Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 14th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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 the best 3-point shooting teams (offensively and defensively) and see how they compare to recent ACC leaders in those categories. 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 Wednesday, February 12.

Current Standings

At this point in the season, team rankings in point per possession margin (PPM) line up well with overall league standings, but there are a couple of outliers. Based on PPM alone, one would expect North Carolina and Boston College to be flip-flopped in the standings — to explain why this is not the case, performance in close games tells the tale. The Eagles are an impressive 4-1 in games decided by two possessions or fewer, while the Tar Heels are 0-5 in similar situations. Among the teams in the upper middle of the ACC, Virginia and Notre Dame may have an advantage in short-term schedule difficulty. The Cavaliers will face four straight sub-.500 ACC squads in the next two weeks, while the Irish have a toughie at Duke on Saturday, but next comes four games in a row versus ACC schools with losing league marks. Meanwhile, Syracuse must play five of its next seven contests on the road, and NC State is looking at a three-game stretch that features a roadie at Boston College followed by challenging home tilts with Duke and Florida State.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Elite Three-Point Offense and Defense

Success from behind the arc has been very important to determining the outcome of ACC games this season – the team with a higher 3-point shooting percentage in a given game has tasted victory 78 percent of the time. The top two schools in the standings are excelling in this crucial statistic in historic fashion, but in very different ways.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 7th, 2020

Here is this week’s 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. In this edition, we look at how high usage rate correlates to offensive efficiency for the players that are eating up the most possessions in league play. 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 Wednesday, February 5.

Current Standings

Last week we suggested that North Carolina and Notre Dame may be ready to make a surge in the standings based on how they were performing on a per possession basis. Well, we were half right. Even with star Cole Anthony back in the lineup, the Tar Heels dropped two in a row after showing signs of life the week before. But the Fighting Irish have indeed been on an upward trend, thanks to the performance of the second-best offense in the league. In winning its last three outings, Notre Dame has averaged a sizzling 1.22 points per possession. Its upcoming schedule will make it hard to keep up this momentum -– three consecutive road trips (Clemson, Virginia and Duke) are next for Mike Brey’s group.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Usage versus Efficiency

Since his return to game action (and even before), Cole Anthony has come under scrutiny for the high volume of shots that he launches for North Carolina. That criticism seems valid, considering how infrequently his attempts go in the basket (35.1% FG). In his four ACC games to date, Anthony has the highest usage rate (34.3% Poss) in the league but has an offensive rating of just 94.5. Let’s see how that compares to the other high-possession players in the conference.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 31st, 2020

Here is this week’s 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. 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 Wednesday, January 29.

Current Standings

There are some interesting outliers when comparing ACC point per possession margins (PPM) with the current league standings. Despite being near the bottom of the league race at this point, North Carolina and Notre Dame are performing at a relatively decent level on a per possession basis. In fact, their PPM numbers are better than five teams above them in the standings. This suggests that we may see the Tar Heels and Fighting Irish make a move up the ledger in the second half of conference play. Based on how each squad is perceived nationally, it’s also surprising to see Florida State and Syracuse performing basically as equals on the court in ACC action.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Winning with Threes and Freebies

“Live by the three, die by the three” has been a popular phrase among college basketball followers since the three-point shot was was first introduced in 1987. Often when you hear this, the speaker is making a negative judgement on a team’s shot selection and implying that shooting a lot of threes is not conducive to winning consistently. Conventional wisdom also espouses the importance of free throw shooting when it comes to deciding the outcome of games. Let’s look at how these old axioms are playing out so far in the ACC this year.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 24th, 2020

This is the second 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. 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 Wednesday, January 22.

Current Standings

Looking at the current standings, there are three tiers of teams at or above .500 in conference play. At the top, Duke holds a significant advantage over Florida State and Louisville in efficiency margin, but that margin is largely because the Blue Devils have played the weakest schedule in the ACC thus far — beating four bottom-dwellers by over 30 points each. Among the three schools with 5-3 records, Syracuse is playing the best basketball on a per-possession basis, thanks in great part to the Orange’s acumen on the road (more on that below). Virginia is the only team sporting a 4-4 league mark that has a positive efficiency margin, but the Cavaliers have struggled in close games, dropping all four contests by fewer than eight points. Miami looks like the ACC’s worst squad from an efficiency standpoint, but nobody has faced the ominous slate of conference games that the Hurricanes have to date. Miami has already met Duke and Louisville twice, and lost to Florida State in overtime last Saturday.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Home Court Advantage?

