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July 11, 2013

On the football side of things, I don’t think anyone disputes that Pitt and Syracuse (and Louisville next year) are taking a step up in football competition. Or in the case of Syracuse and Pitt it is more akin to a restoration to the level of competition they faced at the start of the millennium.

The basketball side, however, is not the same deal. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has pushed a meme in recent weeks:

“I love what’s happening with our conference,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re going to be a 10-bid conference. We’re going to be the best conference in the history of the game. It’s exciting to be part of that.”

Since the words came from Krzyzewski, the mainstream acceptance has been predictable. There has been some small pushback from writers that use tempo-free stats more to at least say, “we’ll see about that.”

And finally, a little bit of a pushback against the whole “history of the game” thing.

Notably, Jamie Dixon is one of the first to say something.

“We’ve played in some pretty good places, our place (the Petersen Events Center) is pretty tough,” Dixon, tongue-in-cheek, told SNY.tv on Monday afternoon at the Orlando Summer League. “I don’t want to take away from what those programs have done and where they’ve been, but we’ve played against good people and our league has been the best. For us, we’ve summed it up as we’re going from the best conference to the best conference. There may be some differences, but the main thing is we’ll be playing in the top conference in the country. That’s what we want for our school, that’s what we want to tell recruits and that’s what we want for our fans.”

And that is exactly right. The Big East has been the biggest grind in college basketball. Yes, there were the DePauls and USFs. But it was also a conference that produced an 11 bid season. One big game night after another. It’s the ACC that had become stagnant, stale and seemingly a two-team conference. Not the Big East in basketball.

But let’s not forget that the Big East conference these schools just left was stronger, deeper, more competitive and certainly more respected of late than the most recent version of the ACC. The Big East had a record 11 teams in the NCAA tournament in 2011. The league consistently pushed to get eight or nine teams into the NCAAs every March. The ACC should be in that range, but it’s not a lock the way the Big East was in dominating the selections.

“It’s funny the way people react,” Dixon said. “They’ll say, ‘Man, it’s going to be really tough in the ACC.’ And I’ll be, ‘Wait, what league were we just in?’ I don’t know if people don’t want to admit that we were in the toughest. In most cases [in realignment], people are jumping up [in conference competition]. In this case, we’re going for different reasons. Every other move mainly was made for football, but this one was made for basketball reasons. It was unlike any other addition. It was basketball-based.”

For Pitt, ND, Cuse (and again, next year Louisville), they are the reason for Krzyzewski being able to make that new claim.

In other words, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame shouldn’t spend too much time stressing this season’s long-awaited move from the old Big East to the new ACC. Indeed, they should spend even less time worrying than Butler — or any of its conference-climbing brethren — ever did.

That might be the most important point: The Orange, Panthers and Irish didn’t leap to the ACC because it was a better basketball league. All three are well-established, successful programs to varying degrees, and all three leapt for drastically different reasons than your average mid-major social climber.

Except for that money part. Everyone leaps for the chance at more money.

As such there is reason to believe all three programs should do well right off the bat in the ACC.

Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame has been consistently Notre Dame. Under Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh has been consistently great.

That greatness hasn’t always translated to single-elimination March success, but there’s no denying what Dixon has built since he took over for Ben Howland in the spring of 2003. The Panthers have averaged 26.2 wins per season during his tenure, notched two Big East regular-season trophies and one conference tournament title and missed the NCAA tournament only once (in 2012, when they ranked No. 151 in adjusted defensive efficiency, only the second time Dixon’s team finished outside the top 40 defensively). In those nine tournament appearances, the Panthers’ average seed is No. 4.

Plus, it’s not as though Dixon’s teams don’t deserve their hard-nosed reputation. They are almost always very good, and occasionally excellent, defensively. But they’re really at their best — and, yes, most consistent — on the offensive glass. In 10 seasons, the Panthers have grabbed 40.2 percent of their available misses. They’ve ranked in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding rate in four of the past five seasons. It’s not hard to figure out why Dixon’s teams have earned a reputation for defense: They’re slow and they don’t shoot the ball well. Chalk it up to defensive intensity, right? Sometimes, maybe, but more often than not Pittsburgh excels on the offensive end because it outworks opponents for second chances on every possession.

This is going to be the case in the ACC from the opening tip in January. In 2012-13, only three ACC squads (Maryland, UNC and NC State) were among the nation’s 100 best on the offensive boards, and only four (Virginia, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Miami) ranked higher than 120th in preventing opponents from grabbing second chances. The Panthers lost senior guard Tray Woodall to graduation and freshman center Steven Adams to the NBA draft, but return their typical panoply of high-motor frontcourt players and add No. 15-ranked freshman power forward Mike Young to the mix.

Whether Pittsburgh will be talented enough on both ends of the floor to win a conference title is an open question, but it will absolutely be the best rebounding team in the ACC. That should be more than sufficient to push for a top-five finish — and maybe more.

