Attempting to put ACC teams in order isn’t an easy task. Outside of Virginia, who’s undefeated in conference play, there’s no clear hierarchy—people could make cases for each of the next three or four teams vying for second place, and so on. There’s one certainty about the conference that stands out looking toward March: quite a few teams will be dancing.
In the last four years, the ACC has placed nine, seven, six, and six teams in the nation’s premier tournament. You have to go back to 2013 to find the last time fewer than six teams have gone to the Big Dance, and that was back when the Big East was still around.
Simply put, even though the ACC is more stratified than ever, the conference could easily follow up last season’s high bid total. Just take a look ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology: the four No. 1 seeds include the ACC’s UVA and Duke.
1. Virginia (19-1, 8-0 ACC) (AP Poll: No. 2)
UVA hasn’t lost since they went to Blacksburg at the start of December. The Cavaliers have won their past 11 games by an average of 18 points. UVA’s famed pack-line defense leads the country in defensive efficiency, it’s still playing with the slowest tempo in Division One basketball, and it falls in the top five of every ranking system—RPI, KPI, BPI, you name it.
2. Duke (18-2, 6-2) (AP Poll: No. 4)
In the Blue Devils’ ACC opener, they gave up 89 points in an upset loss to Boston College, their defensive struggles on full display. Countless articles popped up, describing how flawed the Blue Devils were, and how their prolific offense couldn’t mask their issues on the other side of the ball. They’ve shown improvement, though, holding opponents to under 65 points during their five-game winning streak. Duke still ranks 72nd in defensive efficiency, but its 88.8 points-per-game mark over the last five games is a sign of improvement.
3. North Carolina (16-5, 5-3) (AP Poll: No. 10)
For the most part, conference road trips have been the Tar Heels kryptonite. UNC is just 1-4 on the road in ACC play this season after getting run over by Virginia Tech’s potent offense on Monday night. It also fell to UVA and Florida State in back-to-back games earlier this year, so the top-10 national ranking is slightly deceiving. The Tar Heels have plenty of talent and offensive weapons, but need to prove themselves on the road moving forward—trips to Clemson, Louisville, and Duke await.
4. Clemson (16-4, 5-3) (AP Poll: No. 18)
The Tigers have hit a rough patch. They bookended a solid win over Notre Dame with losses to two teams ahead of them, falling by eight at UNC and then dropping a 25-point blowout to UVA. To make matters worse, Clemson lost potential the No. 2 recruit in the nation, Zion Williamson, to Duke and saw Donte Grantham—who was second on the team in scoring—go down with a torn ACL. Still, the Tigers have shown fight—with wins over Louisville and Miami, they deserve the fourth spot in this week’s rankings. Just don’t expect them to hold it for long without Grantham.
5. Miami (15-4, 4-3)
After dropping out of the top 25, the Hurricanes responded by beating N.C. State and Louisville in consecutive games. Miami is about as unpredictable as any team in the ACC—it has beaten the likes of Florida State and now the Cardinals, but has also fallen to Georgia Tech. Wednesday night’s overtime win against Louisville featured an impressive performance by freshman Lonnie Walker IV, who recorded 25 points—two of which came in the waning seconds of regulation—as he got an acrobatic layup to go, forcing the extra period.
6. Louisville (15-5, 5-2)
The Cardinals were poised to leap into the top 25, but suffered a setback in overtime against Miami. Louisville went 0-of-5 from the field in the ensuing five-minute period, costing the Cardinals a chance at climbing in the rankings. Still, head coach David Padgett’s team is exceeding expectations and boasts a top-15 defensive efficiency ranking. The duo of Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud is a handful down low, so expect Louisville to continue to improve, especially considering the fact that it plays four of its next five games at home.
7. Florida State (15-5, 4-4) ↑ 2
Since being thoroughly outplayed on the road by BC, the Seminoles have won back-to-back games on the strength of a well-balanced offense. FSU shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it has several quality wins and isn’t an easy out by any measure. The Seminoles have defeated UNC and come within single-digits of beating Duke and Miami even though both games took place on the road. One of the few teams in the ACC with top-50 marks in both offensive and defensive efficiency, FSU is an up-and-down unit loaded with talent.
