Ten Questions to Consider: Is This the Weekend When the Marquee Matchup Is Played?

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 18th, 2020

First it was Gonzaga vs. Baylor, then it was Baylor vs. Texas, and while Villanova vs. Virginia was been wiped away from the schedule, we still have (for now) #1 Gonzaga set to take on #3 Iowa this weekend. Scoreboard operator be ready, a match-up of my preseason National Championship Game teams. Along with the headliner, this weekend also brings the CBS Sports Classic, an in-state battle from Indiana, and other matchups with plenty on the line. Here are 10 questions I have for the action on the court over the next few days.

  1. Will Iowa’s defense be at a level where it can get enough key stops to get by Gonzaga? (Gonzaga vs. Iowa, Saturday, Noon EST, CBS) KenPom data shows that in Iowa’s first six games, four of its opponents have had an offensive efficiency ranking of 275 or worse. Four opponents have had an effective field-goal percentage ranking of 200 or worse and only Western Illinois has had a turnover rate ranking better than the national average. Entering Thursday, Gonzaga is second in offensive efficiency, tenth in eFG%, and among the top 75 in turnover rate. While Luka Garza will get his, Iowa will need to do more than just score to beat Gonzaga.
  2. Will David Johnson continue his trend of extending his range beyond the three-point line? (Louisville vs. Wisconsin, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN 2) Radford transfer Carlik Jones has had no problems fitting in with Louisville having scored 15 or more in each Cardinal game to date. Alongside Jones is David Johnson. Johnson is coming off of back-to-back games with at least 17 points. After attempting more than two three-point attempts in just a pair of games last season, Johnson has already done so three times through four games.
  3. Can the Buckeyes get by the Bruins if they remain shorthanded? (UCLA vs. Ohio State, Saturday, 4:15 PM EST, CBS) Ohio State’s EJ Liddell (15.5 PPG) has missed back-to-back games with an undisclosed non-COVID-19 related illness. In addition to Liddell, Harvard transfer Seth Towns has yet to hit the floor as he recovers from an injury. The Buckeyes feasted on poor defenses early in the year before struggling against Purdue on Wednesday. It’s a UCLA team that in many metric areas resembles Purdue defensively.
  4. Is the potential matchup between Ayo Dosunmu and Ron Harper the best matchup on Sunday across all sports? (Illinois @ Rutgers, Sunday, 1 PM EST, ESPN 2) Dosunmu, a preseason first-team All-American, has gotten off to a stellar start averaging 24 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. For Rutgers, Ron Harper Jr. has been equally fantastic putting in 23.2 points and 7 rebounds per game. Harper already has three games this season with five made three-pointers, having made 16 of his 32 three-point attempts on the season.
  5. One more time…did Kentucky turn a corner in the second-half against Notre Dame? (North Carolina vs. Kentucky, Saturday, 2 PM EST, CBS) Yes, Kentucky trailed Notre Dame by as many 24 points just ten minutes into its most recent game. Yes, the game was at Rupp and the Wildcats season looked dead on the spot. Then the ‘Cats outscored Notre Dame by 21 in the second-half and had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. This matchup features a pair of teams who are similar in many ways, both facing shooting and turnover woes, while relying on attacking the glass.
  6. Is Minnesota staring at a must-win game in mid-December? (Saint Louis @ Minnesota, Sunday, 8:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) The Golden Gophers sit at 6-1, but its best win comes against a 1-5 Boston College team. Saint Louis, a top-40 KenPom team begins a stretch of eight consecutive games against teams ranked in the top 40, including a back-to-back of Iowa and Michigan State after the Billikens leave Minnesota.
  7. Who can win around the rim in a battle of physical teams? (Marquette @ Xavier, Sunday, 2 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) As of Thursday, Hoop-Math has both the Marquette and Xavier defenses among the top-25 in opponent field-goal percentage at the rim. Offensively, Xavier is shooting 73.2% on attempts near the rim, which ranks among the top-25 nationally. Xavier’s four players who average north of ten points per game are a combined 49-of-65 (75.4%) on FGA’s at the rim.
  8. Can Butler’s defense show rapid in-week improvements? (Indiana vs. Butler, Saturday, 11:30 AM EST, Fox Sports 1) After opening the season on November 25, Butler played just its second game of the year on Wednesday in an 85-66 loss against Villanova. While the Bulldogs scored 1 point-per-possession, shot 50% on their two-point attempts, and made 46.7% of their three-point attempts, it was their defense that was torched by Villanova yet again surrendering 1.29 PPP.
  9. Which style of play wins the day in Tuscaloosa? (Western Kentucky @ Alabama, Saturday, 2 PM EST, ESPNU) After being one of the most up-tempo teams in the country a year ago, Nate Oats’ Alabama squad is again pushing the tempo at every opportunity. For Rick Stasnbury’s Hilltoppers team, teams have tried to attack WKU early to avoid playing offense against the defensive menace that is Charles Bassey. While Bassey is a force down low, WKU has seen opponents make 44.7% of their three-point attempts. Alabama is a team that is shooting below 30% from deep, with John Petty struggling, having made just 28% of his attempts following last season in which he made 44% of his 193 attempts.
  10. As good as San Diego State has been, might they have room to get even better? (BYU @ San Diego State, Friday, 5 PM EST, CBS Sports Network) The Aztecs already sport convincing wins against both UCLA and Arizona State. Brian Dutcher’s team has a top 20 defense and a top 50 offense. The team’s three-point percentage is down 5.6% from last season, with Matt Mitchell’s slow start from deep having some impact on the team. If Mitchell can return near to the 39% he shot last season, it’s an Aztec team loaded with weapons. In addition to Mitchell, SDSU’s pair of Terrell Gomez and Jordan Schakel have the second and third best three-point percentage of remaining college players that have attempted 300 or more three-pointers since the start of the 2018 season.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 10th, 2020

