ACC Basketball Power Rankings: Does anyone want to win the league?
Just when you think you have the ACC figured out (see, last week’s Power Rankings, entitled “Duke, Miami, and everyone else…”), the teams you think are the best (Duke and Miami) lose 3 games in a week.
Yes, Duke looked like a Final Four team in crushing North Carolina in the Dean Dome (Welcome to the Duke-UNC rivalry as a head coach, Hubert Davis!). But losing in Cameron Indoor to the worst Virginia team in years? That’s not just an emotional letdown. That’s a red flag.
Meanwhile, Miami fell to Notre Dame (more on the Irish later) at home in a terrific environment and then was wiped out by Virginia’s pack-line defense and cold shooting in Charlottesville over the weekend. Suddenly, the Canes are on the wrong side of the bubble.
The point of all this is the only thing that’s certain in the ACC this season is uncertainty, and as of right now, it’s fair to wonder if this is a 3- or 4-bid league instead of the usual 6 or 7.
Here’s a new set of Power Rankings for us to ponder. My apologies to the teams at the top, which are almost certain to suffer a letdown from being “too close” to first place this week.
15. Pittsburgh (8-16, 3-10)
Early in the season, the Panthers just seemed snakebit. They led the country in losses by 5 points or less in the first 2 months. Surely the basketball gods would even things out, right? Wrong. The Panthers’ new challenge is being even remotely competitive — which they were not this week in a 16-point loss to Wake Forest and a 27 point loss (bleh!) to Virginia Tech. Jeff Capel III is officially on hot seat watch.
14. NC State (10-14, 3-10)
Speaking of hot seats, there are NC State fans who want Kevin Keatts out in Raleigh. That seems harsh to this scribe, given the injuries the Wolfpack have suffered this year, but then again, NC State hasn’t been dancing since 2017-2018. That was Keatts’ first season. Now, in Year 5, it isn’t getting any better. The Wolfpack have dropped 4 in a row and even lost to a terrible Syracuse team this week.
13. Georgia Tech (10-12, 3-8)
Josh Pastner bought goodwill and time when he won the ACC Tournament last season. That’s a good thing because the Yellow Jackets are a painful watch. They can’t score (an ACC worst 237th in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency) and they don’t defend great (99th), which is typically a Pastner staple. There is hope for the future, as Deivon Smith continues to shine. He had 16 points (a season-high) and 6 assists in the Jackets’ 69-63 win over Clemson last week.
12. Boston College (9-12, 4-7)
The Eagles take a step forward and then a step backward every other week, it seems. Last week was the step backward: They were suffocated at resurgent Virginia. Earl Grant has improved Boston College’s toughness and physicality almost overnight — there’s a worker bee culture, led by TJ Bickerstaff and Quinten Post. His next task is to figure out how to get them going offensively. That’s a solution only a recruiting class and another year in the portal can fix.
11. Louisville (11-12, 5-8)
Chris Mack left, in theory, because the whole program had become too “toxic” for him to stay and finish the season. Saturday Road won’t suggest that was the wrong play, but the Cardinals have not won a game since his departure. The return of leading scorer Malik Williams, who was suspended for “not living up to program standards” last week, should help, but the schedule, at a streaking Notre Dame and home against a desperate Miami — won’t.
10. Clemson (12-10, 4-7)
Saturday Road continues to love the game of sophomore forward PJ Hall. During his recruitment, there were questions as to whether the high 4-star had what it took physically and defensively to play at a high level in the Power 6. He’s answered the bell this year, and had another fantastic game in scoring 15 points, collecting 7 rebounds and adding a block in the Tigers’ 75-69 win over FSU last week. By the way, Hall has also been “the dude” for Clemson when they lose: He had 18 points and dished out 4 assists on an efficient 9-for-13 from the field.
PJ HALL JUST TOOK A MAN’S SOUL 🔨 🔨
— Austin Pendergist (@apthirteen) January 19, 2022
Is he elite on defense? No. But he’s good enough, especially since he’s been one of the most lethal frontcourt bigs offensively in the country. He’s shot 54.4% and scored 1.08 points per possession on post-ups, according to Synergy Sports. That’s really, really good.
If only Brad Brownell had better pieces around him.
9. Syracuse (12-11, 6-6)
Is this the worst Syracuse team in Jim Boeheim’s 46 years as head coach? That’s probably a bold claim, but it might be the worst defensive team he’s ever coached. The Orange rank 237th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, which is why it matters not that they are an impressive 13th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, per KenPom.
8. Florida State (13-9, 6-6)
Saturday Road wanted to believe when the Seminoles ripped off a bunch of wins in January, but the Seminoles have lost 4 straight, including 2 at home, where they are typically all but unbeatable (2nd-best home win percentage in Power 6 since 2015, behind only Kansas). Injuries have played a role — the Seminoles were without their best player, Malik Osborne, in the weekend loss to Wake Forest. But the real problem is offense: FSU ranks 114th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, a number that’s almost shockingly poor considering the Seminoles create turnovers at a very high rate and, in theory, this should mean transition points. If FSU can’t find a way to score, their NCAA Tournament streak will end at 4.
7. Virginia Tech (14-10, 6-7)
Mike Young!! Saturday Road wants to believe!! The Hokies have 3 straight convincing wins, including a road scalp of FSU. Nahiem Alleyne and Storm Murphy are finally starting to score consistently, and Keve Aluma (15 points, an assist, and a block per game) is one of the league’s best players. I don’t think the Hokies are back on the bubble yet, but the way they can score (1st in the ACC in effective field goal percentage, Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, and 3 point percentage in league play), there is a window for a late run to March Madness here. I know this much: I wouldn’t want to play the Hokies in the ACC Tournament.
