ACC Basketball Power Rankings: Sizzling Miami seizes the top spot
The dream scenario for Mike Krzyzewski is still alive. He can still finish his remarkable, 42 year tenure at Duke with one more ACC or national championship. He just won’t go out undefeated in his final season at vaunted Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That dream ended Saturday night, when a veteran Miami team searching for respect made one more play than the Blue Devils late. The game was won when Kam McGusty, one of Jim Larrañaga’s embarrassment of riches at guard, made this bucket with 20 seconds to play.
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessMBB) January 9, 2022
That tough drive and finish came just moments after this insanity, from Charlie Moore, another of the Hurricanes assembly line of guards, scored this bucket to cut Duke’s lead to one with just 33 seconds to play.
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) January 9, 2022
Miami’s defense made life difficult on Duke on the other end, stopping a last ditch Blue Devils effort to tie, and left with a huge win in Durham in front of a shocked capacity Cameron crowd.
“That game showed what kind of team we are, we love dogfights, and it shows we’re not a team to play with anymore,” McGusty, who finished the game with 14 points, told the media afterwards. “We’re the real deal and I think everybody saw that tonight. We can compete with anybody, and we can beat anybody.”
The Hurricanes win shakes up these Power Rankings at the top for the first time this season, and signals that finally, after nearly 2 full months of basketball, the ACC has at least 2 basketball teams that look capable of playing on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
The computers still don’t love the Hurricanes, who rank just 82nd in the KenPom Adjusted Efficiency rankings and are only one spot better in Bart Torvik’s algorithm.
But if Saturday night is any indication, Miami appears to be finding its feet defensively after a rough start. The Hurricanes won at Cameron Indoor because they consistently got stops. Miami isn’t big, but they blitzed, trapped, and were aggressive in passing lanes, getting their hands on several Duke passes and forcing the Blue Devils into a season-high 17 turnovers. Jim Larrañaga has been pleading with his team to raise their effort level on defense for weeks, understanding that his offense can and will score on most anyone. We finally saw it Saturday night– and we’ve got a new top team in the ACC Power Rankings as a result.
Last week’s rankings are here.
15. Boston College (6-7)
Earl Grant’s team fought hard at Pitt Saturday afternoon, buoyed by a terrific game from guard Makai Ashton-Langford, who has been in double figures in all 3 of the Eagles’ ACC games and tallied 23 against the Panthers. But Pitt, who has played in more close games than anyone in the country (more below), forced a vital stop on a Langford drive late and the Eagles came up just short on the road. Boston College has now dropped 4 consecutive games after a 6-3 start to the Grant era.
14. Georgia Tech (6-8)
Add the Yellow Jackets to the list of teams that were very competitive last week but took two losses anyway. Georgia Tech hung with Duke, preventing a Blue Devils cover, on Tuesday night, and then dropped a heartbreaker at home to Notre Dame Saturday in overtime. Still, moral victories aren’t really a good look for Josh Pastner in year 6, and the Yellow Jackets have dropped 7 of 8 games. They don’t have enough offensively outside of Michael Devoe, as they rank 182nd in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency a year after fielding a top 25 offense.
It’s too early to speculate on Pastner’s future, as last year’s surprise ACC Tournament title may have bought the young head coach time in Atlanta. But this team will drop to the cellar of these rankings- in a down year for the ACC- if they can’t grind out a win at Boston College on Wednesday night.
13. Pittsburgh (6-9)
The Panthers finally won a close league game! The Panthers have played an NCAA high 9 games decided by 5 points or less this season and Jeff Capel III’s team is 3-6 in those games. Three of those losses? League play defeats at Virginia, at Louisville, and home to Notre Dame. As a result, it was almost expected when the Panthers needed a late bucket- and then a stop- to hold off Boston College. John Hugley poured in 32 for the Panthers, maintaining a run of form (15.2 ppg, 8.7 rebounds) that should have him in consideration for All-ACC honors at the end of the season.
12. Syracuse (7-8)
The Orange dropped two tight games last week by a combined 4 points, largely for the same reason they’ve dropped games all year: they can’t get stops. With an offense ranked 15th in Bart Torvik’s efficiency rankings, the Orange rank 214th in the same rankings defensively, a wholesale failure of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone the likes of which we haven’t really seen. Usually, a mediocre Syracuse team struggles to score but is lethal defensively, which is how Boeheim produces surprise Final Four teams like the 2016 group. This season it’s the opposite, with the impact now a 1-3 start to ACC play despite an offense that features the ACC’s fourth leading scorer in Buddy Boheim, third leading assists man in Joe Girard III, and leading effective field goal percentage man in Jesse Edwards.
