Key ACC Non-Conference Games For NCAA Hopefuls

Posted by Brad Jenkins on November 19th, 2019

The top five schools in the ACC preseason poll (Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia and Florida State) look like good bets to make the Big Dance this season, but right below that group sits a trio of teams that appear likely to finish in the middle of the league standings. To warrant inclusion in the NCAA Tournament, it may come down to how these squads perform in a handful of key non-conference games. Here’s a look at each team’s three most important contests outside of ACC play, along with a sneaky tough opponent for the trio.

NC State

Kevin Keatts needs his NC State squad to pick up some key non-conference wins in case the Wolfpack is on the NCAA bubble again next March. (Jerome Carpenter/WRAL)
  • Memphis (Brooklyn, NY – Barclays Center Classic) – Thu Nov 28 (4:00 ET ESPN2)
  • Wisconsin (Big Ten/ACC Challenge) – Wed Dec 4 (9:15 ET ESPN2)
  • @ Auburn – Thu Dec 19 (9:00 ET ESPN 2)

The Wolfpack may catch a break on Thanksgiving Day if Memphis freshman phenom James Wiseman is still sitting out with eligibility issues. Either way, if Kevin Keatts finds his team on the NCAA bubble once again, a neutral site win over a top-20 team would look mighty good on its resume. The other two contests are rematches from last year in which the home team triumphed in tightly contested affairs.

Upset Alert: @ UNC Greensboro – Sun Dec 15 (3:00 ET ESPN+)

The Spartans return three starters from a campaign in which they won 29 games and were closer to making the NCAA Tourney than NC State. According to KenPom’s win probability metric, the Wolfpack currently has a 57 percent chance of coming out on top.

Notre Dame

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ACC Burning Questions, Part 3: NC State, Notre Dame & Miami

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 28th, 2019

N.C. State Burning Question: Will the Wolfpack’s frontcourt be good enough?

Senior point guard Markell Johnson hopes to lead N.C. State back to the NCAA Tournament. (PackInsider)

For Kevin Keatts to lead the Wolfpack back to the NCAA Tournament in his third season in Raleigh, he must find a way to develop a better interior group — especially defensively — to complement his potent backcourt. Last year, NC State allowed its ACC opponents to make 51.6 percent of their two-point tries (13th in the ACC) and ranked ninth in the league in defensive rebounding. And, oh yeah, the Wolfpack lost their two best defensive rebounders (Torin Dorn and Wyatt Walker). Further mucking things up is the status of NC State’s best returning big man, DJ Funderburk who is serving an indefinite suspension. Even with Funderburk available, Keatts would have to rely on newcomers to help man the post. Redshirt freshman Manny Bates should bring rim protection, but his offense is a question mark. Lehigh graduate transfer Pat Andree is known for his outside shooting touch (41.9% 3FG last year) but entering the ACC will be a big step up in competition for him.

There is a plethora of talent and experience available on the Wolfpack’s perimeter. Leading the way will be senior point guard Markell Johnson (12.6 PPG, 4.2 APG, 42.2% 3FG) and his returning running mate, junior Braxton Beverly (9.4 PPG, 2.5 APG). On the wing, expect a pair of former transfers to show improvement in their second go-around in Raleigh. C.J. Bryce (11.6 PPG) and Devon Daniels (9.3 PPG) are the prototypical players to fit Keatts’ style. They both can shoot from distance, attack off the dribble, and harass opposing ball-handlers. Blake Harris recently decided to transfer out of the program, but that still leaves plenty of outside firepower. However, for NC State to return to the Big Dance, the guards will need help from their bigger buddies.

Notre Dame Burning Question: Will the Irish make some shots this year?

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ACC 2019-20 Tipoff

Posted by Brad Jenkins on October 21st, 2019

We are now just over two weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next two weeks we will provide key question previews of all 15 ACC schools and we will also be sharing our preseason thoughts on Twitter. Follow us there – @rtcACC, Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24), and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald). But first, let’s put a bow on last season and take a quick peak ahead at the upcoming campaign.

