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ACC hoops performance trends: Darn it, Duke is playing defense this year

I hate it when that happens.

NCAA Basketball: Hartford at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Following up on Saturday’s post about current performance vs. preseason expectations in the ACC, here is a visual look at each team’s underlying performance so far this season (defensive efficiency on the Y, offensive efficiency on the X):

(Graphic via

The farther up, the better the defense, and the farther right, the better the offense. Elite teams will be close to the upper-right corner, and not surprisingly, that’s where we find Duke and Virginia. The Cavaliers have the best defense in the ACC (surprise!) but maybe only the fourth- or fifth-best offense. Duke has been just plain scary.

The Blue Devils can be volatile year-to-year at the defensive end in the one-and-done era, and you just have to hope that they are going to struggle there, because they aren’t going to have problems scoring. Two recent sub-par years in this era were the result of poor defense: in 2014, Duke ranked 86th in defensive efficiency, and that Jabari Parker-led group flamed out against Mercer in the NCAAs. In 2016—this time led by Brandon Ingram—Duke again ranked 86th in DE, finished a modest 11-7 in the ACC, and didn’t get past the Sweet Sixteen.

Last season, though, they had a top-10 defense and finished a step short of the Final Four. And unfortunately, this year is lining up similarly, with the Blue Devils in the top five at both ends of the floor. It is unquestionably a title-caliber team. Alas.

Odds and ends:

— Danny Manning, oh no!

— Georgia Tech games feature a whole lot of bricks (what else is new?). The Jackets offense ranks 237th in effective field goal percentage, while its defense ranks third in eFG% allowed. Bricks, bricks everywhere! That’s a legit top-20 defense right now though.

— Boston College had one of the thinnest rotations in the country last season, so it’s not surprising that the team is missing Jerome Robinson. The Eagles still don’t have much of a bench, and they’re relying more on freshmen. Despite Ky Bowman’s continued excellence, that offense has been far less dangerous overall.

— Syracuse should be slightly more watchable this season on account of some significant improvement at the offensive end, though the Orange still don’t shoot too well. And they’re still a painfully slow half court team. Please consult with a doctor before viewing any Syracuse-Georgia Tech matchups in 2019.

— Florida State has the looks of a team capable of reaching the Final Four, though the Seminoles have a glaring weakness on offense: turnovers. They are 320th in turnover rate. I don’t know what it is about Leonard Hamilton’s program that makes this a consistent problem—perhaps this is the primary downside to playing with a ton of size, even at the guard spots. Between 2009 and 2015, a stretch of seven seasons, the FSU offense never finished better than 285th in turnover rate. And the Noles never got past the Sweet Sixteen in four NCAA tournament appearances.

In fairness, however, the 2019 offense looks much better than the offenses from that period, even with the turnover problem. No doubt it’s a red flag, though—a significant weakness in that area can blow up in the worst possible way and negate a lot of other positives. Good recipe for getting upset in the postseason.

— There is some bad luck involved in Clemson’s start: Tigers opponents are making over 39% of their threes and nearly 73% of those free throws. Both numbers are well above average and should regress over the long haul. That’ll help, but this team still may not have the same punch it did in 2018.