Since my last rankings before the season had even started in November, so much has changed in the ACC. We learned a lot from seven weeks of non-conference play, but we’ve learned even more over the last 10 days, as the ACC’s members have played each other.
The teams I picked fourth and fifth in November are currently a combined 0-6, while the teams I picked 13th and 14th are 5-2. There’s usually one or two teams who I am wrong about in the preseason (this is the third straight year Clemson has been one of them), but this year this seems to be at least somewhat true with almost half of the conference.
The top half of the ACC is as good as always, as the league has six teams ranked in the AP Top 25, but the bottom half of the ACC is much better than it was last year, when it felt at times like there were legitimately easy games in the league. This year, with the exception of Boston College (sorry, Eagles), any team will have a legitimate chance to beat any other team on any given night, particularly at home.
That being said, as we keep in mind that the difference between the top and the bottom of the league is less than in years past, here is my opinion on how the teams in the ACC are currently ranked:
1. North Carolina (15-2, 4-0 ACC, Previous Ranking: 1st, AP Poll: 5th)
This Week: Saturday vs NC State
The Tar Heels are one of the best teams in the country, with a resume including wins over Maryland and UCLA, and four dominant performances to start conference play. Their only two losses are very close road games at Northern Iowa and Texas. Roy Williams’ club is in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense, field goal percentage, and assist-to-turnover ratio, and are led as expected by senior guard Marcus Paige (15.1 ppg, 4.1 apg), but also by a rising star in double-double machine Brice Johnson (16.7 ppg, 10.2 rpg). The schedule in the immediate future is favorable for the Heels, who don’t play a ranked team until February, although they will have a rougher stretch run.
2. Duke (14-2, 3-0 ACC, PR:3rd, AP: 9th)
This Week: Wednesday at Clemson, Saturday vs Notre Dame
This isn’t necessarily Mike Krzyzewski’s best Duke team, and is a very young club, but has had a solid start. The Blue Devils didn’t play a true road game in non-conference play, but took care of business against VCU and Georgetown, falling short against Kentucky and Utah (all four games were at neutral sites). In conference play, that lack of prior road tests hasn’t seemed to hurt the Blue Devils yet, as they beat Boston College and Wake Forest on the road, before dismantling Virginia Tech at home. The Blue Devils, led by sophomore guard Grayson Allen (23rd nationally with 20.5 ppg) are fourth in the nation scoring 88.1 points per game, and freshman Luke Kennard is fourth in the nation in free throw percentage (93.2%).
3. Virginia (13-3, 2-2 ACC, PR: 2nd, AP: 13th)
This Week: Sunday at Florida State
If I had ranked the teams last week, the Cavaliers would have been at the top, as they ranked fourth in the AP Poll after non-conference wins over West Virginia, Villanova, and Ohio State, with just a loss at George Washington, along with a win to open conference play at Notre Dame. They have fallen a couple spots after road losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, but showed their strength and resilience in beating Miami on Tuesday night. Tony Bennett’s defense is strong, as always, ranking 10th in the country allowing just 60.9 ppg, as the Cavaliers prepare for a trip to Tallahassee this weekend.
4. Miami (13-2, 2-1 ACC, PR: 6th, AP: 8th)
This Week: Saturday at Clemson
Very quietly, Jim Larranaga has his Hurricanes squad playing their most solid basketball since winning the ACC in 2012-13. The ‘Canes boast wins over Utah and Butler in non-conference play on their way to the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title, with just a loss to a Northeastern team that is projected in the NCAA Tournament field, and Tuesday night’s road loss at Virginia. Before facing the Cavaliers, they had started conference play with convincing wins over Syracuse and Florida State. Both of those games were at home, but the Virginia game was the first of three straight on the road. The ‘Canes are led by the backcourt of Sheldon McClellan (16.3 ppg) and Angel Rodriguez (11.4 ppg, 3.8 apg), and are a good-shooting team, ranking in the top 15 nationally in both field goal and free throw percentage.
