ACC Power Rankings: Duke, Virginia a Class Above the Rest

We’re now into the bulk of the ACC schedule, and there’s already intrigue all over the standings. After Virginia’s loss to Duke Saturday, every team in the conference has at least one loss, although five teams are currently knotted at the top with just a single ACC defeat. Here’s second edition of our ACC Power Rankings, where there’s shaping up to be an intense race for the top spot in the coming weeks.

1) Duke (15-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast, AP No. 2)

Alright, the Blue Devils lost an eminently winnable game at home to Syracuse a week ago, but let’s consider the extenuating circumstances: Cam Reddish missed the entire contest with illness and Tre Jones was forced to leave midway through the first half with an injury. Reddish has since returned, and Duke is back to its to winning ways. Still missing Jones, the five-star point guard and floor leader, the Blue Devils gutted out an impressive victory against Virginia to hand the Cavaliers their first loss of the season, and then emphatically beat Pittsburgh Tuesday night to move to 5-1 in the ACC. Until someone proves capable of beating Duke at full strength, Mike Krzyzewski’s team will continue to hold the top spot in the rankings.

2) Virginia (17-1, 5-1, AP No. 3)

For a few short hours on Saturday, UVA was the last remaining undefeated team in the country and had the chance to add a signature win to its resume at Cameron Indoor against Duke before shooting 3-of-17 from 3-point range and losing by two points. The Cavaliers have since rebounded, holding Wake Forest to 45 points in a Wednesday win, and are on pace for another stellar defensive season under Tony Bennett. UVA has now held eight opponents to under 50 points this season.

3) North Carolina (15-4, 5-1, AP No. 11)

The No. 11 Tar Heels have the right mix of talent and experience, in senior stars Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye and super freshmen Nassir Little and Cody White, to compete with Duke and UVA at the top of the conference. Aside from a loss at home to Louisville in which pretty much everything went wrong, UNC hasn’t done much to dispel the notion that it can finish the year on top. After a blowout win over No. 10 Virginia Tech Tuesday, the Tar Heels have reached the 100-point mark five times this season and will have to rely on their explosive offense to compete, especially since they allow the second-most points per game in the ACC.

4) Syracuse (13-5, 4-1) ↑ 3

With dynamic guards like Frank Howard, Tyus Battle, and Oshae Brissett, the Orange has the talent to compete in—and win—any game. That talent was on full display last Saturday, when Syracuse went toe-to-toe with Duke, the number one team in our power rankings, and pulled out an overtime road win with Battle, Howard, and Brissett combining for 62 points. The Orange is now 4-1 in the ACC and have bounced back nicely from a 14-point loss to Georgia Tech to vault themselves toward the top of the conference.

5) Louisville (13-5, 4-1) ↑ 3

The rebuild wasn’t supposed to be this far along yet for Louisville in the Cardinals’ first season under former Xavier head coach Chris Mack. Nevertheless, Louisville is now one of five teams with just a single conference loss and just handed UNC its worst-ever home loss under Roy Williams. A big home test against North Carolina State looms, but if Jordan Nwora, who is currently the fifth-leading scorer in the ACC, continues to light it up on offense, the Cardinals should be well-placed to continue to succeed.

6) North Carolina State (15-3, 3-2, AP No. 21)

The Wolfpack ascended as high as No. 15 in the national rankings two weeks ago, but a bizarre loss to Wake Forest, who continues to hold the bottom spot in these power rankings, means that N.C. State checks in at No. 21 in the Week 12 edition of the AP Poll. The Wolfpack will be hoping that Markell Johnson, who is the team’s third-leading scorer and ranks fourth in the ACC in assists per game, returns from injury soon. The junior point guard missed the defeat to the Demon Deacons and a win over Notre Dame with an injury sustained against Pittsburgh, and continues to be limited in practice.

7) Virginia Tech (15-3, 4-2, AP No. 10) ↓ 3

The Hokies can certainly shoot the lights out from behind the arc. They rank third in the country in 3-point field goal percentage and shot a combined 20-of-49 from downtown against UNC and UVA. But until the Hokies and Buzz Williams find some answers on the defensive end, good long-range shooting likely isn’t going to be enough for them to compete with the top teams in the ACC. In the aforementioned contests against the Tar Heels and Cavaliers, both blowout losses by 20-plus points, VTech allowed both teams to shoot over 50 percent from the floor and gave up a combined 184 points. That simply won’t cut it moving forward.

