The first weekend of conference play in the ACC was full of great basketball, and included a couple of upsets of ranked opponents on the road. This is the second time ever that Duke and North Carolina are both 0-1 in conference play (1994-95 was the other), and the first time ever that Duke, North Carolina, and NC State have all 3 lost their conference opener. In addition to that, I knew the 3 additions to the ACC coming into the year would make an impact, but I sure didn’t realize that by the first Monday in January they would hold 3 of the top 4 spots in these rankings. The ACC is, by the way, down to just 2 ranked teams, after North Carolina fell from 19th to the “others receiving votes” category after their loss at Wake Forest.
1. Syracuse (14-0 overall, 1-0 ACC, Last Week: 1st)
The Orange are now 1 of just 6 undefeated teams remaining in Division I Basketball, and remain ranked 2nd in the AP Poll. But they didn’t stay perfect without having a little discomfort in one game. After easily dispatching Eastern Michigan, it was Miami that gave Syracuse a bit of a test, before the Orange won 49-44. While the defense appears set, the offense clearly struggled in this game, which was their first conference game as an ACC member. This week, the Orange travel to Virginia Tech before hosting North Carolina. I’m curious to see how long they can remain undefeated.
2. Duke (11-3, 0-1, 2nd)
Duke opened conference play with a trip to South Bend that they would rather forget. Notre Dame hung around with the Blue Devils the whole game before taking the lead and pulling out the win at the end, 79-77. Duke stays 2nd in this ranking because they are still the 2nd best team in the conference, and even with 3 losses probably have the 2nd best résumé in the conference. They are also the only other ACC team besides Syracuse to currently be ranked, although they have fallen to 16th in the AP Poll. This marks the first time in 122 weeks that Duke has not been ranked in the top 10, a period stretching back to 2007. The week that ended in South Bend began in Greensboro, where Duke easily handled Elon. This week, the Blue Devils host Georgia Tech on Tuesday before traveling to Clemson over the weekend.
3. Pittsburgh (13-1, 1-0, 4th)
Pitt moves up to 3rd for a couple of reasons. First of all, Florida State, who was 3rd, lost to Virginia (see below). In addition, the Panthers went on the road for their first ever ACC game in Raleigh, and after trailing by 8 at half went on to win by 12 over NC State. The win came after beating Albany on Tuesday in their last non-conference game. This week, Pitt hosts Maryland and Wake Forest. If they take care of business at home, they will be one road win away from heading to Syracuse with a 16-1/4-0 record when they meet the Orange on January 18.
4. Notre Dame (10-4, 1-0, 7th)
The Irish picked up a huge win on Saturday, upsetting Duke, 79-77. Given the circumstances, that Notre Dame was unranked, just days after losing their leading scorer to dismissal, and hosting the 7th ranked Blue Devils in their first ever ACC game, I would call this one of the biggest wins in program history. The win was refreshing, not just because of its magnitude, but because in their previous game they had been taken to overtime by Canisius before escaping with a win. Next up for the Irish is another home game against another ACC school with a rich tradition, the NC State Wolfpack, who played the Irish a few times in the 1980s when Digger Phelps and Jim Valvano roamed the sidelines. After the Pack leave South Bend, Notre Dame will travel to Georgia Tech for their first ACC road game.
5. Virginia (10-4, 1-0, 6th)
It was difficult for me to put Virginia so high, since they lost by 35 on the road at Tennessee just 7 days ago. But sometimes in sports, it’s good for a team to have a short memory, and Virginia did on Saturday, when they went to Tallahassee and dominated Florida State, who had been 3rd in these rankings, and left with a 62-50 win. I naturally had to rank them above Florida State, as they proved in that game they were the better team, and with North Carolina’s loss, the Cavaliers actually improve a spot, even with the embarrassment at Tennessee still on the books. This week, Wake Forest comes to Charlottesville, before the Cavaliers travel to NC State. A trip to Durham on January 13 is lurking.
6. Florida State (9-4, 0-1, 3rd)
As mentioned, the Seminoles were dominated on their own floor by Joe Harris and the Virginia Cavaliers. The loss ended a 4 game winning streak in which the Seminoles had won convincingly twice, and had beaten then 22nd ranked UMass. However, the last of those 4 wins had been just before the game against Virginia, and had been a struggle for the ‘Noles, when they beat Charleston Southern by just 8. On Thursday is what some expect to be an easy ACC road game, if there is such a thing, when they go to Clemson, although the Tigers and Seminoles always seem to play close games when they meet. Sunday night, they will have another testy game at home, when Maryland comes to Tallahassee.
7. North Carolina (10-4, 0-1, 5th)
After beating UNC Wilmington on New Year’s Eve to complete their non-conference slate, the Tar Heels were upset at Wake Forest, 73-67. On the year, the Heels are 3-0 against ranked opponents, and 7-4 against unranked opponents, and as a result they are now an unranked opponent, dropping out of the AP Poll from 19th. While the Tar Heels aren’t the first victim of the Deacons at the Joel Coliseum, the loss is still alarming for Roy Williams and his players. Miami comes to Chapel Hill on Wednesday before the Heels travel to Syracuse to play the undefeated Orange. They aren’t playing well enough to hang with the Orange, but they have a résumé that suggests otherwise, with wins against Louisville, Kentucky, and on the road against Michigan State. No one knows anymore what to expect out of this team.
