To be honest, not every team has played nine games, but most (including State) have and that’s close enough for me. This entry will be a little longer than normal while we discuss the things around the ACC that I find interesting and I’ll spend a little more time dissecting State’s schedule and performance than normal for these weekly conference updates.
But of course we’ll start with RPI rankings, with an important note of explanation first. The RPI Summary Table and the RPI Trend Graphs are based on Monday’s ESPN calcs. Most of the other graphic inserts were taken on Sunday afternoon to speed up getting this entry finished off and posted. So don’t get confused when all of the RPI rankings don’t exactly match. Check the note under each table to avoid confusion.
RPI SUMMARY TABLE
I’ve never juggled teams like this before between IN, BUBBLE, and OUT (almost ignoring RPI ranking). But they seem like easily defendable decisions to me:
WF is 3-6 in conference with no Top 50 wins. (State is WF’s best win and it’s rapidly losing any value.) I put them on the BUBBLE, but they probably deserve to be OUT.
State is 3-6 as well and a long way from being in serious discussions on Selection Sunday.
Pitt and Clemson are 1-7/2-6 respectively and going nowhere in spite of their Bubble RPI ranking.
GT is listed on the Bubble because of its RPI ranking…thanks to a ridiculously weak OOC schedule. With a winning conference record and three Top-25 wins (and a total of five Top 50 wins), they should be showing up on the brackets at ESPN and CBS. But much like VT, they’re going to have to do something more than the minimum to get in with a weak OOC schedule.
Teams that had a good week (2-0) – L’ville, GT, SYR, and Miami
Teams with a bad week (0-2) – FSU, ND, WF, BC, and Pitt
RPI TREND GRAPHS
Non-relevant teams deleted from Top 40 graph
I’m rarely surprised when FSU (or Clemson) stumble on the road. But the beat down in Atlanta was surprising and they followed that disaster up with another one at SYR. So 0-2 to start a three-game road trip was not what the Seminole faithful (ie both basketball fans) were hoping for.
ND and WF join FSU in tailing off thanks to their 0-2 week.
(Trend graphs updated after Sunday’s games)
In general, it seems like the trend lines are moving in the directions that you would expect. What you might not have expected was GT roaring in from out-of-sight low to show up on the BUBBLE graph. Here’s how their RPI ranking has changed over the course of ACC play:
If the GT rally continues and they get an at-large bid, it will be the biggest turnaround we’ve seen since I started tracking RPI back in the days of the Great Herb Debate.
ACC STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
I started discussing conference strength of schedule last week to setup this week’s quick look at how things are stacking up at the half-way point in the conference schedule. For the last several years, I’ve ranked the various ACC schedules based on the four opponents that each team plays twice during the conference season. This is obviously a rather simplistic system, but the results have proven to be quite good. To illustrate what I’m talking about, here are two examples of how I measure a team’s ACC SOS:
The advantage of my system over the results displayed in the RPI Summary table is that it has some small predictive ability because it looks at the entire schedule through the end of the regular season. The RPI math summarized above is based only on games already played and thus says nothing about a team’s upcoming schedule.
Invariably, some teams will fade during the second half of the season and others will heat up. So the following ranking is not totally predictive, but does give us some idea of the variation in schedule strength in the ACC due to the unbalanced schedules. Large differences between the two techniques (mine vs RPI math) give us a quick way to identify teams that we can expect to have dramatically easier or more difficult schedules over the remainder of conference play.
If we compare the schedule ranking with the ACC master schedule, we can see if the rankings make qualitative sense or not (PS; they do):
(Read along the rows to determine where a game is played. For example, BC played UNC in Chestnut Hill)
Here are some things that stood out to me:
Last week I noted that FSU had played the toughest conference schedule in the nation. But my technique doesn’t think too much of FSU’s conference schedule. So it’s easy to see that FSU will have a much easier second half to its conference schedule. But of course, when you go 0-2 to start a road trip, “easy” might not be the correct adjective.
