Another week, another set of ACC power rankings. The top of the poll has yet to solidify, the middle seems to be perpetually in flux, and the only surefire guarantee at this point is that Pittsburgh will never leave the 15th ranking spot. Meanwhile, we’re entering the most stressful time of the year—bubble watch time. What teams will play their way into the NCAA tournament, or vice versa? Bracketologists are projecting nine teams from the ACC to get a shot at the dance, but who’s to say which nine it’ll be.
1) Virginia (24-2, 13-1 Atlantic Coast) (AP Poll: No. 1)
Despite losing its first conference game this season, an overtime thriller to Virginia Tech, Virginia took home 30 of 65 first place votes in the AP Poll to earn the top spot for the first time since 1982. The Cavaliers responded with a nine-point win over Miami, posting a defensive efficiency almost 15 points lower than their performance in the loss to the Hokies. Everyone loses eventually in conference play, and it’s impressive that it took 13 tries for the rest of the ACC to get a win. As ESPN’s Jeff Borzello put it after the loss, “Even the most consistent team in the country, with the best defense in nearly 20 years, can be exploited.”
2) North Carolina (21-5, 9-4) (AP Poll: No. 14) ↑ 2
North Carolina played Duke, North Carolina State, and Notre Dame in a span of five days, and didn’t lose a single game. The Tar Heels entered the three-game stretch having dropped three of four, including uncharacteristic losses to the Wolfpack and VTech, but responded impressively. They posted some of the most efficient offensive games during the mini winning streak, culminating in a 17-point drubbing of Notre Dame that featured the worst defensive performance from the Irish this season. UNC was able to beat its longtime rival, avenge a loss to another in-state opponent, and didn’t let up after back-to-back games—altogether, a pretty successful week.
3) Duke (21-5, 9-4) (AP Poll: No. 12)
The Blue Devils lost back-to-back games by four points, to St. John’s and UNC, but responded with two wins by a combined 34 points. Duke exerted its will against VTech on Wednesday night, finishing with an offensive efficiency just shy of 130 en route to a 74-52 win over a team projected to be as high as a 10-seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils cleared 20 wins for the 22nd year in a row, so it seems to be largely business as usual in Durham. Plus, even though Marvin Bagley III is sidelined with a sprained right knee, guys like Wendell Carter Jr. and Grayson Allen are stepping up.
4) Clemson (20-5, 9-4) (AP Poll: No. 11) ↓ 2
In Wednesday night’s loss to Florida State, a game in which the Tigers blew an 18-point lead, Clemson guard Shelton Mitchell took a nasty fall in overtime and needed plenty of assistance getting off the court with a scary head injury. For a team already without second-leading scorer Donte Grantham, losing Mitchell for any amount of time would be catastrophic. The junior is averaging 12 points and four assists, playing almost 81 percent of his team’s minutes. That explains why the Tigers drop from two to four, as it seems like the wheels could very well come off a Clemson team that’s heading to its first NCAA tournament since 2010-11.
5) Miami (18-7, 7-6)
The Hurricanes dropped a road game to Boston College, blowing a late lead to lose (basically) at the buzzer, then saw their offense sputter in a loss to UVA. Losing guard Bruce Brown to a foot injury has provenly costly for Miami, especially on the defensive side of the floor. Brown, described by Sporting News as “a bundle of athleticism and offensive potential anchored by his defense,” has watched from the sideline as the Hurricanes post some of their worst defensive efficiency numbers of the season. Their last four ratings have been higher than 103.0, which is eight points above their season average and a mark that would rank third to last in the conference.
6) Florida State (18-8, 7-7)
The Seminoles picked up a huge overtime win over Clemson last night, rallying from 18 points down to add a statement victory to their resume. Prior to the comeback, they had slipped down projected brackets to a nine-seed after three losses in a four-game stretch, including a stunner against Wake Forest. Still, FSU has showcased plenty of talent. The Seminoles have an easy go at it in their last four games and are more than capable of making a run in the conference tournament. After all, they’ve lost to Duke, Miami, and UVA by single-digits.
7) Virginia Tech (18-8, 7-6)
A harsh reality check came last night, as the Hokies lost to Duke by over 20 points. Still, VTech is a formidable offensive team, averaging over 85 points per game and posting a 116.6 offensive efficiency (23rd in the nation). They’re eerily similar to Buzz Williams’ squad from a year ago, which finished 21st in offensive efficiency and leaned on sharp-shooting guards. The only difference is a significant improvement on defense, as far as numbers are concerned. Although VTech sits outside the top 50 defensive teams, it’s 87th-place mark is half of last season’s finish (156th).
