The calendar is flipping to February, we're a month into ACC play, and at this point the conference is coming into much clearer focus. During the non-conference it's often hard to compare résumés, with wildly different schedule strengths, little knowledge of just how good a win (or how bad a loss) really is. But now that the ACC teams have 7 or 8 games head-to-head with each other, we can do an apples-to-apples comparison.
The Hoos Place writers (Seattle, StLou, Maize, Karl, and Valentine) have voted to rank the teams, and there's some intriguing movement with surging and sinking teams. Included in each team's writeup are their conference-only Strength of Schedule and offensive and defensive efficiencies, plus their scheduled matchups with UVA.
#15 - Wake Forest: 8-12 (1-7)
We knew this was going to be another bad year for Wake. They lost 6 veterans from last year's team (only 2 of them were graduating seniors, the rest were just running away from Manning), and replaced them with a mixed bag of freshmen and low-impact grad transfers. They're struggling in all phases of the game. Junior guard Brandon Childress is a lone bright spot, and 5-star freshman forward Jaylen Hoard is improving as he eyes the NBA Draft this summer, but otherwise this is a team hoping their young core (6 rotation underclassmen projected to return next year, assuming Hoard turns pro) can keep their heads up and return next year battle-hardened. At least they have a win over NC State to hang their hat on; even with Markell Johnson missing that game for the Pack, that's still a solid win.
Conf SoS: 4th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 93.7 (14th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 114.4 (14th)
Vs UVA: 1/22: W 68-45 (H)
Highest Vote: #14 - Lowest Vote: #15
#14 - Miami: 9-11 (1-7)
We didn't expect Miami to have a great season, but even this is surprising us. Miami started the year by losing star center Dewan (Huell) Hernandez to NCAA eligibility concerns and had to dismiss prized transfer guard Miles Wilson. An injury to center Deng Gak later and the 'Canes are down to just 7 players. But that doesn't excuse multiple non-conference losses to Ivy League teams, or Miami playing the league's worst excuse for defense, giving up over 80 a game. Injury concerns are continuing to accrue, with Zach Johnson playing on a tender ankle and Anthony Lawrence injuring his hip in a loss to Virginia Tech this week. One has to wonder if this becomes Larranaga's retirement tour.
Conf SoS: 6th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 102.7 (9th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 115.6 (15th)
Vs UVA: Sat 2/2 (H)
Highest Vote: #14 - Lowest Vote: #15
#13 - Notre Dame: 11-10 (1-7)
This is not what we've come to expect from a Mike Brey squad. Typically among the ACC's top half, this Irish squad is barely hanging onto merely an NIT dream at this point. Yes their schedule has been brutal (@UNC, NC State, UVA, and Duke over a two-week span). But they can't shoot a lick right now, which is really out of character for a Notre Dame offense. Injuries to senior wing Rex Pfleuger (ACL, out for the year) and junior center Juwan Durham (bone bruise, day-to-day) have undercut their narrow margin of error. They have dates vs similarly-struggling BC, Miami, GT, and Wake Forest in coming weeks, which will allow their young roster the opportunityto rebuild some confidence. But this is still a team that's probably just a year away.
Conf SoS: 3rd - ACC ORtg (Rk): 97.9 (11th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 113.6 (13th)
Vs UVA: 1/26: W 82-55 (A); Sat 2/16 (H)
Highest Vote: #12 - Lowest Vote: #13
#12 - Boston College: 11-8 (2-5)
Different year, same sub-par play. While the Eagles did lose all-ACC performer Jerome Robinson to the NBA last season, they returned virtually everyone else, so there was hope an experienced cast could take a step forward and make BC at least a solid, average team. Nope. BC is fighting, to be sure, playing teams like Syracuse and Notre Dame close, and even scoring an upset over FSU. But they still project to another losing season, with heralded freshman wing Jairus Hamilton struggling to adapt to college ball, and the team all-around struggling to defend. Breakout freshman Wynston Tabbs and improving center Nik Popovic are something to cheer about, but it's all for naught as they head for a return to the ACC's bottom tier.
Conf SoS: 5th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 102.4 (10th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 112.7 (12th)
Vs UVA: 1/9: W 83-56 (A)
Highest Vote: #9 - Lowest Vote: #13
#11 - Pittsburgh: 12-9 (2-6)
Pitt is another team slowly climbing out of the basement. After going 0-18 in ACC play last year, winning a couple games is a big deal. And give Pitt credit, they've played a tough ACC slate so far: Louisville twice, Duke, UNC, Cuse, NC State, FSU; all are arguably top-half ACC teams. They're young, with three true freshmen (Xavier Johnson, Trey McGowens, and Au'Diese Toney) all starting, meaning Jeff Capel is fully committing to a future run by "his guys," even if that means taking some lumps in the short term. Pitt is still below average in the ACC in both offense and defense (though at least not dead last like last year), so Pitt fans should simply hope the Panthers can knock off some bottom-half teams over the rest of the season and give the Oakland Zoo something to believe in for the years to come.
