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ACC Preview: The Contenders

In one week, the Noles will start ACC play against the Duke Blue Devils at home, beginning a long stretch of tough competition in the best conference in the nation. This will be the first in a series of three previews looking at our future opponents: The Contenders, The Middlemen and Everyone else. Before each game conference game, I will have a detailed analysis of the specific match up. I hope that these previews will serve as the palate cleansers between the OOC schedule and our ACC schedule. 

Update: There may have been a couple of formatting issues preventing some of you from reading the discussion below the stat lines of each team. I apologize but it appears it has been fixed. Thanks, TC

Starting January 10th, the Noles have a brutal stretch of 16 games against the best conference in the nation. Are we going to win the regular season title? Probably not. Are we going to win the conference tournament? Probably not. But I think we are going to have a better conference record than the 5-11 that is currently predicted by Ken Pomeroy and crew. A majority of the stats, as always, will come from Ken Pomeroy's fantastic site. If you are into advanced sports statistics and mathematical models...check it out. 

Here is how the conferences match up. For almost the entire season, the ACC has been in the top spot:

               Ranking of conferences by average rating of the teams

1 Atlantic Coast Conference .9171 17 Mid American Conference .4117
2 Pac 10 Conference .9062 18 Summit League .3820
3 Big East Conference .9047 19 Big Sky Conference .3732
4 Big 12 Conference .8978 20 Sun Belt Conference .3549
5 Big Ten Conference .8901 21 Southland Conference .3255
6 Southeastern Conference .8300 22 America East Conference .3132
7 Mountain West Conference .7924 23 Ohio Valley Conference .3099
8 Conference USA .7042 24 Southern Conference .2601
9 Missouri Valley Conference .6561 25 Atlantic Sun Conference .2577
10 Atlantic 10 Conference .6404 26 Big South Conference .2390
11 Western Athletic Conference .5771 27 Ivy League .2219
12 West Coast Conference .5638 28 Patriot League .2168
13 Horizon League .5572 29 Northeast Conference .1939
14 Big West Conference .4446 30 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference .1156
15 Colonial Athletic Association .4353 31 Independents .0944
16 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference .4157 32 Southwestern Athletic Conference .0658

The conference is stacked. The lowest ranked team in the Pomeroy ratings is Virginia Tech, currently 9-4, who is ranked 84:

                        Overall  Conf
W-L W-L Pomeroy/Rnk AdjO/Rnk AdjD/Rnk SOS/Rnk NCSOS/Rnk

Clemson 13-0 1-0 .9667/11 119.9/6 89.5/38 .4754/207 .3981/262
Virginia 6-4 1-0 .7796/81 105.4/96 94.4/80 .5296/158 .4814/208
Duke 11-1 0-0 .9854/2 116.6/14 80.8/4 .5722/125 .5722/132
North Carolina 13-0 0-0 .9851/3 123.5/2 85.8/18 .6218/85 .6218/93
Wake Forest 12-0 0-0 .9568/19 108.2/65 82.6/8 .3024/313 .3024/312
Maryland 10-2 0-0 .9250/34 105.9/87 85.1/14 .4616/218 .4616/222
Boston College 12-2 0-0 .8769/57 112.3/37 94.6/81 .4250/248 .4250/245
Florida St. 12-2 0-0 .8190/70 100.6/167 88.2/32 .6038/104 .6038/109
North Carolina St. 9-2 0-0 .7776/82 108.9/57 97.7/127 .1884/339 .1884/340
Virginia Tech 9-4 0-0 .7741/84 107.0/80 96.1/103 .4837/201 .4837/205
Miami FL 9-3 0-1 .9496/21 114.5/24 88.7/33 .6386/76 .5845/123
Georgia Tech 8-4 0-1 .7824/80 101.8/144 91.1/52 .3591/291 .3339/301

The only current reason that Virginia is listed 2nd is that the order is based on conference wins first, then Pomeroy rankings. We have the worst offense in the conference at 167...but that's as low as it gets. The Big East has lowly South Florida whose offense is rated 202. The lowest rated offense in the Pac-10, the second best conference is 158. If you look at the defensive column, NC State has the worst in the conference at 127. The Pac-10's worst: Oregon St at 220. The ACC is, without a doubt, the best team in college basketball. Currently, Joe Lunardi predicts that 6 teams from the ACC will make it to the NCAA tournament: Duke, UNC, Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami and Maryland. He has the Florida Gators in a 7 seed...last time I checked we beat them. He also has 9 teams from the Big East getting in. I look forward to seeing how this will change as the year goes on, but 9 teams is generous. I think 6 from the ACC is about right, maybe 7. Eight will be a stretch.