L’ville’s SOS ranks near the middle of the conference (thanks to their Pitt anchor). But I think that position is too low when you look at the Master Schedule. In fact, their schedule bears a lot of similarities to #2 Duke. They both play two of the top 5 teams twice and play most of the teams with winning conference records on the road.
The “difficulty” of playing the top teams on the road aren’t captured by either my SOS ranking or by the SOS calcs in the RPI. Once again the fact that you have to be smarter than the equipment you operate comes into play. IIRC, the Selection Committee used SYR’s road conference schedule as one of the reasons they were selected with an RPI ranking of 71 last year. So road wins against top teams are REALLY good, but they’re also hard to come by.
For the most part, I generally ignore the teams at the bottom of the conference because they give everyone wins which could easily inflate their SOS using my technique. But Pitt truly has a really tough conference schedule with two games against UNC, UVA, L’ville, and SYR (who is currently 5-4). I don’t know that we’ve ever had a team whose home/away opponents all had winning conference records.
UVA and ND have usually had weak schedules in the 15 team format. It’s looking like that will change for both teams this year.
Do not use State’s SOS from the graph as an excuse for its current predicament. Look at the RPI summary table and when you only consider the games actually played, State is still in the bottom third of the conference with respect to conference SOS. Their position in my SOS graph has more to do with avoiding the worst three teams than a really hard schedule rotation like Pitt.
At the other end of the spectrum, WF plays Duke, State, BC, and Clemson twice. With Duke, State, and Clemson performing well below expectations, WF doesn’t play any of the top teams twice. But look at where WF plays their lone game against teams at the top of the conference. The FSU, ND, UVA, SYR, and VT games are all on the road. They don’t have many chances for a home win against a top opponent and WF needs some big wins before going into Selection Sunday.
Just about everything I said about WF can be repeated for VT. But VT’s schedule is slightly harder (play UVA twice) and they already have a good win at home over Duke. Now Hokie fans just have to hope that Duke plays well enough in the second half of the conference schedule so that it remains a good win…and of course they need to continue winning.
I always find it interesting to compare conference schedule strength of the teams fighting for a two-round bye in the ACCT. UNC and FSU have comparable schedules based on my math. But look at the master schedule and see where those two are playing their toughest one-time opponents. FSU plays four of theirs on the road (UNC, UVA, GT, SYR), while UNC gets all but one of theirs (GT) at home. I suspect that the location of their toughest games will have a much bigger impact than the small mathematical difference I’m showing between their two schedules.
Last week I noted that L’ville’s losses were defining their position in the conference. Then both FSU and ND tanked last week to fall back to L’ville. It will be interesting to see who moves forward and who slides back from here.
We haven’t talked about UVA much this year. But according to UVA friends, they had to replace their top three scorers from last year. This showed early in the year when they lost two of their first three ACC games (@Pitt and home against FSU). But they have turned it around with a five-game winning streak that was broken Sunday at Villanova. I believe that we can call this an example of how a team with a good coach can actually improve during the year.
SYR would be another example of improvement over the course of the year. I kept waiting for Syracuse to start losing conference games based on their RPI. But looking at their SOS, it’s not hard to see why they are staying around 0.500 throughout conference play. Until this past week that last statement would say all that needs to be said. But going 2-0 last week at home against FSU and WF, there might be more to SYR than I’ve given them credit for. As usual, time will tell.
We’ve already spent a lot of time on GT, but here’s a little more. If you compare their conference SOS in the RPI Summary (#1 in national rank) to their projected SOS in my graph, you will see a great discrepancy. This difference is easily explained when you scan down their remaining schedule:
So GT sits at 5-4 in conference with only one game left against a team currently in contention for a two-round ACCT bye. It looks to me like they’re sitting in a really good spot. Note that last year, Clemson managed a big turnaround but couldn’t finish the deal on the road against teams that they “should” have beaten. So let’s see if GT can finish up by handling opponents headed for ACCT Tuesday in six of their remaining nine games. If they can, then they’re probably in. If not, then they don’t deserve to be there.
