Virginia Keeps Firm Hold on Top Spot in Latest ACC Power Rankings

Chaos struck the college basketball world this week, with three of the top-five programs falling. The ACC was no exception, as then-No. 4 Duke was upset by St. John’s, a team that went on to knock off No. 1 Villanova on Tuesday. Around the same time, No. 3 Purdue was upset at home by Ohio State, and top-10 Auburn went down to Texas A&M. March seems to have come early.

Yet, the one constant this season has been the steady play of our No. 1 ACC team this week, the same one that’s been atop the rankings the entire year—Virginia. The Cavaliers are likely to take over the pole position in the AP Poll this week and based on the way they’ve consistently grinded out wins, it seems unlikely that they’ll squander it.

Here’s our latest edition of ACC power rankings.

1) Virginia (23-1, 12-0 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 2)

The last four years under head coach Tony Bennett, UVA has advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Still, Bennett has yet to see his Cavaliers make it beyond the Elite Eight during his nine-year tenure. So, he’s acquired a reputation that the pack-line defense he preaches doesn’t carry over to March, nor does the slow-paced offensive sets. UVA has ranked within the top 25 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency just twice under Bennett. This season appears to be different: The Cavaliers lead the nation in defensive efficiency and are on pace to shatter the national record. Pair that with a top-40 offense and this could finally be the year that UVA avoids an early exit—instead making a run deep into March.

2) Clemson (19-4, 8-3) (AP Poll: No. 16) ↑ 1

Since losing second-leading scorer Donte Grantham to injury and suffering an embarrassing blowout in Charlottesville, Va., the Tigers have surged, remarkably. Call it the Ewing Theory. Clemson is shooting almost 50 percent from 3-point range over its three-game winning streak, punctuated by a victory over North Carolina—a team they’d lost to by eight just a few weeks prior. Guard Gabe Devoe has picked up the slack and is playing some of the best basketball of his career, earning ACC Player of the Week honors after hitting five 3-pointers in each of the Tigers’ wins. DeVoe, alongside backcourt teammates Marquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell, are a formidable trio on a roster that ranks 33rd in offensive efficiency and 11th in defense.

3) Duke (19-4, 7-3) (AP Poll: No. 9) ↓ 1

Want to see the most frustrating thing in the world? AP voters casting their top-10 ballots for Duke week in and week out, despite the Blue Devils showing plenty of cracks in their seemingly impenetrable hype train. Sure, Duke’s potent offense is worthy of attention, given that the unit is second in adjusted offensive efficiency, but the defense is 72nd and coming off of a four-point loss to St. John’s. Keep in mind, the Red Storm entered on an 11-game losing streak and sit over 150 places behind Duke in offensive efficiency. The Blue Devils couldn’t get a stop, conceding 1.19 points per possession in the stunner. It should also be noted that Grayson Allen has been held to single-digits in two of the past three game and is in an extended slump, while four of Duke’s seven ACC wins have come against cellar-dwellers Pittsburgh and Wake Forest.

4) North Carolina (17-7, 6-5) (AP Poll: No. 20)

Thursday night’s home game against Duke will be huge for the Tar Heels, as they’ve dropped three of their last four and will be looking to get back on track. The three losses came against Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, and Georgia Tech, with the main constant being a lack of perimeter defense. Opponents averaged 14 3-pointers per game, shooting almost 50 percent from the arc. That’s been one of the Tar Heels’ biggest struggles this season: they’re above average at defending 2-pointers (44.1 percent, 15th in the nation), but absolutely terrible on the perimeter. UNC sits at 313th out of 351 Division I teams, allowing a 38.2 percent clip that is, in addition, good for just 73rd out of 75 major conference teams.

5) Miami (18-5, 7-4) (AP Poll: No. 25)

Outside of a conference loss to GT, the Hurricanes have easily been one of the top teams in ACC play. They’ve won the games they’ve expected to win, and have hung tight in their losses. They went to overtime in a tough loss to Florida State and dropped close games to Clemson and Duke. Miami has a top-15 defense and a trigger-happy offense that gets the job done.

6) Florida State (17-7, 6-6) ↑ 2

The Seminoles have battled inconsistency this year, but battled to a four-point loss last night against UVA, the cream of the crop. Sure, FSU has losses to the likes of BC and Wake Forest, but both came on the road. It’s a talented roster, led by guard Terance Mann, who’s averaging 16 points and six rebounds. Braian Angola has also quietly been playing well, filling the stat sheet with 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals per game.

