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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Weekend ACC action: A four-factor review

Posted by on Tue, Feb 17, 2009 at 11:26 AM

This past weekend in ACC play, several of the conference’s top teams had trouble securing victories on the road. Dean Oliver’s four factors have plenty to say about Sunday’s upsets—and some upsetting trends for the cream of the ACC’s crop. But first, let’s look at how they did predicting how the Miami-North Carolina game would play out.

The Tar Heel offense, as it has every game this season, scored more than one point per possession (1.04).  More surprisingly, the Tar Heel defense held the Hurricanes under one point per possession (.98). 

Breaking it down into the four factors, the Tar Heels and Hurricanes had eerily similar games. The two teams had identical effective field goal percentages (eFG percent) of 43.6 and turnover rates (TORates) of 18.0. 

The difference between the Heels and the Hurricanes, as predicted, came down to free throw rate (FTR) and offensive rebounding (OR).  The Tar Heels had an 11.9 FTR while the Hurricanes only mustered a 2.9 FTR—two Jack McClinton free throws. In a game where possessions were at a premium, the 69-possession game was the slowest the Heels have played this season, offensive rebounds that lead to extra attempts were of extra importance. In this vital category the Tar Heels outperformed the Hurricanes, 39.0 to 34.8. 

Even though the Heels came out on top, the most impressive player wasn’t wearing Carolina blue.  

Instead, Jack McClinton played yet another sterling game, single-handedly keeping the Hurricanes close to the Tar Heels. His performance shows up clearly in his offensive rating (ORtg), the measure of an individual’s offensive efficiency in the same way points scored per possession is the measure of a team’s offensive efficiency. ORtg is measured as the ratio of points scored to possessions used, and anything above 1.00 is generally accepted as good.  McClinton used 24 Miami possessions and scored 35 points, an ORtg of 1.46.  Meanwhile his teammates used the remaining 45 possessions to score only 30 points, a collective ORtg of .66. Put more simply: Without Jack McClinton, the final score could have been North Carolina 69, Miami 46.

In what was arguably the biggest upset of Sunday, the Clemson Tigers fell to the Virginia Cavaliers in overtime, 85-81. This was only Virginia’s second win in conference play and drops the Tigers from second place into a four-way tie for third.  Clemson’s main issues in this game were on the offensive side of the ball. The Tigers are known for their ability to force turnovers, but in Sunday’s match-up they were the ones who seemingly couldn’t hold on to the ball. In ACC play, the Tigers were averaging a 17.7 TORate. However, in Charlottesville the Cavaliers forced the Tigers into a 25 TORate. This dropped the Tigers from an average offensive efficiency of 1.06 to .96 against the Cavaliers, essentially equating to 8 fewer points scored. 

On the other side of the ball Clemson did an excellent job keeping Virginia off of the offensive glass (23.9 OR percent) and the free throw line (25 FTR), but these gains were erased by the fact that the Tigers allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 58.6 eFG percent, proving that shooting is the most important of the four factors.

Lastly, the Boston College Eagles bolstered what is quickly becoming a very attractive NCAA tournament resume, adding a victory over Duke to their earlier road win over North Carolina.  However, the Eagles have an equal number of perplexing losses, to Harvard and at Saint Louis, as they have resume-defining wins. 

The Blue Devils’ main issue in their recent 1-3 slide is their defense.  Before the four-game stretch, beginning with the embarrassing loss at Clemson, Duke was holding opponents to a stingy .81 points per possession. In the current four-game skid that number has ballooned to 1.15, or in Duke’s average 69 possession game about 23 more points. This has mainly been fueled by allowing opponents to shoot 58.6 eFG percent, compared to 40.6 eFG percent in the Devils’ first seven conference games. Over the same period the Blue Devils’ offense has remained roughly constant; averaging 1.08 points per possession in the first seven games but 1.06 in the current four-game skid (this is excluding the Clemson game as a statistical outlier caused by Clemson’s full-court pressure, where the Devils only mustered 47 points). 

If the Blue Devils are going to right the ship, the change will have to come at the defensive end of the court. Allowing opponents to regularly shoot above 50 percent from the field will ensure that Duke finds itself the exact same place it has the past two seasons come March, exiting the NCAA tournament before the Sweet Sixteen.

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