Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Virginia Preview

Virginia has two extremely talented players, and several other servicable role players. Sean Singletary gets the bulk of the press, but the story in conference play so far has been JR Reynolds. His last game at the JPJ he went off for 40 points, and has done over 34% of UVA's scoring in ACC play. Both Reynolds and Singletary are shooting lights out - Reynolds' numbers are 1.31 PPWS, .593 EFG%, .527 2pt%, .452 3pt %, and .886 FT%; Singletary goes for 1.27, .583, .533, .407, and .871 in the same categories. They also share and share alike - 32.7 assist % for Singletary, 28.4% for Reynolds. The only negative is that both have been vulnerable to the turnover. That's actually been the knock on Singletary his entire career - too often his game veers across the line that separates frenetic and out of control from high paced yet in control. Still, you simply can never count the Hoos out of a game with these two involved, particularly the way they've been playing.

Virginia is a high paced team that scores in bunches and loves shooting the 3. No ACC team has gotten a bigger share of its points from beyond the arc than the Cavaliers. They'll put a lot of pressure on Duke's perimeter defense, which hasn't been all that great in defending the 3 in conference play. However, they'll put almost no pressure on the interior. Adrian Joseph is afraid of contact (in one of the most astounding stats of the season, he's played 141 ACC minutes and shot precisely zero free throws), and Laurynas Mikalauskas and Tunji Soroye are, well, offensively challenged. Only Jason Cain is capable of being a true interior threat, and his conference shooting numbers have been not so hot (.94 PPWS, .432 EFG%). However, Cain is an excellent rebounder on both ends of the court, and his ability to stay on the court is a crucial element to Virginia's success.

Virginia will really try to push the pace against Duke and get the Devils playing faster than they want to. Singletary loves to run, whether it's after a turnover, missed shot, or made basket. The Devils will have to get back in transition after every possession. Pocius could actually see a healthy number of minutes tomorrow night, since UVA plays the kind of run and shoot and slash game that has a little more of a European flavor (and Virginia runs reasonably small lineups a lot of the game). Duke would also be wise to try to establish the interior early on the offense - Virginia is a terrible shot blocking team, and their big men, especially Cain, are foul prone. Duke also may have an advantage in the turnover category - UVA is not particularly adept at forcing turnovers, but is liable to give the ball up, at 22.7% in conference play.

This is really a divergent moment in the season for these two schools. For Virginia, this is one of their hardest remaining games - it's debatable whether this game is more difficult than at Virginia Tech or at Maryland, but those are the biggest remaining threats on the schedule. For Duke, the only game likely to be easier is at home against Georgia Tech. The Devils and Cavaliers sit tied right now in the standings, but face very different paths down the home stretch. Tomorrow's game will be tough, and is likely to be a fight to the finish. Virginia is extremely good at home, and has beaten several superior teams on its home court in the past 3-4 years. The crowd will be up for this one (biggest marquee home game of the year), as will the players. Duke will have to bring its A game to come out with a win.


Boston College takes out agression from Duke dismantling on lowly Hartford. BC shoots ungodly 19 of 22 on 2 point field goals. Dudley shoots 8 for 8, pleads with Skinner for more shots, and sits (for 5 whole minutes!).

UNC dismantles Miami, thoroughly dominating almost all aspects of the game. Hansbrough gets 22 and 13 in just 25 minutes. Quentin Thomas (yes, Quentin Thomas) picks up 8 assists in 14 minutes. His assist rate is now an absurd 50.3% (but you won't see him on the leaderboard, since he doesn't play qualifying minutes. Heels outrebound Miami 49-24 and kill the Canes on both ends of the glass - 14 of 31 offense, 35 of 42 defense.

NC State shocks Virginia Tech. Third biggest upset of the conference season (behind Miami @ Maryland and these same Hokies over UNC). Tech shoots only 21 of 60, including just 36% on 2s (ay caramba!). Engin Atsur (a/k/a Turkish Wes Miller) shoots 10 3s out of 11 shots, preserves distinction as player most likely to never see taking a layup. Ben McCauley posts 20 in an iron man full game. Dowdell goes for a hard fought 16 in loss; continues to cement status as first-team all-ACC candidate (his only competitors at guard play together in the UVA backcourt).

Monday, January 29, 2007

Duke 75, Boston College 61

Duke played total team basketball in one of their most impressive games of the season thus far. The Devils applied intense pressure to Rice (soft half court trap), Marshall (thank you Jon Scheyer), and Dudley (a Nelson, McClure, Thomas combo job), and kept the three from getting into any kind of cohesive rhythm. Duke also held the most efficient offense in the conference (both in terms of pure offensive rating and PPNTOP) to a .87 PPWS and a .379 EFG%. Boston College scored only 44 points from the floor in 40 minutes.

