Douglas MacArthur, whose 136th birthday is Tuesday, once said, “In war, you win or lose, live or die–and the difference is just an eyelash.”
While ACC basketball is not a life or death scenario like World War II, the general is correct that the difference in the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is often so very little. One shot that rolled off of the rim, one ill-timed turnover, or one missed opportunity over the course of 40 minutes can come back to change the outcome of a game, or sometimes even a season, when the games are so close.
That being said, MacArthur also said “In war, there is no substitute for victory.” Sports, including college basketball, are a results business, measured in simple wins and losses, and while the outcomes of games are often determined by the most minute of details, winning the game is the objective, and losing will punish a team in rankings such as these, even win winning is sometimes so painstakingly close. It’s why Notre Dame, after beating two bottom half teams, still moves up three spots, while Clemson, losing to a strong Virginia team on the road, still drops from third to sixth.
With that, here are this week’s rankings.
1. North Carolina (18-2, 7-0 ACC, Last Week: 1st, AP Poll: 2nd)
Last Week: def. Wake Forest, def. Virginia Tech
This Week: Saturday vs Boston College
The Tar Heels remain the undisputed leader in the ACC, and 2nd in the AP Poll, and are in the midst of a week off before hosting Boston College. Brice Johnson continues to play well, averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds per game over the last week on his way to ACC Player of the Week.
2. Louisville (16-3, 5-1 ACC, LW: 2nd, AP: 16th)
Last Week: def. Florida State, def. Georgia Tech
This Week: Wednesday at Virginia Tech, Saturday vs Virginia
The Cardinals continue to impress, with wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech, although they are going into a tough week as they travel to Virginia Tech and host Virginia. The Cardinals rank second nationally allowing just 58.8 points per game.
3. Virginia (15-4, 4-3 ACC, LW: 5th, AP: 11th)
Last Week: def. Clemson, def. Syracuse
This Week: Tuesday at Wake Forest, Saturday at Louisville
The Cavaliers had a great week, beating Clemson and Syracuse to get back above .500 in the league, and back to just outside the top 10 in the ACC. While the Wahoos are sixth in the country in defense (61.4 ppg), one weakness is in rebounding, where they rank 314th (32.8 per game).
4. Notre Dame (14-5, 5-2 ACC, LW: 7th, AP: 25th)
Last Week: def. Virginia Tech, def. Boston College
This Week: Thursday at Syracuse, Sunday vs Wake Forest
The defending ACC champions are starting to play like it, although their roster makeup is different from a season ago. The Irish have now won four straight, and could realistically head to Miami on February 3rd with a six-game winning streak. Zach Auguste is fourth in the league in rebounding (10.1 rpg), while Demetrius Jackson is third in assists (5.0).
5. Miami (15-3, 4-2 ACC, LW: 6th, AP: 15th)
Last Week: def. Boston College, def. Wake Forest
This Week: Monday vs Duke, Saturday at NC State
While it wasn’t against the best teams in the league (the bottom two in fact), the Hurricanes bounced back from a two-game losing streak with a current two-game winning streak, although that streak will be tested this week as the ‘Canes get a taste of Tobacco Road. While four double figure scorers for Jim Larranaga’s team can’t be ignored, Tonye Jekiri (8.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg) is an inside presence that has been huge this season for the Hurricanes.
6. Clemson (12.7, 5-2 ACC, LW: 3rd, AP: receiving votes)
Last Week: lost to Virginia
This Week: Wednesday vs Pittsburgh, Saturday at Florida State
You know it’s a tough league when one loss to a top 15 team on the road drops the Tigers from 3rd to 6th. Now the Tigers are finished with a brutal stretch of schedule that they nearly aced, and won’t play another ranked opponent for at least two weeks. The Tigers only rank 266th in points per game (69.4), but are winning on the strength of the 16th ranked scoring defense (62.7 ppg allowed).
7. Pittsburgh (16-3, 5-2 ACC, LW: 4th, AP: receiving votes)
Last Week: lost to NC State, def. Florida State
This Week: Wednesday at Clemson, Sunday vs Virginia Tech
The Panthers had one of those head-scratchers in a home loss to NC State that wasn’t even close, but bounced back to beat Florida State in Tallahassee. The Panthers, led by James Robinson, who is second in the ACC in assists (5.0 apg), fell out of the top 25, but are still projected comfortably within the NCAA Tournament field.
8. Syracuse (13-8, 3-5 ACC, LW: 11th)
Last Week: def. Duke, lost to Virginia
This Week: Thursday vs Notre Dame, Saturday vs Georgia Tech
The Orange beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, quite a feat in itself, although they fell just short at Virginia. Winning at home is important for a mid-pack ACC team, and the Orange will have the chance to do just that this week. Malachi Robinson is the ACC’s Rookie of the Week after scoring 18.5 ppg over the last week, including a career-high 23 points at Virginia.
