It’s conference tournament time! As we rapidly approach the excitement of the NCAA Tournament—where chaos reigns, brackets are always busted, and you can watch 67 games in a three-week span and not feel guilty—the ACC first needs to settle on a champion. Virginia was the class of the regular season, only losing to Duke (twice), but we’ve had a different winner each of the last four years and there’re always plenty of memorable moments. To prepare for it, here’s the final regular season edition of our power rankings.
1) North Carolina (26-5, 16-2 Atlantic Coast, AP No. 3) ↔
It’s high time to stop sleeping on the Tar Heels, as they’ve won seven straight and swept the regular season series with Duke—albeit without Zion Williamson—for the first time since 2008-09. This is an experienced bunch, with three seniors in Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson, and Kenny Williams making up a formidable core alongside freshman standout Coby White.
2) Virginia (28-2, 16-2, AP No. 2) ↔
The Blue Devils are the only team that managed to knock off the Cavaliers in conference play, and head coach Tony Bennett is bringing a similarly dominant group as last season into the poseason. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder—the UMBC upset still hangs over their head—but have the pieces to redeem themselves, whether it’s the potent guard pairing of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy or do-it-all forward De’Andre Hunter.
3) Duke (26-5, 14-4, AP No. 5) ↔
Williamson is practicing again, that’s a plus, but Marques Bolden sprained his MCL against UNC and likely will be out for the coming week. Will Zion—who claimed ACC Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors—return and guide his team to trophies galore? There’s reason to believe so, as the Blue Devils went 23-2 with the standout freshman.
4) Florida State (25-6, 13-5, AP No. 12) ↔
After starting conference play a woeful 1-4, the Seminoles have won 12 of 13 with the lone loss coming to UNC. FSU is in prime form, securing a double-bye in the ACC Tournament, and is a difficult matchup with its unique length and versatility. The only sizable weakness has been at the perimeter, both on offense and defense—it’s 12th in the ACC in defending 3-pointers and ninth in shooting.
5) Virginia Tech (23-7, 12-6, AP No. 16) ↔
The Hokies quietly tied their school record for wins in a season by beating Miami behind sophomore Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who had 21 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. Alexander-Walker ran the point in lieu of Justin Robinson, who missed his 10th straight game, and he pairs well with the likes of upperclassmen Kerry Blackshear and Ty Outlaw on an impressive offensive team.
6) Louisville (19-12, 10-8) ↑
Last season, Jordan Nwora averaged 12 minutes and 5.7 points per game. On Monday, he was named the conference’s most improved player, and for good reason. Under first-year head coach Chris Mack, Nwora broke out to finish fifth in the conference in scoring (17.3 pointers per game) as the lifeblood of an up-and-down Cardinals team. They dropped four of five to end the year but led UVA by six midway through the second before faltering late.
7) Clemson (19-12, 9-9) ↑1
It was a good final few games for the Tigers, as they won four of five with the only loss a narrow two-point defeat to UNC. Clemson is fighting to make it into the NCAA Tournament, so a good showing in the conference tourney is a necessity—and it has the pieces to do so. Marcquise Reed is an excellent volume scorer, as evidenced by his 20-point second half against Syracuse in the Tigers’ last game of the season, and that’s a good recipe for postseason play.
8) Syracuse (19-12, 10-8) ↓1
A confusing season for the Orange continued in its regular season finale as it blew a halftime lead—its fourth in the last two weeks—to Clemson. Syracuse doesn’t seem to know how to rebound, either, as it boasts the tallest team in the nation (per KenPom) but was outrebounded in nine of its last 10 games. You never know where the Orange will end up, though, as it’s notorious for making runs in the NCAA Tournament even when it seems to have no reason to do so.
9) North Carolina State (21-10, 9-9) ↔
A disappointing loss to Georgia Tech after fighting hard against FSU soured the Wolfpack’s home stretch, but it salvaged a .500 record in conference play with a blowout of Boston College. N.C. State is on the bubble largely because of the “cleanliness of its schedule,” as The Athletic’s Eamonn Brennan put it, having largely avoided any truly bad losses (save for the Yellow Jackets defeat). It’ll have work to do in the ACC tourney to truly punch its ticket, though.
10) Georgia Tech (14-17, 6-12) ↔
The fact that a team that finished 237th in the country in offensive efficiency managed to win six conference games is a testament to the defensive system that Josh Pastner has in place. The Yellow Jackets gutted out three wins in their last five games, even holding N.C. State to its second-worst offensive game of the year in a dramatic 63-61 victory. Pastner thinks GT can return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009-10 next year, but he’ll have to turn around an offense that has barely cracked the top 200 on KenPom in his three-year tenure.
11) Miami (13-17, 5-13) ↑1
Chris Lykes earned a few votes for the conference’s most improved player, and rightfully so—it’s hard to see what the Hurricanes would’ve done if the sophomore guard didn’t neary double his scoring average (to 16.2 points per game from 9.6) once he was handed the starting reins. What’s also noteworthy is what this team could’ve been if it played better defense—Miami plummeted from ranking 48th in last year’s defensive efficiency rankings to 103rd. A smaller drop in offense was there too, but the defensive struggles led to the Hurricanes first sub-.500 season since 2006-07.
12) Boston College (14-16, 5-13) ↓1
The final three games of the year for BC were nothing short of brutal. The Eagles faltered in overtime to GT, then were absolutely dominated by UNC and N.C. State, losing by a combined 39 points. Ky Bowman was rightfully named to the All-ACC Second Team, but his supporting cast has wrestled with injuries and rough performances for the balance of the conference slate. BC managed just 0.68 points per possession against the Wolfpack, the lowest mark for the program since Feb. 11, 2017.
13) Wake Forest (11-19, 4-14) ↔
A three-game losing streak against a tough trio of opponents—Syracuse, Duke, and FSU—wrapped up the second straight four-win conference season for head coach Danny Manning. He’s firmly on the hot seat, especially after the team faced a lot of turnover heading into this year and couldn’t make the most of the conference’s fourth-best recruiting class. Silver lining? A trio of freshman, headed by four-star recruit Jaylen Hoard, have accounted for nearly 40 percent of Wake Forest’s offense this year.
14) Pittsburgh (13-18, 3-15) ↑1
In a battle of the dregs of the ACC, Pittsburgh managed to avoid finishing last in the conference for the second year in a row, knocking off Notre Dame to snap a 13-game losing streak. It was as ugly a game as you could’ve expected, with the Panthers avoiding blowing a 10-point lead midway through the second half, en route to a 56-53 win. Xavier Johnson, who had 10 points and six assists, was rewarded for a strong first year with an All-ACC Freshman Team nod.
15) Notre Dame (13-18, 3-15) ↓1
When John Mooney—the lone bright spot of a horrible season in South Bend—goes 1-of-10 from the field, you’re probably going to lose. That’s what happened for the Irish against the Panthers, as they watched a 10-point first-half lead vanish and couldn’t claw their way back to avoid the embarrassment of a last-place finish. Yes, injuries have played a huge part in the struggles, but it’s worth noting that the Irish have been trending down since making the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2016-17.
Featured Graphic by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor