Monday, February 28, 2005

I think Seth Greenberg needs a tissue.

I didn't get too many memorable shots during the Virginia Tech game, but I did manage to snap this one. The angle makes it appear as though ol' Seth is shedding a few tears in the huddle (click the photo for a larger version)...

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The new RPI: the bane of big conference bubble teams.

This season's RPI formula is definitely more mid-major friendly, but it's come at a cost for a bunch of major-conference schools. There are several schools that would have much brighter NCAA prospects under the old RPI.

Team (RPI under new formula/RPI under old formula)

Georgia Tech (44/30)
Minnesota (49/32)
West Virginia (52/41)
Georgetown (57/42)
Miami FL (62/45)
Iowa (67/46)
Texas A&M (72/55)
Vandy (74/48)
Indiana (80/51)
NC State (86/64)

Georgia Tech and Minnesota would be solidly in with the old formula, while many of the others would find themselves in the top-50. The new formula makes the resumes of some mid-majors look much nicer than they actually are. If the NCAA's goal was to reduce the number of mediocre big conference schools with tournament-worthy RPIs, they accomplished that (let's be honest--several of the schools on the above list have no business in the NCAAs), but I'm wondering if the changes they made were a little too drastic.

This year there are plenty of mediocre mid-majors in the RPI top-50 (Arkansas Little Rock, Akron, Kent State...). Given the choice, I'd rather see overrated major-conference schools in the RPI top-50 instead of overrated mid-majors (that's my bias talking).

It must have been the uniforms.

NCSU 74, Guys In Orange 54

The Hokies scored the first four points on the game, NC State scored the next seventeen, and VPI would never seriously threaten again.

The Hokies shot 37.8% (adjFG% = 43.3%) while State shot 49%/60.2%. It was a very forgettable showing for Virginia Tech, as they put up their worst ACC road game performance in terms of offensive efficiency (yes, it was even worse than their performance in Cameron Indoor).

Aside from the shooting, turnovers were an interesting story. VPI is actually one of the least turnover-prone teams in the conference (their season turnover rate of 19.5% is third-best in the ACC), but today the Hokies committed 18 turnovers in 62 possessions for a rate of 29%. I don't think it was anything special that NC State did--it seemed that the Hokies made an unusual number of bad/stupid passes.

I thought the Hokies might lose the FT% battle, and indeed that was the case. Tech hit under 60% of its free throw attempts. They did a good job of getting to the line, but once there they didn't show the proficiency they displayed in the first game against NCSU.

To top it all off, Seth Greenberg decided to wear a plaid sportcoat. Sure, it was fairly understated plaid, but plaid nonetheless. One of many poor decisions made by guys from Blacksburg today.

On the positive side, Marquie Cooke went 1-2 from behind the arc, improving his season percentage to 18% (8-44). Way to persevere, Marquie. Might want to work on the free throw shooting, though.

This should officially end all the discussion about VPI's NCAA tournament chances. They haven't a prayer of receiving an at-large bid.

Side note: I happened to be in the portion of the student section behind the Tech bench, and I heard several snide comments about Herb Sendek come from the Hokie family/friends section. This from the fans of the team with Seth freakin' Greenberg (the guy with the awe-inspiring 227-181 career record) as its head coach.

Friday, February 25, 2005

VT at NC State -- it's payback time, right? Right?!

The Hokies, who are averaging a meager offensive efficiency of 98.7 in conference road games, don't appear to be a good bet to beat NC State in Raleigh.

The main reason why the Hokies aren't very efficient at the offensive end (season OFF EFF = 100) is their shooting, or lack thereof. Virginia Tech has the worst adjusted field goal percentage in the conference: 48.5%. Of course, that didn't much matter in the first meeting between these two teams--Tech had an adjFG% of 49% for that game and still won.

[Just as an aside: someone needs to tell Virginia Tech guard Marquie Cooke to stop shooting treys. Cooke is 7-42 (16.6%) on the year.]

Free throws were a major factor--maybe even the deciding factor--in the first meeting, as VPI converted 79.2% of its attempts (19-24) compared to NCSU's 57.7% (15-26). Look for a different story on Saturday, because while the Wolfpack got off to a rough start at the line this season, they've been trending upwards of late. Over their last five games, the Wolfpack are 72-88 (81.8%) from the charity stripe.

NC State has the rebounding edge and does a better job than the Hokies at getting free throw attempts. Not to mention the Pack's season adjFG% (over 53%) is considerably better than Tech's.

Score prediction based on offensive efficiency and tempo:

Tech Avg. ACC Road Game Possessions = 69.2
NCSU Avg. ACC Home Game Possessions = 64.3
Avg. (rounded) of those two numbers = 67 (expected possessions for this game)

Tech Avg. ACC Road Game OFF EFF = 98.7
NCSU Avg. ACC Home Game OFF EFF = 111.2

PREDICTED SCORE: NCSU 75, Virginia Tech 66

This is a rather inexact way of predicting scores, but it has proven to be pretty reliable in the few instances (here and here) in which I've used the method. If nothing else, this offers a ballpark figure for both teams. If either team is above their projected score, they're probably having a better than average performance (and vice versa).

2005 McDonald's All-American Teams Announced

The teams.

Plenty of the players in this year's game will be heading to the ACC.

North Carolina and Duke each have three All-Americans, and NC State has one (Brandon Costner). The Wolfpack's other two incoming recruits were among the 100 finalists for the McDonald's A-A teams.

Kansas, Okie State and Washington also have multiple recruits playing in the game. U-Dub is looking more and more like a progam that is here to stay. Lorenzo Romar is doing an excellent job of convincing Washington's local talent to stay at home.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The thin get thinner.

Sean Dockery gone for the season.

The Dukies will have to rely even more heavily on the Triumvirate, and I've got to wonder how they're going to hold up over the next few weeks. Coach K always seems to get by on little or no depth, though, so I guess I can't count them out completely. It'll be a minor shock if they reach the Final Four this season.


P Johnson

They can still be successful with their top six guys, but after that it gets pretty ugly. Dockery had the best assist-to-turnover ratio on the team. DeMarcus Nelson will match Dockery's scoring production, but he'll do so less efficienty.

Marvin Williams attempts a free throw (it was good).

UNC Game Photos

After these first two, the next seven are from one Wolfpack possession in the second half (starts with Hodge passing to Jordan Collins, ends with Engin Atsur taking it out to the top of the key).

Ready for the second half.

Hodge zips it to the always-ready Jordan Collins. What'll Jo-Col do?...

Swing it, baby!

Not open enough, I guess...

Bethel drives past Sean May...

Bethel penetrates...

Bethel dishes to Atsur...

Atsur pulls it back out. We should've gotten a jumper off at some point during this play.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

ACC/Big Ten Challenge will continue through 2010


Here's to another half decade of ACC dominance...

Sign of the apocalypse number 3,124

Clemson scored 97 points. On the road. Against a Division I-A program. And won.

The Tigers basically had their performance of the century...

They shot 58% from the field and had just one fewer made field goal than Maryland despite 26 fewer field goal attempts. This from one of the least efficient teams in the ACC (and the country).

Sharrod Ford had 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 blocks. After about 4-5 blocks, you'd have thought the Terps would've been more wary about comin' into the brotha's lane. Damn.

I cannot even begin to imagine how immensely frustrating this game must have been for Terps fans. Is that?...maybe...nope, nevermind...that's not sympathy.


Box Score: Carolina 81, State 71

There's not much to say. North Carolina is a much better team than NC State, and they showed it tonight. The Wolfpack gave a good-but-not-great effort (the team had an Off Eff of 111 for the game, which is about their average). They shot well from 3-point range (over 40%) and hit 11-12 free throws. They kept the pace where they wanted it and had a typically good turnover rate.

None of it mattered.

North Carolina shot 49% for the game, weathered a quick start from the Wolfpack, and generally coasted through the second half. Ray Felton scored 21 points and added 7 assists without committing a single turnover.

The Pack kept the score down but didn't play well enough in the second half to take advantage. I noted in the game preview that the Heels probably needed to be held under 80 points, and if not for a lot of FTs at the end of the game, the Heels wouldn't have reached that mark. So NC State did a good job to that extent. The game featured just 64 possessions for both teams, which is low even for NCSU, but by no means uncomfortably low.

It would have been wrong to expect NC State to repeat its Maryland game performance, but in hindsight it seems that's the only way they'd have beaten the Heels.

On a sidenote: Ilian Evtimov scored 3 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in 35 minutes tonight. Engin Atsur scored 14 points, although he needed 14 shot attempts to do it. Are these two guys getting too much playing time?

I recently began looking at production on a points-per-minute basis, and those numbers aren't very complimentary of the Europeans. Among the ten Wolfpack players who get legitimate playing time, Evtimov and Atsur rank 9th and 10th in points-per-minute, respectively.

Only Julius Hodge has logged more minutes for NC State than Ev and Atsur. Clearly the coaches feel that they're critical to our offensive gameplan, and I'll readily admit that these guys offer more than just points (especially Evtimov). But both are slow, neither one plays great defense, and they tend to disappear when they're not making shots. More playing time for Cam Bennerman, Gavin Grant, Andrew Brackman or whoever would probably come at a cost of efficiency and turnovers...on the other hand, the Wolfpack would have more quickness and athleticism on the floor. I think it's fair to say the Wolfpack bench deserves a longer look, and that should come at the expense of Ilian Evtimov and Engin Atsur.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

ACC Points-per-Minute Leaders

The following list offers a look at which ACC players are being the most productive on a per-minute basis. It shouldn't be surprising to see three North Carolina players at the top of the list because not only are those Tar Heels good scorers, they also play a relatively (in comparison to the rest of the league's star players) low number of minutes. Only Ray Felton averages over 30 minutes per game for the Heels. May, McCants and Jawad each average about 25 minutes per game.

JJ Redick--the ACC leader in PPG--checks in at #4. Ra'Sean Dickey (GT) is one of the surprises on the list...perhaps Paul Hewitt should give the kid a few more minutes off the bench.

