It is officially midseason in college hoops, and the first half of the year in the ACC was truly fascinating.

Preseason No. 1 North Carolina? Unranked at the halfway point of the 2022-23 campaign.

Preseason top-10 Duke? Also unranked, as Jon Scheyer and the boys figure out how to score efficiently without Mike Krzyzewski’s instructions on how to beautifully space the floor on offense. This week marked the first time in a non-COVID season that UNC and Duke missed the same AP poll since Dec. 20, 1982.

Supposedly slipping Virginia? The Cavs are the class of the conference a year removed from a rare trip to the NIT.

And don’t forget the surprises: Clemson with just 1 league loss, Pitt in NCAA Tournament contention, and Notre Dame being, put plainly, dreadful, despite starting 4 graduate seniors.

As the ACC makes the turn, Saturday Road put a few of the burning questions for the second half of the season in front of its basketball writers for deliberation. Here’s the roundtable discussion.

Is Clemson the real deal?

Neil W. Blackmon: I’m buying stock. I actually think Clemson is a big reason the NCAA needs to tweak the NET ratings system in 2023-24. Hear me out: the Tigers are a marvelous 6-1 in Quad 1 and Quad 2 games. Those are the ones that should matter the most, no? But because the Tigers have 2 “Quad 4” losses (South Carolina, Loyola-Chicago on a “semi-home” floor in Atlanta), they are only 49th in the NET. How does that make sense? I think the selection committee, which is composed of human beings, in the end, will treat the Tigers much better. They’ll recognize that the South Carolina loss came without PJ Hall, the Tigers’ best player. They’ll also recognize that while the Loyola-Chicago loss is bad, any way you cut it, the Tigers now have wins over Duke, at Pitt, at home against streaking NC State, and at defending ACC Tournament champion Virginia Tech. This is a good team with a star in Hall, a dog in guard Brevin Galloway (who is older than Stetson Bennett and Ja Morant), and a wildly underrated glue guy in Hunter Tyson. Buy, buy, buy.

Brett Friedlander: I’m also high on the Tigers. They’ve got all the elements necessary for success — an inside-out game with Hall and Chase Hunter, who’s done an excellent job transitioning to the point guard role, depth, a respected coach and the X-factor that you mentioned in Tyson. They also have experience, something that’s in short supply among most college teams these days.

Not only do they have older players, but those older players have grown up in the program together, which only adds to their chemistry. I’ve covered Brad Brownell’s teams since he was at UNC Wilmington and 1 of their defining traits has always been that they get better as the season goes along. If that holds true, they should be able to win enough to overcome those 2 bad early losses and get into the field of 68 without having to sweat on Selection Sunday. The Tigers might not finish 1st when all is said and done, but I definitely think they’ll be among the top 4 and earn a double bye in the ACC Tournament as they try to finally win a men’s basketball championship after 70 years as a member of the conference.

Neil: If Brownell wins the ACC, does he become a Bobby Cremins type figure at Clemson? Can you go from “hot seat” to a guy who has a future “Brad Brownell Court” in 12 months? When they landed PJ Hall over Florida, who decided he didn’t “fit” the Mike White system, it was a huge deal. Now if the home state hero delivers an ACC title … wow.

Brett: Brad is already on his way there. Believe it or not, he’s already been there 13 years and he’s the winningest coach in program history. Better question than Brownell Court: Since Dabo hasn’t gotten the Tigers to the Playoff since 2020, would Brownell winning the ACC title make Clemson a basketball school?

Will the cream rise to the top with UNC, Duke, and UVA as the league’s top 3 teams?

Neil: Considering I picked Miami to finish in the top 2 at Media Days, I have to say no, right?

The Canes have the best backcourt in the ACC, and Norchad Omier, as we saw with his game-saving rejection of a late shot against Syracuse Monday night, gives them a difference maker on defense that didn’t have on last year’s run to the Elite 8. Isaiah Wong is still the best “not Armando Bacot” player in this league. I think Miami finishes in the top 3.

As for Duke, they need to keep working Dariq Whitehead into more things. It’s clear, at least to me, Dereck Lively II isn’t quite star ready. It’s really unusual for a top-5 247 Composite kid to be a bust, and I’m not suggesting Lively is — but he isn’t going to be a star in college unless he returns next season. Whitehead is showing glimpses now though, and that’s what Duke needs. They have to be able to score more baskets and shoot better against quality teams. Right now, they look like a young, talented team that will lose on the first weekend.

North Carolina will be fine. I will keep telling myself that and wait for Caleb Love to start making more shots. Virginia is the one that surprises me. Shame on me, I guess. I didn’t think Tony Bennett would have such a balanced team. The Hoos can score, and that’s a testament to that backcourt of Clark and Beekman. There’s not a guy in the league more improved offensively than Beekman.

I think Virginia, Clemson, and Miami finish top 3 in the league but wouldn’t be stunned if the Heels do, too. Duke will not.

