ACC Basketball Power Rankings: ACC Tournament seeding battle heating up
Saturday Road wouldn’t call Duke’s 1-game lead in the ACC standings insurmountable, but the ACC regular-season title remains Duke’s to lose. The Blue Devils were 2-0 last week, surviving a big scare against Wake Forest and then busting a tight game with FSU wide open when senior sharpshooter Joey Baker got hot at the end of the first half. Duke has 3 of its final 4 conference games on the road, but of those 3, only Virginia seems a viable toss-up. Mike Krzyzewski and the boys are playing for NCAA Tournament seeding at this point, with everything else they accomplish a bonus.
That doesn’t mean the rest of the ACC season itself is academic.
The ACC is a 5-bid league right now, according to Joe Lunardi, with recent powerhouse Virginia on the outside looking in and Miami hanging on to a spot by a thread. Is 5 going to be the maximum number of bids for the ACC? It would seem that way, given the lack of much meat on the out of conference bone. But a 6th bid is possible, particularly if Virginia can grab a second win against Duke this week.
The more interesting scenario involves a potential bid thief at the ACC Tournament. Virginia Tech, which was playing as well as anyone in the conference until last week, is precisely the type of team that could get hot and win 4 games in 4 days. But that all comes down to seeding and matchups, which is what makes the final 2 weeks of the regular season so interesting. As the programs ready for Brooklyn next month, a total of 1.5 games separates the 1 seed (Duke) from the 6 seed (Virginia). The battle for seeds 7-9 is likewise close, with 3 teams separated by 2 games. It’s all a reason that a down year in the ACC remains so interesting, and worth our attention as the regulars season heads down the stretch.
Here is the latest batch of Saturday Road ACC Power Rankings. Last week’s list is here.
15. Clemson (12-15, 4-12)
Do you think Clemson athletic director Graham Neff begrudges his predecessor, Dan Radakovich, who bolted for Miami in December, for extending Brad Brownell last October?
The Tigers have been one of the season’s most disappointing teams, bringing up the cellar in the ACC despite the presence of a bona fide star in sophomore PJ Hall, who dropped a cool 28 points in Clemson’s loss to Florida State last week.
Brownell (213-165) has had over a decade to build a winner at Clemson and is the winningest coach in program history. While there have been good moments, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2017-18, would a new voice help? The discussion is academic, given Brownell’s current buyout.
14. Georgia Tech (11-16, 4-12)
Josh Pastner is safe this year after winning the ACC Tournament last season, but Georgia Tech is another team with a legitimate star in Michael Devoe but nothing to show for it in 2022.
The Yellow Jackets did snag a win last week, defeating Pitt 68-62, but they end up in the 14th spot because they took a head-to-head loss against Kevin Keatts’ struggling NC State team to begin the week.
13. NC State (11-16, 4-12)
The Wolfpack snapped a 6-game losing streak by walloping Georgia Tech, 76-61, last Tuesday. Freshman guard Terquavion Smith has program-changing potential: he’s scored 20 points or more 6 times in ACC play, including his 26-point outburst in the win over the Yellow Jackets.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) February 16, 2022
Plays like that helped Smith earn ACC Freshman of the Week honors for the 3rd time this season. The young guard play on NC State, which includes Dereon Seabron as well, is a big reason Keats’ future remains undecided in Raleigh.
12. Boston College (10-16, 5-11)
Boston College snapped a 5-game conference losing skid with a comfortable victory over slumping FSU on Monday night.
While watching Boston College offensively is a chore, it’s been fun to watch Earl Grant’s team defend. The Eagles rank in the top 100 in the country in 2-point field goal defense and defensive rebounding and they are in the top 5 in the ACC in league play in points allowed per possession.
Grant took his College of Charleston teams from the 300s in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency at the start of his tenure to the top 100 by the end of his time in Charleston, which suggests his system will eventually work in Chestnut Hill. It’s just a matter of time.
11. FSU (14-13, 7-10)
What a mess this season has become for the Seminoles.
After a January surge saw them play their way back into the NCAA Tournament field, Florida State lost Malik Osborne and Anthony Polite for the season and collapsed. The Seminoles have lost 8 of 9, and the lone win was a 1-point victory over a bad Clemson team.