ACC Points-per-Minute Leaders (minimum 150 minutes played)

1) Sean May .................... .623
2) Rashad McCants .............. .610
3) Jawad Williams .............. .606
4) JJ Redick ................... .602
5) Eric Williams ............... .563
6) Justin Gray ................. .554
7) Nik Caner-Medley ............ .541
8) Guillermo Diaz .............. .536
9) Julius Hodge ................ .530
10) Devin Smith ................ .528
11) Sharrod Ford ............... .522
12) BJ Elder ................... .520
13) Ra'Sean Dickey ............. .515
14) Marvin Williams ............ .513
15) Robert Hite ................ .511

Previewing UNC @ NC State

Heels won 95-71 in the previous meeting.

The Pack doesn't want to go there again.

North Carolina shot 60% in the first meeting, and NC State couldn't match that efficiency. NC State can keep it closer this time around simply by shooting better (they were under 40% in the first game), but they can't win the game unless they play better defense.

Some up-to-date numbers (games through 2/21):

Adjusted Field Goal Percentage

Heels: 56.7% (1st ACC)
Pack: 53.2% (3rd ACC)

Offensive Efficiency (Courtesy of Ken Pomeroy, as always; numbers unadjusted)

Heels: 115.9 (2nd ACC)
Pack: 111.2 (4th ACC)

Defensive Efficiency (unadjusted)

Heels: 88.8 (2nd ACC)
Pack: 99.7 (7th ACC)

NC State kept the the pace down in the first meeting, and there's no reason to expect anything different on Tuesday night. The question is--in a game with 66-68 possessions, can the Wolfpack manage to keep UNC under 80 points? They do that, and they've got an excellent shot at winning.

Is that doable? Perhaps moreso than you would think. In six ACC road games, North Carolina is averaging 84 points per game. If you remove the sample-skewing Virginia game (the one where the Heels scored 110 points), that average drops to 79 PPG. UNC's average ACC road Offensive Efficiency (pts/possession) is 113.6 with the UVA game and 109.8 without it.

So, say the game has 67 possessions (Average tempo numbers found here) for each team: if UNC hit an efficiency of 113.6, they'd score 76 points. If the Heels hit 109.8, they would score about 74 points.

If the Heels have an average road performance, this is about where they can expect their point total to be. But that's a rather large "if." When the Heels shoot the ball well, they're pretty much guaranteed 80+ points, and that's not something NC State is likely to top.

I'm not confident enough in the Wolfpack's defense to predict a tough night for the Heels, but I feel pretty good about this game being competitive. Barring an off night from the floor of its own, State stays within single digits of the Heels for most or all of the game. And the Pack might even, you know, win or something.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Luck be a Hokie tonight...

Check out Ken Pomeroy's interesting discussion about Virginia Tech.

This has of course left me wondering how NC State (and the rest of the ACC, for that matter) rates on the Luck-O-Meter this season. An investigation is forthcoming.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Lights Out

Duke 102, Wake 92

It's time for...Fun With Numbers! [mild applause]

Offensive Efficiency

Wake: 123
Duke: 136

Adjusted FG%

Wake: 57.9%
Duke: 70.4%

Offensive Rebound Rate

Wake: 40% (12/30)
Duke: 29% (7/24)

Turnover Rate

Wake: 21.3% (16 TOs in 75 poss)
Duke: 18.7% (14 TOs in 75 poss)


Wake: .211 (season avg = .325)
Duke: .407 (season avg = .377)


The story of the game was unquestionably Duke's brilliant shooting night (not that Wake had a bad night by any means). Led by JJ Redick, who scored the first nine points of the game for Duke and finished with 38, the Devils shot 59.3% from the field. They scored 60 points in the second half.

Chris Paul scored 27 to lead the Deacons, and while his team also shot the ball with success, they were not able to keep up with the Blue Devils in the second half. Wake shot a surpisingly low (in comparison to their season average) number of three-pointers, which is probably part of the reason why they didn't match Duke's pace in the final twenty minutes. The rest of the blame falls on Wake's defense. They did a solid job against Duke in the game's early stages (double teams on Shelden Williams were effective), but generally speaking they didn't defend well in tonight's game. They didn't guard the perimeter effectively and it killed them.

These teams are a lot of fun to watch when the shots are falling for them...hopefully we'll have a rematch in the ACC tournament.

Of the 15 players who attempted a shot in the game, only 2 (Eric Williams, Sean Dockery) had a field goal percentage below 50%.

Wake falls a half game behind the Tarheels in the conference standings, so the Tarheels control their own fate with regards to the ACC regular season title.

Turning Points

Virginia Tech 71, Miami 58
Maryland 92, Virginia 89 (2OT)
Georgia Tech 76, FSU 75

Maryland and Georgia Tech come away with much-needed road wins, Virginia Tech keeps its slim NCAA hopes alive, and Miami finds its tournament bubble closer to popping.

VPI shot 54.8% from the field (adjFG% of 63.1%) against Miami, which helped earn them an offensive efficiency rating of 116 for the game. Miami shot 40% but didn't get much production from behind the arc, leading to an efficiency of 95. The Hurricanes did have a big advantage in O-Reb Rate, but that wasn't even close to counterbalancing the Hokies' good shooting. It didn't help that the Hurricanes turned the ball over on 26% of their possessions (season avg = 19%).

