ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 1/26

While the matchups on paper weren’t the best we’ve seen this year, there were still some excellent games in the ACC over the past week.  That being said, this week there are some very strong matchups among the top-tiered teams in the league, meaning a big shakeup could be in order in next  week’s rankings.

1. Virginia (19-0 overall, 7-0 ACC, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 2nd)
Last Week:  Georgia Tech (W, 57-28), at Virginia Tech (W, 50-47)
This Week:  Duke (Saturday)
The Cavaliers had an overwhelmingly dominant win vs Georgia Tech, but had to struggle to hold on against rival Virginia Tech, remaining one of two undefeated teams (along with Kentucky).  Now they get a week to prepare for a huge game at home against Duke on Saturday.

2. Duke (17-2, 4-2, 2nd, AP: 4th)
Last Week:  Pittsburgh (W, 79-65), at St. John’s (W, 77-68)
Next Week:  at Notre Dame (Wednesday), at Virginia (Saturday)
Mike Krzyzewski picked up his 1,000th win on Sunday in a non-conference game, but the Blue Devils can’t celebrate for long, with a pair of road games at top ten teams coming this week.

3. Notre Dame (19-2, 7-1, 3rd, AP: 8th)
Last Week:  at Virginia Tech (W, 85-60), at NC State (W, 81-78, ot)
Next Week:  Duke (Wednesday), at Pittsburgh (Saturday)
The Irish survived an upset bid in Raleigh, and can now really make a statement with a win over Duke.

4. North Carolina (16-4, 6-1, 4th, AP: 13th)
Last Week:  at Wake Forest (W, 87-71), Florida State (W, 78-74)
Next Week:  Syracuse (Monday), at Louisville (Saturday)
The Heels have a five-game winning streak–and are only a point away from an undefeated ACC record–with a big week of games this week, including a rematch against Louisville after beating them in Chapel Hill by one.

5. Louisville (16-3, 4-2, 5th, AP: 10th)
Last Week:  at Pittsburgh (W, 80-68)
Next Week:  at Boston College (Wednesday), North Carolina (Saturday)
After a week off after losing to Duke, the Cardinals comfortably beat Pittsburgh.  A rematch with North Carolina looms, after their 72-71 loss in Chapel Hill earlier in the season, for one of the four ACC teams in the AP Top 10.

6. Miami (14-5, 4-2, 6th, AP: 23rd)
Last Week:  NC State (W, 65-60), at Syracuse (W, 66-62)
Next Week:  Georgia Tech (Wednesday), at Florida State (Sunday)
Winning tight games against NC State and Syracuse has the Hurricanes back in the top 25, and they should be able to stay there with their easiest week of the season ahead.

7. NC State (13-8, 4-4, 7th)
Last Week:  at Miami (L, 60-65), Notre Dame (L, 81-78, ot)
Next Week:  Clemson (Wednesday), at Georgia Tech (Saturday)
NC State’s NCAA bubble is getting bigger after losses to Miami and Notre Dame, particularly considering the 15-point lead they blew against the Irish.  The Wolfpack can get back on track if they play well in this week’s games.

8. Syracuse (14-6, 5-2, 8th)
Last Week:  Boston College (W, 69-61), Miami (L, 66-62)
Next Week:  at North Carolina (Monday)
Miami, who is the toughest team the Orange have played so far, beat them in the Carrier Dome, which is not a good sign for Syracuse, since their upcoming schedule gets very, very tough, including a stretch starting on Valentine’s Day of five games out of six against top ten opponents.

9. Clemson (11-8, 3-4, 10th)
Last Week:  Florida State (L, 59-55), Wake Forest (W, 59-57)
Next Week:  at NC State (Wednesday), Boston College (Saturday)
It was the best and worst of times at Littlejohn Coliseum for the Tigers this week, as they lost to a lower-tier ACC team in Florida State, before coming from behind to beat another one, Wake Forest, in the final seconds.  Clemson has a tendency to lack consistency, and that appears to be the case here.

10. Pittsburgh (13-7, 3-4, 9th)
Last Week:  at Duke (L, 79-65), Louisville (L, 80-68)
Next Week:  at Virginia Tech (Tuesday), Notre Dame (Saturday)
The Panthers had a tough week, although they had a tough couple of opponents that no one expected them to beat.  This week, they will have one likely win and one likely loss, but in the ACC, you never know.

11. Florida State (10-10, 2-5, 12th)
Last Week:  at Clemson (W, 59-55), at North Carolina (L, 78-74)
Next Week:  Wake Forest (Wednesday), Miami (Sunday)
A road win over Clemson is the highlight of Florida State’s season thus far, along with a rivalry win over Florida, and they kept their game in Chapel Hill competitive.  Now they get a home game against Wake Forest, who struggles on the road, and rival Miami, as they slowly but steadily improve.

12. Wake Forest (9-11, 1-6, 11th)
Last Week:  North Carolina (L, 87-71), at Clemson (L, 59-57)
Next Week:  at Florida State (Wednesday), Virginia Tech (Saturday)
After being somewhat embarrassed by the Tar Heels at home, Wake led for over 39 minutes against Clemson, only to lose on a putback in the final second.  This team has been very competitive, even leading in the final six minutes of four of their last five losses, but in this business, the win-loss record (currently 1-6 in ACC play) is the report card.

13. Virginia Tech (8-11, 0-6, 15th)
Last Week:  Notre Dame (L, 85-60), Virginia (L, 47-50)
Next Week:  Pittsburgh (Tuesday), at Wake Forest (Saturday)
After their worst ACC loss (by margin) to Notre Dame, the Hokies nearly pulled the upset of the year in college basketball, losing narrowly to second-ranked rival Virginia in easily their best showing of the year.  This is a young team with very little experience, but they do have talent, and could very well have a bright future once they get through their growing pains.

14. Boston College (9-9, 1-5, 13th)
Last Week:  at Syracuse (L, 69-61), at Georgia Tech (W, 64-62)
Next Week:  Louisville (Wednesday), at Clemson (Saturday)
Jim Christian picked up his first ACC win in Atlanta on Sunday, although they are passed by Virginia Tech in these rankings due to the Hokies strong showing against Virginia.  Despite their record, the Eagles have good-shooting guards, so if they get hot, they could beat anyone, potentially including Louisville on Wednesday.