5. Pittsburgh (14-1, 3-0 ACC, PR: 10th, AP: 20th)
This Week: Thursday at #21 Louisville, Saturday vs Boston College
The Panthers have quietly compiled a strong record into mid-January, with their only loss coming to a very strong and big Purdue team. The main argument against Pitt’s resume has been a weak strength of schedule, with their best non-conference wins coming against Duquesne and Davidson, but after starting conference play with wins over Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and at Notre Dame, they are now comfortably within the top 25. James Robinson has the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the country (6.75), and the Panthers rank first nationally in free throw percentage (79.3%) and 10th in rebounding margin (+10.9).
6. Louisville (13-3, 2-1 ACC, PR: 8th, AP: 21st)
This Week: Thursday vs #20 Pittsburgh
Like Pittsburgh, the main argument against the resume of Louisville is that they haven’t beaten anyone. Even three games into conference play, the Cardinals still don’t have a win over anyone currently projected as an at-large NCAA team. They did play well in road losses to Michigan State and Kentucky, although they did not play well in Sunday’s loss at Clemson. Drexel transfer Damion Lee leads the Cardinals with 16.3 ppg. The Cardinals are third nationally in field goal percentage defense, allowing just 36.1% of their opponent’s shots to fall (the next best team in the ACC is 55th nationally), but that stat comes with the caveat that it has come against a mostly light schedule. They can pick up an elusive quality win this week in a ranked matchup with Pittsburgh.
7. Clemson (10-6, 3-1 ACC, PR: 14th)
This Week: Wednesday vs #9 Duke, Saturday vs #8 Miami
Maybe one of these years, I’ll learn not to pick Clemson 14th in the ACC. The Tigers had five non-conference losses, with the worst coming at a neutral site against UMass, and looked like they might struggle through ACC play. When they reached conference play, however, they have been much better. After a loss in Chapel Hill (where they’ve still never won), the Tigers have defeated Florida State, Syracuse in overtime, and Louisville, and are now 3-1 as they head into a brutal stretch against Duke, Miami, Virginia, and Pittsburgh, although three of the four games are at home. The Tigers are 15th nationally in scoring defense (62.2 ppg), and are very balanced on offense–Jaron Blossomgame (15.4 ppg) and Avry Holmes (10.7 ppg) are the team’s only double-figure scorers, but all five starters average at least 8.5 ppg. This team still isn’t on any of the experts’ NCAA Tournament radar, and I can’t see how that is.
8. Notre Dame (10-5, 1-2 ACC, PR: 7th)
This Week: Wednesday vs Georgia Tech, Saturday vs #9 Duke
The defending ACC champions are a much different team than last year in terms of the names making headlines, but are stylistically similar, as Demetrius Jackson (17.1 ppg, 5.3 apg) has led them into sixth in the country in field goal percentage (50.6%) and 18th in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.57). The worse loss for the Fighting Irish is to Alabama at a neutral site, with other non-conference losses coming to NCAA probable Monmouth and to Indiana, and while they have lost two of three to start conference play, both losses were to ranked opponents, and the Irish were very impressive in a win over Boston College. The NCAA Tournament is still very much on this team’s radar, as most have them around the bubble in these early stages.
9. Wake Forest (10-5, 1-2 ACC, PR: 11th)
This Week: Wednesday at Virginia Tech, Saturday vs Syracuse
The Demon Deacons are on the rise in Danny Manning’s second year at the helm, and this year have easily their best team in six years. The Deacs defeated Indiana and UCLA in the Maui Invitational, even though they were without Bryant Crawford (13.2 ppg, 4.9 apg) for one of those games, and Codi Miller-McIntyre (7.4 ppg, 3.3 apg) for both, and for all of their first eight games. Devin Thomas (16.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg) is a presence in the post, averaging a double-double. The Deacs opened conference play with a road loss to Louisville and a home loss to Duke, before beating NC State for their first ACC win. Manning’s rebuild is ahead of schedule, and with a big win or two, the Deacs have a shot at dancing in March.
10. Georgia Tech (11-5, 1-2 ACC, PR: 12th)
This Week: Wednesday at Notre Dame, Saturday vs Virginia Tech
I wasn’t a fan of Georgia Tech keeping coach Brian Gregory after last season, but Gregory has improved the Yellow Jackets this year. The Jackets are led by four double-digit scorers, including Adam Smith (14.8 ppg), Marcus Georges-Hunt (14.6 ppg), and Charles Mitchell (12.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg), who is eighth in the country in rebounding. The Jackets balanced non-conference wins against Tennessee and VCU with losses to East Tennessee State and Georgia, and have improved in each conference game, first losing to North Carolina and Pittsburgh, before upsetting Virginia. This team probably won’t make an NCAA run, but can still be dangerous in ACC play.
