ACC Crashes the Sweet Sixteen Party in Unprecedented Way

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 23rd, 2016

The ACC has advanced a record six teams into the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament, giving the league an impressive total of 11 appearances in the second weekend over the last two years. Last year’s placement of five ACC teams in the regional semifinals was only the second time a conference had put that many teams there (Big East — 2009), but this year’s sextet marked a new record for postseason conference superiority. There has since understandably been much discussion on how to contextualize this year’s performance, and we’ll weigh in on that question while examining its meaningfulness for the conference as a whole.

The Biggest ACC Surprise is One of the Most Recognizable Names (USA Today Images)

The Biggest ACC Surprise is One of the Most Recognizable Names (USA Today Images)

The ACC has gone through two major expansions in the last dozen years, poaching schools from the Big East in each case. At least dating back to the early 1980s, those two leagues (often along with the Big Ten) have waged battle for the prestigious title of best conference in college basketball. The league’s first round of additions (Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College) in the mid-2000s were added for their prestigious football programs and lucrative television markets — the result was that the league’s status as first among basketball powers slumped. But the most recent ACC expansion north resulted in the acquisition of four good-to-great basketball programs. The arrivals of Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh sparked notions that the ACC could become the best basketball conference ever assembled. And so far, so good. After a shaky first year as a bulky 15-team league, the ACC has now logged two consecutive seasons of impressive postseason success. Two of the ACC’s six Sweet Sixteen participants this year are recent additions (Syracuse and Notre Dame), and a third newcomer, Louisville, would have certainly been a high seed had the Cardinals been eligible this year.

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Selection Sunday Outlook for ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 13th, 2016

A bunch of questions will be answered later this evening when the Selection Committee announces the 2016 NCAA Tournament field. From an ACC viewpoint, one of the big ones will be answered early in the Selection Show – did both league heavyweights (Virginia and North Carolina) earn #1 seeds? After the top seeds are announced and the rest of the bracket is revealed, ACC intrigue will shift towards the bubble, as Syracuse fans will be nervously watching to see if their team made the cut. With a special focus on those two situations, here’s a predictive peek at what Selection Sunday will hold for the ACC.

Who’s Number One?

Roy Williams and Tony Bennett each hopes they've earned a #1 Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

Roy Williams and Tony Bennett each hope that their teams have earned a #1 Seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. (Grant Halverson / Getty Images)

  • North Carolina (28-6) does not have the profile traditionally befitting  a #1 seed (5-5 versus the RPI top 50), but the Tar Heels may have earned it with its performance over the weekend in Washington, DC. They say that the committee ignores conference records in leagues with unbalanced schedules, so the Tar Heels’ claim of winning both the regular season and tournament championships in the ACC shouldn’t guarantee a top line spot (see: Miami’s #2 seed after winning both crowns in 2013). But if the eye test is brought into play (and how can it not be?), there may have been no team in the country that looked as deserving as Roy Williams’ group. With that small boost from the eye test, we think North Carolina has done enough to warrant the second or third #1 seed, which means the Tar Heels will be sent to the East Region. That would give them a path through Raleigh (First/Second rounds) followed by Philadelphia — the easiest possible road. The other contenders for top seeds in the East — Virginia and Villanova — both stumbled in conference tournament finals yesterday. North Carolina is now ahead of both of those teams in the pecking order for preferred locations.
  • Virginia (26-7) may have a resume better than any team in the country save Kansas. Despite an ACC Championship game loss to North Carolina, the Cavaliers have an impressive total of five wins over RPI top 10 teams. They have four losses to teams outside the RPI top 50, but all were close road defeats to conference foes. After the results of Saturday’s league championships, a reasonable ordering of #1 seed contenders might look like this: Kansas, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia. As the fourth #1 seed, Tony Bennett’s team would likely be sent to the South Region (Louisville regional), but that would remain the case only if Michigan State fails to win the Big Ten championship this afternoon. If the Spartans win today, we expect Virginia to end up as the South’s #2 seed, a possibility that could mean the Cavaliers are placed in the same region with Michigan State, their March nemesis — remember that Tom Izzo’s team has knocked Virginia out of the last two NCAA Tournaments. Either way, Virginia should be assured of joining North Carolina in Raleigh for the opening two rounds.

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ACC Tournament Takeaways: Wednesday Evening

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 10th, 2016

The evening session of Wednesday’s second round at the ACC Tournament featured four schools better known for their success on the gridiron than the hardwood — as a group, these four schools have claimed the last nine ACC football titles. Another thing they have in common is that they all showed up in the nation’s capital this week knowing that winning the tournament was the only way any would make the Big Dance. In the first game of the night, Clemson collapsed down the stretch in allowing Georgia Tech to rally and win, 88-85, in overtime. In the nightcap, Virginia Tech exploded for a 96-85 victory over Florida State in the only game of the day that didn’t come down to the last possession. Here are some quick takeaways for each of the teams that competed in the District on Wednesday night.

