College basketball is down to 3 undefeated teams left, and one of them is from the ACC in Syracuse. The Orange are, in fact, the only undefeated team in ACC conference play as well. So it should come as no surprise that they are still 1st in these power rankings, as they have been for most of the season. But the ACC is, as usual, a deep league, with a throng of talented and competitive teams chasing down those at the top. Among these are surprises, both good and bad. Who would’ve guessed Clemson would be 4-1 and North Carolina would be 1-3 in conference play? Sometimes it can be tough to rank these teams from top to bottom, evidenced by Notre Dame dropping 3 spots here after winning on Sunday. But it’s a tough league in the ACC. And by the way, the ACC has 5 of the top 13 scoring defenses in the country (Clemson, Virginia, Syracuse, Miami, Pittsburgh).
1. Syracuse (18-0 overall, 5-0 ACC, Last Week: 1st)
The Orange improve to 18-0 on the season and 5-0 in conference play with a 69-59 win over Boston College and a 59-54 win over Pittsburgh, who was previously undefeated in conference play. The Orange remain ranked 2nd in the AP Poll, behind only Arizona, and could move to #1 if Arizona has any missteps along the way. After taking a well-deserved few days off this week, the Orange hit the road on Saturday to play at Miami, who gave them a close contest on January 4 in the Carrier Dome.
2. Pittsburgh (16-2, 4-1, 2nd)
The Panthers began the week with a 81-74 win at Georgia Tech before traveling to the Carrier Dome and being swallowed up by the sea of orange, losing 59-54. Pitt played well against Syracuse, but failed to convert on their opportunities down the stretch. That being said, the Panthers have still been impressive in their first 5 conference games as ACC members, most notably including convincing road wins over NC State and Georgia Tech. This week the Panthers host Clemson on Tuesday in my Game of the Week, before traveling to Maryland on Saturday. Pitt was impressive enough in the loss to Syracuse they actually moved up 2 spots in the AP Poll, from 22nd to 20th.
3. Duke (14-4, 3-2, 4th)
Duke passes Virginia and moves from 4th to 3rd based on their 69-65 win over the Cavaliers on Monday, which they followed up with a 95-60 thrashing of NC State on Saturday. With the pair of victories, the Blue Devils jumped from 23rd to 18th in this week’s AP Poll. While they have had their struggles, Duke remains one of the most explosive teams in the conference, and freshman forward Jabari Parker remains perhaps the best player in the conference. This week the Devils face a road test at Miami before hosting Florida State, a program that has played better than most at Cameron Indoor Stadium over the years, including a win over Duke the last time they visited in 2012.
4. Virginia (13-5, 4-1, 3rd)
The Cavaliers put together an epic comeback in the closing minutes against Duke to lead them briefly before Rasheed Sulaimon’s 3 put Duke ahead for good. While I naturally moved Duke ahead of the Cavaliers, they remain 4th in these rankings after beating Florida State to sweep their 2-game season series, winning both contests by 12. Coach Tony Bennett is one of the best in the game at getting the most out of his personnel, even as guard Joe Harris is having somewhat of a down year (his points, rebounds, and assists are all down). Tonight, Virginia hosts an old rival when North Carolina comes to town, before hosting an in-state rival when Virginia Tech comes to Charlottesville on Saturday.
5. Clemson (13-4, 4-1, 6th)
Clemson continued its hot streak, beating Virginia Tech on the road and Wake Forest at home in the days following their upset of Duke. Tigers forward KJ McDaniels is one of the best players no one is talking about, and if the season ended now would be deserving of first-team All-ACC honors, averaging 16.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. I watched this team play in person on Saturday, and saw how much potential this team actually has (and that’s after most people, including me, picked them for 13th or 14th in the conference), particularly McDaniels, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds against Wake Forest. Clemson’s will have to play well this week to remain tied for 2nd in the ACC standings, with road games against Pittsburgh and North Carolina posing a potential threat to their 4-1 conference record, although if they can hold the Panthers and Tar Heels to their 53.5 points per game average, which leads the nation.
6. Florida State (12-5, 3-2, 5th)
Even though Florida State beat Clemson head-to-head, the Seminoles 2nd loss of the season in conference play drops them just behind the Tigers. That loss came on the road to Virginia, 78-66, in a game that wasn’t even as close as that score would indicate. Back on Wednesday, the Noles won the bragging rights battle with Miami, 63-53. I thought the Seminoles would really struggle after the loss of guard Michael Snaer to graduation after last season, but Ian Miller, Okaro White, and Aaron Thomas have stepped up to lead this team into NCAA contention. Notre Dame comes to Tallahassee on Tuesday night before the Seminoles travel to Duke for a road game that will be a true test.
7. Miami (10-7, 2-3, 8th)
Miami went 1-1 for the week, yet they move up a spot in the rankings after a convincing win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, 3 days after their 10-point loss at home to Florida State. Jim Larranaga has kept this team competitive despite losing almost all scoring from last year’s ACC championship team, despite ranking 335th out of 345 Division I teams in scoring offense. To offset the offense, they rank 9th in the nation in defense, allowing just 58.5 points per game. The Hurricanes will have a pair of chances to pull a home upset this week, hosting Duke on Wednesday and Syracuse on Saturday.
8. North Carolina (11-6, 1-3, 9th)
The Tar Heels had a week to prepare for Boston College, and showed it in an 82-71 win over the Eagles. While some might argue the Heels should have beaten the Eagles worse, they’ll take the win at this point, as it was their first conference win of the season after losses to Wake Forest, Miami, and Syracuse. This is certainly a volatile team, with an ability for some big wins, as shown in their non-conference résumé, but also for some tough losses. They can silence some of the doubters with a pair of games against teams who are currently 4-1 in conference play, at Virginia, and at home against Clemson.