15. Georgia Tech (9-10, 0-7, 14th)
Last Week:  at Virginia (L, 57-28), Boston College (L, 64-62)
Next Week:  at Miami (Wednesday), NC State (Saturday)
If you throw out the 29-point loss to Virginia, the Yellow Jackets worst ACC loss is by seven.  Unfortunately for Brian Gregory, as I said earlier, the report card in sports isn’t how competitive you are, but wins and losses, and the Jackets have no wins in the ACC, and getting one isn’t that probable until February 7th.

Game(s) of the Week:

#4 Duke at #2 Virginia (Saturday, 7:00 pm ET)
Virginia comes in undefeated, and has a week to prepare for their toughest game yet.  Duke is riding high after Coach K’s 1,000th win, and may also be riding off a big road win against Notre Dame, should they win there on Wednesday.  This is the regular season game of the year in the ACC, if not nationally.  Neither team is without flaws, but Duke’s previous losses have shown that theirs often leave bigger holes when they aren’t executing at their best.
Virginia 60, Duke 58.

#13 North Carolina at #10 Louisville (Saturday, 4:00 pm ET)
A rematch of a January 10th duel in Chapel Hill in which the Tar Heels came from down 13 to win 72-71.  Louisville probably feels like they deserved that one, and will feel they deserve this one as revenge.
Louisville 74, North Carolina 68.

Mike Krzyzewski: One In A Thousand

Tomorrow when the Duke Blue Devils take on St. John’s, Mike Krzyzewski will have his first chance to earn his 1,000th win as a head coach.  The feat has not been accomplished by any coach in Men’s Division I Basketball.  Coach K’s shot at history will come at Madison Square Garden, quite a location for such an achievement.

The only other coaches at any level to win 1,000 games are Harry Statham (1085-456 at McKendree College) and Danny Miles (1016-420 at Oregon Tech) in NAIA, and Pat Summitt (1098-208 at Tennessee) in NCAA Women’s Division I.  Interestingly enough, Herb Magee (997-397 at Philadelphia University) is about to become the first NCAA Men’s Division II coach to hit the millennium mark.
(Note: Statham, Miles, and McGee are all still active.)

The feat has, obviously, taken time to accomplish.  Krzyzewski has been an active head coach since 1975, when he took the head coaching job at his alma mater, Army, where he had played for Bob Knight from 1966-69.

While his coaching stint at West Point wasn’t overwhelming on paper, he did have a winning record of 73-59 at a place that is very hard to recruit and to coach, and led the Black Knights to an NIT berth in 1978.

Interestingly enough, the most successful player, from the standpoint of a successful career after college, that Coach K coached at Army didn’t go to the NBA like so many of his players do today.  Instead, Robert Brown became a three-star general in the US Army, and was the deputy commanding general in Iraq.

In 1980, Duke boosters were stunned when athletic director Tom Butters hired the young coach (33 at the time) with the hard-to-pronounce name, from Army of all places, to take over the Blue Devils program.  At the time the ACC only had eight members, but had still established itself as one of the premier basketball conferences in the country.  How, many asked, could such a young coach with such little experience, and no experience on any kind of big stage, lead the Blue Devils to compete consistently in the ACC?

Keep in mind that the Duke program at that time, while they were coming off some recent success, including three straight NCAA Tournament berths and a loss in the championship game in 1978, wasn’t considered to be one of the “blue blood” programs, and hadn’t had a ton of successful seasons.  At the time, in 28 years of the ACC Tournament, the Devils had won five championships, but most of them were in the first half of the 1960s.  The job opened up for Krzyzewski after previous coach Bill E. Foster left the program to succeed Frank McGuire at South Carolina.

But Butters knew what he was doing.

However, success for Coach K at Duke wasn’t instantaneous.  After a 17-13 campaign in his inaugural season in Durham, Krzyzewski’s record in his second and third seasons at Duke was 10-17 and 11-17, and after three seasons his overall record sat at 38-47, with a mark of 13-29 in the ACC.  Many who had questioned the hire in the first place hadn’t been won over by the team’s struggles.

But in 1984, Duke reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament after a 24-10 record, tying for third in the ACC at 7-7.  The following year the team improved to 23-7 and 8-6, and by 1986, Krzyzewski had the Blue Devils in the national final, where they lost to Louisville, finishing 37-3.  Players on that team include Johnny Dawkins and Tommy Amaker, both of whom are excellent coaches today, and ESPN lead analyst Jay Bilas.  Only three years after many wanted him (or at least his coaching career) hung in effigy, Krzyzewski had Duke back relevant on the national stage.

Following a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 1987, Coach K led Duke to back-to-back Final Four appearances in 1988-89, and the national final in 1990, although they lost that title game by 30 to UNLV.

Duke went on to get their revenge, beating UNLV a year later in the Final Four, before beating Kansas for the national title, the first for both the school and Krzyzewski.

The following year, in 1992, the team of Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, and Bobby Hurley repeated as national champions, in a tournament run which includes one of the most iconic moments in the history of the sport, in the Elite Eight against Kentucky.

Following “The Shot”, Duke went on to beat Michigan and the “Fab Five” by 20 in the national title game.  The ’92 Duke team is considered one of the greatest college teams ever, going 34-2 on their way to the title.

After losing in the second round in 1993, Duke returned to the title game in ’94, falling to Arkansas.  Then in 1995, Krzyzewski’s career hit a setback.

After a 9-3 start to the 1994-95 season, Coach K had to leave the team due to back surgery and exhaustion.  The absence of Krzyzewski clearly affected the team, as they fell to a 13-18 record, going 2-14 in the ACC, as assistant coach Pete Gaudet led the Blue Devils in Krzyzewski’s absence.  While the team’s struggles weren’t entirely due to Coack K leaving the team, as they were a very young unit that year, the only Duke team in the last 31 seasons to miss the NCAA Tournament was the ’94-’95 team without Krzyzewski.

In 1996, Duke lost in the first round, before losing in the second round in ’97, and the Elite Eight in ’98, before losing the national final to UConn in 1999, led by National Player of the Year Elton Brand.  The ’99 team was the only team under Krzyzewski to go undefeated, at 16-0, in the ACC, and is the last ACC team to accomplish the feat.

After a Sweet Sixteen run in 2000, Duke returned to the top in 2001, winning Krzyzewski’s third national title.  The title team included Jay Williams, Chris Duhon, Mike Dunleavy, Shane Battier, and Carlos Boozer, all of whom went on to successful pro careers.

Over the next five seasons, from 2002-’06, Duke lost in the Sweet Sixteen four times, but reached the Final Four in 2004, losing to eventual champion UConn.  However, Duke was still winning championships.  From 1999-2006, Duke won seven of the eight ACC Tournament titles.