2018-19 Recap

Redemption and miracle finishes were the themes in Virginia’s dramatic run to the 2019 National Championship. (USA TODAY Sports)

It was another highly successful year for the conference. The ACC became the first league in history to land the top three rankings in the final AP poll – Duke, Virginia and North Carolina – all of which earned #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Then, in one of the all-time best NCAA turnarounds, Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers collected the program’s first National Championship just one year after suffering the agonizing distinction of becoming the first top seed in history to fall to a #16 seed. To add to the drama, Virginia faced extreme peril in each of its final three games in last season’s tourney. According to KenPom’s win probability model, the Cavaliers overcame the following situations:

  • Elite Eight vs Purdue – Trailed 70-67 with 16 seconds to play (Win Probability = 12.2%)
  • Final Four vs Auburn – Trailed 61-57 with 17 seconds to play (Win Probability = 5.5%)
  • Title Game vs Texas Tech – Trailed 68-65 with 22 seconds to play (Win Probability = 13.0%)
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Final Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 11th, 2019

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 Charlotte. 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 9.

Final Standings

Congratulations are in order for Virginia, which accomplished something this season that no ACC school has done in over a decade. Tony Bennett‘s club posted both the best offense and defense, the first league squad to lead the conference in each metric since North Carolina turned the trick in back-to-back seasons (2007 and 2008). The Cavaliers won the defensive crown for the fifth time in the past six years, while simultaneously trotting out the best offense of Bennett’s career in Charlottesville. Virginia’s shooting acumen has been the main driver to its offensive prowess — the Cavaliers made 43.1 percent of their three-pointers in league play, which represents the ACC’s best mark of the KenPom era. Co-regular season champion North Carolina used a balanced attack to finish with the league’s second-best offense — the Tar Heels finished among the top five in two-point shooting, three-point accuracy, offensive rebounding and turnover percentage. Brad Brownell also deserves credit for the performance of Clemson’s defense, which finished second in the ACC, ahead of more acclaimed units from Florida State and Duke.

Advanced Stat of the Week: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not

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ACC Weekend Review: 03.04.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on March 4th, 2019

Two ACC squads in desperate need of a quality win failed to take advantage of their opportunities on Saturday. NC State stayed within striking distance of Florida State throughout their game, but the Pack couldn’t overtake the Seminoles in Tallahassee before falling, 78-73. Likewise, Clemson played North Carolina tough in Littlejohn Coliseum before losing another heart-breaker, 81-79. Elsewhere, co-leader Virginia had no problems with Pittsburgh, winning 73-49 in Charlottesville, and Duke — still playing without Zion Williamson — rolled Miami in Durham, 87-57. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Mfiondu Kabengele led a balanced Florida State attack as the Seminoles held off N.C. State in Tallahassee on Saturday. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon)
  • Best Win / Worst Loss I: Clemson failed to boost its NCAA Tournament resume by losing yet another nail-biter in ACC play. The Tigers have now lost four ACC contests on the very last possession and, as a result, are in serious NCAA bubble-trouble. Brad Brownell’s club owns a lousy 1-9 record in Quadrant 1 games and they’re quickly running out of chances to prove the Tigers can beat good teams. For North Carolina, this win keeps the Tar Heels tied atop the ACC standings, and puts them firmly in the mix for a potential #1 seed in the Big Dance. The biggest scare of the game came late in the first half when Roy Williams collapsed and had to be helped off the floor, never to return. It’s not the first time that his vertigo has struck him down during a game, but fortunately he seemed to be doing well soon after the game ended.
  • Best Win / Worst Loss II: Much like Clemson, NC State still has work to do to earn a second straight bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Wolfpack had a chance to grab a signature road win at Florida State on Saturday but couldn’t pull it off, leaving Kevin Keatts’ squad with just two Quadrant 1 wins in 10 tries. Add in the nation’s worst non-conference strength of schedule and their resume has some serious issues. With the win, Leornard Hamilton’s squad remains tied for fourth place in the league with Virginia Tech. The Hokies travel to Tallahassee on Tuesday and the winner will earn a coveted double-bye in the upcoming ACC Tournament.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 27th, 2019

Here’s another edition of our weekly view of 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 ACC teams are faring in conference nail-biters. Finally, we will forecast how the final league 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 Monday, February 25.

Current Standings

The standings mostly line up with performance, especially among the top six squads in efficiency margin. At the bottom of the league, there is a logjam of six more teams in the 2-4 victory range, but there is a clear best (Miami) and worst (Wake Forest) of the bunch in efficiency performance. Based on their play on a per possession basis, Clemson should not be trailing Syracuse and NC State in the standings, but that is the Tigers’ current reality. Below we will explain why that is the case.

Statistic of the Week: Winning Close Games

Despite its reputation for competitiveness, the ACC ranks 30th among the nation’s 32 conferences in the number of one-possession games played this year. You have to go back to 2002 to find a year when the league had fewer close games than this season’s 15.7 percent rate. No matter how you define close games (one or two possessions), Clemson has struggled mightily in those tight league contests. To rub more salt into the Tigers’ wound, all three of their close defeats this season literally occurred on the game’s final play. NC State has been involved in more (8) nail-biters than any other school and the Wolfpack have pulled out six of those games. Combined with last year’s impressive performance — Kevin Keatts‘ team was 5-2 in games decided by six points or fewer — he is off to a start to his ACC coaching career that can best be described as Leonard Hamilton-esque.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.25.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 25th, 2019

Despite a strong slate of ACC match-ups in the queue on Saturday, the games were mostly devoid of drama. The main takeaway from the weekend is that there is a significant gap between the top three schools and everyone else. Virginia overcame a 10-point halftime deficit on the road to overwhelm a reeling Louisville squad, 64-52; the frontcourt of North Carolina was too much for Florida State in the Tar Heels’ 77-59 win in Chapel Hill; and Duke rallied to beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, 75-65. This leaves those three league heavyweights tied at the top of the ACC standings with 12-2 records, clear of the rest of the league by three games in the loss column. Virginia Tech took advantage of those results to move into sole possession of fourth place — the Hokies beat Notre Dame in South Bend by a score of 67-59. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Nassir Little gave North Carolina a strong effort off the bench as the Tar Heels dominated Florida State in the paint on Saturday. (Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
  • Best Win #1: Those who expected this to be a letdown game for North Carolina should have known better. Yes, the Tar Heels were coming off a huge win over Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, but it’s not like Roy Williams‘ club isn’t used to dealing with this situation — playing the game after “The Game” — every season. Florida State kept it close for about 30 minutes, but North Carolina closed the contest on a 21-7 run to put away the Seminoles. The Tar Heels’ frontcourt was the difference, as seniors Cam Johnson and Luke Maye each posted double-doubles and freshman Nassir Little scored 18 off the bench. North Carolina dominated the glass (+15) and held the Seminoles to their second lowest scoring output of the year. Leonard Hamilton’s team saw its eight-game winning streak snapped and damaged its hopes for gaining the the coveted double-bye as the #4 seed in the ACC Tournament.
  • Best Win #2: With no upsets occurring this weekend we will highlight another big win because of the circumstances surrounding the game. There were several factors going against Duke when it took the floor at Syracuse on Saturday night — the Blue Devils were without the services of National Player of the Year favorite Zion Williamson; they had just been run out of their own gym by arch-rival North Carolina; and they were facing a motivated Syracuse team, who already had beaten Duke earlier this year, in front of an on-campus record 35,642 fans. Furthermore, the Orange controlled things early and led by five at that break. But RJ Barrett reminded us that Williamson isn’t the only star on Mike Krzyzewski’s squad — the other freshman superstar carved up the Syracuse zone to the tune of 30 points and seven assists to lead the comeback. Duke also got a huge boost from Alex O’Connell, who scored 17 second half points.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 20th, 2019

Here’s another edition of our weekly view of 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 an interesting recent trend that exists when North Carolina plays its arch-rival Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Finally, we will forecast how the final league 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 Monday, February 18.