Things are not going as expected for host teams in the ACC this year. With 39 percent of league games already in the books, visiting squads are winning more than half of the time. The chart above shows how ACC home court advantage has worked over the last seven seasons. The national average for home court winning percentage has hovered around 60 percent in recent years and is at 59.9 percent so far in 2020. The ACC is clearly the outlier among major conferences this year – all other Power Six leagues have a home floor winning rate of over 63 percent (including the Big Ten’s incredible 80 percent).

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume I

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 17th, 2020

With exactly 30 percent 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 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 Wednesday, January 15.

Current Standings

This early in the conference slate, efficiency numbers can be highly skewed by blowouts. Case in point, Syracuse ranks third in efficiency margin, largely due to 25+ point wins over Georgia Tech and Boston College. Likewise, Jim Christian’s Eagles are .500 in the standings but dead last in efficiency margin because they’ve been outscored in their three losses by a total of 84 points. Virginia is worse in the standings compared to their per-possession play because of its inability to win tight contests. The Cavaliers have tasted defeat each time that they were in a game decided by fewer than eight points. Tony Bennett needs to figure that out as Virginia seems headed for more tight affairs due to its slow pace of play, stingy defense (ranking first in the ACC) and anemic offense (dead last in the leaguge). A depleted North Carolina squad has been reeling lately, and things may get even worse – the Tar Heels’ struggles have occurred against the easiest schedule in the league to date.

Advanced Statistic of the Week: Offensive Efficiency Woes

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What’s Trending: Out With the Old and In With the New

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 13th, 2020

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

When Clemson hit the floor at North Carolina and Baylor visited Kansas on Saturday, both teams were carrying much more than just a point spread labeling them as underdogs. Rather, these two programs were up against history, as neither school had ever won a game at those locations. That is, until Saturday….

In Chapel Hill, postgame feelings from the head coaches were quite different. For Brad Brownell‘s Tigers, the locker room was full of jubilation and joy as the weight of the long losing streak at North Carolina had mercifully ended…

Roy Williams, on the other hand, was hyperbolic beyond reason, from citing the loss as the lowest moment of his career to suggesting that athletic director Bubba Cunningham should fire him.

In Lawrence, Baylor held Kansas to a season-low offensive efficiency and effective field-goal percentage. After averaging 18.6 PPG through his first 14 contests of the season, Baylor held a banged-up Devon Dotson to just nine insignificant points. The Bears’ ability to slow he, along with Udoka Azubuike, led to an easy Baylor victory. Another streak snapped and the jumping off point for the question that never dies when referencing Baylor basketball: Is Scott Drew a good coach?

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ACC Feast Week in Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins on December 3rd, 2019

Overall, the ACC showed out well in the many early season tournaments over Feast Week. Of the 10 league schools that participated in an event, four of those teams collected championships. Below we will review some comparison statistics with the other five major basketball conferences as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

The ACC logged as good a Feast Week as any other conference. The Big Ten had a slightly higher winning percentage, but only snared two championships. As a lead-in to this week’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the ACC claimed a 3-2 edge in tournament meetings between schools from those leagues.

THE BEST

Four Tournament Titles for ACC Teams.

  • Duke – Empire Classic. What a difference a week makes. After taking care of business in New York by thrashing California and beating Georgetown, the Blue Devils were flying high atop the polls. Now, Duke is reeling. First came a historic upset in Cameron Indoor Stadium to Stephen F. Austin and now Mike Krzyzewski’s guys will be without Cassius Stanley (hamstring) for at least a month.
  • Virginia – Air Force Reserve Tip-Off. The Cavaliers faced some adversity in Uncasville, rallying from nine points down in the second half of the title game against Arizona State. As usual, Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense was the difference, holding both the Sun Devils and Massachusetts under 50 points.
  • Pittsburgh – Fort Myer’s Tip-Off. Jeff Capel’s team picked off two Power Six opponents in Fort Myers to close an up and down month on a high note. The Panthers beat Kansas State in a tight one in the opener, and then handled Northwestern to earn the tournament title.
Florida State celebrates its Emerald Coast Classic Championship after beating Purdue in overtime. (Mark Wallheiser/AP)
  • Florida State – Emerald Coast Classic. The Seminoles have been on fire since dropping their season opener at Pittsburgh. In nearby Niceville, Leonard Hamilton continued his mastery of close game situations – Florida State edged Tennessee by three points and then bested Purdue in overtime, Hamilton’s eighth straight win in games decided after regulation.

