Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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Rushed Reactions: #3 Michigan 58, #9 Florida State 54

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 24th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is in Los Angeles for the West Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan is Headed to Its Second Final Four Under John Beilein (USA Today Images)

  1. A Game of Runs. After a first half that was like a tired slog through thick mud, Michigan followed up a Seminoles’ hoop on the first possession with an 11-0 run that spanned two Florida State timeouts and a media timeout and gave the Wolverines 10 points worth of breathing room. The Seminoles then spent most of the rest of the half digging out from that hole, finally getting back within three at the six-minute mark. But just a couple minutes later, a gorgeous hoop by Charles Matthews was followed by a Zavier Simpson layup and a Duncan Robinson three, making a 7-0 run that put the Wolverines back up 10 with just over two minutes remaining. Michigan had to withstand a late Florida State run fueled by their problems at the free throw line, but barring those two runs, the Wolverines would be headed back to Ann Arbor instead of on to San Antonio.
  2. Defense Doesn’t Lose Championships. Michigan’s Sweet Sixteen win on Thursday night was highlighted by beautiful offensive basketball. Tonight? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In a much punchier game, both teams sold out on the defensive end and made things difficult for their opponents. Florida State’s defense forced 11 turnovers, swatted seven shots and forced Michigan into just 31.4 percent shooting from the field, including just 4-of-17 on shots from deep. But as good as Florida State was defensively, the Wolverines were even better. The Seminoles earned seven second chance points and eight points off turnovers. But when forced into the half-court, the Wolverines made them earn every point, forcing drawn-out possessions that often ended in poor looks. And while all this defense may sound like the recipe for a terribly ugly game, it was a hard-fought and high-wire contest that ultimately delivered.
  3. Foul Shooting Issues. Michigan is headed to the Final Four behind a great defense and an offense capable of exploding. But if they have a possible Achilles’ Heel, it was on display in the final two minutes when they struggled to put the game away due to missed free throws. Simpson, in particular, struggles mightily from the line to the tune of 51.8 percent on the season, a serious issue from a guy who handles the ball so often and well. He missed the front-end of a one-and-one and went just 1-of-3 down the stretch. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman also missed a front-end and it took Robinson knocking down a pair with 21 seconds left to finally put away the Seminoles for good. But, as the stakes increase again next weekend, Michigan’s free throw challenges could be a looming problem.

Star of the Game.  Charles Matthews. While I’m torn about putting anyone’s name other than Michigan catalyst Zavier Simpson here, Matthews had a truly incredible game. Against the long and athletic Seminoles, he stood toe-to-toe with them, playing above the rim when needed, pulling down seven boards and even swatting away a couple of shots. He was a force in transition, both on the offensive break and in helping to slow down Florida State’s manys advances. And his beautiful jump-stop and fadeaway jumper in the lane with 3:51 remaining put the Wolverines up 49-44 and sparked a 7-0 run that just about put the game away.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Florida State 75, #4 Gonzaga 60

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 23rd, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is in Los Angeles for the West Regional this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Florida State Was All Smiles After Outlasting Gonzaga (USA Today Images)

  1. It Doesn’t Have to Be Pretty. And this game certainly wasn’t. The stop-and-start pace of the game because of all the fouls (22 in the first half led to 38 overall) didn’t help matters. Neither did the forced offense on both ends. Or the cold shooting from deep (a combined 11-of-40 from deep). Let’s face it, after the offensive beauty that Michigan displayed in the first game of the evening, this was not a game for the faint of heart. But years from now, all that will matter was that Florida State won and advanced to just its third Elite Eight in program history.
  2. Depth. Even on its best days this season, Gonzaga, which basically plays seven players, was not a deep team. When sophomore Killian Tillie became a late scratch after re-aggravating a hip injury during warmups, it became even more of an issue. Against a Florida State team that has no problems going 10 deep, the Zags were simply outmanned. The Seminoles subbed early and often (those 10 players all played at least 10 minutes each) and used physical switching defenses to their advantage, not worrying so much as the fouls piled up. Early in the second half, the Zags looked like they were going to crawl back into the game, but the Seminoles never let their foot off the gas as the Bulldogs faltered late.
  3. Balance. Terance Mann wound up with 18 points to lead all scorers, but no one else on his team scored in double figures. However, six other Florida State players scored at least six points each. The team combined for nine blocks, led by freshman Mfiondu Kabengele; but six other guys chipped in to reach that number. Likewise, six Seminoles combined to swipe nine steals. Long story short, this team is built around the idea of every player on the team picking up for every other player and every guy having everyone else’s back. It worked tonight.

Star of the Game.  Terance Mann. After suffering a groin injury in the Seminoles’ first round win over Missouri, the junior wasn’t expected to play in the round of 32 against Xavier. He toughed it out for 24 minutes of less effective play than normal. But tonight, that injury appeared to be a thing of the past, as evidenced by four dunks on the night and non-stop energetic play. After a quiet first half with just six points on five attempts, the upperclassman picked up the pace in the second half, pouring in 12 on eight attempts, including four dunks on the night.

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ACC Conversation: NCAA Tournament Opening Weekend

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 21st, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to recap a wild opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament and preview the chances of the four remaining ACC schools making the Final Four.

The Answer to Your Trivia Question is Virginia (USA Today Images)

Brad Jenkins: OK guys. Before we look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen, let’s recap the crazy first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. I guess we have to start with the surprising outcomes that I witnessed in Charlotte. Mick, we’ll go ahead and let you give your take on what happened to Virginia.