11. Virginia Tech (8-6)
The Hokies are one of the most disappointing teams in college basketball through the first week of January. Winless in ACC action, the Hokies have dropped two games in Blacksburg in opening league play with an 0-3 mark. Keve Alluma has been terrific (15.2 ppg, 6.4 rebounds, 1 block pg), but he’s had little help inside, despite a perimeter offense connecting on 38.8% of its looks from deep. Mike Young’s team can turn it around, especially if you buy into the KenPom “Luck” statistic, where the Hokies rank 335 (bad luck!), suggesting their games aren’t necessarily following predictable mathematical outcomes.
But the resume is threadbare, with only a non-conference win over A 10 favorite St. Bonaventure looking like a genuine quality win.
Will this be the low water mark for the Hokies this season? That depends on how a rivalry tilt in Charlottesville goes on Wednesday.
10. NC State (8-8)
The Wolfpack finally got off the snide in league play with a 68-63 win at Virginia Tech last Tuesday. Dereon Seabron continues to be sensational for NC State, and is now second in the league in scoring at 20.1 per contest. Seabron followed up a brilliant game in Blacksburg with 27 and 7 in a losing effort against Clemson.
Dereon Seabron was at it again yesterday for the Pack, going for 27 & 7 🐺
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) January 9, 2022
He’s a bit more of a slasher right now than a shooter, but he’s a crafty finisher at the tin and, at 9.8 rebounds per game, is dominant on the glass. On a team with Manny Bates, the Wolfpack would likely be ACC contenders. Instead, Kevin Keatts will have to hope to keep this group in place — and to get Bates back — to have a great team in 2022-23.
9. Virginia (9-6)
The Hoos exacted revenge on Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum to start the week only to fall 74-58 in what wasn’t a particularly compettive affair in Chapel Hill over the weekend. Along with FSU (more later), there hasn’t been a more inconsistent team in the ACC this year. The biggest reason? Tony Bennett’s packline simply isn’t suffocating enough to offset this team’s lack of dynamic offense. This version of Virginia is defending outside the Top 50 in the KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency rankings, largely thanks to a leaky perimeter defense that ranks 12th in the ACC in 3 point FG percentage against.
The week ahead is massive for Virginia’s tournament hopes: home affairs against likely bubble brothers Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
8. Florida State (8-5)
FSU couldn’t have started last week any worse. The Seminoles forced 22 Wake Forest turnovers — and lost by 22!! The culprit? How about an offense that shot just 24% from the floor, a Leonard Hamilton era low at FSU. The loss dropped the Seminoles to 7-5, raising legitimate questions about a Seminoles program that so often just seems to reload with missing a beat, no matter the roster turnover.
The good news? The Seminoles bounced back with their best effort of the season Saturday night against Louisville.
Caleb Mills finally delivered the scoring burst Leonard Hamilton hoped for when he brought the Houston transfer in over the offseason, scoring 27 points, and freshman star Matthew Cleveland contributed 17 off the bench to help FSU collect a quality win. Mills isn’t going to give FSU 27 too often, but they need more from him if they are to return to the NCAA Tournament for a program-best 5th consecutive season (contested tournaments).
7. Clemson (10-5)
After dropping a tough one at home to Virginia to start the week, PJ Hall got the Tigers back on track with a 20-point, 5-rebound, 4-block effort against NC State Saturday night. The sophomore out of Spartanburg is averaging 14.7 points and 6 rebounds a night for Brad Brownell’s team, and he’s not just carrying the Tigers in wins. Hall has been in double figures scoring in every Clemson loss, including spectacular efforts against Miami (18 and 8) and St. Bonaventure (22 and 8). Computers like the Tigers plenty, as they rank in the top 40 in KenPom’s efficiency metrics, but the resume is a bit lean on quality wins. A victory in South Bend Wednesday night would be the program’s first “Quad 1” victory all season.
6. Louisville (10-5)
Chris Mack’s team had their 3-game winning streak snapped decisively by Florida State Saturday, but there’s no shame in losing in Tallahassee. The bigger issue continues to be offense for the Cardinals, who rank 107th in KenPom’s Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Metric and have managed 75 points or more just 3 times this season despite playing at a relatively brisk tempo (118th in adjusted tempo).
