Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume VI

Posted by Brad Jenkins on February 27th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 25.

Current StandingsACC Stand - Feb26N.C. State and Pittsburgh continue to surge in the standings, with both schools winning twice in the last week. The Wolfpack in particular have been impressive lately, and Tuesday night’s rare win in Chapel Hill has their faithful feeling much better about making the Big Dance. In fact, based on points per possession margin (PPM) in conference play, Mark Gottfried’s squad has performed every bit as well as any ACC team other than Virginia and Duke. Speaking of the Cavaliers, what they are doing defensively continues to amaze. After holding Wake Forest to just 34 points on Wednesday night in Winston-Salem, Tony Bennett’s guys have practically assured themselves of finishing ACC play with the best defensive points per possession mark in recent conference history — the advanced stats era began in the 2001-02 season. And it will come as no surprise that the existing record for defensive efficiency performance was achieved by last year’s Virginia team — a group that held ACC opponents to a chilly 0.91 points per possession.

There are no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend, but there are some interesting games to observe as teams fight for postseason seeding. Jim Boeheim brings Syracuse to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (Saturday @ 7:00 PM ET – ESPN) in hopes that this game doesn’t end in a similar fashion to last year’s trip to Durham, which featured Boeheim’s dramatic ejection in the closing moments (and spawned a fun meme). In the only other game involving two teams with winning ACC records, North Carolina travels to Miami (Saturday @ 2:00 PM ET – CBS) in another crucial game for the Hurricanes and their NCAA Tourney hopes. There are also a couple of important games for a pair of hot ACC teams that take to the road for meetings with league bottom-dwellers, as N.C. State visits Boston College (Saturday @ Noon ET – RSN) and Pittsburgh travels to Wake Forest (Sunday @ 6:30 PM ET – ESPNU). Neither the Wolfpack nor the Panthers can afford a bad loss on their resumes as the season winds down.

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The Pros and Cons For Clemson’s Brad Brownell

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 26th, 2015

Brad Brownell is now in his fifth season at the helm of Clemson’s basketball program, and it appears that this will be the fourth consecutive year under his direction that the Tigers will fail to make the NCAA Tournament. For an ACC coach, a four-year hiatus from the Big Dance typically inspires discussion of the hot seat, so this is a good time to take stock in Brownell’s program and project if he will still be coaching there next season. To help with the analysis we have put together some key data from Clemson’s last eight seasons — including Brownell’s five years and former coach Oliver Purnell’s three years before him. Purnell, now at DePaul, was the head coach at Clemson for seven seasons and exceeded 20 wins in each of his last four years, including one-and-done NCAA Tournament appearances during the last three. Brownell reached the Dance in his first year at Clemson and even won an NCAA Tourney game when he got there (something Purnell could not do), but the program has only had one 20-win season since.

Clemson 8yrTrend

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons with Brownell’s tenure at Clemson.

Positives

  • Expectations. For the most part Brownell’s squads have met or exceeded expectations in comparison with preseason ACC media predictions. The lone exception was in 2012-13, when Clemson lost 10 of 11 games to close the year and finished with a 13-18 (5-14 ACC) record. The Tigers’ best result versus preseason expectations came the following year when K.J. McDaniels led the Tigers to a surprising 23-win season that included a trip to the NIT semifinals.
  • Off-Court Behavior. Off the court, Brownell and his players have performed well: The coach seems to have an easygoing and cooperative relationship with both fans and media, and there have been no major off-the-floor issues with players or staff with respect to rules compliance. His players are also performing well in the classroom – nine of Brownell’s 10 seniors have graduated.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.23.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 23rd, 2015

With no match-ups between the ACC’s elite teams this weekend, the focus instead was on two important road contests for teams trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Miami let a big lead slip away to lose at Louisville on the game’s final possession, and Pittsburgh improved its resume in completing a season sweep of Syracuse. Around the rest of the league, both Duke and North Carolina were able to put Wednesday’s emotionally draining overtime epic behind them and score comfortable home wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech, respectively. The Blue Devils played without star center Jahlil Okafor, who is still nursing an ankle injury suffered in that win last Wednesday. At the start of North Carolina’s game, Roy Williams paid homage to Dean Smith by running Smith’s famed Four Corners offense on the Heels’ first possession. In other weekend action, Virginia outlasted Florida State in a defensive struggle; Notre Dame cruised to victory at Boston College; and N.C. State took care of business by beating Virginia Tech in Raleigh. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Pittsburgh's Chris Jones came off the bench to score 19 as the Panthers keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive. (Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

