ACC Power Rankings, Week of 3/10

It was a wild week in the ACC, with three of the top four teams being upset by middle- or bottom-tier opponents.  Other games among those middle- and bottom-tier teams went right down to the wire, with potential postseason bids and coaches’ futures in the balance.  And, of course, there was North Carolina and Duke.  And all this was in just the first week of March… the best is yet to come, with the ACC Tournament this week and the NCAA Tournament starting next Tuesday.

Last week, I divided the conference into a top four, middle five, and bottom six, as the teams had basically divided themselves into these groups.  The new ACC Tournament double-bye format also divides the teams into these same groups.  While these rankings are not reflective of each team’s seeding in the ACC Tournament, I will their seeding, as well as potential tourney matchups, in each team’s weekly summary.

The Top Four (Receive a double bye in the tournament)

1.  Virginia (25-6 overall, 16-2 ACC, Last Week: 1st)
The Cavaliers lost their only game of the week, 75-69 in overtime at Maryland, in the last meeting of old rivals.  But with the Cavaliers still riding the high of their first outright regular season ACC title since the Ralph Sampson era in 1981, and with them dropping just a spot from 5th to 6th in the AP Poll, they remain first in these rankings.  Virginia’s only ACC Tournament title was in 1976, although they have a good shot to this year as the tournament’s top seed.  ACC Coach of the Year Tony Bennett will lead his troops into battle Friday against the winner of Thursday’s Florida State-Maryland game.  A rematch with Maryland would certainly be interesting.

2.  Duke (24-7, 13-5, 2nd)
Wake Forest shocked the Blue Devils back on Wednesday, beating them 82-72, before Duke defeated arch rival North Carolina over the weekend, 93-81, before a crowd at Cameron Indoor Stadium even louder than usual.  The loss to Wake would be enough to drop Duke in these rankings, and was enough to drop them from 4th to 7th in the AP Poll, but with the win over the Tar Heels and Syracuse’s equally bad loss to Georgia Tech, the Devils were able to retain position.  As the 3 seed, Duke has to wait until the 11th game of the ACC Tournament to make their first appearance, when they will likely play Clemson but could also play Georgia Tech or Boston College in the event of an early-round upset.  Remember, Clemson beat Duke back on January 11, although Duke won both meetings with Georgia Tech and their lone meeting with Boston College. People are already buzzing about the possibility of a Duke-Syracuse semifinal, but the teams have to take care of business on Friday first.

3.  North Carolina (23-8, 13-5, 4th)
The Tar Heels survived an upset bid from Notre Dame, winning 63-61 on senior night to extend their winning streak to 12 games, before the streak ended in Durham with a 93-81 loss to Duke.  Carolina drops from 14th to 15th in the AP Poll, but moves up a spot here due to the win over the Irish and Syracuse’s well-documented struggles.  Like Duke, North Carolina has three possibilities to prepare for for their first tournament contest as the 4 seed, as Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame each could win their way to a quarterfinal matchup with the Heels, who were a combined 3-1 on the year against those teams, with the loss coming in their ACC opener against Wake Forest on January 5.

4.  Syracuse (27-4, 13-4, 3rd)
The Orange’s recent struggles continued this week, with a 67-62 home loss to Georgia Tech, before righting the ship, at least for now, with a 74-58 road win against Florida State.  The loss to the Yellow Jackets was certainly unexpected, and at the time was their fourth loss in five games.  Off the loss, the Orange dropped out of the top 10 for the first time all season, falling to 11th.  Syracuse earned the 2 seed in the ACC Tournament, which means they will not play until the evening session on Friday.  The most likely scenario has the Orange playing a rematch against NC State, who they beat 56-55 in a thriller back on February 15, although Miami and Virginia Tech could play their way into the quarterfinals.  The Orange were a combined 3-0 against the Hurricanes and Hokies this season.

The Middle Five (Receive a single bye in the tournament)

5.  Maryland (17-14, 9-9, 8th)
After coming into the week having lost four out of five, the Terrapins finished off their final ACC regular season with a 64-47 win over Virginia Tech and a 75-69 overtime upset of regular season champion Virginia.  Both wins were at home, capping off the Comcast Center’s reputation as a tough venue for visiting ACC teams (although it will still be a tough venue for Big Ten teams).  With the pair of wins, and particularly the upset of Virginia, the Terps move from 8th to 5th in these rankings.  Maryland’s tournament road, as the 8 seed, begins Thursday with Florida State, and if they defeat the Seminoles they will get another crack at Virginia in the quarterfinals.  Maryland and Florida State split two previous matchups, with the home team winning each game.