Marcus Georges-Hunt celebrates with forward Charles Mitchell after forcing overtime against the Clemson Tigers. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Marcus Georges-Hunt celebrates with forward Charles Mitchell after forcing overtime against the Clemson Tigers. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Georgia Tech (19-13)The Yellow Jackets appeared to be dead in the water in the second half before clawing their way back from an 18-point deficit and giving Brian Gregory the biggest comeback win of his coaching career. They were led by senior Marcus Georges-Hunt, who scored 28 points and made 15-of-16 free throws after the intermission. Georgia Tech now moves on to face #2 Virginia in Thursday’s quarterfinals, and the Yellow Jackets should feel confident heading into that matchup. After all, Gregory’s club has now won six of its last seven contests and it already owns a four-point home victory over the Cavaliers this season.

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ACC Tournament Takeaways: Wednesday Afternoon

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 9th, 2016

Things got off to a shaky start in the Verizon Center on Wednesday – numerous clock malfunctions caused several delays in the opening game’s first few minutes. But once we moved past the technical difficulties, there was an afternoon of thrilling rivalries awaiting at the ACC Tournament. In the day’s opener, it looked more like an old Big East Tournament game, as Pittsburgh beat Syracuse 72-71 in an exciting game that featured huge runs by each team. A matchup of two of the more traditional ACC programs followed for the second act, as Duke and Tobacco Road rival NC State staged an old fashioned shootout, which was eventually won by the Blue Devils, 92-89. Here are quick takeaways for each of the Wednesday afternoon combatants.

Cameron Johnson's 24 points off the bench sparked Pittsburgh to victory over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament. (Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports)

Cameron Johnson’s 24 points off the bench sparked Pittsburgh to victory over Syracuse in the ACC Tournament. (Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh (21-10): The Panthers completed the season sweep of Syracuse and should now feel good about their chances for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Jamie Dixon received great production from his bench today, particularly redshirt freshman Cameron Johnson, who hit four three-pointers and scored a career-high 24 points. Dixon has definitely cracked the code of the Boeheim zone, as he improved to 15-6 against the Orange in his 13 seasons on the Pitt sideline. Up next for the Panthers: top-seeded North Carolina, who handled Pittsburgh rather easily (85-64) in Chapel Hill in the only meeting between the two teams this year.

Syracuse (19-13)The Panthers seem to just have Syracuse’s number, as the Orange have now dropped five consecutive meetings with Jamie Dixon’s club. Syracuse did a better job keeping Pitt off the glass this afternoon than they have in the past; the Panthers grabbed just 12 offensive boards after allowing them to grab 49 percent of their misses in the two previous meetings. The Orange made six of their eight second half three-point attempts, but even that wasn’t enough to complete a frantic comeback. After dropping this game, the Orange fall to 9-10 against ACC competition for the year. A sub .500 conference mark is not necessarily a disqualifier from NCAA at-large consideration, but it does mean that Jim Boeheim’s squad will be sweating it out until the field is announced Sunday night. Their ultimate postseason fate is anyone’s guess.

Duke (23-9): The Blue Devils once again won with outstanding offense, despite allowing the Wolfpack to score nearly as freely as they did. Duke trailed 53-50 at the half in the 2nd highest combined first half score in ACC Tourney history. For the game, both teams shot over 50 percent from the floor. Turnovers were also scarce – Duke finished with just four, while NC State only gave the ball away six times. Looking ahead, we would expect Thursday afternoon’s Duke-Notre Dame quarter-final matchup to display similar levels of offensive efficiency. Neither squad is known for playing with defensive intensity, and they each possess offenses rated in KenPom’s national top 10. Mike Brey has had recent success against his coaching mentor Mike Krzyzewski, including a wild 95-91 Irish victory this year in Cameron Indoor.

NC State (16-17): The Wolfpack’s season comes to an end with a third close loss to Duke this year. Much like the first meeting between the two (Jan. 23 in Raleigh), NC State was on fire in the first half and refused not go away at any point, even when Duke appeared to be in solid control in the second half. Anthony “Cat” Barber capped off a tremendous junior season with 29 points and seven assists. As was often the case this year, Mark Gottfried’s club was just not good enough defensively this afternoon, as they allowed the Blue Devils to score 1.35 points per possession. The Wolfpack should be a deeper team next year – two of their most talented players are sitting out this year, and high profile recruit Dennis Smith will join the mix. The big offseason question is easy: Will Barber forgo an early pro career to join Smith in a super talented backcourt?

