ACC Weekend Preview #9Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 28th, 2014
It’s the next to last weekend of conference play in the ACC, so let’s take a look at the match-ups from an advanced statistics perspective. All statistics used are for results in ACC conference games only along with team rankings (#1-#15) in each category. For each game we will show how the two teams compare in efficiency ratings and the four factors, offense versus defense. We will also look at interesting areas of particular strength and weakness that could hold the key to the outcomes of these games. All numbers are from Ken Pomeroy’s site and are current through games of February 26, 2014. The games are presented in the order of best combined Pomeroy overall team rankings (all times EST). This weekend features a battle for first place, with the winner likely headed to the ACC Tournament in Greensboro as the top seed.
Saturday – Syracuse (26-2, 13-2 ACC) @ Virginia (24-5, 15-1 ACC) – ESPN (4:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#4) Virginia 58-53 (#10) Syracuse
This match-up will probably decide the ACC regular season title. Virginia could be the least publicized 15-1 major conference team ever. With Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina getting most of the national attention, the Cavaliers have methodically taken care of business and rolled through conference play. They also seem to be on the upswing, winning their last two games by over 20 points after three straight single-digit victories. Malcolm Brogdon continues to be a model of consistency. It’s almost unreal to look at his game-by-game scoring totals. Not only has he scored in double figures in every ACC game, but he has scored in the 12- to 17-point range in 14 of the 16 games. And in the other two contests, he had 11 once and — you guessed it — 18 in the other. The good news for Syracuse is that Jerami Grant is expected to play in the game. The sophomore missed the entire second half of Monday’s contest at Maryland with a lower back issue. In that game, the Orange won another nail-biter, bringing their record in close games (decided by five points or less) to a rather fortunate 6-1. For Syracuse to get Virginia in a close one, it better shoot much better than the team has lately. In the last four games, the Orange have averaged an extremely low effective field goal percentage (39.0). That doesn’t match up well with Virginia’s league-best defense.
Stat Watch. The key to this game may be the battle of extra possessions. Syracuse will probably not have a good shooting day, so winning the turnover battle as well as having an offensive rebounding edge would appear to be crucial. Also keep an eye on Virginia’s three-point shooting, which now leads the ACC at 39.7 percent. It will be a long night for the Orange if the Cavaliers approach that number against that famous Syracuse zone.
Sunday – Maryland (15-13, 7-8 ACC) @ Clemson (17-10, 8-7 ACC) – ACCN (1:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#47) Clemson 62-58 (#49) Maryland
Clemson’s NCAA hopes took a huge hit with Tuesday’s loss at Wake Forest. For most of the year Clemson has struggled to make shots, and so have its opponents. But neither has been true lately. In their last three games, the Tigers have a solid effective field goal rate (50.07%). But in the last four outings, Tiger opponents are doing even better (53.35 effective FG%). Maryland is a bit of an enigma recently. The Terrapins have climbed up the kenpom team rankings, going from #67 to #49 over the span of five games. Unfortunately, Maryland has lost three of those five. The reason for the rankings jump is that all three losses came to top 10 teams and all were close. The Terrapins have played improved defense in the last two contests, holding those opponents to under 90 points-per-possession.
Stat Watch. This one could be decided at the foul line. Neither team is very good at getting to the free throw stripe but Clemson is far better at limiting opponents’ attempts. Maryland hopes to make up for that in three-point shooting, with Seth Allen coming of a 6-of-9 night from three on Monday. On the other side, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels has only made two of his last 18 shots from long range.
Saturday – Pittsburgh (21-7, 9-6 ACC) @ Notre Dame (15-14, 6-10 ACC) – ESPN2 (2:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#18) Pittsburgh 69-65 (#99) Notre Dame
These two old Big East rivals meet for the first time as ACC members. In a bit of a surprise, Notre Dame has a five game winning streak against the Panthers. To make it six in a row, the Irish hope that they play like they did in the middle of Wednesday’s win over Georgia Tech. After falling behind by 11 points after 12 minutes of play, Notre Dame outscored the Yellow Jackets 36 to 16 over the next 13 and a half minutes before allowing Georgia Tech to make it close at the end. Garrick Sherman had his best game in a while, leading the way with 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting. Pittsburgh got a much needed win at Boston College on Wednesday, behind 21 points from Talib Zanna, who only had scored a total of 12 in the two previous outings. Lamar Patterson has really been struggling to make two point baskets, shooting a miserable 16-for-58 from inside the arc in the last eight games. However, the senior leader has been more effective lately from behind the three point line, making at least three long range shots in each of the last four contests.
Stat Watch. The outcome may be decided by Pittsburgh’s ability to get to the free throw line. In looking at the “Four Factors” when the Panthers have the ball, we see that free throw attempts is the best area for both the Pittsburgh offense and the Notre Dame defense. If the Irish can defend without fouling, they will have a good shot at pulling off the upset.