9. Duke (15-5, 4-3 ACC, LW: 8th, AP:24th)
Last Week: lost to Syracuse, def. NC State
This Week: Monday at Miami
After losing to Syracuse, the Blue Devils had lost three straight, and were on the verge of making it four in a row before a strong second half shooting performance to win in Raleigh. Mike Krzyzewski’s offense is great, averaging 85.7 points per game (5th nationally), but outside of five double-figure scorers, depth is a big issue, although that issue gets some help with a week off after tonight’s contest in Coral Gables.
10. Virginia Tech (12-8, 4-3 ACC, LW: 9th)
Last Week: lost to Notre Dame, lost to North Carolina
This Week: Wednesday vs Louisville, Sunday at Pittsburgh
One of the teams that showed how little the difference in winning and losing can be is the Hokies, who are “ahead of schedule” as they rebuild. A 2-point loss at Notre Dame and a 5-point loss (that was really even closer) to the 2nd-ranked Tar Heels shows how well the Hokies are actually playing, but they drop a spot to 10th, simply because wins mean so much more. Statistically, the Hokies are mid-pack pretty much everywhere, but they have no huge holes, something that is helping Buzz Williams to rebuild more rapidly.
11. NC State (11-9, 1-6 ACC, LW: 14th)
Last Week: def. Pittsburgh, lost to Duke
This Week: Wednesday vs Georgia Tech, Saturday vs Miami
If NC State could have played the entire conference schedule like they played at Pittsburgh, they would be higher than 11th. They led by 10 late in the first half against Duke, but were beaten to the finish by the sharp-shooting Blue Devils. The Wolfpack boast the league’s leading scorer in Anthony “Cat” Barber (22.1 ppg) and shot blocker in BeeJay Anya (2.6 bpg)
12. Florida State (12-7, 2-5 ACC, LW: 10th)
Last Week: lost to Louisville, lost to Pittsburgh
This Week: Tuesday at Boston College, Saturday vs Clemson
A week after the Seminoles looked like they were beginning to come around, they suffered a blowout loss at Louisville, and a close home loss to Pittsburgh. There will be growing pains for this young of a team in the tough ACC, particularly defensively, where the ‘Noles are allowing 73.6 points per game (224th nationally). Xavier Rathan-Mayes leads the ACC with 5.2 assists per game.
13. Georgia Tech (11-8, 1-5 ACC, LW: 12th)
Last Week: lost to Louisville
This Week: Wednesday at NC State, Saturday at Syracuse
While it’s unfortunate to punish a team in the bottom third of the league for a loss to a ranked team, if the Yellow Jackets want to start a winning tradition under Brian Gregory, they’re eventually going to have to win a close game or two, particularly at home. It gets tougher on this week’s road trip, although the Yellow Jackets do have Charles Mitchell, the league’s leading rebounder, who is averaging a double-double (11.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg).
14. Wake Forest (10-9, 1-6 ACC, LW: 13th)
Last Week: lost to North Carolina, lost to Miami
This Week: Tuesday vs Virginia, Sunday at Notre Dame
While the Demon Deacons two losses last week were against ranked teams on the road, there were very few positives to take away. They practically didn’t show up in Chapel Hill, before turning a 48-48 tie with 10:00 to go into a 77-63 loss in South Beach. One positive is Devin Thomas, who is second in the ACC in rebounding and fifth in blocks (16.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.9 bpg), but for the Deacs to have any success, they have to improve on defense (317th nationally at 79.1 ppg).
15. Boston College (7-12, 0-6 ACC, LW: 15th)
Last Week: lost to Miami, lost to Notre Dame
This Week: Tuesday vs Florida State, Saturday at North Carolina
The uphill climb seemingly continues to get steeper for the Eagles, who have now lost all six conference games by an average score of 75.3-53.5. While Saturday’s game in Chapel Hill must seem like an impossible task, the Eagles were in a similar situation two years ago when they traveled to #1 Syracuse and pulled arguably the ACC’s biggest upset in this decade. However, for a team in the 300’s in both points and rebounds per game, going against a team in the top 19 in both, a miracle sure doesn’t seem likely.
Game of the Week: Virginia at Louisville (Saturday, 1:00 pm ET, CBS)
Naturally when the second- and third-ranked teams in these rankings play, it is a big game. Both teams are playing well, particularly on defense, and particularly at home. That should come into play as these two meet on Sunday, as the winner will likely be the consensus second best team in the league. As has been the case all season long in the ACC, expect home-court advantage to come into play.
Louisville 62, Virginia 60.