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ACC Tournament Takeaways: Tuesday Afternoon

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 9th, 2016

The ACC Tournament tipped off Championship Week for the major conferences on Tuesday afternoon with two opening round games in Washington, DC. The first game was extremely tight (with 15 ties and 16 lead changes) as N.C. State rode a hot shooting freshman to edge Wake Forest, 75-72. In the second game, as expected, Florida State easily dispatched Boston College, 88-66. Here are some quick takeaways for each of the ACC Tourney’s opening day participants.

Maverick Rowan hit six three-pointers to lead N.C. State past Wake Forest in First Round action at the ACC Tournament. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Maverick Rowan hit six three-pointers to lead N.C. State past Wake Forest in First Round action at the ACC Tournament. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

N.C. State (16-16)The last time the ACC Tournament was played in the DC area (2005), a hot shooting guard named J.J. Redick led Duke to the title. We couldn’t help but think of Redick’s performance when Wolfpack freshman Maverick Rowan torched the Demon Deacons down the stretch yesterday. With the game on the line in the last few minutes, Rowan nailed three consecutive threes in a two-minute stretch to give N.C. State enough of a cushion to hold off Wake Forest. Rowan finished with 24 points on 6-0f-13 shooting from three-point range, as Mark Gottfried’s team moved on to a third matchup with Duke this season. We like the Wolfpack’s chances against a Duke team that has looked somewhat worn down lately, especially with a confident sharpshooter like Rowan around to help Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber in the scoring column.

Wake Forest (11-20)Some of the same old problems cropped up for Danny Manning‘s club on Tuesday afternoon. The Deacons were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers), squandered numerous opportunities at the foul line (14-of-21 FT), and couldn’t get defensive stops when they needed them. Manning’s disappointing second season in Winston-Salem started with great promise that included non-conference wins over Indiana (the Big Ten champions), UCLA, LSU and Arkansas. But Wake Forest never seemed to recover from a late January gut-wrenching meltdown versus Virginia, losing 17 of its last 19 games.

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2016 ACC Tournament Preview

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 8th, 2016

After 10 consecutive years of southern hospitality, the ACC Tournament moves north to Washington, D.C., for a year before heading even farther up the east coast to Brooklyn in 2017 and 2018. This will mark the fifth time the ACC Tournament has been held in the DC area, and the first time back there since 2005. In a bit of a public gaffe, the league’s marketing office apparently used the wrong dome in a stock photo advertising for the tournament. Let’s hope that’s the only embarrassment that the league suffers this week. As we move into day one of the tournament, here’s a preview of a few things we expect to occur.

20160222191642_page_header_2016_mbbt_jpg

Here’s a printable version of the Bracket: 2016 ACC Tournament

And The Winner Is: According to KenPom, there’s a 66 percent chance that one of the league’s two highest-rated teams (#2 Virginia and #1 North Carolina) wins the ACC crown this week. We agree that those are the two teams to beat, with the Cavaliers earning a slight edge over the Tar Heels. Led by newly-minted ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, the Cavaliers have been the league’s best team during the second half of conference play. North Carolina is certainly capable of beating any team in Washington, but we are a little leery of the Tar Heels’ tendency toward inconsistent shooting.

Dark Horse With a Chance: It would be a massive surprise if #4 Notre Dame repeats its historic run in Greensboro from last year, but there is a distinct possibility that this season’s bracket could break in favor of the Fighting Irish. It’s unlikely that Mike Brey’s squad will win the ACC title, but it could make a run to the championship game on Saturday. Could the 2016 ACC Tournament feature a narrative similar to that of 1976, the first time the league held its championship in the D.C. area? Virginia, the #6 seed, beat three higher-seeded teams on its way to the program’s first-ever ACC title. The Cavaliers were led by ACC Tournament MVP Wally Walker, who was supposedly motivated by a perceived snub by a media corps that neglected to vote him on to the all-ACC First Team that year. Many observers thought Notre Dame point guard Demetrius Jackson would be an all-ACC First Teamer when the league announced its current season awards on Sunday, but the outstanding junior ended up as a Second Team selection. It would not shock anyone if Jackson is out to prove a point this week.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII – Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2016

Here is the final edition of our weekly look at the ACC standings and team performances, where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. This week we also examine how each ACC team performed on the road compared with its home performances, and we take a final stab at predicting postseason placement for all of the eligible ACC schools.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 5.

Current StandingsACCStand-Mar7

North Carolina and Virginia were pegged in the preseason as the two best teams in the ACC and that’s exactly how it turned out. Each team went through a tough stretch of games — Virginia began conference play with a 2-3 record while North Carolina was 4-4 in the month of February, but the Tar Heels and Cavaliers will enter the ACC Tournament as the clear co-favorites based on efficiency margins and seeding. Speaking of that, both teams are also still in the hunt for #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament along with favorable opening weekend placement in friendly Raleigh.

