ACC Basketball Power Rankings: Duke, UNC separate themselves
Pardon me if you’ve heard this before, but in ACC basketball, there’s Duke and North Carolina, and then there’s everybody else.
That hasn’t been the case recently.
Virginia won the national championship in 2019 and Duke’s last Final Four run was the NCAA Championship team in 2015. A season ago, Georgia Tech won the ACC Tournament, while Duke missed the NCAA Tournament entirely and UNC headed home after just one game. As UNC closed the book on the Roy Williams era and Mike Krzyzewski announced this would be his final season, there has been room for parity and the emergence of other players on the ACC scene.
That does not appear to be the case in 2021-22. Duke is the league’s lone top 10 team in the KenPom Adjusted Efficiency rankings. The Blue Devils are also the league’s lone ranked team, coming at No. 2 in this week’s AP Poll. Is that fair to the Tar Heels? For now, probably. North Carolina ranks 31st in KenPom and 33rd in Bart Torvik, putting them on the edge of the Top 25. But they do pass the eye test of late, having won their last 4 games by at least 17 points.
Other potential contenders? They’ve either not emerged yet (Louisville), are unproven (Wake Forest), too inconsistent (Notre Dame), or outright disappointing (Virginia Tech).
Here are updated power rankings for the ACC as we turn the corner towards the end of non-conference play. Last week’s batch is here.
15. Pittsburgh (3-7)
The Panthers did get a win last week, defeating Colgate 71-68. Before you throw too much shade on a 3 point win over the Raiders, remember that this same Colgate team ran Syracuse out of the Carrier Dome last month. Of course, any goodwill garnered from that win was squandered immediately by Pitt, who lost to Monmouth on Sunday afternoon. Either Iona or Monmouth is going dancing out of the MAAC– but this is still a basketball game Jeff Capel needed to win.
14. Boston College (6-4)
Earl Grant’s team squandered the momentum of its ACC opening win over Notre Dame by dropping two games in the non-conference last week. One, at a good Saint Louis team, is understandable. The other, a home game with an Albany team that ranks 306th in KenPom, is one of the worst losses in college basketball this season. A great litmus test comes for BC after exam week, as Wake Forest awaits on December 22.
13. Georgia Tech (5-4)
The Yellow Jackets led No. 25 LSU in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event in Atlanta at halftime but were suffocated by LSU’s outstanding defense in half number two. A big reason? The ability of rangy athletes Alex Fudge and Tari Eason to disrupt star Michael Devoe off the bounce and bother him with length. Georgia Tech can’t win games when Devoe is limited, which really curbs this Tech team’s ceiling.
12. Virginia (7-4)
The Hoos inability to score hit “panic mode” in the 52-49 loss to James Madison. Nothing against the Dukes, who defend at a high level. But Virginia should be able to muster more than 49 points, period. Unfortunately, until Armaan Franklin decides to get going, this isn’t a problem Virginia can solve on its roster. There is just a dearth of perimeter creation and shooting, and it has reared its head all year. Over the last two games, the Cavaliers went a combined 8-of-47 on 3-point attempts (17 3p%). That is probably a bit “too bad” to be a constant, but that’s how you lose to James Madison.
11. Clemson (6-4)
Clemson collected a quality win Saturday at the Holiday Hoopsgiving event in Atlanta, besting Drake 90-80. The continued development of PJ Hall, who has great hands, a collection of nice moves in the post and is a better athlete than he’s given credit for, all helped the Tigers collect a valuable Quad 2 win in overtime.
PJ Hall still doesn’t get the recognition he deserves at Clemson. Yesterday he played a big part in an OT win over Drake, doing a lot offensively. Decent athlete that doesn’t get his feet stuck in sand on D, can stretch the floor and finish above the rim pic.twitter.com/TwFznzrLL1
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) December 12, 2021
Brad Brownell’s team can score, which means they’ll be in a bunch of games. Can they improve enough defensively to close?
