ACC Basketball Power Rankings: Week of 12/26

As the ACC moves into conference play starting this week, many big-name athletes are celebrating birthdays this week.  This includes Sandy Koufax, Martin Kaymer, Carlton Fisk, Laila Ali, Theo Epstein, Carson Palmer, Ozzie Smith, Tony Kanaan, and Rick Porcello, among others.

Several big names in basketball are also a year older, so in this week’s power rankings, as I begin the concept of a theme each week, quotes are included from several of them (plus a couple from Tiger Woods), including one beginning quote that applies to the conference at large.

“It’s a wacky race.  I really believe this:  Expect the unexpected.”  -Bill Self (born 12/27/62)

 

1. Duke (12-1, Previous Ranking: 1st, AP Poll: 5th)
This Week:  Saturday at Virginia Tech
“There is a lot of pressure put on me, but I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself.  I feel if I play my game, it will take care of itself.”  -LeBron James (12/30/84)
There is a lot of noise around the Blue Devils, but they have answered it with a successful start to the season, only losing a close game to Kansas and beating Florida, Rhode Island, and Michigan State.  And Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has yet to play a game at full strength.

2. Louisville (11-1, PR: 6th, AP: 6th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. #12 Virginia, Saturday vs. Indiana (at Indianapolis)
“The reason we win games is not typical of a top 5 team. We’re winning on execution and heart and guts and playing smart.”  -Mark Few (12/27/62)
A gritty Cardinals team is better than I expected, and has the best win of anyone in the ACC against rival Kentucky, as well as a win over Purdue, and only one loss, against undefeated Baylor.  Led by Quentin Snider (11.9 ppg, 3.9 apg), the team is fourth nationally in rebounding (44.6 per game)

3. North Carolina (11-2, PR: 2nd, AP: 9th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Monmouth, Saturday at Georgia Tech
“I’m aware if I’m playing at my best I’m tough to beat. And I enjoy that.”  -Tiger Woods (12/30/75)
The Tar Heels have played well early in the season against a tough schedule as well, with a close loss to Kentucky and a road loss to Indiana as the only blemishes.  Justin Jackson and Joel Berry II have stepped up as leaders, and the team is in the top 15 in the nation per game in points (88.7), rebounds (44.5), and assists (18.4).

4. Virginia (10-1, PR: 3rd, AP: 12th)
This Week:  Wednesday at #6 Louisville, Saturday vs. #20 Florida State
“I believe very much in winning with defense and I try to get my players to compete hard on defense to win the games.”  -Nolan Richardson (12/27/41)
As we’ve come to expect from Tony Bennett-led Virginia teams, the Cavaliers are winning with defense, holding opponents to 47.2 ppg, the best mark in the nation.  That said, Virginia is also 12th in kenpom.com‘s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, led by senior guard London Perrantes (10.0 ppg, 4.3 apg)

5. Florida State (12-1, PR: 5th, AP: 20th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Wake Forest, Saturday at #12 Virginia
“There is not a doubt in my mind that any team in this league can beat us. But we have shown we can beat every team in this league.”  -Mark Few (12/27/62)
The Seminoles have as much talent as any team in the ACC, and have run the table with the exception of their loss to Temple, including a win over rival Florida.  Led by three double-figure scorers, Leonard Hamilton’s bunch will be a tough out for any opponent in the ACC, starting with Wake Forest in the league’s first conference game on Wednesday.

6. Notre Dame (10-2, PR: 9th, AP: 24th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. St. Peter’s, Saturday at Pittsburgh
“We’ve probably had the toughest losses of anybody in America. I think the table will turn.”  -Bill Self (12/27/62)
The Fighting Irish haven’t played the toughest schedule statistically, although they have lost their two toughest games, against top-ranked Villanova and Purdue.  However, they’ve run the table in the rest of their games, led by the strong play of four players scoring at least 13.8 ppg (Bonzie Colson, V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia, Matt Farrell), and an offense that ranks sixth nationally in assists per game (19.0).

7. Virginia Tech (10-1, PR: 8th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Maryland-Baltimore County, Saturday vs. #5 Duke
“It’s amazing. We got 20 different answers in our locker room.”  -Bill Self (12/27/62)
The problem in the past for the Hokies, who have a solid road win at Michigan and only a neutral-site loss to Texas A&M, was a lack of depth behind some strong players at the top.  Now, the Hokies have that depth, with eight players capable of having big games, and the correlation shows in the results.  Guard Chris Clarke is a rare guard who leads his team in rebounding (7.7 rpg), while also in steals (1.4 per game).

