Men's Basketball, ACC Power Rankings

ACC Power Rankings: Crowded Top of Conference Features Multiple Contenders

1) Duke (20-2, 8-1 ACC, AP No. 2)

The train continues to roll for the Blue Devils, who extended their winning streak to six games after pulling away in the second half against Boston College on Tuesday night. Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett continue to be as good as advertised, but it was Cam Reddish, the other Duke super freshman, who stepped up in a big way against the Eagles. Reddish led the Blue Devils with 24 points and, perhaps most importantly, knocked down four 3-pointers. If he can provide more of a perimeter shooting presence for a team that’s shooting just 30.8 percent from downtown, then one of the Blue Devils’ few holes will be filled, and there’s probably no program in the country that can compete with that kind of offense.

2) Virginia (20-1, 8-1 ACC, AP No. 3)

The Cavaliers were missing point guard and leader Ty Jerome against Miami on Saturday but still managed to grit out a 56-46 win, thanks to a stifling defense that has now held nine opponents under 50 points this season. UVA has now won four straight despite cracking 70 points in just one of those contests. The Cavaliers will have an opportunity to redeem themselves against the Blue Devils—the only team to beat them thus far—this Saturday in Charlottesville. It’s a matchup that has huge implications for the ACC regular season title.  

3) North Carolina (18-4, 8-1 ACC, AP No. 8)

When the Tar Heels are rolling, there’s probably no team in the country that can shut them down offensively. After a 113-96 demolition of North Carolina State on Tuesday, UNC only trails Gonzaga for the highest scoring offense in the country. With games against Duke and UVA looming, it remains to be seen if Luke Maye—who scored a season-high 31 points in the blowout of the Wolfpack—and the Tar Heels can keep it going. Still, UNC has a legitimate change to win both of those games, and if so, there’s no reason it can’t be the team on top of the ACC at season’s end.

4) Louisville (17-6, 8-2 ACC, No. 16 AP)

After a quality road win over No. 11 Virginia Tech, the Cardinals have now won seven of their last eight games, with the only loss to No. 8 UNC on the road. Jordan Nwora—who is averaging 17.8 points per game in a breakout sophomore campaign—has shouldered the load for a team that scores 78.8 points per game, fourth-most in the conference, and boasts the best free throw percentage in the ACC. Tough matchups with Florida State and Duke are ahead, so Louisville will need Dwayne Sutton, who’s reached double figures three games in a row, to keep producing.

5) Virginia Tech (18-4, 7-3 ACC, No. 11 AP)

The Hokies badly missed Justin Robinson in a loss to Louisville on Monday and were lucky to beat N.C. State, as their potent scoring attack managed just 47 points. Head coach Buzz Williams has yet to announce a timetable on the senior point guard’s return, and until then, VTech will need an increased contribution from Nickeil Alexander-Walker. The sophomore is shooting a cool 42.4 percent from behind the arc and will have to somehow do even more to help keep the Hokies afloat in a highly competitive race at the top of the conference.

6) Florida State (17-5, 5-4, No. 22 AP) ↑2

Just a couple weeks ago, things weren’t looking good for the Seminoles. After an upset loss to BC on Jan. 20, FSU fell out of the AP poll entirely and was staring at a stark 1-4 record in the ACC. But since then, sparked by the return of Phil Cofer, the Seminoles have rattled off four wins in a row and are fresh off an 80-62 victory over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Tuesday. One of the biggest reasons? FSU is shooting 46.3 percent from deep over its past four games, despite making just 33.8 percent of its 3-pointers for the season—a mark that is 204th in the country.  

7) Syracuse (16-7, 7-3) ↓1

Perhaps no team in the conference is more inconsistent than the Orange, which has a win over No. 1 Duke to its name but also lopsided losses to both VTech and FSU over the course of the past two weeks. Syracuse certainly has talented scorers—Tyus Battle and Elijah Hughes both average 14-plus points per game—but Jim Boeheim hasn’t been able to manufacture consistent offensive production. The Orange has barely cracked 70 points per game this season and has surpassed that mark just once in the past six games.

