ACC Basketball Power Rankings: UNC bounces back, Duke falls and is Wake for real?
Credit the ACC for its fight.
The B1G stormed out to a 6-2 lead in the ACC-B1G challenge last week, threatening to win the competition by a record margin. But ACC schools won 4 of the 6 games contested on Wednesday, closing the margin to a respectable 8-6. Is that great? No. But some of Wednesday night’s wins, including a dominant 72-51 victory by UNC over preseason darling Michigan, were huge for the ACC’s national perception.
The ACC is still 5th out of the Power 6 leagues in KenPom’s Adjusted Efficiency metrics. Last week’s handful of positive results closed the gap on the Big East, however, and while chasing down the Big 12, SEC and B1G seems unlikely this season, the league does appear to be stronger in the middle than anticipated.
A big reason for optimism right now?
The play of Steve Forbes’ Wake Forest outfit. The Demon Deacons have stormed to an 8-1 start and are looking really strong in the eyes of computers that don’t have as many pre-baked metrics as KenPom, which uses a number of statistics from the prior year in its early season algorithm. At Bart Torvik, a site far less contingent on the prior year’s analytics, Wake looks quite good: cracking the top 50 overall thanks to an offense that ranks 10th in effective field goal percentage. The Demon Deacons also ranked 31st in the first batch of NET rankings, behind only North Carolina and Duke.
If Wake Forest keeps this up, they’ll be at least a year ahead of schedule under Forbes, which would give the league a bit of bite in the top half between Duke, UNC, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and FSU, which we can safely assume will play well eventually. A 6-team top isn’t elite — but it’s better than the “Duke, Virginia Tech, FSU, UNC” quartet we thought the ACC might be limited to after Feast Week.
Here are this week’s Power Rankings, which see the biggest movement yet. Last week’s list is here.
15. Pittsburgh (2-6)
Yes, the Panthers played better this week, losing 2 games in heartbreaking fashion. First, they fell at home on a putback with 2.4 seconds left to lose to Minnesota in the B1G Challenge. Then, because one agonizing “L” isn’t enough, they went to Charlottesville, traded punch for punch in a rock fight with Virginia, and came up short anyway when Jayden Gardner made this Kawhi-esque fallaway jumper.
JAYDEN GARDNER GOT THE ROLL & THE WIN!!! @UVAMensHoops | @Jayy_Baller_1 pic.twitter.com/PLg9AWIbIN
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) December 4, 2021
It really doesn’t get much worse than the week Pitt had, but if you need a silver lining, they appear to be getting better.
14. Notre Dame (3-4)
Mike Brey’s team should be way better than it is, but you don’t get extra credit for potential in the Power Rankings.
The Fighting Irish had a dismal week. They were manhandled by Illinois (with Kofi Cockburn) in the ACC-B1G Challenge and then blindsided on the road at Boston College in their ACC opener.
The Fighting Irish should boast one of the most balanced offenses in America. Instead, they rank just 50th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency and have scored more than 72 points just once this season — against D2 Chaminade. That’s about as bad as Brian Kelly’s southern accent.
13. Clemson (5-4)
It’s hard not to keep coming back to the Charleston Classic when you evaluate Brad Brownell’s team. Up double digits against Saint Bonaventure in the semifinals, the Tigers lost the lead, the game and haven’t looked the same since. Last week, they lost to a bad Rutgers team on the road and then coughed up another big lead in their ACC opener at Miami.
Will a return to the friendly confines of Littlejohn Coliseum help? It could, but the Tigers better be wary of Drake, which comes into town on Saturday afternoon and is really good. If the Tigers don’t learn how to defend without fouling (they rank 357 of 358!) in opponent free throws attempted — they will find it difficult to win games regardless of opponent.
12. Georgia Tech (5-3)
Michael Devoe is marvelous. This much we know. The reigning ACC Tournament MVP went off for 33 against a really good Wisconsin team and nearly helped the Yellow Jackets claim a huge victory.
Of course, who will help him? Not a single Yellow Jacket scored in double figures other than Devoe in the Wisconsin game, and when North Carolina limited Devoe to just 15 points Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, Georgia Tech had almost no chance to win.
