1. Syracuse (11-0)
With Pittsburgh’s loss to Cincinnati, Syracuse is now the last undefeated team in the ACC, and one of only 9 in the nation. Wins over Baylor and St. John’s are their biggest triumphs, with their latest being a 21-point win over High Point. The Orange are ranked 2nd in the country, and will play the 8th-ranked Villanova Wildcats in a battle of undefeated teams this Saturday. They will open ACC play with games against the 11th and 14th place teams in this ranking, which is about as easy as a 2-game stretch gets in the ACC. If the Orange beat Villanova, they could be undefeated when North Carolina comes to town on January 11.
2. Duke (9-2)
Duke beat UCLA on Thursday for their biggest win of the season to date. While Duke’s two losses are hardly “bad losses”, to Kansas and Arizona, the game with the Bruins was really just their second “résumé win”, with the other coming at home against Michigan. They have a couple of lighter tests over the holidays with Eastern Michigan and Elon, before opening conference play January 4 at Notre Dame. Freshman forward Jabari Parker is one of the best players in the nation, not just the ACC.
3. Florida State (8-3)
The Seminoles move up to 3rd in this ranking after losses by teams that had previously been above them, but also on the strength of their victory on Saturday against previously undefeated UMass. The game was a defensive struggle, with a 60-55 score, but one of the announcers on the game remarked that in March, their résumé won’t say “ugly win” against UMass, but just “win”. Their game against the Minutemen came after a 44-point win over Charlotte on Tuesday. Last week the ‘Noles were no higher than 100th in any offensive category except field goal percentage, but now they have additionally climbed into the top 75 in points and rebounds per game. They will play Charleston Southern on December 30 before opening conference play on December 4 against a good Virginia team.
4. Pittsburgh (11-1)
Speaking of defensive struggles, the Panthers of Pittsburgh played a really low scoring game Tuesday against Cincinnati in the Jimmy V Classic, losing their first game of the year by a 44-43 score. They rebounded on Saturday with a 73-56 win over Cal Poly to improve to 11-1. Albany comes to the Petersen Events Center on New Year’s Eve in Pitt’s final preparation for traveling to NC State and hosting Maryland in the first week of ACC play.
5. North Carolina (8-3)
The best way to describe the Tar Heels’ season is that is has been (and will likely continue to be) a roller coaster. A loss to Texas and an overtime win against Davidson (in a game Davidson probably should have won) are the latest installments in a season full of big wins and hard to explain losses. This team seems to play to the level of their opponent as they have, after all, beaten Louisville, Michigan State, and Kentucky, but have also lost to Belmont and UAB. The Heels will host Northern Kentucky and UNC Wilmington before opening conference play at Wake Forest, a place that was fairly tough for opponents last year.
6. Notre Dame (8-4)
Notre Dame had a good chance to move up in this ranking, and possibly even move into the Top 25 in the polls, with their game in New York against Ohio State. The Irish led the game by 8 in the final minute before imploding to a 3-point loss to the 3rd-ranked Buckeyes. The loss is added to earlier losses to Indiana State, Iowa, and North Dakota State, each a team with a good shot at dancing in March. Perhaps the biggest loss is the loss of guard Jerian Grant, the team’s leading scorer, who as of yesterday is out for the season with academic issues. They will only get to see how they play without him in one non-conference game, on Sunday against Canisius, before hosting Duke in their inaugural ACC game.
7. Virginia (8-3)
The Cavaliers got a bit of retribution for their loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay with a convincing win over Northern Iowa. They will host Norfolk State and travel to Tennessee in their remaining non-conference games, before starting the ACC with a 6-game stretch that includes a home game with North Carolina, road games at Duke and NC State, and two contests with Florida State. The Cavaliers have a good leadership core, including senior forward Akil Mitchell, and senior guard Joe Harris, one of the ACC’s best players.