After early round losses in 2007-’08, in 2009 Duke reached the Sweet Sixteen.  By then, the group of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas, and Nolan Smith were all upperclassmen, and all returned for the 2010 season.  As a result, Duke won another national title, beating Butler when Gordan Hayward’s half-court shot just missed, winning Coach K’s fourth championship.

Duke ran to the Sweet Sixteen the following year, and the Elite Eight in 2013, with first round upset losses coming in the years in between.

This year, with the freshman trio of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Tyus Jones, along with veterans Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, and Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke is off to a 16-2 start, and (behind #1 Kentucky) is one of the favorites to win the national title.

Coach K is tied with Adolph Rupp for the second most national titles, with four, behind John Wooden’s 10.  However, Krzyzewski is only one behind Wooden for the most Final Four appearances, with 11, and is tied for second with Dean Smith.

Krzyzewski is also tied with Dean Smith for the most ACC Tournament titles, with 13.

In a story for this week’s ESPN The Magazine, Dana O’Neil points out that Coach K has a close relationship with Martin E. Dempsey, who he met in the early 1980’s, when Dempsey, who was a graduate student at Duke, met his fellow West Pointer and offered to help in mentoring some of Krzyzewski’s players from a military perspective.  Today, Dempsey is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the United States.  According to O’Neil’s piece, Krzyzewski often asks Dempsey to come speak to his team, and Dempsey asks Coach K to come speak at military engagements.  Quite an honor for the West Point graduate.

In addition to his Duke duties, Krzyzewski has coached the USA national team in the offseason since 2006, coaching the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to a pair of Olympic Gold Medals in 2008 and 2012.  The national team is 63-1 under Coach K.  According to the O’Neil story, Krzyzewski has told friends that coaching the team, even though it takes up much of his time in the offseason, is the best way he can serve his country.

Friday, Coach K added another connection to service to this nation.  Current Blue Devils center Marshall Plumlee participated in a contracting ceremony at Cameron Indoor Stadium, surrounded by his teammates and coaches, where he was sworn in to the US Army.  If Plumlee completes his ROTC requirements, he will become an Army officer after he graduates in the spring of 2016.  The seven-footer is four inches taller than the military’s maximum height, but was given a waiver.  Plumlee is the third of a set of brothers to play at Duke for Krzyzewski, as Miles and Mason Plumlee are currently in the NBA.  Plumlee is averaging 2.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in 9 minutes per game this season.

Here is a look at Krzyzewski’s milestone wins throughout his career, leading to the potential thousandth win on Sunday:

1 — Nov. 28, 1975: Army 56, Lehigh 29

100 –Feb. 24, 1983: Duke 73, Clemson 72 (3 OT)

200 — Dec 13, 1986: Duke 76, Alabama 67

300 — March 16,1990: Duke 81, Richmond 46 (first round, NCAA tournament)
(Also his 227th win at Duke, passing Eddie Cameron for the most wins in Duke history)

400 — Dec. 22, 1993: Duke 79, Iowa 76

500 — Feb. 28, 1998: Duke 77,  North Carolina 75

600 – March 11, 2001: Duke 79, North Carolina 53

700 – Dec. 12, 2004: Duke 82, Toledo 54

800 — March 1, 2008: Duke 87, NC State 86

880  – Dec. 29, 2010: Duke 102, UNC Greensboro 62 (passed Dean Smith for second on career wins list)

900 – March 20, 2011: Duke 73, Michigan 71 (second round, NCAA tournament)

903 — Nov. 15, 2011: Duke 74, Michigan State 69 (passed Bob Knight for first on career wins list)

The 903rd win of Krzyzewski’s career was also at Madison Square Garden, the site of so much basketball history, and the location of Coach K’s first shot at 1,000 on Sunday.  Knight, Krzyzewski’s college coach who he passed with the win, was in attendance that night as an analyst for ESPN.

Love him or hate him, Krzyzewski is a unique coach, and is one of the greatest of all time.  While his longevity is a big reason for the wins milestone he is about to reach, he still has one of the best winning percentages the game has ever seen, at .764 (which would be even better if you take out his time at Army and his first three seasons at Duke).

The players he has coached are also a big part of his success.  Krzyzewski is an excellent recruiter, but just as good as a player developer, leading to 17 All-American selections at Duke during Krzyzewski’s tenure.

The headline “One in a Thousand” for this post was too good to pass up.  However, that doesn’t necessarily fit the accomplishments which Coach K has achieved.

No, in the very competitive business of coaching college basketball, he may just be one in a million.

Gordon Takes The White Flag

Jeff Gordon announced today that the 2015 season will be his final full-time season driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, stepping away after his 23rd full season.

Gordon announced the decision with this statement:

“As a race car driver, much of what I’ve done throughout my life has been based on following my instincts and trying to make good decisions,” Gordon said. “I thought long and hard about my future this past year and during the offseason, and I’ve decided 2015 will be the last time I compete for a championship. I won’t use the ‘R-word’ because I plan to stay extremely busy in the years ahead, and there’s always the possibility I’ll compete in selected events, although I currently have no plans to do that.

“I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing. I’m a fan of all forms of motor sports, but particularly NASCAR. We have a tremendous product, and I’m passionate about the business and its future success. As an equity owner in Hendrick Motorsports, I’m a partner with Rick (Hendrick) and will remain heavily involved with the company for many years to come. It means so much to have the chance to continue working with the owner who took a chance on me and the incredible team that’s stood behind me every step of the way.

“Racing has provided a tremendous amount of opportunity that’s been extraordinarily rewarding and fulfilling in my life. The work we’re doing with the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation will continue to be extremely important to me. Outside the race car, my passion is pediatric cancer research, and my efforts will remain focused there when I’m no longer driving.

“I’ll explore opportunities for the next phase of my career, but my primary focus now and throughout 2015 will be my performance in the No. 24 Chevrolet. I’m going to pour everything I have into this season and look forward to the challenge of competing for one last championship.

“To everyone at NASCAR, my teammates, sponsors, competitors, friends, family, members of the media and especially our incredible fans, all I can say is thank you.”

The 43-year old ranks third all-time in the series with 92 wins, behind only Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105), although he has the most during the “modern era” (post-1972).  Gordon ranks fourth all-time with four series championships, behind Petty and Dale Earnhardt (7) and Jimmie Johnson (6).