Pittsburgh’s Chris Jones came off the bench to score 19 as the Panthers keep their NCAA Tourney hopes alive.
(Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports)

  • Best Win: Pittsburgh plugged a gaping hole in its NCAA Tournament resume by getting its first road win of the season versus an RPI top-100 team at Syracuse. The Panthers’ win at the Carrier Dome featured yet another productive offensive performance by Jamie Dixon’s squad against the vaunted Syracuse zone. Pittsburgh scored 1.18 points per possession on Saturday after posting 1.22 in its earlier win over the Orange, giving the Panthers the two highest totals allowed by Jim Boeheim’s squad all year long. A look at previous meetings over recent years suggests that Dixon may have cracked the zone’s code. In the teams’ last 10 meetings dating back seven years, Pittsburgh has averaged 1.08 points per possession against a Syracuse defense that annually finishes among the nation’s best. If they haven’t already done so, perhaps ACC coaches around the league should study and emulate that strategy (easier said than done).

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume V

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 20th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 18.

Current Standings

ACCStandings2.19

With three weekends of conference play remaining, things are now mostly as they should be in the standings with respect to matching points per possession margin (PPM) with actual wins and losses. Virginia maintains a clear lead in both the standings and in PPM, and Duke can lay claim to being the second best team, with a clear PPM edge over Notre Dame. Last week we showed how the Irish have achieved their impressive 11-3 record by performing so well in close games, noting that Georgia Tech is the exact opposite reflection of Notre Dame in both PPM and actual record. It’s seems fitting then that those two teams have squared off twice already, and each game ended with a close Irish victory. Another interesting situation involves two teams fighting for NCAA Tournament consideration, N.C. State and Pittsburgh. Each school picked up a nice win over a ranked opponent last weekend but both the Wolfpack and the Panthers remain a game below .500 in the standings. That’s where the similarities end, though, as N.C. State has been the far better team in possession-based performance, with Pittsburgh’s defense surprisingly ranked as the league’s worst.

There are once again no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend. In the only game involving two teams with winning conference records, Louisville travels to Miami (Saturday @ 2:00 PM ET – ESPN) in a crucial game for the Hurricanes and their NCAA Tourney hopes. There are also a couple of games that feature an ACC heavyweight hosting a school that’s looking to get over the .500 mark, as Clemson visits Duke (Saturday @ 4:00 PM ET – ESPN), and Virginia entertains Florida State (Sunday @ 6:30 PM ET – ESPNU). In another important contest, Pittsburgh needs to win at Syracuse (Saturday @ Noon ET – ACCN) to keep any hope alive of making the Dance.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.16.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 16th, 2015

The big story of the weekend was that two middle-of-the-pack ACC teams got huge resume-building wins. Pittsburgh dominated North Carolina at the Petersen Events Center Saturday afternoon, and N.C. State picked up a surprising road win at Louisville later that same day. Conference leader Virginia had to hang on to edge Wake Forest by a single point in Charlottesville, and Duke rallied from a double-figure first half deficit to win at Syracuse. In other weekend action, Clemson easily handled visiting Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech lost yet another heart-breaker, this time at home to Florida State. There was only one game scheduled on Sunday, but Miami’s game at Boston College had to be postponed until today. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Michael Gbinjie had a career-high 27 points against his former team. (Dennis Nett/Syracuse.com)

Michael Gbinjie had a career-high 27 points against his former team.
(Dennis Nett/Syracuse.com)

