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The ACC grinds to a halt, one coach at a time

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With Mark Turgeon in the fold at Maryland, plenty will be noted about his strengths and weaknesses, similarities and differences to predecessor Gary Williams and ability to thrive at a major conference school where basketball is king.

But let’s look at the macro for a minute, and that means tying one likely outcome to the rest of the ACC scene beyond College Park.

Like just about everyone else in the conference with a recent coaching change, the Terrapins will slow down.

Turgeon’s last three Texas A&M teams averaged 65.9 possessions. In the same span, Maryland averaged 70.8. The Terps’ low point in that stretch was the 69.5 possessions the quirky lineup in 2008-09 produced – and the first time since 2000 the Terps didn’t rank in the top 50 nationally in possessions per game.

(All of the possession stats, by the way, are courtesy of the ever-awesome Statsheet.com).

But Maryland isn’t alone in slowing the pace. Of the eight new coaches to enter the ACC since 2009, only one – N.C. State’s Mark Gottfried – averaged more possessions per game over their final three full seasons at their previous job.

Now, how to chart this? Three seasons worth of prior data is a fair sampling, both for a coach who is gone and a coach who is arriving from another gig. None of the new coaches have been on the job more than two years, so their body of work is reflected in the final column.

School Old Coach
L3Y Poss/G   
New Coach  
NC Prior Poss/G  
NC Poss/G   
Virginia Leitao 71.3 Bennett 60.9 63.1
Boston College  
Skinner 67.6 Donahue 67.0 64.1
Clemson Purnell 71.1 Brownell 62.2 65.5
Wake Forest
Gaudio 72.9 Bzdelik 65.8 70.7
Georgia Tech
Hewitt 71.5 Gregory 67.4
Maryland G. Williams  
70.8 Turgeon 65.9
Miami Haith 66.9 Larranaga 65.2
N.C. State
Lowe 66.8 Gottfried 67.8

 

The most dramatic changes clearly unfolded at Virginia and Clemson, where there was a dramatic change of philosophy with a new coach. Tony Bennett’s two teams in Charlottesville, as methodical as they often seem, actually have played at a faster tempo than his Washington State teams. Of course, facing teams coached by the likes of Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Gary Williams, Paul Hewitt and (for a year, anyway), Dino Gaudio and Oliver Purnell helpes explain the slight increase.

Brownell’s tempo change could be attributed to personnel and personnel, but not the conference he was coming from. Wright State was consistently the most tortoise-like team in the Horizon League.

Steve Donahue actually made Boston College slower than it was in Al Skinner’s high school flex offense, but it’s difficult to argue with the results. The Eagles finished in the top half of the ACC when most expected them buried near the bottom of the league.

No one should think the other new ACC coach last season, Jeff Bzdelik, turned over a new leaf. True, his last Colorado team snuck close to 70 possessions per game, but the truth is Wake’s porous defense allowed opponents to score with ease at most stages of the shot clock.

As for next year’s newcomers, expect Georgia Tech and Maryland to look noticeably less frenetic, which will probably be welcome for Yellow Jackets fans and a jolt for those accustomed to the Terps’ running ways. Jim Larranaga’s offense at George Mason was almost always efficient; whether he looks to speed things up at Miami remains to be seen.

Even Gottfried might not prove that dramatic a change. Sidney Lowe’s final team averaged 70 possessions, still more up-tempo than Gottfried’s last three Alabama teams.

Toss in the presence of Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton – the godfather of 21st century grind-it-out basketball in the ACC  – and the league certainly appears to have plenty of teams to counteract the up-and-down ways of Duke and North Carolina.

Last season witnessed a pair of conference games (Virginia-Clemson and North Carolina-Boston College) in which neither team cracked 50 points. With a third of the ACC’s coaches turning over again and schools opting for more methodical approaches, those might be far from the final instances of such plodding, low-scoring affairs.

Patrick Stevens

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