Brett: Of the 3 teams mentioned in the question, I’m most confident in Virginia. Those kids have all been in the program long enough to have bought in completely to the way Bennett wants to play. And unlike last year’s team, this group has enough offensive firepower to give teams fits on both ends of the court. Especially now that Bennett seems to have unleashed transfer Ben Vander Plas and freshman sharpshooter Isaac McKneely has begun to gain confidence in his stroke.

I also think UNC will eventually flip the switch and start playing with more urgency as we get closer to the postseason. There’s just too much talent there for the Tar Heels to not finish among the top 3. The challenge for Hubert Davis, besides getting Bacot and Pete Nance healthy again, is getting his bench more involved and making sure Love spreads some of the wealth to backcourt mate RJ Davis.

As you mentioned, Duke is still a work in progress. Do the Blue Devils have the talent to finish in the top 3 of the league? Absolutely. There’s every reason to believe that their young players — and young coach — will continue to improve. Where I have questions about them is on the offensive end of the court. The team’s lack of a consistent perimeter threat is a concern. Whitehead could eventually address the problem, and fellow freshman Tyrese Proctor showed some positive signs in Saturday’s loss at Clemson. But somebody is going to have to step forward to give some help to Kyle Filipowski, who continues to do serious work inside.

Midseason ACC Player of the Year is …

Neil: I want to say PJ Hall, but it isn’t quite him yet, is it? If Clemson keeps winning though, he wins.

Let’s go with Bacot by a whisker over Tyree Appleby of Wake Forest and Wong at Miami. Bacot is averaging 17 and 11. Wednesday night, he recorded his 60th career double-double, matching Billy Cunningham’s program record. That means Bacot could break the record Saturday against NC State … at home! (Unless he takes advantage of a COVID year and returns next year — don’t count on it — he won’t have a chance to break Tim Duncan’s ACC record of 87 double-doubles.)

Beyond the numbers, Carolina has just 2 losses this season when Bacot has a double-double with 2 or more blocked shots.

That edges out Appleby, the dynamic little transfer from Florida who has run Steve Forbes’ offense to perfection and has the Demon Deacons in good position to go to the NCAA Tournament.

Brett: I’m also in Bacot’s camp. Not only is he averaging a double-double, but it’s an award he probably should have won last year. He’s earned it. If not Bacot, Wong is the most likely candidate. And don’t rule out NC State’s Terquavion Smith. He’s the ACC’s leading scorer at 18.7 ppg, but he also ranks among the top 5 in the league in assists, steals and 3-pointers per game.

Best game so far was…

Neil: Alabama vs. North Carolina at the PK 85 Phil Knight Invitational. Greatest 3rd-place game of all time? Four overtimes, over 20 lead changes, no one led by more than 7, Alabama attempted 38 — yes 38 — 3-pointers, and Caleb Love had 34 points … in a loss. Run this back in the Final Four please!

Brett: That was a good one, for sure. But my favorite game so far is a different overtime thriller involving the Tar Heels. UNC trailed Ohio State almost the whole way at Madison Square Garden and looked to be down and out when the Buckeyes scored with 2 seconds left in regulation to take 2-point lead. But after a halfcourt pass and a quick timeout, Pete Nance buried a turnaround jumper from the wing to extend the game. UNC then pulled away in OT to win 89-84.

How many teams will the ACC get in?

Neil: I am still bullish on the ACC. It is deep and it is good. I think 7 ACC teams hear their name on Selection Sunday. In order of seed strength? Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, NC State, Duke, Clemson, and Wake Forest. If Jeff Capel III and Pitt get in, that wouldn’t stun me, either. But I will go with 7, which would be a nice bump from last year’s small group that obviously played quite well once they got the chance to dance.

Brett: I’m even more bullish than you are. Pitt passes the eye test to me, even without Hughley, and already has 2 quality wins against UNC and UVA. And I think 1 other team gets in as well. Virginia Tech, once Hunter Cattoor returns to form (he scored 11 in his first game back from injury on Wednesday), is the most likely suspect. But I’ve learned long ago never to count Syracuse out until the final game has been played.

Neil: As much as I’d love to see this league get 8 in — and I think it is a good enough league to do that — my gut tells me if the Hokies erase the 1-6 start and fight their way into the field, it will likely be at the expense of maybe Wake Forest getting a bid or a Pittsburgh bid. And you aren’t wrong to refuse to count out Syracuse. Judah Mintz is special and they at least have a chance in that zone this year thanks to Jesse Edwards and Benny Williams playing decent basketball inside. They don’t defend like an old Boeheim 2-3 team, but they do defend better than the Boeheim brothers team did last year.

Brett: Let’s just hope the selection committee doesn’t listen to the “One-bid ACC” bloggers and other haters.

Will Louisville win a conference game?

Neil: I’d like to think it is not possible they finish 0-for in the conference, but the reality is the Cardinals are 305th in offensive efficiency and 355th in turnover percentage, per KenPom. That turnover number is almost dead last in the country. No team that is that bad at both scoring points and taking care of the basketball is going to win a league game. No. They will not.

