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.