Conf SoS: 1st - ACC ORtg (Rk): 95.9 (13th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 107.9 (11th)
Vs UVA: Sat 3/3 (H)
Highest Vote: #10 - Lowest Vote: #12
#10 - Clemson: 12-8 (2-5)
Clemson was last year's breakout program, netting Brad Brownell a nice contract extension, and raising expectations for this season with a lot of the rotation returning. But Clemson is failing to live up to those expectations. Throw out the losses to UVA and Duke, obviously, but Clemson is also failing to win the 50/50 games that it found ways to win last year, dropping contests to mid-tier ACC peers Syracuse, FSU, and NC State (where they painfully blew a comfortable lead in the closing seconds). None of those are bad losses, per se, but Clemson needs to find a way to do more than just beat up on GT and Pitt. There are still opportunities for Clemson to climb back up (5 games left against bottom-half teams), but will need to land some upsets too. A good first step? Marcquise Reed should to stop trying to be a hero with the ball in his hands and starting finding teammates more, improving on his pathetic 2.7:2.6 A:TO ratio in ACC play.
Conf SoS: 2nd - ACC ORtg (Rk): 96.7 (12th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 103.7 (7th)
Vs UVA: 1/12: W 63-43 (A)
Highest Vote: #9 - Lowest Vote: #12
#9 - Georgia Tech: 11-10 (3-5)
Georgia Tech is playing okay. Not good, not yet. But better than bad, if that makes any sense. They're deep, playing 9 guys for double-digit minutes a game in ACC play, but those 9 guys are young (6 underclassmen) and, in some cases, are simply at a talent deficit compared to the rest of the ACC. But they're fighting, embracing coach Pastner's newfound love of team defense (where was this at Memphis?), leading the ACC in steal rate and 3rd in defensive eFG%. But their offense is dead last, and ultimately that will doom this team's ceiling to the NIT. Georgia Tech is playing for next year at this point, taking a baby step forward from last year's distraction-plagued campaign, and there's some accomplisment in that. But in the meantime, this week's 23 point home loss is indicative of the struggles they'll continue to have against top-half teams.
Conf SoS: 7th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 89.8 (15th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 98.9 (6th)
Vs UVA: Wed 2/27 (H)
Highest Vote: #8 - Lowest Vote: #11
#8 - Florida State: 15-5 (3-4)
Hard to recall that a few weeks ago, FSU was considered a Top 10 team. But they've been disappointing in conference play. The losses to Duke and UVA are excusable, but losing at Pitt and BC? No disrespect to those up-and-coming programs, but a veteran FSU team had no business dropping those games. They had a solid week with wins over a better-than-their-record Clemson and at Miami (their first road win since November), and with no Duke or UVA on the rest of their schedule, there's no reason to think they can't fix NCAAT résumé.
Conf SoS: 9th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 104.3 (7th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 105.6 (8th)
Vs UVA: 1/5: W 65-52 (H)
Highest Vote: #7 - Lowest Vote: #9
T-#6 - Syracuse: 15-6 (6-2)
Syracuse had the nation's #5 defense last year, returned just about everyone, and now how just the ACC's 5th best defense. The Zone feasted on non-conference opponents, but the two good ACC offenses they've faced (Duke and Carolina) both scored at will, and they even gave up 73 to Georgia Tech's anemic offense. They did get a win over Duke (albeit with an asterisk, as both Cam Reddish and Tre Jones had to sit), and other than GT have handled their business against bottom-half teams. Most reassuringly, their 3-point shooting percentage, a major Achilles heel last season, seems to have been remedied with the additions of transfer Elijah Hughes and freshman Buddy Boeheim, both efficient bombers, plus the improved play of senior guard Frank Howard. Turnovers seem to be the biggest hurdle right now, as the Orange lack a true point guard on their roster.
Conf SoS: 13th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 103.0 (8th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 98.9 (5th)
Vs UVA: Mon 3/4 (A)
Highest Vote: #5 - Lowest Vote: #8
T-#6 - Virginia Tech: 17-3 (6-2)
Virginia Tech is a team that has a lock on "solidly good" while so far falling short of being "great," not like their once-Top-10 ranking suggested. They have pretty consistently dispatched of their mid-tier and bottom-half ACC opponents by double-digits (including an impressive blowout of Syracuse this week). But in two matchups against the ACC elite, UVA and UNC, they crashed and burned by over 20 points in each. Depth is a real concern, playing 8 but only 6 are really top ACC level (to think this team was originally supposed to have Chris Clarke, Khadim Sy, and Landers Nolley as part of a frightening rotation), and an ankle injury to senior PG Justin Robinson in this week's win over Miami could pull the rug out from under them. It's a manageable ACC slate the rest of the way, with Duke, UVA, and Louisville their only top competition left to face (and all in Blacksburg to boot), so expect VT to get to the NCAAT for the third time in a row, and to be in contention for an ACCT double-bye in the regular season's closing weeks.