8. Clemson (9-2, PR: 12th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. UNC Wilmington, Saturday at Wake Forest
“Winning in someone else’s building is always gratifying. I think this win will give them a lot of confidence.”  -Bill Self (12/27/62)
The Tigers won their Palmetto Series matchup with rival South Carolina, on the road in Columbia, one of the best road wins by any ACC team, and a win that could propel the Tigers to further success.  The team’s losses are at neutral sites to strongholds Xavier and Oklahoma, and although no individual stat stands out for the Tigers, they are 23rd in kenpom.com‘s national ranking, led by Jaron Blossomgame (17.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg).

9. Pittsburgh (10-2, PR: 4th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Marshall, Saturday vs. #24 Notre Dame
“You’ve got to stay patient, stay in the moment, keep grinding… You never know what can happen.”  -Tiger Woods (12/30/75)
Before the season, I thought the Panthers would be really good and ranked them fourth in the conference, based on their status as an experienced team.  While they haven’t necessarily played poorly, with the exception of a loss to Duquesne, their resume is still somewhat indifferent, although they are the only team in the league with two 20-point scorers:  Michael Young (22.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.9 apg) and Jamel Artis (20.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.5 apg).

10. NC State (10-2, PR: 7th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Rider, Saturday at Miami
“Play for one another, and play the right way. The right way is believing in what’s on your chest and not what’s on your back.”  -Kevin Ollie (12/27/72)
For the first time in several years, Mark Gottfried can enjoy some depth with his roster at NC State.  Five players are averaging in double figures (with a sixth at 9.3 ppg), and while Dennis Smith Jr. (18.9 ppg, 5.5 apg) and Terry Henderson (16.8 ppg) have been as good as advertised, transfer guard Torin Dorn (15.1 ppg, 6.8 rpg) has been somewhat of a surprise contributor.  While their resume is nothing spectacular yet, the Wolfpack have the talent and depth return the Wolfpack to the NCAA Tournament.

11. Wake Forest (9-3, PR: 13th)
This Week:  Wednesday at #20 Florida State, Saturday vs. Clemson
“You don’t go through life, you grow through life.”  -Kevin Ollie (12/27/72)
The Demon Deacons appear to be trending upward, as Danny Manning’s team, while young, are over .500 on the road (if you know anything about Wake Forest basketball you know that’s an accomplishment for the Deacs), and have only been blown out once, by top-ranked Villanova.  Forward John Collins is, somewhat quietly, averaging a double-double (17.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg), while Bryant Crawford (14.3 ppg, 6.3 apg) is second in the ACC in assists.  The Deacs could be a sleeper moving into conference play, especially at home.

12. Miami (9-2, PR: 11th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Columbia, Saturday vs. NC State
“Well, you know, a lot of people look at the negative things, the things that they did wrong, which I do.  But I like to stress on the things I did right, because there are certain things that I like to look at from a positive standpoint that are just positive reinforcement.”  -Tiger Woods (12/30/75)
Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes have won the games they should and lost the games they were expected to thus far.  The U has a young team, but they are still playing well defensively, allowing just 57.8 ppg, the fifth best mark in the country.  Three double-figure scorers have led Miami, who has some positive things to look at in their season thus far, as well as some things to work on.

13. Syracuse (8-5, PR: 10th)
This Week:  Sunday at Boston College
“I don’t think panic’s set in by any means. But in fans’ minds, they’re thinking it’s awful early to be struggling this much.”  -Bill Self (12/27/62)
The biggest surprise in the ACC thus far are the struggles of Syracuse, with losses to South Carolina, UConn, Wisconsin, Georgetown, and St. John’s (the 33-point loss was their worst at the Carrier Dome), and only one decent win, over Monmouth.  Frank Howard (7.5 ppg, 6.5 apg) leads the ACC in assists.

14. Georgia Tech (7-4, PR: 15th)
This Week:  Wednesday vs. North Carolina A&T, Saturday vs. #9 North Carolina
“You have to be able to accept failure to get better.”  -LeBron James (12/30/84)
Josh Pashner’s debut season in Atlanta was expected to be tough from the outset, with a very young and patched-together team.  There aren’t necessarily any big wins on the Yellow Jackets’ schedule, although the head-scratching losses that young teams often experience don’t really exist either.  Ben Lammers is averaging a double-double (15.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg), although the Jackets rank 280th in points per game (68.9) and 246th in offensive efficiency.

