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 Weekend Review: 01.15.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 15th, 2018

There were several exciting games in the ACC on Saturday, capped by North Carolina’s last-second survival in South Bend against a determined if undermanned Notre Dame squad. Earlier in the day, Florida State topped Syracuse in a two-overtime thriller in Tallahassee; Louisville beat Virginia Tech in a shootout; and Clemson took over late to outlast Miami. On Sunday night, Virginia handled NC State, leaving the Cavaliers as the lone remaining undefeated team in ACC play. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Donte Grantham leads the cheers in Clemson’s win over Miami.

  • Best Win: In the only ACC game of the weekend involving two ranked teams, Clemson broke open a close second half to topple Miami in Littlejohn Coliseum, 72-63. The Hurricanes have the seventh-best defense in the land according to KenPom‘s efficiency rankings, but thanks in large part to a 12-of-21 performance from three-point land, Clemson converted a robust 1.17 points per possession against Miami. Senior Donte Grantham led a balanced Tigers’ attack with 18 points, connecting on all four of his shots from deep, including a last-minute dagger that put the game out of reach. Brad Brownell‘s team next plays at North Carolina on Tuesday night, where Clemson has never won (0-58).

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Ten Questions to Consider: MLK Weekend Hoops

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 13th, 2018

Last weekend 11 of the 25 teams in the AP Poll lost a game. As we already know, in conference play, anything is possible. Here are 10 things to watch for this weekend.

Mike Brey Really Needs His Point Guard Back (USA Today Images)

  1. Can a short-handed Notre Dame find a way to stay close against North Carolina? Without the injured Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell available in its last two games, Notre Dame has shot 38.2 percent on two-point attempts and 23.1 percent on three-point attempts (yet still managed to beat Syracuse — go figure). With Farrell’s status still unclear heading into this weekend, the Irish will need production from T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, and Martinas Geben.
  2. Will the Cintas Center be the difference for Xavier? After dropping two straight games on the road, Xavier returns home to play Creighton. The Musketeers allowed both of their opponents last week (Providence and Villanova) to shoot the ball considerably better than what they typically allow.
  3. Can Texas A&M avoid an 0-5 start in the SEC?  Since starting the year 11-1, Texas A&M has lost its first four SEC games. The Aggies are coming off of a pair of one-point losses and need to find a way to turn its fortunes around very quickly. A&M hosts a Tennessee team that has struggled to keep its opponents off the offensive glass all season long, an area in which Texas A&M has shined.
  4. Is this an early “must-win” if Michigan State plans on winning the Big Ten? At 4-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan State is off to a fine start. That said, with the only loss coming to Ohio State and only a single game against Purdue to come, the Spartans could find themselves on the short end of several tie-breakers if they lose some games at home. Michigan State barely defeated Rutgers this week and now intrastate rival Michigan comes to town. Last season, star forward Miles Bridges shot over 54 percent on two-point attempts in conference play, but so far this year he is shooting just 37 percent on those same shots. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Preview: January 13

Posted by Mick McDonald on January 13th, 2018

As we move into the middle of January, each weekend features games that will have a major impact on how the ACC will ultimately shake out. This long holiday weekend is no exception, with a pair of games featuring major bubble implications (already!) on the docket, and a chance for one team to stake its claim as a surprise ACC title contender. (All stats through games of January 11 and rankings via KenPom.)

Saturday, January 13

Leonard Hamilton Isn’t Worried About a 1-3 ACC Start (USA Today Images)