Duke won this game because it forced the Three Man Team (and most importantly Dudley) to give up the ball. Spears, Oates, Haynes, and Blair went 8 of 21 from the field, a number notable not only for its sub 40% shooting, but also because those four took 21 shots in the Clemson and FSU games combined. Dudley was doubled constantly, and while it often left Shamari Spears open, I think you, me, and definitely Coach K are all happy to have Shamari Spears trying to beat Duke rather than Jared Dudley. Again for BC, Dudley didn't get enough shots - Spears and Rice both took more, and Marshall took as many (making only 2). Coach Skinner - Jared Dudley is your best player, and one of the best 5 in the conference. He's also your best shooter and the best player on the team at getting to the line. Call me crazy, but maybe he should get more shots than Rice and Marshall (warning, warning, this is bound to be a common refrain about the Eagles on this site for the rest of the season).

Duke also executed extremely well on offense, particularly on the offensive glass. In the second half, Duke got 63.6% of its own misses - that's right, the Eagles got a whopping 4 defensive rebounds in 20 second half minutes. Duke also shot well from the field (especially when Tyrelle Blair didn't get in the way) and the line. The team was well spaced, moved the ball well, got out in transition when the opportunities presented themselves, and even took better care of the ball than the average game. McRoberts, as usual, looked very impressive. If he's been a much different player this year than last, he's also been a much different player in ACC play than pre-conference play. He's figured out that his role doesn't require him to be a dominant scorer (which in a roundabout way has actually helped his scoring increase - he forces it a little less and is taking "smarter" shots). He's also starting to feel out where his teammates will be on the court, and vice versa - it bears mentioning that none of his teammates are really that used to playing full games with a big man who can pass like Josh. McRoberts also defended the post very well, picking up some highlight reel blocks, and helping Duke hold BC to 38% 2pt shooting.

Here's the table for last night's game:

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 56 67 1.196 57 56 0.982

OFF 9 8 0.889 7 5 0.714
Scheyer ON 56 63 1.125 54 50 0.926

OFF 9 12 1.333 10 11 1.100
Nelson ON 56 67 1.196 56 55 0.982

OFF 9 8 0.889 8 6 0.750
Paulus ON 54 63 1.167 53 51 0.962

OFF 11 12 1.091 11 10 0.909
Henderson ON 19 24 1.263 19 14 0.737

OFF 46 51 1.109 45 47 1.044
McClure ON 31 33 1.065 29 33 1.138

OFF 34 42 1.235 35 28 0.800
Thomas ON 38 42 1.105 36 32 0.889

OFF 27 33 1.222 28 29 1.036
Pocius ON 12 12 1.000 12 13 1.083

OFF 53 63 1.189 52 48 0.923
Zoubek ON 3 4 1.333 4 1 0.250

OFF 62 71 1.145 60 60 1.000

Duke Overall
65 75 1.154 64 61 0.953

Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the 6 assist, 1 turnover performance from Greg Paulus. I found this particularly impressive because he didn't shoot well - it's one of the only games this season where his A/TO ratio hasn't been (at least generally) linked to his shooting (and/or vice versa).

And of course, my thoughts are with Dave McClure - from all I've heard (including an appreciated comment post from Doug) it's not horribly serious, and will only cost him a couple of games (bringing him back to a Cameron standing O against UNC - ok, I can hope).


Two crucial games for teams on the ACC bubble (is it too early to be talking bubble?). Maryland travels to Florida State in a game that both need to win. A win puts FSU at .500 (with two oh-so-close road losses), and a Terp loss would stick them 3 games under .500. The Gist/Thornton matchup will be worth the price of admission. In Winston, Georgia Tech is hitting the road to take on Wake. The Jackets will be 2-6 with a loss, and frankly would be sunk. After the trip to Wake, they host Clemson and NC State (two very winnable games), and could be sitting at 5-5. This game really is a turning point - if they can't beat Wake on the road, they really aren't a tournament team, but if they can get a road win, they have a chance to build some momentum heading toward the stretch run.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