9. Maryland (11-7, 3-2, 10th)
Coming off last week’s blowout loss to Florida State, the Terrapins beat Notre Dame on Wednesday, 74-66, to stop the bleeding of a 2-game losing streak. After beating the Irish, the Terrapins had the weekend off to prepare for games this week at NC State and at home against Pitt, who has already beaten Maryland by 20 in Pittsburgh. The Terrapins stats are fairly pedestrian, except for rebounding, where they rank 47th in the nation with 37.9 rebounds per game and 30th in rebounding margin.
10. Notre Dame (11-7, 2-3, 7th)
It was extremely difficult to drop Notre Dame 3 spots here, after they went 1-1 for the week. But that loss was to Maryland, so it’s only right the Irish fall behind the Terrapins in these rankings. The win was over Virginia Tech, although the Irish nearly blew their large halftime lead before holding on to win by a 70-63 margin. The dismissal of guard Jerian Grant continues to hurt the Irish as they try to play without their leader. This could be another tough week for the Irish as they will travel to Florida State with just a day of practice to prepare between games, before traveling into a tough atmosphere at Wake Forest.
11. Wake Forest (12-6, 2-3, 11th)
Speaking of the Deacons, they were also 1-1 on the week, beating NC State, 70-69, on Codi Miller-McIntyre’s driving layup in the closing seconds, before losing at Clemson, 61-53, in a game that was tight all the way. Wake still hasn’t won a conference road game in 2 years, but their 3 losses on the road this year are all to teams currently at 4-1 in conference play. I saw them play in person against Clemson, and they didn’t play all that poorly. Their best shot to win a conference road game will be Wednesday night when they travel to Virginia Tech, before heading back to Winston-Salem to host Notre Dame on Saturday.
12. NC State (11-7, 1-4, 12th)
The Wolfpack had a tough week, losing to a pair of in-state rivals, both in painful fashion. They lost at Wake Forest in the closing seconds before losing at Duke in a horrific blowout. Mark Gottfried’s Wolfpack team is very young, although they are getting key contributions from freshmen Anthony “Cat” Barber, Desmond Lee, and Lennard Freeman. Sophomore forward TJ Warren leads the ACC in scoring at 22.2 points per game, good for 7th in the nation. The Wolfpack haven’t left North Carolina since January 7, and won’t until February 8, as they are about to begin a 3-game home stand, and their road games have been and will be against in-state rivals. Maryland and Georgia Tech come to PNC Arena this week.
13. Georgia Tech (10-8, 1-4, 13th)
Brian Gregory’s team has begun to struggle in conference play, with a pair of home losses this week. While you can’t really blame them for losing to Pitt, a home loss to a young Miami team by 14 shows this team may not be as close to competitive as some of us thought they might be. The Yellow Jackets rank in the top 100 nationally in both rebounds and assists per game, yet rank 255th in scoring at 69.1 points per game. That will need to improve as they now take their show on the road against Boston College and NC State on Tuesday and Saturday. This will be a pair of winnable games, but it’s always tough to win on the road in the ACC.
14. Virginia Tech (8-9, 1-4, 14th)
The Hokies lost a pair of 7-point games this week, first at home to Clemson, then on the road to Notre Dame. They rank 34th in the nation with 39.2 rebounds per game, but rank no higher than 222nd in any other major offensive category. Senior Jarell Eddie leads the team with 14.5 points per game, but its hard to replace last year’s ACC Co-Player of the Year, Erick Green, who averaged 25.0 points per game. Wednesday, Wake Forest comes to Blacksburg, which is a winnable game for the Hokies given Wake’s road woes, before traveling Saturday to Charlottesville to seek an upset at Virginia.
15. Boston College (5-13, 1-4, 15th)
To Boston College’s credit, they showed signs of life this week, taking a good shot at both Syracuse and North Carolina. While they lost the games by 10 and 11, respectively, they were both closer until the end. The Syracuse game in particular saw the Eagles leading 50-44 with 11:57 left before Syracuse came from behind and eventually pulled away. Their only game this week is a winnable one on Wednesday when Georgia Tech visits Conte Forum. After that game they will have 6 days off, and they don’t have to leave Chestnut Hill again until February 1.
Game of the Week: Clemson at North Carolina (Sunday, 6:00 PM ET)
While there may be a couple of games this week that are a little more high-profile, including games played by any of the 3 ranked ACC teams, this one stands out as maybe the most important game. Both Clemson and North Carolina are underdogs in their games early in the week, and if they do end up losing, Clemson would fall to 4-2 and North Carolina to 1-4. If both teams were coming off a loss the game would be very important. This series has a lot of history, as both teams were part of the original ACC in 1953, although it’s a very one-sided history: North Carolina has won 56 consecutive meetings in Chapel Hill, with Clemson’s last win coming in 1926 (they’ve never won in the Smith Center; Clemson did beat the Tar Heels at home in 2010). The Tigers are coming in hotter than the Tar Heels, and have shown an ability to win on the road, winning both of their road conference games to date. 2 of North Carolina’s 3 conference losses are to sub-.500 conference teams (with the exception being 5-0 Syracuse), with one of those at home. They also struggled at home with Boston College before winning by 11. Clemson is simply playing better right now, like a team with a chip on their shoulder. That program, too, has another chip on their shoulder, known as Chapel Hill. It’s time.
Clemson 64, North Carolina 60.