ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 2/10

As usual, the top and bottom stay relatively steady in this week’s power rankings, although there is, as usual, some movement in the middle of the pack.  Syracuse remains 1 of the nation’s 2 undefeated teams, although that could change this week.  This will be a big week of rivalries in the conference with new ones like Syracuse-Pittsburgh (new to the ACC, at least), old ones like North Carolina-Duke and NC State-Wake Forest, and rivalries ending as Maryland makes their final trip to Durham and Charlottesville before leaving for the Big Ten.

1.  Syracuse (23-0 overall, 10-0 ACC, Last Week:  1st)
The Orange remain the unanimous #1 team in the nation in both polls, with a 61-55 win over Notre Dame and a 57-44 win over Clemson this past week, both at home.  Both games were close at times, but there’s something a lot of teams struggle with that the Orange are very good at:  closing the deal.  6 of their 10 conference wins have come by 10 points or less, and many of those games were close before the Orange pulled away late.  Most of their larger wins in ACC play have even followed that pattern.  Wednesday night the Orange rematch with Pittsburgh, who they beat 59-54 in the Carrier Dome on January 18, before hosting NC State on Saturday.

2.  Duke (19-5, 8-3, 2nd)
Duke extended their winning streak against teams not named Syracuse to 8 games with an 83-63 home win over Wake Forest and an 89-68 road win over Boston College.  With that, the Blue Devils are back in the top 10, moving to 8th in the AP Poll, after falling out in the January 6 poll after their loss to Notre Dame.  Many may have Virginia ahead of Duke in a ranking of ACC teams, since Duke has 3 losses and Virginia has just 1, but Duke has played extremely well since the loss to Clemson on January 11, even playing very well in their only loss of that stretch in overtime at Syracuse.  This week, the newest edition of the heated North Carolina-Duke rivalry will be played on Wednesday, before Duke and Maryland play Saturday, in their final scheduled meeting, at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

3.  Virginia (19-5, 10-1, 3rd)
Virginia remains comfortably in 2nd place in the ACC standings, a full 2 games ahead of 3rd place Duke, after a 77-67 win over Boston College and a 64-45 win over Georgia Tech.  With the pair of victories, the Cavaliers move from 20th to 17th in the AP Poll.  The Georgia Tech game was odd in the sense that the Yellow Jackets led 44-42 before Virginia closed on a 22-1 run to win in a lopsided-looking score.  This week, Virginia hosts Maryland for the final time (although they have one more meeting left in College Park), before traveling to Clemson.

4.  North Carolina (16-7, 6-4, 5th)
The Heels are playing well again, with a 75-63 win over Maryland and a 73-62 win over Notre Dame over the last week.  This has been an unusual team all year, with non-conference wins over Michigan State, Louisville, and Kentucky, and non-conference losses to Belmont and UAB.  They began conference play by losing 4 out of 5, but have since won 5 straight to jump into a tie for 5th place, and have the 3rd longest winning streak in the conference behind Syracuse and Virginia, the top 2 teams in the standings.  That streak will certainly be on the line when the Tar Heels renew their rivalry with Duke on Wednesday at the Smith Center, before hosting Pittsburgh on Saturday.  This is, without doubt, the biggest week of the Tar Heels’ season so far.

5.  Pittsburgh (20-4, 8-3, 4th)
The Panthers survived a couple of upset bids this week, first beating Miami 59-55 in overtime on the road, before returning home and beating Virginia Tech 62-57 in double overtime.  Pitt drops a spot here because they needed overtime to win against a pair of the bottom-tier teams in the ACC.  The thought they needed double overtime to beat a last place Virginia Tech team is certainly a head scratcher.  In addition to that, those two games were after a pair of losses, even if they were to Duke and Virginia.  Therefore, the last 4 games for Pitt have raised some question marks about how elite they really are, although they remain 25th in the AP Poll.  They can answer those questions this week when the host #1 Syracuse on Wednesday, in a rematch of a close game at the Carrier Dome earlier in the season, before traveling to Chapel Hill on Saturday to play North Carolina.

6.  Clemson (15-7, 6-4, 6th)
Clemson won a defensive struggle against Georgia Tech on Tuesday, 45-41, for their 500th win at Littlejohn Coliseum, before traveling to Syracuse to be defeated 57-44 by the top ranked Orange.  Clemson played fairly well at Syracuse, with the score not showing how even the teams were, but could never get close enough to truly threaten the Orange’s undefeated record.  Clemson remains 1st in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 55.1 points per game.  This week, Clemson will play at Notre Dame on short rest Tuesday night, before returning home for a big matchup with #17 Virginia on Saturday.

