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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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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ACC Taking Stock: Volume III

Posted by Matt Auerbach on December 12th, 2017

Far be it from me to rain on the parade taking place in Chestnut Hill after Boston College’s stunning upset over the nation’s #1 team over the weekend, but buying high and selling low is no way to make a living. Make of it what you will, but the smart money is on the Eagles’ takedown being a result we are not likely to remember a few months from now. That, however, doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it today.

Saturday Will Probably Be The Highlight of BC’s Season, But There Are Other Signs For Optimism (Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

While the national media spun Saturday’s result into a narrative of “what’s wrong with Duke?”, allow us to view it through the prism of a Boston College fan. It’s been a decade since the Eagles were relevant in the college hoops landscape — mostly spent in complete obscurity, to be honest — but the brilliance of their backcourt over the weekend was no fluke. Ky Bowman’s near-triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in carving up the Duke defense, along with Jerome Robinson‘s perfect 5-of-5 day from three-point range, ensured that Duke was going to have a difficult time keeping up. It is more likely than not that Saturday’s result will be the highlight of the year in Chestnut Hill, but, if even for a day, some level of excitement returned to the once proud program. And with a dynamic duo populating Jim Christian‘s backcourt for the remainder of this year and presumably next, the trajectory could finally be pointing up for college basketball in Beantown.

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ACC Opener Analysis: Boston College Stuns Duke

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on December 11th, 2017

We witnessed a number of surprising results in college basketball last week — Ball State winning at Notre Dame; Washington and Arizona State beating Kansas; Florida dropping a home game to Loyola-Chicago — but the biggest shocker might have occurred at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, on Saturday afternoon. Led by its dynamic backcourt of Ky Bowman and Jerome Robinson, Boston College knocked off top-ranked Duke, 89-84, in the teams’ ACC season opener. Here are a handful of takeaways for the Eagles and Blue Devils going forward.

Boston College fans rush the court after the Eagles upset Duke in Saturday’s ACC opener.
(Anthony Nesmith/CSM)

Getting behind in games this season is nothing new for Duke — the Blue Devils’ 11-0 start included several second-half rallies, most notably against Texas and Florida in the PK80 Thanksgiving weekend event. It looked like Duke was going to the well yet again on Saturday, trailing Boston College by 10 after halftime before making a late run to take a four-point lead. Jim Christian’s team had other ideas, however, failing to wilt down the stretch like the others and instead making all the winning plays in the game’s final moments. Duke’s starting backcourt of Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval were dominated by the Eagles’ underrated pair of Bowman and Robinson. The former was outstanding throughout the game — logging 30 points, 10 boards and nine assists — while the latter was deadly from deep (5-of-5 from three-point range), including two late dagger threes. Read the rest of this entry »

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On a Different Kind of Duke Team So Far…

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 22nd, 2017

Most of the Duke teams of recent vintage have been known for talented perimeter scorers and three-point shooters. With the exception of the 2015 National Championship squad anchored by freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor, the Blue Devils have often been relatively weak defensively and particularly soft on the interior, resulting in several early exits from the NCAA Tournament (e.g., South Carolina, Oregon, Mercer). So far this year, things are looking different in Durham. The strength of Mike Krzyzewski’s current #1 team appears to be in its overall balance — great options in the post to go along with a solid backcourt and a somewhat improved defense. However, there are still a few areas of concern that Coach K will need to address in order to feel good about making a run at his sixth national title next March.

Star big men Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter have given Duke a different look this year.
(Gerry Broome/AP Photo)

Over the past two decades, Krzyzewski has mostly utilized a four-around-one offensive scheme that was heavy on floor spacing and light on post touches. However, with the frontcourt size and talent at his disposal this year, he has adopted more of an inside-out approach. In most of the Blue Devils’ half-court sets, they first look to feed freshmen Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter on the blocks. Both Bagley (19.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 62.1% FG) and Carter (13.2 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 61.5% FG) are off to fast starts this season, and Bagley’s numbers would be even better if he hadn’t left last week’s game versus Michigan State with an eye injury. In that 88-81 win over the Spartans, Carter came up huge in Bagley’s absence, tallying second half marks of 10 points and 10 rebounds. Even more talent exists on the perimeter, and perhaps for the first time since the championship season, the pieces seem to fit well together. Grayson Allen (18.4 PPG, 50.0% 3FG) and Gary Trent, Jr. (11.6 PPG, 37.9% 3FG) have been very effective on the wings, and freshman Trevon Duval (13.6 PPG, 38 assists/7 turnovers) is running the point guard position like a seasoned veteran. But not everything with the new-look Blue Devils is rosy — after five games, Duke is shooting a measly 61.7 percent from the foul line, and Bagley (50.0%) in particular is leaving too many points at the charity stripe. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Duke 88, #2 Michigan State 81

Posted by Walker Carey on November 14th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage of the Champions Classic in Chicago.

Three Key Takeaways.

