ACC Basketball Power Rankings: What a weird week. Will there be more surprises?
The first full week of conference play in the ACC was, in a word, illuminating.
Duke didn’t play last week, but UNC did, and looked great again after a disappointing close to 2021. And then promptly lost to open this week.
Florida State finally got a win outside of Quadrant 3 or 4. And then got blown out.
Louisville made progress, especially on offense.
Virginia remains an enigma, but they did pick up a much-needed quality win.
Then there’s Wake Forest. Darlings of the nonconference and a team writers and fans were starting to trust as a legitimate factor in the ACC, the Demon Deacons proceeded to lose 2 games last week. On the one hand, both losses were on the road and both games were close. On the other hand, the Demon Deacons didn’t have much to hang their hat on résumé wise before conference play began, and given the lack of depth in the ACC, losing 2 games to potential partners on the bubble is not a great way to show the Selection Committee you are for real.
How did the Deacs respond? By ripping Florida State 76-54 on Tuesday.
Is Wake fake? Or or those the real Deacs? Time will tell, but if Wake is fake, it’s back to the drawing board on finding a 4th potential NCAA Tournament team in the ACC (assuming Virginia Tech and UNC are safe).
Here’s how the ACC Power Rankings look for the first week of 2022. Last week’s list is here.
15. Boston College (6-6)
The Eagles played hard and kept games close to begin the 2021-22 season, but did neither in their 2022 debut against North Carolina on Sunday afternoon. Falling behind by 29 at halftime on your home floor? That’s cellar-dweller stuff, and no, it doesn’t matter that the Eagles competed and “won” the second half. Boston College has lost 3 straight after a promising start. A trip to Pitt awaits Saturday, with basement status in the Power Rankings on the line.
14. Pittsburgh (5-9)
Jeff Capel III’s team is getting better.
The record doesn’t show it, but the results (and the computers) do.
The Panthers played well enough to beat Notre Dame on Tuesday night, only to see senior All-ACC guard Prentiss Hubb bury them late with a fadeaway jumper.
— ACC Men's Basketball (@accmbb) December 29, 2021
The shot was well-guarded. It’s just a big player making a big play. You live with that and build from it if you are Pitt. But they really need a conference win Saturday against Boston College.
13. Georgia Tech (6-7)
The Yellow Jackets played well for 30 minutes against Louisville on Sunday afternoon, but lost their lead in a 5-minute scoring drought that yet again exposed Georgia Tech’s inability to find much offense beyond Michael Devoe (23 points). Kyle Sturdivant tried to provide the lift for Tech on Sunday, scoring 14 points off the bench to give Georgia Tech a spark. But it wasn’t enough, as Louisville was able to get stops to separate itself over the game’s final 10 minutes. Georgia Tech’s inability to score separates them a bit from another team that also is struggling in the ACC …
12. NC State (8-7)
Scoring isn’t a problem for Kevin Keatts’ team, which has found buckets against the likes of Purdue, Florida State and Miami. Dereon Seabron has been special at creating his own look and attacking the tin despite shooting just 18% from deep, a woeful number for a guard. Jerricole Hellems and Terquavion Smith provide ample secondary scoring options. The Pack’s problem is they can’t rebound consistently or get enough stops. Of course Manny Bates would have helped matters. Losing an All-ACC player is brutal and would impact any team. But with a team that ranks 203rd in KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the Wolfpack’s largest issue is they don’t guard well on the perimeter either. They have electric scoring guards, but none of them care to defend. Still, credit the Pack for rallying past Virginia Tech on Tuesday for their first ACC win.
11. Syracuse (7-7)
It was a 3-game week for the Orange, who won buy games against two Ivy League programs before losing their ACC home opener to Virginia on Saturday night. The Orange didn’t defend well against Virginia, allowing the Hoos to convert on 53% of their field goal attempts, and they shot poorly against the Virginia packline, connecting on just 37% of their attempts from the field. The Boeheim brothers put up 45 of the Orange’s 69 points, but no other Syracuse player was in double figures or attempted more than 5 shots, save forward Cole Swider, who was a woeful 3-12 from the field.