8. Notre Dame (13-7, 3-4) ↓ 1
Unfortunately for the Irish, the injury bug has put a quite the damper on their postseason hopes. Four-straight losses has Notre Dame spiraling out of the control, the most recent defeat being a nine-point setback against Clemson. With a week off before their next game, the Irish have time to try and work on overcoming the temporary losses of Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, and D.J. Harvey. “We’re not dead in the water, but we’re searching,” head coach Mike Brey told ND Insider. “We’ll dig in and fight.”
9. Syracuse (14-6, 3-4) ↑ 2
After a four-game losing streak, the Orange responded by knocking off Pittsburgh and BC at home to get a boost in the standings. Syracuse has a top-15 defense that has forced an average of 15 turnovers the past three games, posting a steal rate (12.6 percent) that’s good for fifth in the country. The Orange is another ACC team that has been inconsistent offensively, but has a relatively easy schedule in the coming week with trips to Pittsburgh and GT on tap.
10. Virginia Tech (14-6, 3-4) ↑ 3
Over the last three conference games, the Hokies have averaged almost 83 points on 50 percent shooting. They’ve won just one of those matchups, though—an 11-point upset of UNC. When VTech is on offensively, it’s hard for opponents to keep up, but the defensive struggles keep the Hokies from ranking any higher. VTech sits inside the top 30 in offensive efficiency, but has a defense that pales in comparison, coming in at 136th in a nation, a spot ahead of the ACC’s bottomfeeder, Pittsburgh.
11. Boston College (13-8, 3-5) ↓ 3
A week ago, a lot of hype followed the Eagles after beating Florida State convincingly. Our own assistant sports editor, Ben Thomas, wrote, “Now, all the buzz on campus seems to be about whether head coach Jim Christian can send the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years.” After back-to-back mistake-plagued road losses, a NIT berth seems more likely—assuming Steffon Mitchell doesn’t miss an extended period of time after entering concussion protocol. BC committed 31 turnovers over the last two games and shot 10 percentage points lower than its opponents, leaving the Eagles two games under .500 in conference play.
12. North Carolina State (14-7, 4-4)
With 5:54 remaining in Tuesday night’s game, NC State trailed Pittsburgh by nine points. Despite entering as a near double-digit favorite, the Wolfpack had to dig itself out of a huge hole to escape what would’ve been an embarrassing loss. N.C. State has been inconsistent ever since the start of non-conference play, having dropped games to both UNC Greensboro and Northern Iowa, but has also upset the likes of Duke and Clemson.
13. Georgia Tech (10-10, 3-4) ↓ 3
The Yellow Jackets’ up-and-down season continued last week, with three-straight losses. GT now has two four-game winning streaks and two three-game losing streaks under its belt, the perfect mirror of inconsistency. Their last three losses came against tough foes in UVA, UNC, and Florida State, but the Yellow Jackets’ paltry 66.2 points per game (322nd in the nation) make winning a grind.
14. Wake Forest (8-12, 1-7)
Losers of six straight, the Demon Deacons are mired in the toughest stretch of their schedule—Wake Forest won’t likely be favored in a game until its mid-February date with Pittsburgh. The Demon Deacons have lost to Duke twice and UVA once during the skid, but, more notably, they haven’t been able to keep pace with the conference’s middle-of-the-pack teams, like BC, VTech, and N.C. State.
15. Pittsburgh (8-13, 0-8)
Two years ago, the Panthers were a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament and lost to Wisconsin in the first round, finishing an impressive 21-12 campaign. Then, head coach Jamie Dixon left for TCU in the offseason—since then, things have quickly trended down. Pittsburgh was a game under .500 last year, and is headed toward an even worse mark this year with Kevin Stallings at the helm. The Panthers could go winless in conference play, sitting exactly 100 spots behind the closest ACC foe in KenPom’s efficiency metric.
Featured Image by Nicole Chan / Heights Editor