After growing up in California and Indiana, his career began in quarter midgets and sprint cars before moving to stock cars in 1990, and driving in what was then the Busch Series (now the Xfinity Series) for owner Bill Davis in 1991-92.  Rick Hendrick noticed the young Gordon, and gave him a ride for the Winston Cup Series (now the Sprint Cup Series) for 1993, running his first Cup race in Richard Petty’s last at Atlanta in 1992.  Gordon has run the #24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports ever since, and is even an equity owner of the Hendrick team, owning a share of Jimmie Johnson’s #48 car.

Following a Rookie of the Year campaign in 1993, Gordon won his first event in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in ’94.  His second win came at Indianapolis, known as the Mecca of motorsports, in the first ever stock car race there, the 1994 Brickyard 400.  To many it is still considered Gordon’s greatest victory, as it impacted more that just Gordon’s career, but an entire sport.

Following an eighth place points finish in his sophomore season, Gordon won his first Cup title in 1995, and after finishing second to teammate Terry Labonte in ’96, won back-to-back titles in ’97-’98, becoming the fourth driver at the time to win three titles in a four-year stretch.  Gordon won 40 races in that four-year stretch, one of the best stretches in NASCAR history.  Over one stretch in 1998, Gordon won six out of seven races, including the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500, two of the sport’s biggest races.

In 1999-2000, Gordon finished sixth and ninth in points, although after the run of the four years before, it seemed like a letdown.  But Gordon responded in 2001, winning his fourth title, at the time becoming the third driver to do so (Jimmie Johnson has since joined him).

While Gordon has not won a title since, he has remained extremely competitive during the “Chase Era” in the Sprint Cup Series.  In 2004, Gordon finished third in the inaugural Chase, only losing by 16 points (in the points system used at the time, that was the rough equivalent of 4 points today).  Three years later, in 2007, Gordon set a modern era record with 30 top 10s in the 36 race schedule, but finished second in points to Johnson.  In 2009, he finished third behind Johnson and fellow teammate Mark Martin, joining together for the only 1-2-3 points finish in history by a set of three teammates.

After being added to the Chase in 2013 after initially missing by one point under cloudy circumstances, Gordon was very competitive in 2014, winning four times including a special win at Indianapolis (more on that later), and came within a point of advancing to the final round of the new Chase format featuring elimination rounds, finishing sixth in points.  A late race incident with Brad Keselowski is what likely cost Gordon the chance to compete for his fifth title in the finale, and he ended up sixth in the standings.

In the 11 seasons of the Chase era to date, Gordon has only missed the Chase once (remember, it used to be harder to get in than it is now with 16 spots), falling short in 2005 despite four wins.

In addition to series championships, Gordon has had success in the biggest individual races each year.  He has won three Daytona 500s, in 1997, ’99, and 2005.  In each instance, Gordon pulled off and aggressive move to take the lead, then held off the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett in the ’90s and Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, and Johnson in ’05.  Gordon is one of only five drivers to win at Daytona three or more times, and only Petty and Cale Yarborough can claim more wins in the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing” than Gordon.  He has also won the July race at Daytona three times.

At Darlington, Gordon has won the Southern 500 more than any driver in the history of that race, which dates back to NASCAR’s second season in 1950, with six wins (1995-98, 2002, ’07).  He is one of eight drivers to win the Coca-Cola 600 three times or more (1994, ’97-’98), with only Darrell Waltrip and Johnson having more wins than Gordon.

In 1997, he won all three in the same year, becoming the second driver to win the “Winston Million”, a promotion sponsored by then-series sponsor RJ Reynolds to reward any driver that won three of the four “crown jewels” (along with the spring race at Talladega), joining Bill Elliott, who accomplished the feat in the promotion’s first year in 1985.

As mentioned, Gordon won the Brickyard 400 in 2014 for a very special victory.  The win was Gordon’s fifth in the event (1994, ’98, 2001, ’04, ’14), making him the first driver in any series, in any form of racecar, to win five races at the Speedway, including in the Indianapolis 500, where the record of four wins is shared by legends AJ Foyt, Rick Mears, and Al Unser Sr.

Gordon’s competitiveness in 2014 and the energy he has shown today throughout the media engagements surrounding his announcement show he will be competitive in his final season.  This is something the sport hasn’t ever seen from a retiring driver (although several driver’s careers have been ended by injury or death during their prime).  Gordon will try to join Ned Jarrett as the only driver to retire a Cup Series champion, but Jarrett walked away after winning the title, so no one knew they were watching his final season as it happened.  With Petty’s final season in 1992, dubbed by The King as a “Fan Appreciation Tour”, he wasn’t at all competitive, particularly considering the merits of his career, with a high finish of 15th eight years after his final win.

Gordon said in a teleconference this afternoon he doesn’t want there to be ceremonies at every track commemorating his final season throughout the year, but instead said the time for that is in 2016, when he will still be at the track but will not have any competitive obligation, and can be more proactive with the fans.

That all goes with Gordon’s choice not to use the word “retirement” in discussing his decision.  Gordon said he perceives retirement as someone moving to the beach or sitting on the porch in a rocking chair.  He says he’ll still be very active in the sport, and other business interests, but will do so without competing.

To fans who don’t understand the magnitude of Gordon to his sport, think of this as equivalent to Derek Jeter’s final season, which we all just witnessed last year.  When Gordon came into the sport in the early ’90s, NASCAR had come a long way with ESPN’s coverage throughout most of the ’80s, but was still viewed as a Southern sport.  There was good reason for that, as only five of the top 15 finishers in Gordon’s first Cup race in 1992 were from outside the South.  (By the way, Gordon finished 31st that day.)

In the last race of 2014 at Homestead, only two of the top 15 were from the South, showing the national explosion the sport has taken in terms of its participants.  Furthermore, Gordon’s career has seen tracks built in California, Texas, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and Nevada which host Cup Series races, as there are now NASCAR fans everywhere.

The first driver from outside the South to win a Cup Series title was Alan Kulwicki, who did it the day Gordon’s career began in the 1992 season finale.  His success would be short-lived, as he died in a plane crash the following April, during Gordon’s rookie campaign.  Gordon went on to become the first superstar who wasn’t Southern by origin, and in many ways led the way for the likes of Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick, all of whom have won championships in the Chase era.

Gordon has never missed a start since his debut in 1992, running in 761 consecutive races since.  Barring the unforeseen, Gordon will pass Ricky Rudd (known as “The Iron Man”) on September 27 for the consecutive starts record, after Rudd ran 288 races in a row from 1981-2005 (Note: I was a Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2002 when Rudd broke Terry Labonte’s consecutive starts record.)

