ACC Postseason Power Rankings: North Carolina Wins League’s 14th National Title

After the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the ACC had only one of its nine tournament teams still alive, and some questioned the league’s strength.

Two weeks later, the ACC can boast a national champion for the 14th time (the league will claim 18, but Louisville and Syracuse combined for four before they were in the ACC).

North Carolina has won nearly half of the ACC’s titles, winning their sixth this year, after they were the best and most consistent team throughout the entire season.

Behind the obvious number one choice of the Tar Heels, here is how the rest of the ACC stacks up as the season comes to a close:

1. North Carolina (33-7, 14-4 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Semifinals (1-1)
NCAA Tournament:  National Champions (6-0)
Season High in SOS Rankings: 1, Season Low: 3
The Tar Heels won the regular season title in the nation’s best conference, foreshadowing what they would accomplish in the NCAA Tournament by winning the national title over Gonzaga on Monday.  With his third title (2005, ’09, ’17), Roy Williams passes his mentor, the legendary Dean Smith (national champion in 1982, ’93), and joins Mike Krzyzewski as one of two active coaches with three or more championships.

2. Duke (28-9, 11-7 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Champions (4-0)
NCAA Tournament:  Second Round (1-1)
Season High: 1, Season Low: 7
At the ACC Tournament, Duke became the first team in tournament history to win four games in four days, beating Notre Dame for the title after previously beating Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina.  In the NCAA Tournament, the Blue Devils were stunned in the second round by South Carolina, although they weren’t the only team the Gamecocks upset on their way to the Final Four.

3. Louisville (25-9, 12-6 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Quarterfinals (0-1)
NCAA Tournament:  Second Round (1-1)
Season High: 1, Season Low: 6
After losing their ACC Tournament opener to Duke, the Cardinals lost a back-and-forth second round battle in the NCAA Tournament to Michigan, who was one of the hottest teams in the NCAA field until their eventual loss to Oregon.  The postseason performances of the Cardinals did not match the strength of their season overall, although postseason results are often how a season is measured.

4. Florida State (26-9, 12-6 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Semifinals (1-1)
NCAA Tournament:  Second Round (1-1)
Season High: 3, Season Low: 5
The Seminoles were a great team, but had some inconsistency, which bit them in a blowout loss to Xavier in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  Despite being arguably Leonard Hamilton’s best team in Tallahassee, the ‘Noles missed an opportunity to have Hamilton’s best March result.

5. Notre Dame (26-10, 12-6 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Runners-up (2-1)
NCAA Tournament:  Second Round (1-1)
Season High: 2, Season Low: 9
The Irish reached the finals of the ACC Tournament for the second time in the last three years, falling to Duke, before surviving a NCAA first round scare against Princeton then losing to West Virginia.  Mike Brey has a knack for overachieving teams, and this year was no different–I picked them ninth in the league in November.

6. Virginia (23-11, 11-7 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Quarterfinals (1-1)
NCAA Tournament:  Second Round (1-1)
Season High: 2, Season Low: 6
After a quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame in Brooklyn, the Cavaliers reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but scored just 39 points in a 26-point loss to Florida.  Virginia’s success under Tony Bennett has come by winning low-scoring defensive struggles, but scoring just 39 in an NCAA Tournament will never get a team where they want to go.

7. Virginia Tech (22-11, 10-8 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Quarterfinals (1-1)
NCAA Tournament:  First Round (0-1)
Season High: 6, Season Low: 8
This season has to be considered a success for Buzz Williams’ Hokies, who reached their first NCAA Tournament since 2007 and second since 1996.  They weren’t the only team knocked out by Wisconsin, as the Badgers also beat top overall seed Villanova in the next round.

8. Wake Forest (19-14, 9-9 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Second Round (1-1)
NCAA Tournament:  First Four (0-1)
Season High: 8, Season Low: 13
Danny Manning’s rebuild in Winston-Salem reached the NCAA Tournament a year quicker than many expected.  Down the stretch of the season, and in both postseason tournaments, the Deacon defense was an issue; that, along with whether or not First Team All-ACC forward John Collins returns, are the biggest questions heading into next year, as the Deacs should continue improving.

9. Miami (21-12, 10-8 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Quarterfinals (1-1)
NCAA Tournament:  First Round (0-1)
Season High: 9, Season Low: 12
The Hurricanes reached the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years, marking only the second such stretch in school history.  Jim Larranaga had tough coaching matchups in the postseason:  after beating Jim Boeheim in Brooklyn, the Hurricanes lost to Roy Williams in Brooklyn and Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament.

10. Georgia Tech (21-16, 8-10 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  First Round (0-1)
NIT:  Runners-up (4-1)
Season High: 9, Season Low: 15
An ACC Tournament loss to Pittsburgh nailed the Yellow Jackets’ NCAA coffin shut, but the Yellow Jackets took advantage of their NIT opportunity by reaching the final, where they lost to TCU.  This season still has to be considered a success for Josh Pashner in his first season in Atlanta–the team was picked last in the ACC by many, including me.

11. Clemson (17-16, 6-12 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Second Round (1-1)
NIT:  First Round (0-1)
Season High: 7, Season Low: 12
Clemson hung around the NCAA bubble deep into the season despite a mediocre record because of a very difficult schedule.  But in the end, the Tigers just didn’t win enough to make The Dance.  After losing to eventual ACC champ Duke in Brooklyn, the Tigers were upset by Oakland in their NIT opener, ending their season.

12. Syracuse (19-15, 10-8 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Second Round (0-1)
NIT:  Second Round (1-1)
Season High: 8, Season Low: 13
The Orange didn’t have a good postseason, losing to Miami in the ACC Tournament, scantly missing the NCAA Tournament, then losing to Ole Miss in the second round of the NIT.  And yet, their postseason won’t even be most remembered for those results, but instead for the war of words between Jim Boeheim and the city of Greensboro.  C’mon, Jim.

13. Pittsburgh (16-17, 4-14 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  Second Round (1-1)
Postseason:  none
Season High: 4, Season Low: 14
After some guy named Chris Stiles picked this veteran team to finish fourth in the ACC, the Panthers were the biggest underachiever in the country this season, winning just four ACC games.  But hey, with their first round win over Georgia Tech in the ACC Tournament, they ensured the Yellow Jackets wouldn’t go to the NCAA Tournament either.

14.  NC State (15-17, 4-14 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  First Round (0-1)
Postseason:  none
Season High: 7, Season Low: 15
The Wolfpack also underachieved, with a roster including future NBA lottery pick Dennis Smith.  They did something they hadn’t done since 1995, beating Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but after Mark Gottfried was fired Feb. 13, the Wolfpack uneventfully played out the string.  Kevin Keatts, coming off back-to-back NCAA bids at UNC Wilmington, will take over in Raliegh.

15. Boston College (9-23, 2-16 ACC)
ACC Tournament:  First Round (0-1)
Postseason:  none
Season High: 14, Season Low: 15
The last several years have been a struggle for the Eagles, so much so that their 2-16 conference record is actually an improvement.  However, ending the season on a 15-game losing streak still leaves a bitter taste in their mouths entering the offseason.

2017 MLB Preview

After a thrilling 2016 season that concluded with the Chicago Cubs winning their first World Series since 1908 (and being named Stiles on Sports Sportsmen of the Year), it’s time for the 2017 season to commence.

The season begins today with a trio of games on the ESPN family of networks (N.Y. Yankees at Tampa Bay, San Francisco at Arizona, Chi. Cubs at St. Louis), before Opening Day around the country tomorrow.

As usual, there are many storylines entering the season.  With the Cubs no longer having a century-long curse without a title, the longest drought now belongs to the Cleveland Indians, but they have positioned themselves well to potentially end their own dry spell this year.

Meanwhile, the Cubs remain strong and have a legitimate chance to repeat, while every other team that made the playoffs in 2016 has very good shot to return, with nearly all favored or co-favored in their respective divisions.

That’s not to say there can’t be risers from 2016’s non-playoff teams.  That group includes the Cardinals, Royals, Pirates, Tigers and Astros, all of whom have had recent success, as well as teams on the rise like the Braves, Rockies, Yankees and Mariners.

So without further adieu, here are my predictions for each division race in the 2017 season.

P.S.:  don’t take these to the bank–last year’s picks missed all over the map, with some picks missing badly.

