Does anyone want to challenge North Carolina for the ACC crown?

That’s the question Saturday Road is left pondering after a week of carnage in the ACC that saw:

Did we mention North Carolina just keeps humming along? Yes, the Tar Heels were pushed a bit by Boston College in Chestnut Hill over the weekend. But the Tar Heels never trailed in the second half and won by double digits, so perhaps RJ Davis’ worst shooting performance of the season (5-for-14) isn’t really a cause for grave concern?

The ACC managed just 5 NCAA Tournament teams a season ago, and one of those 5 bids was a First Four team (Pitt). As it stands today, the bracket projection aggregator site bracketmatrix.Com, which lists every bracket prognosticator and ranks them based on accuracy, projects just 4 ACC teams to make the field. And Clemson — once a top 16 overall seed candidate — is fading fast. There are still 6 weeks of games for the league to fix that, but it’s hard to envision a world where the ACC tops last year’s 5 bids, which must frustrate the league office considering how improved the league’s performance was in the non-conference this season.

The topsy-turvy nature of the league from spots 2-15 does make for interesting power rankings, though. Here’s a fresh batch.

15. Louisville (6-12, 1-6)

Last Week (LW): 14

Back to the cellar for Kenny Payne’s team after a 2 loss week where the Cardinals lost by 16 and 25 points to North Carolina and Wake Forest, respectively. Will Kenny Payne last the season? Typically, I’d bet no at a program of Louisville’s stature. My guess here is that Payne’s longstanding ties to the university likely mean he gets the opportunity to coach out the string.

14. Notre Dame (7-11, 2-5)

LW: 12

The Fighting Irish aren’t an easy out and are playing great defense in year one under Micah Shrewsberry, which is a victory in and of itself after languishing outside the top 50 in KenPom Adjusted Defensive Efficiency in Mike Brey’s final 4 seasons. Finding players who can complement that defense with scoring will be Shrewsberry’s biggest task in his first full offseason in South Bend.

13. Georgia Tech (9-9, 2-5)

LW: 15

The Yellow Jackets won their second stunner of the season (a league opener win over Duke was the first) when they traveled to Clemson and beat the Tigers in double overtime midweek. Down 5 in regulation with 30 seconds left, Naithan George hit 2 3-pointers, both well contested, to send the game to a first overtime.

The freshman then hit back to back jumpers in double overtime to give the Yellow Jackets a 3 point lead they would never relinquish.

The problem for Damon Stoudamire’s team is that yet again, they failed to capitalize on this momentum. Saturday Road loves what Stoudamire is building in Atlanta long-term, but his first team has struggled to win on its home floor, and a 9-point loss to offensively challenged Virginia was the latest home-court defeat where the Yellow Jackets squandered a chance to truly turn their season around. Stoudamire’s team will be a pest all year, but they don’t defend well enough (163rd in KenPom Defensive Efficiency) to be a postseason team at present.

12. Boston College (11-7, 2-5)

LW: 11

The Eagles’ win over Notre Dame will satisfy the fan base, but there’s little evidence that Earl Grant’s third team can beat anyone of substance. Playing North Carolina “close” for a half was certainly progress, but there’s still no one outside of Quenten Post (19 points, 10 rebounds against the Tar Heels) who strikes fear into the hearts of opponents. Earl Grant’s team is also on the struggle bus defensively, ranking 212th in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency over their past 10 games, per Bart Torvik. That’s the second worst mark in the ACC in that time frame (Louisville).

11. Pittsburgh (11-7, 2-5)

LW: 13

Hang this in the Louvre.

Blake Hinson took advantage of mismatches all night and poured in 24 points on a perfect 7-for-7 from deep to help Jeff Capel’s squad get a potentially season-saving Quad 1 win at Duke. Yes, the Blue Devils were without Mark Mitchell and Jeremy Roach, but if the Panthers, one of the nation’s most disappointing teams this season, rally to get on the bubble, the Committee won’t care or remember. The challenge now is to build on the win without home games, as the Panthers travel to Georgia Tech and a desperate Miami this week.

10. Miami (12-6, 3-4)

LW: 5

The Hurricanes free fall after a 2-loss week that saw them hammered at rival Florida State and nipped at the buzzer at Syracuse. The Hurricanes have lost 4-of-5, teetering on the wrong side of the bubble.

Yes, it will help this team when Norchad Omier gets healthy. But the problems run deeper than that, and this season, with all due respect to a talented group of guards, there’s no ACC Player of the Year figure (Isaiah Wong) to put the team on his back. One thing that would help? Getting Wooga Poplar, the lone potential lottery pick on this roster, on track. Poplar is 6-for-18 over the past 2 games, and his poor shot selection reflects a player pressing rather than letting the game come to him.

9. Florida State (11-7, 5-2)

LW: 4

Just when we think we can believe in Florida State, they get wiped out at home by a desperate, slumping Clemson team. The midweek win over rival Miami was impressive, and perhaps this is too far a drop for a team with just 2 ACC losses, but like NC State, the Seminoles lack signature victories. That’s how you end up with a NET ranking of 93rd despite the fact you’re 7-2 in of your past 9 games.