Maryland and UVA played the most exciting game of the weekend. Virginia actually shot considerably better than Maryland--the Hoos had an adjFG% of 51.3%, Maryland had an adjFG% of 44%. But because Virginia was horrible from the free throw line (12-27), they ended up being less efficient than the Terps (25-34 from the line) at the offensive end.

Maryland finally scored 75+ on the road...all it took was an extra ten minutes of game time (they had 69 points at the end of regulation). The high score makes it seem like both teams had pretty good games offensively, but that's not really the case. The game featured 91 possessions for both teams.

Sean Singletary (23 pts, 9 dimes) had a huge game for the Cavs, as did Devin Smith. Singletary had some awesome dribble drives and hit several big threes...when he fouled out in the second OT, it spelled doom for Virginia. Maryland was led by the usual suspects--Nik Caner-Medoodily and John Gilchrist--as well as Travis Garrison.

In Tallahassee, Georgia Tech took advantage of a fortuitous foul call with less than one second on the clock to win the game. BJ Elder sank two free throws and gave the Jackets a hugely important win. A loss to FSU could have been crippling...instead, the Jackets have themselves in good shape to finish at least 8-8 in the ACC.

In the NCAAs at this point:

Maryland (16-8, 7-6)
Georgia Tech (15-8, 6-6)

Not in the NCAAs:

Miami (15-9, 6-7) -- now outside RPI top-50
VPI (14-10, 7-6) -- still outside the RPI top-100, they aren't even bubble-worthy
NCSU (15-10, 5-7) -- #83 in the RPI

Saturday, February 19, 2005

ACC Saturday -- who gets the edge for 4th place?

Maryland (15-8, 6-6) goes into Charlottesville to face the Cavaliers (13-10, 4-8), while Miami (15-8, 6-6) is in Blacksburg getting ready to play VPI (13-10, 6-6).

Maryland, Miami and Virginia Tech are tied for fourth place in the conference and today is hugely important for all three. Maryland and Miami are in the RPI top-50, but their places in the NCAAs are far from secure. VPI probably needs to win out in order to earn NCAA consideration (they're 111th in the RPI even after upsetting Duke).

This may finally be the Terps' breakthrough game on the road--Virginia has the worst defense in the ACC (Defensive Efficiency through 2/16). Maryland will certainly be desperate for the win, and after Gary Williams's harsh criticism of his team's play against NC State, I expect them to play well.

The Miami/VPI game is anyone's guess. The Hokies have already beaten th Hurricanes in Coral Gables. One thing to watch, though:

Miami O-Reb Rate: .404 (1st ACC)
VPI O-Reb Rate: .327 (10th ACC)

I should note that my numbers haven't been updated in about two weeks, but it's unlikely these ratios have changed significantly. Neither club shoots the ball particularly well and the Canes should be able to generate more second chance opportunities. We'll see if it makes a difference.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Maryland game photos...

Inbounds play.

Evtimov is a good 5-6 feet behind the line, and surprisingly isn't in the process of shooting.

Post game smiles.

Hodge sets up the offense.

Some posters are less inspired than others.

NCSU 82, UMD 63

From my game preview:

Maryland hasn't scored over 75 points on the road in conference play, and don't expect that to change tonight (if NC State keeps the pace at about 67 possessions and UMd hits their conference road average pts/possession, they'll score 62-63 points).

Call it baseless pessimism or whatever--I'm gonna go ahead and say that Maryland has a good shooting night and wins 74-66 (I'm usually need to end that trend now).

Am I good or what? Completely ignoring my silly prediction for a second, I noted in the prior paragraph that if NCSU played to its average tempo (67 possessions) and Maryland played to its average conference road offensive efficiency, the Terps would score 62-63 points. And wouldn't you know it--that's exactly what happened.

The game had 66 possessions and Maryland scored 63 points, so they were actually a little above their conference road average (92.3 is their average; 95.5 was their mark in tonight's affair). NC State, on the other hand, utilized another great shooting night (the Terps have got to be wondering what they've done wrong against State this year) to reach an OFF EFF of 124.

We knew coming in that NCSU was the more efficient team offensively, but I think most people dismissed the possibility that the Pack could repeat its sparkling performance in College Park (I know I did). State's offensive efficiency was 127 in College Park (this is points-per-100-possessions, remember), so they very nearly matched that mark against the Terps in Raleigh. Talk about a pleasant surprise.

NCSU was a combined 25-56 (45%) from 3-point land in two games against Maryland. The Terps were a combined 10-30 (33%) in those two games.

As for the score prediction in the last paragraph of the preview, well...there's no defending that one. But I'll gladly admit my wrongness on this occasion.

Note also that UMd still hasn't scored over 75 points in an ACC road contest.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Previewing Maryland/NCSU

In their first meeting this season, NC State shot 54.5% in the first half and scored 53 points, while the Terps shot 25% and scored 27. Maryland played better in the second half, but they never really threatened to win the game in the final twenty minutes. The Wolfpack had one of its best performances of the season.

What'll be different tonight? Maryland is 1-4 on the road in conference and NC State is 1-3 at home in conference. In its five conference road games, Maryland is averaging just 92.3 points per 100 possessions, which is 11 points below their season average. NC State is coming off a couple of mediocre home performances and faces another of many "must-win" games.

