A month into the college basketball season and while the ACC is a bit of a murky mess, there’s one clear takeaway: Clemson can play.

The Tigers improved to 9-0 with 2 more nonconference wins, gutting it out to beat rival South Carolina and then pulling away from TCU in the second half to win a battle of unbeatens in Toronto. The Tigers are really, really good. They can play fast — beating frenetic Alabama in Tuscaloosa and  a TCU team that ranks No. 2 nationally in tempo. They can play slow, as they did in a 67-possession win over the Gamecocks. They can score inside and outside, ranking 23rd in 3-point percentage (38.2%) and 38th in overall effective field goal percentage (55.2%) nationally.

A founding member of the ACC, Clemson has won the regular season crown once (1990). They have never won the conference tournament. This year could change that, with balance, a bona fide Wooden Award candidate in PJ Hall, and Ian Schieffelin, who is emerging as one of the country’s best glue guys. It’s a joy to watch the Tigers play.

The rest of the ACC?

Well, it’s one murky morass of mediocrity and missed opportunities, mostly.

North Carolina has been good but not great, and the gap between the improved Tar Heels and the national elite appeared fairly wide in a comfortable 87-76 UConn win over the Heels at the Jimmy V Classic last Tuesday night.

Virginia is Virginia, but beyond Reece Beekman, is there a truly great player on that team?

Duke has a great roster but has struggled offensively and has 1 quality win, over a Michigan State team that looks a bit overrated.

Georgia Tech has beaten Duke and a quality Miss State team. They’ve also been manhandled by Georgia and lost to U-Mass Lowell.

Wake Forest beat an underrated Florida team. They also lost to a terrible LSU team.

Miami flashes Final Four potential, but it’s hard to ignore a beating like the one they took to Tad Boyle’s Colorado team in Brooklyn on Sunday, falling by 27 points on a neutral floor.

You get the idea? This is a tough league to project right now, and one without a big number of signature nonconference scalps. The league ranks last among the 6 Power 6 leagues heading into the final weeks of 2023, and it’s hard to improve that number when league play begins.

We try to make sense of the mess in our Power Rankings below.

15. Louisville (4-5, 0-1)

Last Week (LW): 14

The Cardinals’ loss at DePaul, which was 1-7 entering the game with its lone win coming over South Dakota, was woeful. When the Cardinals hit 3s, like they did against Texas (16 makes, 44%), they are competitive. When they miss 3s (5-19, 26% vs. DePaul), they can lose to anyone — and did over the weekend.

14. Notre Dame (4-5, 0-1)

LW: 15

The Fighting Irish can’t score. This is a product of being a team that is among the nation’s leaders in 3-point attempts (25th nationally) and worst in makes (27.7%). They do appear to be improving defensively, having held 3 of their past 4 opponent’s to under 1 point per possession. The lone exception was Marquette, a legitimate Final Four threat, which manhandled the Fighting Irish 78-59 on Saturday.

13. Florida State (4-4, 0-1)

LW: 12

The Seminoles have one of the ACC’s best out of conference wins, beating a Colorado team favored to compete for a top 3 spot in the Pac-12. We saw just how good the Buffs can be when they routed Miami on Sunday. The Seminoles can also lose to just about anyone, as they did Saturday when they were blown out by a middling South Florida team at the Orange Bowl Classic in Fort Lauderdale. Like Louisville, the Seminoles need to hit 3s, and when Darin Green Jr. is 1-for-5 from deep like he was against the Bulls, FSU runs low on answers on offense. What’s troubling now, though, is that the defense appears to be slipping after a fast start. The Seminoles gave up over 1.1 ppp to South Florida, a team that ranked in the 300s in the country in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency entering the game.

11. Syracuse (7-3, 0-1)

LW: 12

The Orange beat 2 teams last week that might be good: Cornell and Georgetown. More likely, only 1 of these wins remains in “Quad 2” territory, and Syracuse is forced to search for quality wins in league play alone, barring an upset win over Oregon next weekend on a neutral floor in South Dakota. The Orange do seem to defend well: Evan Miya ranks Syracuse 55th in defensive efficiency early in the season and KenPom has them in the top 100, a huge improvement after finishing 188th in Jim Boeheim’s final season. If they get help for Judah Mintz offensively, the ceiling is higher than this ranking.

11. Boston College (8-3, 0-1)

LW: 13

Earl Grant’s team is so “ACC 2023” it hurts. The record is fine, and the top end talent, (19.2 points per game, 8.5 rebounds), is outstanding. But until they beat St. John’s on Sunday, there wasn’t a quality win in sight.

Post, who nearly posted a triple-double in the win over St. John’s (14 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists), was magnificent in that win, but it’s Jaeden Zackery, who was an efficient 7-for-9 from the field and added 3 assists, that was the Robin to Post’s Batman in a good win. The Eagles need more of that Zackery to live up to their potential in 2023-24.

10. Virginia Tech (7-3, 1-0)

LW: 10

The Hokies stay put after a one game, one win (Valparaiso) week. An intriguing mid-major test against an excellent Vermont team awaits this week and with it, one final statement game for Mike Young’s group before they hit the meat of league play. Computers are higher on the Hokies than Saturday Road — largely thanks to a win over a solid Iowa State team during Feast Week.