Current Standings

After destroying Wake Forest by 38 points over the weekend, North Carolina has closed the gap considerably on Virginia and Duke in ACC efficiency margin. Offense is the primary reason that these three schools are leading the league. Seven ACC teams are playing excellent defense in conference action, but only the trio of league leaders are also scoring at an elite clip. If only Clemson could get a break — the Tigers have now lost three conference games at the buzzer, including both of their last two outings. If Brad Brownell’s club had won those games, it would have an identical record to Syracuse, which has been much more fortunate. The Orange continue to look good in the standings despite basically breaking even in efficiency margin.

Statistic of the Week: A Tale of Two Halves in Cameron Indoor Stadium

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.18.19 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 18th, 2019

It appears that the ACC is on a regular rotation this season that provides us with a great set of games every other weekend. Still, there were some interesting things happening on Saturday around the league; Louisville almost blew another late lead before holding on to edge Clemson, 56-55; and Virginia had an unexpectedly tough time with Notre Dame, winning 60-54 in Charlottesville. Elsewhere in the conference, North Carolina routed Wake Forest, 95-57, in Winston-Salem, and first-place Duke handled NC State in Durham by a score of 94-78. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Jordan Nwora’s block saved the day for Louisville against Clemson on Saturday as the Cardinals survived another late meltdown. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
  • Best Win: Coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Florida State and Duke — games in which Louisville led both games by double-figures late — Chris Mack’s club almost did it again. This time, the Cardinals led Clemson by eight points with 30 seconds to go, before falling apart again in front of a stunned crowd at the KFC Yum! Center. At the end, Louisville practically handed the game to the Tigers when Marcquise Reed stole Jordan Nwora’s inbounds pass in the lane with three seconds to go — had Nwora not redeemed himself by blocking Reed’s short jumper to preserve the one-point victory, the Cardinals would be in full meltdown mode. Normally, we wouldn’t bestow “Best Win” status to a ranked team that barely survived against a squad with a sub-.500 conference record, but in this case, Louisville gets that distinction because it possibly saved its season.
  • Worst Loss: We also have an unusual choice in this weekly category. Nobody expected lowly Wake Forest to give North Carolina much of a game on Saturday, but the enormous margin of defeat — 38 points represents the largest in series history — may be the final nail in the coffin for Danny Manning’s tenure in Winston-Salem. After barely squeaking into the 2017 NCAA Tournament First Four, Manning was given a six-year contract extension — reportedly with a huge buyout attached. Since then, the Demon Deacons have posted a 20-35 record, including a pathetic ACC mark of 6-24. If Manning gets fired after the conclusion of this season, we recommend that the school have someone other than athletic director Ron Wellman choose the next head basketball coach. He’s certainly whiffed on his last two selections (Jeff Bzdelik and Manning) and as a result, Wake Forest is now one of the worst power conference programs in college basketball.
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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 13th, 2019

Here’s another 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 something Duke is doing offensively that is better than any ACC team has done in the last 17 years. Finally, we will forecast how the final league 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 Monday, February 11.

Current Standings

Virginia maintains its lead in efficiency margin, but the gap between first and second place was closed significantly after Duke’s recent win in Charlottesville. Syracuse continues to be the most fortunate team in the ACC this season. The Orange have achieved their lofty record despite a slim scoring margin, and Jim Boeheim’s club has faced the league’s easiest conference schedule to date.

Even though Miami is part of the jumbled mess at the bottom of the standings, the Hurricanes have suddenly become dangerous. In their last three outings, Jim Larranaga’s guys played Virginia tough on the road, stomped Notre Dame at home, and took North Carolina into overtime before losing at the Smith Center. If any of the league cellar-dwellers can play the role of spoiler down the stretch, Miami would be the smart pick to do so.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Duke’s Good Shooting

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