  • Best Win: It’s hard to say for sure, but N.C. State’s win over Louisville in the KFC Yum! Center could be more important than its earlier home win over rival Duke. While its fans obviously wouldn’t trade the two wins, this victory filled a major hole in N.C. State’s postseason resume. The victory proved that the Wolfpack can win on the road against high level competition, and they did it with a solid all-around performance: outscoring Louisville in the paint (32-16), only committing eight turnovers and holding stars Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier to a combined 14 points and 3-of-15 shooting. Anthony Barber led the way for the Pack with 21 points, his third 20-plus scoring game in the team’s last four outings.
  • Worst Loss: It’s been an emotional seven days for North Carolina’s basketball program, starting with last weekend’s passing of legendary former head coach Dean Smith. With all the attention that came with that situation it’s certainly understandable that the Tar Heels were a little flat on Saturday. But some of the problems on display at Pittsburgh over the weekend are not one-game issues. North Carolina’s defensive points per possession mark in ACC play is now up to 1.06, which is surprising considering that the Tar Heels returned much of last year’s group that finished at a very good 1.01 PPP. Even more disturbing is that opponents have scored at an way-too-easy 1.15 PPP rate over the last five games.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume IV

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 13th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 11.

Current Standings

ACCStandings2.12

While Virginia maintains a clear lead in both the standings, and in points per possession margin (PPM), there was some shuffling right behind the Cavaliers last week. Almost entirely due to Duke’s 30-point rout of Notre Dame, the Blue Devils jumped to the top of the second tier and the Irish fell to such an extent that they now are closer to N.C. State and Syracuse than they are to the top four schools. We will examine in more detail below just how Notre Dame has achieved such a lofty 10-3 record despite a rather pedestrian PPM. Of course, Georgia Tech is the polar opposite of the Irish, as the Yellow Jackets own a better PPM than four teams above them in the standings.

Unlike the last few weeks, there are no match-ups involving two of the ACC’s five elite teams on the schedule this weekend. But we still have a few games of high interest on Saturday, led by Duke’s visit to Syracuse (6:00 PM ET – ESPN), probably viewed by the Orange as this season’s Super Bowl with no postseason play on the horizon. There are also two games featuring top tier schools against teams that are desperate for signature wins, as North Carolina makes its first ACC trip to Pittsburgh (Noon ET – ACCN) and N.C. State travels to Louisville (4:00 PM ET – ESPN). Those two games are absolutely crucial for the shaky NCAA hopes of the Panthers and the Wolfpack.

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Justise Winslow’s Recent Play Has Duke Surging Again

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 11th, 2015

Like many talented freshmen, Duke forward Justise Winslow has experienced some ups and downs in his rookie campaign. He started the year with a flurry of impressive games, scoring at least 14 points in each of the first five games of the season. After that came a less productive three-game stretch in which Winslow scored seven points or fewer each time out. Things then seemed to level off going into January, as he started ACC play strong before hitting the freshman wall and the entering a mini-slump. It now appears that slump is over, as Winslow has returned to playing well and aggressively, giving the Blue Devils a much-needed boost on both ends of the floor.

Justise Winslow attacks the basket in Duke's blowout win over Notre Dame. (Photo: Bernard Thomas / The Herald-Sun)

Winslow attacks the basket in Duke’s blowout win over Notre Dame. (Bernard Thomas/The Herald-Sun)

In last Saturday’s 90-60 rout over Notre Dame, Winslow was often the best player on the floor. Duke’s 81 percent shooting was the story of the first half — including a sizzling 7-of-8 performance from three — and Jahlil Okafor was the story of the second half, as the star big man finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Winslow, however, was consistently good all afternoon, scoring 19 points, grabbing 11 boards, and recording two blocks — one of which was quite impressive. Mike Krzyzewski is both aware and appreciative of the recently improved play of his third star rookie, who has now recorded double-figure rebounds in three of his last four outings. In the postgame, Krzyzewski said, “Justise [Winslow] has just played so well. He has really learned to play through his injuries. That’s the sign of a guy [who is] really growing up and becoming an outstanding player. You’ve got to play a little bit sore without talking about it and that is what he is doing.”