9. Georgia Tech (5-3, 1-0)

LW: 5

Damon Stoudamire’s team has shown it can play with anyone, beating a Duke team with lottery picks and out-toughing a grinder of a Miss State team. Unfortunately, the consistency is lacking, and “Bad Georgia Tech” showed up in a 76-62 loss to Georgia. The Ramblin’ Wreck scored just 20 points in the first half, and trailed by as many as 23 in the second half in Athens before they closed the game on a nice run to narrow the final margin to just 14 points. Keep an eye on Kowacie Reeves. The Florida transfer is long, freakishly athletic and bouncy, and is starting to flourish in Stoudamire’s system. This week, he scored 32 points and averaged 6.5 rebounds per game for Tech — a nice follow-up after leading the Duke game in plus-minus rating. If Reeves gets going, this backcourt becomes truly loaded.

8. NC State (6-2, 1-0)

LW: 8

No move this week for the Wolfpack, who played 1 game, against lowly Maryland Eastern-Shore and handled their business with a 32-point win. A big opportunity awaits this week, when the Wolfpack and Tennessee get together in San Antonio. NC State can score efficiently and protect the rim, but can they avoid turnovers and hit enough 3-point shots to beat a team as disciplined defensively as Tennessee?

7. Wake Forest (6-3)

LW: 9

The Demon Deacons built om their impressive win over Florida by smashing Rutgers at home midweek. The win was more impressive than the Florida win in many ways,  because the Deacs didn’t just ride stars Andrew Carr and Hunter Sallis. On a night the Sallis-Carr duo shot just 40% from the floor and scored a collective 21 points, Kevin Miller poured in 23 points to pace Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons also introduced Efton Reid into the fold against Rutgers, giving the team a defensively stout big man who will also make the team lethal spacing the floor as the season proceeds. There’s no Damari Monsanto yet, but when he arrives, look out.

6. Pittsburgh (7-3, 0-1)

LW: 7

Pitt needed a solid win out of conference and got one this week, handling West Virginia 80-63 in Morgantown. The “road” aspect of the win means it likely lingers as at least a Quad 2 win, but the better news was Carlton Carrington finally playing a high-level game against a Power 6 foe after struggling against Florida and Clemson earlier this season. There’s also Blake Hinson, who hit 9 — yes, 9 — 3-pointers in the win and iced that cake with 7 rebounds to pace the Panthers.

5. Duke (6-3, 0-1)

LW: 6

The Blue Devils snapped their 2 game losing streak this weekend, beating lowly Charlotte. But even in defeat, questions and concerns lingered. Kyle Filipowski struggled, scoring just 5 points on 2-9 shooting and committing 2 turnovers.

The good news? A 10-for-18 3-point shooting performance and 15 points off the bench from Jaylen Blakes, who needs to progress to make this Duke team deeper and more multiple offensively.

4. Miami (7-2, 1-0)

LW: 3

The Hurricanes were stampeded by Colorado on Sunday, which is what happens when you turn the ball over 13 times in one half, as The U did in the second half. All-Pac 12 big Tristan da Silva proved a problematic matchup, scoring 22 points, hauling in 10 rebounds and dishing out 9 assists, the answer to every double team, trap, and fire Miami sent at the post. Saturday Road is still bullish on the Canes, but in their biggest 2 tests to date, they’ve flopped, which is at least cause for an eyebrow raise.

3. North Carolina (7-2, 1-0)

LW: 2

Advanced metrics still peg the Tar Heels as the ACC’s best team, thanks mostly to an efficient offense that can clean up its misses on the glass (thanks, Armando Bacot). Saturday Road doesn’t quite see it that way. Instead, we see a team that struggles to guard consistently and can get scrambled on offense when RJ Davis isn’t hitting shots. One guy Hubert Davis needs to get going is grad transfer Cormac Ryan. Always streaky at Notre Dame, he’s an asset to any offense when he’s hitting shots, but he hasn’t done that this season — and is shooting just 33% on the campaign. That’s a problem — especially if he’s going to play 28-to-39 minutes a night.

2. Virginia (8-1, 1-0)

LW: 3

Virginia is Virginia, and rumors of their demise appear greatly overstated. A top-5 defense and the nation’s best field goal defense (39.7% eFG against), the Hoos have the nation’s best on-ball defender in Reece Beekman and an emerging lottery pick in Ryan Dunn, who is still figuring it out on offense. This team suffers on offense, but they are going to be in every game they play this season because of how they guard.

1. Clemson (9-0, 1-0)

LW: 1

There’s not much to say about Clemson that wasn’t said up top, but the emergence of Ian Schieffelin as a “Hunter Tyson” type glue guy is the latest feather in this team’s cap.


Peep the week Schieffelin had: 12 points and 12 rebounds in the rivalry comeback win over South Carolina, and 14 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists in the win over TCU.

“We need a guy to step up and do what (Hunter Tyson) did last year for us,” PJ Hall told me at ACC Media Days. “Who grabs the tough rebound, attacks the physical closeout, makes the extra pass?”

It looks like the ACC’s best team may have found that guy in early December, and that’s a huge deal.