Five Surprises from Opening Weekend in the ACC

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 14th, 2017

Although the competition was mostly uninspiring over the last several days, it was a very busy weekend of basketball around the ACC. This week will bring an improvement in competition for the league, beginning with Duke taking on Michigan State in the first game of the Champions Classic in Chicago tonight. Just because the opposition wasn’t great, though, doesn’t mean we should ignore opening weekend. Here are the five biggest surprises from the first weekend-plus of the brand new ACC season.

Wake Forest Fell Hard to Georgia Southern on Friday Night (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

  1. Wake Forest loses to Georgia Southern. This was a mild surprise but certainly not shocking to anyone who follows the mid-majors. Georgia Southern features two excellent guards in Ike Smith and Tookie Brown, both of whom played well on Friday night. Wake Forest, in its first game without all-ACC star John Collins, showed just how much they will miss the big man this season. In a game with ample opportunity to show their value, junior center Doral Moore battled foul trouble and finished with just two points, while sophomore center Sam Japhet-Mathias played just seven minutes without a point. Danny Manning’s small-ball, backcourt-heavy lineup is workable with Bryant Crawford leading the way, but not if they don’t even have the best backcourt on the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Burning Questions: Pittsburgh Panthers

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

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

Burning Question: Can Pittsburgh avoid the ACC basement?

After suffering an inordinate number of player defections last spring, Pittsburgh head coach Kevin Stallings is now left with only two players who scored in a game last year — and that pair combined to produce a grand total of only 179 points all season. The Panthers finished the year with a 15-16 record, the first losing mark for the program in nearly two decades (1999-2000). It’s difficult to be overly optimistic about this squad either, a group that will almost certainly be picked near the bottom of the league. For some measure of hope, Stallings can look to the achievement of Josh Pastner at Georgia Tech just one season ago. Pastner’s first team in Atlanta likewise featured no returning starters and an unheralded crop of newcomers, but somehow, he turned that bunch into a surprising bubble team by the end of the year. Those Yellow Jackets featured a former role player who became an all-ACC caliber center (Ben Lammers) and a rookie (Josh Ogogie) who well surpassed his high school ranking. For Pitt to pull off that kind of season in Stallings’ second year at the helm, it will need to find similar production from several unexpected sources.

Pittsburgh needs Ryan Luther to make a big leap in production as a senior (Pittsburghsportsnow.com)

Of the Panthers’ two returning scholarship players, only one has the potential for a breakout senior year. Forward Ryan Luther has battled through some injuries —  he missed 12 ACC games last year with a stress fracture — but he has also shown a number of spurts of good play. The 6’9″ Pennsylvania native has contributed nine career double-figure scoring games and has proven to be a capable rebounder and defender — with greater usage, he could easily double last year’s season averages of 5.7 PPG and 3.9 RPG. The other holdover from last year, guard Jonathan Milligan, has not yet proven that he can play at this level — he went a ghastly 29 percent from the field in 27 games last season. Stallings also added another experienced player via the graduate transfer route in small forward Monty Boykins (Lafayette), who missed all of last year with an injury. But don’t expect the newcomer to add much — in 2015-16, Boykins posted just a 91.3 offensive rating for a terrible (6-24) low major team. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 17th, 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 compare how ACC teams defend the three-point line. Finally, we forecast how the final ACC standings may look given current efficiency margins, and what that means for teams’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All data is current for games played through Wednesday, February 15.

Current Standings

ACC teams continue to be bunched close together at the top of the standings as well as in efficiency margins — the schools that have played easier conference schedules look better in points per possession. Things are about to even out with respect to schedule difficulty, however, among the league’s top six squads. Here’s what each of those schools has remaining against one another:

  • North Carolina (4 games) – Virginia, Louisville, @ Virginia, Duke
  • Louisville (2) – @ North Carolina, Notre Dame
  • Duke (2) – Florida State, @ North Carolina
  • Virginia (2) – @ North Carolina, North Carolina
  • Florida State (1) – @ Duke
  • Notre Dame (1) – @ Louisville

North Carolina clearly has the toughest remaining slate, but at least three of those four difficult contests will come in the Smith Center where the Tar Heels have yet to taste defeat this season. Florida State and Notre Dame have the easiest closing batch of games, with just one each against the rest of the top tier. According to KenPom, North Carolina’s conference schedule has been about four points per game easier than those faced by the Seminoles and Irish. That gap is about to shrink considerably, and by year end we would expect ACC strength of schedule to essentially even out among the top six contenders. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 02.14.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 14th, 2017

morning5_ACC

  1. WTVD (ABC 11): Mark Armstrong dropped quite a bombshell on NC State fans yesterday. Per his sources, Debbie Yow has decided to fire head coach Mark Gottfried at the end of the season and the school has already reached out to Archie Miller. Reaching out to the Dayton head coach is the only part of the report that NC State denies, which makes sense (the school would reach out to Miller’s agent, not him directly). Joe Giglio does a good job breaking down Gottfried’s resume and it appears that such a move could be the right decision so long as the school makes the right hire.
  2. Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia Tech announced forward Chris Clarke has torn his ACL and is done for the season. This is a huge blow to the Hokies’ NCAA Tournament hopes, as their rotation isn’t very deep and Clarke is the team’s best defensive rebounder. Even considering last weekend’s big win over Virginia, the loss of the sophomore likely means Virginia Tech’s postseason rests on a strong showing in the ACC Tournament (wins over Duke and Virginia probably do not make up for such a lackluster non-conference schedule).
  3. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Is the honeymoon era over for Pittsburgh and the ACC? Was this a form of destiny or a simply a clash of basketball styles? Maybe some of both. While Mike DeCourcy is right when he points out Pittsburgh’s lack of homegrown talent, plenty of schools with abundant local products also regularly struggle (see: Georgia Tech). Occam’s Razor suggests that Jamie Dixon didn’t like the change of administration and knew he’d be paid handsomely with correspondingly less pressure at TCU. However, Decourcy’s point does mean that the Pittsburgh program cannot afford to float into anonymity. That being said, if the last couple of seasons have taught us anything in ACC basketball, the right hire (hello, Buzz Williams) can make all the difference.
  4. Sporting News: I hate this storyline. Yes, the ACC could set a new record for number of entrants to the Big Dance, but that’s a product of expansion rather than depth. The same was true of the Big East in 2011, which placed 11 teams into the NCAA Tournament. There’s a simple reason neither the Big East nor the ACC was rated as the best conference by Ken Pomeroy in 2011 or this year. Our perception of depth (highly impacted by media coverage and one-off results) differs from reality. It’s true that there’s a ton of parity at the top of this league, but highest number is dumber than non-possession adjusted stats (in 1996 and 1997, for example, the ACC placed six of its nine teams into the Big Dance).
  5. Technique: In happier news, Georgia Tech still has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament. That’s astounding considering what this program looked like coming into the season. It still looks like an uphill climb thanks to a pretty uninspiring non-conference schedule, but a strong finish could make up for some of those early season struggles.
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