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March 10, 2010
Is Duke for Real?
ACC Tournament Preview

by John Gasaway


ACC: March 11-14 (all games in Greensboro, NC)

Seed                Qtrs    Semis    Final    Champ
  1  Duke            100     92.7     80.6     63.2
  2  Maryland        100     71.9     43.6     15.2
  3  Florida St.     100     55.5     25.8      7.2
  6  Clemson         76.6    38.9     18.3      5.2
  4  Virginia Tech   100     59.9     11.1      4.4
  7  Georgia Tech    67.2    21.8      9.3      2.1
  5  Wake Forest     60.2    26.5      4.1      1.4
  8  Boston College  59.9     5.0      1.9      0.5
  12 Miami FL        39.8    13.6      1.6      0.4
  10 North Carolina  32.8     6.2      1.7      0.2
  11 NC State        23.4     5.6      1.2      0.2
  9  Virginia        40.1     2.3      0.7      0.1

This is a log5 table, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy. It's explained here.

Duke is the clear favorite in the 2010 ACC Tournament, with a championship probability that verges on 2-out-of-3. Put it this way, when your chances are virtually equivalent to those of a 15-1 Kansas team playing in Kansas City, you've earned the "prohibitive" in "prohibitive favorite." Then again 11 other teams can find solace in the fact that this also means the Blue Devils have better than a 1-in-3 chance of not winning.

Granted the ACC's tournament's been something less than wide-open for a long while, as 12 of the last 13 have been won by either Duke or North Carolina. The one team besides the Blue Devils or Tar Heels to have won a tournament over that span, Maryland, figures to be the league's best chance to break through that two-school oligopoly this year as well.

The unusual spread of the league this season--one-seed Duke's performance has been significantly better than that of two-seed Maryland, who in turn has been significantly better than the next tier of teams--means there are no real seeding discrepancies or resulting bracket asymmetries to worry about in this tournament. We can pretty much consider each team as they are, according to how likely they are to hoist the championship trophy at the Greensboro Coliseum around 3:30 on Sunday.


Duke (1-seed)
The Blue Devils' performance in the ACC this year was dominant, as they outscored their conference opponents by 0.18 points per trip. Note that this is even better than the per-possession scoring margin (0.15) recorded in the ACC last year by eventual national champion North Carolina. So why did it take so long for us to hear about this 2010 team? Well, at the risk of touching some familiar bases, Coach K's team has been pretty iffy in the NCAA tournament lately, they looked decidedly ordinary while losing at Georgetown on January 30, and there's even a school of thought that says the Blue Devils may well collapse at some point in the not too distant future here.

Duke's recent past may lead to some skepticism, understood. But the season this team put together has one-seed written all over it. In 2010 the Blue Devils improved in exactly equal measures on both offense and defense. Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith always have the ball in their hands yet none of big three ever turn it over. When Brian Zoubek manages to stay on the floor he gives Coach K a mistake-eraser on the offensive glass along the same lines as DeJuan Blair or DeMarcus Cousins. And these last two facts in combination--few turnovers, many offensive boards--mean Duke simply gets more bites at the apple. If this program is ever going to persuade the skeptics, it would figure to be with a team sporting a profile this good.

Maryland (2)
This season the Terrapins' offense was just as good as Duke's, as both teams scored right at 1.11 to 1.12 points per trip in ACC play. And not that anyone's asked me in so many words, but my vote for ACC POY would go to Greivis Vasquez, who this year attained exemplary scoring efficiency while being monstrously prominent in a very good offense. (And all while being so calm and stoic! Just kidding.) If Gary Williams has a concern about this surprisingly successful 2010 team, however, it revolves around its anemic defensive rebounding. Freshman Jordan Williams has been fine on the defensive glass, but he's a little foul-prone and, anyway, he's largely alone. This year the Terps hauled in just 61 percent of ACC opponents' misses, easily the worst performance on the defensive boards of any team in the conference. If you're playing against or rooting for Maryland, track how many opportunities this defense allows after the first shot on each possession.