Conf SoS: 14th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 114.0 (2nd) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 107.2 (10th)
Vs UVA: 1/15: W 81-59 (H); Mon 2/18 (A)
Highest Vote: #5 - Lowest Vote: #8
#5 - North Carolina State: 16-5 (4-4)
NC State is ranked in the Top 25, and that's meaningful this late in the season. And it speaks well of Kevin Keatts that in just his 2nd year in Raleigh, he's taken a roster full of underclassmen and transfers (only Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn were inherited from Gottfried) and made them a dangerous team this quickly. They have four ACC losses, yes, but three are to Louisville (away), UNC, and Virginia, and all by single digits. The Wake Forest loss (even with the mitigating factor of an injured Markell Johnson) is still inexcusable, but otherwise State is handling its business against its peers and bad ACC teams behind a tenacious ball-hawking defense and an energetic offense built on the fast break and second chance points. State is on track to make the NCAA Tournament again this year and will be fun to watch over the next two months.
Conf SoS: 10th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 105.2 (6th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 105.7 (9th)
Vs UVA: 1/29: W 66-65 in OT (A)
Highest Vote: #5 - Lowest Vote: #7
#4 - North Carolina: 16-4 (6-1)
Carolina's had some growing pains this year, taking disappointing non-conference losses to Texas and Kentucky (before UK really started to gel), but have started to turn a corner in ACC play. They did lose badly, at home, to Louisville, which showed there's still room for improvement, and they probably should've beaten Notre Dame and Miami by more than just single digits. But this past week they pasted both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech by over 20 points each. Freshmen studs Coby White and Nassir Little are starting to gain confidence, giving senior stars Cam Johnson, Luke Maye, and Kenny Williams the help they need to make Carolina's offense potentially the ACC's best.
Conf SoS: 11th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 110.2 (5th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 96.6 (4th)
Vs UVA: Mon 2/11 (A)
Highest Vote: #4 - Lowest Vote: #4
#3 - Louisville: 16-5 (7-1)
Don't look now, but the Cards have both a higher ORtg and DRtg in ACC play than mighty Duke. The Cards' success is probably the biggest surprise of the young season. We all thought Chris Mack was a great hire, but figured he'd need a couple years to get a good core of his players in place. Instead he's getting great production out of both Pitino kids and transfers alike, including their breakout star, combo forward Jordan Nwora. Most impressively, though, is that he's got this crew playing defense up to a Louisville standard, doubly impressive since Mack wasn't known as a defensive coach at Xavier. The loss to Pitt is concerning, but a blowout win in Chapel Hill was a statement. Another UNC game comes this week, with Duke and two UVA contests still awaiting.
Conf SoS: 15th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 113.4 (3rd) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 92.0 (2nd)
Vs UVA: Sat 2/23 (A); Sat 3/9 (H)
Highest Vote: #3 - Lowest Vote: #3
#2 - Virginia: 19-1 (7-1)
Virginia is neck-and-neck with Duke for tops in the ACC and, according to many, tops in D-1. They aren't just winning, they're blowing teams out routinely, including top half teams like FSU and VT. Virginia does have Duke bested in the computer metrics, but the head-to-head has to count too. The Hoos have plenty of big games still looming, including hosting Duke, traveling to VT and UNC, and a pair against a resurgent Cardinals, so Virginia will continue to get tested like they did on their recent forays into the Triangle. The big question for the Hoos will be how well their role players continue to grow and develop before March.
Conf SoS: 8th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 116.1 (1st) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 90.9 (1st)
Highest Vote: #1 - Lowest Vote: #2
#1 - Duke: 18-2 (7-1)
When full strength, there's not a team in the ACC (save for Virginia) that should be able to stand up to the Blue Devils. FSU took advantage of a hurt Zion to make it close. Syracuse took advantage of injuries to Cam Reddish and Tre Jones to score an OT upset. But when Duke's not been surprised by last minute illnesses/injuries? They beat a full strength UVA and whipped every other opponent by double digits. UVA will need to score the revenge win next weekend if they have any hope of denying Duke the ACC crown. With Tre Jones back, they look to be ready to roll down the stretch.
Conf SoS: 12th - ACC ORtg (Rk): 111.6 (4th) - ACC DRtg (Rk): 95.9 (3rd)
Vs UVA: 1/19: L 72-70 (A); Sat 2/9 (H)
Highest Vote: #1 - Lowest Vote: #2