6.  Florida State (18-12, 9-9, 6th)
Florida State remains steady at 6th in these rankings after a 74-70 win at Boston College and a 74-58 home loss to Syracuse.  The Syracuse game was an opportunity for a résumé win the Seminoles could use right now, as they are right on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.  Florida State will be the 9 seed in the ACC Tournament, and if they can defeat Maryland in their first tournament game on Thursday, they would get another opportunity for a big win, as they would play Virginia in the quarterfinals.  In two previous meetings with the Cavaliers, the Seminoles lost by 12 both times.  If they can find a way to beat Virginia, they would be a lot more comfortable heading into Selection Sunday.

7.  NC State (19-12, 9-9, 9th)
ACC Player of the Year TJ Warren led the Wolfpack, almost singlehandedly, to a pair of wins over the last week, beating Pittsburgh on the road, 74-67, and Boston College at home, 78-68.  Warren scored a career high of 41 against the Panthers, then outdid himself and scored 42 against the Eagles, to finish the season averaging 24.8 points per game, which leads the ACC by over five points.  NC State has played well in the postseason under third year coach Mark Gottfried, and they hope to continue that trend when they begin their ACC Tournament as the 7 seed against the winner of Miami and Virginia Tech.  State beat the Hokies in their only meeting, while the road team won both contests between the Wolfpack and Hurricanes.  Should the Wolfpack survive and advance, they would play Syracuse in a rematch of a game they felt they should have won back on February 15.

8.  Pittsburgh (23-8, 11-7, 5th)
Pittsburgh drops three spots in these rankings, showing just how close these middle five teams are.  They drop below NC State because they lost to the Wolfpack, 74-67, but they stay ahead of Clemson after beating the Tigers in overtime, 83-78.  Pitt will be in the NCAA Tournament, although they are currently projected in the 8-9 seeding range instead of being a top 4-5 seed, as had been projected earlier in the season when they were playing so well.  The Panthers are a 5 seed in the ACC Tournament, and will play the winner of Wake Forest and Notre Dame in their first game on Thursday.  The Panthers won their only meeting against both teams in the regular season, although they went to overtime against the Irish.  Should Pitt win their first game, they would advance to play North Carolina in the quarterfinals, who they lost to on February 15.

9.  Clemson (19-11, 10-8, 7th)
Like Pittsburgh, it’s tough to drop Clemson.  They did beat Miami, 58-54, but then lost to Pittsburgh, 83-78, in overtime, and therefore fall behind the Panthers in these rankings.  What Clemson needs to make the NCAA Tournament is one or two résumé wins.  As the ACC Tournament’s 6 seed, their first game will be against either Georgia Tech or Boston College.  But if they win that matchup, they will get a chance to beat Duke for the second time, and should they upset the Blue Devils, they might would have the chance to play Syracuse.  Then again, the easiest way to get to the NCAA Tournament is to win the ACC Tournament, something Clemson has never done.

The Bottom Six (Will play in the first round of the tournament)

10.  Georgia Tech (15-16, 6-12, 14th)
After a few weeks of playing well but not getting the results they wanted, Georgia Tech got a pair of wins this week, upsetting Syracuse, 67-62, before beating Virginia Tech, 62-51.  The two wins came after losing four in a row, and six out of seven, although the Yellow Jackets were playing better than that would indicate.  They enter the ACC Tournament as an 11 seed, and will play Boston College in the opening round, a team they beat twice in the regular season.  If they can beat the Eagles a third time, they would play Clemson, who they lost to in a pair of close regular season games.

11.  Miami (16-15, 7-11, 10th)
Miami falls a spot, only dropping behind Georgia Tech due to the Yellow Jackets win over Syracuse, after losing to Clemson, 58-54, and beating Wake Forest, 69-56.  The win over the Deacons earned Miami the 10 seed in the ACC Tournament, as they try to defend last year’s title, although that title came as the 1 seed.  They will begin their title defense against Virginia Tech on Wednesday, which is a bit problematic as Virginia Tech has already beaten Miami twice in the regular season.  Should Miami win on Wednesday, they would play NC State on Thursday, after splitting their regular season series with the Pack.

12.  Wake Forest (16-15, 6-12, 13th)
The Demon Deacons continued their up-and-down year with an 82-72 upset win over Duke, followed by a 69-52 road loss to Miami to drop to 2-32 in road conference games under coach Jeff Bzdelik.  Whether or not Bzdelik will return next year is certainly in doubt, even with the win over Duke fresh on everyone’s mind, but first the Deacons will begin the ACC Tournament on Wednesday against Notre Dame.  Wake defeated Notre Dame at home, 65-58, back on January 25, in the only meeting of the two teams this season.  Should Wake advance, they would play Pittsburgh in the second round after suffering an 80-65 road loss to the Panthers back on January 11.

