Johnson: Previewing the ACC

It's been a shaky non-conference season for the ACC, but teams will have a chance at redemption with conference play starting full-force this weekend. Let's take a look at how the teams have played so far and what that might mean in the coming months.

So, here comes yet another ACC preview chalked full of sweeping generalizations and bold predictions that no one will remember in a week, right? Well, not exactly. Unlike most previews you'll read, I claim to be no expert on the 12 teams that make up the ACC.

Instead, I'll be using possession-based statistics from Ken Pomeroy's site to draw conclusions about the strengths and weakness of various teams. The caveat here is that these statistics only show what teams have done. It doesn't account for injuries, chemistry issues or a team playing like it's doing a 40-minute walkthrough.

Basically, we'll use how these teams have played so far to get some insight into how the ACC season will shake out. If you aren't into reading the whole thing, here's a quick summary - past Duke, UNC and Clemson (feels weird writing that threesome) the ACC is a jumbled mess of mediocre teams. All stats are current as of Tuesday.

Boston College (10-3)
RPI: 83    Pomeroy: 80
Pomeroy Prediction: 16-13, 6-10 ACC

The Eagles basically do three things really well. They gets to the line, keeps opponents off the line and grabs offensive rebounds. What they don't do is create turnovers and, oddly enough, crash the defensive boards with the same intensity they do the offensive side. The Eagles had a chance to make a statement against Kansas last weekend at home, but the Jayhawks blew them out the water. Tyrese Rice is carrying the load right now with almost 20 points a contest, but the Eagles could prove troublesome for teams if freshman Rakim Sanders (12.2 ppg) and Corey Raji (9.5) keep getting better.

Clemson (12-2, 0-1 ACC)
RPI: 26    Pomeroy: 15
Pomeroy Prediction: 24-6, 11-5 ACC

Sunday night's game against Carolina seemed to vindicate what many had already been saying - that Clemson is the third-best team in the league this season. As odd as that may sound, the numbers back it up. The Tigers play at a fast pace, masking how good their defense has become. They are one of the few teams in the nation that can create turnovers without racking up big foul numbers. On offense, Clemson is one of the most tenacious teams in the nation on the offensive boards. Cliff Hammonds, K.C. Rivers and Terrence Oglesby all rank as incredibly efficient offensive players. The one real weakness, as the Carolina game showed, is their inability to convert from the charity stripe.

Duke (11-1)
RPI: 23    Pomeroy: 3
Pomeroy Prediction: 27-3, 14-2 ACC

After looking very mediocre last season, the Blue Devils are back. It's a team that's above average in every phase of the defensive game, but much like Clemson it's particularly good at forcing turnovers. On offense, they've shifted gears entirely from last year - going from a slow plodding offensive team to one of the fastest paced clubs in the nation. Duke has spread the scoring out this year with no player averaging more than 13 points a game but four players averaging double figures. They've also shot the ball incredibly well to start the season - over 40 percent from behind the arc and nearly 50 percent overall. As if the Devils needed any help, they also play a relatively easy conference schedule this season.

Florida State (12-4, 1-0 ACC)
RPI: 39    Pomeroy: 49
Pomeroy Prediction: 19-12, 8-8 ACC

To give you an idea of how top-heavy this year's ACC might become, Pomeroy predicts the Seminoles to be the fourth-best team in the league and to finish with a .500 record. The four losses don't look pretty, but their only bad loss so far is on a neutral court against Cleveland State. They've also picked up two fairly impressive road wins against Florida and Georgia Tech. The two biggest problems to start the season have been turnovers (too many) and rebounds (not enough). At least they have experience on their side with three seniors and two juniors seeing the majority of the minutes.

Georgia Tech (7-6, 0-1 ACC)
RPI: 90    Pomeroy: 67
Pomeroy Prediction: 14-16, 6-10 ACC

Wow, Georgia Tech has played a tough schedule. Except for an opening night loss to UNCG, the Yellow Jackets losses have all come against teams in the top 50 in RPI. Basically, the Jackets aren't as bad as their record indicates. That doesn't make them good, but it means they probably won't finish in the cellar of the ACC standings. Their offense is actually pretty good, with a high number of turnovers bringing it down. The defense is a little lacking, however; Georgia Tech has allowed opponents to shoot almost 45 percent from the field against them.

