Photo from News & Observer
The ACC season seems like it’s flown by and we’ve already reached the half-way point. So this entry will be longer than normal (consider yourself warned) and I’ll go over the things that interest me and/or have caught my eye.
Of course, the first thing that drew my attention was the beat down VT administered to UNC in B’burg on Monday night. But by the weekend, the ACC home court advantage mostly disappeared with VT, State, UVa, Syracuse, and Clemson all winning on the road. Of course, some of the road wins were more impressive than others, but I was certainly happy with the results.
I’m going to juggle the order of the tables in this week’s entry compared to my normal format. I’ll start with the trend graphs to see what effect last week’s games had on the RPI Rankings, and then we’ll switch gears a little to discuss what we’ve learned over the first half of the conference schedule.
RPI TREND GRAPHS
Duke’s home loss to UVA finally dropped them out of the #1 RPI ranking (1-1 for week). I was surprised that the road losses to BC and State hadn’t affected their ranking…but you can only lose so many until the rankings will drop.
UVa went 2-0 with a home win over Clemson and then the big win in Durham. That’s a good week by any measure and was good enough to move them into the #1 RPI ranking.
UNC went 0-2 and has a very noticeable drop in their ranking. [Insert line about world’s smallest fiddle.]
Clemson had a horrible game in C’ville followed by a close win in Atlanta. Not a great week, but good enough to hold steady in the rankings.
L’ville’s week wasn’t quite as bad as it looks. They did lose to UM on the road mid-week and the home win over WF didn’t turn out to help any. Miami’s week was up and down with a home win over L’ville and a road loss to FSU.
The Cuse had a much needed 2-0 week to make a nice climb in the rankings. But wins over BC and Pitt aren’t exactly what you would call awe-inspiring.
FSU didn’t have a mid-week break, but the home win over GT didn’t move their ranking. They did get a nice bump with their OT win at home over Miami.
State’s 2-0 week moved them towards the good side of the bubble…but not yet out of the woods. I have a lot more to say about State a little later.
I guess VT used my pessimism last week to motivate them and have a great week (2-0). That was two big steps in the right direction, but they have a lot further to go.
ND had their break with no mid-week game, but still had three starters out for the Sat loss to VT. That extends their losing streak to five straight and they need to right the ship soon.
BC went 0-1 with a mid-week loss on the road to ‘Cuse and then had the weekend off. They also need to pick up the pace if they are going to make the postseason.
I have long contended that the unbalanced conference schedules have a direct impact on the conference standings. If you look at it logically, the teams at the top of the conference are going to make the NCAAT no matter their conference schedule….and there is not going to be anything you can do with schedules to help the bottom of the conference. But schedule could be crucial for the Bubble Teams. So I look for instances where the unbalanced schedules likely helped or hurt some particular team.
I thought about looking at conference SOS using the RPI rankings at the start of conference play. I decided to wait and give the teams a little more time to try and separate the contenders from the pretenders. So using Sunday’s RPI rankings, here’s my attempt at a preliminary ranking of the conference schedules:
To determine where a game is played, read across the rows. For instance, Pitt plays UVa at home.
As I mentioned last week, VT clearly has the hardest conference schedule. What makes it even worse is that the second half of their conference schedule is noticeably harder than the first half that has left them sitting at 4-4. Seven of their 10 remaining games are against teams that are well on their way to the ACCT. The only positive that I can find is that four of those seven games are in B’burg. Surprisingly to me, teamrankings.com gives VT a greater than 50% chance of winning 6 of their last 10 games. As usual, time will tell.
UNC, GT, and State have very similar schedules. For my money, there’s not a lot of difference between them, but UNC’s is slightly harder than the other two.
Comparing Pitt to those three is very difficult. You can make an argument that their schedule ranks second to VT (which is the where I ended up putting them). But you could also make an argument that Pitt’s schedule ranks just behind UNC/GT/State since they only play one of the Top 10 teams twice. In the end, it’s Pitt and does anyone really care?
FSU and BC have great schedules for bubble teams. Few games against the top teams and they don’t double up on any of the bad teams at the bottom. In the end, if you can’t hold your own against the middle of the conference, then you’re really not good enough to play in the NCAAT anyway.
L’ville, WF, and Clemson have very similar schedules and rank just ahead of the next bunch (SYR, ND, and Duke) UVA clearly ranks behind those groups with Miami bringing up the rear.
If life doesn’t interrupt, I’ll do an entry just on conference SOS before the ACCT starts. For now, just keep these schedule rankings in mind as we go through the conference.
RPI SUMMARY TABLE
I’m going to put up several more tables and then put up some observations after that. If you want to check my comments versus the raw data, you should open a second window so that you can refer back to these tables as you read my blathering.
I’m pretty sure that this is State’s first winning ACC record over the last three seasons.
These values are from kenpom.com on Sunday afternoon. I’ve sorted the ACC by offensive and defensive ranking.
I found it interesting that UVa is top of the conference in defense and about the middle in offense. Duke is the opposite with a great offense and “average” defense. We saw Saturday in Durham which phase of the game was more important.
Virginia plays Clemson, UNC, and Duke once…and have already won all three games. So not only does UVa have an overall easy schedule, the second-half of their season is easier than the first half. I’ve been surprised before, but I just don’t see anyone catching UVA.
