Rushed Reactions: #8 Wisconsin 84, #9 Virginia Tech 74

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 16th, 2017

Wisconsin came out on top tonight in an entertaining, back-and-forth affair that saw the two teams combine for 20 made three-pointers.

Bronson Koenig had a huge night in Buffalo. (Photo: The Sports Post)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Bronson Koenig was awesome. Hampered by a lingering leg injury for much of February, Koenig seemed to be trending toward full health late in the season. His performance on Thursday night put any remaining doubts to rest — the senior point guard is back. Koenig scored 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from behind the arc, including a 5-of-6 stretch from three-point range during the second half that enabled Wisconsin to maintain its slight advantage. Perhaps the most pivotal moment of the night came near the eight-minute mark, when he knocked down a gutsy triple from several feet behind the arc, then stole the ball on the other end before drawing a foul. On a night where star forward Ethan Happ scored just 10 points, Koenig’s effort was essential. Whether he plays at a high level again on Saturday may determine if the Badgers will return to the Sweet Sixteen.
  2. Wisconsin is living and thriving from behind the arc. For the second time in three games, Wisconsin attempted more three-pointers (31) than two-pointers (30). The staggering ratio worked against Northwestern in the Big Ten semifinals — Wisconsin hit 12 threes in that one — and carried the Badgers again on Thursday night (13-for-31 3FG). With players like Happ (13.9 PPG) and Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG) manning the interior, it’s not like Wisconsin can’t score inside effectively. For an offense that’s struggled to find its groove at times this year, though, perhaps the best tonic is simply the freedom to hoist from long range.
  3. Virginia Tech basketball is (and will remain) exciting under Buzz Williams. In just three short years, Buzz Williams has transformed a Virginia Tech offense that ranked dead last in the ACC in 2014 to one of the nation’s best this season. And it showed on Thursday night. The Hokies — a great three-point shooting team — carved up Wisconsin’s interior defense like butter in the second half, as Zach LeDay (23 points) found himself more than a couple powerful dunks to ignite the Virginia Tech faithful. Whether it was half-court sets or unselfish plays in transition, Williams has clearly done a masterful job on that end of the court. Despite the departures of Seth Allen (13.4 PPG) and LeDay (16.3 PPG), it’s hard to imagine the Hokies falling too far down the ACC standings in 2017-18.

Star of the Game. Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin (21 points, 8-of-17 3FG). Everything was falling for Koenig in the second half, including a spot-up corner three that hit front rim, bounced off the backboard, and fell through the net. His steady hand and timely shooting helped Wisconsin remain ahead despite several momentous scoring bursts for Virginia Tech down the stretch. In order for Wisconsin to advance past Saturday, the senior needs to continue playing at a very high level.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: ACC Teams

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 12th, 2017

The ACC received nine bids to the NCAA Tournament today, as the Selection Committee rewarded one of the league’s two bubble teams with Wake Forest making the field over Syracuse and its 2-10 record away from the Carrier Dome. Another big question going into today was whether regular season champion North Carolina or ACC Tournament winner Duke would get a #1 seed? The Tar Heels, on the strength of their regular season work, ultimately got the nod from the committee. Here are some quick best- and worst-case scenarios for each of the nine ACC teams in the field.

North Carolina (#1 South)

  • Best Case: The Tar Heels’ size and experience results in another appearance in the National Championship game with a chance for the school’s sixth national title.
  • Worst Case: North Carolina has another bad shooting night away from the Smith Center against an opponent (e.g., Butler) that will not allow the Heels to dominate the offensive glass.

Duke hopes to continue to play like it did in Brooklyn where they won four games in four days to capture the ACC Tourney Title. (abc11.com)

Duke (#2 East)

  • Best Case: Duke builds on its current momentum all the way to Phoenix, giving Coach K a shot at his sixth National Championship.
  • Worst Case: On a day when Duke’s threes are not falling, the Blue Devils get picked off in the Second Round by South Carolina, which benefits from a friendly local crowd in Greenville.