Maryland OFF EFF: 103.4
NC State OFF EFF: 111.7

Maryland DEF EFF: 92.7
NC State DEF EFF: 99.2

[Efficiency numbers thru 2/9]

Maryland adjFG%: 49.3
NC State adjFG%: 52.9

Maryland 3PA/FGA: .259 (lowest in ACC)
NC State 3PA/FGA: .402 (highest in ACC)

The biggest difference between the two teams is three-point shooting, and that was the main reason why NC State jumped out to a huge lead in College Park. It's likely that NC State won't repeat its 12-26 performance from behind the arc, and that'll make the game a whole lot closer. The Terps will want to play at a high tempo, but the Wolfpack won't let them.

Maryland hasn't scored over 75 points on the road in conference play, and don't expect that to change tonight (if NC State keeps the pace at about 67 possessions and UMd hits their conference road average pts/possession, they'll score 62-63 points).

Call it baseless pessimism or whatever--I'm gonna go ahead and say that Maryland has a good shooting night and wins 74-66 (I'm usually need to end that trend now).

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Savannah State finishes season 0-28.

The lesson here, kids, is that no matter how bad the season goes for your team, things can always be worse...unless of course Savannah State is your team.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Nittwits give the peeps in State College something to smile about.

Penn State has a student organization called the Nittwits, and they have the unenviable task of supporting the Nittany Lions men's basketball team.

As you might expect, they have a good sense of humor, and they publish a short newsletter (called Forty Minutes) before home games to provide jokes and dirt on their opponents. Check out the edition from a recent game against Ohio State: Forty Minutes

Even the Ohio State players enjoyed it.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Stark contrast.

If you are one who enjoys ACC basketball, you undoubtedly saw Maryland defeat Duke 99-92 in overtime, and you probably also saw NC State defeat Georgia Tech 53-51.

The former featured 84 possessions for each team, the latter 61. Both games were close throughout, and neither contest featured particularly good shooting, but Duke and Maryland were considerably more efficient than NC State and Georgia Tech.

The difference was three point shooting. Duke and Maryland were 15-38 (.395), State and Tech were 7-34 (.206).

Georgia Tech made just a single three-pointer against NC State (one of the Jackets' numerous misses included the last shot of the game), and the Jackets' adjusted field goal percentage for the game was 40.2% (clank!). NC State managed a serviceable 47.7%.

Whereas the pace of games like Duke/Maryland makes them fun to watch despite mediocre shooting, the same certainly can't be said about games like NCSU/GT.

Fifty-three to 51? What is this, the Big Ten? Yeesh. Are we sure we didn't see Northwestern and Purdue going at it?

Georgia Tech managed an offensive efficiency rating of 83.6, which has got to be close to (if not) their worst offensive performance of the season. I'm not at all surprised that NC State's offensive efficiency was poor, because Georgia Tech is one of the best defensive teams in the conference, but it is surprising to see the Jackets struggle so much offensively.

It's not supposed to be like this for Georgia Tech. BJ Elder is back. They're supposed to start looking like a top-20 team again. What is it about NC State that the Jackets can't seem to handle? The Yellow Jackets are every bit as perplexing to me as the Terps. But while it looks pretty certain that Maryland will make the NCAAs, I think Georgia Tech still has a lot of work to do.

For NC State, if they're going to make a miracle run through the second half of the ACC schedule, this is a good start. The Pack absolutely must play better at home, and there's no better opportunity to do so than this Wednesday against Maryland. Beating the Terps would be huge for RPI purposes, as Maryland is in the RPI top-25.

Ups and downs.

Chip Alexander on Herb/Hodge relationship

This piece is somewhat comforting in the wake of the comments Hodge made on Thursday. I hope the incident is more water under the bridge. Hodge had his best game in weeks after Sendek finally put him in the game, so maybe Julius should be thanking Herb.

Okay, maybe not.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Wake 86, State 75

Box Score

I mentioned in my preview that Wake is the best team in the ACC at getting to the free throw line, and they didn't disappoint. Check it, yo:

Wake FTA/FGA: .857 (42/49)
State FTA/FGA: .240 (12/50)

That's nearly double the Deacs' season average. The huge FT differential allowed Wake to win the game fairly comfortably despite the fact that NC State shot 56% for the game. The Wolfpack did everthing they could to come back from a sixteen point halftime deficit, but they couldn't keep Wake off of the line (reminded me of State's home loss to FSU...the only way the Noles managed to stave off the Wolfpack in the second half was by getting to the stripe).

The game had about 65 possessions, meaning that NCSU had to deal with another impressively efficient performance from its opponent. Wake's offensive efficiency for the game was 132 (State's was 115, which would be good enough to win on most nights...just not this night).

The Wolfpack also turned to ball over a lot (20 for the game), but free throws were undoubtedly the difference. The Demon Deacs were 35-42 (83%) from the line, so not only did they have a ton of extra attempts, they also converted them at an impressively high rate.

There's really no way a free throw discrepancy like this (or like we saw in the Virginia Tech/Duke game a while back) should ever happen in an ACC game, especially in a game that features two teams with relatively (RELATIVELY, mind you) close talent levels; sure, on any given night one team is probably going to commit more fouls than the other, but margins like 42-12 suggest that one team is doing something radically different than the other. I didn't see that tonight.