BC Preview

Since the suspension of Sean Williams, Boston College has been a Three-Man Team. Dudley, Rice, and Marshall took a combined 30 of 40 attempts against Clemson, and a combined 42 of 53 shots against Florida State. These guys also play the bulk of the minutes. All average at least 33 minutes/game, and Dudley is about as close to iron man as you can be, playing all but two minutes total in conference play. So far, no team has really been able to stop even one of the three from the field - even against Clemson they all shot about 50% (the problem in that game was 13 combined turnovers from Rice and Marshall). Dudley is one of the best all around players in the ACC - he can score inside and outside, rebounds well on the offensive and defensive glass, and is a very solid defender. If anything, he's too deferential - Dudley is head and shoulders above any of his teammates, but doesn't demand the ball enough. His numbers should be more like Al Thornton's (30% of shots, 35% of scoring) instead of where they are so far (21.5% of shots, 25% of scoring). Tyrese Rice has been a huge asset for the Eagles this year. The sophomore has taken a big step forward in his second season, most notably improving his shooting - Rice is still not a great 3pt shooter, but he's lighting it up inside the arc in conference play, posting a 61.4 2FG% on 44 attempts - not bad for a 6'1" guard. He also records assists on over 1/3 of his teammates' baskets, but is vulnerable to turning the ball over. Sean Marshall, possibly best known to Duke fans for screaming directly in the face of JJ Redick during their frantic (but ultimately failed) comeback attempt last year, simply has no conscience when it comes to shooting the ball. He leads the team in shot%, even though both his PPWS and EFG% are worse than Rice's or Dudley's. If there's any one of these three Duke wants shooting the ball, it's probably Marshall.

Williams' replacements in the post aren't really offensive threats. John Oates is much more comfortable at the 3 point line than mixing it up down low, and neither Shamari Spears nor Tyrelle Blair has much in the way of a post move (Blair has taken just 3 shots in 57 minutes of conference play). Still, Spears is a very good rebounder, particularly on the offensive glass, and Blair, while not as imposing as Williams, has been blocking shots at almost the same rate (albeit in far fewer minutes).

The key for Duke will be containing the Three Man Team. They have to limit Rice's penetration, because he's much less dangerous outside of the 3 point line. They have to limit Dudley's touches (by the way, the Nelson-Dudley matchup features two of the strongest players, pound for pound, in the conference - it should be tough, physical, and fun to watch). And Scheyer has to stay in Marshall's face, and deny him open looks. The defense also has to play smart - physical without fouling. BC has thrived on getting to the line this year - they shoot almost 30 free throws a game, and a full 27.7% of all their points come from free throws. Duke has had a propensity to send guys to the line this year - if BC's shooting is a little cold, they have no reservation about driving, driving, driving, and drawing foul after foul. If this is a tightly called game, it will be very much to BC's advantage.

BC's high free throw rate, their total lack of contribution from players outside the Three Man Team, their thoroughly meh defense (104.45 DRating, even with the best low post defender in the ACC for 5 games), and their soft schedule so far (Clemson, their toughest opponent, beat them badly) suggests that the early 6-1 conference record is a bit of an anomaly, and is a little bit of a smoke-and-mirrors act. Still, they manage to keep winning, and any team with Jared Dudley is too dangerous to be overlooked. This could be a tight game throughout, and may come down, like Clemson, to Duke making key plays in end-game scenarios.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Duke 68, Clemson 66

Simply a thrilling game last night, between two extremely evenly matched teams. The best part about that game was that Duke looked mature throughout. During the entire second half, Clemson was making mini-runs, and constantly threatening to take control of the game. But the Devils never looked nervous, on rarely looked like they were rushing, and looked calm, cool, and confident on the offensive end. This was a marked contrast to the Marquette game (and even the end of the Virginia Tech game) where there were a lot of deer-in-the-headlight looks. For example, right at the start of the second half, Clemson scored 5 quick points and forced a Scheyer turnover. Duke took a timeout, regrouped, and then forced a turnover of their own and converted on the other end of the court. About 6 minutes later, Clemson again picked up 5 quick ones (2 Perry free throws, Nelson turnover, KC Rivers 3 pointer). Duke came right back down the court and got a wide open 3 from McRoberts, then played shut down defense until a Paulus 3 put them up by nine. With just under 7 to play, a Hamilton layup cut the lead to three again, Duke took a timeout, and then got a big 3 from Scheyer to keep up the cushion. Finally, after Clemson's 8-0 run tied the game at 60, Scheyer got to the line on the next possession and put Duke right back out in front. The defense allowed only 1 point in the next 5 possessions, putting the game seemingly out of reach. Many of these crucial scores for Duke came right out of timeouts, which suggests that the entire coaching staff did an excellent job last night. Coach K is sometimes criticized for not being a great in-game coach, but last night he seemed to be pushing the right buttons at the right time to keep Duke ever-so-slightly in control of the game.

