ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 3/9

It’s March.  And based on the last week of college basketball around the country, you can tell.  There have been upsets and amazing finishes, both as larger conferences like the ACC finish their regular season, and as some of the smaller leagues play their conference tournaments and send teams into the NCAA Tournament.

The drama that existed everywhere else found a home in the ACC as well, as rivalries were renewed, some upsets occurred (at least some mild ones), and teams fought for position in both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.

The seedings for the ACC Tournament are now set, as the teams will head to Greensboro a day earlier this year, with the event beginning Tuesday and ending with the championship game on Saturday night.

1. Duke (28-3 overall, 15-3 ACC, Last Week: 1st (tie), AP Poll: 2nd)
Last Week:  Wake Forest (W, 94-51), at North Carolina (W, 84-77)
ACC Tournament:  2 seed, will play NC State/Pittsburgh in quarterfinals on Thursday at 7:00 pm ET
Duke moves out of their tie with Virginia due to the Cavaliers loss, but earned the top spot in their own right, obliterating Wake Forest from the start, leading that game 52-15 at half, before defeating rival North Carolina on the road to sweep the season series against the Tar Heels.  The Blue Devils get the benefit of a double bye in Greensboro, but in the quarterfinals may face NC State, a team that has already beaten them this year.  Freshman center Jahlil Okafor was named the conference’s player of the year on Monday, which (surprising to me) is the first time a freshman has ever won the award.

2. Virginia (28-2, 16-2, 1st (tie), AP: 3rd)
Last Week:  at Syracuse (W, 59-47), at Louisville (L, 59-57)
ACC Tournament:  1 seed, will play Clemson/Florida State in quarterfinals on Thursday at 12:00 pm ET
The Cavaliers’ nine-game winning streak since their January 31 loss to Duke was snapped on the road at Louisville, although they had previously won over Syracuse with a very impressive showing in the last 28 minutes, after scoring only two points in the first 12.  The Cavaliers will begin their title defense with a double bye, and will be heavily favored against either Florida State, who they defeated in the quarterfinals last year, or Clemson.

3. Notre Dame (26-5, 14-4, 5th, AP: 11th)
Last Week:  at Louisville (W, 71-59), Clemson (W, 81-67)
ACC Tournament:  3 seed, will play Miami/Wake Forest/Virginia Tech in quarterfinals on Thursday at appr. 9:30 pm ET
The Irish had a very impressive week, first winning at Louisville, a feat Virginia wasn’t able to accomplish, before dominating Clemson, a team who had nearly beaten them earlier in the season.  Jerian Grant is having a player of the year-type of season, although he fell short of the ultimate winner of the award, Jahlil Okafor.  The Irish are one of two teams in a moderately tough situation with their bye for the tournament, as they have three potential opponents to prepare for.  However, they must know that facing Miami on Thursday is the most likely scenario.

4. Louisville (24-7, 12-6, 3rd, AP: 14th)
Last Week:  Notre Dame (L, 71-59), Virginia (W, 59-57)
ACC Tournament:  4 seed, will play North Carolina/Boston College/Georgia Tech in quarterfinals on Thursday at appr. 2:30 pm ET
Following a home loss to Notre Dame in which the Cardinals did not play well down the stretch, they were able to defeat 2nd-ranked Virginia at home, closing out the game with Mankok Mathiang’s game-winner with 2.7 seconds remaining, which was just his second field goal since January.  Like the Irish, Louisville has three potential opponents to prepare for for their first-ever ACC Tournament game on Thursday, although a third meeting with North Carolina, who they split two thrilling games with in the regular season, is very possible.

5. North Carolina (21-10, 11-7, 4th, AP: 19th)
Last Week:  at Georgia Tech (W, 81-49), Duke (L, 84-77)
ACC Tournament:  5 seed, will play Boston College/Georgia Tech in second round on Wednesday at appr. 2:30 pm ET
The Tar Heels played even better in their second meeting with Georgia Tech than they had in the first, an 89-60 win on February 21, this time winning by 32, before playing well but ultimately falling short for the second time this year against Duke.  Whichever opponent the Heels get in their first ACC Tournament game, a second round matchup on Wednesday against either Boston College or Georgia Tech, Carolina will be heavily favored, and will be a win away from a very intriguing game with Louisville.

6. NC State (19-12, 10-8, 7th)
Last Week:  at Clemson (W, 66-61), Syracuse (W, 71-57)
ACC Tournament:  7 seed, will play Pittsburgh in the second round on Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET
With wins over Clemson, when the Wolfpack went on a second half run of 17-0, and Syracuse, where they had a similar 16-0 run, NC State is now, by all experts’ accounts, comfortably in the NCAA Tournament as a 9 or 10 seed, and should be even more comfortable if they defeat Pittsburgh in their tournament opener on Wednesday.  That would setup a rematch with Duke, the best team the Pack have beat, as they try to continue their streak of reaching the ACC Semifinals, which currently sits at three years, and matches the streak of NCAA berths they are very likely to also extend.

