With Virginia’s blowout win over Syracuse, the top-tier teams in the ACC shifted around in these rankings. They also made a statement in the AP Poll, as the ACC now occupies three of the top seven spots (no other conference has more than one), and four of the top 14 (no other conference has more than two). If all four teams can reach the semifinals in Greensboro next week, it will make for the best semifinal Saturday in years. In the meantime, while there have been top, middle, and bottom tiers to the ACC all season, they are more pronounced now than they have ever been. It’s appropriate that the conference has divided itself into a top four, a middle five, and a bottom six, because with the new double bye format, the conference is divided that way for the tournament by the bracket. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, because there is still a week of regular season play remaining. You could make a case any of the top four should be first in these rankings, as you could that any of the middle five should be fifth and that most of the bottom six should be tenth.
The Top Four
1. Virginia (25-5 overall, 16-1 ACC, Last Week: 3rd)
Virginia finally gets the number one spot this week after a 65-40 win over Virginia and a 75-56 win over Syracuse. Virginia has deserved the top spot for several weeks, but has been stuck in 3rd behind Syracuse and Duke, two other well-deserving teams. Virginia also skyrocketed in the AP Poll, jumping from 14th to 5th after the big win over the Orange. This week, the ACC regular season champions only have one more game to prepare for the postseason, when they travel to Maryland on Sunday for the emotional close to a long-standing cross-state rivalry, as Maryland departs for the Big Ten.
2. Duke (23-6, 12-4, 1st)
It’s tough to drop Duke out of 1st in these rankings, as they took care of business in their only game of the week, winning at home over Virginia Tech, 66-48, but this wasn’t Duke dropping as much as it was Virginia rising. Duke did move up two spots in the AP Poll, from 6th to 4th. The irony there is that the 4th ranked team in the country currently sits 4th in the ACC standings (actually, tied for 3rd, but North Carolina beat Duke head-to-head), which shows just how good these top four are. This week, Duke travels to Wake Forest on Wednesday before renewing the matchup of Tobacco Road blue bloods when they host #14 North Carolina on Saturday.
3. Syracuse (26-3, 13-3, 2nd)
Syracuse began last week with a 57-55 road win at Maryland, before traveling to Virginia for the biggest game in the short history of John Paul Jones Arena. After the game was tied at 40, Virginia tore the Orange to shreds, and Syracuse had lost their 3rd game out of 4, by a 75-56 score. Their first two losses had been close, with one in overtime, but this one became a rout during the second half, embarrassing Syracuse for the first time all year. There is now doubt amongst national writers whether or not Syracuse is still deserving of a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They can help their case with a pair of games this week, hosting Georgia Tech for senior night on Tuesday before traveling to Florida State on Sunday.
4. North Carolina (22-7, 12-4, 4th)
The Tar Heels survived a trip to rival NC State, winning 85-84 in overtime, before beating Virginia Tech, 60-56, to extend their winning streak to 11 games. For a team that started the year 1-4 in conference play, after losses to Belmont and UAB in non-conference play, the turn of events leading to the streak can certainly be described as surprising. The Heels were playing so poorly at the start of the year, I found it hard to imagine them going .500 or better in conference play; now if they win out and get some help, they could finish 2nd in the ACC. Their final two games are tonight, at home against Notre Dame, and Saturday at #4 Duke.
The Middle Five
5. Pittsburgh (22-7, 10-6, 6th)
Pittsburgh was as high as 2nd in these rankings, from January 6 to January 27, but have struggled since. This week, after a 66-59 win at Boston College, and an 85-81 overtime win at Notre Dame, the Panthers move up in these rankings for the first time since falling out of the 2nd spot. Some say the Panthers have “played their way on to the bubble” with some tough losses, but I think that’s a little extreme to say, at least for now, as they are relatively secure as a projected 8 or 9 seed. The Panthers close the regular season with a couple of other “middle five” teams, hosting NC State tonight, before traveling to Clemson on Saturday.
6. Florida State (17-11, 8-8, 8th)
Every year, the ACC seems to have a bubble team that ends up one of the last two or three in the tournament or one of the first two or three out. This year, all indications are that that team is Florida State. The Seminoles lost to North Carolina, 81-75, before beating Georgia Tech, 81-71, over the last week. As of today, ESPN’s bracketology has the Noles projected as the fourth team out of the tournament. This week, they play a must win at Boston College on Tuesday before hosting #7 Syracuse Sunday in an opportunity for a big résumé win.
7. Clemson (18-10, 9-7, 5th)
It was a tale of two games for Clemson this week. First, they traveled to Wake Forest where they lost to a slumping Deacons team who doesn’t have much left to play for, 62-57. Then, in a double overtime classic, they defeated Maryland, 77-73. Clemson has hovered around the NCAA bubble for much of the season, but the Wake Forest loss really hurt their chances for an at-large bid. All the Tigers can do now is win as much as they can, and that starts this week with two home games, against Miami on Tuesday and Pittsburgh on Saturday.
8. Maryland (15-14, 7-9, 7th)
Maryland drops a spot in these rankings after a pair of tough losses in a pair of games they must feel like they should have won. The Terrapins lost at home to Syracuse, 57-55, before losing in double overtime on the road at Clemson, 77-73. Maryland has NCAA talent, but after playing a difficult non-conference schedule, they are only a game over the .500 mark needed to participate in any postseason tournament (other than the conference tournament, of course). This week, Virginia Tech comes to College Park in a must-win for the Terps, before Maryland hosts Virginia in their final ACC regular season game.