Until Josh Pastner finds a supporting cast for his superstar, this is going to be a tough year in the ATL.
11. Miami (6-3)
Did Jim Larrañaga’s team carve out an identity this week?
If they are the scrappy, fight you to the death team with guards who are hard to guard that we saw in wins over Penn State and Clemson, then they may have.
Most of Larrañaga’s best teams relied on terrific guard play from tough guys who weren’t afraid to be physical and rattle cages. And you know he knows this:
WE STAN JIM LARRAÑAGA pic.twitter.com/de1ujaZTH8
— College Hoops Digest (@NCAAhoopsdigest) December 5, 2021
Miami will have a chance most nights with those guards, as long as they compete defensively like they did this week.
10. NC State (6-2)
The Wolfpack grinded out a double-overtime ACC-B1G challenge win in Raleigh over Nebraska but succumbed 73-68 to Louisville on that same floor Saturday night. If they hadn’t been outrebounded 46-30, that game ends differently. And this is the second time in as many weeks we’ve noted that without Manny Bates, Kevin Keatts’ team just doesn’t have the girth or ability inside to beat too many people.
9. Boston College (6-3)
Earl Grant was one of the best hires in the sport last offseason and it shows already in 2021. Boston College hammered South Florida 64-49 last week in nonconference play and then ran Notre Dame out of the Conte Forum last Friday night. Boston College isn’t super talented, but the Eagles are really physical and get after it on the glass, ranking 13th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, per KenPom.
They manhandled Notre Dame on the glass Friday, especially in the first half, when they outrebounded the Irish 24-12 and built the double-digit halftime lead they’d never relinquish. Making the NCAA Tournament is a long shot for this group, but with Albany and a winnable game against Saint Louis next, the Eagles can seriously think about the NIT, which would be quite an accomplishment for Earl Grant in year one.
8. Florida State (5-3)
Will FSU bottom out at 8th in these power rankings this season? Probably.
Was last week an unequivocal disaster for the Seminoles? Absolutely.
FSU had a flu bug run through the team ahead of the Purdue game, but the Noles were barely competitive against now-No. 1 Purdue, suffering their worst loss since a 25-point 2017 NCAA Tournament loss to Xavier.
What was more shocking was the 63-60 home loss to Syracuse to open league play Saturday evening. No team in the sport had a better home record than FSU since 2015. Losing a 3-point affair, and scoring only 60 points in the process, against an Orange team that had struggled to defend air to that point — that’s not good.
FSU is still defending at FSU levels, ranking 27th in Adjusted KenPom Defensive efficiency. What they aren’t doing is scoring or shooting. The Seminoles rank 126th nationally in effective field goal percentage, per Bart Torvik, and the team is shooting just 32.8% from deep despite the fact that Caleb Mills (40%) and Malik Osborne (47%!) are shooting it very well from outside on high volume. The Noles need more from the likes of Anthony Polite, Rayquan Evans, and Kentucky transfer Cam’Ron Fletcher, and won’t win a ton of games until they get it.
7. Virginia Tech (6-3)
First, the good.
The Hokies warded off a talented Maryland team 62-58, putting points on the board for the ACC in the Challenge in the process. They won that game because Keve Aluma was magnificent: 17 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks — the type of “senior on the road” performance that wins high-level college basketball games. Justyn Mutts was also big, including down the stretch, when he hit a jumper and a huge free throw in the final minute to seal the win.
Now, the bad.
Virginia Tech was absolutely blitzed on its home floor by Wake Forest in the conference opener Saturday. And it wasn’t a fluke, Aluma and Mutts were … Aluma and Mutts, scoring 38 points and shooting a crisp 15-for-26.
But the Hokies couldn’t get stops and were dominated inside, as Wake Forest shot over 60% on its 2-pointers.
The Hokies are just 1-3 against the KenPom top 100 this season, and a date with Saint Bonaventure later this month looms large as they try to boost their resume and avoid the 10 seed fate that befell them a season ago.
6. Virginia (6-3)
Are the Hoos much lower on this list if the Gardner shot above doesn’t go in? Absolutely.
Are they much higher on this list if Iowa doesn’t decide to play defense for the first time all season late in Monday night’s 75-74 Hawkeyes win in Charlottesville? Also yes.