Of course, we all know what happened next. The McRoberts-to-Hamilton pass is just an utter freak play. So many things had to happen just so - Hamilton was standing perfectly squared to the hoop at the 3pt line. Paulus cut left at precisely the moment the ball left Josh's hands. And Hamilton didn't have to move - he just happened to be set up in the perfect place. He barely even had to shift his feet once he picked the ball up. Really, it was a perfect storm kind of situation, and one we're not likely to see again for a long time. And then Scheyer-to-McClure was just beautiful. Clock controversy be damned, it was just pretty basketball - almost a no look pass across his body over two defenders going sideways hitting McClure perfectly in stride for a shot leaving his hand with no more (and no less) that 0.1 on the clock.

Duke won last night because they kept Clemson's press from spurring big runs (with the exception of the 8-0 run to tie the game, topped off by a Mays steal and hoop combo) by taking just good enough care of the ball, and because they were absolutely dominant on the glass. Clemson had 65 possessions, 53 of which resulted in shots at the hoop, and they came away with offensive rebounds on just 4 of those possessions, getting only six on the offensive glass overall. Duke, by contrast, attacked the offensive glass to the tune of 17 boards (out of 40 chances - 42.5% if you're scoring at home (or even if you're all by yourself)). Those 17 boards produced 19 second chance points and kept Duke's offense plugging along on a night when the shots weren't falling quite as often as they have been. Here's the chart for the game:

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 58 62 1.069 58 64 1.103

OFF 8 6 0.750 7 2 0.286
Scheyer ON 56 58 1.036 54 56 1.037

OFF 10 10 1.000 11 10 0.909
Nelson ON 58 60 1.034 57 59 1.035

OFF 8 8 1.000 8 7 0.875
Paulus ON 63 66 1.048 63 66 1.048

OFF 3 2 0.667 2 0 0.000
Henderson ON 23 23 1.000 24 22 0.917

OFF 43 45 1.047 41 44 1.073
McClure ON 59 59 1.000 57 54 0.947

OFF 7 9 1.286 8 12 1.500
Thomas ON 5 6 1.200 5 7 1.400

OFF 61 62 1.016 60 59 0.983
Zoubek ON 8 6 0.750 7 2 0.286

OFF 58 62 1.069 58 64 1.103

Duke Overall
66 68 1.030 65 66 1.015

I think the most significant thing from this chart is how even it is - both teams played evenly matched basketball regardless of who was on the court. No one had better than a +5 scoring margin (game-winner David McClure), and no one worse than a -2 (believe it or not, McRoberts). That's a good sign for Duke - consistent play with no drop-off when the bench comes in is the ideal. The only other item of note (warning, extremely small sample size!) was the defensive difference with McClure out - 12 points in the 8 possessions he sat. Just reflective of the kind of contribution he made last night on the defensive end of the court.


Quiet Saturday in the ACC - Wake travels to Florida State for what should be an easy Seminole victory. Marquee national game of the weekend is the non-conference matchup between UNC and Arizona in the McKale Center, pitting the country's best offense against the second best defense (both ranks based on strength of schedule adjustments). Also marks a little bit of a conference showdown between the ACC and Pac-10, the two best conferences in the country this year. The Pac-10 has been clamoring for respect (which they deserve), and a Wildcat win over the Heels (best team in the best conference) would continue to establish the Pac's strength and can only help Pac-10 bubble teams come Selection Sunday.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Clemson Preview

Tonight's game presents a potential matchup problem for the Devils. Duke's turnover problems are well documented, and Clemson has forced opponents to turn the ball over an astounding 28.46% of all possessions in ACC play. When Clemson has the ball, they're much more careful (17.73 TO%). Clemson likes to press, but they're also good at forcing turnovers in the half court. This will likely be the bigger problem for Duke - any Blue Devil (except Zoubek and maybe Thomas) can bring the ball up against the press. The key for Duke will be half court execution - Clemson's numbers suggest they play a gambling defense - while their turnover numbers are very high, they have the worst field goal defense in the conference (.579 EFG%) in conference play.

On offense, Clemson can present some matchup problems. Booker and Mays are both a little undersized, but extremely athletic, and they relentlessly attack the glass. As a team, Clemson is very good on the offensive glass (39.33% in conference play) and will put Duke's defensive rebounding - which has been absolutely superb so far - to the test. Mays has turnover problems that Duke may be able to take advantage of, particularly since McClure and Thomas (both good at forcing turnovers) will be guarding him. On the perimeter, Hamilton (12th in 3pt%), Hammonds (5th in 2pt%), and Rivers (4th in 3pt%) are all good shooters, and it's likely that the Tigers will try to exploit the matchups with Paulus, since he'll be at a size disadvantage on whoever he's guarding.