Monday night’s game at Florida State was not nearly as productive for Winslow, but he still found ways to help his team hang on for a tough road ACC win. After missing his first five field goal attempts, he hit an important three with just under seven minutes left to give the Blue Devils some breathing room. He also got to the foul line frequently, where he made 7-of-10 attempts that resulted in double-figure points for the fifth straight contest. The chart below shows just how dramatically different Winslow’s production has been before, during, and after hitting the “wall” in conference play.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 9th, 2015

After two straight weekends full of buzzer-beaters and furious comebacks, this was a much quieter weekend in the ACC. In the headline event on Saturday night, Virginia held off Louisville in a defensive struggle. Earlier in the day, Duke blew out Notre Dame at Cameron Indoor, gaining big-time revenge for the Irish’s win over the Blue Devils in South Bend 11 days prior. Elsewhere, North Carolina was sluggish early at Boston College but came on strong in the second half to beat the Eagles in another Saturday game. After all of this, Virginia is now two games clear in the loss column in its quest for a second straight ACC regular season title, with four schools behind the Cavaliers tied with three losses each. Pittsburgh also overtook visiting Syracuse; Georgia Tech beat Wake Forest in Atlanta; and Florida State won on the road at Virginia Tech. In the only Sunday ACC action of the weekend, Miami got a much-needed home win over Clemson. Here are some of the other highlights from the ACC’s weekend action.

Pittsburgh's Jamel Artis has become an All-ACC candidate with his recent play. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis has become an All-ACC candidate with his strong recent play.
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

  • Most Outstanding Player: We listed Pittsburgh’s Jamel Artis as an unsung hero after a solid weekend performance a couple of weeks ago. Now, after streaking together a series of outstanding games, it’s time to list the sophomore forward among the ACC’s elite players. Saturday afternoon’s contest in the Peterson Events Center was a perfect example of how well Artis is playing in many areas — he finished the game with 20 points, 10 boards, three steals, and five assists. Syracuse led by as many as 10 points in the first half before Artis led the Panthers all the way back to the lead and the victory. His 14 points after intermission were punctuated by a dagger three to give Pitt up a five-point lead with a minute to go in the game.
  • Best Win: There wasn’t an obvious choice for this award since pretty much all the favored teams won, so let’s go with a team that probably needed a win more than anyone else. Even though Miami was favored to beat Clemson on Sunday night in Coral Gables, the Hurricanes’ 56-45 victory over the red-hot Tigers was huge for Jim Larranaga’s squad. By snapping a three-game losing streak, Miami moved back over .500 in ACC play and keeps the Hurricanes’ NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Clemson entered the game having won four straight and led by a point at the half, but the Tigers couldn’t contain Miami’s shooters down the stretch as the Hurricanes shot 55 percent after intermission. Sheldon McClellan led Miami with 19 points, while Tonye Jekiri ruled the paint, grabbing 16 rebounds. 

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 6th, 2015

This is the latest edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, February 4.

Current Standings

 ACCStandings

With the conference season now just past the halfway point, some distinct tiers are forming with respect to points per possession margin (PPM). Virginia is clearly in a class by itself even though the Cavaliers hold a very slim one-game lead in the standings. Behind Virginia is a four-team group that’s looks very similar in both the standings and in PPM. Every weekend features a couple of great match-ups between the ACC heavyweights and this Saturday is no exception. Louisville travels to Charlottesville (7:00 PM ET – ESPN) for the first of two meetings with the Cavaliers, and Duke gets a chance for revenge when it hosts Notre Dame (1:00 PM ET – CBS). If both home clubs prevail, Virginia will have a two-game lead in the loss column over the other four legitimate contenders – assuming that North Carolina also wins Saturday afternoon at Boston College.

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As Angel Rodriguez Slumps, So Does Miami

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 5th, 2015

If we have learned anything about Miami this season, it’s that as Angel Rodriguez goes, so go the Hurricanes. And unfortunately for Jim Larranaga right now, that’s not a good thing. Due in great part to a major drought from its on-floor leader, Miami has now dropped three straight ACC games and has likely fallen on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble. The Hurricanes’ home defeat to Louisville on Tuesday night was just the latest example of how difficult things are for Miami when the junior is having an off night. A look at the box score reveals that he failed to reach double-figures for the fourth time in conference play — all Miami losses. The chart below shows just how strong the correlation is between Rodriguez’s performance and the team’s ACC fortunes.

