ACC Basketball Power Rankings: Here come the Noles!
What a wild January we’ve had in the ACC.
Duke lost prohibitive favorite status — and a game at Cameron Indoor — to upstart Miami. The Hurricanes, who have the league’s best guards, lost 2 games to rival FSU, but have otherwise rolled through league play. Notre Dame, left for dead in late December, has lost only once in January. Wake Forest, the darling of the nonconference slate, has fallen back to earth a bit this month but is still poised to push for the program’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2017.
And then there’s FSU. The Seminoles didn’t even have a Quad 2 win — let alone a Quad 1 win — until they nipped NC State in Raleigh on January 1. That win started a 7-1 January for FSU, who now share first place in the ACC with Miami. If you counted Leonard Hamilton’s team out — and we were close in our last batch of Power Rankings — you should have known better. There’s a reason the Seminoles have been the conference’s most consistent program over the past half decade. They tend to figure it out.
Here’s a fresh set of Power Rankings as the league enters the final week of January.
15. Georgia Tech (8-10, 1-6)
One conference win is all Josh Pastner’s team has to show for January, mostly thanks to an offense that has fallen from 22nd in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency a year ago, when the Yellow Jackets won the ACC Tournament, to 208th in 2021-22. Georgia Tech hasn’t defended much lately either, surrendering 80+ points in their last two conference games.
14. Pitt (7-12, 2-6)
The Panthers fight. We at least can say that. No team in the country has lost more games (6) by five points or less. Of course, Jeff Capel III’s team too often loses those games anyway. They also just had their worst week in ACC play yet, with a home loss to an average Virginia and a blowout defeat at Clemson over the weekend.
13. NC State (10-10, 3-6)
The hits just keep on coming for Kevin Keatts’ squad. After losing Manny Bates less than 2 minutes into the season, the Wolfpack lost forward Ernest Ross for the season last week with a broken ankle. Ross, a freshman, had given the Wolfpack’s frontcourt a lift and will be missed down the stretch. Dereon Seabron, who averages 19 points a game and is shooting a terrific 34% from the field despite being a poor perimeter shooter, is having an All-ACC caliber season. But there is nothing in this frontcourt to keep teams from imposing their will in games and as a result, NC State appears doomed to miss the postseason.
12. Virginia Tech (10-8, 2-5)
Is there a more disappointing team in college basketball this year than the Hokies? Mike Young’s team was a trendy preseason Top 25 pick and profiled like a Sweet 16 unit, led by senior Keve Aluma and guards Storm Murphy and Naheim Alleyne. Aluma, who averages 15 points, 7 rebounds and a block, has lived up to his end of the bargain. The rest of the team hasn’t, at least defensively. The Hokies rank 184th in college basketball in 2 point FG percentage against, a huge reason they have had so much trouble in tight games. They’ve dropped 5 games by 5 points or less — uncharacteristic for a veteran club that went to the NCAA Tournament the year prior — and are well off the bubble now despite being beloved (still!) by computers (37th in Adjusted KenPom Efficiency).
11. Syracuse (9-10, 3-5)
The Orange did beat Clemson, which Saturday Road ranks ahead of them, last week. But the Orange were obliterated at Duke over the weekend and still aren’t showing any signs of learning to play the 2-3 zone effectively. That’s a problem because if you go to Syracuse, you play 2-3 zone. The Orange, who can score on most anyone, boast the Power 6’s largest “offense/defense” disparity. They rank 18th in Adjusted KenPom Offensive Efficiency but a woeful 224th in KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.
10. Clemson (11-8, 3-5)
The Tigers snapped a 3-game losing streak by routing Pitt over the weekend. Sophomore PJ Hall is putting up All-ACC type performances in league play: he’s been in double figures in every conference game and poured in a double-double in this week’s loss at Syracuse. The issue, of late, is that he’s had little help. The Tigers also commit more fouls defensively than anyone in the Power 6 — as a result — they need more stops than most teams because other teams get to shoot free throws at too high a clip. This team should be better than it is, which has been a common refrain in the Brad Brownell era.
9. Boston College (8-9, 3-4)
I’m not saying Earl Grant should be ACC Coach of the Year, but I’m not going to argue with it at this point, either. Boston College has surpassed its conference win total (2) from a season ago before the calendar turns to February. They have quality wins too, having defeated Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, both considered NCAA Tournament bound in the preseason. The computers aren’t fond of Boston College, and they still give up way too many easy looks beyond the arc (309th nationally in 3 point FG percentage against). But they claw and scratch and rebound, and the Langfords give them just enough offensively to stay in most games. A tremendous coaching job by Grant, who is getting every drop out of a limited roster.
8. Virginia (11-8, 5-4)
Tony Bennett’s team is just too challenged offensively to do much better than what they’ve done all month: finish most every week 1-1. But we’ve grown to expect heavy lifting from the Cavs on offense. It’s the games where they give up 60% from the field, like last week’s loss at NC State, that will cost this team a trip to March Madness.
7. Louisville (11-8, 5-4)
Chris Mack’s team has lost 4 of 5, with the lone victory coming over preseason cellar selection Boston College. For a while, Louisville looked like the kind of team that could defend just well enough to offset their obvious limitations offensively. That is no longer the case. The Cardinals have dropped out of the top 50 in KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and they continue to rank near the bottom (12th) of the ACC offensively. Florida transfer Noah Locke is the only Cardinals player averaging in double figures, and no one but Locke and Mason Faulkner are making higher than 31% a clip from deep. Mack’s hold on the job is now as leaky as the KFC Yum Center Roof.