  • #45 Syracuse at #31 Florida State. Don’t be fooled by Florida State’s 1-3 ACC record. The Seminoles received a brutal schedule to start conference play, dropping games at Duke and Miami followed by a home loss to Louisville. None of those three losses alone are reason for concern, but the Seminoles need to address their recent shooting woes. Florida State has made just 27 percent of their attempts from long-range in the last two games, and Phil Cofer (42.3% 3FG on the season), in particular, has really struggled (2-of-10 3FG). Against Syracuse’s long and athletic zone defense, Leonard Hamilton will need Cofer to regain his form as the designated zone-buster. The Orange are likely to keep Florida State out of the paint, as Syracuse is allowing opponents to shoot just 42.0 percent from two-point range this season, the seventh best mark in college basketball.
  • #29 Miami at #14 Clemson. Is Clemson a legitimate ACC title contender? We are about to find out. The Tigers are 3-1 after losing to NC State in Raleigh Thursday night, but their schedule gets much tougher very quickly, beginning with this weekend’s visit from the Hurricanes. A key for Brad Brownell’s club this year has been the development of junior big man Elijah Thomas. He is posting a 26.6 PER and 63.1 percent effective field goal rate on the offensive end, while also becoming a dominant rebounder (26.1% defensive rebounding rate) and shot-blocker (11.8% block rate.) It will be fun to watch Thomas take on Miami’s much-improved big man Dewan Huell, who is posting an 85.8 Defensive Rating and shoos 65.6 percent from the field. Huell was terrific in the Hurricanes’ recent win over Florida State, scoring 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds.

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ACC Weekend Review: 01.08.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 8th, 2018

After the second full weekend of league action, three ACC teams have surged to the top of the standings with identical 3-0 records. Virginia handled North CarolinaClemson edged Louisville in overtime; and Notre Dame staged a frantic rally to overtake Syracuse. While the two ACC preseason favorites — Duke and North Carolina — have struggled to 1-2 records, their misfortune has given other teams an opportunity to make early claims to the league crown. On Sunday night, Miami defended its home court by defeating intrastate rival Florida State to cap off a wild weekend. Here are the highlights from the weekend around the ACC.

Duke suffered another road loss and court-rushing at NC State’s PNC Arena on Saturday night.
(Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Things were looking bleak for Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon. The Irish were without their two injured senior stars — Bonzie Colson (broken foot) and Matt Ferrell (sprained ankle) — and they came out ice cold early. But Mike Brey‘s team hung around as it always seems to do, pulling out the tough road win thanks to Rex Pflueger‘s putback basket moments before the final horn. The Irish won with defense and hustle, holding the Orange to 39.1 percent field goal shooting and capturing seven steals. Notre Dame also held a huge edge on the boards, including a +13 advantage in offensive rebounds. Considering all of the injuries he is dealing with, Brey has already emerged as a front-runner for ACC Coach of the Year honors.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Conference Play Heats Up

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 6th, 2018

As we turn the corner into 2018 and settle into conference play, let’s examine 10 questions heading into a busy weekend.

Texas Tech Looks to Build Off Its Huge Upset Win in Allen Fieldhouse (USA Today Images)

  1. Big 12, Part 1: Will Kansas leave Forth Worth with one or two conference losses? While Kansas was picked once again to win the Big 12 in the conference’s preseason poll, the Jayhawks are in serious danger of losing two of their first three conference games. Earlier this season, head coach Bill Self noted that “this is the softest team that Kansas has had since I’ve been here. Things have not improved since those remarks as Kansas currently owns the second worst defensive efficiency in the Big 12 and ranks last in opponents’ rebounding rate through two games.
  2. Big 12, Part 2: Who will stay undefeated at the top? While Trae Young shines every night out for the Sooners, Oklahoma has also received consistent contributions from his sidekicks Kameron McGusty, Christian James and Brady Manek. West Virginia will represent the Sooners’ second opponent this season with a defensive efficiency within the top 50. The Mountaineers will get an offensive boost with the return of Esa Ahmad, who was second on the team in scoring last year.
  3. Big 12, Part 3: Should Texas Tech be concerned with Kansas State? After beating Kansas in Lawrence earlier this week, Texas Tech is riding high with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play. With games to come next week at Oklahoma and versus West Virginia, it would be easy to overlook a Kansas State team that lacks a true marquee win. But the Wildcats have four double-figure scorers and are a year removed from having already beaten Texas Tech. Beating Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was a program-defining win, but it will lose some of its luster if Texas Tech fails to show up against Kansas State.
  4. How will Notre Dame look without Bonzie Colson? While Notre Dame did not miss a beat without the services of an injured Bonzie Colson against NC State, the Irish must now deal with a tricky road game against the Syracuse 2-3 zone. ESPN.com‘s Jeff Borzello reported earlier this week that Colson — who accounts for approximately a quarter of Notre Dame’s points and rebounds this season — is likely to miss eight weeks with a foot fracture. TJ Gibbs stepped up with 22 points in the Irish’s first game without Colson, his fifth time with at least 20 points this season. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Weekend Review: 01.02.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 2nd, 2018

It was supposed to be a relatively boring first full weekend of ACC play as most of the league’s big dogs came into Saturday’s action as healthy home favorites. However, North Carolina and Duke each needed a late rally to vanquish Wake Forest and Florida State; Virginia held off a pesky Boston College team to win by a single point; and Notre Dame overcame a halftime deficit to beat Georgia Tech. On Sunday night, Syracuse closed out the weekend with an impressive home win over Virginia Tech. Here are the highlights from (the real) opening weekend around the ACC.

