“The more things change, the more they stay the same”
-Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr
It has been over three weeks since I’ve been able to publish my usually-weekly look into the ACC, and while there have been some thrilling outcomes in the ACC in that time, and a couple of teams have had the whole dynamic of their season change, for the most part the power structure of this year’s ACC is pretty close to where it was on February 1st.
It seems unbelievable, but there is just a little over a week left in the ACC regular season schedule, with most teams having only three games remaining (and a few having only two).
And yet, it also seems unbelievable that six teams still have a legitimate chance to win the ACC regular season title, and the top seed at the tournament in Washington, D.C. There is even a realistic scenario which ends up in a six-way tie for the top spot. One of these teams, Louisville, is not participating in the ACC Tournament after a self-imposed postseason ban, but with up to five other teams being in the mix, one amazing detail is that one of these teams will not earn a double-bye and will be playing as the fifth seed on Wednesday against either the 12th or 13th seed.
The games this weekend, with the top four in these rankings playing games amongst themselves, will go a long way towards determining who is the top seed in our nation’s capital in less than two weeks.
There are still other things to be settled, in the middle of the pack, and at the bottom, over the next nine days of regular season play. Here are the updated power rankings:
1. North Carolina (23-5, 12-3 ACC, Previous Ranking: 1st, AP Poll: 8th)
4-3 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday at #3 Virginia, Monday vs Syracuse, March 5th at #15 Duke
The Tar Heels, despite losing three of their last seven, still have the best roster in the league, and are set up well for a deep run in March/April. First, they have to survive a tough stretch over the next three games, and will likely need to win two of them or more to win the ACC regular season title. Brice Johnson (17.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg) is one of the two frontrunners for ACC Player of the Year.
2 (tie). Virginia (21-6, 10-5 ACC, PR: 2nd, AP: 3rd)
4-2 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday vs #8 North Carolina, Tuesday at Clemson, March 5th vs #11 Louisville
Virginia and Miami are tied for second in these rankings. Virginia was ranked third in this week’s AP Poll, but lost to Miami on Monday night. Since the 64-61 loss was in Coral Gables (Virginia would have likely won in Charlottesville), and Virginia has a better overall resume, I leave these two in a tie despite Miami’s head-to-head victory. The Cavaliers are led by guards Malcolm Brogdon (18.2 ppg, 2.8 apg) and London Perrantes (11.2 ppg, 4.4 apg), both of whom are likely All-ACC Players, and their defense allows just 59.7 ppg, third best in the nation.
2 (tie). Miami (22-5, 11-4 ACC, PR: 5th, AP: 12th)
6-1 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday vs #11 Louisville, Wednesday at #23 Notre Dame, March 5th at Virginia Tech
Since a January 30th loss to NC State, the Hurricanes have been on fire, with their only loss coming in Chapel Hill. The Hurricanes do not have any superstars, with no one among the statistical leaders of the ACC in any major category other than Tonye Jekiri (fifth in rebounding, 9.3 rpg), and do not have any major statistical strengths or weaknesses. Jim Larranaga’s club simply plays as a team, and as a result is in position to contend for their second ACC regular season title in four years.
4. Louisville (22-6, 11-4 ACC, PR: 3rd, AP: 11th)
5-2 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday at #12 Miami, Tuesday vs Georgia Tech, March 5th at #3 Virginia
The Cardinals self-imposed a postseason ban due to an ongoing NCAA investigation, which is a real shame for seniors Damion Lee (16.6 ppg) and Trey Lewis (11.7 ppg), both of whom transferred into the program for one good shot at the NCAA Tournament, something both have never experienced. The focus for Rick Pitino’s team has now shifted to winning the ACC regular season title, something that can be done, but will likely need a couple of road wins against teams above them in these rankings, plus a little help.
5. Duke (21-7, 10-5 ACC, PR: 9th, AP: 15th)
5-1 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Sunday at Pittsburgh, Tuesday vs Wake Forest, March 5th vs #8 North Carolina
At the time of the last power rankings on February 1st, the Blue Devils were in the midst of losing four of five, and falling out of the top 25 for the first time in over eight seasons. Now, despite their very shallow depth, they have won five of six, including a huge 74-73 win in Chapel Hill, and their only loss was on the road at Louisville. The turnaround of this team, which is led by sophomore Grayson Allen (20.9 ppg, 3.6 apg), has been impressive, as Mike Krzyzewski’s young team has matured before our eyes.