8) Louisville (18-8, 8-5) ↑ 1
David Padgett’s Cardinals remain an enigma. At times, it seems like they can keep up with the cream of the crop in the ACC, but there are also games where they look like just another middle-of-the-pack team. Louisville ranks 16th in defensive efficiency, a product of its tremendous size, yet it has allowed 74-plus points in three-consecutive losses to UVA, FSU, and Syracuse. The Cardinals rebounded with convincing wins against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh, but it’s hard to say that those victories will help their cause come Selection Sunday, considering that the Yellow Jackets and Panthers are the two worst teams in the conference. A tough slate of games awaits the Cardinals—a stretch that’ll reveal who Louisville really is.
9) North Carolina State (17-9, 7-6) ↓ 1
The Wolfpack picked up a huge resume win on Wednesday, holding on to beat Syracuse on the road. N.C. State picked up a key win, earning a spot in Joe Lunardi’s latest “last four in” bracketology projection. After back-to-back losses to VTech and UNC, the victory was crucial as the Wolfpack is set to face stiff competition down the stretch. Three of the five games are home, but they include matchups with FSU, Louisville, and BC—all tough offensive teams to contain.
10) Notre Dame (15-11, 5-8) ↑ 1
After knocking off FSU, the Irish were blown out by UNC this past week. For a team that’s struggled mightily this season, the split was more than an acceptable result. Against the Tar Heels, Notre Dame hung tough on the road for 34 minutes before eventually imploding. The Irish haven’t had star Bonzie Colson for basically the entire season, but he’s making positive strides in his recovery from foot surgery. Their season seems tough to salvage, but if they can win again against BC and knock off Miami this week, they’ll be positioned well to make a run yet again.
11) Syracuse (17-9, 6-7) ↓ 1
The bubble is an unforgiving place. Syracuse won against Louisville and Wake Forest, but couldn’t pull off a victory over N.C. State—another team that’s NCAA Tournament status is up in the air—and enter the final five-game stretch, fighting to make it in. Currently one of the first four out on many bracket rankings, the Orange has a brutal remaining schedule and could quickly fall out of contention. Away games against Miami, Duke, and BC loom, as do home matchups against UNC and Clemson. Ouch.
12) Boston College (16-10, 6-7)
Jerome Robinson made his case for ACC Player of the Year against Notre Dame last week, dropping 46 points as he continues to be one of the most underappreciated shooting guards in the country. Granted, the Eagles lost to the Irish in convincing fashion, but they bounced back with a big win against Miami and a dominant second half to rout Pittsburgh. When Robinson, Ky Bowman, and Jordan Chatman are on, it’s tough to match up with BC. The problem, of course, has been getting all three to find their rhythm at the same time. They have the pieces to make a run to the tournament, which will have to start with a big home win against Notre Dame on Saturday afternoon.
13) Wake Forest (10-16, 3-11) ↑ 1
Following single-digit losses to Clemson, Miami, and Syracuse, Wake Forest got a chance to exert its frustration. The Demon Deacons firmly established themselves as beyond the bottom two teams in the conference with a thorough win against GT, going on a 44-24 run between the 10-minute marks of each half. Wake Forest has beaten FSU for it’s lone top-tier win, but has a favorable schedule down the stretch, so at least there’s potential to make some noise in the conference tournament.
14) Georgia Tech (11-15, 4-9) ↓ 1
A four-game win streak at the start of ACC play has long left the rearview mirror, which has instead been cluttered with endless negatives. Head coach Josh Pastner stands accused of sexual assault, guard Jose Alvarado suffered a season-ending elbow fracture, and the Yellow Jackets have lost eight of nine. The most recent loss was the roughest, falling by 17 to a Wake Forest team that entered with just two wins in 13 ACC games.
15) Pittsburgh (8-19, 0-14)
Let’s keep it brief. The Panthers had a lead at halftime against BC for the second time in conference play, but went on to lose by 23 points. It’s been a very tough season for head coach Kevin Stallings and his youthful roster, obviously. Let’s just hope that he’s able to stick around for a few years to get a legitimate shot at rebuilding the program.
Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor