ACC Weekend Review: 02.12.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 12th, 2018

It was another exciting Saturday of ACC hoops over the weekend, with the highlight being the biggest upset of the conference season as Virginia Tech handed Virginia its first conference loss in Charlottesville. In other action, North Carolina backed up last week’s impressive victory over Duke by winning a shootout over N.C. State in Raleigh, Notre Dame blitzed Florida State in South Bend, and Boston College rallied late to stun Miami. On Sunday night, Duke ended its two-game losing streak by handling Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Justin Robinson celebrates Virginia Tech’s big upset win over Virginia on Saturday night. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

  • Best Win: Few gave Virginia Tech much of a chance to knock off Virginia in John Paul Jones Arena after suffering a humiliating 26-point home loss to the Cavaliers in early January. But this time around, Buzz Williams‘ team was ready from the opening tip — the Hokies led by seven at the half and held the lead for most of the second half. After the Cavaliers rallied to force overtime it appeared that Tony Bennett’s squad would stay unbeaten, but Virginia Tech didn’t quit in pulling off the 61-60 stunner. In a sense, the Hokies beat Virginia at its own game – finishing with a 20-14 edge in points in the paint and holding Virginia to a paltry 34.4 percent shooting from the floor. Point guard Justin Robinson led the way with a game-high 20 points and seven assists as Virginia Tech picked up a huge NCAA Tournament resume-booster.

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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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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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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 1st, 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 consider which particular game statistics have the most influence on winning 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 Tuesday, January 30.

Current Standings

Virginia’s big win at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday solidified the Cavaliers’ stranglehold at the top of the ACC standings. Tony Bennett‘s team now owns the league’s sixth-best offense to go along with the nation’s best defense  — the Cavaliers’ ACC defensive points per possession is an impressive 0.12 points better than next-place Louisville. Incredibly, that gap of 0.12 points is larger than the one between the Cardinals and 10th place Wake Forest. The numbers also reveal that Clemson’s record is quite a bit better than its point per possession margin (PPM) indicates. The main reason for this is that Brad Brownell‘s squad suddenly figured out how to win close games. After years of struggling to finish in the clutch, the Tigers are an impressive 4-1 this season in ACC contests decided by five points or fewer (or in overtime).

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 25th, 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 will look at the upcoming heavyweight match-up between Duke‘s potent offense and Virginia‘s stingy defensive unit. 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 Tuesday, January 23.

Current Standings

Virginia continues to steamroll through the ACC in dominant fashion. Since its one-point win over Boston College in their conference opener, the Cavaliers have pummeled seven straight ACC opponents by an average score of 66-49. The always effective pack-line defense reached a new level of excellence on Tuesday night when Virginia held Clemson to a meager 0.58 points per possession in a suffocating 61-36 win. At this point in the conference schedule, one extreme result can have a huge impact on the points per possession margin (PPM) rankings. For example, if we remove Notre Dame’s 88-58 blowout of N.C. State from the data set, the Irish (-.03) and Wolfpack (-.04) would have almost identical PPM during league play. The huge margin of victory in that single game is really the only thing that prevents almost perfect alignment between the current ACC standings and the PPM rankings.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.23.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 23rd, 2018

It was a good weekend for traveling ACC teams from the Sunshine State as both Florida State and Miami picked up a couple key road wins. On Saturday, the Seminoles raced past Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the next day the Hurricanes held off NC State in Raleigh. In other league action, Virginia (6-0) maintained its unbeaten mark and conference lead by taking care of Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Sunday evening, while Louisville (5-1) remains right behind the Cavaliers after defeating Boston College on Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Sophomore M.J. Walker came off the bench to lead Florida State past Virginia Tech in a tough home loss for the Hokies on Saturday. (Michael Shroyer/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Jim Larranaga‘s team was in clear need of a big ACC win and the Hurricanes got it by taking down a surging NC State team in Raleigh on Sunday. Miami leveraged its best offensive performance in league play to date (1.23 points per possession) in beating the Wolfpack, getting particularly hot from the perimeter (10-of-19 3FG) and snapping NC State’s three-game home winning streak.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 18th, 2018

With approximately one-third 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 initially 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 Tuesday, January 16.

Current Standings

Boasting a large lead in points per possession margin (PPM) to go along with an undefeated record, Virginia clearly looks like the ACC’s top squad to date. And what is it with Josh Pastner? For the second consecutive year, Georgia Tech is off to a surprisingly good start in league play after a woeful non-conference performance. It isn’t odd to see some striking differences in win-loss records versus PPM performances this early in conference play, but that is not the case so far this year — the current PPM numbers match up pretty well with existing ACC standings.

