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Given No Quarter: Reviewing Wake's ACC Play in 10 Minute Splits

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Which quarters were less bad for Wake?

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball is played in halves (this kind of analysis is why my input is so highly sought-after). Looking at a team's performance in the first half compared to the second half can yield interesting results. Teams that start slow may blame it on young nerves, while teams that struggle in the second half often point to either physical deficiencies (like lack of depth or endurance) or strategic shortfalls (such as ineffective halftime adjustments).

I wanted to see what Wake's first and half second numbers would reveal. However, twenty minutes is a long time in college basketball. So, I tracked Wake's points scored and allowed in each quarter of every ACC game in the 2015-2016 regular season, defined at the 10-minute mark of each half. I only looked at ACC play, with the lofty rationales being that non-con games are against disparate kinds of opponents compared to the conference slate, and that earlier in the season teams may be more experimental with their lineups and strategy. The fact that it happened to cut the number of games I had to sort through totally didn't even cross my mind. Now, the graphs!

The first graph shows the average points scored and allowed by Wake in each quarter, and the second graph shows the resulting average progression over 40 minutes of game time.

THE GOOD

Starting today, each game is win or go home. For Wake fans, that's win-win!

What else...well, Wake went 22-46-4 in 72 quarters of ACC play, for a .333 winning percentage. That's 200% better than the Deacs did in traditional scoring formats. Statistics 101 says increasing sample size increases reliability, so results over 72 quarters are way more meaningful than over just 18 games.

On a less facetious note, Wake did play reasonably well in the first half and tended to have games close at halftime. On average, Wake trailed by just over 2 points at the half. In fact, Wake led at the half in one third of its ACC games and was within one shot in another third. There were only six games where Wake trailed by 4 or more points at the half.

THE BAD

The second half is where the Deacs earned their 2-16 conference record. By the end of the third quarter, Wake doubled its average deficit (from -2.2 to -4.4). Then, the team managed to double that deficit again in the fourth quarter (from -4.4 to -8.6). That means a whopping 49% of the average final deficit was given up in the last 25% of game time. The fourth quarters have been brutal; the Deacs average their highest offensive output (19.7 points) but have given up 23.9 points (allowing teams to score at what would be a 96 point pace). To make sure this wasn't totally skewed from a few bad games, I looked at the individual game numbers. While Wake's opponents averaged 17.7 to 19.2 points in the first three quarters, they scored at least 20 points in the fourth quarter in all but five games (and at least 19 in all but three). The median for points allowed was 25.5.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN

Who knows! I have a few theories, but it's hard (or impossible) to pinpoint cause and effect here. I will say that it looks like game prep may be one of Coach Manning's relative strengths, as the Deacs have hung tight with most ACC foes in the first half, including many who were heavy favorites over Wake.

Many fans have been critical of Manning's in-game coaching. A big part of those critiques have focused on substitution patterns, which I don't think these numbers can shed much light on. Another part of the criticism has been based on the claim that Manning does not make effective halftime adjustments. The basic argument goes something along these lines: even if Manning is decent or even above-average at game planning in advance, opposing coaches have been able to out-maneuver him in the second half.

Again, I don't think these numbers can prove or disprove theories like this. However, I think fears of Manning's halftime adjustment deficiencies may be overstated. Yes, the average deficit accumulated during the third quarter was as big as that accrued during the first two quarters combined, but it still represented almost exactly a quarter of the total deficit. By my back-of-the-envelope modeling, that's pretty much right on track for a quarter of game time.

As noted earlier, Wake was leading or within one shot at halftime in two-thirds of its ACC games. As it turns out, the Deacs also led or were within 5 points with 10 minutes to play in the second half (the end of the "third quarter") in two-thirds of its conference games. There were only three games in which Wake's opponents led by more than 7 points with 10 minutes to go. To me, that doesn't scream that there's a fundamental problem with the halftime adjustments.

The numbers show that the biggest damage was done in the fourth quarter. Part of this might be because of the team's free throw woes (Wake's 66% was good for 310th in the country this year), which could be a magnified disadvantage when teams are in the bonus at the end of the game and tired defenders foul more frequently.

I suspect a bigger role is played by the unfortunate reality that Wake was generally playing from behind in the last ten minutes. This can cause a team to make bad decisions leading to turnovers or missed shots, which in turn can create easy transition buckets for the opponent. Even if the TO and FG% rates don't increase, a team trying to catch up at the end of the game will often tend to push the tempo (which may be somewhat, but I think generally not totally, negated by the other team holding the ball). If the leading team is simply a little better than the other team (namely, it can convert each of its possessions into more points, on average), then an increase in possessions will generally lead to an increase in the deficit.

Whatever the reason, there are a few bottom-line takeaways. One is that Wake was outscored in every quarter, on average. That's hardly surprising in ACC play. Another is that the fourth quarter was a relative bloodbath, whether that's because of issues with coaching, free throws, or just the general difficulties that come with the territory of staging late comeback attempts. The biggest surprise for me was that the third quarter was...not so bad? I had the sense watching the games that they often slipped out of reach after halftime, and had concerns that the halftime coaching was sorely lacking. In hindsight, I was a little surprised at how many games were relatively close with 10 minutes to play.

Ultimately, despite what I'm sure is an intense behind-the-scenes lobbying effort by the Wake athletic department, being "relatively close" is still not recorded as a win by either the ACC or the NCAA. This team went 2-16 in ACC play, which is a real step down from the 5-13 record Coach Manning had in year one. Some potential good news is that if the coaches and players manage to chip away at the relatively small deficits that accumulated this year in the first three quarters, the team could have a much easier job in the fourth quarter. Hopefully, that should translate into more wins.

Here's hoping the team plays to its potential and puts together a nice run in the ACC tournament starting with a win today over NCST. Go Deacs!

---- RAW NUMBERS ----

I didn't want to crowd this with the real "raw" numbers (the score differential at the 10/20/30/40 minute marks of every game, although I do have that if people have further questions. Instead, I've included the aggregated numbers below for reference.

First, the raw numbers for cumulative score progression throughout each game:

10:00 (1st) Halftime 10:00 (2nd) Final
Total Wake Pts 295 604 910 1265
Total Opp Pts 323 642 988 1419
Total Margin -28 -38 -78 -154
Avg. Wake Pts 16.4 33.6 50.6 70.3
Avg. Opp Pts 17.9 35.7 54.9 78.8
Avg. Margin -1.6 -2.1 -4.3 -8.6

And for points per quarter:

Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
Total Wake Pts 295 309 306 355
Total Opp Pts 323 319 346 431
Total Margin -28 -10 -40 -76
Avg. Wake Pts 16.4 17.2 17.0 19.7
Avg. Opp Pts 17.9 17.7 19.2 23.9
Avg. Margin -1.6 -0.6 -2.2 -4.2