Let's take a look at the Big 4: Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and Clemson.


4. Wake Forest Deamon Deacons

Last year, the Demon Deacons finished 17-13 overall, going 7-9 in the ACC, eventually losing the first round of the ACC tournament. Last year, Wake was a young team. Wake has the highest % of returning minutes in the conference and they just brought in an excellent freshman class that is already earning big minutes in the rotation. Specifically, Aminu has earned the starting job at the small forward and is playing at a high level on both ends of the court. The match up with Singleton and Aminu will be outstanding and I can't wait to see the two go after each other. Aminu was turning a lot of heads in high school. Their big win in the OOC season came against Baylor on a neutral court, with the Deacons winning 87-74. They also had a big win over Indiana, who despite having a down year is a good win for the tournament. The average rank of their OOC schedule is 202, and they have absolutely handed it to their opponents. They put up 120 against NC Wilmington and held Winston Salem St. to 31 points (ouch). Here are their season rankings:

                      Offense               Defense
Raw Efficiency : 110.7 ( 39) 80.2 ( 1)
Adj Efficiency : 108.2 ( 64) 82.8 ( 8)

Effective FG% : 54.7 ( 24) 41.0 ( 4)
Turnover Pct. : 21.6 (198) 23.5 ( 66)
Off. Rebound% : 36.9 ( 64) 27.4 ( 17)
Free Throw Rate: 32.4 ( 22) 29.0 ( 48)

3-Point FG% : 33.6 (184) 27.8 ( 13)
2-Point FG% : 55.8 ( 17) 40.5 ( 18)
Free Throw Pct.: 70.3 (124) 64.2 ( 41)
Block Pct. : 4.7 ( 8) 14.5 ( 23)
Steal Pct. : 9.8 (155) 12.7 ( 34)

3PA/FGA : 20.0 (342) 35.8 (258)
A/FGM : 50.1 (261) 43.4 ( 9)

Lots and lots of green on both sides of the ball. This team can get out and run and they play at an extremely high pace, averaging 76.5 possessions per game. To add insult to injury, they're big. They are the 4th tallest team in the country in avg minutes weighted height, and number 1 in effective height; We rank 1 and 4 respectively. We'll get to see the battle of the 7 footers in this game, as McFarland their Jr center is 7'0. Last year, he finished second in the conference in block rate and is starting to improve on the offensive end. This is a dangerous team that is extremely quick and has the ability to shoot the mid range jump shot; They also play outstanding defense. Look for them to compete for the 3rd spot in the conference with Clemson. This is a team that could make a surprise run in March.

3. Clemson Tigers

Last year, the Clemson Tigers finished an excellent 24-10, going 10-6 in ACC play and losing a close game to Villanova in the first round of the ACC tournament. The Tigers earned a 5 seed last year after making it to the Championship game of the ACC tournament. Unlike Wake, who returns a lot of contributors from last year, Clemson has only 67% of returning minutes this year. It appears that the loss of their seniors has had the biggest impact on their defense. Last year, their defensive effeciency was ranked 12th overall in the nation. They have dropped this year to 36, but they have made up for it on the offensive end, as they are now ranked 6th in the nation and 2nd overall in the conference. Clemson had a challenging OOC schedule with a marquee win over Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Their average OOC opponent rank was 148. They also beat Miami in their ACC opener, handing it to the Canes 91-72 at Miami. Right now, this team is probably playing above expectations, but they are not showing any signs of slowing down.