8. Maryland (8-5, 2-0, 8th)
Maryland began their final ACC season with a convincing win over Georgia Tech, after beating NC Central easily earlier in the week. Since they had a December conference game, and sit at 2-0 in conference play, they technically have a half-game lead in the standings. That could change tonight when the Terrapins travel to Pittsburgh, where the Panthers have a 12-game home winning streak. Even if the Terps can upset the Panthers tonight, they will still face an uphill battle to keep their lead when they travel to Florida State on Sunday. While Maryland has had a couple of tough losses, including George Washington and Boston University, they are still a team that should have a good shot down the stretch to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.
9. Wake Forest (11-3, 1-0, 11th)
The Demon Deacons beat then 19th ranked North Carolina on Sunday night, 73-67, for their 11th straight home win, and after their first win over the Tar Heels since 2010, they move from 11th to 9th in these rankings. Since the start of last season, the Deacs are 3-1 at home against ranked opponents, adding the win over the Tar Heels to wins last year over Miami and NC State, with the only loss coming to Duke by 5 last February. The big issue for the program as it tries to rebuild is winning games on the road. Wake lost its only road game so far this year at Xavier, but 4 of their next 5 games are away from the Joel Coliseum, including matchups at Virginia and Pittsburgh this week.
10. Miami (8-6, 0-2, 10th)
Miami was jumped by Wake Forest in these rankings after the Deacons beat North Carolina, but the Hurricanes jumped over NC State to remain in 10th after a quality loss, if such a thing exists, when they went on the road to Syracuse and lost by just 5. Miami’s defense is clearly a strength, as they allowed only 49 in the game, although their young offense struggled against Syracuse’s defense. This team has been sporadic all year, as most young teams are. Their best win all year was against Arizona State, although they can change that when they travel to North Carolina on Wednesday before taking a few days off over the weekend and preparing to host in-state rival Florida State next week.
11. NC State (10-4, 0-1, 9th)
The young NC State Wolfpack seemed to be making progress as the season went on, recovering from early losses to Cincinnati and NC Central to win 7 straight and lose a close game against then 25th ranked Missouri. While the progress may have seemed to be slowing with a close game against UNC Greensboro, it looked like the Pack were ready for the ACC when they led Pittsburgh by 8 at halftime. But that lead wouldn’t last, and the Pack lost by 12 as Pitt led the 2nd half scoring 48-28. It was tough to drop the Pack two spots over a loss to the 3rd ranked team in these rankings, but the teams around them were more impressive over the weekend. It won’t get any easier for NC State this week, as they travel to Notre Dame on Tuesday before they host Virginia on Saturday.
12. Clemson (10-3, 1-0, 12th)
Like a lot of the teams in this section of the rankings, Clemson has a young roster. That being said, they are having some success, and that continued this week when they beat VMI by 30 before winning their ACC opener against Boston College, 62-60. This week Florida State and Duke both travel to Littlejohn Coliseum, giving the Tigers an opportunity to really make a statement and prove they will be a player in the ACC race. Looking at their non-conference schedule, big wins over Davidson, South Carolina, and Temple may suggest they will, in fact, be competitive, while a loss to Auburn and a win over Boston College by only 2 points may beg to differ.
13. Georgia Tech (9-5, 0-1, 13th)
The Yellow Jackets have a young team as well, although their starters all have some experience. The experience appeared to be missing, however, in a 77-61 loss at Maryland to start conference play. The Jackets are better at home, where they haven’t lost and even have a quality win over Illinois. On the road, while they’ve beaten Georgia and Charlotte, they’ve also lost to Vanderbilt and Dayton, in addition to the Terrapins. While I don’t expect the Jackets to pull a shocker at Duke tomorrow night, a home game against Notre Dame on Saturday and another one against Pittsburgh next week give Georgia Tech a couple of chances to pick up a surprising victory.
14. Virginia Tech (8-5, 1-0, 14th)
Virginia Tech stays 14th in these rankings due to a lack of sample size. While the team directly ahead of them lost on Saturday, and Virginia Tech won their only game of the week, that win was over Maryland Eastern Shore, and came on Tuesday before the Hokies were the ACC’s first “odd team out” (since there are an odd number of members, somebody always has a couple extra days off since there’s no one for them to play). They do have a conference win, coming back in December over Miami, in overtime on the road. They will have to pull the nation’s biggest upset of the year if they want to remain undefeated in ACC play, as they host 2nd ranked Syracuse on Tuesday, before they have a very winnable game on Saturday at home against Boston College.
15. Boston College (4-11, 0-2, 15th)
Boston College has been dead last in these rankings ever since their 0-3 start, even after being 8th in my preseason rankings with all 5 starters back from last year’s improved team. In the Eagles first 11 games, they were 4-7, and remained the only ACC team under .500, but that was with a tough schedule that was presumably assembled to prepare the Eagles for ACC play. However, their season has taken a turn for the worse since, with 4 straight losses, with the low point coming with a 10-point loss at Auburn. They are now 0-2 in conference play after a December loss to Maryland and a loss Saturday to Clemson. They get a much-needed week off before playing a winnable road game Saturday against Virginia Tech.
Game of the Week: North Carolina at Syracuse
Many have said that no North Carolina result, good or bad, would surprise them in any game, as a result of the sporadic start they’ve had to this season. The Heels do have a big win on the road, at Michigan State, but have lost their other 2 road games to UAB and Wake Forest. If the Wake Forest game produced a tough atmosphere for the Heels to play in, imagine when they play in front of 33,000 fans, all pulling against them in a sea of Orange, against the undefeated, 2nd ranked team in the country. In addition to that, Syracuse simply has the better-playing roster, plain and simple.
Syracuse 83, North Carolina 71.