When Duke is on offense, the key is to maximize possessions with scoring opportunities. For a team with a shot-blocker as good as Booker down low, Clemson's interior D has been dreadful. They're not much better on the perimeter, letting opponents hit 41.8% from outside. If Duke can A) hold on to the ball reasonably well (20-23 turnover %) and B) hit the offensive glass (33-38 offensive rebounding%) they should be able to score a lot of points - enough to make up for the handful of easy baskets Clemson is bound to get off turnovers.

Around the ACC

Wake Forest hung in there against UNC for the first 26 minutes, trailing by just 7 after an Ishmael Smith layup with 13:50 to play. From that point, the Heels went on a six minute 18-2 run, and finished the game on a 32-11 run overall. For the first time in conference play, Ellington and Lawson had good games in the same game, combining for 33 points and 6 assists in just over 40 minutes of play. All in all, the Heels had a well distributed offensive attack, with 5 players in double figures. Still, they've shown a tendency to turn the ball over a lot in conference play (23.8% last night). Wake Forest couldn't find the bottom of the basket, even when no one was guarding them (6-16 from the line). (Random UNC note - their last 3 opponents have made only 17 of 45 free throws. Did someone change the rules for the Heels and let them guard free throw shooters? Yikes!). Wake's second half shooting was truly dreadful - 9 of 35 from the field and 2 of 11 from the line for a 0.58 PPWS and a .300 EFG%. Only Visser played well, with 16 and 5 in 31 minutes.

UVA took care of business on the road, leading to the following extremely long statistical accomplishment: first non-neutral-court road win outside of the state of Virginia for Dave Leitao's Cavaliers. Singletary and Reynolds lit it up again, scoring 56 of the team's 71 points - when you factor in the 10 minutes they sat on the bench, they scored 90.1% of the 'Hoos points while on the floor. Someone (ok, me) mentioned that Singletary was simply too good to keep shooting as bad as he had in the pre-conference season. His ACC numbers - 1.31 PPWS (tied for 4th), .601 EFG% (7th), and .429 3pt% (7th). State had a very rough day shooting against the conference's leading field goal defense. Only Trevor Ferguson shot better than 43%, and he took just 1 shot. Atsur returned for the Pack and posted 9 points and 3 assists. Atsur has done his best Wes Miller impersonation in the two conference games he's played - 10 threes attempted against just one 2 point attempt.

Georgia Tech continued their home/road Jekyll and Hyde show. Someone (ok, me) said there was no way their hot shooting would continue - in their last two games they've hit just 6 of 34 threes, including an epicly bad 1 of 17 last night. Thaddeus Young continues to be a beast, scoring 21 on 9 of 15 shooting (including Tech's only made 3) and pulling in 7 boards, 4 of those offensive. For Maryland, James Gist had a career performance - scoring 26 on 10 of 11 from the field, hitting all nine of his 2pt attempts. The Terps forced Tech to turn the ball over just about once every 4 possessions, and coasted to a 15 point victory.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Looking Foolish

Yesterday seemed to be all about me looking a little foolish. First, I was informed that both my mathematical computation and basketball acumen were, shall we say, a little off. My assist rate numbers have been artificially depressed because I neglected to account for the simple fact that you can't assist yourself. In more detail (probably more than you need), my formula was Assists/(Team made field goals X %minutes played), and it has now been updated to the proper formula: Assists/((Team made field goals X %minutes played) - player made field goals). This actually does matter, and is not mere nit-pickery - it changed the makeup of the ACC leaderboard (though admittedly not dramatically), and Sean Singletary will be your new league leader in A/B%. The changes have all been made in the spreadsheets, and the numbers will be updated after tonight's games.

Also, Sean Marshall, who has been (as recently as Monday) and will continue to be called out on this site for taking way more shots than he should, capped off an 8-for-14 day with a game winning three at the buzzer to propel BC to 6-1. The Eagles won with good shooting from the field (.594 EFG%) and frequent shooting from the line (31 free throw attempts, good for a 58.5 FT Rate, which increases their already league leading number). It looks like BC is content to play 3 on 5 on offense for the rest of the year - Oates, Haynes, Spears, and Blair combined for 11 shots, which is fewer than Marshall (14), Rice (14), and Dudley (15). For the record, as long as Dudley gets an equal or greater share of shots as Marshall and Rice, Marshall can shoot as much as he wants - that just hasn't been the case yet this year (nor was it yesterday - Marshall's 14 shots came in 28 minutes, while Dudley took his 15 playing his usual 40). As for Florida State, what a frustrating loss. They shot well from the field (.550 EFG%) and exceptionally well at the line (16 of 17), and posted a terrific 10.4 turnover %. But their defense came back to bite them. Like the Clemson game to open conference play, it was just another oh-so-close loss for the Noles.