Advanced Stat of the Week: 3FG% Defense

One of the things we like to look at early in league play is to identify which teams have experienced both good and bad fortune with their opponents’ performance. A useful metric for this is opponents’ three-point field goal percentage. Although defenses have some role to play in limiting wide-open looks, it is the offense that for the most part controls accuracy from deep. So when a team’s opponents are hitting threes at an extremely high or low rate over a small sample size, we can expect a regression to the mean to occur down the line. With this in mind, expect Virginia Tech’s defense to look better once its opponents cool down from three-point land, much like Duke’s defense has correspondingly improved lately. In their first three ACC contests (two losses), the Blue Devils were blitzed from deep to the tune of a combined 48.6 percent. But during its current three-game winning streak, Duke’s opponents have made just 32.9 percent from long-range. Likewise, expect Virginia’s vaunted defense to look a bit more vulnerable once the other side sinks a few more threes against them.

As a whole, the ACC is attempting more three-pointers than ever (37.1% 3FG rate in ACC play), but making fewer of them than a year ago. After a record-setting accuracy rate of 37.2 percent in 2017, the league is sinking 35.4 percent of its deep tries this conference season. That number is almost identical to the NCAA average of 35.1 percent nationally, so we should expect the ACC’s success rate from deep to remain pretty close to its current pace while individual team defensive three-point percentage normalizes.

Future Forecast

The above table shows predicted order of finish with final regular season records based on KenPom’s current win probabilities for each team. Also included are a few comparative rankings that are mentioned frequently when evaluating NCAA Tournament potential, as well as projections from two bracketology experts — ESPN‘s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports‘ Jerry Palm. Note that while they project the field as if it was to be named tomorrow, we make our projections based on the final KenPom projected records.

It’s clear that the ACC is not as strong at the top as it was a year ago when the league offered six schools that were seeded #5 or higher. Interestingly, the ACC looks particularly strong in the RPI and normally that results in being awarded seeds that appear higher than deserved — using computer power ratings and opinion poll rankings. But with the Selection Committee’s stated desire to modernize its criteria for selection and seeding, will high RPI metrics still drive its decision-making? If the RPI’s influence is in fact lessened this year, it could hurt the NCAA’s chances for the bulging middle of the ACC — the five schools projected with either eight or nine wins.

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A Quick Whip Around the ACC

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on January 16th, 2018

The real-time eulogies for Duke on Monday night at Miami (FL) were erased as quickly as they were written. The consensus preseason favorite shrugged off a listless opening 12 minutes of the second half, saving its energy for a scintillating four-plus minute stretch of 18 straight points, swinging the margin from down 13 points and in trouble to up five and in control. While just a snapshot on a canvas of maddening inconsistency, what Monday’s game-changing run proved, once again, is that Duke’s best is still better than anyone else’s. The Blue Devils’ intoxicating freshman class was on full display during the surge, most notably the pure shooting stroke of Gary Trent, Jr. The 6’6” shooting guard knocked down a trio of triples during the decisive run, on his way to a career-high 30-point evening. Wendell Carter, Jr. added 15 points, 14 boards and four blocks; Marvin Bagley contributed a quiet 13 points and 12 rebounds; and point guard Trevon Duval (17 points; eight assists) navigated Miami’s generally stingy defense like a seasoned veteran. The issues with this team remain legitimate: its man-to-man defense is an atrocity (its zone, however, stagnated Miami and helped to swing the game) and Grayson Allen’s needs to find his stroke, but the height of the Blue Devils’ ceiling with all cylinders firing re-entered our collective consciousness last night.

Duke’s Comeback Kids Did It Again Last Night (USA Today Images)

Left for dead in the wake of the manhandling Kentucky put on the Cardinals to close out 2017, Louisville has recovered nicely from that 30-point defeat in Rupp Arena. After splitting a pair of games with Pittsburgh and Clemson, the Cardinals then halted Florida State’s 28-game home winning streak in Tallahassee with a second half comeback victory that nobody saw coming. Next, David Padgett’s team followed that up with an impressive 94-86 home win over Virginia Tech, featuring 13 three-point field goals from a team that typically doesn’t shoot or make many. While Deng Adel’s career-high 27 points was the most notable performance, sophomore Ryan McMahon’s contributions of 21 points in the pair of victories seemed to inject some life into a bench that has been noticeably devoid of offensive spark. It was convenient and perhaps even justified to dismiss Louisville as an ACC or national contender given the backdrop of an ongoing FBI investigation and the loss of its Hall of Fame head coach. But with only an overtime road loss to Clemson keeping the Cards from sitting atop the league standings, now is the time to remember that this roster was always considered NCAA Tournament second weekend good.

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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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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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