Here is the final 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. With the regular season in the books, this week we will compare how each ACC squad performed in the second half of league play, with an eye on the teams that might excel in the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. Finally, we will examine the ACC standings and project what it may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Saturday, March 8.

Current Standings

Congrats to Tony Bennett’s crew for posting the ACC’s best defense for the fourth year in a row, and for the sixth time in the past seven seasons. On the other end of the floor, Duke had the most effective offense for the first time since 2015, ending up with the best overall point per possession margin (PPM) in ACC play. That was primarily accomplished by a league record five conference wins by more than 30 points, and the fact that Duke faced the ACC’s easiest slate of league games. Virginia was able to match the Blue Devils in the win column with an incredible 8-2 mark in games decided by three points or fewer (or overtime). While there may be some luck involved in such a performance, there’s also the fact that Virginia simply executed better during endgame situations than did its opponents. That’s a trait that will give the Cavaliers confidence in the postseason. At the other end of the spectrum we find North Carolina, whose PPM performance would suggest a record close to .500, but the Tar Heels were done in by an unfortunate 0-6 mark in one-possession outcomes. But the biggest story of the regular season is Florida State. Hats off to Leonard Hamilton for leading the Seminoles to their first-ever ACC regular season title.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?

Heading into this week’s ACC Tournament, it’s a good time to compare recent team performance to how schools were playing earlier in the year. Below we break down the ACC season into two fairly even timeframes to see which squads have improved and which have regressed.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 28th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 examine how transfers from low/mid-major programs are adjusting to life in the ACC. 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 Wednesday, February 26.

Current Standings

Duke’s lead in points per possession margin is almost entirely built upon its play at home. The Blue Devils are outscoring visiting ACC squads in Durham by 0.294 points per possession, yet they only have a 0.049 PPP edge on the road. That gap (.245) is by far the largest in the ACC. The only two league teams that have performed better on the road than at home are Georgia Tech and Syracuse. The Orange have a 0.06 PPM advantage when they are travelling – fueled by the conference’s best road offense that scores 1.07 points per possession.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Out of Their League?

We see it every spring now. Many graduate transfers and undergraduate waiver transfers from lower level programs make the leap to major conference schools that are looking for immediate help. In that situation, it’s difficult to predict how the jump in competition will affect production for these players. In the current season, the ACC has nine transfers that played at low/mid-major schools last year. Let’s see how they have adjusted to life in a power conference.

The chart above shows some key statistics for the nine transfers that made the jump to the ACC this season, after playing for a non-Power Six school a year ago. Across the board, offensive production is way down for this group, including an offensive rating decline of 8.5 points. The only two players on the list who are performing close to last season’s level are Curran Scott (Clemson) and Eric Hamilton (Pittsburgh). Among the five double-digit scorers from last year, they are collectively scoring 12 fewer points per game. Much of North Carolina’s nightmare season can be blamed on the many injuries that Roy Williams’ squad has endured, but it certainly hasn’t helped that the Tar Heels’ two graduate transfers – Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce – have failed to meet expectations. Perhaps this is just a bad year for transfers in the ACC, but we should keep these numbers in mind when the next batch of graduate transfers try to prove they belong with the big boys. Most probably don’t.