In other ACC news, VT jumped on Miami early, and then had to hold on at the end. Zabian Dowdell has been the anti-DJ Strawberry - his play has significantly elevated since the start of conference play, and he's shouldering a whole lot of the Hokies' success. He's in the top 4 in the ACC in scoring %, and his shooting, while not among the league leaders, has shown marked improvement in ACC play. Deron Washington also had a very effective game for the Hokies, putting up a 23-10 double double in 30 minutes of play. It wasn't a virtuoso performance from Tech, but they took care of business on the road against an inferior team, which they haven't been able to do with consistency at all this year (see, Marshall).

Tonight's slate features UNC at Wake in a pick your margin kind of game, UVA at NC State (like the Hokies, the Cavaliers really need to show they're capable of winning a game on the road against a weaker opponent), and the "marquee" matchup of Georgia Tech at Maryland - both teams desperately need/want the win after disappointing weekend performances.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Conference Only Tempo-Free Stats

The first round of the conference-only tempo-free stats are up - all stats for the rest of the season are going to be conference only (except for the Duke-only stats). Here are some preliminary thoughts:

Things Bound to Change

Georgia Tech's offense: They already suffered a drop-off after the Carolina game, but they were off to an unbelievably good shooting start to the season - the EFG was over .600 prior to UNC, and their PPNTOP was over 150, which means they scored more than 3 points every two possessions in which they didn't turn the ball over. Against Duke, they turned the ball over on 37%!!! of all possessions, and still almost averaged a point per possession on account of astounding shooting. Dickey, Morrow, Crittenton, and Young are all in the top 20% in PPWS in the ACC. This shooting is likely not to continue, and their turnover problems could spell problems in the future.

Duke's defensive rebounding: Duke has pulled in an astounding 78.2% of all available defensive rebounds. Part of this is strategy - the Devils don't run out a lot on fast breaks, and usually send at least 4, if not all 5, players to the boards. Part of this is opponents - Wake, Virginia Tech, and NC State would all be at the bottom of the ACC in offensive rebounding, even without the Duke games factored in. Control of the defensive glass will be a key to watch for in this week's games against Clemson and BC, two of the better offensive rebounding teams in conference play.

Boston College's record: They got off to a hot start, but have lost the anchor to their defense. Williams had 19 blocks in 5 games, and was averaging double figures in scoring as well. Even with Williams, their defense was average - right about 100 DRating. Their first game without him was a 121. The offense had a serious drop off too - they had a 116 ORating in their first 5 games, and an 88.5 without him. Also, the schedule conspires against the Eagles from here on out. Their five wins are against Maryland at home, at NC State, at Wake, Virginia at home, and Miami at home. That's as cupcake a schedule as you can get in the ACC. Now it gets progressively harder, culminating with an absolutely brutal finish - at FSU, vs. Duke, vs. UNC, at Virginia Tech, vs. Clemson, at Georgia Tech. Dudley is a fantastic player, but he's not good enough to carry a team whose parts don't work well together to create a better whole. By the way, could someone please ask Al Skinner why Dudley, unquestionably the best player, gets barely 20% of the shots while a selfish, me-first, shoot-anything gunner like Sean Marshall takes a conference leading 32.4%? Oh wait, I just answered my own question.

Things Bound to Stay the Same

Duke and UNC's defense: It's obvious that Duke has so far been winning with defense. Less obvious is that UNC is doing the same thing. The Heels' offense has been good, but not as good as pre-conference play, and is being carried largely by some exceptional offensive rebounding. All of their shooting numbers are subpar, most notably their ugly, ugly 31.6% 3pt shooting. Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson have substantially cooled off in conference play - Ellington's EFG% is just .417, and he's hit only 26% of his 3s, while Lawson has been vulnerable to the turnover at a very high 8.5%. But UNC's defense is playing almost as well as Duke's. They lead the league in opponent PPWS, bolstered by good shooting defense and low opponent scoring from the line. Duke's field goal defense hasn't been quite as good, largely because of uncharacteristically good 3pt shooting by opponents. And their PPWS is effected by opponents shooting a lot of free throws (and shooting well) But they're cleaning up the defensive glass (for now) and forcing gobs of turnovers. Duke's D has been constant all year, and almost without regard to the opponent. It will continue to be the constant going forward.

