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 (25-6, 14-4)
This week: The Tar Heels against Duke on Saturday won the kind of game they’ve lost so many times before. Now the question is: has UNC really turned a corner?
2. Virginia (24-6, 13-5)
Cavaliers finished better than anybody in the ACC but early losses at Virginia Tech and Florida State kept Virginia from first place – and the top spot in these wildly powerful power rankings.
3. Miami (24-6, 13-5)
Does anyone have any idea how good this team really is? It’s difficult to know, given things like losing by 15 at Virginia Tech on Saturday – and by 25 at UNC and by 16 at N.C. State. But 13-5 is 13-5.
4. Duke (22-9, 11-7)
The Blue Devils, who have lost three of their past five, look like a tired, worn team – but who wants to face Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram in the postseason?
5. Louisville (23-8, 12-6)
At least Louisville didn’t completely fold after the self-imposed postseason ban but its season comes to an end with an ugly loss at Virginia on Saturday.
6. Notre Dame (20-10, 11-7)
A dicey regular-season finish for the Fighting Irish, which has lost three of five entering the ACC tournament.
7. Virginia Tech (18-13, 10-8)
That’s five consecutive victories to close the regular season for Virginia Tech, which just might enter the NCAA tournament discussion with a couple of wins in Washington.
8. Clemson (17-13, 10-8)
The Tigers enter the ACC tournament having lost three of their past four, with the only victory against Boston College. Now Clemson needs to make a deep run to rekindle NCAA tournament talk.
9. Syracuse (19-10, 9-9)
What to make of the Orange, who lost a game it should have won on Saturday at Florida State. Syracuse lost four of its final five regular-season games.
10. Pittsburgh (20-10, 9-9)
After losses against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, a hearty welcome back to the NCAA tournament bubble, Panthers. You’ll find the surroundings familiar and comfortable.
11. Georgia Tech (18-13, 8-10)
If you’re a Georgia Tech fan, do you want coach Brian Gregory to come back? The Yellow Jackets have won five of their past six but it could be too little, too late for Gregory.
12. Florida State (18-12, 8-10)
Seminoles are just a strange bunch, following a five-game losing streak with a get-off-the-mat two-game winning streak against Notre Dame and Syracuse to end the regular season.
13. N.C. State (15-16, 5-13)
It wasn’t the finish the Wolfpack was hoping for, but it should be commended for helping to assure some history by finding a way to beat Boston College at the buzzer.
14. Wake Forest (11-19, 2-16)
How much better could the Demon Deacons have been if coach Danny Manning could actually play? He’s not even 50 yet (but will be in May).
15. Boston College (7-24, 0-18)
The Eagles set a new standard of consistency in the ACC, one that will be remembered for generations to come.
1. Once again – the schedule matters. A lot.
As I wrote in this space a couple of months ago, one of the biggest factors in the ACC regular season championship race is the unbalanced league schedule. It benefited Virginia last season and the Cavaliers took advantage by winning the regular season. Just as North Carolina did this season. A big help for UNC, this season: it played two games against Boston College. And N.C. State, one of the Tar Heels’ permanent partners, had its worst season in years. UNC did what it had to do to win the regular season championship. But it didn’t often have to play the ACC’s best. The Tar Heels played six games against the five teams directly beneath them in the ACC standings, and they were 2-4 in those games.
2. ACC tournament looks like it could be the most unpredictable in years.
Expect the unexpected in Washington, D.C. this week at the Verizon Center. UNC enters the top seed and the favorite, you’d think, but the Tar Heels haven’t exactly thrived against their strongest competition. Virginia has lost games against Virginia Tech and Florida State. Duke is thin and tiring. Notre Dame faded down the stretch. Miami? Who knows what to make of Miami. There’s a lot of good teams but no great ones – not yet, anyway – and things could get very weird, indeed. Which could be fun.
3. It’s fair to wonder whether UNC really has turned a corner.
The Tar Heels would like to think so after their 76-72 victory at Duke. After all, UNC found a way to win amid some circumstances that have doomed them this season and last. Nonetheless, the Tar Heels have some proving yet to do before they make believers out of everyone. One thing, though, UNC can say that other teams can’t entering the postseason: It always has a shot. UNC hasn’t suffered a double-digit defeat this season, and has been in every game – even the ones in which it has played poorly.