 

Editor’s note:  instead of boring you with a detailed description of the depth of each roster, I’ve only included a few key points.  Links to each team’s MLB.com depth chart are included if you would like to see how each individual position stacks up.

 

NL East 

1. Washington Nationals
2016: 95-67, lost to Dodgers in NLCS
The Nationals have a rotation–Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez at the top and the underrated pair of Tanner Roark and Joe Ross at the bottom–to match that of the division-rival Mets.  Scherzer is the defending NL Cy Young winner, but it was Roark who had the staff’s best ERA last year (2.83).  The bullpen, however, will be a question mark.

With the additions of OF Adam Eaton and C Matt Wieters, which helped offset a few bench departures, their lineup is better than New York, and should give them the slight edge in a tight division race.  It’s hard to believe, but the Nationals have still never won a playoff series in franchise history, including last year’s 5-game NLDS loss to the Dodgers; that fact could change in 2017.

2. New York Mets
2016: 87-75, lost to Giants in NL Wild Card Game
After a Wild Card Game loss to the Giants, if the Mets stay fully healthy, they could very easily top the Nationals.  But over the last couple of years, injuries have ravaged this team on both sides of the ball.  Their rotation, when healthy, may be the best in baseball, but all five of their young arms have an injury concern, and oft-injured 3B David Wright is out for now with a shoulder injury.  That said, Robert Gsellman, who may not have even made the roster if not for Steven Matz’s elbow inflammation, is a sleeper candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.

Offensively, the Mets return last year’s lineup, which was at times too reliant on the home run–no regular starter hit higher than .282 (Neil Walker); for their best shot at the Nationals, more consistency in the offense and their health will be important.

3. Atlanta Braves
2016: 68-93; last postseason appearance: 2013
The Braves were a different team last year after the trade-deadline acquisition of Matt Kemp (37-68 before, 31-25 after), which gave Freddie Freeman some “protection” in the lineup.  2017 Rookie of the Year favorite Dansby Swanson was also effective in a short late-season stint, and the bullpen got better as the year progressed.

Now, with no significant roster losses and the interim tag removed from manager Brian Snitker, the Braves pitching staff has added Jaime Garcia and former Cy Young winners Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey to the rotation short-term to bridge the gap to 2018 and beyond, when the strong pitching in baseball’s top farm system will continue reaching the majors.  In the meantime, this team should be more competitive than the last two years, and if it all comes together could be a sleeper in the East.

4. Miami Marlins
2016: 79-82; last postseason appearance: 2003
The September death of pitcher Jose Fernandez was tragic, as a shining young star in the game was lost much too soon.  But beyond just the emotional loss for the Marlins, they now have a hole to fill in the rotation.  The team tried in free agency, but the aging Edinson Volquez is unlikely to match Fernandez’s effectiveness or spirit.

This team will hit, especially if Giancarlo Stanton stays healthy (he hasn’t for a full season since 2014), and has added veterans Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa for depth in an already strong bullpen.  This team is not terrible, and should hover at or just below the .500 mark again, but there is no reason to believe this is the year they make the leap to contenders.

5. Philadelphia Phillies
2016: 71-91; last postseason appearance: 2011
The Phillies added some experience to their young roster this offseason, adding P Joaquin Benoit in free agency and trading for P Clay Buchholz, P Pat Neshek and OF Howie Kendrick.  However, these moves essentially just offset the players lose in free agency, leaving the Phillies with a similar roster composition to their team from last year.

This organization is moving in the right direction, although they are doing it slowly.  There is talent on the major league roster, and those players will get better with more experience, while more young talent comes through a strong farm system.

 

NL Central

1. Chicago Cubs
2016: 103-58, defeated Indians to win World Series
A year after breaking the most famous drought in professional sports, the Cubs are fully capable of winning the World Series again in 2017.  The core of the 2016 champs is intact, with the exception of free agent departure Dexter Fowler, whose place in center field will be taken by a Jon Jay/Albert Almora platoon.  Kyle Schwarber will also be with the team a full season after missing the entire regular season then becoming a World Series hero.

The Cubs rotation, with the 2015 Cy Young Winner (Jake Arrieta) and two of the top three in last year’s Cy Young voting (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks) held a remarkable 2.96 ERA.  The bullpen lost free agent closer Aroldis Chapman, but after signing Wade Davis and Koji Uehara have three of the last four pitchers to record the final out of the World Series (along with returning Cub Mike Montgomery).

2. St. Louis Cardinals
Projected Wild Card #1
2016: 86-76; last postseason appearance: 2015
The Cardinals missed the playoffs by one game last season, snapping a five-year postseason streak, and they’ll be motivated after their rivals from Chicago won it all.  Free agent OF Dexter Fowler left the Cubs to come to St. Louis, giving the Cardinals the true leadoff hitter they’ve lacked the last couple of years.

The pitching staff doesn’t have the depth they’ve had in previous years, especially in the bullpen, but should still be strong; Carlos Martinez has emerged as the staff ace, and free agent signee Brett Cecil will help in the ‘pen.

This is still the typical Cardinals roster full of players they have drafted and developed (with a few exceptions), and while they don’t quite match up with the Cubs, they are still capable of a successful season and a wild card berth.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates
2016: 78-83; last postseason appearance: 2015
The Bucs took a big step back last year, winning 20 games less than in 2015, and this year they continue to look fairly mediocre.  The pitching staff features young talent, including Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow, who may experience some growing pains.

Offensively, while no position stands out as a glaring weakness, there aren’t many strengths either.  How Andrew McCutchen plays after the Pirates tried to trade him in the offseason could be a big key to whether or not the Pirates have any shot at contending, although being in the same division with the Cubs, said contention would more likely be for a wild card spot.

4. Milwaukee Brewers
2016: 73-89; last postseason appearance: 2011
The Brewers understand their situation as a rebuilding team, and instead of punishing manager Craig Counsell for losing seasons his first two years, extended him through 2020.  A pitching staff full of young players and reclamation projects is potentially no better than last year, especially after losing free agent reliver Tyler Thornburg.

Offensively, the team does have a couple of things going for them, even after the loss of free agent slugger Chris Carter.  Ryan Braun continues his very solid career, and Jonathan Villar has established himself at the top of the order.  An intriguing player is Eric Thames, who hasn’t played in MLB since 2012 but signed as a free agent after a successful stint playing in Korea.  But even if it all clicks offensively, it’s unlikely to be enough to contend.

5. Cincinnati Reds
2016: 68-94; last postseason appearance: 2013
The Reds are also in a rebuild, and I wrote about their indifferent long-term outlook when they traded Brandon Phillips in February.  After going a combined 132-192 in the last two seasons, they return virtually the same roster (with the exception of losing Phillips).

Offensively, a lineup including 1B Joey Votto and young slugger Adam Duvall was mid-pack in the National League, and should continue to be.  However, the pitching staff had a team ERA of 4.91 a year ago, including 5.09 in relief, and is no better this year.  Some of that is due to playing in a small ballpark, but the struggles of this pitching staff still can’t be ignored entering 2017.

 

NL West 

1. San Francisco Giants
2016: 87-75, lost to Cubs in NLDS
After having the best record in MLB at the All-Star break last season, the Giants ended up as a Wild Card team; the main reason was a horrendous bullpen.  That unit improved with one offseason move–the signing of closer Mark Melancon.  Now, when the solid Madison Bumgarner-Johnny Cueto-Matt Moore trio in the rotation gives the Giants a lead, there’s a better chance the team will keep it.

Last year’s Giants offense, led by C Buster Posey and OF Hunter Pence, was above average in batting average and below average in home runs.  That combination had that offense, which is essentially unchanged, ranking ninth in the NL in runs.  With a strong rotation and improved bullpen, that could be enough to win the West.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected Wild Card #2
2016: 91-71, lost to Cubs in NLCS
The Dodgers have won four straight NL West titles, and have the longest active postseason streak in baseball.  Last year, they did it offensively with young players, like Joc Pedersen, Andrew Toles and NL Rookie of the Year Corey Seager.  They’re all back, with another year’s experience under their belt, although they lose OFs Josh Reddick and Howie Kendrick.

The pitching staff couldn’t stay healthy last year, and still had a 3.70 team ERA.  The best pitcher in the game resides at Dodger Stadium in Clayton Kershaw, but he also has a very deep unit behind him (so much so, Alex Wood is starting the season in the bullpen).  The bullpen lost some of its depth in free agency and is the team’s biggest question mark–even with the re-signing of closer Kenley Jansen, the unit’s instability moves the team just behind the Giants in the West.

