League play is glorious, especially in the tradition-laden ACC. It’s even better when new history is made, which is what happened on Saturday at Littlejohn Coliseum when North Carolina and Clemson met in Clemson as ranked teams for the first time in the history of the sport. Then-No. 8 UNC battered then-No. 16 Clemson 65-55, containing Wooden Award candidate PJ Hall and looking like the ACC’s best team for 40 in the process. 

The win improved UNC to 11-3 overall and 3-0 in the ACC for the first time since 2015-16. It also bolstered a resume that now included 4 Quad 1 victories. Only Purdue, with 5, has more nationally.

In a league starved for heavyweights to swing national attention back to what the ACC does well and not just, you know, the football fiasco, Carolina’s Revenge Tour couldn’t come at a better time. The fact both Carolina and Duke seem to be hitting their stride at the same time? Even better. That there are at least 3 other teams who could win the league (Wake Forest, Miami and Clemson)? Well that sounds like the old ACC, which is just the kind of energy this conference needs right now.

Speaking of Wake Forest, how about what’s happening on Tobacco Road? The Old North State’s Big 4 of Carolina, Duke, NC State and Wake Forest are a combined 11-1 in conference play. The Tar Heels, Wolfpack, and Demon Deacons haven’t lost in ACC play yet. That’s fun.

Here’s a fresh batch of Power Rankings to get you ready for the heart of league play in January.

15. Louisville (5-9, 0-3)

Last Week’s Ranking (LW): 15

The Cardinals have had a rough couple of weeks. Embarrassed at home by archrival Kentucky, Louisville responded with an even more lopsided defeat to Louisville. A loss to Pitt followed over the weekend, leaving Kenny Payne’s team winless in league play and without a victory of any kind since mid-December. Louisville has not defeated a Power 6 opponent this season, going 0-7 in those contests. Yikes.

14. Georgia Tech (8-6, 1-2)

LW: 11

Damon Stoudamire’s team won 4 straight in December, but has lost 3 straight after a late collapse at home against Boston College on Saturday. Stoudamire’s team was “ahead defensively, for most the first two months,” the young head coach told me after the Yellow Jackets beat Penn State last month. Unfortunately, while the offense has improved, the Yellow Jackets have fallen off defensively. Georgia Tech surrendered 82 points and 95 points in losses to Florida State and Boston College last week, and the dearth of stops certainly cost them the Boston College game, which they led by 13 at half and shot 44% from beyond the arc. If Georgia Tech finds itself defensively again, this team can still beat good teams, like it did when it beat Penn State and Duke a month ago. But for now, a dip in optimism — and Power Ranking — is warranted.

13. Notre Dame (6-9, 1-3)

LW: 14

The Fighting Irish are terrific defensively. There’s the good news for a Notre Dame team that picked up a big win over Virginia and pushed Duke for most of 40 minutes over the weekend on the backs of their ability to dial up stops consistently. Micah Shrewsberry’s team still can’t score though, and it’s getting worse: Notre Dame has fallen to 301st in KenPom Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, by far the worst number in the Power 6.  Think of the Irish as the basketball version of college football’s Iowa: Notre Dame boasts a top 50 defense and a sub-300 offense, which means sometimes you hold both Duke and NC State to under a point a possession and lose anyway.

12. Pittsburgh (10-5, 1-3)

LW: 6

The week’s biggest freefall comes from the Panthers, who are 1-3 in the league despite Saturday’s “get well” W over hapless Louisville. It won’t get  any easier for the Panthers, who have struggled to score of late. Two dates with Duke loom in the next 3 games, with a Syracuse rematch the meat on a Blue Devil sandwich.

11. Boston College (10-4, 1-2)

LW: 12

The Eagles’ furious rally in Atlanta helped them avoid an 0-3 ACC start for the first time under 3rd-year coach Earl Grant. Devin McGlockton had 30 points in the rally, which saw Boston College pour in 57 second-half points to erase a 13-point halftime deficit. Claudell Harris Jr.’s breakout continues as well, as the junior scored a season-high 26 points in his 7th consecutive double-figure scoring game. If Boston College consistently finds secondary scorers like McGlockton and Harris to complement All-ACC big Quenten Post, this team can still make a run at postseason tournament play.

10. Syracuse (10-4, 1-2)

LW: 9

The Orange enjoyed their weekend bye to lick their wounds after a 20-point loss to Duke on Jan. 2. Still, they have a nice win over Pittsburgh and they are defending at a high level (52nd in KenPom Defensive Efficiency) after 2 years of rarely being able to come up with stops. The next 4 games yields 2 huge opportunities, with North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Saturday and a home date with Miami lurking next weekend.

9. Virginia Tech (9-5, 1-2)

LW: 8

The Hokies remain the league’s most schizophrenic outfit. Just when you think it is safe to hop on a Mike Young team’s bandwagon, they go and do some mystifying, like lose to an offensively challenged Florida State despite allowing just 3 3-pointers, Hunter Cattoor making 5 of 6 threes, and winning the rebounding battle. The Hokies can get back on the NCAA Tournament radar this week with games against a ranked Clemson and defending ACC Champion Miami on tap.

