The ACC slams on the brakes

Syracuse is first in the ACC in defense, efficiency margin, offensive rebounding, and opponent turnover percentage. And last in pace.

Syracuse is first in the ACC in efficiency margin, defense, offensive rebound percentage, and opponent turnover percentage. And last in pace.

Tomorrow afternoon Miami will host Syracuse, and, as it happens, in terms of pace the Hurricanes and the Orange rank No. 126 and 127, respectively, out of the 127 teams I track on a per-possession basis during conference play. Ken Pomeroy’s laptop is well aware of this state of affairs and has spit out what would otherwise be a rather startling 54-possession forecast for the contest in Coral Gables.

That sounds about right. Duke paid a visit to BankUnited Center just the other night, after all, and Mike Krzyzewski and company were treated to a 57-possession game

Syracuse and Miami are in the vanguard of a dramatic and unexpected change in college hoops this season. The ACC is suddenly slow, and it’s weird. A league that showcased the open-court exploits of Chris Paul and Ty Lawson is now almost three possessions slower than the conference of Bob Knight and Gene Keady.

Pace: Possessions per 40 minutes
Through games of January 23, conference games only

Big 12      68.0
Pac-12      68.0
American    67.8
SEC         66.5
Big East    65.8
Big Ten     65.4
ACC         62.6

What’s strange about the ACC slowing down so dramatically is that it’s occurred against the backdrop of significant acceleration across the rest of the major conferences. The Big 12, Big East (albeit with new membership), Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC have all added between 1.6 and 2.5 possessions to their average pace of play since last season. The ACC alone has bucked this trend, and in a big way.

Don’t blame “the Big East teams,” or at least not this latest batch of Big East teams. Syracuse may be slow, but Pitt and, especially, Notre Dame have picked up the pace compared to last year.

Pace, conference games only

                2013   2014   Change
Syracuse        62.1   54.8    -7.3
Miami           64.0   57.0    -7.0
Duke            67.7   62.9    -4.8
Wake Forest     69.0   64.7    -4.3
Virginia Tech   64.8   60.6    -4.2
Clemson         62.0   57.8    -4.2
Georgia Tech    66.9   64.1    -2.8
North Carolina  68.8   66.4    -2.4
Boston College  63.5   61.5    -2.0
Florida St.     63.1   61.4    -1.7
NC State        68.2   66.9    -1.3
Maryland        67.6   67.6     0.0
Pitt            61.2   63.1    +1.9
Virginia        60.6   64.8    +4.2
Notre Dame      60.0   65.7    +5.7

Is this a problem for the league? Should ACC commissioner John Swafford form a task force?

Not yet, but it’s something he’ll want to keep an eye on going forward. Syracuse games, for example, aren’t particularly excruciating to watch because the Orange happen to be really good at basketball and Jim Boeheim has players who will move on to the NBA. Maybe those games are a smidge more excruciating than they otherwise would be, however, and, certainly the league’s other less talented teams operating at a similar pace are not winning any awards for hoops aesthetics.

Most alarming of all is the fact that this change of speeds is messing with years of accumulated lazy “LOL Big Ten is slow” stereotypes and message board chatter. The season is young, and the numbers will change, of course. I’ll keep you posted on whether the Big Ten is really going to break its remarkable string of being the slowest-paced major conference since, well, since we started tracking this stuff. But what we’ve seen thus far has come out of left field, to say the least. You have meddled with the primal forces of hoops nature, ACC, and we are all somewhat surprised.