7.  Maryland (14-10, 6-5, 8th)
The hot-cold season of Maryland continued this week, with a 75-63 loss in their final trip to Chapel Hill and an 83-71 win at home over a Florida State team that had previously beaten them by 24.  Dating back to the start of conference play, here is Maryland’s season so far:  2 straight wins, 2 straight losses, a win, 2 straight losses, 2 straight wins, a loss, and a win.  This will be a tough week for the Terrapins if they want to pick up another win, as they will first travel to Virginia for the final Charlottesville meeting of this storied rivalry (they play one more time in College Park on March 9), before their final meeting with Duke, in another classic ACC rivalry, on Saturday in Durham.

8.  NC State (15-8, 5-5, 9th)
The Wolfpack won their only contest of the week on Saturday, beating Miami on the road, 56-55.  With that, NC State has very quietly won 4 out of 5, climbing back to the .500 mark in ACC play after a 1-4 start.  I mentioned last week that a couple of writers are starting to mention the Wolfpack as an NCAA bubble team, but one of the problems the Wolfpack have is that they don’t have a “résumé win” to their credit.  They can change that Saturday when they play #1 Syracuse on the road.  However, first they have to worry about a Tuesday night home game against Wake Forest, who won the prior meeting 70-69.

9.  Florida State (14-9, 5-6, 7th)
A couple of weeks ago, Florida State seemed like a mid-level ACC team, capable of playing well against top-tier opponents, and solidly in the field on projected NCAA tournament brackets.  Now, after losing 4 out of 5, they are on the NCAA bubble, and struggling to find any momentum as the season hits the stretch run.  This past week, they did beat Virginia Tech, 70-50, but lost 83-71 to a Maryland team they had beaten badly earlier in the season.  The Seminoles will need to right the ship, and this week play Miami tonight at home, having previously beaten them by 10 on the road, before traveling to Wake Forest on Saturday.

10.  Notre Dame (12-12, 3-8, 12th)
In this transition area between the mid-level and bottom-level ACC teams, strange things can happen in these rankings.  This is one example of that, as Notre Dame moves up 2 spots despite back-to-back losses.  Why?  Because the Irish showed some signs of life, which they have been lacking at times this season, in a 61-55 loss at Syracuse, playing a close game with the nation’s #1 team into the final minute of play.  While the Irish added a 73-62 loss to North Carolina over the weekend, their body of work was still better than the teams around them.  They can solidify that improvement in these rankings this week, hosting Clemson on Tuesday, before traveling to Boston College on Sunday in a rematch of an overtime game won by Notre Dame on February 1.

11.  Wake Forest (14-9, 4-6, 10th)
It’s tough to drop the Deacons a spot here, because their only game of the week was an 83-63 loss at Duke, in a building where no visitor has won all year.  The reason they fall a spot is because that loss was by 20, even if it was without their leading scorer, Codi Miller-McIntyre, who was out with an ankle injury, while Notre Dame played at Syracuse and lost by only 6.  In addition, Wake has lost 3 in a row, and 4 out of 6.  Tuesday, they travel to Raleigh for a rematch of their 70-69 win over the Wolfpack in Winston-Salem on January 15, in a game won by Miller-McIntyre in the closing seconds.  Miller-McIntyre is questionable to return against NC State, and the Deacs need him on the floor; whether or not he plays could play a major role in the outcome of the game.  On Saturday, Florida State visits the Joel Coliseum.

12.  Miami (11-12, 2-8, 11th)
Miami suffered a pair of tough home losses this week.  First, they lost to Pittsburgh, 59-55, in overtime, before losing to NC State, 56-55, in a game in which they must have felt they blew their opportunity.  Taking Pitt to overtime was impressive for this young team, but they couldn’t keep up with the 25th-ranked Panthers.  Miami has lost 5 out of 6, but they aren’t really playing that poorly, as most of the losses have been in close games.  This week, the Hurricanes play rival Florida State in Tallahassee, trying to avenge a 10-point loss on January 15, before traveling to Virginia Tech.  The Hurricanes are the only ACC team to lose to the Hokies, losing their first meeting in overtime on December 8.