Maryland (9-6, 0-1 ACC)
RPI: 164    Pomeroy: 73
Pomeroy Prediction: 16-15, 6-10 ACC

I don't think you'll see a greater disparity in rankings between the Pomeroy and RPI systems than the nearly 100-point difference seen on Maryland. The difference - RPI mostly looks at who you beat and where, while Pomeroy looks at how you've played. And really the Terrapins haven't been that awful. They play really good defense in the sense that teams shoot just 37 percent from the floor against them. Luckily for the opposition, Maryland doesn't exactly light it up on the offensive end and they love to turn the ball over.

Miami (13-1)
RPI: 58 Pomeroy: 52
Pomeroy Prediction: 20-10, 7-9 ACC

This team is basically last year's version of Clemson - a great non-conference season that will come crashing down once ACC play starts. They haven't played a really good team all season and will suddenly step into on of the toughest schedules in the league - six games against Duke, Clemson and UNC. The Hurricanes, like Maryland, do an excellent job at holding down the opponent shooting percentage. On offense they hang onto the ball, crash the boards and get to the line at good rate. Not a bad team, just not good enough to win 9-10 conference games against this schedule.

North Carolina (15-0, 1-0 ACC)
RPI: 2    Pomeroy: 10
Pomeroy Prediction: 28-3, 13-3 ACC

The Tar Heels had their first real nail-biter in a few months as Clemson took them to overtime on Sunday night. The Heels out of conference schedule was a bit light this season, with the Ohio State win ranking as their toughest game and a revolving door of lesser opponents to give them plenty of highlight-reel material. Still, this is still a really tough team to beat. They basically do all the things Roy Williams' teams do - run like gazelles, attack the glass on both sides of the ball and get to the free-throw line. Finally, and I'm afraid lightning might strike me for writing this, but Tyler Hansbrough is probably the best player in the conference.

NC State (10-3)
RPI: 61    Pomeroy: 98
Pomeroy Prediction: 15-15, 4-12 ACC

In short, the Pomeroy system kind of hates the Wolfpack. And, honestly, can you blame it? As previously stated, Pomeroy cares more about how you played than your overall win-loss record, and the Pack just hasn't played well at all. The Pack does two things really well - get to the line and keep opponents off the line. They are basically the best team in the nation at it. They also do a good job of forcing bad shots, as opponents shoot under 40 percent against them. Of course, they are basically the worse team in the nation at forcing turnovers and they rebound like a team of 5'10" guys even though they are the tallest team in the nation. So, maybe a little more aggressive play would be a good thing even if it means picking up a few more fouls.

Virginia (10-3)
RPI: 64    Pomeroy: 70
Pomeroy Prediction: 16-13, 6-10 ACC

Basically, the Pomeroy system thinks half the league will finish at 6-10. I can't really disagree with that, given the lack-luster performance of most of the conference to date. Virginia has the luxury of only playing the Tar Heels once this season, at home, continuing a trend of favorable scheduling. The Cavaliers have been the best rebounding team in the league so far, but they could afford to turn the ball over a little less. I think I could have written the exact same thing for some of these teams and it would be accurate.

Virginia Tech (9-6, 0-1 ACC)
RPI: 88    Pomeroy: 54
Pomeroy Prediction: 17-13, 8-8 ACC

Virginia Tech must be loving this expansion thing. A couple of ACC football titles and now they get arguably easiest schedule in the league this year. They play the top four teams, according to Pomeroy rankings, four times - Duke once, Carolina once, Clemson once and Florida State once. If they actually finish in the top-5 in the league, as the Pomeroy system predicts, the Hokies can thank the scheduling gods. As for the team itself, they play really good defense predicated on rebounding and forcing bad shots, but their offense is pretty bad thanks to turnovers (surprise) and poor shooting.

Wake Forest (10-3, 1-0 ACC)
RPI: 95    Pomeroy: 92
Pomeroy Prediction: 15-14, 6-10 ACC

The sentimental favorite this season, the Demon Deacons have done a complete make-over. By slowing down the pace and stepping up the defensive intensity, Wake Forest is managing to win games despite a sub-par offense. The Deacs are an attacking defense; forcing a ton of turnovers and making teams miss the shots they do get off. But they'll still be limited by their offense - you eventually have to score points to win basketball games. They'll also have the benefit of an easy schedule - seeing the top four teams just four times.

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