Leonard Hamilton’s program was 1 of 6 programs in the country to win a NCAA Tournament game in each of the past 4 contested tournaments. That streak will end this March.
10. Louisville (12-15, 6-11)
The season can’t end soon enough for Louisville, whose fans have already turned the page to what promises to be one of the offseason’s most interesting coaching searches. Like FSU, the Cardinals have lost 8 of their past 9 games.
Unlike FSU, the Cardinals can’t blame injuries. They just can’t score: Louisville ranks 187th nationally in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and they rank 14th in the ACC in conference play in points scored per possession. Chris Mack put Mike Pegues in a horrible spot, but even if Mack’s toxic brew of bad offense and broken culture hadn’t happened, this team wasn’t built to win more than 15 or 16 games. The roster just has too many deficiencies.
9. Pittsburgh (11-17, 6-11)
Jeff Capel III’s seat is toasty, but the Panthers have won 3 of their past 4, including last week’s stunner in Chapel Hill. John Hugley outplayed Armando Bacot in that victory, posting 18 points, 5 rebounds and a blocked shot for the Panthers.
Ithiel Horton being able to pass and score against defenses bent towards helping on John Hugley has been really valuable for Pitt since his return. pic.twitter.com/gcAKuPVkiW
— Stephen Gertz (@Stephen_Gertz) February 15, 2022
But it was Ithiel Horton, who is averaging 20 points and shooting a cool 50% from deep over Pitt’s past 4 games, who has been the real difference-maker. If Pitt continues to show improvement down the stretch, perhaps Capel, whose contract runs through 2026-2027, will get another year to prove he can turn a proud program around.
8. Syracuse (15-12, 9-7)
I’m not saying look out for Syracuse yet, but I’m not going to not say that, either, OK?
The reason a team like Syracuse will be so dangerous in an ACC Tournament played in Brooklyn is obvious, and it isn’t just that they’ll have a huge fan edge in any game played against teams not named Duke.
It’s the fact that for all the miserable flaws in this team’s defense, they are elite offensively. Syracuse ranks 18th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, per KenPom, and they are 1 of just 3 teams in the Power 6 (Iowa, Purdue) that has 3 players (Buddy Boeheim, Jimmy Boeheim and Cole Swider) who rank in top 100 nationally in offensive rating.
If they shoot well for 4 days, this is a potential bid thief.
7. Virginia Tech (16-11, 8-8)
Saturday Road wants to believe that the Hokies are as good as computers think they are. Mike Young’s team still slots in at 33rd in the KenPom Efficiency rankings, making them the ACC’s 3rd-best team (Duke, Wake Forest) in the metrics.
Unfortunately, they keep score in every game and the Hokies, despite winning 6 of 7, didn’t play well enough early in the year to stay within shouting distance of the bubble. A home loss last week to North Carolina may have been the death knell to Virginia Tech’s hopes of returning to the NCAA Tournament.
Then again, this is a veteran basketball team with a great offense and a solid defense. I wouldn’t want to play them in the ACC Tournament.
6. Virginia (17-10, 11-6)
The Hoos picked up a huge résumé win in coming back to beat Miami in Coral Gables over the weekend.
Kihei Clark was massive in the victory, In addition to his patented on-ball defense, Clark poured in 17 points, becoming the 50th player in Virginia history to eclipse 1,000 career points in the process.
It seems simplistic to suggest that Virginia goes as Clark goes, but when he attacks the basket and looks for shots, there is better spacing and flow to this offense.
Clark had 2 points and 2 assists in Virginia’s loss at Virginia Tech early last week. But when he’s on, such as his 8-point, 9-assist, 2-steal effort against Duke or Saturday’s display at Miami, the Cavs can still beat most anybody they play.
5. Miami (19-8, 11-5)
The Hurricanes are in “Last Four Byes” territory in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket projection, a product of blowing a double-digit lead at home against Virginia over the weekend.
The loss also ended any hope Miami had of winning the ACC regular-season championship, barring a stunning collapse by Duke.
Nevertheless, coach Jim Larrañaga’s squad has one more résumé opportunity in Virginia Tech down the stretch and could enter the ACC Tournament with 23 wins. If that happens, they will go dancing regardless of what happens in Brooklyn.