8. N.C. State (13-5, 5-2)

LW: 7

The Wolfpack earned a much-needed résumé win in a rivalry game with Wake Forest that turned into a messy brawl. Kevin Keatts was ejected, DJ Horne was reprimanded (though not suspended, thankfully) for shooting double birds to the Demon Deacons, and the Wolfpack received 3 technical fouls, but a win is a win, I guess? The problem for NC State is they don’t have enough quality wins, leaving them with a “not really even on the bubble” NET ranking of 79th. Two huge opportunities loom this week at Virginia and at Syracuse. Win both and the narrative begins to change.

7. Virginia Tech (11-7, 3-4)

LW: 8

The Hokies split a tough road trip, but the win over NC State could blossom into a Quad 1 win by season’s end, and they did it despite 8 turnovers from star guard Sean Pedulla, who had just 13 points after pouring in 30-burgers in both of Virginia Tech’s contests a week prior. Mike Young’s team has ramped it up defensively, ranking 33rd in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency over its last 10 contests, per Bart Torvik. As always, the computers like Virginia Tech (58th KenPom, 61 Bart Torvik). With a NET Ranking of 51st and 2 Quad 1 wins, this résumé is better than other “middle of the ACC” résumés. It needs to be better, though, to get the Hokies in the field.

6. Clemson (13-5, 3-4)

LW: 6

The home loss to Georgia Tech stings, but rebounding to win at Florida State is why this week was a microcosm of the Brad Brownell decade at Clemson. Just when you think Brownell’s goose is cooked, he wins a huge game and does just enough to keep the Tigers on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Four Tigers scored in double figures in the win, a testament to an offense that has been balanced all year and understands it has to help PJ Hall, but the best sight for Tigers fans had to be the way Clemson guarded. Florida State scored just .93 points per possession, making this the first game in 2024 where the Tigers defense has held a team under a point per trip.

5. Syracuse (13-5, 4-3)

LW: 9

The Orange won at Pitt before capturing a thriller at home at the buzzer over Miami. Syracuse is unbeaten at home this season, winning 10 straight in the Dome for the first time since 2013-2014.

Quadir Copeland was ready when the moment came, and his jump shot may be remembered as the moment Adrian Autry’s first Syracuse team made a turn towards a NCAA Tournament caliber group. Helping that narrative is the improved play of transfer JJ Starling, who averaged 19.5 points per contest this week, finally providing Judah Mintz the backcourt scoring help he needs to make the Orange harder to guard.

4. Virginia (13-5, 4-3)

LW: 10

A great week for the Hoos, who bullied Virginia Tech at home to win a rivalry game and then won handily on the road against an improved Georgia Tech. Reece Beekman continued to flash his improved offense, scoring 18 points per game in the 2 wins while playing his usual all-universe defense.

Beekman also tallied 11 assists in the win over Georgia Tech. The senior now ranks 2nd nationally in assist rate (43.7%) and 24th in steals per 40 minutes (4.6), the only player in the country in the top 25 in both, per KenPom.

3. Wake Forest (13-5, 5-2)

LW: 3

Believe it or not, the Demon Deacons’ trip to Chapel Hill on Monday night will be just the 2nd Quad 1 opportunity for Wake Forest this season. Wake Forest does have 5 Quad 2 wins, which is why Bracket Matrix has them among the “Last Four In” in its aggregate tournament projections. The computer metrics say this is Steve Forbes best team (36th, KenPom), which may help this group finally breakthrough after bubble heartbreak for the past 2.

2. Duke (13-4, 4-2)

LW: 2

Saturday Road can’t in good conscience bump a Duke team playing without Jeremy Roach and Mark Mitchell out of the top 2 after a stunning home loss to Pitt, but the Blue Devils clearly have a much lower ceiling if Mitchell and Roach miss extended time. Kyle Filipowski is hitting shots and doing all he can, but Duke needed a late homecourt flurry to avoid a second loss to Georgia Tech just before this defeat, so it is fair to ask some hard questions. Those questions mostly have to do with getting stops — Duke ranks just 66th in its past 10 games in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, per Bart Torvik, and without Mitchell’s length on closeouts, it is officially safe to worry about Duke’s perimeter defense. Pitt and Georgia Tech hit over 50% of their triples, and 5 Duke opponents this season have shot over 40% on high volume (20 or more 3s) against the Blue Devils. That’s a problem they’ll need to fix before they visit Chapel Hill on Feb. 3.

1. North Carolina (15-3, 7-0)

LW: 1

The Tar Heels’ 2-win week featured more suffocating defense, as the Tar Heels used 5 kills (3 consecutive possessions without a basket allowed) to put away Boston College on the road on Saturday. The Tar Heels rank 3rd in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency over their past 10 games, and 1st since the loss to Kentucky in mid-December. Harrison Ingram’s 11 points and 13 boards paced the win over Boston College, and he’s given the Tar Heels a go-to guy other than RJ Davis late in games.

Cormac Ryan’s willingness “to do anything asked, without question,” as Hubert Davis puts it, might make him the Heels “glue guy,” but Ingram is the guy whose character and athleticism have keyed, maybe more than anyone else, the Redemption Tour of 2024 in Chapel Hill.