11. Virginia Tech (10-6, 2-1 ACC, PR: 13th)
This Week: Wednesday vs Wake Forest, Saturday at Georgia Tech
After a 2-16 ACC record in Buzz Williams’ first season last year, the Hokies are also improved in Williams’ second campaign. While their non-conference resume isn’t flattering, with their best win coming over UAB, and losses to Alabama State and St. Joseph’s, they have played better in conference play, beating NC State in overtime, and stunning rival Virginia, before struggling where many do in Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Hokies have four double-digit scorers, and are led by Zach LeDay (14.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg). If the ball bounces right, the Hokies could be 4-1 in league play by the end of the week.
12. Florida State (10-5, 0-3 ACC, PR: 5th)
This Week: Wednesday at NC State, Sunday vs #13 Virginia
The Seminoles are a puzzling team. While the team has no “bad losses” on their resume, and wins over VCU and Florida, they are currently winless in the ACC. Even considering that the losses are to Clemson, North Carolina, and Miami, this is still a team that no one expected to struggle, as Leonard Hamilton had many of his key players returning and a strong recruiting class. The recruiting class has panned out, as Dwayne Bacon (16.7 ppg) and Malik Beasley (16.7 ppg) have both been strong, in addition to sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes (12.2 ppg, 5.5 apg), but the wins haven’t come, at least not yet.
13. Syracuse (10-7, 0-4 ACC, PR: 9th)
This Week: Wednesday vs Boston College, Saturday at Wake Forest
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Orange. They started 6-0 in a stretch that included wins over Connecticut and Texas A&M as they won the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Since, they are just 4-7, including a loss to a struggling St. John’s team in non-conference play, before conference losses to Pittsburgh, Miami, Clemson, and North Carolina. While that four-game stretch to begin conference play wasn’t a light one, no one ever expects Syracuse to start 0-4 in conference play. Coach Jim Boeheim’s nine-game NCAA suspension ended before the North Carolina game, so perhaps the Orange having their leader back, in addition to the play of Michael Gbinije (17.6 ppg, 4.6 apg), can help them out of the hole they have dug themselves.
14. NC State (10-6, 0-3 ACC, PR: 4th)
This Week: Wednesday vs Florida State, Saturday at #5 North Carolina
I picked the Wolfpack fourth in the ACC, but the team hasn’t looked like that team much at all. Outside of a win over LSU, the Wolfpack struggled in non-conference play. While they won most of their games, they won games against High Point, UNC Greensboro, and Northeastern that were too close for comfort, and lost to William and Mary. Once conference play began, the Wolfpack lost to Virginia Tech, Louisville, and Wake Forest, and due to the schedule, if they don’t beat Florida State, there is a real possibility they could fall to 0-7 in the conference. There are bright spots–Anthony “Cat” Barber, one of four double figure scorers, is eighth nationally in scoring (22.9 ppg), and the team is 15th nationally in offensive rebounding (15.6 per game)–but if Mark Gottfried’s run of taking the Pack to the NCAA Tournament in every year of his tenure is to continue, he has a lot of work to do.
15. Boston College (7-8, 0-2 ACC, PR: 15th)
This Week: Wednesday at Syracuse, Saturday at #20 Pittsburgh
The Eagles have been streaky so far, going on winning streaks of three and four games, with losing streaks of six and two. A win over Harvard was nice, but none of their other wins have any quality. Add to that losses that include UC Irvine, Santa Clara, and UMass Lowell, and the Eagles are not expected by anyone to have even moderate success in the ACC. They have been dominated by Duke and Notre Dame in their first two conference games, and the schedule won’t get any easier (then again, it never does when you’re at the bottom). Florida transfer Eli Carter (17.0 ppg, 4.3 apg) has been a bright spot, but Jim Christian’s second year in Chestnut Hill is going to be a long one.