Leaking roof at the KFC Yum Center prior to tonight’s Boston College @ Louisville game. 7 p.m. pic.twitter.com/jjP95sGuNR
— Ed Peak (@ed_peak) January 19, 2022
6. North Carolina (12-6, 4-3)
For a moment, it looked like the Tar Heels would defend this season. North Carolina posted 5 consecutive wins in December where they held opponents to 63 points or less and under 1 point per possession. Those days seem light years away now. The Tar Heels have struggled mightily to get stops in all 3 of their ACC losses, and surrendered an average of 92.5 points in their 2 defeats last week. The Tar Heels have zero Quad 1 wins this season and their best win, over Michigan, hasn’t aged well. Last week was supposed to be about turning the corner. Instead, Hubert Davis’ team lost 2 games by 20 points, the first time they’ve done that in the same week as a program since 2001-02. It’s a mess in Chapel Hill, and there aren’t a ton of chances left for the Tar Heels to make it better.
5. Wake Forest (16-4, 6-3)
A great bounce back week for Wake Forest, which dismantled both Georgia Tech and North Carolina to get to 6-3 in the league overall. A top-5 league finish should put them in a decent spot on Selection Sunday, and the Demon Deacons’ only conference losses to date are to Louisville and Miami on the road and an angry Duke team. Alondes Williams and Jake LaRavia continue to be one of the best transfer duos in the country, and Williams, who leads the Demon Deacons in scoring, seems to have an uncanny connection with the big forward:
I'm obsessed with this pass from Alondes Williams last night. He does this shit multiple times a game, but I'm still obsessed. pic.twitter.com/fU3vTZyjE4
— Cooper Watson (@coopertwatson) January 20, 2022
This is a fun team that can score on most everyone. Would a quality win or two more help? Yes. But they are beating who they should beat, which may be enough.
4. Notre Dame (12-6, 5-2)
Mike Brey’s team is back from the dead, having gone 8-1 after a 4-5 start. The biggest difference between now and December? Balance. Paul Atkinson, the former Ivy League Player of the Year at Yale, has come on strong, scoring in double figures in all but 2 of Notre Dame’s conference tilts after a sluggish start to his senior campaign. His ability to give Notre Dame frontcourt production has opened up the floor for the guard trio of Dane Goodwin, Blake Wesley and Prentiss Hubb. As a result, the Fighting Irish are up to 33rd in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency — and they are that high despite the fact Hubb is having a down year from the field (34.5% FG, 30% 3).
3. Miami (14-5, 6-2)
Is it fair to put the Canes No. 3 despite the fact their only losses are by a point each to their bitter rival? It might not be. Then again, FSU has reminded us why Miami suffered some nonconference losses as well. There’s not a rim protector on the roster and the Hurricanes rank 276th in the country (last in the ACC) in 2-point field goal defense. If they can’t get pressure on the perimeter and turn you over with their guards, you can score on them.
It helps, of course, that Miami can fight back, thanks to a deep and talented backcourt. Head coach Jim Larrañaga’s squad also never quits: they looked dead at home, trailing by 24 at halftime, before rallying against the Seminoles and nearly winning on a last-second shot.
That fight is why they’ll play in the Big Dance this year — but FSU may have exposed why they won’t win the ACC championship.
2. Florida State (13-5, 6-2)
What a week. First, the Seminoles outlasted Duke at home in The Tuck, winning in overtime after this sensational layup by RayQuan Evans over Paolo Banchero forced overtime.
Former North Idaho College player (and Montana native) RayQuan Evans just hit an incredible layup over Paulo Banchero to force Florida State-Duke to OT.
— Brenna Greene (@BrennaGreene_) January 19, 2022
Then, they built a massive lead at a sold-out Watsco Arena in Coral Gables, only to almost lose the whole thing and then send the Canes home unhappy anyway.
Caleb Mills had the dagger against Duke:
The confidence in this shot. Man, Caleb Mills is a hooper pic.twitter.com/hGQq7r8vek
— Austin Veazey (@NolesVikesVeaz) January 19, 2022
He’s averaged 17 points a game, while shooting 52% from the field, during FSU’s winning streak. He also provided the defense on Isaiah Wong on the final possession in Coral Gables.
This is the Mills we saw dominate at Houston — and he’s the biggest reason Leonard Hamilton has it rolling again in Tallahassee.
1. Duke (15-3, 5-2)
I won’t get as excited about a blowout of a mediocre Syracuse team — even without Trevor Keels — as many in the media have. But I rank Duke first, despite an 0-2 record against the teams ranked No. 2 and No. 3, based purely on talent. Paolo Banchero should be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, and he’s just now starting to figure out how to influence games on both ends even when he doesn’t score:
Paolo Banchero's last 5 games: 24 assists
Paolo Banchero's first 11 games: 23 assists.
He's started to see the floor much better and use the gravity he draws to make easy reads, a great sign for his creation upside. Looking more like the player we saw in high school. pic.twitter.com/Zoi205Pmke
— Brandon Simberg (@BrandonSimberg) January 21, 2022
He’s also dropped 20 points in 5 of Duke’s past 6 games. That Wendell Moore Jr. continues play well above his career averages only helps matters — it gives Duke a veteran leader to balance all the high lottery ceiling young talent.
With the top 3 as close as they are, I’ll take Duke’s body of work, including the win over Gonzaga, and their talent, and put them just ahead of Miami and FSU at the top.