7) Virginia Tech (17-7, 6-5)

Since losing back-to-back games to Louisville and FSU, the Hokies have responded impressively. A red-hot offense (23rd in offensive efficiency) has guided them to four wins in their last five games, including a double-digit victory over UNC. VTech’s problem has almost always been defense, as the last time it ranked in the top 30 in defensive efficiency was back when Seth Greenberg was its coach. Still, a 59.5 effective field goal percentage is third in the nation—the Hokies have the firepower to stick with most teams.

8) North Carolina State (16-8, 6-5) ↑ 2

The Wolfpack would’ve been as high as seven this week if it hadn’t lost to VTech by 10, even though it was on the road. N.C. State has quality wins over Duke, North Carolina, and Clemson, but falling to the Hokies sets them back temporarily. Lennard Freeman has played roughly half the Wolfpack’s minutes, and despite only averaging nine points a game, has an offensive rating of 130.8, ranking 16th in the country in that department.

9) Louisville (16-8, 6-5) ↓ 3

Louisville is on a skid, having dropped three straight. The last two came at home against FSU and Syracuse, a surprising turn for a Cardinals team that has protected their home court well so far this season. There’s no denying that Louisville has talent, it’s just clear that head coach David Padgett hasn’t been able to get his guys to replicate their consistent non-conference success during the ACC slate.

10) Syracuse (16-8, 5-6) ↓ 1

Everyone’s favorite “bubble team,” the Orange is back to its familiar lockdown defensive ways (ninth in the country). That said, they’ve struggled mightily on the other end of the court. Syracuse ranks 120th in offense, and was held to under 51 points in back-to-back losses last week. The Orange suffered a four-point setback to GT in one of those defeats, but responded by knocking off Louisville the next week.

11) Notre Dame (14-10, 4-7)

Before taking on Boston College, Irish head coach Mike Brey told the TV broadcasters that he was worried if the game climbed above 60 points, his guys wouldn’t be able to keep pace with the Eagles’ offense. After all, Notre Dame hadn’t clear 80 points since Jan. 3, a large reason why it was on a seven-game losing streak. The Irish promptly dropped 96 points in a crucial win, giving their fans hope that they could turn the season around before it’s too late.

12) Boston College (14-10, 4-7)

The Eagles squandered a 46-point effort from Jerome Robinson against Notre Dame, which was their 23rd straight ACC loss on the road. BC hasn’t proven that it can win away from Conte Forum, and that’s cost them in terms of postseason hopes. The Eagles are also trying to sort things out on the defensive end, having posted the second-worst defensive rating in conference play.

13) Georgia Tech (11-12, 4-6)

More than halfway through the regular season, the Yellow Jackets have hit a rough patch, dropping five of their last six games. An overtime loss to BC last week was the latest defeat, but the four before that came against NCAA Tournament-caliber opponents—UVA, UNC, FSU, and Clemson. Guard Josh Okogie, who is averaging 18 points and six rebounds per game this season, is a legitimate two-way player, having proven he can score in bunches and elevate on the offensive glass.

14) Wake Forest (9-15, 2-10)

The Demon Deacons stole a win away from FSU last week, but followed it up with predictable losses to Clemson and Miami. Wake Forest has limped along so far in conference play, having dropped nine of its last 10, and is a sieve on defense. The Demon Deacons are 324th in opposing 3-point percentage and 136th in defensive efficiency.

15) Pittsburgh (8-16, 0-11)

Last time out, Pittsburgh was handed an especially brutal loss, its 11th in a row. The Panthers headed to Chapel Hill, N.C. and lost to UNC by 31, which was made worse by Cameron Johnson dropping a career-high 24 points on them. Johnson left the Pittsburgh program a year ago in what was a particularly contentious and publicized move. The win was important for the Tar Heels to get back on track, and that seems like all the Panthers are to the rest of the ACC. They’ve played close games, but have yet win in conference, and that likely won’t change soon. Three of their next four games are against teams with ACC records above .500.

Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor

About Bradley Smart 156 Articles
Bradley is the associate sports editor for The Heights. He believes that America does truly run on Dunkin, March is the best month, baseball teams should always wear stirrups, and being down 3-1, in anything, is never cause for concern. You can follow him on Twitter @bradleysmart15.