Freshman Oshae Brissett lead Syracuse to a big win at home over Virginia Tech on Sunday. (Mark Konezny – USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Defending your home floor is paramount for achieving success in conference play, and Syracuse did just that in taking care of Virginia Tech, 68-56, on Sunday night. The Orange used their famous zone defense to keep the high-powered Hokies in check. Virginia Tech entered the game as one of the highest scoring teams in college basketball, averaging over 90 points per outing, but Buzz Williams’ team was held to only 34.6 percent shooting in recording its lowest scoring output of the season. Freshman forward Oshae Brissett led the attack for Jim Boeheim’s squad with 19 points and a sterline 9-for-10 performance from the free throw line.

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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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The 2017-18 RTC16: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 12th, 2017

The week of the upset came much earlier this season. Last week certainly called a great deal of attention to the sport of college basketball as several highly-ranked teams fell victim to unexpected losses. Former RTC16 mainstays Florida and Notre Dame both discovered they are not always protected by a home court advantage, as the Gators lost in Gainesville to #16 Florida State and Loyola-Chicago, and the Fighting Irish fell in South Bend to Ball State. While those losses were certainly notable, they are an afterthought considering what happened to #3 Duke and #14 Kansas last week. The Blue Devils once again showed their defensive deficiencies in a stunning weekend defeat at the hands of Boston College, while the previously unbeaten Jayhawks lost to unranked Washington in Kansas City before suffering an extremely rare home defeat to #5 Arizona State. The season is obviously still young, but both of those teams will need to make some adjustments if they want to get back on the winning track. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty analysis is after the jump…

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Five Key Big Ten Takeaways From a Dreadful ACC Challenge Week

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2017

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was a wake-up call for the Big Ten, as the conference dropped 11 of the 14 contests, including five losses by more than 10 points. Its 3-11 mark represents the league’s worst record, by far, in the event’s 19-year year history. And while it’s only fair to judge a conference so much based on a single set of match-ups in November, there’s still reason to worry. Let’s examine a few of the most glaring takeaways, both good and bad, from the four-day drubbing.

Maryland’s loss at Syracuse was one of many for the Big Ten. (Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

  • The “best of the rest” might not be so great. Michigan State and Purdue were pegged #1 and #2 in the Big Ten preseason media poll, and both took care of business this week. The Spartans knocked off their second-straight top-10 ACC opponent, while the Boilermakers used a crowd-fueled second-half surge to defeat #17 Louisville. As for the remaining “upper echelon” squads? The ACC/Big Ten Challenge did not go very well. Preseason #3 Minnesotashorthanded, to be sure — lost at home to Miami (FL), unable to keep big man Dewan Huell (23 points) and the Hurricane guards from carving them up on the pick-and-roll. Northwestern, picked fourth, mustered just 0.88 points per possession in a buzzer-beating loss at Georgia Tech. Michigan and Wisconsin were soundly defeated on the road against North Carolina and Virginia, respectively, while Maryland — just three days after losing to St. Bonaventure — fell at Syracuse. While one could simply blame the bulk of these losses on bad match-ups, that would be ignoring the fact that several of these programs were unknown quantities heading into the season. The Terps lost Melo Trimble to the pros; Wisconsin and Michigan each lost three of their top four scorers to graduation; Northwestern hasn’t finished among the top four of the Big Ten since 1968. This week’s results may be nothing more than a few bad match-ups playing out in the ACC’s favor; then again, they may also be indicative of Big Ten that is not quite as deep — or simply as good — as some expected. At the very least, the one-sided outcome could do lasting damage to the conference’s seeding profile come Selection Sunday.

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