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. In a normal season, a team like Notre Dame — projected to finish above .500 in the ACC with 20 overall wins — would be an NCAA Tournament lock. But that is not currently the case and here’s why. The Irish are sitting on a 3-9 record against combined Quadrant 1/2 opponents, which includes an unimpressive 1-6 mark in Quad 1 opportunities. But there’s still a glimmer of hope for Mike Brey‘s team, some within their control and some that is not. The first order of business is obviously to win games and the Irish could pick up some quality wins between now and Selection Sunday — they host Florida State next week and the ACC Tournament after that. Notre Dame could also get some help if Indiana (NET #52), Clemson (#76) and Georgia Tech (#77) do enough to improve their final NET rankings. If all three can, suddenly the Irish would get credit for three more Quad 1 victories, since Notre Dame beat Indiana on a neutral floor and claimed road victories against the Tigers and the Yellow Jackets. It’s a long shot, but the NCAA door is still slightly open for the Fighting Irish.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 21st, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 take our annual peak at how league teams are performing in close games and examine how that has impacted the conference standings. 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 Wednesday, February 19.

Current Standings

Even though the middle of the ACC continues to be highly congested, we are seeing some teams trending in opposite directions. Three schools have capitalized on improved health to suddenly get hot in mid-February. Georgia Tech and Clemson each went 2-0 for the week, with home victories over league leader Louisville. Similarly, Miami has won three in a row now that Chris Lykes and Kameron McGusty have rejoined Jim Larranaga’s lineup. On the flip side, Syracuse and Pittsburgh have each dropped three games in a row, while Virginia Tech continues to struggle, having lost six of its last seven contests.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Close Games in the ACC

With so much parity in the ACC after the top four teams, it’s no surprise that many of the league’s contests are being decided by slim margins. Through 115 conference games this season, 25.2 percent of those match-ups have concluded as one-possession affairs. Obviously, performance in those nail-biters has had a big impact on the league standings.

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What’s Trending: A Week of Statement Like Performances — Both Good and Bad

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 17th, 2020

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

After beginning conference play 3-3, many were ready to dismiss Maryland’s chances of contending in the Big Ten this season. Since then, the Terrapins had completely turned things around, winning seven straight games including three straight on the road. Over the weekend, Maryland built a 39-24 lead with 2:57 to go in the first half, but the Spartans seemed to take control of the game as Michigan State led 60-53 with just 3:24 to go. That’s when Maryland’s Anthony Cowan took over…

Over Cowan’s last six games, he is averaging 20.5 points per game on 42 percent three-point shooting. Over that period, he has also tallied 31 assists to just 15 turnovers. He has attacked the paint relentlessly, having made eight or more free throws in four of the six games during this stretch.

Note to future Maryland opponents, slapping the floor late would not be advised…

As far as Michigan State goes, they began the week on a three-game losing streak. After blowing a 20-point second-half lead at Illinois, they found themselves down a point against Illinois, but Xavier Tillman’s 11th rebound of the game proved to be the difference…

For Michigan State — a team that started the year 13-3 and 5-0 in league play — this past week and the college basketball season as a whole can best be summed up like this…

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 14th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 look at the best 3-point shooting teams (offensively and defensively) and see how they compare to recent ACC leaders in those categories. 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 Wednesday, February 12.

Current Standings

At this point in the season, team rankings in point per possession margin (PPM) line up well with overall league standings, but there are a couple of outliers. Based on PPM alone, one would expect North Carolina and Boston College to be flip-flopped in the standings — to explain why this is not the case, performance in close games tells the tale. The Eagles are an impressive 4-1 in games decided by two possessions or fewer, while the Tar Heels are 0-5 in similar situations. Among the teams in the upper middle of the ACC, Virginia and Notre Dame may have an advantage in short-term schedule difficulty. The Cavaliers will face four straight sub-.500 ACC squads in the next two weeks, while the Irish have a toughie at Duke on Saturday, but next comes four games in a row versus ACC schools with losing league marks. Meanwhile, Syracuse must play five of its next seven contests on the road, and NC State is looking at a three-game stretch that features a roadie at Boston College followed by challenging home tilts with Duke and Florida State.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Elite Three-Point Offense and Defense

Success from behind the arc has been very important to determining the outcome of ACC games this season – the team with a higher 3-point shooting percentage in a given game has tasted victory 78 percent of the time. The top two schools in the standings are excelling in this crucial statistic in historic fashion, but in very different ways.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 7th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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. In this edition, we look at how high usage rate correlates to offensive efficiency for the players that are eating up the most possessions in league play. 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 Wednesday, February 5.

