the difference between a protected NCAA Tournament seed in your own backyard versus a Thursday morning start in somewhere like Spokane, Washington. With that in mind, we decided to dig into the historical data to test some theories concerning close game performance in the ACC. Some of the questions we considered include: Which schools perform the best when games go down to the wire? What are the common characteristics of teams that excel in such situations? Is it player experience that matters most or game-coaching expertise? Or is it just plain luck? Are teams that win most of their very close games better prepared for postseason play? We will also review some recent extreme team performances – both good and bad – in games decided by one to three possessions. Finally, we’ll determine if history helps us predict what will happen to the ACC squads that were either very good or extremely poor in close games last season. In today’s first installment of a three-part series, let’s tackle the historical component.

First of all, let’s look at the breakdown of victory margins in ACC regular season games over the last 11 years. As you can see in the above pie chart, approximately a quarter of all ACC league games are decided by a single possession or in overtime. And over half the time, the final margin is fewer than 10 points. This data makes it abundantly obvious that a team’s performance in so many tight affairs will have a huge impact on its placement in the conference standings. Which schools fare the best in all those tight games? Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2018

It was supposed to be a relatively boring first full weekend of ACC play as most of the league’s big dogs came into Saturday’s action as healthy home favorites. However, North Carolina and Duke each needed a late rally to vanquish Wake Forest and Florida State; Virginia held off a pesky Boston College team to win by a single point; and Notre Dame overcame a halftime deficit to beat Georgia Tech. On Sunday night, Syracuse closed out the weekend with an impressive home win over Virginia Tech. Here are the highlights from (the real) opening weekend around the ACC.

Freshman Oshae Brissett lead Syracuse to a big win at home over Virginia Tech on Sunday. (Mark Konezny – USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Defending your home floor is paramount for achieving success in conference play, and Syracuse did just that in taking care of Virginia Tech, 68-56, on Sunday night. The Orange used their famous zone defense to keep the high-powered Hokies in check. Virginia Tech entered the game as one of the highest scoring teams in college basketball, averaging over 90 points per outing, but Buzz Williams’ team was held to only 34.6 percent shooting in recording its lowest scoring output of the season. Freshman forward Oshae Brissett led the attack for Jim Boeheim’s squad with 19 points and a sterline 9-for-10 performance from the free throw line.

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Five Key Big Ten Takeaways From a Dreadful ACC Challenge Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2017

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was a wake-up call for the Big Ten, as the conference dropped 11 of the 14 contests, including five losses by more than 10 points. Its 3-11 mark represents the league’s worst record, by far, in the event’s 19-year year history. And while it’s only fair to judge a conference so much based on a single set of match-ups in November, there’s still reason to worry. Let’s examine a few of the most glaring takeaways, both good and bad, from the four-day drubbing.

Maryland’s loss at Syracuse was one of many for the Big Ten. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The “best of the rest” might not be so great. Michigan State and Purdue were pegged #1 and #2 in the Big Ten preseason media poll, and both took care of business this week. The Spartans knocked off their second-straight top-10 ACC opponent, while the Boilermakers used a crowd-fueled second-half surge to defeat #17 Louisville. As for the remaining “upper echelon” squads? The ACC/Big Ten Challenge did not go very well. Preseason #3 Minnesotashorthanded, to be sure — lost at home to Miami (FL), unable to keep big man Dewan Huell (23 points) and the Hurricane guards from carving them up on the pick-and-roll. Northwestern, picked fourth, mustered just 0.88 points per possession in a buzzer-beating loss at Georgia Tech. Michigan and Wisconsin were soundly defeated on the road against North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, while Maryland — just three days after losing to St. Bonaventure — fell at Syracuse. While one could simply blame the bulk of these losses on bad match-ups, that would be ignoring the fact that several of these programs were unknown quantities heading into the season. The Terps lost Melo Trimble to the pros; Wisconsin and Michigan each lost three of their top four scorers to graduation; Northwestern hasn’t finished among the top four of the Big Ten since 1968. This week’s results may be nothing more than a few bad match-ups playing out in the ACC’s favor; then again, they may also be indicative of Big Ten that is not quite as deep — or simply as good — as some expected. At the very least, the one-sided outcome could do lasting damage to the conference’s seeding profile come Selection Sunday.

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Preaching Patience With Louisville and David Padgett

Posted by Chris Hatfield on November 30th, 2017

In the blink of an eye — 48 hours, can be a long blink, right?– David Padgett went from the “tall guy” on the coaching staff to the head coach of one of the premier jobs in all of college basketball. The quickness with which Padgett was thrown into the role perhaps became most apparent on Tuesday night this week, when Louisville lost at Purdue, 66-57, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It was apparent in the sense that Louisville was bound to fail in the defining moments of the game — or maybe Padgett was. It represented the first time he was forced to make decisions in a hostile road environment. It was the first time he had to deal with significant foul trouble from his players. It was the first time he had to truly own the role of the head coach at the University of Louisville. He handled it all very well. There were things that could have gone differently, too. Still, an opportunity to learn on the fly needed to happen and a scenario where that learning ended in victory seemed impossible. This is life for the Louisville program after Rick Pitino: plenty of talent to make some noise this season with an equal number of reasons to fail to capitalize on it.

Louisville Fought Hard at Purdue But Came Up Just Short (USA Today Images)

Full disclosure: I walked into Mackey Arena expecting Louisville to get blown off the floor. That feeling was compounded when Padgett played a host of disoriented-looking freshmen during critical stretches. Instead, a few different bounces could have put the Cards in position to win the game. Still, the notion that Louisville is an above-average team with a sky-high ceiling wouldn’t dissipate. Its schedule to date has been weak (254th nationally), and Padgett’s team has failed to put together a full 40 minutes in all but one game (Southern Illinois). Luckily there is enough talent for the Cardinals to make expansive strides from now to March. Their performance at Purdue has already shown that they will be prepared in hostile environments, but the next step in that process will be about execution. Forthcoming match-ups against Seton Hall, Memphis and Kentucky in December will provide further evidence on how far Louisville has to go. Padgett welcomes the pressure and thinks those strides will be made. “It’s going to hurt. It should hurt. But I told our guys if you give me that kind of intensity and effort every night, we have a chance to be a special team.”

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 28th, 2017

Ten ACC schools saw action in early season tournaments over the last week-plus and the results of those games for conference teams were mixed. A shaky 5-7 start in the first five events caused some early concern, but those tournaments mostly involved lower-tier ACC clubs, and the results improved as the better teams took the court later in the week. Below we will review some Feast Week comparison statistics with the other six major basketball conferences (Power 5 plus the Big East and American) as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

The Big 12 solidified its position during Feast Week as the best and deepest conference in college basketball, taking home five tournament titles (remember, Kansas — the league’s best team — didn’t even participate), defined as neutral site victories in a winners-advance format. This restriction means that Virginia’s pair of wins in the NIT Season Tip-Off over Vanderbilt and Rhode Island count toward the ACC’s 15-10 overall record, but the Cavaliers’ home wins over Austin Peay and Monmouth do not. Also, games against non-Division I competition do not count either, so wins by Notre Dame and Michigan over Chaminade (as well as California’s loss to the Silverswords) are not included. Up next are some of the highs and lows involving ACC squads last week.

THE GOOD

Three Tournament Titles for ACC Teams. They are listed below.

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Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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