Each week I’ll rank the ACC from best to worst. This isn’t a predicted order of finish but rather a reflection of where teams stand today. Records are current through games played on Sunday afternoon:
1. North Carolina (16-2, 5-0)
This week: vs. Wake Forest, Wednesday; at Virginia Tech, Sunday
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UNC’s long streak of impressive offensive performances ended on Saturday but its winning streak – now nine games long – carried on with a 67-55 victory against N.C. State.
2. Clemson (12-6, 5-1)
This week: at Virginia, Tuesday
What’s this? The Tigers are second in the ACC power rankings? They’ve earned some respect amid a five-game winning streak, with the past three victories against Louisville, Duke and Miami.
3. Louisville (14-3, 3-1)
This week: vs. Florida State, Wednesday; at Georgia Tech, Saturday
In a conference full of excellent offenses the Cardinals lead the nation in defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com.
4. Pittsburgh (15-2, 4-1)
This week: vs. N.C. State, Tuesday; at Florida State, Saturday
Panthers are another one of those not-quite-sure-if-they’re-for-real teams, and they mustered just 41 points in an 18-point loss at Louisville last Thursday.
5. Miami (13-3, 2-2)
This week: at Boston College, Wednesday; vs. Wake Forest, Saturday
Hurricanes dropped a couple difficult road games at Virginia and Clemson but it gets no easier in the ACC than what they have this week: Boston College on the road and Wake Forest at home.
6. Notre Dame (12-5, 3-2)
This week: vs. Virginia Tech, Wednesday; vs. Boston College, Saturday
Fighting Irish are back in the thick of things after a home victory against Georgia Tech and a 95-91 win in a highly entertaining and intense game at Duke.
7. Duke (14-4, 3-2)
This week: vs. Syracuse, Monday; at N.C. State, Saturday
Duke has lost two in a row but so did last year’s team before going on to win a national title. Coach K, though, wasn’t having any of that comparison after the loss to Notre Dame on Saturday.
8. Virginia (13-4, 2-3)
This week: vs. Clemson, Tuesday; vs. Syracuse, Saturday
Cavaliers ended a two-game losing streak with a victory against Miami and then lost on Sunday at Florida State in what was Virginia's third consecutive road defeat.
9. Virginia Tech (12-6, 4-1)
This week: at Notre Dame, Wednesday; vs. North Carolina, Sunday
Bad luck, good luck – teams often make their own luck. So what does it say about the Hokies that they've won all four of their conference games by a combined 10 points?
10. Florida State (12-5, 2-3)
This week: at Louisville, Wednesday; vs. Pitt, Saturday
Win against Virginia on Sunday was huge for the Seminoles, who by Saturdaywill have already played six of the top eight teams in the league standings.
11. Syracuse (12-7, 2-4)
This week: at Duke, Monday; at Virginia; Saturday
Two routs last week for the Orange against Boston College and Wake Forest but now comes the fun part: road trips to Duke and Virginia.
12. Georgia Tech (11-7, 1-4)
This week: vs. Louisville, Saturday
The Yellow Jackets have shown promise and yet they’ve lost four of their first five conference games with a familiar pattern: failures in close games. Two of their ACC losses are by a combined six points.
13. Wake Forest (10-7, 1-4)
This week: at North Carolina, Wednesday, at Miami, Saturday
In defeat the Demon Deacons had been keeping things respectable and showing progress – until a 28-point meltdown of a defeat at home against Syracuse on Saturday. Doesn’t get easier this week, either.
14. N.C. State (10-8, 0-5)
This week: at Pittsburgh, Tuesday; vs. Duke, Saturday
The Wolfpack lack depth but kept it closer than most would have thought on Saturday at North Carolina. Problem is the schedule isn’t getting any easier for N.C. State.
15. Boston College (7-10, 0-4)
This week: vs. Miami, Wednesday; at Notre Dame, Saturday
The possibility of an 0-18 league finish is real for the Eagles, who are undermanned and among the worst offensive teams in the country in a conference that doesn’t lack for scoring.
1. Duke-Notre Dame – not Duke-Syracuse – has been best part about recent expansion.
Remember when ESPN was hyping Duke-Syracuse as the new “in” rivalry in college basketball? Maybe it was deserved, after the teams played two classic games in 2014. Overall, though, the best thing about the ACC’s recent expansion hasn’t been that it gave us those Duke-Syracuse games but that it continues to create great ones between Duke and Notre Dame. It seems just about every time these teams get together it produces compelling theater. Notre Dame’s 95-91 victory at Duke on Saturday was the latest in a run of well-played, competitive games between the Blue Devils and Fighting Irish. Well, outside of Duke’s 30-point win in Durham last year, anyway. That one notwithstanding, Duke-Notre Dame has been better than Duke-Syracuse.
2. Clemson the more surprising of the ACCs surprise teams.
Clemson and Virginia Tech, which are off to a combined 9-2 start in the ACC, are two of the best stories in college basketball at the start of conference play. The Hokies are 4-1 in the league, which is their best start since 2009. Clemson’s success, though, is more surprising given the competition. The Tigers haven’t lost since they opened ACC play at UNC on Dec. 30, and that’s saying something given that Clemson has had one of the most difficult schedules in the ACC. Before last week, Clemson hadn’t won consecutive games against top 25 teams since 1989. Now the Tigers have beaten three consecutive ranked teams.
3. Mark Gottfried is right: N.C. State isn’t “bad,” necessarily
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried has said it a time or two already in what is becoming a long season. He has said that his team isn’t a bad team, despite what the record suggests. And Gottfried is right. “Bad” isn’t the word to describe the Wolfpack, which played hard in a 12-point loss at UNC on Saturday. Bad teams don’t keep it close the way the Wolfpack has early in the season, and they usually don’t play with all that much effort, which is something N.C. State hasn’t lacked, at least. N.C. State is clearly limited, though, and short-handed, and it appears to lack the personnel – thanks to attrition and injuries – to be competitive. And yet don’t be surprised to see N.C. State pull an upset or two.