3. Colorado Rockies
2016: 75-87; last postseason appearance: 2009
The Rockies have improved their win total the last two years, and have one of the best offenses in the game–their offensive stats, including a .275 average, are spectacular, even for a team that plays half its games at altitude–led by MVP candidate Nolan Arenado.  That offense now adds veteran Ian Desmond, a player who is used to being on successful teams, although he’ll start the season on the DL.

Pitching at Coors Field is tough, and while this team (or any Rockies team, for that matter) is highly unlikely to lead the league in ERA, their young rotation has a shot to be really good, while a bullpen that had a 5.13 ERA in 2016 has bolstered itself by adding Greg Holland, Jake McGee and Mike Dunn.  The Rockies are probably still a year away, but some teams have gotten “ahead of schedule” in recent years, so Colorado could be a sleeper team out west.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks
2016: 69-93; last postseason appearance: 2011
After looking like a potential contender last year, the Diamondbacks’ season was about as horrendous as their uniforms.  Former Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo comes in as manager, and faces a tough task in the desert.  The offense was not the problem in 2016–led by 1B Paul Goldschmidt, the D-Backs were above average in batting average, OPS, homers and steals–and should still be good, even without NL hits leader 2B Jean Segura.

A 5.09 staff ERA was main cause of last year’s struggles, including a 5.19 rotation ERA.  This year’s staff may be moderately better with the additions of Taijuan Walker in the rotation and Fernando Rodney in the bullpen, but mostly consists of the same cast of characters and lack of depth that plagued them last year.  Those struggles are likely to continue, keeping them from contention once again this year.

5. San Diego Padres
2016: 68-94; last postseason appearance: 2006
The Padres have lost at least 85 games every year since 2010, and after a rough 2016 campaign have lost OF Jon Jay, C Derek Norris, P Edwin Jackson, P Brandon Morrow and P Tyson Ross (who was injured in 2016 but was a key piece previously).

Jhoulys Chacin, who was the #4 starter to start the season last year for an Atlanta team that lost 93 games, is now the Opening Day starter for the Padres, and former catcher Christian Bethancourt has made the roster as a reliever, both of which tells you all you need to know about their lack of pitching depth.  The offense, which was well below average last year, has solid young players like OFs Hunter Renfroe and Manuel Margot, in addition to established 1B Wil Myers, but this team looks worse than last year’s 94-loss team, and is miles away from contention.  Three Rule 5 Draft players made the roster; the last such team was the 2003 Tigers (43-119).

 

National League Playoffs Prediction

NL Wild Card Game:  Cardinals def. Dodgers

NLDS:  Cubs def. Cardinals, Nationals def. Giants

NLCS:  Cubs def. Nationals

 

AL East

1. Boston Red Sox
2016: 93-69, lost to Indians in ALDS
After winning the AL East last year, the Red Sox got even better in the offseason.  While they lost David Ortiz to retirement, 1B/DH Mitch Moreland is a worthy addition to mostly fill that void, and the young outfield of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi will be a year older and more experienced after each were solid in 2016 (Benintendi is still considered a rookie, and is AL Rookie of the Year favorite).

The pitching staff boasts 2016 AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, but he is not even the best pitcher on the staff after the acquisition of Chris Sale; a top three featuring those two and David Price, also a former Cy Young winner, is as good as any.  In the bullpen, trading for Tyler Thornburg (although he’ll start on the DL) offsets some losses in free agency.  The Red Sox are favored to repeat as AL East champs, although it will, as always, be a very tough division to win.

2. Toronto Blue Jays
Projected Wild Card #1
2016: 89-73, lost to Indians in ALCS
The Blue Jays return mostly the same roster that has gone to the ALCS the last two years, with one glaring exception.  DH Edwin Encarnacion became an Indian in free agency, and the aging Kendrys Morales, who signed with Toronto, won’t replace all of Encarnacion’s production.  Otherwise, the team’s offense remains intact.

While the Blue Jays are known for the high-flying offense of the last two years, their pitching staff is quietly one of the best in baseball.  Their 3.78 ERA last year was the best in the AL, with a strong five-deep rotation (Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada and Francisco Liriano) and a bullpen anchored closer Roberto Osuna and former closer Jason Grilli.  Beating Boston won’t be easy, but it’s doable if everything comes together.

3. New York Yankees
2016: 84-78; last playoff appearance: 2015
The Yankees are transitioning into a team with a young core capable of a sustained run, a solid development for a team whose main criticism the last couple of years was its increasing age.  Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira retired and Brian McCann was traded, clearing the way for young guns such as C Gary Sanchez, 1B Greg Bird and RF Aaron Judge.  This trio will make the Yankees formidable in the years to come.

The Yankee rotation is still old, led by Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia.  The bullpen is bolstered by Aroldis Chapman, who was dealt to the Cubs in July for prospects and returned to New York on a lucrative five-year free agent deal.  The ‘pen, which also features Dellin Betances (who would close almost anywhere else) and Tyler Clippard, pitched to a 3.67 ERA last year.  The Yankees are probably a year away from threatening a deep playoff run, but if the young players adapt quickly and the veterans stay healthy they could pose a threat to Boston and Toronto now.

4. Baltimore Orioles
2016: 89-73, lost to Blue Jays in AL Wild Card Game
The Orioles under Buck Showalter have made the playoffs every other year; if the trend continues, they’re due to miss the postseason this year, and after a quiet offseason that is realistic.  Offensively, C Wellington Castillo replacing the departed Matt Wieters is the only major change to an offense right at the league average in batting average and on-base percentage, although they only stole 19 bases all season.

Rotation depth was questionable last year, with a 4.72 unit ERA, and is worse this year after Yovanni Gallardo was traded and Tommy Hunter became a free agent.  Making matters worse, two of their five projected starters are on the DL to start the season.  The bullpen is good (3.40 ERA in 2016), and closer Zach Britton is great (), but how many leads will they get?  Sure, this is somewhat the same team that won 89 games last year, but after their stagnant offseason they’ve lost ground in the AL East.

5. Tampa Bay Rays
2016: 68-94; last playoff appearance: 2013
After losing 94 games in 2016, the Rays also had a tellingly uneventful offseason.  An offense that hit a league-worst .243 last year is no better, and while the team did make one signing to try to improve themselves, it was C Wilson Ramos, who is out until at least the All-Star break with a knee injury from last year.

The Rays have a solid top three in the rotation, with Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and Alex Cobb, although below that it is less stable, and a bullpen that pitched to a 4.09 ERA last season lost Kevin Jepsen.  In the AL East, facing the four teams above them 19 times each, it is going to be a long year for the Rays.

 

AL Central

1. Cleveland Indians
2016: 94-67, lost to Cubs in World Series
The 2016 Indians lost Game 7 of the World Series in extra innings, becoming the first team to do so since the 1997 Indians.  Good news for Cleveland is all three previous teams to lose Game 7 in extra innings won at least 89 games and made at least the LCS the following year.  Even better news is that this year’s edition should be even better than the 2016 team.

The core of last year’s squad is intact, while free agent DH Edwin Encarnacion adds some power to the lineup.  The 2016 playoff run was without OF Michael Brantley and pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar; all three of those key pieces are now healthy. Imagine last year’s playoff run with even more pitching depth, or another clutch hitter.  It’s scary, and the rest of the league should be scared of what this team is capable of in 2017, as they try to win their first World Series in 69 years.

2. Detroit Tigers
2016: 86-75; last postseason appearance: 2014
Last year, the Tigers were still alive to make the playoffs on the last day of the regular season.  This year, with mostly the same roster, Brad Ausmus’s team is looking to take the next step.  The offense was the strength of last year’s team, led by a perennial MVP candidate in 1B Miguel Cabrera, veteran DH Victor Martinez and slugging LF Justin Upton.

The pitching staff’s 4.24 ERA last year was 11th in the AL, despite the resurgence of ace Justin Verlander and the Rookie of the Year season of Michael Fulmer.  The bullpen has been a problem here for years, although it is improving, led by closer Francisco Rodriguez and up-and-coming set-up man Bruce Rondon.  The Indians will be tough to catch, but a Wild Card berth is very realistic for the Tigers.