Now one of the themes with this Pitt recruiting class has been that Pitt needs/is trying to get faster in the more up-tempo ACC. The question becomes, is the ACC that much faster than the Big East?

Using the Adjusted Tempo  (essentially the pace at which a team plays) numbers from last year we can see some things.

Big East ——- AdjT ——- Rank (out of 347) — Conf. Record
DePaul ———- 72.4 ——— 4 ———————— 2-16
Villanova ——– 67.7 ——– 91 ———————– 10-8
St. John’s ——– 67.7 ——- 93 ———————— 8-10
Louisville ——– 66.8 ——- 126 ———————- 14-4
Providence ——- 66.2 ——- 159 ———————– 9-9
UConn ———— 65.5 ——- 194 ———————- 10-8
Seton Hall ——– 64.7 ——- 229 ———————- 3-15
Marquette ——– 64.4 ——- 239 ———————- 14-4
Cinci ————– 64.3 ——- 243 ———————– 9-9
Syracuse ——- 64.2 ——- 252 ———————- 11-7
Rutgers ———– 64.1 ——- 256 ———————– 5-13
Georgetown —— 62.5 ——- 301 ———————- 14-4
Notre Dame — 61.7 ——- 319 ——————— 11-7
Pitt ————– 60.7 —— 337 ——————— 12-6
USF ————– 60.0 ——- 342 ———————– 3-15

Average AdjT – 64.85 (about 220th)
Avg. AdjT (w/o Pitt, Cuse, ND) – 65.51 (about 193d)

ACC ———– AdjT ——- Rank (out of 347) — Conf. Record
UNC ———— 70.6 ——— 15 ———————– 12-6
Wake Forest — 69.3 ——— 33 ———————– 6-12
NC St. ———- 68.0 ——— 80 ———————– 11-7
Duke ———– 67.6 ———- 96 ———————– 14-4
Maryland —— 67.3 ——— 107 ———————– 8-10
Georgia Tech — 66.7 ——— 134 ———————– 6-12
VT ————– 66.6 ——— 138 ———————– 4-14
FSU ———— 65.1 ———- 208 ———————– 9-9
BC ————– 64.0 ——— 261 ———————— 7-11
Miami ———- 63.1 ——— 287 ———————— 15-3
Clemson ——- 62.6 ——— 298 ———————— 5-13
Virginia ——– 61.0 ——— 328 ———————— 11-7

Average AdjT – 65.99 (about 174th)
Avg. AdjT (w Pitt, Cuse, ND) – 65.23 (about 201st)

Thoughts on the numbers.

This is all about the pace. Not the style of play. There’s wild and wonderful variances in the actual style a team plays versus the tempo at which they play.

After you get past the first 100 or so in adjusted tempo, things really flatten out.

Wonderful symmetry in the Big East. The two worst teams bookending on adjusted tempo.

The ACC is indeed a bit faster, but it isn’t quite as large a difference as it gets made out to be. The difference is the marquee teams of the ACC — UNC and Duke — play at a faster pace. While in the Big East, Louisville is about the only team that comes close. That definitely skews the perception versus the reality.

It’s also important to note that you can succeed in the ACC with a slower tempo. Miami won the conference and the ACC Tournament this past year with a pace (though definitely not style) near to Georgetown’s. Virginia is shaping up nicely in Tony Bennett’s deliberate style.

As much as the newcomers will have to adjust to the ACC, the same holds true for the ACC. Jim Boeheim isn’t changing. Neither is Mike Brey.

Pitt will definitely be at a faster tempo than this past year, but they will still be Jamie Dixon’s team. They will still work the boards. Keep turnovers low and be very efficient on both sides of the ball. To expect them to be in the upper-half of teams in the ACC in terms of adjusted tempo is just not going to happen.

That’s why I showed what happens to the average tempo if you included Pitt, Cuse and ND from this past year in the ACC averages. Suddenly there is a very strong split in pace. About half the conference above an adjusted tempo of 66 with half close to 64 or below — with FSU right in between.

The ACC is not only going to get better at basketball, it’s also going to get a little slower. Something that I’m sure will provoke some hand-wringing new stories out of North Carolina by February about how expansiopocolypse has further cost the ACC it’s basketball soul.

 





Reminds me of the AT&T commercial.
Faster is Better…
but in this case, is it?? I guess there are many other factors to look at.
Adjusted Tempo is possessions per game.
Pitt ranked 337 of 347. Well that proves Pitt was slow as molasses. Pass, pass, pass. Players afraid to shoot because they would see the bench. Dixon has to loosen the reins because he has decent players.

Comment by Pitt.Dan83 07.11.13 @ 9:29 am

If faster is better, then why does the team with the hishest tempo, have the worst record above?

