ACC Basketball Power Rankings: Tar Heels fall during Feast Week
The week leading up to and just after Thanksgiving is dubbed “Feast Week” in the college basketball universe and it is a college hoops fan’s dream.
The proliferation of MTEs (multi-team events) allows for wall to wall, all day college basketball slates that you don’t see again until March, and thanks to ESPN Events like the Charleston Classic and the Orlando Invitational, as well as other terrific tournaments, fans are given glimpses at highly desirable out of conference matchups as well.
Unfortunately for fans of the ACC, it’s been a slow start to Feast Week that mirrors the league’s slow start to the college basketball season.
Clemson and North Carolina went just 1-4 combined at the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament and Charleston Classic, and based on early results, things may not get much better this week with Miami at the Orlando Invitational, Syracuse in a brutal field at the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis and Louisville at the Baha Mar Bahamas Championship.
Traditionally the nation’s best basketball league, the ACC features just 1 ranked team, No. 5 Duke, after 2 weeks of the season.
Could that be a sign of a significant downturn in the quality of the ACC this season? That’s possible. But with quality teams like Virginia Tech, UNC and FSU all just outside the top 25, a bounce back does seem likely.
Here are Saturday Road’s ACC Power Rankings through Week 2.
15. Pittsburgh (2-2)
On the bright side, the Panthers went 2-0 last week.
Now the bad news: the wins were single digits victories over 2 of the worst teams in the Colonial Athletic Conference in UNC-Wilmington (267th in KenPom) and Towson (215th).
It will take more than for Jeff Capel’s team to climb out of the Power Rankings cellar.
14. Boston College (3-3)
Earl Grant’s team lost 3 games last week, including an 0-2 mark at the Sunshine Slam in Daytona Beach. Two of the losses were to Atlantic 10 bottom feeder Rhode Island. The good news is Grant’s team has been competitive in all of its losses, losing by single digits each time. The bad news? They continue to be plagued by their mistakes: averaging 14 turnovers per game despite playing at an extremely deliberate rate (342nd in adjusted tempo). Grant’s College of Charleston teams were always highly disciplined, but it may take time in Chestnut Hill.
13. NC State (4-1)
The Wolfpack went 1-1 at the Hall of Fame Showcase at the Mohegan Sun, routing Central Connecticut State before being handled by Oklahoma State. The loss of Manny Bates was very costly against the Cowboys, who outrebounded the Pack 44-39 and controlled the paint 42-24. To their credit, Kevin Keatts’ team did ward off a solid Texas Southern team 65-57 at home Sunday, but the schedule only gets more difficult from there.
12. Miami (3-1)
We will learn more about Jim Larrañaga’s squad this week at Disney World, where they’ll play Dayton on Thanksgiving and then, with a win, likely get a shot at No. 4 Kansas on Friday. Last week would have been much worse but the Canes got this bit of magic from Isaiah Wong to avoid blowing a 15-point lead and playing overtime against Florida Atlantic.
ZAY. GAME. WINNER. ❕ pic.twitter.com/u4qW6PSnzK
— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) November 17, 2021
Wong and McGusty are a fun backcourt. I’m just not sure what else this team has that scares you.
11. Virginia Cavaliers (2-2)
Here’s the thing about Tony Bennett’s team right now. It isn’t just the offense.
Yes, the Cavs lack an elite scorer and haven’t gotten Armaan Franklin going just yet.
But what’s more concerning is their inability to get stops consistently right now. They’ve fallen to 44th in KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, mostly because they lack the length they’ve had in the past on the perimeter to stay true to the packline while also getting out on the perimeter to contest jump shots. The Hoos rank 307th in 3-point defense as they ready for the Roman Legends Classic in Newark, which begins tonight.
In a normal year, Virginia would roll through that field. This year, if they figure out a way to beat Providence on Tuesday night, it will have been a good week.
10. Georgia Tech (3-1)
Why are the Jackets ahead of Virginia? Michael Devoe is the only reason needed. He’s been elite to begin the 2021 campaign, averaging 22.8 points per game, 5.8 rebounds and 5 assists per contest. On Friday, he scored 37 points in Georgia Tech’s win over archrival Georgia, making 14-of-18 shots, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
Josh Pastner’s squad has 2 more cupcakes this week before a brutal 3-game stretch to begin December: Wisconsin, UNC and LSU. Those 3 games will tell us what we need to know about Devoe’s supporting cast.
9. Wake Forest (4-0)
You are what your record says you are, isn’t that the old idiom?
Steve Forbes didn’t exactly put a Murderer’s Row of a schedule together for his team in the nonconference, but who cares as long as the Deacs keep winning? The Demon Deacons open league play in under 2 weeks with Virginia Tech, but games against Northwestern and a solid Oregon State team over the next week will be quality tests ahead of the ACC opener.
The good news? Wake Forest has 3 double-figure scorers and 3 other players who average 8 points a night. That type of balance will make them difficult to defend all year, and if you can score, you have a chance in this sport.
8. Syracuse (2-1)
You can’t lose by 15 to Colgate and stay in the top half of the Power Rankings. That’s in the Constitution, right next to the Bill of Rights. Or it should be.