NC State is more perimeter-oriented than most teams; even so, the Wolfpack came into the WFU game having attempted one more free throw than its opponents in conference play. So State's offense has kept it competitive with the rest of the ACC with regards to free throw attempts, and it's not like the team did anything different against the Deacs.

Or maybe Herb said, "Guys, let's not draw any fouls tonight, okay? I mean, do we really need shots that are only worth one point? Now, you, you and you [points to Cedric Simmons, Engin Atsur and Tony Bethel]--I want you guys to channel your inner Damon Thornton and hack like you've never hacked before. If we can give Eric Williams enough boo boos, I'm bettin' he'll run crying to the bench."

Hey, you never know.

It's not getting any easier for the Pack--they're off to Atlanta.

When will the hurting stop?

Duke 71, UNC 70

My game preview (or you can just scroll down).

Here's the box score.

Last night's game presented a good example of why adjusted field goal percentage is important to consider. Carolina shot 43.9% for the game (this is regular FG%) and Duke shot just 35.7%. That seems like a fairly significant difference, yet Duke still won the game. Why?

North Carolina was just 3-14 from behind the arc; Duke went 10-for-25. When we look at adjusted field goal percentage, which better illustrates the effects of this discrepancy, we get a different story:

UNC ADJ FG%: 46.5
Duke ADJ FG%: 44.6

That certainly makes it look a bit more even, doesn't it? The Heels shot 51% inside the arc compared to Duke's 32%, and the reverse was true from 3-point range: Duke shot 40%, the Heels shot 21%.

Add their impressive night from the line (21-22) to their three-point shooting and it's easier to see why Duke ended up with the win.

In my preview I mentioned that turnover rate was one of the few areas where Duke had an obvious advantage, and they managed to hold that advantage last night. Duke had 15 turnovers on 71 possessions for a TO rate of 21%; Carolina had 23 turnovers on 71 possessions for a TO rate of 32% (and that was well above their season average).

I was impressed with the way North Carolina rebounded the ball last night--Sean May in particular had a great night (23 pts and 18 boards). Shelden Williams averages a double-double, but he was pretty quiet (11 and 9).

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Big Four go back at it -- previewing UNC/Duke and State/Wake

UNC @ Duke -- 2/9

This is gonna be good. I had been thinking that the Heels would beat the Blue Devils soundly, but after Duke's showing in Winston-Salem, I'm ready to give the Devils more credit. They may rely too heavily on JJ Redick and Shelden Williams, but they haven't let that hurt them against deeper opponents. I really thought Wake Forest would be able to get Shelden Williams in foul trouble and limit his minutes; that wasn't the case.

Big Shelden will be the most important player for the Dukies again on Wednesday, and I'm doubting that fouls will be an issue (especially since the game is in Durham...).

UNC Adj FG%: 58.6
Duke Adj FG%: 54.4

UNC OFF EFF: 116.3
Duke OFF EFF: 115.7

Duke DEF EFF:89.5

UNC OReb Rate: .39
Duke OReb Rate: .396

[Efficiency numbers courtesy of Ken Pomeroy's site. All EFF numbers listed in this post are unadjusted.]

A couple of things to watch:

1) Duke's 3pt FG%. The Blue Devils rely heavily on the three-pointer (only NC State has a higher 3PA/FGA ratio), and they certainly can't afford an off-night from beyond the arc.

2) Turnovers. Duke has a decided advantage in turnover rate. Duke averages 19 turnovers per 100 possessions, while those up-tempo Heels average 23 turnovers per 100 possessions. The teams should be pretty even on the glass, so turnovers could determine which team gets extra shots.


NCSU @ Wake Forest -- 2/10

I never thought I'd say this, but perhaps it's a good thing that NC State is going on the road. The Pack has been mediocre at best in its last two home games--both losses. Instead of utilizing its home court to play itself back into the NCAAs, the Wolfpack has played itself completely out of the tournament. The losses to FSU and Virginia have left NC State looking for answers; perhaps there aren't any.

NC State hasn't shot a particularly good FG% in either of its last two games, which might suggest to some that the Pack is "due" for a good night on Thursday (not true, of course, but here's hoping...). I don't know what it is going to take--and at this point in the season it's probably too late--to change NC State's defensive performances, but if Herb Sendek has any tricks left, he'd better start layin' them out.

In my opinion, this game comes down to State's defense. If they manage to play good team and transition defense, they can keep themselves in the game. If not, Wake Forest will be dropping jumpers all over the place, and Eric Williams will add the gravy.

NCSU Adj FG%: 52.9
Wake Adj FG%: 56.1

Wake OFF EFF: 116.3

Wake DEF EFF: 102 (note in Pomeroy link above that adjusted defensive efficiency indicates Wake is actually better...obviously this has to do with tempo)

Wake FTA/FGA: .451

Things to watch:

1) Free throws. See that differential in FTA/FGA between the two teams? No team in the ACC is better at getting to the line than Wake Forest. Can the Wolfpack--less than stellar at getting FTAs--keep up?