8. Florida State (8-6, 2-1)

LW: 13

The Seminoles seemingly were done after a humiliating home loss to Lipscomb, but Leonard Hamilton’s team won twice last week as home underdogs, besting Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. The Noles received 83 points off their bench in the 2 wins, an encouraging sign for Hamilton, who built this program to national prominence with relentless depth and balanced scoring. FSU lacks a star, and Baba Miller, a potential lottery pick whose game may be better suited for the NBA, appears no closer to being that than when the season began. But the Seminoles are solid defensively and at least 8 of the 11 players they put on the floor can drive and score, so they’ll win their fair share of games in the league.

7. Virginia (11-4, 2-2)

LW: 3

Tony Bennett’s team has a problem and it is exactly what you think it is: They play too slow to be this bad at scoring. The Hoos have cratered to 129th in KenPom Offensive Efficiency, after being held under 55 points in 3 of their past 5 contests. Perhaps most astonishingly, they aren’t even a wasteful team: Virginia ranks 9th-best in the country in turnover percentage, thanks to All-American guard Reece Beekman. But for all the good Beekman does, he’s not a scorer, which makes the inability of transfer guard Andrew Rohde to adjust to Division 1 basketball a huge problem. Rohde was a monster scorer at St. Thomas, but has not found any of that mojo at this level. Without complements to Beekman and Isaac McKneely’s hit or miss shooting, the Hoos are lost offensively, and it has shown in both of their lopsided ACC losses this season (Notre Dame, NC State).

6. Clemson (11-3, 1-2)

LW: 1

The Tigers fall from the top spot all the way out of the top 5 after losing 2 games in the past week for wholly different reasons.

In one, they couldn’t get stops, allowing Miami to pepper them with 60 — yes 60 — points in the second half in a come from behind win in Coral Gables. In another, they couldn’t shoot. The Tigers made just 1-of-18 3-pointers against North Carolina on Saturday, which spelled doom in a low possession game where it lost the rebounding battle by double digits.

Clemson is still elite, mostly because they have this dude:

But they have to find ways to win when other teams key on All-American to be PJ Hall, as the Tar Heels did Saturday afternoon.

5. NC State (11-3, 3-0)

LW: 10

The Wolfpack move up 5 spots to the top 5 this week after surviving pesky Notre Dame midweek and hammering Virginia over the weekend. NC State is missing a Quad 1 win, but that could change Wednesday night when Carolina comes calling in Raleigh. Credit DJ Horne for shaking off a dire 1-for-9 performance against Notre Dame to score 14 points, grab 6 rebounds, and dish out 3 assists in the rout of the Cavaliers. That’s the type of guard play Kevin Keatts has been waiting on in big games. If the Pack get Casey Morsell going (he’s shooting just 32%, well below his career average from deep), look out.

4. Miami (11-3, 2-1)

LW: 5

The Hurricanes’ win over Clemson was a reminder of how good this team can be when it makes shots. That it came without Wooga Poplar is especially encouraging for Jim Larrañaga.

The Canes are lethal when Nijel Pack hits shots, and if he becomes more consistent, he could take pressure off Poplar, who has taken on a bit too much in big games early this season. Poplar’s absence eases the sting of Saturday’s overtime loss at Wake Forest, but don’t tell that to Norchad Omier, who poured in 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in one of the best performances of his career.

3. Wake Forest (11-3, 3-0)

LW: 7

Saturday Road kept writing that Wake Forest’s ceiling was high this year, especially if they got healthy and eligible. Now, Wake Forest is the hottest team in the ACC as winners of 9 games in a row, the program’s longest streak since winning 16 straight in the 2008-09 season. Efton Reid’s eligibility has given the Demon Deacons stability in the frontcourt, and the team could become even more potent if Damari Monsanto can return from last year’s serious knee injury and surgery. For now, Wake Forest is one of the best offensive teams in America (23rd in KenPom Offensive Efficiency), and the defense, in the 100s weeks ago, is up to 83rd thanks to the addition of Reid. A return to the NCAA Tournament appears imminent.

2. Duke (11-3, 2-1)

LW: 4

Mark Mitchell appears to be figuring it out, much to the delight of Blue Devils fans waiting for the team to get help for stars Kyle Filipowski and Tyrese Proctor. Mitchell played his 2 best games last week, posting 21 points and 6 rebounds in a second-half blowout of Syracuse and 23 and 14 in a nip-and-tuck affair with Notre Dame. A tricky trip to (already desperate) Pitt, and a revenge game against Georgia Tech, are on tap for the Blue Devils, who appear to be rounding into form.

1. North Carolina (11-3, 3-0)

LW: 2 

The Tar Heels can beat you in a number of ways, which hasn’t been true since 2019, the last time UNC was a 1 seed in the Big Dance. They can guard you and suffocate you, as they did in wins over Oklahoma in Charlotte and at Clemson on Saturday. They can score at will, as they did in a rout of Tennessee or their second-half explosion at Pitt last week. Tough-nosed New Yorker Cormac Ryan has given the Heels a glue guy, and as Ryan’s defense has picked up, so have the Heels, who haven’t allowed more than 0.92 points per possession in a game since losing to Kentucky.

The Tar Heels lead the nation with 7 Quad 1 games played. They can grab a 5th Quad 1 win on Wednesday night at rival NC State.