6. North Carolina (16-7, 8-4)
The Tar Heels go as Caleb Love goes, and on the one hand, he’s a vastly improved player as a sophomore. He’s shooting 41% from deep, up 15% points from last season, and he’s had games where he distributes after getting downhill (6 in wins over Virginia Tech and Louisville).
Unfortunately, he too often drives and forces things — Love is shooting just 36.4% on 2-point attempts — making him the only high-major player in the country shooting under 40% from inside the arc — with a minimum of 150 attempts. His 4 turnovers against Duke all led to points — and were a big reason the Blue Devils took a huge first-half lead and never looked back.
That sequence sums up Caleb Love pretty well. Dribble around waiting to get fouled so you can get the FTs, turn it over for a game-tying layup.
— Rob Dauster (@RobDauster) February 2, 2022
Love has to let the game come to him. There are shooters like Brady Manek on this roster and a dominant frontcourt piece in Armando Bacot. Less volume, more passing– that should be the formula for the Tar Heels down the stretch.
5. Miami (16-7, 8-4)
Saturday Road is still high on Miami, but this was a tough week for the Hurricanes’ NCAA prospects. The home loss to Notre Dame, in a tremendous environment, stung but the emotional letdown they had at Virginia was uncharacteristic of a senior-laden group that has shown so much toughness this season.
The Canes are terrific offensively, ranking 23rd in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, per KenPom.
But as their shooting has cooled over the past 8 games, they are just 4-4. Yes, the signature win at Duke will matter to the Selection Committee. But the Canes need wins over the likes of Virginia Tech, Wake Forest (which would complete a season sweep), and UVA down the stretch to feel safe.
4. Virginia (15-9, 9-5)
Is a win at Duke enough to get Virginia back on the right side of the bubble? I don’t know, but it certainly puts Tony Bennett’s team in the conversation, which is better than where the Cavs were 2 weeks ago.
REESE BEEKMAN! BANG!
Virginia upsets No. 7 Duke
— The Dylan & Dylan Show (@DylanDylanShow) February 8, 2022
The Beekman bomb continues a happy trend for Virginia — better shooting. Virginia has shot 50% in their 3-game win streak, and they are 13-for-39 from beyond the arc, including a torrid 8-for-15 to beat Miami. If they can avoid a letdown against Georgia Tech this weekend, a Valentine’s Day trip to Virginia Tech looms large as a chance to grab another Quad 2 win, and at this point, anything would help.
3. Wake Forest (19-5, 9-4)
Steve Forbes is going to be ACC Coach of the Year, which is an amazing story of the power of new energy in a program coupled with the holy healing waters of the transfer portal. The portal gave the Demon Deacons Alondes Williams, who had another 20-point game in Wake’s win over FSU this weekend. Also, credit Jake LaRavia, who has 3 double-doubles in his past 5 games and gives the Demon Deacons real inside-out balance.
Would love to see more 3 point volume from Jake LaRavia going forward, so it was nice to see him get up more 3s than usual against Pitt. Went 4-6 from deep, which is the most 3s he's attempted in a game this year. He's actually attempted more than 3 3s only three times this year pic.twitter.com/tVK8aYwBiX
— Zach Milner (@ZachMilner13) February 7, 2022
LaRavia has feasted as a roll man and pick-and-pop option — a rare combo in modern college basketball — and he’s a big reason the Demon Deacons are the best pick-and-roll offense in the ACC, per Hoops Lens. LaRavia pumped in 18 points (6-of-9 2PA), 13 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 steal and 1 block to stuff the stat sheet against FSU, and he and Williams form my favorite transfer portal tandem in the country.
2. Notre Dame (16-7, 9-3)
When you look at the whole of Notre Dame’s résumé, you might stop at a NET that ranks just inside the top 60 and think: There’s not much to see here. But if you look at Notre Dame’s strength of record (28th), the fact they are 13-3 after a 4-4 start, and the fact that they beat what appears to be a Final Four-good Kentucky team — you realize this is a legitimate team that could win the ACC regular-season title.
Last week, it was Prentiss Hubb who helped the Fighting Irish to a huge road win at Miami, pouring in 15 points, adding 6 assists and nabbing 2 steals. Hubb’s play has improved just as rookie Blake Wesley has hit a bit of a February lull — perfect timing for the Fighting Irish and a testament to Mike Brey’s depth.
1. Duke (19-4, 9-3)
Duke shouldn’t lose to this Virginia team at Cameron Indoor, and Coach K knows it, which is why he called out his team’s attention to detail and focus after the game. When the Blue Devils are “on,” they are Final Four-good. When they aren’t — and that’s usually because Paolo Banchero isn’t getting up shots (he had only 1 attempt in the second half against Virginia on Monday night) — they can lose at home to bubble teams like Virginia and Miami.
Paolo Banchero and AJ Griffin vs Virginia:
This team could play another 100 games and those two combining for a night like this wouldn’t happen again.
— The Brotherhood (@BrotherhoodCBB) February 8, 2022
The continued emergence of AJ Griffin is a sign that Duke may become even more versatile offensively down the stretch. Griffin was always supposed to be really good, and at 6-6 with tremendous length, his jump shot is almost unblockable.
➖ Avg. 20 pts. + 6.5 reb. over two games last week
➖ Career-high 27 pts. against UNC on Saturday
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) February 7, 2022
But the smart money tells you that Duke’s frontcourt will define its March. Mark Williams is steady (10.9 ppg, 6.9 rebounds), but can they get more from Theo John and other pieces down low? And how will they defend when Williams runs into foul trouble? These are questions that are difficult to answer in a down ACC but have to be answered before March Madness.