As New Year’s approaches, so does conference play in the ACC. The league can currently claim three of the top five teams in the nation, and five ranked teams in the AP Poll. No other conference has three teams in the top 12. The ACC is also one of three conferences in which every team is currently over .500 for the season.
1. Duke (11-0, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 2nd)
The Blue Devils had a light schedule over the last two weeks, with wins over Elon and Toledo, although they did travel to the Meadowlands to play UConn, beating the defending national champions, 66-56. Duke is, in fact, one of two teams to currently be undefeated while winning all of their games by double figures, doing so with offense, ranking sixth nationally in points scored, and fifth in field goal percentage. This week Duke hosts Wofford in a New Year’s Eve matinee, before beginning ACC play at home against Boston College.
2. Louisville (11-1, 2nd, 5th)
After a hotly contested win over Western Kentucky and an easy win over Cal State Northridge, the Cardinals hosted their in-state rival, top-ranked Kentucky, and played the Wildcats as well as anyone has all year, but lost 58-50. While the Cardinals dropped a spot in the AP Poll (and dropped behind Virginia as well), I won’t penalize them for losing to easily the best team in the nation. Louisville is currently fifth in the nation in rebounding and seventh in blocks. This week, the Cards host Long Beach State on Tuesday, who will be playing their second ACC opponent in three days, before traveling to Wake Forest for their first ever ACC conference game.
3. Virginia (11-0, 3rd, 3rd)
The Cavaliers had a pair of dominant wins over Cleveland State and Harvard, with their defense, which allows the least points of anyone in the nation, leading the way, allowing just 27 points to a good Harvard team. Besides Duke, the Cavaliers are the only other undefeated team to win all their games by double digits, including an 11-point win over Maryland, who is now up to 12th in the AP Poll. Virginia will host 9-1 Davidson, whose only loss is to North Carolina, before traveling to Miami to begin their ACC title defense.
4. Notre Dame (12-1, 1-0 ACC, 6th, 14th)
Since their lone loss to Providence back on November 23, the Irish have won eight straight, including recent wins over Purdue and Northern Illinois, and have moved into the top 15. The team ranks fifth in the nation in scoring average, and leads the nation in field goal percentage. Hartford comes to South Bend on Tuesday, before the current ACC co-leaders (at 1-0) resume ACC play on Saturday at home against Georgia Tech, with games against North Carolina and Virginia looming next week.
5. North Carolina (9-3, 5th, 19th)
While the Tar Heels’ wins over UCLA and Florida don’t look as good now as they did in November, the Heels themselves look better, as they have won three straight games since their loss to Kentucky, including a convincing win over Ohio State. Carolina is ranked second nationally in rebounding and tenth in assists, and after a Tuesday contest at home against William and Mary, they will travel to Clemson on Saturday to begin conference play.
6. Miami (9-3, 6th)
The Hurricanes lost both of their games over the last two weeks, with a stunning loss to Eastern Kentucky, followed by a neutral floor defeat against Providence. While the team is relatively mediocre in every statistical category, they don’t seem to have any glaring weaknesses statistically either. Charleston visits Coral Gables on Tuesday for the Canes final non-conference game before Miami starts ACC play with a big-time test against Virginia.
7. NC State (10-3, 1-0 ACC, 7th)
Coming off a controversial last-second loss to Wofford, the Wolfpack defeated Tennessee at home, lost to West Virginia at Madison Square Garden, then came from behind to beat a good mid-major team, Louisiana Tech. While the Pack are seventh nationally in defensive rebounding, they do have two weaknesses: assists (275th) and steals (349th out of 351). Cincinnati comes to Raleigh, but without ailing coach Mick Cronin, on Tuesday, before the Pack host Pittsburgh to re-open ACC play after their December 6 win over Wake Forest.
8. Pittsburgh (9-3, 8th)
The Panthers are currently riding a five game winning streak, beating 2014 NCAA team Manhattan and Holy Cross, as well as Oakland in overtime. Like NC State, the Panthers are moderately good statistically, but have a couple of weaknesses, ranking 261st in defensive rebounds and 331st in steals. Pitt will host the “Cinderella” of the NCAA Tournament from two seasons ago, Florida Gulf Coast, on Tuesday before beginning ACC play at NC State on Saturday, the same place they began their inaugural ACC season a year ago.