10. Florida State (5-4)
The Seminoles lost a tough one to South Carolina on Sunday in the No Room for Racism Classic in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The Noles led by as many as 16 points but, as has happened too often this year, couldn’t make enough three point jump shots (6-21) and were too careless with the basketball (17 turnovers) to hold the lead. That’s three straight losses for FSU, who began the year in the top 20. Do we trust Leonard Hamilton to fix it? Yes. Are we also worried that FSU is having so many issues on offense despite Malik Osborne (44%) and Caleb Mills (36%) shooting the ball from deep at a high level? Also yes. High level freshman guard Matthew Cleveland is one player who has to be better. He’s 1-13 from deep, and after a torrid start to the year with 4 games in his first 6 in double figures, he has been held to 7 points or less in FSU’s last 3 games, all losses.
9. Syracuse (5-5)
Two games and two losses for the Orange last week.
The Jimmy V Classic defeat to Villanova, a game the Orange led at the half, you live with.
The 79-75 loss to a bad Georgetown team Saturday? That’s tougher to swallow. Right now, Buddy Boeheim isn’t hitting shots (27.5 3P%, 44 eFG%), but blaming Syracuse’s offense for anything seems foolhardy. The real issue is that outside of what now seems like a stunning win over FSU, the Orange haven’t guarded anyone in that zone. They rank 166th in Adjusted KenPom Defensive Efficiency, and they are that bad on defense despite an elite rim protector in Jesse Edwards, who ranks 18th nationally in block rate and is Syracuse’s top rated box rating defender. His minutes are up to 27.6 a night, which may pay long term dividends for the Orange, but they have to get better in that zone for this season to end in the NCAA Tournament.
8. Miami (8-3)
The Hurricanes nipped Fordham at the Hall of Fame Invitational in Brooklyn over the weekend and have now won 4 straight since being blown out by Alabama in the 5th place game at the ESPN Events tournament at Disney during Feast Week. The biggest reason for Miami’s improvement? They are getting contributions from players other than Isaiah Wong and Kam McGusty. Sunday against Fordham, it was senior guard Charlie Moore getting in the act. Moore scored a season-high 18 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, three steals and hit clutch free throws late to help the Canes avoid the upset. The Depaul transfer played a team high 38 minutes– and if he continues to play well– this is one of the ACC’s best backcourts.
7. Notre Dame (4-4)
Just when you think this Fighting Irish team is just another disappointing Mike Brey outfit, they go and beat a really talented Kentucky team. It’s good to have a win like this on the resume come March. It’s even better when a hometown hero like Blake Wesley is the one delivering the goods:
🔥 @blakewesley0 really did that
— Notre Dame Basketball (@NDmbb) December 12, 2021
Notre Dame got 14 points and four assists from Wesley in the win, but it was this steal that I’ll remember.
𝙷𝚊𝚍 𝚑𝚒𝚖𝚜𝚎𝚕𝚏 𝚊 𝚗𝚒𝚐𝚑𝚝.@blakewesley0 finished with 14 points, four rebounds, four assists and this steal vs. Kentucky#GoIrish pic.twitter.com/xwjIzizFCx
— Notre Dame Basketball (@NDmbb) December 12, 2021
The Irish must compete defensively if they want to reach their potential. These types of plays are the ones that make the difference in big games.
6. NC State (7-3)
Saturday Road has been unfair to the Pack. We’ve referenced the loss of Manny Bates most every week and slated NC State a spot or two below the level they are playing as a result of concerns about the team’s long-term ceiling.
After seeing the Wolfpack control most of the game against No. 1 Purdue Sunday in Brooklyn, we won’t do that anymore.
NC State's Terquavion Smith is one of the best freshman guards in the country.
SO much potential.