It won’t be the only record owned by Gordon, even if you somehow overlook his wins and championships.  Gordon currently holds the all-time record of 22 consecutive seasons with at least one pole, and has won the third most poles all-time, once again behind Petty and Pearson (exactly the way they stand in wins).

As for what’s next for the #24 car, a number which Gordon is identified with in the sport as much as Earnhardt and #3 or Petty and #43, it seems likely that Chase Elliott, the son of former Cup Series champion and 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elliott, will move to the seat in 2016, although there is no official word from Hendrick.  Elliott won the championship in the Xfinity Series last year, in the same year he graduated from high school, driving for JR Motorsports, a team competitively allied with Hendrick which has, at times, served as a bit of a satellite operation for Hendrick.  Elliott also ran races at lower levels for Hendrick before moving to the Xfinity Series at the age of 18.

Someone on Twitter today suggested Elliott make his Cup Series debut at Homestead, to parallel Gordon’s career, making his first start in the season finale before running the following season full-time, and running the last race of a legend, just as Gordon did in Petty’s final race.  Elliott is expected to run a handful of Sprint Cup races in 2015, but I doubt Hendrick would want to wait until the finale to break in the youngster.  Instead, I’ll suggest that, for the same reason of parallels to Gordon’s career, Elliott could make his debut March 1 at Atlanta, the very track where Gordon made his 23 years ago.

On a personal level, Gordon was one of my first two sports heroes, as my very young self was endeared to both Gordon and Chipper Jones at a very young age.  I was taught by my aunt to respond to the question “Who’s the best driver?” with the answer “Jeff Gordon” before I could read that question.  That being said, today was obviously bittersweet, and although I knew the day would one day come, I was very surprised by the timing of it, with Gordon coming off his most competitive season in years.

Brian France, the Chairman and CEO of NASCAR, commented on Gordon’s announcement, saying:

“Jeff Gordon transcends NASCAR and will be celebrated as one of the greatest drivers to ever race. We have all enjoyed watching his legend grow for more than two decades, and will continue to do so during his final full-time season. His prolonged excellence and unmatched class continue to earn him the admiration of fans across the globe. Today’s announcement is a bittersweet one. I’ll miss his competitive fire on a weekly basis, but I am also happy for Jeff and his family as they start a new chapter. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Jeff for his years of dedication and genuine love for this sport, and wish him the very best in his final season.”

I’ll agree with France that Gordon is one of the greatest in the history of the sport.  Coming from a member of the France family, the family that started it all in 1949, and has overseen the sport throughout the entirety of its existence, I think that’s a pretty accurate measure of what the 92 wins for Gordon have meant to the sport.

So, fans, savor this season, as Gordon runs 36 more Cup Series races.  Because you are truly watching one of the greatest ever turn his final lap.

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 1/19

While there isn’t much movement in this week’s rankings, this was an important week in the ACC race.  Syracuse’s first conference loss means that Virginia is the only team left that hasn’t lost a league game, Duke was stunned by Miami before beating Louisville in a top ten matchup, and Boston College picked up a nice win for the league in non-conference play against Harvard.

1. Virginia (17-0 overall, 5-0 ACC, Last Week: 1st)
The Cavaliers took care of business in a pair of games this week, beating Clemson at home and Boston College on the road.  The Wahoos remain second in the AP Poll, as Along with Kentucky, they are one of the two teams left undefeated.  They are also the only ACC team unbeaten in league play.  This week they play a pair of teams who have yet to win a conference game, hosting Georgia Tech on Thursday and traveling to Virginia Tech on Sunday.  The lighter stretch is much needed, as it is ahead of a three-game stretch of games against ranked opponents.

2. Duke (15-2, 3-2, 2nd)
Coming off Duke’s loss to NC State last weekend, they came home to play Miami, but lost by 16 to end the nation’s longest home winning streak at 40 games.  The Blue Devils responded, however, with a dominant road win against Louisville, and while they certainly didn’t look good in the game against the Hurricanes, after the win over the Cardinals they only dropped one spot from fourth to fifth in the AP Poll.  The win over Louisville was Mike Krzyzewski’s 998th career win, meaning if the Blue Devils beat Pittsburgh tonight at home, Sunday’s non-conference game at St. John’s will be Coach K’s first shot at 1,000 career wins.

3. Notre Dame (17-2, 5-1, 3rd)
The Irish held on to beat Georgia Tech on the road, after the Yellow Jackets had previously taken them to double overtime in South Bend, before beating Miami at home.  With the pair of wins, Notre Dame moves into the top 10 in the AP Poll, ranking eighth, their highest in four years.  That ranking will be on the line on the road this week, with trips to Virginia Tech on Thursday and NC State on Sunday, with a home game against Duke lurking next week.

4. North Carolina (14-4, 4-1, 4th)
The Tar Heels did something Duke couldn’t do, winning at NC State, before comfortably beating Virginia Tech at home.  A statistically good team continues to get even better, as they are now second in the nation in rebounding and sixth in assists per game, and overall the Heels rank 15th in the AP Poll.  This team is also just a point away from being undefeated in conference play, as their only league loss was by a 71-70 margin to Notre Dame.  Wednesday, Carolina will travel to in-state rival Wake Forest, before hosting Florida State on Saturday, ahead of a tough stretch of games starting next week.

5. Louisville (15-3, 3-2, 5th)
The Cardinals easily beat Virginia Tech earlier in the week, before losing to Duke on Saturday, and drop from sixth to 10th in the AP Poll as a result.  Louisville ranks 11th nationally in blocks and seventh in steals, and has a little extra rest this week before playing at Pittsburgh on Saturday.

6. Miami (12-5, 2-2, 7th)
The Hurricanes stunned everyone on Tuesday when they stunned Duke, ending the Blue Devils’ home winning streak, but couldn’t do the same at Notre Dame, losing by five on the road to the Irish.  The team isn’t statistically superb in any category, but overall Jim Larranaga has a very solid unit, which doesn’t really surprise anyone close to the ACC, since Larranaga has made a career of getting the most out of his teams.  Thursday the Canes will host NC State, before traveling into yet another tough environment Saturday when they go to Syracuse.  While Miami isn’t ranked, they received the second-most votes of those not in the top 25, although ESPN’s Joe Lunardi only has them as one of the “Last Four In” the projected NCAA field.