4. North Carolina (20-8, 12-5)
Monday night’s escape in a tightly contested home tilt with slumping Louisville was a microcosm of the Tar Heels’ season.
Just when you feel like you can trust North Carolina, they go and look thoroughly average for two hours.
Yes, the Tar Heels won despite a maddening 7 turnovers from Caleb Love.
You can survive that when you get 12 and 15 from Armando Bacot and Brady Manek stuffs the stat sheet (17 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, a block).
But the truth with this North Carolina team remains that they go as Love goes. There’s no better evidence of that than the fact Hubert Davis left him on the floor for all 40 minutes Monday night, regardless of how many bad passes he forced into traffic or how often he missed a rotation on defense.
When good Caleb shows up, like he did in blitzing FSU two weekends ago, the Tar Heels are magnificent. When bad Caleb shows up, the Tar Heels have to weather the storm. That’s forced mixed results, and it makes it hard to trust North Carolina in March.
3. Notre Dame (19-8, 12-4)
Mike Brey’s program is headed back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2016-17 season (yes, it has been that long). That’s the great news.
The bad news is they lost a Quad 1 game at Wake Forest last week despite leading most of the way, and wasted a brilliant performance from freshman star Blake Wesley (24 points, 3 steals, 6-11 3P FG) in the process.
The Irish are an 8 or 9 seed in most bracket projections, and would love to close strong to get out of the brutal 1 seed matchup that seeding would bring in the second round. Unfortunately, Wake Forest was their last Quad 1 game until the ACC Tournament, meaning the Irish are in “damage control” mode more than “improve their seed line” mode down the stretch.
2. Wake Forest (21-7, 11-6)
The ACC Coach of the Year race is over, with Steve Forbes almost certain to win, barring some type of sentimental vote for Coach K.
It’s the ACC Player of the Year race that’s compelling.
Alondes Williams, who dropped 23 points and snagged 10 rebounds in Wake Forest’s comeback win over Notre Dame, has to be considered for the honor.
Love Alondes Williams' blend of craftiness, strength, and burst as a driver. On pace to join Elfrid Payton, De'Aaron Fox, Sharife Cooper, Ja Morant, and Devon Dotson as the only guard prospects since 2011 to average over 4.0 unassisted rim makes/40. pic.twitter.com/nsfVeqC03O
— Will Morris (@w_a_morris) February 20, 2022
He’s a tremendous driver, as the clip above demonstrates. But it’s his ability as a passer and interplay with the terrific big Jake LaRavia, that has elevated Wake Forest to the upper echelon of the ACC this season.
Saturday Road has noted over the course of the season that the numbers Paolo Banchero is putting up are historic for a freshman in the ACC.
Here’s the thing: Williams is averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists a night. Only 3 players in college basketball have done that since 1992: Penny Hardaway, Evan Turner, and Ricky Minard. Two of those three players were First-Team All Americans (Turner, Hardaway) and Minard was his conference’s player of the year.
If Banchero wins the award, voters will have to reject that type of historic dominance by Williams in the process.
1. Duke (23-4, 13-3)
It feels like the Blue Devils are starting to get “March” good.
At least that is the sense you get when role players like Joey Baker start burying an avalanche of 3s to send an upset-minded FSU team trying to save its season crawling back home. A career 40% shooter from deep, Baker entered the FSU game 0 for his last 8 from distance. He made 4-of-5 against FSU, driving home the point that this team is more versatile offensively than just Paolo Banchero, Trevor Keels, and whatever you can get from Wendell Moore Jr. and AJ Griffin.
The Blue Devils’ signature win of the week also came without a household name being the hero. Against Wake Forest, it was block machine Mark Williams who won the game — with offense!!
Mark Williams scored a game-winning putback dunk for Duke at .2. 😤
— AfroBallers (@afroballers) February 16, 2022
Williams, whose 78 blocks this season are more than 4 AP Top 25 teams have combined (Wyoming, Houston, Wisconsin, Villanova), is known for defense. But it’s the fact he’s such a willing offensive rebounder and high percentage put-back player that inspires confidence in Duke come March.
This team looks like the perfect blend of lottery talent and glue guys, and with all the intangibles in the world to play for, there’s no reason to not buy stock in a Duke trip to the Final Four.