7. Miami (20-11, 10-8, 9th)
Last Week:  at Pittsburgh (W, 67-63), at Virginia Tech (W, 82-61)
ACC Tournament:  6 seed, will play Wake Forest/Virginia Tech in second round on Wednesday at appr. 9:30 pm ET
Miami is also on the NCAA bubble, but is not nearly as comfortable as NC State.  On bracketmatrix.com, which combines projected NCAA brackets from around the web, the Hurricanes are projected as the fifth team out of the field, even after their wins over Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech.  They will have work to do in the ACC Tournament, with Notre Dame waiting as a potential quality win should the Canes get past the Wake Forest/Virginia Tech winner.

8. Florida State (16-15, 8-10, 11th)
Last Week:  Pittsburgh (W, 61-52)
ACC Tournament:  9 seed, will play Clemson in second round on Wednesday at 12:00 pm ET
Last week I said the Seminoles had hit a late-season slump, but could play the role of spoiler against bubble team Pittsburgh.  Sure enough, the slump ended, at least for one afternoon, and the Noles may have knocked Pitt completely out of at-large contention.  Florida State sits on a different kind of bubble, the one to make the NIT, and can help their case on Wednesday against Clemson in their ACC Tournament opener.  Should they advance, they will get a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal against Virginia, a game that could really help their postseason chances.

9. Syracuse (18-13, 9-9, 6th)
Last Week:  Virginia (L, 59-47), at NC State (L, 71-57)
Will not participate in any postseason play due to self-imposed postseason ban
It wasn’t a good week on the court for Syracuse, with a home loss to Virginia and a practical blowout on the road at NC State to end their season after their self-imposed postseason ban.  But it was an even worse week off the court, as the NCAA punished Syracuse for multiple academic violations, eliminating three scholarships per year for the next four years, and suspending coach Jim Boeheim for the first nine ACC games of next season (which he will appeal).  With a black eye now on the program, as well as the limit of scholarships, this will hurt Syracuse basketball for years to come.

10. Pittsburgh (19-13, 8-10, 8th)
Last Week:  Miami (L, 67-63), at Florida State (L, 61-52)
ACC Tournament:  10 seed, will play NC State in second round on Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET
About ten days ago the Panthers had crawled into the heat of the NCAA bubble conversation, but with three straight losses, including losses this past week to Miami and Florida State following a “bad loss” to Wake Forest, Pitt is no longer feeling bubble pressure, as they will not be an NCAA at-large team.  Their mission is now to win the ACC Tournament, which won’t be easy with their placement in the bracket, as they will play NC State in the first round, and with a win would play Duke in the quarterfinals.  And remember, the tournament is in the state of North Carolina.

11. Clemson (16-14, 8-10, 10th)
Last Week:  NC State (L, 66-61), at Notre Dame (L, 81-67)
ACC Tournament:  8 seed, will play Florida State in second round on Wednesday at 12:00 pm ET
The Tigers bid farewell to the pre-renovation version of Littlejohn Coliseum with a loss to NC State after a back-and-forth contest got out of hand with a lengthy scoring drought, before losing their regular season finale in South Bend.  After splitting their regular season meetings with Florida State, the two teams will meet on Wednesday in the second round of the ACC Tournament, with the winner meeting top-seeded Virginia in the quarterfinals.

12. Boston College (12-18, 4-14, 13th)
Last Week:  at Virginia Tech (W, 66-59), Wake Forest (W, 79-61)
ACC Tournament:  12 seed, will play Georgia Tech in first round on Tuesday at 1:00 pm ET
The Eagles head into the ACC Tournament in an interesting situation.  They have won three straight games, after starting conference play 1-14, and have the conference’s second longest active winning streak, behind only Duke.  While two of the wins are against other bottom tier teams, the first win of the streak was over NC State, and all three have been convincing.  The Eagles will play Georgia Tech in the opening round on Tuesday in coach Jim Christian’s first ACC Tournament experience, and with a win could spoil North Carolina’s weekend plans on Wednesday.

13. Wake Forest (13-18, 5-13, 12th)
Last Week:  at Duke (L, 94-51), at Boston College (L, 79-61)
ACC Tournament:  11 seed, will play Virginia Tech in first round on Tuesday at appr. 3:30 pm ET
Over the last two weeks, with the exception of playing just well enough to win against Pittsburgh, the Deacons have not played well at all.  And while two of their three losses were to Virginia and Duke, the Deacs haven’t just lost, but have been embarrassed in the games, with the three losses by an average of 32.3 points per game.  The late-season slump is not indicative of Danny Manning’s first year at the helm, as the team has played very well at times, but often lost close games.  Manning’s first ACC Tournament as coach will begin Tuesday against Virginia Tech, with the winner playing the potential spoiler against Miami.