3. Kansas City Royals
2016: 81-81; last postseason appearance: 2015
After ending a 29-year playoff drought in 2014 by reaching the World Series, then winning it all in 2015, the Royals led the division after a 30-22 start, a 20-33 record in June/July doomed them to a distant third-place finish and a .500 record.  Offensively, the team offset the loss of Kendrys Morales by signing Brandon Moss, traded for OF Jorge Soler, and retain most of the core from the championship team.

The biggest loss of the offseason came with the death of ace Yordano Ventura in a car accident.  Overcoming that loss emotionally won’t be easy, and replacing him on the field won’t be either, especially since the team lacks the depth provided previously by departed players Edinson Volquez, Luke Hochevar and Wade Davis.  The addition of Travis Wood will help, and Mike Minor, who has moved to the bullpen, could as well if he stays healthy, but it’s hard to see any better of a record than last year.

4. Minnesota Twins
2016: 59-103; last postseason appearance: 2010
2016 was not a good year for the Twins, who had a league-worst 5.08 ERA, a league-worst .979 fielding percentage, and a fifth-worst .251 batting average.  On one hand, the outlook isn’t good for 2017 either, as C Jason Castro is the team’s only addition, although he essentially just replaces free agent Kurt Suzuki.

On the other hand, this is a rebuilding team, and the young core of the future is intact for another season.  Sure, it can’t get much worse than a 103-loss season, but players like Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Byron Buxton who are the all-stars of the future should be better with more experience.  This team won’t win the Central, but still has some big issues in the pitching staff, but should be moderately better and could pass the White Sox.

5. Chicago White Sox
2016: 78-84; last postseason appearance: 2008
The White Sox started 2016 at 23-10 and looked like a potential contender, but as the season crumbled away the team decided it was time to rebuild.  Chris Sale and Adam Eaton were traded, and Justin Morneau and Austin Jackson are among the free agent departures.  Those trades netted the Sox two of baseball’s best prospects in P Lucas Giolito and IF Yoan Moncada, but they aren’t quite MLB-ready to start the season.

Besides Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier in the middle of the order, the lineup is full of young players and reclamation projects.  The rotation is led by legitimate ace Carlos Quintana, but it’s no secret the White Sox are trying to trade him for a haul of prospects, so it’s unknown if he’ll be in Chicago all season, and beneath him the pitching staff has many more questions than answers.  It’s going to be a long year (or few years) in the South Side as the White Sox rebuild.

 

AL West

1. Houston Astros
2016: 84-78; last postseason appearance: 2015
Last year, coming off their “ahead of schedule” postseason berth in 2015, the Astros underachieved and missed the playoffs.  As a result, they were aggressive in free agency to try to add to their talented core of young stars including Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer, and added DH Carlos Beltran, C Brian McCann (via trade) and OFs Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick.  This lineup is stacked, which is refreshing after they struggled to score at times last year.

The bullpen (3.56 ERA in 2016) remains a force from top to bottom.  The biggest question is the rotation, which added Charlie Morton to offse tthe loss of Doug Fister.  If Dallas Keuchel can return to his 2015 Cy Young form, there’s no reason the Astros can’t win the West and be a threat to go deep in October.

 

2. Seattle Mariners
Projected Wild Card #2
2016: 86-76; last postseason appearance: 2001
The Mariners fell just short in 2016, and still seek their first playoff appearance since 2001.  Some wonder if their window is closing, as stars Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz aren’t getting any younger.  In an effort to win now, the Mariners made a plethora of trades this offseason, but none were bigger than a deal to get SS Jean Segura, who led the NL in hits last year with Arizona.  The Mariners stole just 56 bases last year, while Segura himself stole 33.

The back end of a good rotation was helped with the acquisition of Yovanni Gallardo, while Edwin Diaz emerged as the closer last year in a strong bullpen (3.55 ERA) that could be even better.  This team has the talent to win the division, although they’ll need a solid season to beat Houston.

3. Texas Rangers
2016: 95-67, lost to Blue Jays in ALDS
The Rangers were a statistcal anomaly in 2016, at 26 games over .500 despite a run differential of just +8.  Now, while the core of the defending West champs remains, some of the supporting cast is absent.  DH Carlos Beltran, OF Ian Desmond, 1B/DH Mitch Moreland and P Colby Lewis are among the departures.  The team did add 1B Mike Napoli and P Andrew Cashner, who will start the season on the DL.

The lineup was above average in every major category last year, but that may change without Beltran, Desmond and Moreland.  A good rotation led by Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish will give way to a bullpen that struggled last year to a 4.40 ERA and is virtually unchanged.  This is still a good team, but the Astros and Mariners have passed them this offseason.

 

4. Los Angeles Angels
2016: 74-88; last postseason appearance: 2014
Depth is a key issue for the Angels.  Offensively, behind Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, there’s not much there, although they have one of the game’s best defenders in SS Andrelton Simmons.  There also aren’t reinforcements coming:  the Angels farm system is consistently rated one of the game’s worst.

Starting pitching depth and health was an issue in 2016, and loses depth in departed veterans Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.  The bullpen isn’t bad (3.77 ERA in 2016), that won’t be enough to cure this team’s problems.  The Angels are in transition; they aren’t in a all-in rebuild, but they also aren’t going to be contenders.

5. Oakland Athletics
2016: 69-93; last postseason appearance: 2014
The A’s have lost 93-plus games the last two years, and last year were well below average on both sides of the ball.  The lineup adds Matt Joyce, Rajai Davis and Trevor Plouffe, and while no large holes jump off the depth chart their lineup is full of guys who would be hitting in the bottom half of the order most other places.

On the mound, ace Sonny Gray will start the season on the DL, and beneath him the A’s have no rotation depth.  The bullpen isn’t much better, with journeyman Ryan Madson set to serve as closer.  The “Moneyball” concept has worked at times in Oakland; this is not one of those times, as the refusal to spend much to make this team better is going to cost them for another year.

 

American League Playoffs Prediction

AL Wild Card Game: Blue Jays def. Mariners

ALDS: Indians def. Blue Jays, Red Sox def. Astros

ALCS: Indians def. Astros

 

World Series Prediction

113th World Series:  Indians def. Cubs

ACC Basketball Power Rankings for 3/6 and Postseason Awards

Welcome to March.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in the ACC already, and it’s only about to get crazier, as the ACC Tournament starts tomorrow in Brooklyn.

As usual, there are multiple ACC teams who will playing not only for their conference tournament lives, but their NCAA Tournament lives as well, with Syracuse, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and possibly Clemson all around the projected NCAA bubble.

Here are this week’s power rankings entering the ACC Tournament, as well as my All-ACC selections.

Power Rankings

Top Tier

1. North Carolina (26-6, 14-4 ACC, Previous Ranking: 1st, AP Poll: 6th)
Record since last rankings:  5-1
This Week:  ACC Tournament Quarterfinal, Thursday, 12:00 pm ET vs. Syracuse/Miami
Since the last rankings, the Tar Heels have solidified themselves atop the ACC, with three wins over ranked opponents.  Their lone loss came last week at Virginia in a game they only scored 43, but they answered, beating a Duke team who beat them in February.  The Tar Heels are in the top 11 nationally in all three major stat categories, as they try to defend their ACC title this week in Brooklyn, led by ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson (see below).

2. Louisville (24-7, 12-6 ACC, PR: 3rd, AP: 10th)
Record since last rankings:  4-2
This Week:  ACC Tournament Quarterfinal, Thursday, appr. 2:30 pm ET vs. Duke/Clemson/NC State
The Cardinals continue to play well, particularly at home, although they are just 8-6 away from the KFC Yum! Center, including losses in their last two road games at North Carolina and Wake Forest.  The Cardinals, who are 6th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, get a double-bye to start the ACC Tournament, but their most likely opponent is Duke for a tough quarterfinal matchup.

3. Florida State (24-7, 12-6 ACC, PR: 4th, AP: 16th)
Record since last rankings:  3-2
This Week:  ACC Tournament Quarterfinal, Thursday, 7:00 pm ET vs. Virginia Tech/Wake Forest/Boston College
Despite a loss in Durham last week, which the Seminoles followed with a win over rival Miami, Florida State has a remarkable 7-2 record against ranked opponents, and the most top 25 RPI wins of anyone in the country (6).  The three highest-ranked ACC teams in this week’s AP Poll are on the opposite side of the ACC Tournament bracket, which could set up the ‘Noles for a deep run in Brooklyn.