THE WORST

 Bad Looks for ACC Teams with NCAA Tourney Aspirations.

  • Miami – Charleston Classic. The Hurricanes got off to a decent start in Charleston by beating Missouri State, but it was all downhill from there. Following two blowout losses to Florida and Connecticut, Jim Larranaga’s squad does not look like the improved team we expected to see this season.
  • Syracuse – NIT Season Tip-Off. Jim Boeheim went to Brooklyn with a great opportunity for some impressive wins, but his Orange laid a big egg. The Syracuse zone certainly needs some work, as was evident in two lopsided losses to Oklahoma State and Penn State, which posted 86 and 85 points respectively.

MIXED BAG

Four ACC Teams Didn’t Win Titles but Showed Promise.

  • Clemson – MGM Resorts Main Event. The Tigers split a pair of tight ones against good competition in Las Vegas. In the opener, Brad Brownell’s guys edged TCU in overtime before acquitting themselves well in a four-point loss to a ranked Colorado squad.
  • Virginia Tech – Maui Invitational. Picked to finish 14th in the ACC preseason media poll, the Hokies shocked Michigan State to open play in Hawaii. The rest of the trip didn’t go so well for first year coach Mike Young, as his squad got handled by Dayton and BYU.
  • North Carolina – Battle 4 Atlantis. The Tar Heels started and ended well in the Bahamas, but the middle part of the trip wasn’t so good. After dispatching Alabama in the first round, North Carolina ran into a buzzsaw situation against Michigan. But Roy Williams’ team rebounded to beat a good Oregon club in their final outing.
  • Wake Forest – Wooden Legacy. The Deacons made it all the way to the finals before falling to highly rated Arizona by seven points. Victories over Charleston and Long Beach State aren’t eye-opening wins, but Danny Manning’s team showed some promise in Anaheim by giving a competitive effort in the title game.
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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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16 Questions About Thursday’s First Round Games

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 20th, 2019

With tip-off of the First Round of the NCAA Tournament just around the corner, here are 16 questions to get you ready for all the action on Thursday.

