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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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

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

With approximately one-third of conference play now in the books, it’s time to take a look inside the ACC numbers. This is the first edition of our weekly view at the current ACC standings with a focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their conference records may initially indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to share a few interesting notes on teams, statistics and trends around the conference. Finally, we will forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that may mean for teams’ ultimate postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Tuesday, January 16.

Current Standings

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

Advanced Stat of the Week: 3FG% Defense

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

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

Future Forecast

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

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

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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 20th, 2017

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. Maui Invitational: Notre Dame (#17) will be the ACC’s representative this season in the Maui Invitational, the traditional marquee event of Feast Week. The Fighting Irish will face host Chaminade in tonight’s opening round (ESPNU – 9:00 PM) and will follow that game by playing either Michigan (#43) or LSU (#76) in Tuesday’s semifinals. If they can get through that draw, Notre Dame would likely get a shot at Wichita State (#3) in Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 10:30 PM). This will be the third appearance in Lahaina for the Irish — Mike Brey‘s squad reached the championship game in 2008, falling to a North Carolina team that would go on to claim the National Championship later that season.
  2. Legends Classic: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will once again be the site of this season’s ACC Tournament so it’s no coincidence that the facility is hosting two early season events that feature ACC schools. Pittsburgh (#142) finally picked up its first win of the year last Wednesday — rallying to beat UC Santa Barbara at the Petersen Events Center — but is likely to go 0-2 in this event.  The Panthers will meet Penn State (#46) tonight (ESPN3 – 9:30 PM), right after Texas A&M (#9) and Oklahoma State (#41) square off in the opener. The winners will play in Tuesday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 6:00 PM). Pittsburgh has won seven straight against its intrastate rival from the Big Ten, but expect the Nittany Lions to break that long-running streak this evening.
  3. Battle 4 Atlantis:  N.C. State (#97) has cruised so far under new head coach Kevin Keatts, easily handling four bottom-50 teams in the friendly confines of Raleigh. But Keatts’ guys will step right into the fire in the Bahamas with an opening game against mighty Arizona (#2) on Wednesday night (ESPN3 – 7:00 PM). On Thanksgiving Day, the Wolfpack will take on either SMU (#23) or Northern Iowa (#114). There are a couple of heavyweights on the other side of the bracket as well — either Villanova (#1) or Purdue (#11) is likely to be in Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – Noon). But unless N.C. State pulls off an opening round stunner against the Wildcats, it is unlikely to face any teams that will do much to boost the Wolfpack’s weak strength of schedule.
  4. NIT Season Tip-Off: Another ACC team will be playing in Brooklyn this week too, as Virginia (#8) ventures to the Barclays Center for the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Cavaliers will battle Vanderbilt (#51) on Thanksgiving Day (ESPNU – 4:00 PM), and if they win that game, they will play in Friday evening’s championship game (ESPNU – 7:30 PM or ESPNews – 10:00 PM). Tony Bennett’s guys are guaranteed to get two games against quality opponents here, as Seton Hall (#26) and Rhode Island (#56) are the other schools involved. These two tilts will give Virginia a chance to test its new offensive prowess — the Cavs scored 93 last week against Austin Peay, the most points tallied by a team in the Bennett era.
  5. Ramblin’ Wreck Showcase: For the second consecutive season, Georgia Tech (#59) chose not to play in a traditional winners-advance holiday tournament. Instead, the Yellow Jackets’ exempt event — the Ramblin’ Wreck Showcase — consists of four separate home games against extremely weak competition. The first of those took place on Sunday with Georgia Tech barely beating Bethune-Cookman (#334), 65-62. Later this week, the Yellow Jackets will play Texas-Rio Grande Valley (#281) and North Texas (#296), with the last exempt game coming against Grambling State (#344) on December 1. Obviously, Josh Pastner’s team should have no problem in any of these four contests, even without suspended star Josh Okogie, scheduled to return after the Grambling game.

 

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VIII – Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 7th, 2017

Here is the final edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. With the regular season now complete, we will look at which ACC teams performed better in the second half of league play and how that may impact the upcoming ACC Tournament. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins and what that means for each team’s postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Saturday, March 4.

Current Standings

North Carolina finished with an impressive two-game lead in the standings to edge out Louisville with the league’s top efficiency margin. Since the Cardinals finished as the #4 seed for this week’s ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, the two best teams in the conference landed on the same side of the bracket. The Tar Heels finish with the league’s top offense for the first time since 2009 — incidentally the last time North Carolina won the National Championship. This year, Roy Williams’ club used an outstanding offensive rebounding rate (42.5%) to overcome a modest shooting year — the Heels finished 10th in the league in effective field goal percentage (51.7%). Virginia reclaimed its status as the ACC’s best defensive squad, as Tony Bennett‘s teams have now finished as one of the ACC’s two best defenses in each of the last six seasons. Virginia’s pack line defense led the league in forcing turnovers (20.1%) and finished third in opponents’ effective field goal percentage (48.5%). Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.06.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 6th, 2017

The ACC regular season wrapped up on Saturday and things went mostly according to plan with home favorites winning six of the seven contests. The lone road underdog to triumph was Wake Forest boosting its NCAA Tournament hopes with a nice comeback win at Virginia Tech. In one of the season’s most exciting games, North Carolina earned revenge for an earlier loss at Duke defeating the Blue Devils on Saturday night in the Smith Center. In other important action, Louisville and Florida State clinched double-byes in the upcoming ACC Tournament by beating Notre Dame and Miami, respectively. Syracuse also routed Georgia Tech in the Carrier Dome in what was effectively an NCAA Tournament elimination game. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