Faster is better when you have the horses to play so like UNC. Otherwise, it may be prudent to slow things down.

Just like FB — different players for an uptempo spread vs a grind-it-out pro set — you need to recruit players to your style.

Did you ever watch UNC — after a made basket, their PGs can’t get the ball upcourt fast enough. You don’t try to outrun them, you make them play your pace.

In 1986, I saw in person a MAC team (Akron) coached by then a relatively unknown (Bob Huggins) upset the 17th-ranked Cleveland State Vikings, who were all quick/athletic and pressed the entire floor on every possession. Though clearly outmanned athletically, the Zips won by making the final score in the 50s.

Comment by wbb 07.11.13 @ 10:07 am

Dan 83, Dixon only needs to keep doing what he has done well most of the time. Rebound and play D. This constant call to speed things up is annoying. It not only insinuates that Dixon doesn’t know what he is doing, it would never work against the North Carolinas, Dukes, and Louisville’s. We play our style, it works well for us and Dixon has had great success with less talent than many of the run and gun teams we have faced. Duke and North Carolina don’t have to recruit, they only need invite. If we do what they do we will lose consistently. The reason JD has been able to hold his own against the Calhouns, Beoheims, and Patinos, of the game is he sticks to his system and style and doesn’t pretend to be something we aren’t. We aren’t going to the NBA we are going to the ACC and they are every bit as ripe to be challenged by our style as we are to be challenged by theirs. We are never going to be able to recruit enough star quality players to beat the big boys playing their game, but by doing what we do we will win our share.HTP

Comment by spiritofsection 22 07.11.13 @ 10:24 am

Half of the tempo equation is defense. Teams can control the pace of the game with how the play defense. Teams like Louisville use the press to speed up the opponent and create turnovers or bad shots. They also do a good job of converting the turnovers into quick, easy points. But Louisville can be deliberate in their half court offense.

Pitt uses their defense to force teams to score against their halfcourt defense and rarely gives up easy transition baskets. Grabbing offensive boards helps too.

I don’t think it matters much what your AdjT is, as evidenced by the above charts. What matters is controlling the tempo and getting the other team to play at your pace. Pitt has generally been pretty good at that. Pitt can usually slow teams that want to play fast, and they rarely get sped up when they don’t want to.

Comment by Boubacar Aw 07.11.13 @ 10:40 am

Precisely correct guys!

Comment by Pitt1972 07.11.13 @ 11:01 am

Pitt.Dan
Those AT&T commercials annoy the snot out of me. What’s better – bigger or smaller?
Do you want a big zit on your forehead or a small one? Given the choice I’ll take smaller. The key is getting the right size needed. Pitt’s tempo needs to be whatever tempo gets the win. I hate JD’s slow style, but I love his winning percentage. JD knows far more about basketball than me. I am completely confident in JD picking the right tempo for the team.
HTP

Comment by Caw Miller 07.11.13 @ 12:30 pm

Caw,
Women prefer bigger! lol
But keep telling them smaller is better or motion of the ocean.

But, I don’t see a relationship between tempo of game and winning. I think that is what I said.
But, Dixon does need to stop being such a control freak on the sidelines. That is what is causing the problems. He wasn’t that way a few years back.

Comment by Pitt.Dan83 07.11.13 @ 12:55 pm

I looked at some tempo data before too, and the other thing is that historically as the ACC has had Big East teams added to it, it has slowed down. The ACC has lost its second-fastest team in Maryland (looking at the last 12 years or so) and has added some of the slowest from the Big East (Pitt, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami). Even BC and Louisville are slower teams. The perception has not caught up with the reality that the ACC is about to become a slow league with a few fast teams. Duke’s tempo isn’t as fast as you’d think. Really you’re talking about UNC and Syracuse. All the Big East ex-pats plus Florida State are going to really be closer to what the average ACC team is like going forward. I’ll post something I wrote about this in a sec…

Comment by Ben 07.11.13 @ 2:47 pm

Huge comment ahead…

There’s been a lot of talk in Pitt circles about how the Panthers will adapt to the ACC’s “style of play.” Some people seem to think it will bury the Panthers, and Notre Dame, both of whom like to play a more methodical style of offense, with the philosophy of valuing every possession as opposed to maximizing the number of possessions. I object to this train of thought for two reasons.

First, on general principle. Whatever a team’s “style” is in college basketball, if you have talented players and are well-coached you are going to win games, regardless of the “style” of your opponents. I think it’s that simple.

Second, and to me more interestingly, I think the ACC will slow down on average a lot more than Pitt will be sped up. I don’t think Pitt will change a thing about its game, but the average pace of an ACC game is going to plummet. There’s already historic precedent for this.

I took tempo data from kenpom.com (I used the rankings, not the raw numbers, so that my scale would be relative) and looked at how the Big East and ACC have changed over the years in terms of the way teams play, and how big the gap is between the two conferences.

