ACC power rankings: It’s Duke, then everyone else

Zion Williamson breaks down win over N.C. State

Williamson scores 32 points as Duke rolls past N.C. State 94-78
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Williamson scores 32 points as Duke rolls past N.C. State 94-78

Duke and Virginia are the top two teams in the country in the KenPom rankings.

The computer should probably figure out a way to factor in some extra space between the No. 1 and No. 2 because after seeing each team in person over the past few weeks, they’re really not that close.

Virginia, which entered Monday’s game with Virginia Tech with 30 wins in its past 33 ACC games, is excellent. No disrespect to the Wahoos, it’s just this Duke team is off the charts.

After seeing Duke on Saturday, I’m ready to pack the Blue Devils’ bags for Minneapolis for them. Zion Williamson is that good. The rest of college basketball, relatively speaking, is not.

That doesn’t mean Duke will breeze to Mike Krzyzewski’s sixth national title, there might even be another loss along the way, but all of the championship pieces sure are in place.

And that starts with Williamson, who had 32 points against N.C. State in a 94-78 Duke win. In video game terms, Williamson is a “cheat code.” His size (6-7, 285 pounds) and natural athletic ability are an unfair combination. His jumper is not great but he compensates for that one shortcoming in other ways.

We love comparisons (and yet often get them wrong) but I’ll say for this Williamson: he’s like LeBron James in the sense that he is super-talented while still playing with a high motor and high intelligence. It’s the rare package, like James, when you can put those three gifts together.

As crazy-good as Williamson is, Tre Jones is the “X” factor. Krzyzewski was an early adopter of “positionless” basketball, which now rules the NBA by the way, but there’s a straight line between all of Duke’s title teams and great point-guard play.

Jones, whose older brother Tyus drove the bus for Duke’s 2015 title team, is a true point guard. He does not have his brother’s knack for the late-game dagger (not yet, at least), but his defensive intensity is the fuel for this team.

As I’ve written previously, defense makes this Duke team different and that starts with Jones’ on-the-ball pressure. Junior big man Marques Bolden, who previously had two uneventful seasons at Duke, has developed into a very capable rim protector.

A star, a true point and a functional big: you can win a lot of basketball games with three main roster parts like that. It’s just gravy that Duke also has two scoring wings like R.J. Barrett (22.7 points per game) and Cam Reddish (13.8 ppg).

That doesn’t mean Duke is unbeatable. Syracuse (of all teams) caught them without Reddish for the whole game, and Jones for all but 6 minutes, and still needed 11 3-pointers and overtime to pull off a miracle.

Gonzaga got them at full strength on a neutral court in November, which oddly, might work against the Zags if the two teams meet in the Final Four.

And, honestly, Duke’s main threat in the tournament might actually be Kentucky, the team they beat by 34 points to open the season.

The tournament can be fickle (just ask Virginia), but if Duke stays healthy, there are not many plausible scenarios that don’t have Duke as the last team standing on April 8.

On with “The Only* ACC Power Rankings That Matter:”

1. Duke

Record: 23-2 (11-1 ACC)

This week: UNC (Wednesday), at Syracuse (Saturday)

The Devils get their real rival and their ESPN rival this week.

2. Virginia

Record: 22-2 (10-2 ACC)

This week: at Virginia Tech (Monday), at Louisville (Saturday)

Can’t wait for the personification of the “Pointing Spiderman” meme on Saturday against the Cardinals.

3. UNC

Record: 20-5 (10-2 ACC)

This week: at Duke (Wednesday), Florida State (Saturday)

Could make the argument the visit from FSU on Saturday is actually the bigger game this week for the Tar Heels but I know you won’t believe that (even if it’s true).

4. Florida State

Record: 20-5 (8-4 ACC)

This week: at Clemson (Tuesday), at UNC (Saturday)

The Noles have won seven straight ACC games since a 1-4 start.

5. Louisville

Record: 18-8 (9-4 ACC)

This week: at Syracuse (Wednesday), Virginia (Saturday)

The Cards have lost seven straight to UVa, not that they can look past Wednesday’s trip to Syracuse.

6. Virginia Tech

Record: 20-5 (9-4 ACC)

This week: Virginia (Monday), at Notre Dame (Saturday)

The Hokies have been a mixed bag (3-2 before the Virginia game) without injured point guard Justin Robinson.

7. Syracuse

Record: 17-8 (8-4 ACC)

This week: Louisville (Wednesday), Duke (Saturday)

KenPom has one projected win left on Syracuse’s ACC schedule (at Wake Forest on March 2). What do computers know anyway?

8. N.C. State

Record: 18-8 (6-7 ACC)

This week: Boston College (Wednesday), Wake Forest (Sunday)

A “taking care of business” kind of week for the Wolfpack with visits from two of their traditional all-sport nemeses.

9. Clemson

Record: 15-10 (5-7 ACC)

This week: Florida State (Tuesday), Boston College (Saturday)

Brutal two losses, by a total of two points, last week for the Tigers and their NCAA tournament hopes.

10. Boston College

Record: 13-11 (4-8 ACC)

This week: at N.C. State (Wednesday), at Clemson (Saturday)

Banged-up and battered but BC usually has N.C. State’s number when it seems most dire for the Eagles.

11. Notre Dame

Record: 13-12 (3-9 ACC)

This week: Wake Forest (Tuesday), Virginia Tech (Saturday)

The Fighting Irish pushed Virginia to the limit on Saturday. The sledding should be much easier against Wake on Tuesday.

12. Pittsburgh

Record: 12-14 (2-11 ACC)

This week: at Georgia Tech (Wednesday)

Jeff Capel’s crew remains feisty, despite nine straight losses.

13. Georgia Tech

Record: 11-15 (3-10 ACC)

This week: Pitt (Wednesday), at Miami (Saturday)

A pair of winnable home games for the Jackets this week. Let’s see what they do.

14. Miami

Record: 11-14 (3-10 ACC)

This week: Georgia Tech (Wednesday)

Mercifully, a scheduling break for the Canes.

15. Wake Forest

Record: 9-15 (2-10 ACC)

This week: at Notre Dame (Tuesday), at N.C. State (Sunday)

The Deacs’ record on Tuesdays (2-2 in ACC games), bodes well for a bounce-back from that UNC disaster.

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