14. Virginia Tech (10-21, 2-16, 14th)
Last Week:  Boston College (L, 66-59), Miami (L, 82-61)
ACC Tournament:  14 seed, will play Wake Forest in first round on Tuesday at appr. 3:30 pm ET
In the two games since playing Duke and Virginia very hard, and taking Duke to overtime, the Hokies haven’t played nearly as well, losing at home to Boston College and Miami.  While they have struggled in the very strong ACC all season, the team had been playing better up until the two-game stretch to end the regular season.  Tech’s similarity to the aforementioned late-season slump by Wake Forest is ironic, as the two teams will meet in the ACC Tournament’s first round on Tuesday, in coach Buzz Williams’ first ACC Tournament.  Even if both teams continue their recent poor play, one of them has to win, and advance to play Miami.  The Hokies are projected by kenpom.com to have a 1-in-99,894 shot at winning the title, and were called the “biggest longshot of any conference tournament participant” by the site.

15. Georgia Tech (12-18, 3-15, 15th)
Last Week:  North Carolina (L, 81-49)
ACC Tournament:  13 seed, will play Boston College in first round on Tuesday at 1:00 pm ET
This season has been very rough on Georgia Tech.  Out of 15 conference losses, 12 have been by seven points or less, with three in overtime and six by one-possession margins.  However, their regular season finale was not one of those games, as they were completely outmatched by North Carolina for the second time in for the second time in 11 days, losing by 32.  Now the Yellow Jackets head to the ACC Tournament, where they meet Boston College in the first round.  The Eagles only ACC win before their recent three-game winning streak was against Georgia Tech on January 25.  When Tech’s ACC Tournament ends, it could potentially be the end of coach Brian Gregory’s tenure in Atlanta.

My All-ACC Ballot (if I had one)

(note: each all-conference team is listed in alphabetical order)

Player of the Year: Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke, Fr.)

First Team All-ACC: Malcolm Brogdon (G, Virginia, Sr.), Rakeem Christmas (F, Syracuse, Sr.), Olivier Hanlan (G, Boston College, Jr.), Jerian Grant (G, Notre Dame, Sr.), Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke, Fr.)

Second Team All-ACC: Quinn Cook (G, Duke, Sr.), Montrezl Harrell (F, Louisville, Jr.), Trevor Lacey (G, NC State, Jr.), Marcus Paige (G, North Carolina, Jr.), Terry Rozier (G, Louisville, So.)

Third Team All-ACC: Justin Anderson (G, Virginia, Jr.), Codi Miller-McIntyre (G, Wake Forest, Jr.), London Perrantes (G, Virginia, So.), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (G, Florida State, Fr.), Angel Rodriguez (G, Miami, Jr.)

Honorable Mention (who I also considered): Jamel Artis (F, Pittsburgh, So.), Jaron Blossomgame (F, Clemson, So.), Aaron Brown (F, Boston College, Sr.), Michael Gbinije (G, Syracuse, Jr.), Devin Thomas (F, Wake Forest, Jr.)

Freshman of the Year: Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke)

All-Freshman Team:  Tyus Jones (G, Duke), Konstantinos Mitoglou (G, Wake Forest), Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke), Xavier Rathan-Mayes (G, Florida State), Justise Winslow (F, Duke)

Defensive Player of the Year: Rakeem Christmas (F, Syracuse, Sr.)

All-Defensive Team:  BeeJay Anya (F, NC State, So.), Rakeem Christmas (F, Syracuse, Sr.), Montrezl Harrell (F, Louisville, Jr.), Tonye Jekiri (C, Miami, Jr.), Jahlil Okafor (C, Duke, Fr.)

Coach of the Year:  Tony Bennett (Virginia)

Looking Back at My Predictions

Back in November, I predicted how the ACC standings would look in March.  Here’s how it turned out, with the teams listed in their projected order and their actual finish in parentheses:

1. Duke (2)
2. Louisville (4)
3. North Carolina (5)
4. Virginia (1)
5. Syracuse (8)
6. Florida State (10)
7. NC State (7)
8. Pittsburgh (11)
9. Notre Dame (3)
10. Miami (6)
11. Wake Forest (12)
12. Boston College (13)
13. Clemson (9)
14. Georgia Tech (14)
15. Virginia Tech (15)

Not to brag, but while Athlon Sports’ preseason college basketball annual missed the actual finishing positions by a sum of 36 spots, mine only missed by 34.

My preseason First Team All-ACC consisted of Malcolm Brogdon, Jerian Grant, Olivier Hanlan, Montrezl Harrell, and Marcus Paige, with three of those five finishing the season on my first team listed above, and the other two making the second team.

Looking Forward to the ACC Tournament

Here are my predictions for the ACC Tournament going in, although these picks could change as I do round-by-round picks throughout the week, even if the matchup is the same (I did change one pick last year, and did so correctly).

First Round winners: Boston College, Wake Forest
Second Round winners: Clemson, Boston College, NC State, Miami
Quarterfinal winners: Virginia, Louisville, Duke, Notre Dame
Semifinal winners: Virginia, Duke
Champion: Duke

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