8) N.C. State (16-7, 7-3) ↓1

Here’s a funny statistic: The Wolfpack scored four times as many points against UNC on Tuesday as it did Saturday against VTech and still managed to lose to the Tar Heels by almost 20. How? Against the Hokies, N.C. State made just nine shots the entire game in an embarrassing 47-24 loss, then righted the ship and erupted for 96 points against UNC—only to lose by 17 points, in large part due to the fact that the Tar Heels refused to miss. The Wolfpack will likely be fine offensively—it averages the third-most points per game in the conference, despite the lowest point total for any ACC team in the shot-clock era against the Hokies, but needs Markell Johnson to return to full health to ascend back into the AP Poll. The junior simply hasn’t looked right since returning from injury against VTech.

9) Clemson (14-8, 4-5) ↑1

The Tigers have rebounded after an absolutely devastating loss at N.C. State two weeks ago, turning up the defensive intensity during a three-game win streak in which they’ve held two opponents—Georgia Tech and Wake Forest—under 45 points. Marcquise Reed is averaging the fourth-most points per game in the conference and it looks like Aamir Sims and David Skara are both beginning to emerge as capable scoring threats. Both scored 10-plus points in a 65-42 win over the Yellow Jackets on Wednesday.

10) Georgia Tech (11-12, 3-7)  ↓1

Defense certainly isn’t the problem for Josh Pastner’s Yellow Jackets. GT boasts the No. 12 defense in the nation, per’s defensive efficiency rankings. But even a great defense simply won’t cut it if you can’t score, and the Yellow Jackets’ offense has been brutally bad lately. They’ve topped the 55-point mark just once in the past six games, during a 63-61 win over Notre Dame, and simply look lifeless on offense. It doesn’t help that Jose Alvarado, the team’s leading scorer, is just 1-of-20 from the floor over the past two games.

11) Pittsburgh (12-11, 2-8)

After splitting their first four conference games, the wheels have come off the bus a little for the Panthers. Pittsburgh has lost six consecutive games, the latest a heartbreaker to Wake Forest in overtime on Tuesday. There’s no denying that first-year head coach Jeff Capel has had a positive impact on the program—the Panthers still are the 41st best team in the country in the defensive efficiency rankings—but the rebuild will still likely take some time. At least they’ve got a building block in freshman Xavier Johnson, who leads the team in scoring.

12) Miami (10-12, 2-8) ↑1

It’s been a struggle for the Hurricanes during conference play, but they finally had something to smile about Wednesday when they held Notre Dame to a season-low 32 percent shooting en route to a 62-47 victory. Guard Chris Lykes continues to impress on both sides of the ball—he led the defensive charge against the Irish—and he’ll certainly have to take on a large portion of the minutes for Miami moving forward. The Hurricanes have just seven players who average more than 17 minutes per game.

13) Notre Dame (12-11, 2-8) ↑2

The Fighting Irish continue to struggle against any team not named BC in conference play, shooting just 4-of-28 from 3-point range in another disheartening conference loss to Miami. ND can’t defend the 3-point line either, as it allows opposing teams to shoot 34.8 percent from behind the arc, third worst in the conference. The Irish simply don’t have enough consistent scorers aside from John Mooney to compete on a game-to-game basis.

14) Boston College (11-10, 2-8)  ↓2

For a brief time, it appeared the Eagles might be able to pull off their second-straight upset over Duke, as they seized a 30-28 halftime lead. Unfortunately for head coach Jim Christian, the Blue Devils warmed up in the second half on their way to a blowout win, handing BC its third straight loss. Ky Bowman continues to be a star, but without Wynston Tabbs—who’s still sidelined with an undisclosed injury—the Eagles are prone to scoring droughts and inconsistency. It would likely be worse without the recent emergence of Jared Hamilton, a transfer who has proven to be a good scoring option, both at the rim and from mid-range, the past few games.

15) Wake Forest (9-13, 2-8)  ↓1

There haven’t been many positives for the Demon Deacons this season, but freshman Jaylen Hoard certainly continues to impress. In an overtime win against Pittsburgh, he piled up 19 points and 17 rebounds, even tying the game with one second to play on a putback. Even so, Wake Forest has the second-worst scoring offense and defense in the conference, and head coach Danny Manning simply hasn’t been able to find any form of consistency in the always-tough ACC.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

February 7, 2019