The big thing to note is this: The “11-year average team” (data goes back to ’03) for the Big East ranked about 176th in the nation in adjusted tempo. The same for the ACC averaged about 139th. So clearly there’s a gap. However, if you take the 11 year average of the teams that will (we think) make up the future ACC, you get an average of 157th. So by this measure, the “style” of the ACC is going to slow down halfway to that of the Big East. Looking at just ’12-’13 data, the ACC’s future members are actually even slower than the current Big East, ranking on average 183rd.

Now, some would argue that these teams would drastically change their styles of play to try to be competitive in the new league. But we’ve seen this before, and that didn’t happen. When BC, VT, and Miami joined the ACC the league went from an average rank of 108th to 138th over a two-year span (the latter figure matches almost exactly the ACC’s 11-year average). Since joining, the three teams have been three of the ACC’s slowest teams. In fact, all three of these slowed down soon after moving to the ACC. They are hardly an argument for success in the ACC, but they do represent a significant change in the makeup of the league.

They will be joined by the single slowest team to belong to either conference at any point since 2003 (Pitt, who averaged 274th from ’03 to today). They will be losing the second-fastest team to belong to either league during the same span (Maryland, which averaged 48th). Including Notre Dame means that 5 of the 6 slowest teams in the ACC in an average year will be Big East imports. Louisville won’t change much in terms of tempo for the ACC, as they will slide right in the high-middle with an average rank of 130th. Syracuse will drive that average back up, but they have had some surprisingly “slow” years under Boeheim (last year when they brought down a one-seed they were the 209th-fastest team in the nation).

My point? Simply that the ACC is not going to be a place where basketball is played at a frenetic, hell-bent pace (except for UNC). The ACC has been slowly turning into the Big East in basketball for years, and this recent flurry of moves will only expedite that.

Comment by Ben 07.11.13 @ 2:47 pm

I predict many things thrown at the TV this basketball season when the refs side with the old ACC style of play vs. the old Big East style. There will be much wailing and gnashing of the teeth at some dubious calls. This isn’t about being negative it’s about our adjustment on both sides of the camera. Please stock your liquor cabinet accordingly.

Comment by Yeti 07.11.13 @ 3:26 pm

Looks like the NY Yankee YES network is getting some ACC FB and BB games. It is not available in western MD on cable.

Comment by Frank MD 07.11.13 @ 3:30 pm

Pitt Dan 83, Dixon has to be Dixon so lots of luck with the changes you are calling for. I do think he has addressed some recruiting failures by returning Slice to the staff however I would be amazed to see him change his coaching style at all. A lot of the best coaches could be called “control freaks” Knight,Coach K,and Calhoun to name a few.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 07.11.13 @ 5:11 pm

Yeti–There are no ACC-only Refs they use the same refs as the other conferences do–Ergon your prediction won’t happen except for Duke being protected as usual.

Comment by pitt1972 07.11.13 @ 6:13 pm

The hated Dukies do get the kid glove treatment no doubt. I am anxious to see how the refs react to the NBA’s crackdown on flopping at the college level. Duke has worked that angle to a point of saturation and I am hoping they get spanked for the practice in the future.

Comment by spiritofsection 22 07.11.13 @ 7:26 pm

Played at every level including quality NYC street, coached Greenburgh NY vs NBA players. The greatest guards I’ve seen absolutely hated solid defense, completely messed up their heads. I hope Dixon now more than ever puts a smother group out there and those ACC guards come to hate playing Pitt. I’m optimistic about our roster, there’s a lot of offense potential but they’ll have to defend and play deliberate offense. Dixon won’t give them minutes if they don’t defend, box & bound

Comment by Old School Panther 07.12.13 @ 5:21 am

I hear comments and arguments all the time that faster = better. I think those thoughts are simply inaccurate. I think they result from observing quickness and athleticism and assuming that translates to “fast” play.

Again from kenpom.com:

Last year’s top ten teams had tempos that ranked: 126, 294, 109, 232, 210, 214, 96, 252, 87, and 255. All the 1 seeds are included in that group.

That’s just one example but if you browse through his data it’s always all over the place. I do think efficiency numbers like his slightly favor slower teams, but a team’s earned NCAA Tournament seed is a good way to cross-check, and in my example above all teams got regionally protected seeds.

Comment by Ben 07.12.13 @ 9:59 am

The only reason to slow the pace is if your offense that night can’t match the level of your defense.
Pitt has been suspect offensively and that means more empty possessions. Empty possessions puts more pressure on your defense.
Pitt played deliberately last season for just that reason: not to ask too much of its defense by forcing it to defend more possessions.
Good defense and good offense are nit mutually exclusive concepts.

Comment by Sfpitt 07.12.13 @ 9:55 pm

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