9. NC State (17-12, 7-9, 9th)
NC State stays 9th, at the bottom of the “middle five”, after a pair of tough losses over the last week. They outplayed a ranked North Carolina team at home before losing in overtime, 85-84, on Marcus Paige’s lay-in in the final seconds. Then the Wolfpack led Miami by a point with five minutes left before falling apart and falling to an 85-70 defeat. The pair of losses mean that NC State has lost four out of five, and dropped them into the “has to win the ACC Tournament to qualify for the NCAA Tournament” category, which is unfortunate for a State team that has played well for a majority of the season. They close the regular season with games tonight at Pittsburgh and Saturday in Raleigh against Boston College.
The Bottom Six
10. Miami (15-14, 6-10, 10th)
Like many other teams over the last week, the Hurricanes played two radically different games. First, they lost to Virginia by a 65-40 score in Charlottesville. However, they turned around and continued the road trip with an 85-70 win at NC State. This is one of the youngest teams in the ACC (younger than even Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech), so for them to be over .500 overall and (technically) in the second third of the ACC (10th out of 15), obviously Jim Larranaga has done an excellent job coaching this team, and they should be very competitive over the next couple of years. The Canes play at Clemson Tuesday night before hosting Wake Forest Saturday to finish their ACC title defense regular season.
11. Boston College (8-21, 4-12, 11th)
For the first time all season, Boston College has won a conference game in consecutive weeks. One week after their upset of then-#1 Syracuse, and despite their 66-59 loss to Pittsburgh, the Eagles picked up a road win at Wake Forest, winning 80-72. This team has played much better than their record would indicate on the year, losing a lot of close games, and stay 11th here, mainly as part of the honeymoon of their Syracuse win. If the Eagles lose out, their 8-24 record would equal the worst in the ACC over the last 25 years, although the 2010-11 Wake Forest team currently holding that mark only won one ACC game, and these Eagles have won four, while playing a tougher non-conference schedule than that Deacons team did. They can avoid that fate with a win against either Florida State on Tuesday or NC State on Sunday.
12. Notre Dame (15-14, 6-10, 12th)
Notre Dame went 1-1 for the last week, with a 65-62 win over Georgia Tech preceding a tough, 85-81, overtime loss to Pittsburgh. The highlight of the Irish’s season was their win over Duke in their first ever ACC game, as its been downhill ever since; at the time they moved up to 4th in these rankings, and have been in free fall ever since. In fact, their only wins since, with one exception, have been against other teams in this “bottom six” group. This week the Irish play just one game, tonight at North Carolina, before getting some extra time to prepare for the ACC Tournament. Out of the teams likely to play on Wednesday (being forced to win five games in five days to win the tournament), the Irish are the best dark horse to make some noise.
13. Wake Forest (15-14, 5-11, 14th)
After starting 4-3 in the ACC, Wake came into the week riding a seven-game losing streak, including home losses to Georgia Tech and Boston College. Then Clemson came to town, and the Deacons pulled the mild upset, 62-57. However, they returned to their old ways and lost to Boston College on Saturday, 80-72, to fall to 5-11 in conference play and just one game over .500 after a start of 10-2, then 14-6, overall. While the Clemson win shouldn’t be enough for coach Jeff Bzdelik to save his job, particularly with the loss to Boston College, but he will have a chance to do himself a favor when Duke visits the Joel Coliseum on Wednesday night. Following their final home game, the Deacs travel to Miami on Saturday, before playing next Wednesday in Greensboro.
14. Georgia Tech (13-16, 4-12, 13th)
A couple of weeks ago, the Jackets were beginning to show promise. Since, they’ve lost four straight for the first time all season, including a 65-62 loss to Notre Dame and an 81-71 loss to Florida State over the last week, both on the road. With the losing streak, the Jackets fall to 4-10 in the ACC, and fall under .500 overall for the first time all year. Therefore, for any shot at a postseason bid beyond the ACC Tournament, which requires a record at .500 or better, they need to start winning. That might be tough as they travel to #7 Syracuse tomorrow night, although it will get easier when they host last place Virginia Tech on Saturday.
15. Virginia Tech (9-19, 2-14, 15th)
Virginia Tech clinched the 15th and final seed in the ACC Tournament with a 66-48 loss at Duke and a 60-56 home loss to North Carolina. The Hokies played hard on their senior night, and gave the Tar Heels a tough contest, but in the end it is their fourth straight loss, and their 16th straight ACC loss to a team not named Miami, dating back to last year. With their seed clinched, the Hokies have nothing more than pride to play for, as they will face Maryland on Tuesday and Georgia Tech on Saturday, both on the road, to close out the regular season, and prepare for a Wednesday matchup against the league’s 10th seed.
Game of the Week: #14 North Carolina at #4 Duke
North Carolina won the last meeting in this tense rivalry, 74-66, just two weeks ago after it was moved due to winter weather. That win increased the Tar Heels’ lead in the all-time series to 133-104, as the teams prepare for the 238th meeting. Both teams are playing extremely well, with the Heels having won 11 consecutive games (12 if they defeat Notre Dame tonight), and Duke having won six out of seven since the loss to Syracuse, with the only loss coming in Chapel Hill (it will likely be seven out of eight on Wednesday when Duke plays Wake Forest). Duke has a 32-game home winning streak, which will certainly be in jeopardy in this game, but I think the home court for the Devils and the crowd in their favor will be enough to put them over the top in this game. After the North Carolina court storming in Chapel Hill which was, according to some, uncalled for, I wonder if the Duke students will do the same as a form of retribution against their rivals.
Duke 76, North Carolina 72.
(Image credit to Wikimedia)