Wake, NC State, and Miami comprising the bottom 3: They were the three worst teams in pre-conference play, and have been the three worst teams in conference play so far. Aside from games against each other and maybe one or two colossal let down games by opponents in their buildings (witness Georgia Tech @ Miami), their winning is probably finished for the year. In the past, there's occasionally been one or two really bad teams, but I can't remember a group of 3 this bad in the conference in, well, probably ever. At least Wake and State have promising young talent - Costner, McCauley, Smith, Williams, Skeen, etc. Miami, on the other hand, has merely answered the question of whether a Siena transfer could light it up in ACC play, and the answer (0.81 PPWS, .324 EFG%, 6.62 TO%) is a resounding No.

Parity: Three teams have excellent efficiency margins so far - UNC, Duke, and BC. BC we've already talked about, and Duke's is likely to come down, if only because they've already had all the games they're getting against those three teams mentioned in the prior item. Only UNC looks like a team who could maintain this kind of a gap between itself and the rest of the league. After these three, there are 5 other teams that are probably equally competitive with each other - Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson, FSU, and Georgia Tech. As the season goes on, we'll likely see Duke in with this bunch, and BC fall closer to the abject mediocrity that is the domain of the Maryland Terrapins. But there's a very real possibility that all seven of the teams between UNC and Maryland could finish between 7-9 and 10-6. Depending on which teams shake out where, this year's ACC could be very, very tough on the selection committee.

Finally, Maryland fans have put out an APB for DJ Strawberry's shot. For a senior who was trying to carry his team back to the tourney for the first time in three years, he's put on a positively woeful performance in the first five games - 14 of 50 from the field, including just 2 for 12 from 3.

Tomorrow night's games present two big tests - can BC hold home court against a talented but up-and-down road team in the Seminoles without their big man inside? Can Virginia Tech act like a truly good team and put away an inferior opponent on the road?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Duke 79, NC State 56

Just a fantastic game in all aspects yesterday by Duke. Both offensive and defensive execution and efficiency were excellent. NC State was held to just an 80.0 ORating, and their shooting was especially frustrated. Prior to yesterday's game, State was shooting at a .655 EFG% on the conference season. Yesterday, their EFG% was .390, including a 10 for 30 performance on 2s. Duke also forced 20 Pack turnovers in 70 possessions, or 28.6%. On offense, Duke seemed to be able to get into the lane and get open shots at ease. Part of this was the result of superb offensive spacing and very good ball movement. Even though there were still a couple too many turnovers, that is as effective as the offense has run all year. Scheyer and Paulus both had very solid games in the backcourt, and McRoberts was once again magnificent in all aspects of the game. David McClure also played extremely valuable minutes, and although the comparisons to Nate James are certainly warranted, he showed flashes of a game that was more polished, like Carrawell's. McClure had a very nice drive for a layup where he demonstrated great body control, he hit jumpers, and played solid lockdown defense. All in all, it was a very fun game to watch. NC State only kept it as close as it was thanks to a tightly called game and some excellent free throw shooting. Here's the efficiency table for the game:

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 63 75 1.190 64 49 0.766

OFF 5 4 0.800 6 7 1.167
Scheyer ON 56 70 1.250 58 51 0.879

OFF 12 9 0.750 12 5 0.417
Nelson ON 58 73 1.259 59 47 0.797

OFF 10 6 0.600 11 9 0.818
Paulus ON 51 62 1.216 52 46 0.885

OFF 17 17 1.000 18 10 0.556
Henderson ON 33 30 0.909 33 23 0.697

OFF 35 49 1.400 37 33 0.892
McClure ON 46 55 1.196 48 43 0.896

OFF 22 24 1.091 22 13 0.591
Thomas ON 18 21 1.167 18 11 0.611

OFF 50 58 1.160 52 45 0.865
Zoubek ON 5 4 0.800 6 7 1.167

OFF 63 75 1.190 64 49 0.766
Pocius ON 6 5 0.833 7 3 0.429

OFF 62 74 1.194 63 53 0.841
Davidson ON 2 0 0.000 2 0 0.000

OFF 66 79 1.197 68 56 0.824
Johnson ON 2 0 0.000 2 0 0.000

OFF 66 79 1.197 68 56 0.824
Pagliuca ON 0 0 0.000 1 0 0.000

OFF 68 79 1.162 69 56 0.812
Duke Overall
68 79 1.162 70 56 0.800

A couple comments on the numbers. This was the second straight game during which the offense has struggled (comparatively) with Henderson on the court. It's noticeable watching the games, too - he's the only one of the top 7 in the rotation who looked like he hasn't quite figured out exactly how to move without the ball and where to be in the offense. However, his performance has been steadily improving as conference play roles on. He's no longer only looking to score whenever he gets the ball, and seems more selective about picking his spots. His progress is encouraging. This was also the second consecutive game where the team has been substantially better with Nelson on the court than without. This time the dramatic difference was shown more on offense than on defense, but it's clear that he's equally indispensable as McRoberts. Even on a day where his own personal shooting wasn't as good as it has been this year, the offense as a whole clicked when he was there (witness, for example, two pretty drive-and-dish plays to McRoberts).