Mick McDonald: Do I have to? I haven’t had the stomach to go back and watch it, and frankly, most of the game feels like a haze. Sort of like a bad dream you try to forget. That said, it was a collection of things, all of which were a worst case scenario for Virginia. Early foul trouble for Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins, plus Tony Bennett’s refusal to play Marco Anthony, meant they had to play the same five guys (including Nigel Johnson and Jack Salt, who aren’t scorers) most of the first half. Secondly, their jump shots weren’t falling. Third, UMBC hung around long enough to get their confidence up. All of that still led to a halftime tie. Most Virginia fans were having Coastal Carolina flashbacks to 2014, still thinking they’d put it together. When the first play of the second half was an and-one to give Wilkins his third foul, things felt different. Then UMBC couldn’t miss, Virginia lost its composure and it was over. And yes, not having DeAndre Hunter hurt. But it was by no means the lone reason they lost.

Matt Auerbach: Obviously we’ve been beaten to death with every talking head, captain obvious rationale: Virginia isn’t built to play from behind; its style lends itself to keeping inferior teams in the game; and so on. But the truth remains that this tournament is a one-and-done scenario, and for that reason, remains random at its core. If they play 10 times, the Cavaliers win the other nine with a few of those games by 30-plus points. There’s no reason to attempt to explain it. It’s one of the reasons we love this event so much, unless, as in this case, you’re on the Virginia end.

Mick McDonald: Well said, Matt. Pat Forde, a columnist I usually respect and enjoy, published a column hours after the game calling the entire Virginia/Tony Bennett program fraudulent. That’s insane (and certainly trolling clickbait, but that’s another discussion). Bennett will keep winning and will eventually get to a Final Four. Just like every other great coach who “couldn’t win in March” before him.

Matt Auerbach: That article was written about Mike Krzyzewski 30 years ago, and was written about Jim Boeheim and his zone for a long time too. The antithesis was said about Tom Izzo; how’s that been working out?

Mick McDonald: People just have such a hard time accepting that events can be random and not need some massive underlying reason why they happened. This event breeds wild one-time results.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Florida State 75, #1 Xavier 70

Posted by David Changas on March 19th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Florida State pulled off the second improbable comeback of the day in Nashville. (Christopher Hanewinkel, USA Today)

  1. There are no words, Part II. Okay, so this wasn’t a 22-point meltdown but it had to feel just as bad for Xavier Nation. The top-seeded Musketeers led by 12 points midway through the second half, and by nine when Chris Mack decided to take JP Macura out after the senior picked up his fourth foul. That proved to be a mistake. By the time Macura returned four and a half minutes later, the lead had dwindled to just two points with just over four minutes remaining. An 11-2 run for Florida State over the final 3:11 ultimately gave the Seminoles the five-point win. They led for a total of only one minute in the second half, but it was enough to complete the stunning comeback against the region’s top seed.
  2. A bad day for the city of Cincinnati. What happened here in Nashville today borders on the unfathomable. Had we not seen the first #16 over a #1 upset in the history of the sport two days ago, we certainly would be saying that two high seeds blowing substantial double-digit leads midway through the second half is the craziest thing in years. Both games had the feel of being decided well into their second halves, in large part because neither Nevada nor Florida State looked to be offensively in sync or capable of erasing such large deficits. It will take a long time for these two Cincinnati-based programs to recover from the March 18, 2018, disaster, and it’s fair to say that fans of both schools won’t want to see Nashville again for a very long time.
  3. Florida State’s balance was impressive. The Seminoles did not shoot the ball particularly well tonight – just 43.6 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from behind the arc – but they did have five players in double figures, led by 16 from Braian Angola. More importantly, though, was their ability to come at Xavier in waves on the defensive end. Their quickness and athleticism caused problems for the Musketeers all night long, and they were able to force them into 17 turnovers as a result. They also held Xavier, which came into tonight’s game with the nation’s seventh-best offense, to only 46.9 percent shooting. Florida State’s ability to pull off the upset without playing at its best is a tribute both to its athleticism and depth of its roster.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 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 will compare usage rate with offensive efficiency for the league’s top scorers, with an eye on who should be named to this season’s All-ACC First Team. 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, February 27.

Current Standings

With the regular season race already wrapped up for Virginia, the attention now leads to the group of seven teams immediately behind the Cavaliers in the standings, all with five to seven losses. Incredibly, there’s a distinct possibility that the ACC ends up with a four-way tie for second place, provided that Clemson and NC State both win out and North Carolina beats Duke on Saturday night. When comparing records with points per possession margin (PPM) it’s easy to see how important performance in close games can be. Other than Virginia, Duke (0-2 in one-possession games) and North Carolina (1-3) have proven to be notch above the rest of the league based on PPM performance, but neither was able to separate itself from the rest of the pack this season. In contrast, Virginia Tech (3-0) and N.C. State (2-0) have ACC records that are superior to the merely average PPM numbers each has posted.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 22nd, 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 how ACC teams have performed in the nail-biter games — conference games decided by one or two possessions. 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, February 20.

Current Standings

With very few exceptions, the standings to date correspond well with each team’s points per possession margin (PPM). Notre Dame is the only school with a losing conference record that doesn’t also have a negative PPM — mostly because of the Irish’s 30-point thumping of N.C. State in early January. Without that abnormal game included in the data, Notre Dame would have logged a -0.03 PPM, which is more in line with its record. Speaking of the Wolfpack, they join Virginia Tech as the only two ACC squads with winning records despite a negative PPM. In our special statistical focus of the week below, we will explain why that is the case.

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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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