Louisville (#2 Midwest)

  • Best Case: Louisville’s defense overwhelms its foes and the Cardinals hit enough shots to get Rick Pitino back to the Final Four for a chance at his second title at the school and third overall.
  • Worst Case: The threes and free throws don’t connect for the Cardinals and they can’t get turnovers against a hot Michigan or Oklahoma State squad in the Second Round.

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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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This Weekend in the ACC: March 4

Posted by Mick McDonald on March 4th, 2017

Here are a few things to keep your eye on around the ACC this weekend (all times Eastern).

Saturday, 2:00 PM: Notre Dame at Louisville The Fighting Irish have quietly fired off six straight victories (thanks in part to an incredibly soft portion of the schedule), but they now sit alone in second place and can lock down the #2 seed with a win at Louisville this afternoon. This version of Mike Brey’s squad is nearly unbeatable if it makes three-pointers at a high clip and protects the ball. Over the past six games, Notre Dame is shooting 38 percent from three-point range and averaging fewer than nine turnovers per game. In their first meeting with the Cardinals — a 77-70 win in South Bend — the Irish attempted a season-low 12 three-pointers (making five) but converted 22-of-25 attempts from the free throw line. They’ll need to knock down more long-range shots than that today if they want to walk out of the Yum! Center with a victory.

Can John Collins pull together another dominant performance for the Demon Deacons against Virginia Tech today? (Brian Westeholt/Wake Sports)

Saturday, 4:30 PM: Wake Forest at Virginia Tech. Wake Forest’s tournament resume has been beaten to death for having all the requisite components (good computer numbers; no bad losses; a solid performance in the best conference in the country) except a signature win. The Demon Deacons finally checked that box when they beat Louisville in Winston-Salem earlier this week. Today’s trip to Blacksburg is another good opportunity for Wake to earn a win over another likely NCAA Tournament team, and for John Collins to make his final statement for ACC Player of the Year. Collins has been terrific all season but the sophomore has taken it to another level recently. In his last six games, Collins is averaging 25.7 points, 11.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 65 percent from the field and 77 percent from the line. The big man leads the nation in Player Efficiency Rating (36.7) and paces the ACC in effective field goal percentage (61.9%) and Win Shares per 40 minutes (26.2). Against a Hokies team that doesn’t have a lot of size, look for Collins to finish off his incredible season with an exclamation point.

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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 Bubble Watch: February 21 Edition

Posted by Charlie Maikis on February 21st, 2017

Last week was an important one for the ACC bubble, a trend that is likely to continue through the rest of the regular season. With no fewer than seven ACC locks and five more teams circulating around the bubble, the league still has a reasonable shot at tying or beating the Big East’s record 11 teams sent to the NCAA Tournament in 2011. Here’s where the bubble stands three weeks out from Selection Sunday. (KenPom rankings and team records through Monday night.)

LOCKS: (6): North Carolina, Louisville, Duke, Notre Dame, Florida State, Virginia

Miami’s Comeback Win at Virginia Last Night Put the Hurricanes Into Lock Status (USA Today Images)

  • Miami (19-8, 9-6 ACC, KenPom #30). Miami locked itself into the field of 68 as the ACC’s seventh team with a three-game winning streak over six days that included victories over fellow bubblers Georgia Tech and Clemson, as well as a huge comeback win at Virginia on Monday night. Even more impressive is that the Hurricanes managed to save its season without the services of injured veteran point guard Ja’Quan Newton. They will now finish at worst .500 in ACC play, which along with a resume that includes two marquee wins (North Carolina and at Virginia) and no bad losses should provide plenty of justification for the committee. This week: Duke (2/25), at Virginia Tech (2/27)

BUBBLE

  • Syracuse (16-12, 8-7 ACC, KenPom #48). The NCAA Tournament hopes of the Orange took a big hit this week when they traveled to Georgia Tech on Saturday and lost by six points. Now at 8-7 in conference play but with a lousy non-conference performance still weighing its resume down, Syracuse probably needs to win one of its upcoming games against Duke and Louisville, in addition to Georgia Tech plus one more in the ACC Tournament, to feel comfortable. This week: Duke (2/22), at Louisville (2/26).

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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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