The 2-3 zone is tough to prepare for in tournament play. That makes the Battle 4 Atlantis intriguing for the Orange. Beginning with a high profile tilt with VCU on Wednesday, the Orange have a chance to post some big résumé wins this week in the Bahamas.
They can also get back to being sound defensively because if we’ve learned anything about this team in the first 2 weeks of the year, they’ll get plenty of buckets.
7. Clemson (4-2)
More should have been expected from the Tigers at the home state Charleston Classic. Clemson looked like an NCAA Tournament team in routing Temple on day one and in storming to a double-digit lead in the first half against No. 22 Saint Bonaventure before a late collapse cost them a trip to the final.
The Tigers then coughed up multiple late leads against West Virginia as well, including a 6 point lead with 4 minutes to go. Then, down only 5, Clemson received a technical foul when it had 6 men on the court.
These are the types of undisciplined mistakes that are the difference between being an NCAA Tournament team and an NIT team. Clemson has plenty of talent, but they squandered a chance for a special weekend in Charleston.
6. North Carolina (3-2)
UNC fell out of the Top 25 after an 0-2 showing at the Cheez-It Tip Off this weekend. Their first defeat, a 93-84 back and forth affair with Purdue, wasn’t terribly concerning. The blowout loss to No. 17 Tennessee on Sunday afternoon was cause for worry. The Heels lost by 17, were dominated on the glass, allowed the Vols to shoot 45% from 3-point range on high volume, and trailed by as many as 20 in the second half.
Making matters worse for Hubert Davis’s team? Caleb Love is playing really well right now. The sophomore is averaging 17 points per game, dishing out 4 assists a contest and has cut down turnovers by a full 1.1 in the Tar Heels’ first 4 games.
If Love played well, this team was supposed to be elite. The problem is they don’t defend at all. They’ve fallen to 131st in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency in KenPom and there’s little relief in sight — not on a roster that brought in plenty of punch offensively (see, Manek, Brady) but not much help on defense.
5. Louisville (3-1)
The Cardinals aren’t exactly lighting it up on offense — and things against Detroit-Mercy would have gotten far more complicated if not for a bomb by Noah Locke to give the Cardinals the lead with just over a minute remaining.
— Louisville Basketball (@LouisvilleMBB) November 20, 2021
The Cardinals do defend at a high level, and are especially good in the pain, where Malik Williams and Jae’Lyn Withers lead an interior defense that is limiting clean looks.
We’ll learn more about the team in the Bahamas, where they will be tested on the inside (by a gargantuan Mississippi State) and by great guard play (from Maryland in a potential final). Chris Mack will return to the bench after the tournament, which should also lift this team’s spirits, though Mike Pegues is doing a fine job in his stead to date.
4. Notre Dame (2-0)
The Irish are really, really good on offense.
They rank 10th in KenPom offensive efficiency and their inside-out balance will make them competitive this week at the Maui Invitational. What’s their ceiling? That likely depends on if they can get better defensively, which mostly will be about effort. The Irish aren’t fast and have average length, 2 of the key requirements for being good on defense. Can they compensate for that with terrific effort? It has happened before.
3. Florida State (4-1)
FSU bounced back from a lopsided loss to rival Florida by winning 2 games last week over mid-majors. A win over a mediocre Missouri team Monday night added the Jacksonville Classic championship to their early-season accomplishments, but we’ll learn more about this team in the next few weeks, beginning with a huge ACC-B1G challenge game at Purdue on Nov. 30. The Seminoles don’t need to win in Lafeyette, but if they are highly competitive in that game, it will be a good sign that this team is capable of reaching the program’s “New Blood” expectations.
2. Virginia Tech (5-0)
Mike Young’s team is old and it is good, and they couldn’t care less that they are flying under the national radar.
Last week saw the Hokies win 3 games (all against low majors) by a minimum of 26 points, as Virginia Tech showcased the type of elite offensive balance you need to make a deep run in March. Four Hokies average 10 points or more, and the team has featured 4 different leading scorers in 5 games (only transfer Storm Murphy has led the team in scoring twice).
This week’s NIT tournament will give Virginia Tech a national platform; Wednesday night’s contest between Mike Young’s offense and Memphis’ defense will be appointment television.
1. Duke (5-0)
The league’s only ranked team, the Blue Devils cracked the top 5 this week after calmly dispatching of 3 low major opponents in succession over the past week. The big-ticket game — and test — comes Friday, when the Blue Devils face No. 1 Gonzaga at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for the Continental Tire Challenge.
Do we think that Duke, led by 2 freshmen, is ready to beat a team as deep and talented as Gonzaga?
No. But the Blue Devils aren’t just Paolo Banchero and Trevor Keels.
Wendell Moore Jr. looks like one of the nation’s most improved players in this, his junior campaign. He rebounds, scores, passes and is shooting the 3 ball at a 35% clip, all while adding terrific perimeter defense and giving Duke some teeth in transition.
Mark Williams with the block, Wendell Moore takes it coast to coast. Feels like this is what finally got Duke going. pic.twitter.com/0W6TJpzy4v
— BlueDevilStop (@BlueDevilStop) November 20, 2021
If he sustains this level of play, and Duke is going to be a versatile blend of old pieces and new, then Coach K’s team could be a legitimate national championship contender.