Here We Go… (USA Today Images)
  • 1) Gonzaga vs. 16) Fairleigh Dickinson: Will Gonzaga spring back to life after its surprising loss to Saint Mary’s? The Zags shot 2-of-17 from beyond the arc in the WCC championship game, but a deep Tournament run will require better shooting from the likes of Zach Norvell, Josh Perkins, and Corey Kispert (collectively, 37.3 percent on the season).
  • 2) Kentucky vs. 15) Abilene Christian: When Kentucky misses shots, will Abilene Christian be able to keep the Wildcats off of the glass? Abilene Christian’s leading rebounder is 6’6″ Jaren Lewis, who averaged 6.2 boards per game. Kentucky’s duo of PJ Washington and Reid Travis could be in line for huge games on the interior for the Wildcats.
  • 2) Michigan vs. 15) Montana: Will Michigan’s size dominate this game? Even without leading scorer Jamar Akoh down the stretch, Montana went 10-2 behind a balanced attack which includes three other players who average at least 13 points per game. For the Grizzlies to win, though, the size of Ignas Brazdiekis and Jon Teske will be a lot to overcome.
  • 2) Michigan State vs. 15) Bradley: Will Michigan State avoid the early exit it took the last time it was a #2 Seed? Bradley managed to beat a Big Ten team (Penn State) earlier this year, but the Braves are going to have their hands full with Michigan State’s Nick Ward in the post.
  • 3) LSU vs. 14) Yale: How focused will LSU be with all the distractions surrounding the Will Wade situation? The Tigers will be without head coach Will Wade as they begin their NCAA Tournament run against a Yale team that likes to get up and down the floor. Each squad has four players who average double-figure points per game.
  • 3) Purdue vs. 14 Old Dominion: Which Carsen Edwards shows up for the Boilermakers? While Edwards shot 33.5 percent from behind the arc on the season, he’s shooting just 22.5 percent in Purdue’s last 11 games. Another shaky performance from the Boilermakers’ star guard could send Purdue home early.
  • 4) Kansas vs. 13) Northeastern: While Northeastern’s Vasa Pusica is grabbing the buzz, is Shawn Occeus the Huskies’ most important player? Occeus was the CAA Defensive Player of the Year in 2018, so if he can lock down the Jayhawks’ perimeter options tomorrow, a lot of pressure will fall on to the shoulders of Dedric Lawson.
  • 4) Florida State vs. 13) Vermont: In a one-game setting, does depth and size win over star power? The Seminoles leading scorer is the 6’10” Mfiondu Kabengele, who puts in 12.9 points per game. In addition, Leonard Hamilton’s team has seven other players who average six or more points per game. Vermont is led by the 21.4 points per game of unanimous America East Player of the Year, Anthony Lamb. The Catamounts only have three other players who average six or more points and just one player in the rotation who stands 6’7″ or taller.
  • 5) Auburn vs. 12) New Mexico State: Which strength brings the bigger advantage? Auburn’s defense leads the nation in turnover rate, while New Mexico State is among the nation’s best in grabbing offensive rebounds. This game could come down to which side is able to get the most out of those two areas.
  • 5) Marquette vs. 12) Murray State: Will Marquette’s sometimes porous transition defense be a deciding factor? The Golden Eagles’ defense sits in the bottom 20 percent in college basketball when it comes to the percentage of shots an opponent takes in transition. The Racers are one of the nation’s best at getting and finishing in transition, led by none other than All-American Ja Morant.
  • 6) Maryland vs. 11) Belmont: Can Belmont’s duo of Nick Muszynski and Dylan Windler hold up against the Maryland frontcourt of Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith? While Windler struggled against Temple offensively, he was a force on the glass. Muszynski returned to the court after missing the OVC championship game and chipped in 16 points. They will be tested against the large Terrapins’ tandem that can wreak havoc on opponents.
  • 6) Villanova vs. 11) Saint Mary’s: Who wins the battle of the three-point line: Villanova’s offense or Saint Mary’s defense? Only three teams took three-point attempts at a higher rate than Villanova this season, while the Gaels sat in the top 10 nationally in terms of running teams off of the three-point line.
  • 7) Louisville vs. 10) Minnesota: Can Minnesota find enough points to get the Pitino family revenge against Louisville? The Golden Gophers averaged 14.3 fewer points per game on the road than they did at home this year. Minnesota’s offense could find it difficult to score against the highly-efficient Louisville defense.
  • 7) Nevada vs. 10) Florida: Which senior will make the biggest impact? In a sport dominated by freshmen, this game will include a plethora of seniors on both sides including the likes of Nevada’s Caleb Martin, Jordan Caroline and Florida’s Ke’Vaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson.
  • 7) Wofford vs. 10) Seton Hall: Will this game come down to which star has a better game? If Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard is must-see matchup #1A, this game’s battle of Fletcher Magee and Myles Powell is must-see match-up #1B. Both players average more than 20 points per game and have taken nearly 500 field goal attempts on the season.
  • 8) Syracuse vs. 9) Baylor: Will the “Boeheim zone” reign supreme again? The Syracuse zone once again led to plenty of three-point attempts for opponents, so Baylor will need a better showing than the 34 percent it shot from distance on the year. Syracuse must also find ways to slow a Bears’ team that finished the year with the second best offensive rebounding rate in college basketball.
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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Edition

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 17th, 2019

The ACC received seven bids to the NCAA Tournament today, down from the nine invitations that the conference garnered in 2017 and 2018. Those seven selections completely mirrored the overall season for the ACC. It was impressive at the top, with three teams earning #1 seeds for the first time since the Big East performed the trick a decade ago, but it was a disappointment at the bottom, with both NC State and Clemson missing out on trips to the tournament. The Wolfpack have very little to be upset about, frankly, having played the worst non-conference schedule in college basketball this season — but even if you aren’t a fan of that metric, their best win over Auburn while also finding ways to lose to both Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Here is a quick look at the best and worst case scenarios for the seven ACC teams that did qualify for the 2019 NCAA Tournament.

The Zion Williamson Show Moves to the NCAA Tournament as the Overall #1 Seed (USA Today Images)

Duke (#1 East)

Best Case: The Blue Devils win the National Championship. However, the truest best cast would be four straight blowouts (including a payback win over Virginia Tech and a showdown with Michigan State along the way) as they waltz to Minneapolis as the prohibitive favorite.

Worst Case: Virginia Tech has beaten the Blue Devils before, and with Justin Robinson now back in action, the Hokies get hot from long range and take down Duke in the Sweet Sixteen.

Virginia (#1 South)

Best Case: Tony Bennett leads his best offensive team to his first Final Four and silences a whole lot of doubters, including plenty of loud voices who thought last year’s loss to UMBC proved that his program and his style of playe was “fraudulent.”

Worst Case: I mean… lightning can’t strike the same place twice, right? Right?

North Carolina (#1 Midwest)

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