Still, the Boeheim brothers make this team plenty good on one side of the floor.
The Orange are ruthlessly efficient on offense (19th in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency). The issue remains the 2-3 zone, and it isn’t getting any better. That showed up again Wednesday, when Miami scored 58 in the 2nd half to beat the Orange.
10. Notre Dame (8-5)
The good news for Mike Brey’s team is they avoided a catastrophic loss at Pitt thanks to Prentiss Hubb’s late-game magic. The bad news? The Fighting Irish are 8-5, missed a shot at hosting Duke over the weekend. They earned a good measuring stick win Wednesday, however, beating North Carolina 78-73. That, coupled with the Kentucky win earlier, look good on the NCAA Tournament résumé.
9. Florida State (7-5)
The Seminoles have Top 25 talent, but until they won in Raleigh over the weekend, they had not secured a single win in Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 in 2021-22. It took a huge effort from senior Malik Osborne and freshman Matthew Cleveland to secure the Seminoles’ first ACC win. Cleveland earned ACC Freshman of the Week honors after his 13-point, 9-rebound, 2-steal effort in the win — and he is starting to figure out he’s just a better athlete than most everyone at this level too.
13 PTS, 9 REB for Matthew Cleveland, including two HUGE efforts on the glass to secure the win for the Seminoles
Still not stretching the floor consistently (1-11 on spot-ups), but a great open-floor athlete, imapctful defender and excellent finisher (61% at the rim) pic.twitter.com/mkOC8bTlVd
— The Box and One (@TheBoxAndOne_) January 2, 2022
As a result, the lack of shooting from deep isn’t hurting him (he hasn’t made a spot-up 3 since the Florida game!). He’ll get better, and so will the Seminoles, but they need to get Anthony Polite (another subpar outing vs. NC State) going if they want to push Duke in the league. They certainly weren’t good on Tuesday night in a blowout loss at Wake Forest in which they shot 15-for-62 (24%).
8. Clemson (9-5)
The Tigers didn’t get on the court last week thanks to a health and safety protocol pause and then opened this week with a loss to Virginia. That was their 2nd game against the Hoos in less than 2 weeks. They’ll need to bounce back Saturday against NC State.
7. Virginia Tech (8-6)
The Hokies’ games last week were postponed due to health and safety protocols. They were predictably rusty in their return Tuesday night in a loss to NC State that dropped them to 0-3 in the league.
6. Virginia (9-5)
A 74-69 win at the Carrier Dome is a great way to bounce back from a disappointing performance against Clemson. Perhaps more important? For just the second time this season, Tony Bennett’s team scored over a point per possession against a Power 6 opponent. Sophomore Kadin Shedrick has taken some nice steps over the past two weeks, coming up with 6 blocks in the first Clemson game and posting a double-double against Syracuse. The Cavs got revenge on Clemson on Tuesday night, beating the Tigers by 10 at their place. The quick turnaround was an odd scheduling quirk, but it worked for the Cavs.
Shedrick was quiet on Tuesday, but if Tony Bennett can get him going, perhaps the Cavs won’t be as guard-reliant offensively in league play. That could do wonders for a team that has to work hard to score.
5. Wake Forest (12-3)
We believe in what Steve Forbes is cooking in Winston-Salem, especially after a convincing 22-point victory over FSU on Tuesday. Before that, however, the Demon Deacons had 1 great win (at Virginia Tech) entering last week, and instead of fortifying trust, they squandered 2 great chances at quality wins against fellow bubble squads on the road. The Louisville loss hurt the most, because Wake Forest led with under a minute to play and couldn’t get stops against a struggling Louisville offense down the stretch.
Last week, we noted that the Demon Deacons were defending better than computers gave them credit for, allowing just a 41% field goal percentage against from 2 and are limiting opponents to just 30% from deep.