2) Big Eric Williams vs. NCSU Front Line. Shelden Williams had 22 pts, 6 rebs against State. Sean May went for 16 and 14. Sharrod Ford went for 19 and 10. Big E is certainly in the same class as the rest of those guys, and he's been playing really well over the last few weeks. The Wolfpack started freshman Cedric Simmons against Virginia and may very well start him again Thursday; Simmons has shown a lot of room for improvement defensively.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Remember when NC State used to play well at home?

UVA/NCSU Box Score

It's not UVA played especially well--they didn't--but rather that NC State played poorly.

NC State's offensive efficiency against UVA was a meager 103 (62 pts in 60 possessions). State's adjusted field goal percentage was 45.6% (they're averaging around 53%). The Pack also had a terrible offensive rebound rate despite the Cavs' unimposing lineup. NC State kept its turnovers down, but other than that, it didn't do much to win the game on the offensive end.

It's difficult to put this one in perspective, especially considering that Virginia had been blown out in its previous two games. This UVA team hasn't been able to play State close in Raleigh over the last few years, and this season shouldn't have been any different. It's not like the Wahoos are any better this year.

Even more depressing is the fact that UVA is the worst defensive ball club in the ACC (the only team below NC State, in fact) ... and yet NC State could only manage the lame numbers that I've already cited.

I'm out of explanations. I just don't know what's going on. Julius Hodge hasn't been anything close to a go-to guy lately, and his performance against UVA was disturbing. Six points? Against those scrubs?

For the first time in a while, NC State isn't playing its best basketball in February.

NC State lost to Virginia.

Nope, that didn't help.

NC State lost to Virginia.
NC State lost to Virginia.
NC State lost to Virginia.

No matter how many times I say it, it won't sink in.

Brain: "There's no way that just happened."

Me: "Apparently there is. I mean, we were there."

Brain: "If you say so."

Me: "Dude, I've got pictures."

Brain: "Okay, I admit it. I packed it in after the Florida State game."

Friday, February 04, 2005

UNC 95, State 71

In my preview, I noted that Carolina had been extremely efficient against Virginia, and that if they had a similar performance against the Wolfpack, the game would never be close.

Not only did the Heels match their UVA game performance, they surpassed it. With about 67 possessions (the Wolfpack had the tempo right where they wanted it...), the Tarheels scored 95 points for an offensive efficiency of 141. Not a bad night at the gym.

State's offensive efficiency was just 105...needless to say, they picked the wrong night to be subpar. NC State shot 39% from the field (adjFG% of 43%) while the Heels shot 60% (adjFG% of 66.4%).

I mentioned that rebounds would be an important part of the game for NC State, and it turns out that the Wolfpack did a very good job on the boards:

NCSU OREB Rate: .429 (18/42)
UNC OREB Rate: .360 (9/25)

State exceeded its season average by over 20% and in the process kept the Heels under their average. But none of this mattered because...the Pack's defense failed them again. The Tarheels had way too many easy buckets.

I noted that North Carolina had a much higher turnover rate than NC State, but even that edge went to Carolina last night. The Heels turned it over just 9 times (9/67 = .134 turnover rate) while the Pack turned it over 13 times (13/67 = .194). UNC deserves a lot of credit for taking care of the ball, but I also think some blame has to go to State's defense, which just hasn't been forcing many turnovers lately (NCSU opponents are averaging 10 turnovers/game over the last three games).

Hopefully NC State will find a sympathetic Virginia team on Saturday.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Abandon ship! Abandon ship!

The SS Gillen is lookin' a whole lot more like the Lusitania these days.

The bottom has finally fallen out for Pete Gillen and this could get ugly. So let's recap...

Bad ideas:
1) Land war in Asia
2) Trusting those damned Klingons
3) Ten year contracts with large buyout clauses

I had better write all of this down and stick it somewhere prominent.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Matchups: Duke/Wake, NCSU/UNC

Tobacco Road: where the excitement never ends...unless you're in Raleigh.

Duke @ Wake Forest -- 2/2, 9:00 PM

The Blue Devils travel to Wake Forest and we'll finally have an idea just how well the Dukies stack up to the other teams in the ACC's top tier.

Duke Adj FG%: 54.6
Wake Adj FG%: 56

Duke OFF EFF: 114
Wake OFF EFF: 114.1

Duke DEF EFF: 87.2
Wake DEF EFF: 98.6

Duke OREB Rate: .396
Wake OREB Rate: .384

Duke is clearly a better defensive team (but we could have guessed that); otherwise, the two teams have similar numbers. Both teams like to play at about the same tempo, so neither team should be made uncomfortable by what the other is doing offensively.

This game may ride on the Shelden Williams/Eric Williams matchup, and even if Duke gets the better of that duel, it merely makes it more likely that the Devils will be in the game. Should Wake get the better of the battle in the post, the Deacs could run away with it. Duke's lack of quality depth in the frontcourt means that Shelden Williams has to stay out of foul trouble--with him, the Devils can maintain a two-dimensional offense; without him, they'll have to be more perimeter-oriented (and, IMO, it'll be all over...). Okay, so perhaps I'm underestimating Duke a little bit here (I mean, after all, JJ Redick is a pretty good weapon to have if you're gonna be perimeter-oriented), but I think that Duke has to maintain a versatile offense in order to keep up with Wake Forest.