Duke tempo-free stats are updated through the NC State game. After tonight's Maryland-Virginia Tech game, conference-only tempo-free team and player stats will make their debut. I'll have some comments about those stats so far when they're updated.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Duke 62, Wake 40

To start, here's the first efficiency table of the season:

O Poss. Points OPPP D Poss. Points DPPP
McRoberts ON 61 59 0.967 61 38 0.623

OFF 4 3 0.750 3 2 0.667
Scheyer ON 55 58 1.055 52 33 0.635

OFF 10 4 0.400 12 7 0.583
Nelson ON 45 44 0.978 45 19 0.422

OFF 20 18 0.900 19 21 1.105
Paulus ON 62 59 0.952 61 38 0.623

OFF 3 3 1.000 3 2 0.667
Henderson ON 36 30 0.833 37 32 0.865

OFF 29 32 1.103 27 8 0.296
McClure ON 37 35 0.946 39 27 0.692

OFF 28 27 0.964 25 13 0.520
Thomas ON 25 22 0.880 22 11 0.500

OFF 40 40 1.000 42 29 0.690
Zoubek ON 4 3 0.750 3 2 0.667

OFF 61 59 0.967 61 38 0.623
Duke Overall
65 62 0.954 64 40 0.625

More on these numbers in a bit. First, Duke played a fantastic defensive game. The defensive rating of 62.5 is the best posted by any team in ACC conference play so far this year, and they were a last-second Ish Smith putback away from holding Wake in the 30s. Duke's defensive pressure clearly unsettled Wake, forcing them into lots of turnovers (21 in 64 possessions, 32.8%) and lots of missed shots (24 out of 37 missed from 2, 8 out of 11 missed from 3). Ishmael Smith continued his rough play in the ACC, recording 0 assists and 8 turnovers in 26 minutes of play - his turnover percentage in conference play is 11.7%, which is just abysmal. The offenses for both teams struggled - collectively, they missed 22 more shots than they made (oddly enough, the totals were 62 misses to 40 makes).

For Duke, Paulus led the way on offense, riding a hot first half to a team leading 17 points on the game. He took what has to be a career high 14 shots, and also contributed 4 assists against just 1 turnover (though there were a couple other close calls just narrowly avoided). Paulus seems to play much more confident with the ball when his scoring is up. In games this year where he's scored double figures, he has 23 assists against 15 turnovers with just a 3.7 TO%. In his single figure scoring games, his ratio is perfectly 1-t0-1, at 39 assists and turnovers with an 8.9 TO%. Getting him some open scoring looks early in games could be key to keeping him settled and less turnover prone.

McRoberts had another exceptional game, filling up all aspects of the box score with his 11 points, 8 boards, 6 assists, 3 blocks, one ridiculous open court behind-the-back-through-the-legs dribble, several brilliant passes, and a couple big emphatic dunks. McClure was McRoberts light - 7 points without missing a shot, 6 boards, 2 assists, 3 steals, and no turnovers. After struggling against Virginia Tech and not playing much against Georgia Tech, he's put together two nice games in a row.

For Wake, David Weaver had a nice game inside, with 4 boards and 3 blocks in just 12 minutes. Unsurprisingly, Visser led the way in scoring and rebounding with 12 points (he was the only Deac in double figures) and 7 boards.

As for the table above, a couple things jump out at me. First is the dramatic difference in defense with Henderson off the court (a bit of a reversal of the trend this year). He sat for 27 possessions, during which Duke allowed just 8 points. The offense was also better with Gerald on the bench, posting a 1.103 PPP. In short, Duke beat Wake 32 to 8 while Henderson was sitting, which means Wake actually had a 2 point edge while # 15 was on the court. Watching the game, this difference did not look that drastic, and I actually thought Henderson played a nice game, with a couple of very athletic scores, but these numbers suggest otherwise. The reverse of these numbers came with Nelson. Duke outscored Wake 44-19 while DeMarcus was in the game, and trailed 21-18 while he was out. This reversal makes a lot of sense, considering that Nelson and Henderson were subbed for one another 8 times during the game. Finally, note also that the offense struggled most in the absence of Scheyer (albeit with an extremely small sample size).