In their 2 losses to Miami and Louisville, they regressed in both those areas. The Cardinals connected on 10 triples, shooting 45% from beyond the arc in the process. Miami picked apart Wake Forest like a category 5 hurricane– shooting a staggering 50% from deep (9-18) and 62.5% from the field as a whole.
If Wake Forest wants to be a NCAA Tournament team, they’ll need to get back to being stingy on the defensive side of the basketball, just like they were against FSU.
4. Miami (12-3)
Is there a starker contrast right now between a team’s offensive ability and defensive ineptitude than Miami? The Hurricanes rank 24th in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency but 202nd in defense — a nearly 200 spot gap!
That said, they have the ACC’s longest winning streak (now 8 games), they protect the basketball (11th in the country in limiting turnovers), and have more guards than the US Capitol buildings.
Debate among yourselves whether the best of these guards is Isaiah Wong (16.5 ppg, 4 rebounds), Kam McGusty (18.3 ppg, 6.1 rebounds, 40% 3P FG%), or Charlie Moore (11.1 ppg, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals), but this is a quality backcourt and if the Canes get anything at all in the way of balance from Sam Waardenburg or Anthony Walker, this is a dangerous basketball team.
Despite this, Joe Lunardi doesn’t even have Miami in his “Next Four Out,” a sign that the Canes have work to do in league play and will need more than just a 2-0 week with a nice win over Wake Forest to get back to March Madness.
3. North Carolina (10-4)
When we start evaluating what this North Carolina team can truly be, it begins with how invested are they defensively. They don’t have a high number of plus defenders on the roster. Armando Bacot is a rim protector but can be beaten by polished offensive bigs. Brady Manek has always been average at best on the defensive end and is just too slow laterally to defend high-level athletes in the ACC. Dawson Garcia is a tenacious offensive rebounder who loses his tenacity on the defensive end.
But if they are committed defensively, they can at least be adequate, which would be more than enough with the Heels’ offense. They were invested early Sunday against Boston College:
Very, very nice closeout defense for Caleb Love here. His defensive help not was so good in this clip, but he back for a impressive defense on closeout. He's really quickly and has a very good wingspan, so he can contested the shot too, beacuse this Boston College player attacks. pic.twitter.com/mPJ9MIAWSx
— BPA – Brasil Prospects Analyst 🏀 (@_BrasilDraft) January 3, 2022
Plays like this one from Caleb Love set the tone, and the Tar Heels delivered their best half of basketball all season in barnstorming Boston College 49-20 in the opening half on their way to a huge win.
Make no mistake: UNC still needs a quality win, especially as the luster of an early season victory over Michigan continues to fade. Hubert Davis’ team lost one of the chances when Notre Dame earned a hard-fought home win on Wednesday. The Heels host Virginia next. Defend with energy against UVA and suddenly the Tar Heels are 11-4 and looking like Duke’s lone competition in the ACC again.
2. Louisville (10-4)
As rocky as it has been at times for Chris Mack’s Louisville, the Cardinals had a terrific week. They rallied to beat a red hot Wake Forest, stealing the game in the final minute on this gem from Noah Locke.
— Louisville Athletics (@GoCards) December 30, 2021
It had been a tough start to things in Louisville for the Florida transfer, but he was better this week, utilized a bit more off screens and less out of pick and rolls than in the season’s first two months. A big reason for the shift? Chris Mack’s trust in Malik Williams as a roll man– he’s been the primary PnR option as a roller for the Cardinals this season and has scored in double figures in each of Louisville’s last 5 games.
This has helped Louisville begin to settle itself on offense, while the defense remains one of the nation’s best (24th in KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency).
The Cards improved to 4-0 in league play when they held off Pitt on Wednesday night.
1. Duke (12-1)
Duke remained No. 2 in the AP Poll this week despite missing 2 games to a COVID-19 health and safety protocols pause last week. The Blue Devils beat Georgia Tech on Tuesday and then face red-hot Miami on Saturday. We’ll learn more about how high an upside this Duke team has defensively against the impressive Canes backcourt, which will push the Blue Devils on the perimeter.