Also important is Shelden's rebounding--he has grabbed 30% of the team's total rebounds, and that is by far the highest percentage in the ACC (Elton Brown is second at about 25%). One of Duke's strengths is offensive rebounding (which is part of the reason why they're as efficient as they are), but they won't be nearly as good with Williams on the bench with a couple of early fouls. They'll definitely hold their own on the glass as long as Williams is in the game; without him, the advantage is Wake's.


NC State @ North Carolina -- 2/3, 7:00 PM

Unfortunately for State, they only way they salvage a 4-4 conference record through the first eight games is with a win in Chapel Hill. Maryland, Georgia Tech and Kentucky have each been pummeled mercilessly in the Dean Dome. In all likelihood, a similar fate awaits the Wolfpack.

State Adj FG%: 53.7
UNC Adj FG%: 58.2

State OFF EFF: 111.9
UNC OFF EFF: 115.5

State DEF EFF: 96.3

State OREB Rate: .350
UNC OREB Rate: .390

This game can be close if State can keep the Heels at or below their average offensive efficiency. In Carolina's last game--at UVA--the Heels scored 110 points on 83 possessions for an efficiency of 133 (whew!). If the Heels are anywhere near that efficient on Thursday, it'll never be close.

Fortunately, State's tempo plays into its favor. It is very unlikely that this game will be played at the same fast pace as the UNC/UVA game, and that will help keep Carolina's opportunities down. Tempo aside, the bottom line is NC State must play good defense and must rebound well. The Wolfpack can't possibly match the Heels shot-for-shot (only a couple of teams can), and they can't allow the Heels to get too many easy baskets through their offense or through second chances.

NC State gave up 16 offensive rebounds (and grabbed just 4) to Clemson, a team that has an OREB Rate similar to North Carolina's. Not a particularly good omen for the Pack.

State's biggest edge coming in is turnover rate: North Carolina will make its fair share of turnovers (they're the third most turnover prone team in the ACC), and the Wolfpack is known for not making too many giveaways. Turnovers will help State stay in the game, but this advantage won't mean much if NC State can't perform well in the areas I've already mentioned.

Something to consider regarding NC State's offense.

Herb Sendek's hybrid, Princeton-esque offense is not well regarded among most Wolfpack fans (but neither is Herb...), mostly because popular perception holds that when the Pack isn't hitting threes, it isn't going to be successful. It's certainly true that NCSU's high reliance on the three ball (Pack leads ACC in 3PA/FGA) leads to greater inconsistency because the three-pointer is low-percentage compared to two-pointers. The percentages at which NC State makes threes tends to vary pretty widely from game to game. It is also true that--despite perception--NC State has one of the most efficient offenses in the country.

Last season, State's offense ranked among the five most efficient offenses in the country. The Wolfpack typically finds success through a low turnover rate and a good adjusted field goal percentage. So does the Wolfpack have a problem here? Or are fans misinterpreting what they are seeing?

Let's take a look at a typical line of thinking among NC State fans. Last week, NC State went up to College Park and handed Maryland a surprising 85-69 defeat. In the game, NC State shot 48.3% from the field, including an impressive 46.2% (12-26) from three-point range.

Whenever State is shooting like this, its offense always gives off the appearance that it is working quite well, and fans are always wondering "why can't we play like this consistently?" I've been guilty of this...pretty much every State fan has.

I mean, it looks like this is how the offense is supposed to work: State is hitting a good share of threes, playing to its tempo, and minimizing turnovers. Why doesn't every game look this way?

Offensive efficiency should shed some light on the subject:

NCSU Season Average OFF EFF: 112 (this equates to 75 pts in 67 possessions)
NCSU's Maryland Game OFF EFF: 127 (85 pts in 67 possessions)

So why can't NC State perform like this with regularity? Simple: while it may not seem like it, performances like this are exceptional. They're way, way above NC State's typical offensive performance.

What everyone fails to notice is that a performance like the one State had against Maryland isn't just exceptional based on NC State's average--it is exceptional, period. Notice in the above link to Ken Pomeroy's site that the national leader in offensive efficiency (looking at the adjusted numbers), UNC, averages about 122 points per 100 possessions. What was NCSU's points/possession against the Terps again? 127.

Wolfpack fans need a new perspective on these kinds of performances. Instead of being frustrated by the rarity of these performances, Wolfpack fans should just understand that it's not possible for anybody to play at that level from game to game.

Keep in mind that NC State's pace will keep the game around 67 possessions per team--in a game with ~67 possessions, about 75 points is an average game, and anything over 80 is a big time performance.

Wins like the one in College Park should be relished for the impressive offensive displays that they are. It is unfair to everyone involved with Wolfpack basketball to expect this kind of showing on a regular basis.

Want a couple of examples of NC State performances right around their average offensive efficiency?

vs Duke (L74-86): OFF EFF = 110 (74 pts/67 poss)
vs FSU (L64-70): OFF EFF = 110 (64 pts/58 poss)

Just goes to show that in many cases, NC State is more efficient offensively than it seems.