                     Offense               Defense
Raw Efficiency : 117.3 ( 7) 88.6 ( 30)
Adj Efficiency : 119.6 ( 6) 89.2 ( 36)

Effective FG% : 56.6 ( 6) 45.4 ( 66)
Turnover Pct. : 20.6 (155) 25.8 ( 21)
Off. Rebound% : 40.1 ( 22) 36.0 (259)
Free Throw Rate: 23.1 (204) 29.7 ( 58)

3-Point FG% : 38.6 ( 38) 34.8 (212)
2-Point FG% : 56.1 ( 16) 42.6 ( 42)
Free Throw Pct.: 68.8 (163) 61.2 ( 11)
Block Pct. : 5.2 ( 12) 17.1 ( 9)
Steal Pct. : 11.2 (259) 14.1 ( 13)

3PA/FGA : 31.5 (210) 29.7 ( 64)
A/FGM : 51.5 (238) 48.4 ( 49)

This team shoots the ball extremely well and they play efficient basketball, meaning they take advantage of opportunities. They don't play a particularly fast paced game, but they wear you down. Last year they scored an average of 1.08 points per possession, 3rd in the ACC, and only allowed 1 pt per possession on D. Despite their effective shooting and efficient offensive play, they are not a particularly big team overall, at least by average-minute weighted height and effective height, 142 and 204 respectively. Their tallest starter is Raymond Sykes, at 6'9, who is a defensive specialist. Trevor Booker is by far their best rebounder on both ends of the court. The player we need to contain is K.C Rivers. He is one of the most effective offensive players in the country and shoots extremely well while not turning the ball over. This will be a tough match up for the Noles. If the Tigers can continue to shoot the ball well and improve their defensive rebounding, they will be a surprise team in the ACC. I think they will easily make it to the NCAA tournament and may win a game or two.

2. University of North Carolina Tarheels

Yes, I'm putting UNC at number two in the conference, despite all the hype and press. Don't get me wrong, this is an outstanding team that will make its way deep into the tournament, but I think Duke is better (I can't tell you how much it pains me to say that). Like Wake, UNC is getting most of their team back from last year...remember the one that was a 1 seed and made it to the final four before losing to Kansas, the eventual National Champion? Right now, the Tarheels are ranked 3rd in offensive efficiency and 17th on defense. They are beating teams easily. Their toughest opponent of the year was Notre Dame, currently ranked in the top ten in the AP-like polls; UNC cruised to a 25 point win against. Ranked Michigan St. lost by 35. And, they beat Kentucky by 19 in the 2nd game of the year. Their average OOC opponent ranking is 130. They have also played a non-Div 1 opponent. This team plays extremely fast and will run you out of the gym. I was able to watch the UNC-Nevada game on New Year's Eve and Nevada stayed with UNC for a good part of the first half; But then UNC decided they had enough and turned on the after burners. They punish you for your mistakes. They avg almost 80 possessions a game, almost 95 pts per game (which is 1.18 pts per possession), and 1.42 points per shot. As a comparison, we average 1.33 pts per shot, but we shoot a lot less than UNC. This is one of the many reasons that we're averaging only 67 pts per game, or 0.99 points per possession.

                      Offense               Defense
Raw Efficiency : 119.9 ( 3) 87.8 ( 24)
Adj Efficiency : 123.2 ( 3) 85.6 ( 17)

Effective FG% : 55.3 ( 17) 44.7 ( 52)
Turnover Pct. : 16.9 ( 13) 24.6 ( 36)
Off. Rebound% : 39.4 ( 30) 30.5 ( 91)
Free Throw Rate: 30.9 ( 40) 27.9 ( 35)

3-Point FG% : 37.4 ( 61) 31.7 ( 86)
2-Point FG% : 55.0 ( 21) 43.4 ( 52)
Free Throw Pct.: 74.4 ( 27) 67.8 (145)
Block Pct. : 8.4 (152) 13.8 ( 31)
Steal Pct. : 10.1 (186) 13.7 ( 21)

3PA/FGA : 27.7 (278) 31.7 (124)
A/FGM : 61.1 ( 53) 57.7 (243)