13.  Notre Dame (15-16, 6-12, 12th)
In their only game of the week, Notre Dame lost a tight game against North Carolina, 63-61, after the game-tying shot attempt by Eric Atkins was blocked by the Heels’ Marcus Paige.  Playing such a close game against a top 15 opponent on the road wouldn’t have dropped the Irish in these rankings if it weren’t for a pair of upsets by Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, which led them to jump the Irish.  Notre Dame will be the 13 seed in their first ACC Tournament, and will take on Wake Forest in the first round.  As mentioned, Wake won the only meeting of the two teams back in January.  Should Notre Dame win over Wake, they would play Pittsburgh, after an overtime loss to the Panthers in their penultimate regular season game.

14.  Boston College (8-23, 4-14, 11th)
The Eagles fall three spots in these rankings after a pair of losses in the past week.  First they lost a close home game to bubble team Florida State, 74-70, then they lost on the road at NC State, 78-68.  Since their stunner over Syracuse, the Eagles have lost four out of five, including a pair of double-digit defeats, although they did win in a relatively hostile environment at Wake Forest.  The Eagles ACC Tournament will start as the 14 seed against Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.  The Eagles have already lost twice to the Yellow Jackets, although the second meeting came down to the closing seconds.  Should the Eagles, win, they would face Clemson, who beat them, 62-60, in their ACC opener in January.

15.  Virginia Tech (9-21, 2-16, 15th)
The Hokies extended their losing streak to six with a 64-47 loss to Maryland and a 62-51 loss to Georgia Tech.  Prior to their current six-game losing streak, they had been on a ten-game losing streak earlier in the season.  So, it’s safe to say, the Hokies are ready to get this season over with.  The good news is, although they are the 15 seed in the ACC Tournament, they will be playing a Miami team in the first round that they have already beaten twice this year.  In fact, Miami is the only ACC team the Hokies have beaten.  Should they defeat the Hurricanes a third time, they would move on to play NC State in the second round, after losing to the Pack by 7 in their previous meeting.

I don’t have a ballot for the ACC postseason awards, but if I did, here’s how I would vote:

Player of the Year: TJ Warren (NC State)

All-ACC First Team: TJ Warren (NC State), Jabari Parker (Duke), CJ Fair (Syracuse), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), KJ McDaniels (Clemson)

All-ACC Second Team: Marcus Paige (North Carolina), Rodney Hood (Duke), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Joe Harris (Virginia), Lamar Patterson (Pittsburgh)

Coach of the Year: Tony Bennett (Virginia)

Defensive Player of the Year: KJ McDaniels (Clemson)

Freshman of the Year: Jabari Parker (Duke)

All-ACC Freshman Team: Jabari Parker (Duke), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Landon Perrantes (Virginia), Devin Wilson (Virginia Tech), Michael Young (Pittsburgh)

ACC Tournament Schedule (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC):
First Round (Wednesday)
Game 1: #12 Wake Forest vs. #13 Notre Dame, 1 p.m.
Game 2: #10 Miami vs. #15 Virginia Tech, appr. 3:30 p.m.
Game 3: #11 Georgia Tech vs. #14 Boston College, 7:00 p.m.

Second Round (Thursday)
Game 4: #8 Maryland vs. #9 Florida State, 12:00 p.m.
Game 5: #5 Pittsburgh vs. Game 1 Winner, appr. 2:30 p.m.
Game 6: #7 NC State vs. Game 2 Winner, 7:00 p.m.
Game 7: #6 Clemson vs. Game 3 Winner, appr. 9:30 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Friday)
Game 8: #1 Virginia vs. Game 4 Winner, 12:00 p.m.
Game 9: #4 North Carolina vs. Game 5 Winner, appr. 2:30 p.m.
Game 10: #2 Syracuse vs. Game 6 Winner, 7:00 p.m.
Game 11: #3 Duke vs. Game 7 Winner, appr. 9:30 p.m.

Semifinals (Saturday)
Game 12: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner, 1:00 p.m.
Game 13: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner, appr. 3:30 p.m.

Championship (Sunday)
Game 14: Game 12 Winner vs. Game 13 Winner, 1:00 p.m.

Tournament Picks
First Round Winners:
Notre Dame, Miami, Georgia Tech
Second Round Winners: Maryland, Pittsburgh, NC State, Clemson
Quarterfinal Winners: Virginia, North Carolina, NC State, Duke
Semifinal Winners: Virginia, Duke
ACC Tournament Winner: Virginia

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