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.07.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 7th, 2016

The ACC regular season came to an end on Saturday, and despite persistent congestion at the top of the league standings for much of the campaign, we finished with an outright champion as North Carolina claimed its first regular season conference title since 2012. The Tar Heels collected this year’s title in a similar fashion to how they did so that season, beating archrival Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium after suffering an earlier crushing home loss to the Blue Devils. Miami was not able to tie the Tar Heels for the league’s top spot because of another poor showing on the road — this time at the hands of surging Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. Virginia also easily handled Louisville for the second time this season. The Cavaliers (now ranked #1 in KenPom) are perhaps the favorite to win the upcoming ACC Tournament in Washington, D.C. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the league.

Brice Johnson slams home two of his 18 points as North Carolina dominated Duke in the paint. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

Brice Johnson slams home two of his 18 points to help North Carolina dominate Duke in the paint. (Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: There was a lot at stake for North Carolina in its annual season-ending meeting with Duke. Not only were the Tar Heels playing their archrival for a regular season crown and a potential #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Roy Williams’ team was also playing to prove its toughness against good competition — something this squad has struggled with. The game certainly wasn’t pretty (both teams shot less than 40 percent from the field), but North Carolina finally got over the hump to notch the big win (Duke had won 11 of their 14 previous meetings). To say that the Tar Heels dominated the glass would be a gross understatement. Led by Brice Johnson’s 21 boards, North Carolina held an incredible +35 edge in that category. Duke never led but managed to stay close by making 13 threes and committing eight fewer turnovers. The Tar Heels iced the game by going 8-of-8 from the foul line in the last 30 seconds of play. Saturday’s outcome continued an interesting recent trend in this rivalry. Over the last 14 seasons, Duke and North Carolina have split their regular season games eight times. On seven of those occasions, the Tar Heels claimed the season finale.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 4th, 2016

Here is the latest edition of our weekly look at the current ACC standings and team performances, where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. Each week we delve into the advanced metrics to find a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. With the season winding down, we’ll look at which ACC schools are getting hot as the postseason beckons. We’ll also forecast how the final standings may look (this will be easier now than ever!) and what it means for each ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, March 2nd.

Current StandingsACCStand-Mar2

With just seven games left to play in the ACC regular season (all on Saturday), these numbers shouldn’t change much. As you’ll notice, efficiency margin and win-loss record correlate as strongly as you would imagine. No team with a losing record has a positive efficiency margin, although one team over .500 in the standings does have a deficit in points per possession. Virginia Tech has achieved its winning mark in the ACC despite being outscored by 0.03 points per possession. The Hokies have pulled off this neat trick by winning the close ones in Cassell Coliseum – Virginia Tech is 4-0 in home games decided by three points or less or in overtime. With his team picked to finish 14th in the league in the preseason, Buzz Williams is rightfully garnering support as a potential ACC Coach of the Year. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 1st, 2016

It was tough sledding on the road for four ranked ACC teams this weekend. In Saturday’s premier match-up, Virginia led most of the way and knocked off league leader North Carolina in Charlottesville. The outcome was not a big surprise, but we didn’t expect the Cavaliers to win the way they did — Virginia usually keeps the score in the 60s when it is most successful. Also on Saturday, Miami broke open a close game late to beat visiting Louisville, and Notre Dame was hammered on the road against Florida State. Pittsburgh captured a huge resume-building win against Duke at the Peterson Events Center on Sunday, and while most experts already projected Pittsburgh into the Big Dance, the one thing missing for Jamie Dixon’s squad was a signature win. Consider that box checked now. Here are some of the highlights from a busy weekend around the ACC.

Malcolm Brogdon made a strong case to be ACC Player-of-the-Year in Virginia's win over North Carolina. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

Malcolm Brogdon made a strong case to be ACC Player-of-the-Year in Virginia’s win over North Carolina. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

  • Best Win: We had been anxiously waiting on the only meeting between the two preseason league favorites all season, and we weren’t disappointed. Virginia led most of the way but North Carolina stayed within striking distance due to some surprisingly hot shooting from deep (9-of-19 on threes). In the end, however, it was Virginia’s offense that was the difference (the Cavaliers scored 1.20 points per possession), representing its second-best output and the highest allowed by North Carolina in conference play. Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon may now be the front-runner for ACC Player of the Year after scoring 26 points and grabbing six boards while Brice Johnson only managed 12 points and five turnovers. Much of the credit for the Tar Heel star’s subpar performance goes to Virginia’s Anthony Gill, who was the primary defender on him for much of the night.

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