Obviously, this team plays at an elite level at both ends of the court. Ty Lawson is one of the best, if not the best, players in the country. Despite only playing 65% of his team's possible minutes (which is leading the team), his offensive rating is 3rd in the country. His eFG% is a blistering 63.6%. He gets to the FT line and makes 75%. He is 20th in the country in assist rate & 30th in steals and he rarely turns the ball over. Toney Douglas will have his hands full the entire game on both ends of the court. Lawson may only be 5'11 but he's extremely quick. As a team, UNC plays efficient, well-coached, intelligent basketball. They take care of the ball on the offensive end, rarely turning it over, and they clean up on the boards. Ed Davis, a true freshman, has seen a lot of playing time early as a result of the Hansbrough injury. He has been a monster on the boards, particularly on the defensive end, and has a high block %. Putting UNC at #2 was a difficult decision. This team is clearly a national title contender, particularly now that Hansbrough is back. I think I could have easily been convinced to put them at 1, and maybe I should list Duke and UNC at 1.5 each. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we'll be able to keep up with this team for 40 minutes. Our D has shut down a lot of teams this year, but I'm not sure we'll be able to keep the heels down to keep us in the game. We have the athletes and talent to do so, but our style of game isn't designed to beat the heels...not this year at least.


1. Duke Blue Devils

I can already hear it: "TC, you're crazy. No way Duke is better than UNC." You might be right, but I think it is a great debate and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it. UNC is undefeated. Duke has 1 loss. Duke can't hit a 3 to save their life. UNC is more experienced. Can't refute any of those points. However, my gut feeling is that Duke is going to have a great season and may end up winning the ACC regular season championship and the ACC tourney. Last year, Duke went 28-6 overall, finishing 13-3 in the ACC. They lost to the hot hand of West Virginia in the 2nd round of the NCAA tourney. Previously, Duke has been criticized for living and dying by the 3. Things have changed. Since 2001 when Duke attempted 27 3-pointers per game, Duke has decreased it's number of attempts from behind the arc with the following two exceptions: '04 and '07. This year, they're only averaging 32% from the arc compared to 38% last year. You can argue that this is due to the 3-point line being moved back, however 40% of their points are coming from the C and PF positions, as compared to 37% from their guards...I don't know exactly how important that is or what it means, but it's interesting none the less.

                      Offense               Defense
Raw Efficiency : 116.3 ( 10) 85.5 ( 10)
Adj Efficiency : 116.7 ( 14) 80.8 ( 5)

Effective FG% : 53.9 ( 36) 43.8 ( 39)
Turnover Pct. : 20.0 (122) 24.4 ( 39)
Off. Rebound% : 42.1 ( 9) 28.7 ( 36)
Free Throw Rate: 31.9 ( 28) 30.3 ( 67)

3-Point FG% : 32.1 (238) 31.8 ( 90)
2-Point FG% : 56.7 ( 11) 42.3 ( 40)
Free Throw Pct.: 73.2 ( 45) 67.1 (122)
Block Pct. : 7.2 ( 88) 12.0 ( 52)
Steal Pct. : 8.5 ( 71) 13.8 ( 19)

3PA/FGA : 32.8 (174) 28.1 ( 37)
A/FGM : 52.4 (214) 43.9 ( 10)

Compared to UNC, Duke plays a much slower tempo offense and currently scores about 1.15 pts per possession. They play outstanding D and force almost 25 to's per game. They shoot extremely well from floor and they take care of the offensive boards. They have 7 players with offensive ratings over 110, which is excellent. When they have the ball, they score. However, like the Noles they turn the ball over a lot for an elite team. Unlike the Noles, they actually score on a regular basis. Duke is also a relatively tall team, ranking 36th overall for avg minutes weighted height, and 44th for effective height. You're still saying, "you're crazy, UNC still has better numbers." Having watched both teams this year, I think Duke's offensive systems and energy on defense is going to put them at the top. Again, I'm a total softy on this and could easily be convinced that UNC should be at the top. UNC scores by running you out of your defense and making quick baskets based on hustle and opportunity. Yes, they can play offense in the half court as well. But I feel that Duke's offense wears defenses down and will be able to score regularly against the ACC defenses. They will be able to break down man-to-man and zone schemes.

What are your thoughts about the upcoming ACC season? Who are your contenders? I would be interested in seeing how all of you rank the conference from top to bottom as we head into conference play. I will continue to do previews before each game as all of this will change as the season progresses. Was this an effective format for a preview? What else would you like to know?