VT also sits at a surprising 5-4. Their remaining schedule is more difficult than GT’s but should be manageable. Or it would be if VT really deserves to be in the NCAAT. The open issue is how much above the minimum does VT and GT need to do to avoid the same fate that fell to the Hokies several times with Seth Greenburg when they played a horrible OOC schedule.
For the most part, the game threads do a good job of capturing two things…the emotional swings of the NC State fan base (both during the game and game-to-game) as well as the “state” of the team. If I have something cogent to add (or just a smart remark), I put them on the game thread with everyone else’s observations. But for the half-way report I’ve decided to summarize my thoughts and the basis for my conclusions.
State is a bad position at the half-way point AND not because of another beat down by one of the conference’s top teams. Those beat downs just show that State is not anywhere close to being a good team. It’s the other losses that point not only to being way less than “good”, but trending towards being one of the worst teams in the conference.
The first signs of trouble roared in during the OOC schedule with embarrassing losses to the only two OOC opponents that are currently ranked in the RPI Top 50. Both of those embarrassments coupled with several narrow wins against inferior competition signaled huge red flags to me. For others, the excuse train shifted into high gear…a phenomenon that never ceases to amaze me. Once again we see that ignoring data that you don’t like frequently leads to horrible conclusions.
But ignoring the OOC embarrassments, State dug a really deep hole with respect to making the NCAAT with the way it opened the start of conference play with probably its easiest stretch of ACC games:
Only one team in the first seven opponents is fighting for a two-round bye in the ACCT. The others rank from the middle to the bottom of the conference and State went 2-4 against those six opponents. When you can’t consistently beat the teams in the middle of the conference, that generally means that you actually represent the bottom of the conference.
The Duke and L’ville games wrapped up the first half of State’s schedule and increased its conference SOS. But comparing State’s first half versus the second half, it seems clear to me that the second half is in fact harder (note difference in RPI rankings of shaded teams):
Now combine a 3-6 conference record, with the NCAAT Selection Committee’s disdain for teams with losing conference records along with increased schedule difficulty. What conclusions do you reach? Exactly…State is in a bad position and has a really deep hole (probably too deep) to climb out of to reach a 9-9 conference record. While a 9-9 record would certainly guarantee an at-large bid even with a first round ACCT loss, getting to that point seems unlikely to me.
We have examples of 7-9 ACC teams getting an upset in the ACCT and getting an at-large NCAAT bid. So we know what it would likely take with an 8-10 conference record. I have no examples equating to a 7-11 conference record and what it would take to get an at-large bid. Logically I would think that reaching the ACCT finals would be enough, but I’m really just guessing.
I’ll change my mind when the facts change, but reaching the NCAAT seems like a bridge too far with this team. In the L’ville game thread, someone said it would take a minor miracle for State to reach the NCAAT. Personally, I would put the size of the miracle required somewhere between parting the Red Sea and the Virgin birth.
UPCOMING ACC SCHEDULE
Here’s the upcoming conference schedule for next week:
If we include the Duke/State game, this will make three weeks in a row for interesting Monday night games. Considering how few games I’ve found compelling, that seems to be stretching the odds at bit.
If State does anything less than 2-0 this week, then it’s time to catch up on the NIT Bubble projections. Just kidding…..I have no intention of studying the selection process for the loser tournaments. (Not kidding about needing 2-0.)
In addition to both Monday night games, ND @ UNC seems to be the only truly compelling match-up. If we look a little closer, ND is in a stretch where they play a number of interesting games book ended by FSU:
So far, they’ve not done so well over this little stretch and have two more tough games this week. The schedule eases up after the next two weeks, but ND needs to pick up the pace if it wants to earn a spot in the top four (ie two-round ACCT bye).
There’s no way that I can do complete justice to the conference as a whole or give equal discussion to the ginormous conference that is our current ACC. That’s where your observations in the comments can round out all of our knowledge. Or maybe you just want to take issue with some of my conclusions. That’s what the comments and forums are for. So have at it…..