Brett:  I think a lot depends on the Cardinals. The recent emergence of redshirt freshman Mike James as a secondary scorer to El Ellis is definitely a positive development. And they’ve got 3 golden opportunities coming up in the next week or so. But they aren’t able to squeeze out a win in any of those games against fellow bottom feeders Boston College, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, frustration is likely to start kicking in and 0-20 becomes a realistic possibility.

Is this the end of the line for Boeheim and Leonard Hamilton?

Neil: Not for Hamilton. The Seminoles have just been snake bit. They lost 2 projected starters for the season before league play began and another, 5-star Baba Miller, has played just 1 game thanks to the infinite wisdom of the NCAA, which punished Bill Self 4 games for knowingly paying, contrary to the rules, for a Final Four team but Miller 16 games for benefits he received that he did not know, at the time, were improper. Hamilton will be back next season. His program has also won at a high level more recently than Boeheim’s, in terms of consistency. It will be the end of the line for Mike Brey though. Notre Dame won’t fire him, or so my Notre Dame sources tell me. But I am told the Fighting Irish are looking to arrange a graceful retirement party and then go make the splash hire of Pat Kelsey that program deserves.

Brett: Jimmy B should have called it a career after last season when his 2 sons ran out of eligibility. The fact that he’s sticking around tells me that he intends to stick around long enough to get more wins than his buddy Mike Krzyzewski — if not officially in the record book, at least in his mind. Coach K retired with 1,202 wins — 1,129 of which came at Duke. Boeheim, before vacated wins are erased, has 1,111 — all at Syracuse.

He’s 78, but he may have to be dragged out of the Dome kicking and screaming, because I’m not sure he’s going to want to leave on his own.

As for Coach Ham, I think he enjoys coaching — and teaching — too much to give it up. He’s also got an innate knack as a 70-something old man to understand and relate to young players. Even if he was inclined to think about retirement, which is unlikely, I doubt he’d want to go out after a season like this.

Neil: Ham is the rare guy in his 70s who has won so much, so late in his career, he deserves a year where his team is healthy and he can get it right. They’ve missed Dennis Gates since he left though, I think. Next year is big for them.

Which team makes the biggest jump in the second half of the league schedule?

Neil: If Cattoor is healthy, the answer is Virginia Tech. They are simply far better than the 1-6 league record indicates. This team should not be on the bubble, let alone out of the field entirely, but they haven’t won a single game without the senior sharpshooter.

Brett: NC State. The Wolfpack has started the 2023 portion of the season with 3 straight wins, all of which could potentially end up being classified as Quad 1. But coach Kevin Keatts’ team is just getting started. DJ Burns is well on his way toward establishing himself as the most dominating low post presence in the league, Jarkel Joiner is the point guard and leader the team has traditionally lacked, Casey Morsell has added an offensive element to his superior defensive skills and the previously mentioned Smith can fill it up with the best of them. And oh, by the way, big man Dusan Mahorcic is expected back from injury soon, adding to their depth and versatility.

I also like what Steve Forbes is doing at Wake Forest. Somehow he manages to piece together a bunch of free agents into a solid unit and this year is no different. Add in the improvement of holdover Cam Hildreth and this group of Deacons have the potential to be even better than the team that won 25 games last season, even with the loss of 2022 ACC Player of the Year Alondes Williams and 1st round NBA Draft pick Jake LaRavia.

Which team has the biggest fall?

Neil: The “don’t buy what your eyes tell you” answer is Pitt, especially now that John Hugley IV has made the brave decision to sit out the rest of the year to address his mental health. That choice leaves Pitt outgunned on the glass, and you’d think that catches up to them eventually. But I think Pitt is “Big East tough,” and they’ll grind out a solid finish to the campaign and threaten for a NCAA Tournament berth.

Instead, I think Syracuse tumbles. The Orange lost a close one at Miami on Monday night, but that will be just 1 loss on their way to losing 4 of their next 5, a brutal stretch that includes UNC and Virginia visiting the JMA Wireless Dome (Carrier Dome forever, y’all) and a road trip to Blacksburg. Once they lose all 3 of those games, talk of a Boeheim bubble team making another deep NCAA Tournament run will be put to bed and we  can have the more reasonable debate of whether Boeheim is hurting the program and his legacy by staying as head coach as he approaches his 80s.

Brett: I’m less concerned about the Panthers than you are. They’ve got a lot of experienced talent and they play a physical style that wears opponents down. Jamarius Burton and and Blake Hinson are by far the most underrated duo in the conference and they’ve got a desperation to them, with Jeff Capel coaching for his job.

I am, however, right there with you on the Orange. Joe Girard is a gritty, old-school Big East style guard and Judah Mintz has lived up to his billing as an elite talent. But there’s just not enough there around them to put together a trademark late-season Syracuse surge.

Neil: OK- you talked me off the ledge on Pitt. Blake Hinson and Burton are tremendous and as I said, the Panthers are “Big East Tough.” I think they get into the Big Dance. Just wish they had Hugley IV because the ceiling would be so much higher.

Brett: I’m just glad Hugley is taking time off to get himself well. Without him, the development of the Diaz-Graham twins will be a key.