6. Notre Dame (19-8, 10-5 ACC, PR: 4th, AP: 23rd)
4-2 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday at Florida State, Wednesday vs #12 Miami, March 5th vs NC State
The Irish were not a team I expected to contend for another ACC title, after losing the two best players off last year’s ACC Tournament-winning squad, but they are doing just that, and will be a threat to defend their title in two weeks. Mike Brey’s club is led by junior guard Demetrius Jackson (16.4 ppg, second in ACC with 4.9 apg), but is exceptionally balanced, with five players averaging in double figures. Zach Auguste is one of these, averaging a double-double (14.1 ppg, third in ACC with 10.1 rpg)
7. Syracuse (18-10, 8-7 ACC, PR: 7th)
3-2 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday vs NC State, Monday at #8 North Carolina, March 5th at Florida State
The Orange have been relatively streaky throughout the season, and while they are currently in a two-game losing streak, they have had more ups than downs, and they are currently projected as a 10 seed in the Big Dance. Jim Boeheim’s team can boast the top two players in the league in steals, Michael Gbinije (2.3 spg) and Trevor Cooney (1.6 spg).
8. Clemson (16-12, 9-7 ACC, PR: 6th)
3-4 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Tuesday vs #3 Virginia, March 5th at Boston College
In mid-January, the Tigers were riding high on the strength of a five-game winning streak, including three straight over ranked opponents. Since, however, the Tigers have gone 4-6, only winning consecutive games once, and have practically played themselves out of the NCAA Tournament. Jaron Blossomgame is third in the league at 18.3 ppg, but overall the Tigers have simply sputtered, especially on the road.
9. Pittsburgh (19-8, 8-7 ACC, PR: 8th)
2-4 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Sunday vs #15 Duke, Wednesday at Virginia Tech, March 5th at Georgia Tech
The Panthers have struggled recently, losing four out of six, but according to bracketmatrix.com they are still within the projected NCAA Tournament field. That being said, they are not guaranteed into the field, because if this tough stretch for Jamie Dixon’s team continues, they could find themselves sweating out Selection Sunday (and the entirely unnecessary two-hour long Selection Show).
10. Georgia Tech (16-12, 6-9 ACC, PR: 13th)
4-3 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday at Boston College, Tuesday at #11 Louisville, March 5th vs Pittsburgh
For arguably the first time in his tenure, Brian Gregory has done an impressive coaching job, as his Yellow Jackets have won four out of five and currently find themselves likely to qualify for the NIT. For the second straight year, there is a “what if” factor around this team regarding losing several close games, but they have finally started pulling some of them out, with all four wins in this recent stretch coming by six or less, and the last two by a combined three points.
11. Virginia Tech (15-13, 7-8 ACC, PR: 12th)
3-3 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Sunday at Wake Forest, Wednesday vs Pittsburgh, March 5th at #12 Miami
While the Hokies have struggled against the tougher half of the ACC, they are still better than expected in Buzz Williams’ second year in Blacksburg, and will only get better as Williams’ tenure continues. With a strong finish, a team that went 2-16 in the league a year ago may reach the NIT.
12. Florida State (16-12, 6-10 ACC, PR: 10th)
2-5 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday vs #23 Notre Dame, March 5th vs Syracuse
Earlier in February, the Seminoles looked like an NCAA Tournament team, but now Leonard Hamilton’s team is in the midst of a five-game losing streak, their worst since 2007. This team started the season poorly, and now they appear to be ending the season the same way, with the NIT now much more of a realistic-looking scenario than March Madness.
13. NC State (14-14, 4-11 ACC, PR: 11th)
2-4 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday at Syracuse, Wednesday vs Boston College, March 5th at #23 Notre Dame
The Wolfpack are going to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Mark Gottfried’s five-year tenure (barring a miracle run in Washington D.C.). The Pack simply haven’t played up to expectations as a team, although Anthony “Cat” Barber (first in ACC with 23.5 ppg, fourth in ACC with 4.5 apg) has exceeded them, and is one of the two frontrunners for ACC Player of the Year.
14. Wake Forest (11-17, 2-14 ACC, PR: 14th)
1-6 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Sunday vs Virginia Tech, Tuesday at #15 Duke
Two months ago, many national analysts said Danny Manning’s rebuilding project at Wake Forest was “ahead of schedule,” but now, with the Demon Deacons assured a worse ACC record than last year, the same cannot be said. Devin Thomas (15.8 ppg, second in ACC with 10.8 rpg) is a bright spot, but only has two regular season games left in his college career as he comes back from a two-game suspension.
15. Boston College (7-21, 0-15 ACC, PR: 15th)
0-7 since last rankings
Remaining Games: Saturday vs Georgia Tech, Wednesday at NC State, March 5th vs Clemson
The Eagles are in danger of becoming the first ACC team to go winless in conference play since Maryland in 1986-87, and the first Power Five conference team to go winless in conference play in both football and basketball since 1977. Their best chance on paper to win a game was probably Sunday at Wake Forest–and they trailed 37-4 at one point. Enough said.