Duke’s Grayson Allen Led the Blue Devils to a Marquee Victory (USA Today Images)

  1. This should be a game we all want to see again in San Antonio. While not always the most fundamentally sound contest, tonight’s clash between the Blue Devils and Spartans certainly lived up to the hype in terms of star power and excitement. Even though it was played in mid-November, it most certainly had a big game feel. Both the Duke and Michigan State fans that journeyed to the United Center for the showdown made their presence known throughout what was a hotly-contested affair. The only real bummer from the game was that Duke star freshman big man Marvin Bagley III left the game just prior to the 10-minute mark of the first half after taking an inadvertent poke to the eye from teammate Javin DeLaurier. Both squads feature many young contributors, so it is fair to assume they will each get better as the season progresses. At this point, it is difficult to argue that a Final Four or National Championship game between Duke and Michigan State would not once again be appointment viewing. These could be the best two teams in college basketball.
  2. Grayson Allen is once again going to be headline the news all season long. The player a majority of college basketball fans love to hate is back for his senior season — and, if tonight’s performance serves as any indication, that senior season is going to be rather noteworthy. While playing all 40 minutes, Allen led the Blue Devils to victory with a game-high 37 points (11-of-20 FG, 7-of-11 3FG) and came up with big shot after big shot down the stretch when his team needed them most. After a junior year that was marred by another tripping controversy, some nagging injuries and overall inconsistent play, the senior guard is beginning this season by letting his play garner the headlines. Considering Duke’s otherwise young roster, it would be beneficial for Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils if that trend continues throughout the season.
  3. Even in defeat, Michigan State can still take away some positives. The Spartans are certainly disappointed by tonight’s result, but disappointment should not be the only thing they take from this evening’s defeat. Even though he struggled to get in the lane for much of the night against Duke’s size and length, star sophomore Miles Bridges still finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and four blocks. Michigan State also received a lift from its interior, as both freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore Nick Ward battled valiantly with Duke’s frontcourt all night. Jackson finished with 19 points and seven rebounds while showcasing the reasons why he is considered an elite NBA prospect. Ward also chipped in 19 points while using his wide frame to force Duke’s young front line into some foul trouble. A loss is a loss, but this was one that left the Spartans with things they can build upon moving forward.

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Three Takeaways from Weekend #1 in the ACC

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2017

The ACC fared well on the opening weekend of college basketball, with only one school suffering a surprising loss as Wake Forest fell to Georgia Southern in Winston-Salem on Friday night. As is usually the case, most of the other league teams opened the season by beating inferior opponents. Here are three takeaways from the league’s first weekend of action.

1) North Carolina: No Joel Berry. No Problem.

Luke Maye was the star in North Carolina’s convincing season opening win over Northern Iowa.
(Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not having All-America point guard Joel Berry II (broken hand) and another starter — transfer Cameron Johnson (sprained neck) — in the lineup, North Carolina didn’t miss a beat in its 86-69 win over Northern Iowa on Friday night at the Smith Center. Freshman Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods combined for 14 points and three assists while splitting time running the team, but the Tar Heels’ primary playmaking came from the wing as Theo Pinson and Kenny Williams each logged five assists. As long as Berry is out — and maybe even when he returns — Pinson will often initiate the offense.

The most encouraging thing from the Tar Heels’ opener was the surprising performance of their untested frontline. Junior Luke Maye showed that he’s ready for a breakout season after posting 26 points and 10 rebounds on 11-of-16 shooting. Maybe even more important than Maye’s unforeseen outburst was the play of two relatively unheralded freshman big men, Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley. The post duo combined for 23 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. If Roy Williams can get that kind of production from his frontcourt, he can afford to maintain his preferred style of inside-out play this season.

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ACC Burning Questions: Duke Blue Devils

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 9th, 2017

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

Burning Question: Can Grayson Allen become the senior leader a young Duke team needs?

With a starting lineup full of potential NBA first-rounders, Duke is receiving a lot of love in national preseason rankings — #1 in the AP and USA Today polls, #2 in the RTC16. But four of those projected stars are freshmen, and Mike Krzyzewski only returns one player of significance from last year’s ACC Tournament championship team. Of course, that player just happens to be the most polarizing figure in college basketball — senior guard Grayson Allen. Just three short years ago, Duke entered the 2014-15 season with a very similar roster makeup and eventually rode freshman stars Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones all the way to an NCAA title. The unheralded but equally important component of that team’s success was the leadership of its lone senior, Quinn Cook. For the Blue Devils to meet their lofty goals this season, Allen will need to channel Cook’s leadership to guide his young teammates in a similar fashion — essentially by having a productive season on the floor and avoiding any further dirty-play incidents.

As the lone senior for Duke, Grayson Allen must provide positive leadership to the talented youngsters on the team, which means he must avoid any more episodes of dirty-play.
(Getty Images)

Allen has been in the college basketball spotlight since his surprising 16-point outburst as a freshman in the 2015 National Championship game. His career at Duke since that night in Indianapolis has experienced many ups and downs. His highs have been very high: an outstanding Final Four performance; consensus Second Team All-American as a sophomore. And his lows have been very low: three separate high-profile tripping incidents; a disappointing injury-riddled junior season. Given such an inconsistent history combined with his naturally reserved demeanor, it’s fair to question whether Allen is effectively capable of providing such leadership. For his part, Krzyzewski wants the senior to lead the team in behavior while off the floor and during stoppages in play. But during live game action, Duke’s coach prefers that Allen worry about his own play in an effort to “hunt his shot.” To free him to do so, Duke is counting on five-star freshman Trevon Duval to run the point guard position. The newcomer needs to improve his outside shot and will have to demonstrate that he can make good decisions at this level, but he’s very explosive off the bounce and thrives in transition — finishing at the rim with strength. Duval’s length and athleticism could also make him a potential demon on the defensive end of the floor. The other rookie starter on the perimeter, Gary Trent, Jr., will be counted on to help Allen provide the kind of space-creating three-point shooting that Duke teams always seem to have. Read the rest of this entry »

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