7. NC State (13-6, 4-2, 6th)
The Wolfpack followed their upset win over Duke last week with a close home loss to another rival in North Carolina, before traveling to Florida State and coming away with the victory.  The Pack are listed within the “Last Four Byes” in the projected NCAA field on Lunardi’s bracket, a role the program is used to, as it seems they end up on the bubble about every year, although they haven’t missed the tournament under coach Mark Gottfried in his first three seasons.  Thursday, the Wolfpack travel to Miami, before playing another ranked opponent on Sunday when they host Notre Dame.

8. Syracuse (13-5, 4-1, 8th)
The Orange kept their undefeated league record on Tuesday with an overtime win over Wake Forest (in one of the games of the year so far), before a surprising game at Clemson in which the Orange trailed by 21 at the half before losing by 13 for their first league loss.  Like Miami, the Orange are currently listed as in the “Last Four In” in the projected NCAA field.  To stay in the field, the first thing they need to do is beat Boston College at home on Tuesday, ahead of a home game with Miami on Saturday.

9. Pittsburgh (13-5, 3-2, 11th)
Right now, there is a very clear divide between the top eight and the bottom seven in the ACC.  That being said, Pittsburgh is currently the best team out of that second tier, after wins in the last week over Florida State and Georgia Tech.  With the wins, the Panthers currently have a winning record in conference play, although that record will be tested this week.  Tonight the Panthers go to Duke, before hosting Louisville on Saturday, a pair of games that give them a definite opportunity to move out of the bottom tier.

10. Clemson (10-7, 2-3, 10th)
After an expected loss on the road at Virginia, the Tigers came home to beat Syracuse in the opener of their current three-game home stand.  After struggling at the start of the year, the Tigers have improved to 73rd nationally in points allowed per game, giving up 61.9 per contest.  This week, the home stand continues as Florida State and Wake Forest both visit Littlejohn Coliseum, with the Tigers playing the Seminoles tonight and the Deacons on Saturday.

11. Wake Forest (9-9, 1-4, 9th)
The Demon Deacons were so close to their first league road win on Tuesday, losing in overtime to Syracuse in their only game of the week, after Cornelius Hudson’s shot from beyond the half-court mark bounced out at the buzzer.  This week, Wake will host North Carolina in their first game in eight days, before traveling to Clemson this weekend, as Danny Manning looks for his first win over a ranked team at Wake on Wednesday and his first conference road win on Saturday.

12. Florida State (9-9, 1-4, 13th)
After Florida State’s first league win, they didn’t move up in these rankings, as the win was over the last place team, Virginia Tech.  However, this week the three teams who remain winless in league play were all put at the bottom, and so Florida State, despite losses at Pittsburgh and at home to NC State, actually moved up a spot, passing Georgia Tech.  If Leonard Hamilton’s team wants to pick up another league win this week, they will have to do so on the road, as they travel to Clemson tonight before going to Chapel Hill on Saturday.

13. Boston College (8-8, 0-4, 14th)
In their only conference game of the week, Boston College lost to Virginia, although the 15-point margin was closer than many of Virginia’s victims.  Earlier in the week, however, in a non-conference game against Harvard, the Eagles beat the 10-4 Crimson in overtime, picking up a rivalry win for Jim Christian in his first season at the helm in Chestnut Hill.  However, Christian is still looking for his first ACC win, and if it comes this week, it will be on the road, as the Eagles play at Syracuse on Tuesday before traveling to Georgia Tech on Sunday.

14. Georgia Tech (9-8, 0-5, 12th)
The Yellow Jackets lost a pair of close games over the past week, losing to a top 15 Notre Dame team at home, before falling on the road at Pittsburgh.  For the season, the Yellow Jackets have conference losses by margins of 7 (in double overtime), 1, 7, 3, and 5, a tough break for a coach potentially on the hot seat in Brian Gregory in a business where wins and losses, not how competitive you are, is the report card.  The road doesn’t get any easier, as the Yellow Jackets will go to Virginia on Tuesday, although they host Boston College on Sunday.

15. Virginia Tech (8-9, 0-4, 15th)
The Hokies are in the midst of a five-game losing streak, including their first four league games, in Buzz Williams’ first season at the helm in Blacksburg.  They are currently in the midst of a four-game set of games against ranked opponents, losing the first two to Louisville and North Carolina, with both games ending in 15-point margins although much of the game was not as close.  The tough stretch continues when the Hokies host Notre Dame on Thursday and Virginia on Sunday.

Game of the Week: #8 Notre Dame at NC State (Sunday, 6:30 PM ET)
While the most historic game of the week will likely be on Sunday, as Mike Krzyzewski will potentially have a shot at his 1,000th win, that is a non-conference game against an opponent (St. John’s) who is currently 1-4 in the Big East.  This game in Raleigh will mean more to the ACC race, and is the best game of a week that has somewhat of a lack of big matchups.  NC State beat Duke at home, and nearly beat North Carolina, and is known for having a very tough environment for visitors to win in.  Also, the possibility of beating a ranked team will be big for the Wolfpack, who are currently a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament.  Notre Dame hasn’t played in PNC Arena since joining the ACC, although every road game in this conference is a tough test.  The guard play of Notre Dame has been exceptional, led by Jerian Grant, and the Irish rank 2nd nationally with a .528 field goal percentage, a stat that generally travels well, as it did in the Irish’s last trip to Tobacco Road, when they beat North Carolina 71-70.
Notre Dame 76, NC State 72.

College Football Postseason Power Rankings

The first season of a new era in college football has come to and end, culminating with Ohio State’s eighth national championship on Monday night, as they became the first champion in the new playoff format.  While their entry into the playoff was somewhat controversial, they left no doubt they were the best team, at least at the end of the season, with convincing wins over Alabama and Oregon, who had come in as the top 2.  The rest of the bowl season saw some interesting matchups as well, and the final rankings see a big shakeup, as they always do, as so many ranked teams played each other and 12 of my previous top 25 losing in the postseason.

1. Ohio State (14-1, Last Week: 5th)
On their way to the title, beat the top two seeds in Alabama and Oregon, after beating Wisconsin by 59 to make the playoff, all with a third-string quarterback. Enough said.  The Buckeyes made one of the great late-season surges in history, and became the first playoff champion.  Considering all of this came after a loss to Virginia Tech on September 6, the future standards for teams to be considered to still be in playoff contention may have just gotten broader.