Saturday – Miami (14-14, 5-10 ACC) @ N.C. State (17-11, 7-8 ACC) – ACCN (12:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#73) N.C. State 63-59 (#79) Miami
N.C. State lost another heart-breaker on Wednesday to arch-rival North Carolina. T.J. Warren was outstanding in that one, scoring a career high 36 points, the most scored in an ACC game this year. But that performance was not too much above the norm for the sophomore, who has averaged 27.75 points in the last eight games. Even if the Wolfpack wins their remaining three games, they will still need a great ACC Tournament showing (perhaps a championship) even to be considered for NCAA Tournament selection. Already not a deep team, Miami’s roster took another blow recently with the suspension of forward James Kelly. Senior Erik Swoope has taken advantage of the available minutes and even led the team in scoring (13 points) in Wednesday’s loss at Virginia. Impressively, Swoope has converted 16-of-20 from the free throw line in the last three games after being a career 51 percent shooter from the stripe beforehand.
Stat Watch. It may sound strange but three-point shooting may be a big factor for N.C. State, who is last in the league in long range prowess (29%). They have only made seven or more threes in an ACC game on three occasions, but one of those was in the previous meeting between these two squads. The Wolfpack also did it in their last outing on Wednesday so they should be confident going against the Miami zone.
Sunday – Georgia Tech (13-15, 4-11 ACC) @ Florida State (16-11, 7-8 ACC) – ESPNU (6:00 PM)
Of all the ACC teams hoping to get on the NCAA Bubble, Florida State appears to be the only one with even a realistic chance of making the field as an at-large selection. While some may not see much of a difference when comparing the Seminoles with Clemson and N.C. State, upon closer examination, Florida State is the only one without a problem stat that normally eliminates teams from consideration. Clemson has an RPI non-conference schedule rating of #275, while Florida State’s is #113. And unlike N.C. State, which does not have a single win against the RPI top 50, the Seminoles have three such victories, including Monday’s big road win at Pittsburgh. But of course to remain in contention for an NCAA bid, Florida State needs to win their last three games. Ian Miller has gone from fairly hot to downright sizzling. The senior Seminole has averaged 22 points in the last three contests and has made 16-of-28 threes in his last four outings. Georgia Tech sophomore Robert Carter Jr. is continuing to get his game back into shape, after returning from injury five games ago. Carter got his first start since December on Wednesday, in the loss at Notre Dame, and responded with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Stat Watch. Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, they do not appear equipped to attack the two major Florida State weaknesses, turnovers and defensive rebounding. That means that the Seminoles should be able to take advantage of their strengths, offensive and defensive field goal shooting.
Saturday – North Carolina (21-7, 11-4 ACC) @ Virginia Tech (9-18, 2-13 ACC) – ACCN (2:30 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#20) North Carolina 73-63 (#184) Virginia Tech
North Carolina is clearly one of the hottest teams in the country. While the Tar Heel defense has been very solid for most of the year, it’s the team’s improvement on the offensive end that has sparked this run. In the process of getting off to an 0-and-3 start in ACC play, North Carolina scored only 169 points in 200 possessions for a horrid rate of .845. Since then, the Tar Heels have tallied 953 points in 826 possessions for an outstanding 1.15 rate. Of course the main man for North Carolina has been Marcus Paige who has leaped into the ACC Player-of-the-Year race with his clutch play. His 31 points after halftime, which included the game-winning driving layup, lifted the Tar Heels over N.C. State on Wednesday. North Carolina has proven to be a very resilient bunch with their capacity for comeback wins and overcoming a recent slump from star forward James Michael McAdoo, who has only averaged 7.25 points on 10-of-36 shooting in the last four games. This will be the last home game of the season for Virginia Tech, who has played well in its last three appearances in Cassell Coliseum. Even though the Hokies only won one of those, opponents have barely outscored them, 173-169 in the three games combined.
Stat Watch. This one may not be close, but if it is watch out for free throw shooting. The rims better watch out as well, as these are the two worst foul shooting teams in the conference.
Saturday – Boston College (7-21, 3-12 ACC) @ Wake Forest (15-13, 5-10 ACC) – RSN (4:00 PM)
Pomeroy Prediction: (#117) Wake Forest 74-68 (#153) Boston College
Boston College has dropped two straight since pulling off the upset of the year at Syracuse. The main problem for the Eagles has been the unusual lack of production from behind the three-point line. After sinking at least seven three-point baskets in the first 13 ACC games, Boston College has only made four long range shots in each of those last two losses. Perhaps Wake Forest has not packed it in for the season just yet. After losing seven straight games and trailing a hungry Clemson squad by 10 late in the first half in Winston-Salem on Tuesday, the Demon Deacons came roaring back to win. To make it two in a row, Wake Forest needs to exploit the small Boston College front line which ranks last in the ACC in field goal defense.
Stat Watch. Assuming that Boston College gets its touch back from outside and that Wake Forest wins the points-in-the-paint battle, this one may be decided at the free throw line. These are two of the best in the league at getting to the line, so whichever team makes the most free throws should have the upper hand.