13.  Georgia Tech (12-12, 3-8, 13th)
Like Miami, Georgia Tech isn’t necessarily playing all that poorly, but they’ve lost 2 in a row and 4 out of 5.  Against Clemson, the Yellow Jackets held the Tigers to 45 points, but lost 45-41 after being smothered by the nation’s leading defense.  Against Virginia, the Jackets led 44-42 with under 10 minutes to play, but were held without a field goal the rest of the way by the nation’s 2nd best defense, and lost 64-45.  Tech has been playing well without their leader, Trae Golden, who has been out since early in the Wake Forest game with a groin injury and remains questionable as the Yellow Jackets host Boston College on Wednesday.  Tech also got forward Robert Carter Jr. back from injury on Saturday.  While the Jackets will not contend for an NCAA tournament bid or a spot among the ACC’s elite, they are playing well enough to be a potential spoiler for those who are, once Golden comes back.  After hosting the Eagles, Tech will have a week to prepare for Duke on February 18.

14.  Virginia Tech (8-15, 1-10, 15th)
Despite their 10-game losing streak, the Hokies move up a spot in this week’s rankings.  That’s because, after losing 70-50 to Florida State, the Hokies took Pittsburgh to double overtime in the Petersen Events Center, before losing 62-57.  The game was impressive from Virginia Tech, whose last close game had come back on January 22, and whose last win was against Maryland-Eastern Shore on December 31.  Their 1 conference win was a 61-60 overtime defeat of Miami, on the road on December 8.  That being said, the Hokies could end the losing streak when Miami comes to Blacksburg on Saturday in the Hokies only game of the week.

15.  Boston College (6-17, 2-8, 14th)
Boston College drops back to 15th in these rankings, where they have spent a good portion of the season, after a 77-67 loss to Virginia, and a 89-68 loss to Duke.  While both of these losses are to ranked teams, they didn’t play tough competition as well as Virginia Tech did, so the Hokies pass them in these rankings.  By the way, the last team not named Virginia Tech that the Eagles beat was Division II school Philadelphia back on December 15.  The Eagles travel to Georgia Tech Tuesday before hosting Notre Dame on Sunday as they try to pick up a handful of wins down the stretch to avoid the worst overall record by an ACC team in the last 25 years (the dubious distinction is currently held by the 2010-11 Wake Forest team, who was 8-24, and just 1-15 in ACC play).

Games of the Week:

#1 Syracuse at #25 Pittsburgh (Wednesday, 7:00 PM ET)
In the first meeting of these two teams, Syracuse won 59-54 in a very close game.  Pittsburgh, in fact, led that game 52-49, on the road in the Carrier Dome.  Since then, many have looked to this game as perhaps the greatest chance for the undefeated Orange to lose, but Pitt has begun to struggle over the last couple of weeks.  After home losses to Duke and Virginia, Pitt needed overtime to beat Miami on the road and double overtime to beat Virginia Tech at home.  While I don’t expect Syracuse to blow the Panthers out, since they’re not really blowing out anyone, I do think the slide by Pitt has gone too far for them to beat the top ranked Orange.
Syracuse 58, Pittsburgh 50.

#8 Duke at North Carolina (Wednesday, 9:00 PM ET)
In the first of two annual meetings between these fierce rivals, Duke travels up “Tobacco Road” to play North Carolina in the Smith Center.  Duke has won 3 out of the last 4 meetings in Chapel Hill and, although the Tar Heels are playing very well, I think that trend will continue.  The Heels have won 5 in a row, all in convincing fashion, and while none of the games qualify as their best performance of the season (I’ll give that to their road win at Michigan State), this has been their best stretch of the season.  Duke, however, is also playing some of their best basketball, having won 6 out of 7 with the loss coming in overtime at Syracuse (and they played well in that game, too).  Now, while I do believe Duke will win, North Carolina should make this interesting.
Duke 83, North Carolina 78.

Maryland at #8 Duke (Saturday, 6:00 PM ET)
One of the saddest results of Maryland’s ACC departure at season’s end is the loss of the Maryland-Duke rivalry.  This meeting, Saturday in Durham, is the final scheduled meeting between the two programs.  While the rivalry has been around as long as the ACC, it was at its best in the early 2000s, with both Gary Williams and Mike Kryzewski both having perennial national title contenders, and winning titles in 2001 (Duke) and 2002 (Maryland).  Duke’s final-minute, 10-point comeback in College Park in 2001, known as the “Miracle Minute”, remains one of the great finishes in ACC history.  Even as Maryland’s program has failed to keep up with Duke’s success over the last 10 years, whenever these two teams play, records and rankings go out the window, like when the 6th-seeded Terrapins upset top-seeded Duke in overtime in the 2004 ACC Championship game.  As for the 2014 matchup, while Maryland may come out with a lot of emotion and energy given the significance of the game, I don’t see them being able to compete with Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke 75, Maryland 62.

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