2. Oregon (13-2, 2nd)
The Ducks remain the best program without a national title, after falling one game short against the Buckeyes.  They were responsible for ending the nation’s longest winning streak by obliterating Florida State in the Rose Bowl.  However, losing that good a shot at a title hurts, as they are losing many players to graduation or the NFL, including Heisman-winning QB Marcus Mariota, and they enter next year with some questions as they play in the nation’s second best conference.

3. TCU (12-1, 4th)
Many people, including me, thought TCU should’ve been in the playoff as the fourth seed.  After they were left out, they made a very loud statement in a 42-3 win over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.  With most of their starters returning next year, the Horned Frogs should be favored for a Big 12 title and a CFP berth next season.

4. Alabama (12-2, 1st)
The Crimson Tide entered the playoff as the top seed, before a disappointing loss in the Sugar Bowl to eventual champion Ohio State.  This wasn’t necessarily Nick Saban’s most talented team, yet they were still the favorites going into the playoff, which says a lot about how good this program is.  Even with some talent leaving, the Tide will likely still be SEC favorites in the fall.

5. Michigan State (11-2, 7th)
The Spartans had an interesting perspective while watching the national title game, as they were the only team to play (and lose to) both Ohio State and Oregon.  The fact that their two losses were to the top two in these final rankings, and the fact that the Spartans overcame a 20-point deficit to win the Cotton Bowl over Baylor, makes this top five final ranking wholly deserved.

6. Florida State (13-1, 3rd)
The Seminoles went into the inaugural playoff with the nation’s longest winning streak, but the 29-game streak was snapped by an embarrassing 39-point loss in the Rose Bowl to Oregon.  The ‘Noles had found ways to win close games all year in the ACC, but when playing a team as good as Oregon, they couldn’t even get the game to the fourth quarter.  Many key players, including QB Jameis Winston, will be gone next year, but this team is so deep they will still be ACC and CFP contenders.

7. Georgia Tech (11-3, 10th)
The best recovery of the year may just belong to the Yellow Jackets (although Ohio State had a pretty good one), as they had late-season wins over Clemson and Georgia, a near-upset of Florida State, and an Orange Bowl win over Mississippi State, all after early-season losses to North Carolina and Duke.  QB Justin Thomas leads the option as good as any option QB I’ve seen, and his return next season could lead Georgia Tech to a full season among the nation’s best.

8. Baylor (11-2, 6th)
Like TCU, the Bears were disappointed to not be invited to the playoff, and according to the committee’s rankings, they were the first team left out, as the fifth seed.  Unlike TCU, who the Bears beat head-to-head for their season’s signature win, Baylor did not make a statement in their bowl game, blowing a 20-point lead in a 42-41 loss to Michigan State.  Unfortunately for the Bears, this was their year to peak, as QB Bryce Petty and others won’t be back next year.

9. Georgia (10-3, 14th)
Very few teams had a season with as many radical ups and downs as the Bulldogs.  The same team who had dominant wins over Clemson, Auburn, Missouri, and Louisville, in the Belk Bowl, had losses to South Carolina and Florida, in addition to a rivalry loss to Georgia Tech for just the second time since 2000.  All of this was overshadowed by the suspension and later injury of RB Todd Gurley, one of the nation’s best players.  Nick Chubb, who had a sensational season by starting only when Gurley did not, may be the way-too-early Heisman frontrunner for next year, after rushing for 266 yards in the Bulldogs bowl win.

10. UCLA (10-3, 15th)
Another team with ups and downs is UCLA, who started and now end the season in the top ten of these rankings, but had some bumps in the middle.  The Bruins lost close games to Utah and expectedly lost to Oregon, also adding an embarrassing defeat by Stanford.  Yet, the Bruins beat four ranked teams, including Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl, and were able to grab a top 10 finish in both major polls, as well as here.  An otherwise young team loses QB Brett Hundley to the NFL, but should be competitive next year.

11. Mississippi State (10-3, 8th)
12. Missouri (11-3, 13th)
13. Wisconsin (11-3, 16th)
14. Clemson (10-3, 18th)
15. Boise State (11-2, 21st)
16. Arizona State (10-3, 17th)
17. Ole Miss (9-4, 9th)
18. Arizona (10-4, 11th)
19. Kansas State (9-4, 12th)
20. USC (9-4, 23rd)
21. Utah (9-4, 25th)
22. Marshall (13-1, unranked)
23. Auburn (8-5, 19th)
24. Louisville (9-4, 20th)
25. Memphis (10-3, unranked)

Fell from rankings: Nebraska (9-4, 22nd), LSU (8-5, 24th)

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 1/12

After the first three games in ACC conference play, the rankings have their biggest shakeup yet.  While there are still plenty of unknowns in the league, as it is still early in the conference schedule, we have plenty of games left between the group of five at the top to look forward to.

1. Virginia (15-0 overall, 3-0 ACC, Last Week: 3rd)
There are two teams left in the country with an undefeated overall record: Kentucky and Virginia.  The Cavaliers were voted first by two of the AP’s voters, and rank second in the poll, their highest ranking since 1983 (the highest they got last year was third).  Their undefeated record is intact after surviving upset bids from Miami (in double overtime), NC State, and beating a top 15 team on the road at Notre Dame.  The Wahoos will defend the top spot in these rankings this week with a home game against Clemson and a trip to Boston College.

2. Duke (14-1, 2-1, 1st)
The Blue Devils were the third-to-last undefeated team left, along with Kentucky and Virginia, before their loss on Sunday at NC State, which came after a blowout of Boston College, and an escape at Wake Forest.  The loss to the Wolfpack dropped Duke to fourth in the AP Poll, not dropping any further as other top ten teams also suffered recent losses.  The road to 1,000 wins for Mike Krzyzewski had been scheduled to potentially end Saturday at Louisville if the Devils had won out, but now the earliest Coach K can reach the milestone is on January 19 at home against Pittsburgh.  That being said, the game at Louisville will be the highlight of the week, not just for Duke, but the entire league, but first the Devils host Miami on Tuesday.

3. Notre Dame (15-2, 3-1, 4th)
The Fighting Irish began conference play with a double overtime win over Georgia Tech, before beating North Carolina on the road, and giving Virginia about as good a test as anyone has before falling short.  Mike Brey’s team is for real, and a big reason why is a .535 field goal percentage, which is the best in the nation.  This week the Irish play a rematch against Georgia Tech, with this one on the road, before hosting Miami.  At 12th in the AP Poll, the Irish are right on the cusp of cracking into the top ten, a position I don’t think anyone expected them to be in.