Florida State (3)
Typographic necessity decrees that the Seminoles appear here, right under Maryland, but you should know we have just traversed a big gap when we move from the two-seed to the three. Indeed there's as almost as much difference in performance between the Terps and FSU as there is between the 'Noles and eight-seed Boston College. In 2010 Leonard Hamilton's offense took a tiny step back and, make no mistake, it was nothing to write home about last year. (Coughing up the ball this season on a league-leading 24 percent of possessions in-conference certainly didn't help matters.) Good thing the defense in Tallahassee was, again, outstanding. The Seminoles allow opponents to make very few twos but force them into committing a goodly number of turnovers. Give the credit there to Solomon Alabi and Chris Singleton, respectively.

Clemson (6)
Like Florida State, Clemson outscored the ACC this season by 0.03 points per trip with a very good defense and a not-so-good offense. Trevor Booker once again took the bulk of the shots and gathered in the lion's share of the defensive boards for the Tigers, but this offense has gone from scoring 1.09 points per possession in-conference last year with the help of Terrence Ogelsby and K.C. Rivers, to scoring just 0.99 points in 2010 without either player. To Oliver Purnell's credit, an improved defense has been able to mask some of that fall-off. But not all of it.

Virginia Tech (4)
The Hokies, on the other hand, have improved significantly in 2010 to occupy roughly the same spot that Clemson has "fallen" to. Seth Greenberg's team forces opponents into plenty of turnovers, giving Va Tech a better-than-average defense. As for the offense, well, put it this way. They don't shoot all that well and certainly don't get many offensive boards, but the Hokies never turn the ball over and, man, do they get to the line. In other words Virginia Tech is Malcolm Delaney writ large.

Georgia Tech (7)
I'd wager that no team has ever improved year-to-year as much as the Yellow Jackets have and been regarded as this much of a disappointment. Call it the blessing and the curse of NBA talent. With Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors in the fold, it was assumed that Paul Hewitt's team would be able to score some points this year. Indeed they did, compared to last year, but not compared to the rest of the conference in 2010. The culprits here were both familiar and strange. Too many turnovers is the familiar part for Georgia Tech. (Oh is it familiar.) But shooting just 45 percent on your twos in the ACC? With this roster that is strange.

Wake Forest (5)
The Demon Deacons were rather stubbornly held to be better than their performance would indicate for much of the season (I didn't witness it but apparently Hubert Davis said they were the best team in the ACC), but the unhappy truth is this is the ACC's eighth-best offense. Al-Farouq Aminu is a monster on the offensive glass but that alone can't offset the fact that the Deacons don't shoot well (Aminu and Ish Smith have combined to make 27-of-105 threes) and cough the ball up too often.

Boston College (8)
On paper BC's defense is worse than its offense, but paper can be deceiving. BC's defense is always worse than its offense. What was new, however, was that this was the year that the Eagles' offense went from very good to just average. Reggie Jackson, Joe Trapani, and Corey Raji all had pretty good seasons, but as a group BC poses little threat from the perimeter, turns the ball over fairly often, and never gets to the line.

Miami (12)
I love Dwayne Collins, but you didn't have to be especially perceptive to expect that a team with a history of indifferent defense that had just lost the efficient and voluminous scoring of Jack McClinton was probably going to struggle in 2009-10. Indeed, the Hurricanes have struggled.

North Carolina (10)
I never thought I'd see the day when the Tar Heels would score well under a point per trip in the ACC. Injuries played a role here, goodness knows. But speaking as a person who's supposed to see stuff coming, I will admit here and now that I did not see this coming.

NC State (11)
At long last the Wolfpack's historically shaky D improved noticeably this season. And the offense fell off by almost the exact same amount.

Virginia (9)
The Cavaliers haven't won a game since February 3. I'm convinced that Tony Bennett will succeed in the ACC, and step one is getting to 2010-11 as fast as humanly possible.

John also ignores what he previously wrote about Virginia on Twitter: @JohnGasaway. College Basketball Prospectus 2009-10 is now available on Amazon.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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From 347 to 65 (03/10)
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Winning is Fundamental (03/11)

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2010-03-16 - Tournament Preview: Kentucky in the East
2010-03-15 - Seeding is Everything: This Bracket is Proof
2010-03-11 - What's Gotten into Notre Dame?:
2010-03-10 - Is Duke for Real?: ACC Tournament Preview
2010-03-10 - All Eyes on UK: SEC Tournament Preview
2010-03-08 - Tuesday Truths: Final Reality
2010-03-05 - Breaks of the Game: The Role of Chance

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