15. Boston College (7-6, PR: 14th)
This Week:  Sunday vs. Syracuse
“When you go through trying times, you don’t stop trying.”  -Kevin Ollie (12/27/72)
The Eagles were another team expected to struggle, and while they have Power Six wins over Providence and Auburn, they also have the two worst losses by any ACC team this season, falling to Nicholls State and Hartford, while playing the 20th easiest schedule in the country.  Jerome Robinson has been a bright spot (20.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.2 apg), but it will be an uphill battle for the Eagles as they begin ACC play.

Column: “WakeyLeaks” Is Disgusting–And Far From Over

Who knew Benedict Arnold was a Wake Forest broadcaster?

Wake Forest football fired radio analyst Tommy Elrod, a former player and assistant coach with the program, on Tuesday after an investigation found he had provided details of the team’s game planning to opposing teams, dating back to 2014.

A scandal that has already made Elrod’s name equivocal with Arnold and Judas Iscariot on the Winston-Salem campus has been nicknamed “WakeyLeaks,” and while it is more than baffling why Elrod undermined the Wake Forest program this severely, this situation is far from over.

A Mole’s Motivation

In the immediate aftermath, the biggest question is, simply, “Why?”

Elrod played quarterback for the Demon Deacons from 1993-97, and became a graduate assistant on coach Jim Grobe’s staff in 2003, working his way up the coaching ladder and becoming quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator.

His tenure on the coaching staff included Wake Forest’s improbable run to the 2006 ACC championship, and Elrod was a key to the relative success of four-year starting quarterbacks Riley Skinner and Tanner Price.

When Grobe resigned after the 2013 season, Dave Clawson was hired as the new head coach, and did not retain Elrod.  Elrod’s situation was not unique, as Clawson brought most of his staff from Bowling Green with him to Wake Forest, and only retained two coaches from Grobe’s staff (and none tenured more than two years).

Elrod, however, remained involved in the program as a radio broadcaster, and continued to have access to the teams practices, film, and game plans.

Elrod, a 41-year old Wake Forest lifer, did not necessarily fit the profile of the typical double agent, but must have clearly had some strong motivation.  It is possible Elrod was disgruntled about not being retained on Clawson’s staff, even with such personnel moves being normal during a coaching transition.

However, the more likely motive for Elrod’s treachery is money, assuming the possibility exists that other football programs could buy the game plan information Elrod was leaking.

Many who know Elrod are stunned at the revelation of his disloyalty to Wake Forest.  In various forms of media, Elrod has been described over the last 24 hours as a family man, active in the Winston-Salem community including charity work.  Skinner told ESPN Elrod was a “stand-up character guy.”

How Much Harm Has Been Done?

As an admitted Wake Forest fan, I naturally find Elrod’s alleged actions as senseless and beyond disappointing.

But the frustration of the fan base does not even scratch the surface here, when you consider the hours and hours of hard work done by the coaching staff and especially the student-athletes in game preparation, only to be undermined and cheated out of a fair chance come gameday. Wide receiver Marshall Williams’ reaction on Twitter (below) is likely similar to that of many current and recent Wake Forest players.

(Warning: strong language)

And beyond any emotional hurt done by the sedition, consider how rough a game football is, and how much knowledge of a team’s game plan could literally cause harm.

For instance, quarterback John Wolford has been sacked 91 times over the last three years, including several instances when he was injured by a sack.  How many of Wolford’s injuries might have been caused because the opposing defense knew the play and went after the quarterback?  There’s no way to know an exact number, but this shows how wide the scope of this could potentially be.

The Fallout

That said, this case is not over.  For one thing, a lawsuit one way or the other between Elrod and the football program is very possible, and Elrod has already hired an attorney.

But beyond that, when an informant provides inside information, someone else is the receiver of such information, and that is where this could get messy.

Wake Forest football is the victim, as one of their own breached the trust he had been given by those within the program.  But the opponents who took the information are just as guilty as Elrod, especially if money changed hands.

Any possibility of a cash flow for exclusive intelligence, a possibility which certainly exists here, should be investigated by both the ACC and the NCAA.  Wake Forest acted quickly in firing Elrod; hopefully the ACC and/or NCAA will be as efficient in getting to the bottom of this controversy.  (The ACC released a statement late Wednesday promising “due diligence” to the case to “protect competitive integrity.”)

One opponent who is almost certainly involved in some way is Louisville.  The investigation into a potential data breach within the Wake Forest program began after documents were found at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium the day before the Demon Deacons’ game with Louisville that contained information on plays Wake Forest had not run before.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who is no stranger to controversy, denied any knowledge of the situation at the time, and again on Wednesday, calling it simply a “Wake Forest issue.”  But with strong evidence that Elrod was working as an informant from the Wake Forest side, Petrino will have some questions to answer.

Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said Wednesday that while Elrod did speak before the game to offensive coordinator Lonnie Galloway, who coached alongside Elrod at Wake Forest in 2011-12, Louisville used none of that information on their way to a 44-12 win.

In addition to Galloway, Elrod does have connections to other recent Wake Forest opponents.  Brian Knorr coached at Wake Forest alongside Elrod, then was Indiana defensive coordinator in 2015 when the teams met.  Ray McCartney, another former Wake Forest assistant and Elrod colleague, was the Army defensive line coach in 2014-15, and the Demon Deacons played the Black Knights in both seasons.

So there were easy opportunities for Elrod to contact opposing coaches at at least three schools that Wake Forest has played since 2014, and there could also be more less discernible connections that helped Elrod spread this information.

Likely the only person who knows every detail of Elrod’s subterfuge is Elrod himself, who has remained quiet thus far, erasing his presence on social media and not answering contact requests from the media.

In addition to being fired from his broadcasting position, Elrod is banned from all Wake Forest athletic events and facilities.  Elrod voluntarily resigned Monday from his position as director of business management for Verger Investment LLC, a firm created by Wake Forest to manage the university’s investments.

If all of the developments about Elrod are true, he has performed a disgraceful, repugnant, and subversive series of actions that have undermined the capability of the Wake Forest team to have adequate opportunity to compete fairly on the football field.

In other words, Benedict Arnold now has some company in the sports world.

 

Related:  Former Wake Forest Football Assistant Provided Game Plan Information to Opponents  (includes text of Wake Forest press release and statements from athletic director Ron Wellman and head football coach Dave Clawson)

Twitter Picks for College Football Championship Weekend

Entering “championship weekend” in college football, each of the Power Five conferences has a championship game, either directly, or in de facto fashion (Big 12).  There are many scenarios regarding what could happen and how teams could reach the College Football Playoff, as you can read in my Power Rankings, but Alabama and Ohio State appear to be in the Playoff, and Clemson and Washington should be with wins on Saturday.  Any other scenario, and the December version of Selection Sunday would be very interesting.

 

Each game is co-Game of the Week for this week.  They are listed in chronological order.

Pac-12 Championship Game

#4 Washington (11-1) vs. #8 Colorado (10-2)
Friday, 9:00 pm ET, FOX
at Santa Clara, Calif. (Levi’s Stadium)
Favorite:  Washington by 8
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Washington- 4th, Colorado- 9th

 

Big 12 regular season finale (de facto championship game)

#10 Oklahoma State (10-2) at #9 Oklahoma (10-2)
Saturday, 12:30 pm ET, FOX
Favorite:  Oklahoma by 11
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Oklahoma State- 10th, Oklahoma- 7th

 

SEC Championship Game

#1 Alabama (12-0) vs. #15 Florida (8-3)
Saturday, 4:00 pm ET, CBS
at Atlanta, Ga. (Georgia Dome)
Favorite:  Alabama by 24
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Alabama- 1st, Florida- 14th

 

ACC Championship Game

#3 Clemson (11-1) vs. #23 Virginia Tech (9-3)
Saturday, 8:00 pm ET, ABC
at Orlando, Fla. (Camping World Stadium)
Favorite:  Clemson by 10
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Clemson- 3rd, Virginia Tech- 20th

 

Big Ten Championship Game

#6 Wisconsin (10-2) vs. #7 Penn State (10-2)
Saturday, 8:00 pm ET, FOX
at Indianapolis, Ind. (Lucas Oil Stadium)
Favorite:  Wisconsin by 3
Stiles on Sports Ranking:  Wisconsin- 6th, Penn State- 8th

 

 

 

 

For what it’s worth…

Overall Record: 67-51-1
Previous Week: 8-4
College Overall Record: 63-47
NFL Game of the Week: 4-4-1

Game of the Week: 6-4
Big Game Guarantee: 3-7
Upset of the Week: 4-6
Closer Than the Experts Think: 4-6
Not Closer Than the Experts Think: 7-3
Overhyped/Bad Spread Game: 5-5
Group of Five Game of the Week: 7-3
Is This Futbol?: 8-2
Is This Basketball?: 8-2
Toilet Bowl: 6-4
Miscellaneous: 5-5

 

For an explanation of the categories for Twitter Picks, click here.