 Angel

The trend also extends to Miami’s non-conference games. In the Hurricanes’ two solid November road wins against Florida and Charlotte, Rodriguez averaged 19.0 points and made 9-of-15 three-pointers. In those two head-scratching blowout home losses to Green Bay and Eastern Kentucky, he only managed a total of 13 points and shot a miserable 1-of-11 from distance. Part of the problem is that Miami relies too much on the transfer guard for offense — carrying an extremely high usage rate of 31.9 percent in ACC play. Here’s a look at how Rodriguez compares to some of the other prominent ACC guards in both usage and performance.

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ACC Weekend Review: 02.02.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on February 2nd, 2015

Once again the ACC enjoyed a highly entertaining weekend full of buzzer-beaters and furious comebacks. Much like last year when Syracuse beat Duke in an ESPN Gameday event on the night before the Super Bowl, the ACC grabbed the national spotlight again with a pair of high-level Saturday games. They both lived up to their billing, as Louisville capped off a big comeback to beat North Carolina in overtime before Duke closed its game with a stunning offensive flurry to hand Virginia its first loss of the season. In a few other Saturday nail-biters, Notre Dame lost a surprising final-possession game at Pittsburgh; N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to knock off Georgia Tech; and Wake Forest held off Virginia Tech for its second conference win. Also on Saturday, Clemson won its third in a row by beating Boston College handily in Littlejohn Coliseum. In the only Sunday ACC action, Miami missed a shot at the buzzer to fall to rival Florida State in a game where the Hurricanes blew a big first half lead. Here are some of the other highlights from over the weekend in the ACC.

Montrezl Harrell grabs one his game-high 15 rebounds in Louisville's big comeback win. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

Montrezl Harrell grabs one of his game-high 15 rebounds in Louisville’s big comeback win.
(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

  • Most Outstanding Player: In a weekend full of superb performances we will give the nod to Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, the driving force behind the Cards’ comeback from an 18-point second half deficit to North Carolina. Harrell finished the game with 22 points and 15 rebounds, including eight offensive boards after the half, but it was more than his stellar numbers that merit praise for the junior forward. He played 44 ferocious minutes and his energy on both ends of the floor was responsible for turning the game around. He was so utterly dominant inside that both of North Carolina’s power forwards — Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks — fouled out of the game trying to keep up with him. Behind Harrell’s man-sized effort, Louisville was able to overcomes its cold shooting and beat the Tar Heels at their own game, utilizing a 28-to-24 edge in points from the paint.

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Inside the ACC Numbers: Volume II

Posted by Brad Jenkins on January 30th, 2015

This is the second edition of a weekly look at the current ACC standings and corresponding team performances, focusing on the teams that are playing better or worse than their records might indicate. We will also delve into some advanced metrics to find a few interesting team or player stats and trends. Finally, we will forecast how the final standings may look, and what that means for ACC schools’ postseason aspirations.

Note: All numbers are current for games played through Wednesday, January 28.

Current Standings

Jan29ACCPPP

Newsflash #1 – Virginia is pretty good at playing defense. I know you didn’t hear that here first, but I bet you didn’t know that the Cavaliers are so much better than the rest of the league. To date, the gap between Virginia and the second-best ACC defense,  Syracuse, is 0.14 PPP, a figure that is wider than the difference (0.13 PPP) between the Orange and the worst defense in the league (Pittsburgh). This is the fourth consecutive season that Tony Bennett’s squad has a defense rated among the nation’s top 25; over that period of 64 games, Virginia has only allowed 19 ACC opponents to score more than a point per possession. Interestingly, the only team that Virginia has failed to hold below that mark is its next opponent. But even though Duke has managed to be somewhat effective against the Cavaliers’ pack-line defense, the Blue Devils have only won two of those four meetings. Given the recent dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke may face an uphill battle in converting possessions against a rested Virginia team.

It has been a tough last week-plus for the league’s middle-of-the-pack teams. The biggest slide came from N.C. State, which has now dropped three games in a row including two straight at home. As we mentioned last week, Syracuse and Pittsburgh were not playing as well as their records indicated, especially considering the relative weakness of each team’s conference schedule. Predictably, those former Big East rivals both lost two games in the past week. North Carolina is the next team on the list that may be in for a slight correction. The Tar Heels gaudy PPP margin has been built against the second-weakest conference schedule so far. Up next is a tough three-day stretch for Roy Williams as his squad travels to Louisville Saturday and then hosts Virginia on Big Monday.

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