4. North Carolina (12-4, 2-1, 5th)
After opening up conference play with a bad blowout of Clemson on the road, the Heels lost by a single point to Notre Dame at home, but responded with a comeback win to beat Louisville, closing on a 22-8 run in the late minutes to erase a 13-point deficit and beat the Cardinals.  This team sits in the top ten nationally in both rebounds and assists, and after winning six out of seven sit 15th in the AP Poll.  Carolina will travel to in-state rival NC State, who just beat Duke on the same floor, on Wednesday, before hosting Virginia Tech on Sunday.

5. Louisville (14-2, 2-1, 2nd)
It may seem that I’m being a little harsh on Louisville, who is, after all, ranked sixth in the AP Poll, but according to these rankings fifth in their own conference.  The Cardinals, however, struggled against Wake Forest and Clemson (with the Clemson game at home), before blowing a late 13-point lead to lose to North Carolina.  Since Notre Dame beat North Carolina and North Carolina beat Louisville, the teams are ordered that way here, especially since the Heels have honestly looked better in ACC play than the Cardinals have.  As Louisville has already found out, the ACC is a tough league, and after a game against Virginia Tech it won’t get any easier, as the Cardinals host Duke on Saturday.

6. NC State (12-5, 3-1, 7th)
After an ugly loss to Cincinnati just before the beginning of ACC play, the Wolfpack have improved vastly and have made the statement they will be competitive in the ACC, with a blowout of Pittsburgh, a near miss in an upset bid on the road at Virginia, and a dominating upset of Duke.  The win should, for now, move them into the projected NCAA field, and they will have yet another opportunity for a resume-building win on Wednesday, when they host North Carolina, before traveling to Florida State on Saturday.

7. Miami (11-4, 1-1, 6th)
The Hurricanes came into conference play having lost three out of five games, but nearly upset Virginia in their ACC opener, taking the Cavaliers to double overtime, before a week off and a close win over Boston College.  The Hurricanes are about to face a rough stretch, including back to back games on the road at Duke and Notre Dame this week.  But you know Jim Larranaga will have his team ready, no matter how hard the test.

8. Syracuse (12-4, 3-0, 9th)
Some might put the Orange higher on this list, after their perfect start in ACC play, and while they have won six in a row, including three conference games against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Florida State, with two of those on the road, it hasn’t been exactly the toughest stretch you could have in the ACC (three of the bottom four in these rankings).  I said from the start I wouldn’t be surprised to see Syracuse start 6-0 or 5-1, because of those three games, and their next three, against Wake Forest, Clemson, and Boston College.  Down the road when the schedule gets tougher, including one stretch of five currently ranked opponents in six games, then we’ll see how good the Orange really are.

9. Wake Forest (9-8, 1-3, 11th)
The Demon Deacons move up in this poll after going 1-2 in their last three games, but it isn’t because of the results, but how they played.  Wake played well against Duke and Louisville, giving themselves a chance to win in both contests, although if this team is going to be competitive they’ve got to learn to close games.  They did close against Georgia Tech, for Danny Manning’s first ACC win, and Tuesday will travel to Syracuse in their only game this week, before having a week to prepare for North Carolina.

10. Clemson (9-6, 1-2, 12th)
After an embarrassing 24-point loss at home to North Carolina that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates, the Tigers improved dramatically in their next two games, nearly upsetting Louisville before comfortably beating Pittsburgh, with both of those games on the road.  This week the Tigers will be challenged, traveling to Virginia before hosting Syracuse, a couple of games that don’t look good for them on paper.  But after this past week, I don’t know what to expect from the Tigers.

11. Pittsburgh (11-5, 1-2, 8th)
Some may see this ranking as a little low, but the Panthers have not been playing well to start their ACC schedule.  After a blowout loss at NC State, Pitt needed overtime to put away Boston College, before losing to Clemson in their home opener.  While this team looked decent at times in non-conference play, their first three league games have been problematic, and while home games against Florida State and Georgia Tech don’t appear too difficult in the ACC, this team needs to start playing better soon.

12. Georgia Tech (9-6, 0-3, 10th)
Tech had a fairly good showing in non-conference play, but it hasn’t translated to league wins, at least not so far, although their loss to Notre Dame was in double overtime on the road, before losing close games to Syracuse and Wake Forest.  This week the Yellow Jackets take on Notre Dame again, this time at home, before traveling to Pittsburgh on Saturday.

13. Florida State (9-7, 1-2, 13th)
Since the last rankings, the Seminoles have played two non-conference games, winning against Florida when a Florida player inadvertently tipped the ball in the wrong basket at the buzzer, and losing to Mississippi State, and two league games, beating Virginia Tech convincingly before losing at Syracuse.  The Noles have a less than stellar non-conference resume, and the win over the Hokies and loss to the Orange were both expected and predictable.  A road game with Pittsburgh and a home game against NC State this week may give us a better sense of direction to where the Seminoles are headed this season.

14. Boston College (7-7, 0-3, 14th)
The Eagles haven’t won a conference game yet in Jim Christian’s first year at the helm, although they have had chances to win, with one exception.  After being blown out at Duke, the Eagles took Pittsburgh to overtime, and lost a close game to Miami.  This week it won’t get any easier, as they play a non-conference game in which they are likely to be underdogs against 10-3 Harvard, before hosting 2nd-ranked Virginia on Saturday.

15. Virginia Tech (8-7, 0-2, 15th)
It’s going to be a long year for Buzz Williams in his first year at the helm in Blacksburg.  After a 31-point loss to West Virginia in their last non-conference game, the Hokies lost a close game to Syracuse, before losing fairly convincingly to Florida State.  From here, they hit the ACC gauntlet, with a stretch of four straight games against ranked opponents.  It starts with a trip to Louisville on Tuesday, before traveling to North Carolina on Sunday.

Game of the Week: #2 Duke at #6 Louisville (Saturday, 12:00 PM ET)
This game has been circled on the calendars of many ACC followers for a while, as Duke and Louisville play for the first time as conference opponents.  In addition to that, had Duke won all of their games leading up to this one, it would have been the first chance at 1,000 wins for Mike Krzyzewski.  While Duke’s loss to NC State foiled that storyline, it could still be his 999th win if the Blue Devils beat Miami this week.  Both teams have lost their most recent game, although they have a game between now and Saturday, although Louisville struggled some in their wins as well.  That being said, Duke has the better team on paper, although Louisville has a very talented team, and I expect the Devils to come out like they have something to prove in their first road game since the loss at NC State.
Duke 72, Louisville 65.