9. Syracuse (8-4, 9th)
The Orange nearly upset Villanova, taking the nation’s sixth-ranked team to overtime on the road, before falling just short after leading most of the way, and had comfortable wins over Colgate and Long Beach State. While this year’s edition of the Orange have some of the trademarks of a Boeheim-coached team, ranking in the top 25 nationally in assists, steals, and blocks, and 40th in rebounding, the team ranks 41st in points allowed, which is unusually low for a Boeheim team. Cornell comes to the Carrier Dome on New Year’s Eve, before the Orange head to Blacksburg to begin ACC play against Virginia Tech.
10. Georgia Tech (8-3, 10th)
The Yellow Jackets picked up a couple of wins over Appalachian State and Vanderbilt, before a road loss to Dayton ended the two-game streak. Like some other ACC teams, the Jackets are statistically average, but there is an exception in one category, as they rank 34th in the country in rebounding. Tuesday, the Jackets host Charlotte, before they travel to Notre Dame to begin league play with a tough road game.
11. Wake Forest (7-6, 0-1 ACC, 12th)
After a loss to Florida in a game closer than the 63-50 score would indicate, the Demon Deacons beat Bucknell, before rallying for a road win at Richmond on a Devin Thomas tip-in at the buzzer. Before conference play has begun (or actually for the Deacs, with one league game under their belt), Danny Manning has already passed Jeff Bzdelik’s season high for road wins, getting his second of the year in the win over the Spiders. Starting guard Mitchell Wilbekin was suspended for the last three games, but will return Wednesday when the Deacs host Princeton, before hosting Louisville’s first ACC game on Sunday night.
12. Clemson (7-4, 11th)
Coming off of three previous wins over the SEC, Clemson lost by 23 to rival South Carolina, being embarrassed by a program that has had one winning season since 2006. The Tigers followed the loss with a win over Oakland and a break for Christmas. A program that usually ranks strong defensively currently sits 213th in points allowed, although they are 38th in blocks. Clemson hosts Robert Morris on Tuesday in their final tune-up before conference play begins at home against North Carolina on Saturday.
13. Florida State (7-5, 0-1 ACC, 14th)
While wins over North Florida and South Florida were pretty comfortable, a win over 3-10 Stetson was too close for comfort for Leonard Hamilton and the Seminoles. While the ‘Noles only have one or two “bad losses”, they’ve simply been dominated in some of their losses to good teams. While Florida State has already played a conference game, they are the only ACC team to not have a game this weekend (there is an odd number after all), as they play rival Florida on Tuesday at home before traveling to Mississippi State on Friday and resuming league play next week.
14. Boston College (7-4, 13th)
The Eagles dropped a home game against USC before a week off for Christmas, and returned with an easy win over UMass-Lowell. Jim Christian’s first season has had its ups and downs, although only one of their losses should be considered “bad”, although some of their wins aren’t as overwhelming as they could be. The teams best stat is that they rank 65th in steals, although there aren’t any areas where they are overwhelmingly bad. The Eagles have no more tune-ups left before ACC play, and they start with a tough game, traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium to face the second-ranked Blue Devils of Duke.
15. Virginia Tech (8-4, 15th)
To the Hokies’ credit, they do currently have a four-game win streak, with recent wins over The Citadel, VMI, and Presbyterian. However, early season losses that include Appalachian State and Radford show the Hokies have work to do to be competitive in the ACC. One positive is that they rank 23rd in field goal percentage. They’ll need to make plenty of shots as they travel to 17th-ranked West Virginia on Tuesday before opening conference play at home against Syracuse on Saturday to begin Buzz Williams’ ACC career.
Game of the Week: #3 Virginia at Miami, Saturday, 5:30 pm
The Cavaliers come in ranked third, with the nation’s top defense, and will come in ranked undefeated as long as they take care of business against Davidson. This would have been a ranked matchup a couple of weeks ago, but Miami’s recent struggles have dropped them from the top 25. A year ago in their league opener, nobody gave Miami much chance, as they headed to the Carrier Dome to play Syracuse, but they gave the Orange a tough game, before losing narrowly at the end. This Miami team is better than a year ago, and this time around the game is at home, against an equally vaunted opponent. Jim Larranaga is good at having his teams prepared for these types of games, so look for his team to come out ready to compete in what should be a low-scoring game. But in the end, Virginia is the better team.
Virginia 58, Miami 52.