4. Virginia (21-9, 11-7 ACC, PR: 2nd, AP: 21st)
Record since last rankings:  3-3
This Week:  ACC Tournament Second Round, Wednesday, appr. 9:30 pm ET vs. Georgia Tech/Pittsburgh
The Cavaliers’ defense, ranked 1st in points allowed and adjusted efficiency, never went away, even if their offense did over a four-game losing streak in mid-February, but suddenly they appear to be clicking on both sides of the ball, and may be peaking at the right time.  Statistical models actually give the Cavaliers a better chance of reaching the ACC semifinals than Notre Dame, the team they would play if they beat the Georgia Tech/Pittsburgh winner on Wednesday.

5. Duke (23-8, 11-7 ACC, PR: 5th, AP: 14th)
Record since last rankings:  3-3
This Week:  ACC Tournament Second Round, Wednesday, appr. 2:30 pm ET vs. Clemson/NC State
The roller-coaster season for Duke has continued since the last rankings, with road losses in three of their last four games, and a home win over Florida State.  The loss Saturday night was bigger than just a loss to rival North Carolina–as a result, Duke will have to win four games in four days to win the ACC Tournament (as opposed to just three), something that hasn’t been done in the ACC.

6. Notre Dame (23-8, 12-6 ACC, PR: 6th, AP: 22nd)
Record since last rankings:  4-1
This Week:  ACC Tournament Quarterfinal, Thursday, appr. 9:30 pm ET vs. Virginia/Georgia Tech/Pittsburgh
Mike Brey has done a fantastic job with this team–after I picked them to finish ninth in the ACC, they finished in a tie for second and will be the third seed in Brooklyn.  This has been done despite being statistically lackluster:  62nd in points per game (78.5), 101st in points allowed (69.3), and 266th in rebounding (34.2 per game).

Middle Tier

7. Virginia Tech (21-9, 10-8 ACC, PR: 8th)
Record since last rankings:  4-2
This Week:  ACC Tournament Second Round, Wednesday, 7:00 pm ET vs. Wake Forest/Boston College
On one hand, the Hokies are playing well, with their only losses over the last three weeks to Louisville on the road and at home to a hot Wake Forest team.  On the other hand, with the exception of a home win over Miami, their wins have come against the bottom third of the league.  That said, on the strength of an over-.500 record in the nation’s deepest conference and wins over Duke and Virginia, the Hokies are a lock for their first NCAA bid in 10 years, and just their second since 1996.

8. Wake Forest (18-12, 9-9 ACC, PR: 9th)
Record since last rankings:  3-2
This Week:  ACC Tournament First Round, Tuesday, appr. 2:30 pm ET vs. Boston College
The Demon Deacons finally got the quality win they were lacking Wednesday over Louisville, then backed it up by handing Virginia Tech just their second home loss.  Now, the Deacs are in the projected NCAA field on 110 of the 112 brackets on bracketmatrix.com (an aggregation of various online bracket projections), and may even earn a bye to the Round of 64 to avoid the “First Four” in Dayton.  The Deacs are 25th in ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, and 30th in the KenPom rankings, with KenPom’s ninth best adjusted offensive efficiency.

9. Miami (20-10, 10-8 ACC, PR: 10th)
Record since last rankings:  4-2
This Week:  ACC Tournament Second Round, Wednesday, 12:00 pm ET vs. Syracuse
The Hurricanes entered last week sailing smoothly, after wins over Virginia and Duke, but then stumbled on the road against Virginia Tech and Florida State.  The ‘Canes are comfortably within the NCAA field; they are projected by most as an 8-seed.  While they rank 252nd in points per game (70.2), they are 60th in adjusted offensive efficiency–the discrepancy is rooted in the 20th slowest tempo in the country.

10. Syracuse (18-13, 10-8 ACC, PR: 7th)
Record since last rankings:  2-3
This Week:  ACC Tournament Second Round, Wednesday, 12:00 pm ET vs. Miami
Syracuse have lost four of six, and while two to Louisville are certainly understandable, the other two to Pittsburgh and Georgia Tech are problematic to a bubble team.  The Orange have, at various points this season, been well outside of and well within the NCAA field, and now they sit as the third to last team in on Bracket Matrix.  A potential game with North Carolina on Thursday could solidify the Orange’s bid, but to get there they’ll have to beat Miami on Wednesday.

11. Clemson (16-14, 6-12 ACC, PR: 12th)
Record since last rankings:  3-3
This Week:  ACC Tournament First Round, Tuesday, 12:00 pm ET vs. NC State
The Tigers’ tourney hopes are on life support, but they are still alive, with the Tigers listed as the fifth team out of the field on Bracket Matrix.  But with 14 losses and a 6-12 conference record, even with one of the nation’s toughest schedules, I just don’t see it (and a 15th loss guaranteed if they’re trying to get an at-large bid, as that would mean they didn’t win the ACC Tournament).  The best bet for the Tigers is to make a run in the ACC Tournament–and that could include some quality wins, as their track includes Louisville and Duke–and hope for the rest of the bubble to collectively crash.  They could, of course, just win the ACC Tournament, but that’s never been done in program history, and would require five wins in five days.

12. Georgia Tech (17-14, 8-10 ACC, PR: 11th)
Record since last rankings:  2-4
This Week:  ACC Tournament First Round, Tuesday, 7:00 pm ET vs. Pittsburgh
Josh Pastner is the ACC Coach of the Year after taking over a mess at Georgia Tech that I projected to win just two conference games and turning them into an NCAA bubble contender.  That said, they have lost four of six and, like Clemson, have 14 losses overall (although they have more quality wins than Clemson), and will likely need to make a deep run in the ACC Tournament.  They come to Brooklyn unlisted on Bracket Matrix, which means no one has them in the field, but they are the seventh team out of the bracket of ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, meaning they, too, are still on NCAA life support.

Bottom Tier

13. Pittsburgh (15-16, 4-14 ACC, PR: 13th)
Record since last rankings:  1-5
This Week:  ACC Tournament First Round, Tuesday, 7:00 pm ET vs. Georgia Tech
Kevin Stallings’ inaugural year at Pitt has been vastly disappointing.  After I picked them fourth, they went 4-14 in the ACC, including a four-game losing streak to end the regular season in which each loss was worse than the previous loss.  Just to be eligible for the NIT, the Panthers would have to win two games in the ACC Tournament.

14. NC State (15-16, 4-14 ACC, PR: 14th)
Record since last rankings:  1-4
This Week:  ACC Tournament First Round, Tuesday, 12:00 pm ET vs. Clemson
Another surprising team towards the bottom of the ACC is NC State.  Since my last rankings, Mark Gottfried has been fired (although he is coaching the balance of the season), although that hasn’t helped the team’s results, as they have now lost nine of 10 since their Jan. 22 win at Duke (still, strangely, Duke’s only home loss).  A bright spot has been Dennis Smith Jr., who was named ACC Freshman of the Year, and may have been first team All-ACC if not for a crowded ballot.

15. Boston College (9-22, 2-16 ACC, PR: 15th)
Record since last rankings:  0-5
This Week:  ACC Tournament First Round, Tuesday, appr. 2:30 pm ET vs. Wake Forest
The Eagles started ACC play 2-2, but have lost 14 straight games since.  KenPom’s ACC Tournament forecast gives them a less than .001 percent chance to win the ACC Tournament.  The Eagles are now 29-66 in Jim Christian’s three seasons at the helm, and 6-48 in ACC play.