Current Standings

Last week we suggested that North Carolina and Notre Dame may be ready to make a surge in the standings based on how they were performing on a per possession basis. Well, we were half right. Even with star Cole Anthony back in the lineup, the Tar Heels dropped two in a row after showing signs of life the week before. But the Fighting Irish have indeed been on an upward trend, thanks to the performance of the second-best offense in the league. In winning its last three outings, Notre Dame has averaged a sizzling 1.22 points per possession. Its upcoming schedule will make it hard to keep up this momentum -– three consecutive road trips (Clemson, Virginia and Duke) are next for Mike Brey’s group.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Usage versus Efficiency

Since his return to game action (and even before), Cole Anthony has come under scrutiny for the high volume of shots that he launches for North Carolina. That criticism seems valid, considering how infrequently his attempts go in the basket (35.1% FG). In his four ACC games to date, Anthony has the highest usage rate (34.3% Poss) in the league but has an offensive rating of just 94.5. Let’s see how that compares to the other high-possession players in the conference.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 31st, 2020

Here is this week’s 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. 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 Wednesday, January 29.

Current Standings

There are some interesting outliers when comparing ACC point per possession margins (PPM) with the current league standings. Despite being near the bottom of the league race at this point, North Carolina and Notre Dame are performing at a relatively decent level on a per possession basis. In fact, their PPM numbers are better than five teams above them in the standings. This suggests that we may see the Tar Heels and Fighting Irish make a move up the ledger in the second half of conference play. Based on how each squad is perceived nationally, it’s also surprising to see Florida State and Syracuse performing basically as equals on the court in ACC action.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Winning with Threes and Freebies

“Live by the three, die by the three” has been a popular phrase among college basketball followers since the three-point shot was was first introduced in 1987. Often when you hear this, the speaker is making a negative judgement on a team’s shot selection and implying that shooting a lot of threes is not conducive to winning consistently. Conventional wisdom also espouses the importance of free throw shooting when it comes to deciding the outcome of games. Let’s look at how these old axioms are playing out so far in the ACC this year.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 24th, 2020

This is the second 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. 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 Wednesday, January 22.

Current Standings

Looking at the current standings, there are three tiers of teams at or above .500 in conference play. At the top, Duke holds a significant advantage over Florida State and Louisville in efficiency margin, but that margin is largely because the Blue Devils have played the weakest schedule in the ACC thus far — beating four bottom-dwellers by over 30 points each. Among the three schools with 5-3 records, Syracuse is playing the best basketball on a per-possession basis, thanks in great part to the Orange’s acumen on the road (more on that below). Virginia is the only team sporting a 4-4 league mark that has a positive efficiency margin, but the Cavaliers have struggled in close games, dropping all four contests by fewer than eight points. Miami looks like the ACC’s worst squad from an efficiency standpoint, but nobody has faced the ominous slate of conference games that the Hurricanes have to date. Miami has already met Duke and Louisville twice, and lost to Florida State in overtime last Saturday.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Home Court Advantage?

Things are not going as expected for host teams in the ACC this year. With 39 percent of league games already in the books, visiting squads are winning more than half of the time. The chart above shows how ACC home court advantage has worked over the last seven seasons. The national average for home court winning percentage has hovered around 60 percent in recent years and is at 59.9 percent so far in 2020. The ACC is clearly the outlier among major conferences this year – all other Power Six leagues have a home floor winning rate of over 63 percent (including the Big Ten’s incredible 80 percent).

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 17th, 2020

With exactly 30 percent 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 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 Wednesday, January 15.

Current Standings

This early in the conference slate, efficiency numbers can be highly skewed by blowouts. Case in point, Syracuse ranks third in efficiency margin, largely due to 25+ point wins over Georgia Tech and Boston College. Likewise, Jim Christian’s Eagles are .500 in the standings but dead last in efficiency margin because they’ve been outscored in their three losses by a total of 84 points. Virginia is worse in the standings compared to their per-possession play because of its inability to win tight contests. The Cavaliers have tasted defeat each time that they were in a game decided by fewer than eight points. Tony Bennett needs to figure that out as Virginia seems headed for more tight affairs due to its slow pace of play, stingy defense (ranking first in the ACC) and anemic offense (dead last in the leaguge). A depleted North Carolina squad has been reeling lately, and things may get even worse – the Tar Heels’ struggles have occurred against the easiest schedule in the league to date.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Offensive Efficiency Woes

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