State’s done with Duke and everyone knows about their offense and less-than-impressing defense. Palm and Bilas had both UVa and Duke as a #1 seeds last week. Duke’s already lost three conference games and still has UNC twice. A sweep of UNC and then we can talk about a #1 seed for Duke.
All of L’ville’s losses have come to RPI Top 20 teams, but they only have one Top 50 win (@ FSU). I guess they’re not as bad as the 30 pt loss to UK would suggest, but I’m not convinced that they’re really a Top 20 team. Their defense ranks slightly ahead of Miami which makes me happy that they’re coming to Raleigh while wishing State’s games against the top defenses were already over.
Clemson lost their second leading scorer in the game against ND. So basically, we know next to nothing about the Clemson team that we’ll see the rest of the year.
I don’t have something to share on every team and Syracuse would be one of those except that I stumbled across a really interesting article last week. Five different reporters chime in on whether or not they think that the Orange is going to make the NCAAT or not. I was surprised that several different people didn’t think that they would. Since they usually play one of the easiest conference schedules and played a good OOC schedule (as opposed to last year), I figured that they were a lock.
But all of these discussions about Syracuse are simply coming too soon. Using Sunday’s ESPN numbers, here’s a comparison of State’s first five games, with Syracuse’s last five.
State’s First Five Games
Syracuse’s Last Five Games
State’s ACC schedule ranked as the #1 hardest conference schedule after the first five games. Syracuse’s schedule is not quite as hard, but it certainly isn’t easy (and this stretch is clearly Syracuse’s toughest). So Syracuse can play their way out of the NCAAT before the conference schedule concludes. But you won’t be able to say for sure that they are in until this stretch of games is concluded.
The nice part about being a pessimist is that you are constantly being either proven right or pleasantly surprised.
To say that I’m pleasantly surprised with State’s season to date is an understatement. I’m not nearly as confident of an NCAAT bid as some, but it is at least a possibility that’s worth discussing. But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t start with the negative.
If State had just played a reasonable OOC schedule, their RPI would be in the Top 40 and they would be on every bracket that is being put together. But they played one of the worst OOC schedules imaginable and have created a hole that they will have to climb out of. In the past, we’ve seen weak OOC schedules put bubble teams into the NIT at least two different ways:
A number of times we’ve seen teams with RPI’s in the bubble zone, some good wins, and a horrible OOC schedule end up in the NIT. It’s happened to VT with Greenburg several times, Penn St, and even ASU once with Sendek.
Let nature take its course.
Last year Syracuse had a horrible OOC schedule, a number of bad losses and six Top 50 wins, with three of those coming against the Top 25. But their OOC schedule (coupled with a weak conference schedule) pushed their RPI into the 80’s and off to the NIT they went.
If you look at the RPI summary table, FSU’s numbers show that if you’re going to play a miserable OOC schedule, then you have to win. FSU’s overall SOS is similar to State’s but they have fewer losses and a much better RPI ranking.
There is still plenty of time for State to make the NCAAT. But if you think that the issues from the past don’t apply to State, then I really don’t know what to say.
Here’s State’s conference schedule broken down into halves and sorted based on opponent’s RPI (From ESPN on Sunday).
The obvious conclusion is that State’s second half of the ACC schedule is a little easier and they have one more home game. So the job’s not done, but there’s reason for hope.
How much is left to do?
With State’s big wins, they would be a lock with a winning conference record and a Top 50 RPI rank. But I’ve read some people projecting an NCAAT bid with a 9-9 conference record. I’m glad that people recognize the dangers with a losing conference record. But some people need to hone their math skills a little.
Using the more accurate RPI from CBS and realtimerpi.com, State’s RPI ranking is 63 on Monday morning. Just for reference, that ranking would be among the worst to ever receive an at-large bid. So State needs to improve the ranking quite a bit before they could be considered a “lock”.
A 9-9 conference record would mean that State finishes the second half of the conference schedule at 4-5. That would mean that State’s overall winning percentage will go down. This makes it likely/possible that State’s actual RPI would go down. Movement in the RPI ranking is relative to those teams around you, but it’s not likely that State’s ranking would improve much (or at all) if its actual RPI goes down.
Basically State needs to win more than those teams that are currently above it in the RPI rankings. It just doesn’t seem likely that going 4-5 down the stretch is going to be good enough. My guess is that 5-4 might not be good enough for a lock, but will be certainly be good enough for serious consideration.
If you’re really into bracketology then you need to check this site out. It tabulates and reports the results of 90+ brackets that are published on the ‘Net. So if you need more than Lunardi and/or Palm, then this is your site.
One word of warning…every bracket isn’t updated every day. So if you’re looking at someone moving in or moving out, then make sure you are concentrating on brackets that have been updated.
PS: On Saturday, State was listed on two brackets. On Sunday evening, they were listed on 16 brackets.
UPCOMING ACC SCHEDULE
I hate road games before UNC/Duke or after a win over the Blues….perfect trap game. If last week’s mid-week game had been anyone besides Pitt, I don’t know if State could have pulled that game out. I’m glad that State has their break this week to get over the UNC win and get ready for the Irish on Saturday.
With 12 of 15 teams having some chance at the NCAAT, it seems like there should be more games of interest than have shown up recently. But this looks like a good week with a number of interesting games.