 

ACC Postseason Awards

Player of the Year
My Vote (if I had a ballot):  Luke Kennard, Duke sophomore guard
Media Selection:  Justin Jackson, North Carolina junior guard

Freshman of the Year
My Vote and Media Selection:  Dennis Smith Jr., NC State guard

Coach of the Year
My Vote and Media Selection:  Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech

Defensive Player of the Year
My Vote and Media Selection:  Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech junior center

Most Improved Player
My Vote:  Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech junior center
Media Selection:  John Collins, Wake Forest sophomore forward

Sixth Man of the Year
My Vote and Media Selection:  Seth Allen, Virginia Tech senior guard

First Team All-ACC
My Vote and Media Selection:
Luke Kennard, Duke sophomore guard
Justin Jackson, North Carolina junior guard
John Collins, Wake Forest sophomore forward
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame junior forward
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville sophomore guard

Second Team All-ACC
My Vote:
Dennis Smith Jr., NC State freshman guard
Michael Young, Pittsburgh senior forward
Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech junior center
London Perrantes, Virginia senior guard
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson senior forward

Media Selection:
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State sophomore guard
Dennis Smith Jr., NC State freshman guard
Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech junior center
Joel Berry II, North Carolina junior guard
London Perrantes, Virginia senior guard

Third Team All-ACC
My Vote:
Andrew White III, Syracuse senior guard
Ky Bowman, Boston College freshman guard
Jamel Artis, Pittsburgh senior forward
Davon Reed, Miami senior guard
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State sophomore guard

Media Selection:
Michael Young, Pittsburgh senior forward
Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson senior forward
Andrew White III, Syracuse senior guard
Davon Reed, Miami senior guard
Jayson Tatum, Duke freshman guard

Honorable Mention All-ACC
My Vote (those I also considered):
Joel Berry II, North Carolina junior guard
Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame senior guard
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina senior forward
Bryant Crawford, Wake Forest sophomore guard

Media Selection:
Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina senior forward
Matt Farrell, Notre Dame junior guard
Zach LeDay, Virginia Tech senior forward
Jerome Robinson, Boston College sophomore guard
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State freshman forward
Seth Allen, Virginia Tech senior guard
Jamel Artis, Pittsburgh senior forward
V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame senior forward
Steve Vasturia, Notre Dame senior guard
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse sophomore forward

All-Defensive Team
My Vote:
Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech junior center
Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia junior forward
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville sophomore guard
John Collins, Wake Forest spophomore forward
Amile Jefferson, Duke senior forward
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame junior forward

Media Selection:
Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech junior center
Isaiah Wilkins, Virginia junior forward
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville sophomore guard
Davon Reed, Miami senior guard
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State junior guard
Matt Jones, Duke senior guard

All-Freshman Team
My Vote and Media Selection:
Dennis Smith Jr., NC State guard
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State forward
Jayson Tatum, Duke guard
Josh Okogie, Georgia Tech guard
Ky Bowman, Boston College guard

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 2/13

It’s been a topsy-turvy last two weeks in the ACC since my last power rankings.

Every team except NC State and Boston College has won at least once, and 10 of the league’s 15 teams have won more than once.  Every team except Duke has lost a game, while nine have lost multiple games.

As a result, ranking these teams from top to bottom is becoming more difficult each week.  It is, however, made a little bit easier when the teams are divided into tiers, something the standings have already done naturally.

That said, here is how the teams stack up this week:

The Top Tier

1. North Carolina (21-5, 9-3 ACC, Previous Ranking: 3rd, AP Poll: 10th)
The Tar Heels lead the ACC standings, and these rankings, on the strength of a 13-0 home record, and a 6-4 away record, including a 3-3 conference road record in the best conference in the land.  Offensively, the Tar Heels remain very strong statistically in points (87.4 per game, 6th nationally), rebounding (44.2, 1st) and assists (18.3, 3rd).  They lost at Duke on Thursday, but I rarely penalize a team for losing at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

2. Virginia (18-6, 8-4 ACC, PR: 2nd, AP: 14th)
In the first draft of these rankings, written at halftime of last night’s Virginia-Virginia Tech game, Virginia was at the top.  But after the Cavaliers blew a 14-point halftime lead in a double-overtime loss, they dropped from that perch.  People focus on Virginia’s defense, and rightfully so, but while their offense is ranked 270th in points per game, they are 17th in offensive efficiency (an explanation here is that they are 2nd to last in tempo).  We’ll know just how good the Cavaliers are after this week, with back-to-back games at Duke and North Carolina.

3. Louisville (20-5, 8-4 ACC, PR: 1st, AP: 8th)
As good a team as Louisville has had since joining the ACC, they just can’t seem to beat Virginia.  The Cardinals are 1-5 in games against the Cavaliers since joining the ACC, with all six games being between two ranked teams, and Louisville has lost both meetings this year by eight and 16 points.  The Cardinals are a real threat to win the ACC Tournament–as long as they don’t run into Tony Bennett’s packline defense that they just can’t seem to figure out.

4. Florida State (21-5, 9-4 ACC, PR: 4th, AP: 17th)
The Seminoles, who are 16-0 at home, are 6-1 against ranked opponents, making them the only ACC team who is over .500 in such games.  Road play is the ‘Noles biggest weakness–in a current 3-3 stretch, all three losses are away from Tallahassee.  There are no “easy games” in the ACC, but the Seminoles do have a relatively slate over their next three games, as they are all against the bottom four teams in the league.

5. Duke (20-5, 8-4 ACC, PR: 7th, AP: 12th)
After a midseason swoon saw the Blue Devils lose three of four in January, they are suddenly hot again, having won five straight since including Thursday night’s win over North Carolina.  Looking back over the season, the Blue Devils are 13-1 at home, with the only loss coming on Jan. 23 to NC State, in what is now one of the season’s real headscratchers.  Duke is 2-3 on the road, and will be tested in such a game at Virginia, before returning home to meet Wake Forest, whose last win at Cameron Indoor included a stellar performance by… Tim Duncan (it’s been a while:  Jan. 11, 1997).

6. Notre Dame (19-7, 8-5 ACC, PR: 5th, AP: 25th)
The Irish have alleviated their four-game losing streak with home wins over Wake Forest and Florida State.  The biggest weakness for the Irish is rebounding:  strangely enough, even with double-double machine Bonzie Colson (16.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg), the team ranks 245th nationally (34.7 rpg).  On one hand, the Irish are entering a stretch that is easy by the ACC’s lofty standards, meeting Boston College and NC State this week; on the other hand, it still may not be easy, as both are on the road.

The Middle Tier

7. Syracuse (16-10, 8-5 ACC, PR: 8th)
The Orange are playing well, and are 8-5 in the ACC, just a game and a half behind North Carolina at the crowded top of the league.  That said, they are still a middle-tier team to me because of their full resume, which includes poor play in the non-conference portion of the schedule.  The Orange are an NCAA Tournament bubble team, something that just isn’t said about top-tier ACC teams.  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Orange in the tournament, as the last team with a bye to the Round of 64 (thus avoiding the “First Four”).

8. Virginia Tech (17-7, 6-6 ACC, PR: 6th)
At halftime last night, I thought the Hokies were beginning a free fall.  They had lost two straight and three of four, and were trailing Virginia by 14 at home in a rivalry game.  Then the Hokies came back, winning in double overtime on Seth Allen’s lane jumper.  Now, the Hokies face back-to-back road games at Pittsburgh and Louisville, but then return home for three of their final four games.

9. Wake Forest (15-10, 6-7 ACC, PR: 12th)
The Demon Deacons are in their best stretch of basketball since 2010.  That season was the last time they made the NCAA Tournament, and currently this year’s edition is squarely on the bubble, as the first team out of the projected field on Bracket Matrix, and the fourth team out on Lunardi’s bracket.  One knock against Wake’s tournament chances is that they are 0-6 against ranked opponents, and the only other ACC team without a ranked win is Boston College.  They will have two more chances before the ACC Tournament to get one (at Duke, Louisville), but first head to Clemson tomorrow.

10. Miami (16-8, 6-6 ACC, PR: 10th)
The Hurricanes are projected in the 9- to 10-seed range in NCAA projections, on the strength of a win over North Carolina and no bad losses.  They nearly picked up another signature win, taking Louisville to the wire on the road, and will have additional chances coming up.  But first comes two games against Georgia Tech and Clemson where, in regards to NCAA positioning, wins may not help as much as losses would hurt.

11. Georgia Tech (15-10, 6-6 ACC, PR: 9th)
Just getting Georgia Tech to this point, in the cluster around .500 in the middle of the ACC pack, may be enough to make first-year coach Josh Pastner the ACC Coach of the Year.  This has been done strictly with defense:  the Jackets rank 254th in kenpom.com‘s adjusted offensive efficiency, but are eighth defensively.  The Yellow Jackets are projected by most to be just outside the NCAA field, and (strangely enough in the loaded ACC) they only have one game left against a ranked opponent.