Last week, however, they didn’t defend at their usual top level, as two offensively challenged teams, Pitt and Florida State, both scored into the 70s and one, FSU, scored at over a 1 point per possession clip. Mack and the Cardinals can’t score enough to drop off on defense, a problem they can correct over a soft upcoming stretch that features dates with bottom-feeders Boston College, Pitt, and NC State.
5. North Carolina (11-4)
This weekend’s win over Virginia was just what the doctor ordered for the Tar Heels after the disappointing loss in South Bend. The Heels picked up another Quad 2 win, important for a team that has played a tough schedule (6 quad 1 and 2 games) but has little to show for it (2-4 with 0 Quad 1 wins). Armando Bacot is averaging a double-double and posted an absurd 29 and 21 against Virginia, and you have to love his leadership, talking the talk and then walking the walk after the Notre Dame Loss. But as good as Bacot is, the question for UNC continues to revolve around how well their guards defend.
Armando Bacot apologized to the fan base for the loss to Notre Dame, calling it “flat out embarrassing.”
He responded today dropping 29pts and 21rebs on UVA in a blowout win.
Those are the kind of guys I wanted to play alongside.
Helluva statement by the big man.
— jordan cornette (@jordancornette) January 8, 2022
If you have straight-line drivers, you can challenge the Tar Heels, who rank 156th in 2-point field goal defense despite great rim protectors and rank 271st in defending the pick and roll. Until Caleb Love and RJ Davis, who have been prolific offensively, pick it up on the other side of the ball, we’ll be left wanting with this Tar Heels team that should be a better sum given all of its parts.
4. Wake Forest (13-3)
The Demon Deacons bounced back from a tough week on the road to win two tight games in Winston-Salem. Steve Forbes’ team has yet to lose in the friendly confines of Joel Coliseum this season, though that streak will be tested when an angry Duke visits Wednesday. For now, this is a bubble team with an ACC Player of the Year candidate in Alondes Williams, who had a combined 45 points in this week’s wins over FSU and Syracuse.
3. Notre Dame (9-5)
The Fighting Irish have very quietly won 5 consecutive games, highlighted by a 78-73 win over North Carolina in South Bend last Wednesday. The story in that contest was Nate Laszewski, who dropped a season-high 20, including two huge second-half 3-pointers, to lift the Irish.
Nate Laszewski went off from the three 🔥
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) January 6, 2022
Notre Dame’s frontcourt is finally starting to look like the formidable group most thought it would be on paper. Laszewski was marvelous against UNC, and Paul Atkinson, the former Ivy League Player of the Year, keyed the victory over Georgia Tech, scoring 16 points, collecting 7 rebounds, and adding 2 blocks in the Fighting Irish’s win.
Mike Brey’s team is going to have great guard play. If the frontcourt becomes lethally efficient, this could be an NCAA Tournament team. The resume is certainly better than most in the league to date.
2. Duke (12-2)
No. 8 Duke remains the league’s only ranked team, but they aren’t the league’s best team anymore after the home loss to scorching hot Miami. Whether it was COVID-19 break rust or not, the Blue Devils really struggled to take care of the ball against Miami. Ball security has to be a premium for this team because if Duke has an offensive weakness, it is increasingly looking like it will be perimeter shooting. Duke shot just 6-for-22 against Miami from deep and has fallen to 62nd in the country in 3P FG%, per KenPom. Championships are won at the margins, and Duke may suffer a few more conference losses if they have another week where they shoot just 11-for-38 from beyond the arc.
1. Miami (13-3)
The Hurricanes weren’t rewarded with a national ranking after upsetting Duke at Cameron Indoor Saturday night, but I doubt Jim Larrañaga’s grizzled old group of outcasts cares much. The win gave the Hurricanes their 9th consecutive victory, their first Quad 1 win of the campaign, and bumped their offensive numbers into KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency Top 25.
I mentioned in the introduction that Miami has more guards than Everglades Correctional, but the biggest reason for the team’s recent success is Larrañaga utilizing them all at once, Villanova style, as opposed to in succession. After starting the year with more traditional lineups and playing slower, Miami is now playing small and fast, and daring people to score more than they do. During the winning streak, the Canes have scored at least 1.00 point per possession in every game, registering 82 or more points in four of its past five.
The older, experienced guards didn’t rattle on the road this weekend — suggesting staying power to this new formula.