The Cavs rank last in tempo in the sport, which makes their current predicament: They don’t score enough, have no go-to scorer, and aren’t as good in the packline as usual — a problem moving forward.
But they played a really solid Iowa offense close and found a way against Pittsburgh on a night when the shots weren’t falling.
I still trust Tony Bennett, so we’ll defend having the Cavs sixth this week.
5. Louisville (6-2)
The Cardinals got Chris Mack back from a 6-game suspension for his handling of the Dino Gaudio extortion affair and promptly were outclassed by Michigan State in East Lansing. Louisville stayed close for a half, but trailed by as many as 20 in the second half and was unable to survive a night where leading scorer and 3-point assassin Noah Locke went 0-7 from the floor.
A road win over NC State steadied the ship, and Louisville continues to be terrific defensively. But the Cardinals are struggling on offense and for whatever reason, they continue to rely on Locke to create in pick and rolls — a strategy that isn’t yielding positive offensive results, as the Cardinals rank 321st in the country in points off the pick-and-roll.
4. Syracuse (5-3)
The Orange were a team searching for defense, of any sort, after a Feast Week that saw them routed by Auburn and flummoxed by VCU. They didn’t find it in the ACC-B1G challenge against Indiana, but the Orange did remind us that between the Boeheim brothers and Joseph Girard III, they can really fill up the bucket, especially when they are shooting straight. The 112-110 double overtime win over Indiana will look nice come March, but it was the 63-60 win at Florida State that was special. The Noles simply don’t lose at home, and Syracuse not only went in and won — the stifled FSU defensively. The 2-3 zone held FSU to 4-30 from deep, and that was enough to claim a huge resume win on a night when Syracuse shot just 34% from the field.
3. Wake Forest (8-1)
Steve Forbes’ team is 8-1, with their lone loss coming in a holiday tournament to LSU during Feast Week. Until this week, the Demon Deacons didn’t have impressive wins. But they collected two quality wins last week, beating Northwestern in overtime in the ACC-B1G challenge and then routing Virginia Tech in Blackburg in what will be a resume gem all season long. Alondes Williams, the Oklahoma transfer, has been sensational, averaging 18.4 per contest (11 above his career high) and at 37% on high volume, he is shooting nearly 10% better than his career mark from downtown.
The Demon Deacons should be 11-1 when they visit Louisville on December 29. Win that game and well, you can start talking about a special season in Winston Salem.
2. North Carolina (6-2)
The Tar Heels played as well as any team in the country last week, crushing Michigan 72-51 in the Dean Dome and then blasting Georgia Tech 79-62 on the road on Sunday.
Caleb Love’s improvement continues to be the story.
Now this North Carolina offense is in complete rhythm. Four passes and just one dribble after Caleb Love comes off the ball-screen. They only showed two or three different looks in the second half, but that’s all they needed. @HeelIllustrated pic.twitter.com/nK2CIDPjGA
— David Sisk (@CoachDavidSisk) December 6, 2021
Hubert Davis is doing a good job of getting him off the ball at times and squared up as a shooter, as he did in the set above. Love is making 40.5% of his shots from deep (65% of which are assisted!) as a result. That’s a 14% increase over his 3-point shots last season, and as a result, defenses are extending, opening up the paint for Armando Bacot and the Tar Heels bigs and giving Love the chance to attack the tin himself.
1. Duke (7-1)
The Blue Devils were beaten on the road against a really good Ohio State team. That’s really all there is to say about Duke’s week, which will be the last time we see the Blue Devils until Dec. 14 due to Duke’s exam schedule. The Blue Devils won’t open conference play until they face Virginia Tech on Dec. 22, a test that will mimic, in many ways, the Ohio State game.
Why? Virginia Tech has a dominant big (Keve Aluma) at the 4, and a nice secondary scorer (Justyn Mutts), very similar to Ohio State’s combination of EJ Liddell and Justin Ahrens.
If there’s a question about Duke right now, it’s what happens when you can match their frontcourt play and force their guards to make plays to beat you?
In the Gonzaga game, Duke had answers. In the Ohio State game, on the road, they didn’t.
This is still a Final Four type team. But not an invincible one.