The Bottom Tier

12. Clemson (13-11, 3-9 ACC, PR: 11th)
Some would place Clemson in the middle tier of the league, and on paper they should be a middle tier team.  They are, in fact, Lunardi’s second-to-last team in the NCAA field, although Bracket Matrix has them as the sixth team out.  But at some point, strength of schedule (third-toughest nationally) will stop carrying this team in those discussions, because at some point they have to start winning.  The Tigers have lost three straight, and nine of 11 after winning their ACC opener at Wake Forest, and now face the Deacs again trying to find the same late-game magic they had on Dec. 31.

13. Pittsburgh (14-11, 3-9 ACC, PR: 14th)
Every year has that team in the ACC that can’t seem to win a close game, and this year it’s been the Panthers.  There have been some blowouts, but most of their ACC losses have been close.  After an 11-point road win at Boston College, Saturday the Panthers finally won a close one, beating Syracuse to move out of a last-place tie in the league.  Will they be able to keep the momentum up?  Maybe–three of their next four games are at home, but two of those games are against North Carolina and Florida State.

14. NC State (14-12, 3-10 ACC, PR: 13th)
The splits for NC State this season are 11-4 at home and 1-7 away, but lately the problem has been everywhere.  The upset at Duke feels ages ago, as the Wolfpack have lost five straight since, getting absolutely destroyed in three of those games, and now they have to face North Carolina, a team that beat them by 51 in January.  The Pack have possibly the best player in the conference–Dennis Smith Jr. (18.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 6.8 apg)–but that’s the only positive development this season in Raleigh.

Update:  According to reports, Mark Gottfried has been fired by NC State, effective at season’s end.  The firing has not been confirmed by the university.

15. Boston College (9-17, 2-11 ACC, PR: 15th)
For a lot of teams, whether or not they can win a few games on the road is the key to a successful season.  But forget away games for the Eagles–they’re now just 8-8 at home overall, and just 2-5 in conference home games.  after showing some promise early in the ACC portion of the schedule, the Eagles have lost nine straight, returning to a place they’ve resided for the last several years:  last place.

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 1/30

The ACC is tough.

I know, that’s not exactly news, but the last couple of weeks serve as proof, as everyone in the ACC has lost a game since my last rankings two weeks ago (although Virginia’s loss was in a non-conference game).

That makes it tough for guys like me, who are trying to put these teams in some kind of order as they drag through the chaos of the midseason stretch, with everyone having successes and failures jumping off the pages of their resume.

That said, here are the latest ACC Power Rankings:

1. Louisville (18-4, 6-3 ACC, Previous Ranking: 4th, AP Poll: 6th)
Sure, it was against the 13th- and 14th-ranked teams in these rankings, but boy the Cardinals have looked impressive in the last week in blowout wins over Pittsburgh (on the road) and NC State.  The Cardinals rank 2nd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency (85.1 points allowed per 100 possessions).

2. Virginia (16-4, 6-2, PR: 5th, AP: 9th)
The Cavaliers moved up three spots in today’s AP Poll after a loss, a rarity in college basketball, but it was only appropriate after losing at the buzzer at top-ranked Villanova in a non-conference battle that both teams played well enough to win.  Tony Bennett’s “packline” defense continues to lead the nation in points per game allowed, giving up just 53.7 per contest.

3. North Carolina (19-4, 7-2, PR: 1st, AP: 12th)
The Tar Heels were beaten in every facet of the game on Saturday at Miami, once again proving how hard road wins are in this league, although they are one of two teams who have yet to lose all season at home (11-0).  North Carolina is in the top seven per game nationally in points (88.3, 7th), rebounds (45.3, 1st), and assists (18.3, 3rd).

4. Florida State (18-4, 6-3, PR: 3rd, AP: 15th)
After a 6-1 start to league play got them up to sixth in last week’s AP Poll, the Seminoles have lost back-to-back games at Georgia Tech and Syracuse, although they remain perfect at home (14-0).  The ‘Noles aren’t specifically top-notch on either side of the ball, but are still very good on both ends, ranking 32nd in offensive efficiency and 28th in defensive efficiency.

5. Notre Dame (17-5, 6-3, PR: 2nd, AP: 20th)
The Fighting Irish have also dropped two straight, and three out of four, after starting 5-0 in ACC play, and it doesn’t get easier this week with games against Duke and North Carolina.  The Irish rank 230th nationally in rebounding (35.2 RPG), an astounding low number for a team ranked in the top 25.

6. Virginia Tech (16-5, 5-4, PR: 7th, AP: receiving votes)
The Hokies are, quietly, on a roll in recent ACC play, winning three out of four, with the only loss coming at North Carolina.  Two of their next three games are against rival Virginia; the series was always competitive even in the years the Cavaliers had the best record in the ACC and the Hokies had the worst, meaning the games should be even better with Virginia Tech now so competitive.

7. Duke (16-5, 4-4, PR: 6th, AP: 21st)
In the last week, the Blue Devils suffered their first home loss of the season to NC State, then picked up their first road win at Wake Forest.  Mike Krzyzewski, even while recovering from back surgery, has been critical of his team’s efforts, although they can restore Coach K’s faith if they can win tonight at Notre Dame ahead of a three-game homestand.

8. Syracuse (13-9, 5-4, PR: 8th)
Until Saturday, the biggest hole in Syracuse’s resume was the lack of a quality win, but the Orange alleviated the issue with their win over Florida State.  Now, after struggling in non-conference play, they are over .500 in the league and playing their best basketball of the season as it enters the stretch run, with less than six weeks until Selection Sunday.  The next step is a win on the road–the Orange are 0-7 away from the Carrier Dome–and they’ll have a chance Wednesday in Raleigh.

9. Georgia Tech (13-8, 5-4, PR: 12th)
The biggest surprise in the ACC is Georgia Tech.  I wasn’t sure the Yellow Jackets would win three conference games at all this season, yet they already have three wins over ranked opponents, including last week’s triumphs over Florida State and Notre Dame.  The stretch is even more remarkable when you consider the Yellow Jackets rank 300th nationally with just 67.1 points per game, although they are 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency.

10. Miami (14-6, 4-4, PR: 9th)
Miami is hard to beat at the Watsco Center, where they are 10-1 on the season, including a convincing win Saturday over North Carolina; rival Florida State comes to Miami on Wednesday night.  Interestingly enough, while Jim Larranaga’s teams typically share the ball well, these Hurricanes have only 12.1 assists per game (272nd).

11. Wake Forest (12-9, 3-6, PR: 13th)
Since the last rankings, Danny Manning finally got his first ACC road win at NC State, but since the Demon Deacons have blown great opportunities for wins at Syracuse and at home against Duke.  The Deacs, who are currently projected as the very last team in the NCAA field by ESPN, rank 12th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, although with better defense and a better clutch streak this team could be even better.  If the Deacs can win at Boston College tomorrow night, they will pick up their first season sweep of an opponent since 2012.

12. Clemson (12-8, 2-6, PR: 10th)
The Tigers stopped their six-game losing streak with Saturday’s win at Pittsburgh, which was a battle for last place in the standings.  Even after their struggles, however, the Tigers are ranked 31st in KenPom and 40th in the RPI, on the strength of the fourth toughest schedule (according to KenPom), and a road non-conference win over South Carolina that keeps looking better.  This week the Tigers meet Georgia Tech and Florida State, a pair of games that are traditionally close regardless of the teams’ records entering play.

13. NC State (14-8, 3-6, PR: 15th)
The Wolfpack got their first win in Cameron Indoor Stadium since January 18, 1995 (37 days before I was born).  However, in a blowout loss to Louisville, the Pack fell to just 1-17 in games after a win over Duke/North Carolina since 1990 (the end of Jim Valvano’s tenure).  The key for NC State all season has been “outscoring their own defense,” as they have allowed 77.7 per game (295th).

14. Boston College (9-13, 2-7, PR: 14th)
Since the Eagles had a promising 2-2 start to ACC play, they have lost five in a row.  However, there are signs of improvement from these perennial bottom-dwellers–games that have been blowouts in the past are now close losses.  There aren’t moral victories in the ACC, although losing close games, on the road no less, shows Jim Christian is, slowly, rebuilding the Eagle program.

15. Pittsburgh (12-9, 1-7, PR: 11th)
The only way to describe Kevin Stallings’ first trip through the ACC as the Panthers coach is that it has been a disaster.  Pitt sits last place in the standings, having lost six straight, with a two-game road trip to Chapel Hill and Durham to test them this week.  Just keep in mind, as much I hate to admit it, that in November I picked this team to finish fourth in the ACC.

ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Week of 1/16

The ACC is nearing the one-third mark of league play, and the league is as deep as ever this season.

Consensus preseason favorite Duke is under .500 in league play, and the two teams that were expected to be well behind the pack are a combined 5-5.  Winning on the road is just as hard as ever, yet winning at home is no guarantee when a tough opponent is coming to your building night in and night out.

Here is how the league stacks up, with just under eight weeks until Selection Sunday.

1. North Carolina (16-3, 4-1 ACC, Previous Ranking: 3rd, AP Poll: 9th)
Last Week:  away win over Wake Forest, home win over Florida State
This Week:  Monday vs. Syracuse, Saturday at Boston College
The Tar Heels picked up one of the best wins by anyone in the ACC so far on Saturday, handing Florida State their first conference loss.  The Heels lead the nation in rebounding (42.6 per game), are fourth in points per game (89.6), and are sixth in assists (18.2).

2. Notre Dame (16-2, 5-0, PR: 6th, AP: 15th)
Last Week:  away win over Miami, away win over Virginia Tech
This Week:  Wednesday at Florida State, Saturday vs. Syracuse
Mike Brey has done another fantastic job in South Bend, as the Fighting Irish are now the last undefeated team left in ACC play.  Their only two losses are neutral-site games to #1 Villanova and #21 Purdue, as they are undefeated both at home (11-0) and on the road (3-0), although the latter could be in jeopardy Wednesday in Tallahassee.

3. Florida State (16-2, 4-1, PR: 5th, AP: 10th)
Last Week:  home win over Duke, away loss to North Carolina
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Notre Dame, Saturday vs. Louisville
The Seminoles no longer have their undefeated conference record, although no one expected any team in this deep league to stay perfect for long.  They do remain in the AP’s top 10 as they enter the final two games of a six-game stretch against ranked opponents with a 4-1 record against ranked teams.  Leonard Hamilton’s past teams have won with defense, but this team’s strength is the offense, scoring the 13th most points per game in the nation (86.5).

4. Louisville (15-3, 3-2, PR: 2nd, AP: 12th)
Last Week:  home win over Pittsburgh, home win over Duke
This Week:  Thursday vs. Clemson, Saturday at Florida State
Louisville didn’t have to leave home in the last week, but picked up two wins, including a big one over Duke.  The Cardinals are ranked second nationally in KenPom‘s adjusted defensive efficiency (86.0 points per 100 possessions), and faces a great battle against Florida State’s offense this weekend in Tallahassee.

5. Virginia (13-3, 3-2, PR: 4th, AP: 16th)
Last Week:  away win over Clemson
This Week:  Wednesday at Boston College, Saturday vs. Georgia Tech
The Cavaliers won at sold-out Littlejohn Coliseum in a festive atmosphere as Clemson celebrated their football national championship.  The Cavaliers are known for their defense (53.4 PPG allowed leads nation) and slow pace (59.9 possesions per 40 minutes is the least nationally), that doesn’t make them inefficient on offense–their 115.0 points per 100 possessions is 15th nationally.  There are no easy games in the ACC, but the Wahoos get two of the least difficult this week.

6. Duke (14-4, 2-3, PR: 1st, AP: 18th)
Last Week:  away loss to Florida State, away loss to Louisville
This Week:  Saturday vs. Miami
When the Blue Devils look back at the 2016-17 season, they won’t be able to say they didn’t face adversity.  From Mike Krzyzewski’s absence with back surgery to Grayson Allen’s tripping incident to Amile Jefferson’s injury, this team is going through a rough patch, and it’s showing in the results:  the Blue Devils are now 0-3 on the road.  They do have a few extra days to prepare for Miami, who comes to Durham on Saturday.

7. Virginia Tech (13-4, 2-3, PR: 7th)
Last Week:  home win over Syracuse, home loss to Notre Dame
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Georgia Tech, Sunday at Clemson
There’s a big gap between the top six and the rest of the league, but that doesn’t discount how well some of the bottom nine teams have been playing.  The Hokies have wins over Duke and Syracuse, and nearly beat Notre Dame, something no one in the ACC has done.  One thing that has hurt the Hokies is rebounding–they rank 215th nationally with only 35.7 per game.

8. Syracuse (11-7, 3-2, PR: 13th)
Last Week:  away loss to Virginia Tech, home win over Boston College
This Week:  Monday at North Carolina, Saturday at Notre Dame
The Orange haven’t won more than two in a row since their four-game winning streak to begin the season, but they have still improved since a rough stretch in non-conference play, and currently sit over .500 in the ACC.  It won’t be easy from here (it never is in the ACC), as three of their next four games are against the top three teams in these rankings.

9. Miami (12-4, 2-2, PR: 12th)
Last Week:  home loss to Notre Dame, away win at Pittsburgh
This Week:  Wednesday at Wake Forest, Saturday at Duke
While Pittsburgh isn’t necessarily the best team anyone has beat on the road, Miami’s 26-point win over the Panthers may have been the most dominant such win.  The win was the 600th in the career of coach Jim Larranaga, joining Krzyzewski, Williams, Pitino and Boeheim as active ACC coaches with 600 or more.  The ‘Canes are fourth nationally at 59.6 PPG allowed.

10. Clemson (11-6, 1-4, PR: 8th)
Last Week:  away loss to Georgia Tech, home loss to Virginia
This Week:  Thursday at Louisville, Sunday vs. Virginia Tech
While it was a fantastic week for Clemson athletics collectively, the basketball team didn’t follow football’s winning ways.  The Tigers, who are much better than their 1-4 league record, are now tied for last in the standings despite being in every game.  As is typical in the ACC, the schedule doesn’t get any easier, and most of the Tigers’ toughest games coming up are on the road.

11. Pittsburgh (12-6, 1-4, PR: 11th)
Last Week:  away loss to Louisville, home loss to Miami
This Week:  Tuesday at NC State
While no one necessarily expected Pitt to go to Louisville and win, I don’t think anyone saw their 72-46 home loss to Miami coming.  The mettle of this veteran team is being tested, and if they are to improve, it will have to start on defense; they are currently allowing 76.2 PPG, which is only 269th nationally.

12. Georgia Tech (11-6, 3-2, PR: 14th)
Last Week:  home win over Clemson, away win over NC State
This Week:  Wednesday at Virginia Tech, Saturday at Virginia
The league’s biggest surprise could very well be Georgia Tech, who is currently tied for fourth in the standings, with their only losses coming to Duke and Louisville.  In the past week, they triumphed over Clemson and NC State, with the latter on the road.  This week they will have to be road warriors again, with a pair of Commonwealth matchups in Virginia.

13. Wake Forest (10-7, 1-4, PR: 11th)
Last Week:  home loss to North Carolina
This Week:  Wednesday vs. Miami, Saturday at NC State
The Demon Deacons are, surprising to me, ranked 41st in KenPom’s national ranking, despite a 1-4 league start, on the strength of the 23rd best adjusted offensive efficiency (115.9 points per 100 possessions).  Closing games has been an issue (sounds familiar), but the Deacons could potentially make up some ground over the next three weeks, as they only play one ranked team between now and February 7 (such stretches are rare in the ACC).

14. Boston College (9-9, 2-3, PR: 15th)
Last Week:  home win over NC State, away loss to Syracuse
This Week:  Wednesday at Virginia, Saturday vs. North Carolina
Despite a lot of roster turnover, the Eagles are far better than last year (although they didn’t have any farther to drop after an 0-18 conference season).  The Eagles have yet to win an ACC road game, but they are 2-0 at Conte Forum, with the chance to upset Virginia and North Carolina there this week.

15. NC State (12-6, 1-4, PR: 10th)
Last Week:  away loss to Boston College, home loss to Georgia Tech
This Week:  Tuesday vs. Pittsburgh, Saturday vs. Wake Forest
After losses to the 12th- and 14th-ranked teams in these rankings in the last week, Mark Gottfried needs to find some answers fast.  There is a lot of talent on this roster, but they are struggling right now, especially defensively (76.4 PPG allowed is 274th).  The Wolfpack are 0-4 on the road and 10-1 at home, although the loss came last night to Georgia Tech.  Two home games this week against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest loom large ahead of a Duke-Louisville road trip.

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.