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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ACC Weekend Review: 01.29.18 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 29th, 2018

This weekend lived up to the hype around the ACC with a trio of exciting finishes on Saturday afternoon. In the marquee match-up of the day, Virginia picked up a rare win in Durham, edging Duke to remain unbeaten in league play (9-0). It took overtime to decide two intrastate rivalry contests, as NC State surprised North Carolina in the Smith Center and Florida State won a shootout against Miami. In other ACC action, Louisville blew out Wake Forest to remain alone in second place in the standings, a resurgent Virginia Tech squad picked up a nice road win at Notre Dame, and Clemson got back on track with a tight victory at Georgia Tech. Here are the highlights from this weekend’s action around the ACC.

Kyle Guy celebrates Virginia’s big win at Duke that leaves the Cavaliers in total control of the ACC regular season race. (Lance King/Getty Images)

  • Best Win: In the highly anticipated match-up of Virginia’s stifling defense and Duke’s potent offense, the Cavaliers held the Blue Devils well below their normal output (63 points) to pick up their first win in Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1995. Virginia dominated the first half before Duke rallied to seemingly take control of the game midway through the second, but Tony Bennett‘s team was simply tougher down the stretch, with sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome each making important threes in the closing minutes to secure the victory. Duke managed to only score 0.97 points per possession for the game, and committed 16 turnovers against the Virginia pressure. Even the best defense in the land couldn’t control Duke’s star freshman, Marvin Bagley III (30 points, 14 rebounds), but the Cavaliers made up for that by holding Duke’s three starting guards to a total of 19 points on 8-of-26 shooting. Virginia now has a two-game cushion over Louisville in the league standings and appears poised to capture its third regular season title in the last five years.

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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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Forecasting Washington’s Zone Defense

Posted by Adam Butler on January 18th, 2018

No team in college basketball has played more zone defense this season than Mike HopkinsWashington club. As a Pac-12 aficionado, you know that the Huskies’ new head coach was a long-time assistant (21 years) of Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. As a college basketball aficionado, you know all about Boeheim’s famous zone defense. Hopkins has brought the defensive scheme across the country, and as a result, the Huskies have been a pleasant surprise through the first half of the season. Considering its uniqueness and Washington’s early success in employing it, a forecasting evaluation of the zone for the rest of this season is worthwhile. Its basic tenet is engineered to dare opponents to shoot from long distance. At Syracuse, 44.8 percent of shot attempts against its zone come from beyond the arc, which is very high (11th nationally). Washington’s opponents, by way of comparison, are allowing 36.7 percent of the shots against them from distance, roughly equal to the national average. This gap is in part related to the Huskies’ faster offense, clocking in with the 71st-swiftest offensive possession average in the game (compared with Syracuse’s 325th-slowest). This increase in allowing long-range shooting comes as a big change from the former regime in Washington. Lorenzo Romar’s Huskies never allowed more than 30 percent of opponents’ shots to come from beyond the arc.

Mike Hopkins Has Instituted a New Regime in Seattle (USA Today Images)

Since Washington has seemingly announced its defensive strategy for the foreseeable future, how might the zone project on its new coast? To date, the gamble has paid off, as the Huskies through five conference games have “held” Pac-12 opponents to a league-best 27.9 percent from three-point range. Pac-12 teams are making 35.8 percent of their three pointers this year, 12th-best nationally as a conference. To try to understand what this might mean for Hopkins’ team, assuming he plans to continue to dare teams to shoot threes, the league has historically been average from distance. A peek:

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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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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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Close Games in the ACC: Part I

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

There’s no doubt that winning close games is pivotal to a team’s success. A few bounces here and there over the course of a 30-game season can mean the difference between a protected NCAA Tournament seed in your own backyard versus a Thursday morning start in somewhere like Spokane, Washington. With that in mind, we decided to dig into the historical data to test some theories concerning close game performance in the ACC. Some of the questions we considered include: Which schools perform the best when games go down to the wire? What are the common characteristics of teams that excel in such situations? Is it player experience that matters most or game-coaching expertise? Or is it just plain luck? Are teams that win most of their very close games better prepared for postseason play? We will also review some recent extreme team performances – both good and bad – in games decided by one to three possessions. Finally, we’ll determine if history helps us predict what will happen to the ACC squads that were either very good or extremely poor in close games last season. In today’s first installment of a three-part series, let’s tackle the historical component.

First of all, let’s look at the breakdown of victory margins in ACC regular season games over the last 11 years. As you can see in the above pie chart, approximately a quarter of all ACC league games are decided by a single possession or in overtime. And over half the time, the final margin is fewer than 10 points. This data makes it abundantly obvious that a team’s performance in so many tight affairs will have a huge impact on its placement in the conference standings. Which schools fare the best in all those tight games? 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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