After Saturday night’s win over Duke, Roy Williams celebrated North Carolina’s second consecutive outright ACC regular season title (Getty/Streeter Lecka)

  • Best Win I: Even though North Carolina had already clinched the ACC regular season title, the Tar Heels still had much at stake in its annual season-ending meeting with Duke. In using a late-game spurt to beat the Blue Devils, Roy Williams’ club avenged an earlier loss and moved considerably closer to clinching a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The game was a riveting back-and-forth affair with great individual performances on both sides. Luke Kennard made his case for ACC Player of the Year by leading the Blue Devils with 28 points, but his efforts were not enough to overcome outstanding performances from North Carolina’s Joel Berry (28 points including 5-of-5 on threes) and Isaiah Hicks (21 points, nine rebounds). Another difference this time came in the form of North Carolina’s improved perimeter defense. Duke punished the Tar Heels from beyond the arc with 13 three-pointers several weeks ago; on Saturday, the Blue Devils managed only 7-of-19 from deep.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VII

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 3rd, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. 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 forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for each team’s postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, March 1.

Current Standings

Hats off to North Carolina for clinching at least a share of the ACC regular season title for the second straight season and for the eighth time in Roy Williams’ 14-year tenure at the school. The Tar Heels took advantage of a scheduling imbalance in their favor this year, with only three road games coming versus the top nine schools in the ACC standings. Despite being generally regarded as the ACC’s sixth best team in both the efficiency metrics and the national polls, Notre Dame sits alone in second place in the standings. With the Irish traveling to Louisville this weekend, though, the odds are against Mike Brey’s squad in catching the Heels. If all the home favorites win their games this weekend, Virginia Tech could rise all the way to the #5 seed in next week’s ACC Tournament, even with a likely negative points per possession margin. See below for how Buzz Williams’ guys have made this a legitimate possibility.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Performance In Close Games

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.27.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 27th, 2017

Saturday was a great day for visiting ACC teams with one notable exception – Miami celebrated its Senior Day by beating Duke in a 55-50 defensive struggle. Road teams on Saturday came out on top everywhere else. North Carolina wrapped up the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament by winning at Pittsburgh; Florida State crushed Clemson’s NCAA at-large bid hopes; and Virginia ended its four-game losing streak by besting N.C. State. Home teams had better results on Sunday as Louisville handled Syracuse and Notre Dame topped Georgia Tech. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

Jim Larranaga has now led Miami to four straight ACC victories, including Saturday’s win over Duke.
(David Santiago-miamiherald.com)

  • Best Win: Prior to last week, Miami had been flying under the radar even with a cleary upward trajectory in the ACC. But after back-to-back upset wins over ranked opponents — at Virginia on Monday and at home against Duke on Saturday — the Hurricanes are finally getting some deserving national attention. Against the Blue Devils, Jim Larranaga’s club found a way to win despite shooting just 38.0 percent from the floor and giving up 21 offensive rebounds. Its defense saved the day, holding Duke to its lowest single-game point total in over eight years. The Hurricanes are now in a fifth-place tie with Duke in the ACC standings, and they still have a shot at a top-four finish and the ACC Tournament double-bye that comes along with it.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 24th, 2017

Here is the latest edition of our weekly review of the current ACC standings and team performances where we focus on which teams are playing better or worse than their records indicate. Each week we delve into advanced metrics to reveal a few interesting teams, player statistics and trends. This week we will look at the most extreme example of home court advantage in the ACC. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for each teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, February 22.

Current Standings

Thanks to Wednesday’s home win over Louisville, North Carolina has now taken the lead in efficiency margin to go along with its two-game cushion in the standings. Efficiency margins confirm that the Tar Heels and the Cardinals are the two best teams in the league, so we should not be surprised if they meet again in the ACC Tournament championship game. If neither squad loses until March 11, one of the NCAA’s #1 seeds would probably be on the line that Saturday night. The standings match up well with efficiency at this point, with two notable exceptions – Virginia has played quite a bit better than its record indicates, while Virginia Tech appears to be very fortunate to be 8-7 in league play. Perhaps the hottest team in the league right now is Miami, as the Hurricanes have posted seven victories in their last nine outings.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.20.17 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 20th, 2017

Offense ruled on Saturday with one notable exception. In the biggest game of the weekend, Virginia managed only 41 points as North Carolina dominated the Cavaliers in Chapel Hill. Earlier that day, two other games produced four of the top eight offensive performances in ACC play this season, as Duke edged Wake Forest, 99-94, and Louisville outlasted Virginia Tech, 94-90. In other weekend action, Florida State continued its road woes in falling by 14 points at Pittsburgh, and Georgia Tech grabbed another big home win by holding off Syracuse. Here are the highlights of the weekend around the ACC.

Justin Jackson scored 20 points in North Carolina’s impressive win over Virginia. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: No one is surprised that North Carolina defeated Virginia on Saturday night — after all, the Tar Heels have yet to lose in the Smith Center this season. What was shocking, though, is how easily they dispatched a team that really never gets blown out. The 24-point loss represents the only time that Virginia has been defeated by more than 12 points in the last four years of conference play. Justin Jackson shredded the vaunted Virginia defense for 18 of his 20 points in the first half, continuing a string of amazing consistency in ACC action where he has averaged 19.6 PPG with only one outing topping 22 points. The Tar Heels won with defense and rebounding this weekend, holding the Cavaliers to just 27.8 percent shooting and finishing with a +18 edge on the boards.

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