— Cooper Watson (@coopertwatson) December 12, 2021
Yes, Kevin Keatts’ team blew a 12 point lead with 8 minutes to go, losing a golden resume opportunity in the process. That hurts, but long term, the emergence of freshman Terquavion Smith, who can flat out score, to complement Dereon Seabron, makes NC State a NCAA Tournament type team. At a minimum, Smith, a former Mr. Basketball in the state of North Carolina, gives the Wolfpack a nice scoring punch, even if they will need to battle to compete on the glass inside all season.
5. Virginia Tech (7-4)
Mike Young’s team has second weekend experience and talent but they aren’t playing well right now. A big reason? The Hokies pick and roll defense is dreadful, surrendering almost 1.2 points per possession, per Stats Solutions. I don’t think it’s scheme. The Hokies tend to drop their pick and roll coverage and funnel things towards Keve Aluma, which is a smart idea, in theory. But long, athletic outfits like Memphis and Dayton have carved the Hokies up in the pick and roll (Dayton scored 1.28 per possession in the PnR), and the result is a 7-4 start for Virginia Tech with only one quality win (Maryland) to show for a challenging non-conference slate. They stay in the top 5 this week due to “ceiling,” but it’s time for them to play better basketball.
4. Louisville (6-3)
The Cardinals are at number four, but that says more about the lack of depth in the ACC right now than it does about Louisville.
Chris Mack’s team did beat NC State in Raleigh to open ACC play, which appears to be a solid win.
But they followed that up with 62-55 loss to Depaul at the KFC Center last week. David Jones playing the game of his life and dropping 33 for the Blue Demons might be something you could write off as a tough night at the office and a bit of bad luck. More worrisome? Another night where Louisville relied primarily on Noah Locke to create in the pick and roll (a decidedly bad schematic idea) and Locke didn’t make shots (2-12, 2-9 3P FG).
The Cardinals have to find better ideas on offense. If they don’t, expect the pressure to ratchet up on Chris Mack, who has yet to win a NCAA Tournament game in Louisville.
3. Wake Forest (9-1)
The Demon Deacons followed up their ACC opener rout of Virginia Tech with a dominant win over South Carolina Upstate this week. Better yet, Steve Forbes gave us this bit of presser gold, going the full Cousin Eddie.
Wake Forest coach Steve Forbes changed his clothes quickly. pic.twitter.com/ho78xggWl4
— Les Johns (@Les_Johns) December 12, 2021
Wake Forest is having fun, their coach is loose, and given their schedule, they have a great chance to be 12-1 when they visit Louisville on December 29. What a great story in Winston Salem, but the fun may just be beginning under Forbes.
2. North Carolina (7-2)
As noted in the introduction, it isn’t who the Tar Heels are beating right now but how they are beating them. Since being pummeled by Tennessee, North Carolina has won four consecutive games, all by 17 or more. The main thing continues to be the vast improvement of Caleb Love (43.2 3P%), but Brady Manek has been big as well, giving the team a true floor spacer that keeps defenses away from Bacot and the terrific Heels frontcourt. Throw in the sharpshooting of RJ Davis (48.7 3P%), and Hubert Davis appears to have an elite offensive team. As a team, UNC ranks No. 6 nationally in 3-point percentage (41.7 3P%) and No. 26 in effective shooting (55.4 eFG%).
They are still just barely a top 100 defense, per Bart Torvik. But they’ve quietly shut down some nice offenses of late, including Georgia Tech and Michael Devoe and an Elon group that is a veteran team running lovely sets. The best days are ahead for UNC.
1. Duke (7-1)
Duke had a bye week for exams, and was rewarded by rising back to No. 2. Computers like them a bit less (9th in KenPom, 11th Bart Torvik), but Duke should be 10-1 when they open ACC play against Virginia Tech in Durham on December 22 and even if the ACC is a three-bid league, the Blue Devils should have a one or two seed type resume. The next 3 games (Appalachian State, South Carolina State, Cleveland State) are the softest portion of the schedule — and a chance for Coach K to get Trevor Keels, a key piece to the team’s national title hopes — going again after he struggled to close November.