8. NC State (10-2)
The Wolfpack added a quality win over Tennessee this week, as well as a shootout win over East Carolina. This offense, although it includes two freshman and a junior college transfer in the starting lineup, seems to be clicking quite well, led by forward TJ Warren, who is averaging 23.9 points per game. That is 1st in the ACC, 6th in the nation, and 2nd among players in a “power conference”. The Pack will face their toughest test on Saturday, when 25th-ranked Missouri comes to Raleigh in a big non-conference showdown, leading into a difficult 6-game stretch to start conference play, including road games against Notre Dame and Duke and a home game against Pittsburgh.
9. Maryland (8-5, 1-0 ACC)
The Terrapins drop from 8th to 9th after a 6-point loss on Saturday to Boston University. The Terps have a good team, but Mark Turgeon’s troops have struggled at times throughout November and December. To their credit, they are 1-0 in ACC play after beating Boston College in an early conference game. Maryland was projected in the NCAA field in last week’s Bracketology on espn.com, although they were a 12 seed, meaning the loss to Boston University likely jeopardizes that status. Then again, it’s early. Tulsa and NC Central come to College Park before Maryland begins their final ACC campaign.
10. Wake Forest (10-2)
Wake Forest has improved from last year’s squad that went 6-12 in ACC play, which may be scary for those coming into the Joel Coliseum over the course of the season since they had home wins against Miami and NC State, and a close home loss to Duke, during last year’s campaign. Back in the present, the Deacons beat St. Bonaventure and UNC Greensboro this week, leading into their first true road game of the year at Xavier this Saturday in the Skip Prosser Classic (Prosser coached at both schools in the 1990s-2000s, and their annual series is named in his memory). North Carolina comes to Winston-Salem on January 5 for the Deacs first conference test.
11. Miami (7-5, 0-1 ACC)
The young Hurricanes are back on their feet after a rough start to the season, beating Savannah State on the road and La Salle at home to get their record over the .500 mark. They will play Loyola (MD) on December 30 after a week off for Christmas before starting conference play with road tests at Syracuse and North Carolina. While this team is young, and can therefore be sporadic at times, Jim Larranaga has a good group of athletes who is capable being competitive in the ACC.
12. Clemson (8-3)
Clemson had a good start to the season, and this time last week, at 8-2, were listed in ESPN’s Bracketology as the 6th team out of the NCAA Tournament, which is quite an accomplishment for a team most everyone picked to finish 14th in the ACC. That all changed, however, with a road loss at Auburn, a team picked to finish last in the SEC. That loss brings back questions regarding this team’s leadership and age, with only one non-conference game left against VMI before beginning conference play. One positive for the Tigers is that 2 of their first 4 conference games are against the bottom 2 teams in these rankings, although both of those games are on the road.
13. Georgia Tech (8-4)
Over the last week the Yellow Jackets have won against Kennesaw State and lost to Vanderbilt. The loss to the Commodores was the worst of their losses, with their other losses coming to Dayton, Ole Miss, and St. John’s. Georgia Tech’s best win was at home over Illinois in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, although that is really their only impressive win, with their next best being over a struggling Georgia team. The youth of this team is its biggest weakness, and that will likely show itself in early conference games on the road at Maryland and Duke.
14. Virginia Tech (7-4)
The 13-day layoff the Virginia Tech Hokies had between their overtime win over Miami and their game with VCU really seemed to affect them, as they never had a chance against the Rams and lost by 30. This was their most embarrassing loss in terms of points, although their opening day loss to USC Upstate may be their worst from an opponent standpoint. Games with UNC Greensboro and Maryland Eastern Shore remain before the ACC’s shallowest roster begins conference play against Syracuse on January 7 in a matchup of former Big East teams.
15. Boston College (4-8)
The Eagles tough start to a tough schedule continued with a 10-point loss on the road at Auburn. They have played a much tougher schedule than those teams around him in these rankings, although the Eagles have had very little success with that schedule. Therefore, while everyone else in the ACC sits fairly comfortably over the .500 mark, the Eagles are unfortunately nowhere close, sitting 4 games under the mark. They have 2 non-conference games left, against a VCU team that beat Virginia Tech by 30, and on the road at Harvard in an annual series that the Eagles haven’t won in since 2007, before the start of conference play.