8) Georgia Tech (11-8, 3-3) ↑ 2

In contrast to the Hokies, the Yellow Jackets are one of the stingiest defensive teams in the conference. GT allows just 63.5 points per game, and if it wasn’t for the continued defensive wizardry of Tony Bennett and UVA—which allows an absurd 52.4 points per contest—it would be the best team in the conference on the defensive side of the ball. The problem for the Yellow Jackets revolves around putting the ball in the basket. They have just two players—Jose Alvarado and James Banks III—who average more than 10 points per game and have failed to crack the 70 point mark in four of six ACC games. In fact, GT is the only team in the conference that averages less than 70 points per game.

9) Florida State (14-5, 2-4) ↓ 4

The Seminoles entered conference play with just one loss—a narrow six point defeat to Villanova—but things have unraveled quickly since then. FSU is just 2-5 in conference play, and while they were within a Reddish buzzer-beater of knocking off Duke, losses to Pittsburgh and Boston College are inexcusable for a team that was No. 11 in the country just a week ago. If the Seminoles hope to rebound, they’ll likely need more consistent perimeter shooting. As a team, FSU hits just 32.1 percent of its attempts from behind the arc, a figure which is 264th-best out of 351 Division 1 teams.

10) Pittsburgh (12-7, 2-4) ↑ 2

Last season, Pittsburgh failed to a win a single game in the ACC, so anything new head coach Jeff Capel did in his first season at the helm was going to be an improvement. Despite that, Capel has arguably already exceeded expectations, leading his team to wins over Louisville and FSU at home before nearly nabbing an impressive road victory over N.C. State. The future is looking bright for a team that boasts two freshman, Trey McGowens and Xavier Johnson, as it’s leading scorers.

11) Clemson (11-5, 1-4) ↓ 2

The Tigers have arguably had the toughest ACC schedule thus far, with games against Duke, UVA, Syracuse, and FSU already behind them, but still have only managed a 1-4 record in conference play. The biggest problem for Clemson? Much like Georgia Tech, the Tigers are desperate for offense. Despite having Marquise Reed, who boasts the fourth-best scoring average in the ACC, and a pair of other solid contributors in Shelton Mitchell and Elijah Thomas, Clemson still scores just 71.3 points per game, third-worst in the conference. Perhaps Aamir Sims, who has reached double-digit scoring in each of the past two games, can give the Tigers a much-needed boost.  

12) Miami (9-8, 1-4) ↓ 1

The Hurricanes have led in the second half in 16 of their 17 games this season, but boast a record of just 9-8. Why? Part of it is likely due to depth issues. In Miami’s narrow loss to UNC on Sunday, just seven players saw playing time for head coach Jim Larranaga’s team. The Hurricanes are now 1-4 in ACC play. Now, with no sure-fire way to bulk up the rotation, Miami is facing an uphill battle to stay relevant, even though 5-foot-7 Chris Lykes continues to excel for the Hurricanes.

13) Boston College (10-7, 1-4) ↑ 1

Saturday, the Eagles were the only team in the ACC without a win over a conference foe in 2018-19. That all changed against then-No. 11 Florida State, as BC overcame a 15-point deficit behind a 37-point explosion from Ky Bowman and the hot shooting of Jordan Chatman to break out of a five-game losing streak in a big way. With both Steffon Mitchell and Wynston Tabbs finally healthy, there’s a chance the Eagles could make some noise in the ACC, as long as no more injuries strike.

14) Notre Dame (11-8, 1-5) ↓ 4

The Fighting Irish certainly can’t be criticized for a lack of effort. They’ve started the conference slate just 1-5, but only one of their games has been decided by more than 10 points. John Mooney continues to carry a huge portion of the offensive load for Notre Dame but has precious little help from his teammates. In a close loss to Georgia Tech, Nate Laszewski was the only other Irish player to score in double figures, and T.J. Gibbs, arguably the most talented player on the roster, shot just 2-of-11 against the Yellow Jackets, and is hitting just 35.5 percent of his shots from the floor this season.

15) Wake Forest (8-10, 1-5)

The Demon Deacons and head coach Danny Manning got a much-needed win against then No.17-N.C. State last Tuesday, but a pair of lopsided losses against UVA and UVA Tech means that Wake Forest and Notre Dame are now tied for last place in the ACC, with 1-5 conference records. The Demon Deacons allow the most points per game in the conference and, unless they can find some kind of defensive identity, will likely spend the rest of the season near the bottom of the standings.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

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About Peter Kim 201 Articles
Peter Kim is the assistant sports editor of The Heights. He’s from Seattle, will die happy if the Mariners make the playoffs once in his lifetime, and still refuses to watch any of Super Bowl XLIV. Follow him on twitter @PeterKim_4