ACC Weekend Preview: February 10-11

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 10th, 2018

After what was a very entertaining week of ACC hoops, the weekend slows somewhat before we really hit the stretch run of the 2017-18 season. One ACC team looks to reach #1 in the polls for the first time in a generation this weekend; another title contender tries to piece its defense together; and “Don’t Call It a Rivalry!” is live from Raleigh. (All rankings are via KenPom.)

Saturday, February 10

Two weeks ago the Wolfpack Shocked the Heels in Chapel Hill (USA Today Images)

  • North Carolina (#12) at NC State (#61). When these two local teams meet for the second time this season, the Tar Heels will be less than 48 hours removed from a thrilling victory over a school that, according to Tar Heels’ senior leader Joel Berry, is their only true rival. Rivals or not, the Wolfpack already own one big victory over North Carolina this season, an overtime thriller two weeks ago in Chapel Hill. If Thursday night’s performance was any indication, the Tar Heels are ready to even the score. Prior to the win over Duke, Roy Williams‘ club logged 10 or more turnovers in its prior six games, including 14 in the loss to NC State. Against Duke, North Carolina coughed the ball up two times. That, combined with their normally excellent offensive rebounding rate (40.5%), is a formula to win despite shooting only 44.1 percent from the field in ACC play. In the first meeting between these two teams, NC State made 15 threes and only had nine turnovers. If either of those statistics get much worse, things could get ugly in Raleigh.
  • Florida State (#19) at Notre Dame (#41). Here’s something Seminoles fans are getting used to hearing: Earlier this week, Florida State dropped a close game. Leonard Hamilton’s club has lost seven times this season, never by more than eight and by four or less four times. It’s a recipe for a team to be underrated by the RPI (Florida State is 41st) and in turn, by the selection committee. While it cannot be directly attributed to all their close losses, their free throw shooting is absolutely something that could bite them in March. The Seminoles shoot just 69.1 percent from the stripe this season, a moribund 255th nationally. Braian Angola-Rodas (85.2%) is the only regular shooting better than 75 percent, and that’s a scary proposition for a team that seems to enjoy playing nail-biters.

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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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Christmas Wish List for ACC Head Coaches

Posted by Mick McDonald on December 21st, 2017

What’s on the Christmas wish list for each coach in the ACC this holiday season? Let’s take a look.

Jim Christian May Have Already Gotten His Gift With a Win Over Duke (USA Today Images)

  • Jim Christian (Boston College): A healthy Deontae Hawkins. The Eagles pulled off a surprising upset of Duke thanks to red-hot three-point shooting, but they won’t be able to sustain it without some help on the interior. Hawkins was averaging 12.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury on November 29 at Nebraska. Sadly, Santa can’t fix knee tendons.
  • Brad Brownell (Clemson): Some luck in close ACC games. The Tigers appear poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Brownell’s first season, but they will need to avoid being snake-bitten like last year’s team that lost nine ACC games by six points or fewer.
  • Mike Krzyzewski (Duke): Trevon Duval’s jumper to improve. Teams like Boston College are leaving the freshman point guard open for jumpers in favor of helping on Marvin Bagley III, and Duval is falling into the trap, making just 5-of-33 three-pointers on the season.
  • Leonard Hamilton (Florida State): Somebody makes a free throw. The Seminoles shoot 65.8 percent from the line (295th nationally) and M.J. Walker (13-of-16) is the only regular making over 78 percent this season.

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On Florida State: It May Not Be A Down Year After All

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 14th, 2017

Last season was one of the best in Florida State basketball history — the Seminoles won 26 games, finished tied for second place in the ACC, and earned a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Given the losses of his three best players from that squad (Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes), however, head coach Leonard Hamilton was not expected to keep Florida State among the league’s elite. Yet here we are in mid-December and the Seminoles are 9-0 and ranked 19th in the latest AP poll. Their schedule has not been very challenging to date (ranked 283rd nationally, according to KenPom), but Florida State has been pounding the teams it is supposed to beat and also owns a big road win at Florida. So are the Seminoles for real?

Terance Mann leads a balanced Florida State attack this year. (Getty Images)

Hamilton prefers to spread out his playing time more than most coaches, and last season was a great example of that. Eleven Seminoles averaged double-figure minutes with the top three seeing over 25 minutes per game. This year’s squad is not quite as deep but it has a more balanced scoring attack. Four Florida State players averaged more than 5.5 points per game last year but this version has seven scoring over 7.0 points per outing. Hamilton likes his team’s balance and unselfishness, saying recently, “They’ve bought into the idea that we need each other in order to be successful. We don’t have anybody that feels like they have to carry us. Everybody feels like they have to carry their part.”

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ACC Burning Questions: Florida State Seminoles

Posted by Matt Auerbach on November 8th, 2017

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Will the Seminoles have enough left to overcome the departures of last year’s leading triumvirate?

Few teams nationally will have to cope with the task of replacing as much lost production as Florida State. With the early defections of freshman phenom Jonathan Isaac (picked sixth by Orlando), sophomore Dwayne Bacon (second round, now with Charlotte) and junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes (G-League), Seminoles’ head coach Leonard Hamilton bid adieu to the three players most responsible for last year’s 26-win campaign (second most in school history) and second place ACC finish. By the numbers, the group accounted for an astounding 47 percent of Florida State’s points, 38 percent of its rebounds, 52 percent of the assists and 41 percent of the steals. Daunting as it is to replace all of that output, the statistics that best elucidate the value of the big three come from their exorbitant usage rates. A resounding 48 percent of Florida State’s shot attempts (including 57 percent of those hoisted beyond the arc) emanated from the hands of Isaac, Bacon and Rathan-Mayes.

The player most likely to yield a major uptick in production is 6’4” junior sharpshooter PJ Savoy. (Logan Bowles/USA TODAY Sports)

The good news for the glass half-full crowd is that Hamilton returns six players who averaged double-figure minutes a season ago. Junior Terrance Mann is the most notable and accomplished of the returnees, having started all but one game as a sophomore. The versatile 6’6” wing trailed only the aforementioned three in scoring, tallying an efficient eight points per game while ranking 89th nationally in effective field goal percentage. Sophomore southpaw CJ Walker, who averaged a touch under five points per game while handling reserve point guard duties, will be handed the keys to the offense. Walker proved skillful and capable of providing an explosive spark off the bench a year ago, but he’ll need to combine that scoring punch with an adroitness in setting the table for his teammates this season. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 91, #3 Florida State 66

Posted by Walker Carey on March 18th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing NCAA Tournament coverage from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Xavier Did What Xavier Does in the Postseason (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Xavier’s outside shooting was incredible. There are games when teams just catch fire from the outside and an opponent can do nothing to stop it. That occurred tonight with Xavier, as the Musketeers finished the game hitting a scorching 64.7 percent from the three-point line. What made this performance so impactful is that it was not just one guy who caught fire — the entire team contributed. Five different Musketeers connected from long range with reserve freshman forward Kaiser Gates leading the way with four conversions. Xavier’s marksmanship thus far in the NCAA Tournament — 50 percent through two games — is completely unexpected, as the Musketeers finished the regular season ranked 211th nationally at just 33.0 percent. It will be interesting to see if Xavier is able to keep up the hot shooting next week in San Jose.
  2. Florida State’s performance left plenty to be desired. Las Vegas made Florida State a 7.5-point favorite entering tonight’s game with good reason. The Seminoles have legitimate NBA talent across the roster in guards Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, along with forward Jonathan Isaac. Having that kind of talent advantage did not do them any good, though, as Xavier dominated the game for the entire 40 minutes. Florida State looked ill-prepared on both ends of the court, as it took bad shot after bad shot on one end and allowed the Musketeers open looks on the other. It also seems dumbfounding how the Seminoles have a player like Isaac — currently projected to be the ninth pick in this summer’s NBA Draft — manage only seven shot attempts. Florida State was a bit on an enigma for the entire season, and many doubted its ability win away from Tallahassee, so losing in blowout fashion to a #11 seed proves that those concerns had merit.
  3. Xavier’s chance in the Sweet Sixteen should not be discounted. A lesson the NCAA Tournament has taught college basketball fans since its inception is to never discount a hot team. Right now, despite being an overlooked #11 seed that lost six of its last seven regular season games, the Musketeers certainly qualify. Bluiett has been excellent in the NCAA Tournament, while supporting players such as guard J.P. Macura and forwards Tyrique Jones and Sean O’Mara have provided terrific complementary performances. Chris Mack has shown time and time again that he should be considered among the country’s best tacticians, and despite losing point guard Edmond Sumner for the season in late January, his team regrouped and found a way to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The junior forward turned in another star performance in the victory, finishing the night with 29 points on a very efficient 8-of-14 shooting. Bluiett’s length in Xavier’s 2-3 zone also bothered Florida State’s offense all night, which aided with the Seminoles only shooting 40 percent for the game. Bluiett has been a standout player for much of his career at Xavier, but he has taken his game to another level in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: #3 Florida State 86, #14 Florida Gulf Coast 80

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Orlando this weekend.

Florida State Spent Much of Thursday Night Flying Around the Arena (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Florida State’s vast size advantage was just too much for Florida Gulf Coast to overcome. There are teams that are said to look good coming off the bus and then there are teams like Florida State that look good getting on the bus, sitting on the bus and getting off the bus. The Seminoles are huge and athletic at all positions. Their size and speed are areas in which they have a decided advantage in nearly every outing. This advantage was evident almost right off the bat in tonight’s victory. Florida Gulf Coast often struggled to get into its offense because of the problems that the Florida State length was causing them. The Seminoles finished the night with a +20 rebounding advantage and a +8 advantage in blocked shots.
  2. Dwayne Bacon was excellent. Florida State’s offense put together a strong performance tonight — scoring 86 points while shooting 55.6 percent from the field. The center of that offensive attack was sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon. He finished with 25 points (11-of-17 FG) and was the go-to guy whenever the Seminoles needed a basket. In the spots where Florida State needed a bucket, Leonard Hamilton put the ball in Bacon’s hands and let him go to work. Bacon and super freshman Jonathan Isaac totaled 42 of Florida State’s 86 points, both showcasing why they are thought so highly of in terms of NBA potential.
  3. Florida Gulf Coast deserves credit for making things more interesting than they probably should have been. Florida Gulf Coast has now been to the NCAA Tournament in three of the past five years, but tonight’s game should not have been a six-point contest. Florida State, vastly superior in size and talent, probably should have had a firm handle of things by halftime. Florida Gulf Coast, however, had other ideas. The Eagles put forth an admirable effort in making sure that the game was in doubt until the very end. It definitely seems like Joe Dooley has a very good thing going there. The effort and enthusiasm of his entire squad was on full display, and those are the building blocks of any successful program. It is fair to presume that we will be seeing more of the Eagles in future postseasons.

Star of the Game. Dwayne Bacon, Florida State. The sophomore guard’s ability to score was evident throughout tonight’s victory, but what separates Bacon from many other scorers is that he seems to only take good shots. He did not force the issue at all and if he can duplicate tonight’s effort in NCAA Tournament games going forward, the Seminoles may find themselves very deep in the bracket.

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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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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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ACC Stock Watch: February 7

Posted by Mick McDonald on February 7th, 2017

Each week during the ACC season, RTC will review the last seven days to discuss the teams, players and anything else trending across the league.

STOCK UP

Syracuse. The Orange have won seven of their past 10 games, including victories over Florida State and Virginia during a current four-game winning streak. A key for an improving Syracuse team has been that this collection of transfers and freshmen are finally starting to understand how to play Jim Boeheim’s zone defense. On Saturday, Syracuse clearly flustered Virginia in the second half, forcing the Cavaliers into a 22.3 percent turnover rate, their highest of the season. Another factor has been the emergence of Andrew White III as the team’s go-to scorer. White has now scored 20 or more points in four straight games, all Orange victories. Over that stretch, the senior is shooting 50 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from three-point range and 88.5 percent from the free throw line. White’s newfound role as the primary scoring option, along with other capable offensive players like John Gillon, Tyus Battle and Tyler Lydon, make Syracuse a dangerous team down the stretch. The Orange should have no trouble piling up enough wins to make the NCAA Tournament.

Jim Boeheim celebrates Syracuse’s big win, the 1,000th victory of his career.
(Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

John Collins, Wake Forest. As the Demon Deacons continue their quest to return to the NCAA Tournament following a seven-year drought, the play of sophomore center John Collins is without question the reason for their success. He has quickly become the best big man in the ACC this season, and has turned it up a notch recently over his last six outings — averaging 22.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game while shooting 68.1 percent from the field. Head coach Danny Manning knows a little something about a big man carrying a team deep in to March. He’ll need Collins to perform a few miracles of his own to get Wake Forest back into the NCAA Tournament with an opportunity to advance. Read the rest of this entry »

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