Jim Young ranks the ACC's basketball teams, from 1 to 15.
NO. 1 SYRACUSE (18-0 OVERALL, 5-0 ACC, NO. 6 RPI)
Last Week: 1
Once again, it wasn't a work of art. Once again, it didn't matter. The Orange trailed Pitt 52-49 late last Saturday, only to go on a 10-0 run to seal the win.
That's not really anything new; after all Syracuse is 7-0 this season in games decided by 10 points or less. The different twist was that Tyler Ennis turned into The Man down the stretch, driving for two critical layups and hitting two free throws. It was so impressive that perpetual curmudgeon Jim Boeheim gushed about his freshman point guard:
Boeheim on Ennis' clutch scoring: "He just has a knack for doing it beyond anyone I've ever seen."— Stephen Bailey (@Stephen_Bailey1) January 18, 2014
NO. 2 PITT (16-2, 4-1 ACC, NO. 17 RPI)
Last Week: 2
Not going to move the Panthers down for failing to win at Syracuse. For much of that game you could see why Jamie Dixon's teams have had an uncommon amount of success in the Carrier Dome: they're not intimidated, they're patient on offense and they're strong with the ball.
But you could also see why Durand Johnson, instant offense off the bench for the Panthers, was sorely missed. The quartet of freshmen - Jamel Artis, Chris Jones, Josh Newkirk and Michael Young - who needed to step to fill the void ... didn't. They combined for nine points on 2-of-8 shooting against Syracuse.
NO. 3 DUKE (14-4, 3-2 ACC, NO. 18 RPI)
Last Week: 3
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. We're one slightly bizarre rim bounce on a Rasheed Sulaimon 3-pointer away from folks spinning crises narratives about the Blue Devils.
That said, Duke was the better team for 37 of the 40 minutes against Virginia. And the Cavaliers? They're good. (More on them in a bit). And the turnoverpalooza the Blue Devils engineered in rolling over N.C. State bodes well for the future. This Duke team needs to cause havoc on the perimeter or its vulnerability inside becomes even more apparent.
NO. 4 VIRGINIA (14-5, 5-1 ACC, NO. 21 RPI)
Last Week: 4
Here's an observation I made late in UVa's 76-61 stroll past UNC last night:
This UVa team can actually put pressure on you with their offense. That's ... different.— Jim Young (@ACCSports) January 21, 2014
Yes, the use of the word "offense" there was intentionally. During their early struggles, defense was never the issue for the Cavaliers. (Well, it was against Tennessee, but I'm still not convinced that game really happened.)
Now, the early fits and starts were a by-product of Tony Bennett tinkering with his lineups, trying to figure out how to make use of his sudden glut of scoring possibilities. Oh, and also Joe Harris wasn't shooting well. That, too.
Apparently Bennett's figured something out, because UVa is third in scoring in conference games, averaging 71.8 points in six contests. Couple that with the usual suffocating defense (57.0 ppg in ACC play) and you have the league's best scoring margin (14.8) in conference play.
NO. 5 FLORIDA STATE (12-5, 3-2 ACC, NO. 23 RPI)
Last Week: 5
Well, at least FSU has Virginia out of the way. Two games against the Cavaliers in the Seminoles' first five conference contests. That's ... weird.
And as we just demonstrated through the power of numbers, there's no shame in losing to UVa right now. Meanwhile, that road win at Miami looks pretty impressive. As does that victory at Clemson, too.
That sound you hear is me rubbing my hands together eagerly in anticipation of FSU's trip to Durham this Saturday.
Okay, that was pretty straightforward. Now, now it's time ...
LET'S GET NUTS!!!!!
NO. 6 CLEMSON (13-4, 4-1 ACC, NO. 75 RPI)
Last Week: 10
This nuts enough for ya! Huh? Well? Is it?
Look, before you go out there on Twitter and crush me for putting a team that lost to Auburn at No. 6 in these rankings, just hear me out.
First, the Tigers have won five of six since then, with the lone loss to FSU. (Again, no shame quotient there.) Included in that win total is a victory over Duke.
Second, Clemson's D is that good. Ken Pomeroy stats don't lie.
Third, the Tigers appear to be getting just enough scoring to go along with All-ACC candidate K.J. McDaniels. Some games it's Rod Hall. Some it's Jordan Roper. Or Adonis Filer. Maybe even Jaron Blossomgame. The point is that the combo of McDaniels and Scoring Sidekick Du Jour with that defense is ... impressive.
Fourth, have you seen how the other teams in this part of the rankings are doing? Go ahead, check, I'll wait .... You see my point now, don't you?
Fifth, if you have an issue with this, you may not have to fret too long. Coming up for Clemson in its next five game - at Pitt tonight, at UNC, at FSU, home vs. Georgia Tech and at Syracuse. Yeesh.
NO. 7 UNC (11-7, 1-4 ACC, NO. 58 RPI)
Last Week: 6
The Tar Heels won at home over Boston College! They avoided their worst start in ACC history!
Aaaaaand then they went to Virginia.
What was so depressing about UNC's lopsided loss in Charlottesville? That nothing about it seemed ... surprising. Virginia seemed like clearly the better team, with many more offensive options than the Tar Heels.
Go back and read that last sentence carefully. These are strange times in the Sky Blue Kingdom.
NO. 8 N.C. STATE (12-7, 2-4 ACC, NO. 67 RPI)
Last Week: 7
SEEE!!!!?! THE PROBLEM ALL ALONG WAS T.J. WARREN!?!!?!?!?
I kid, I kid. Still it was eye-opening to see the Wolfpack offense put up 45 points in the second half last night against Maryland without having Warren - who's usually options 1-4 on offense - to carry any of the load.
Was that a one-game aberration? Or will it be a boost of confidence for Warren's supporting cast that will carry over into future games and make State more dangerous? Or is the team that got blitzed last Saturday at Cameron the real N.C. State?
Stay tuned for the next episode of "As The Wolf Howls!!!"
NO. 9 WAKE FOREST (12-6, 2-3 ACC, NO. 62 RPI)
Last Week: 8
Are the Demon Deacons any good? I'm still not sure.
I'm also not sure what, exactly, has happened to Travis McKie. Remember the guy who averaged 16.1 ppg two years ago? He's now down to just 9.2.
Now that may be partially be a good thing. I like McKie, but he's probably not cut out to be a go-to guy. So his lower numbers may be an indication that Wake's overall talent has risen around him.
Still, it's not as if the Deacs have an abundance of riches out there. They need more from McKie. If they can find a way to get it, then Wake becomes considerably more dangerous.
NO. 10 MIAMI (10-7, 2-3 ACC, NO. 78 RPI)
Last Week: 13
These rankings are a mixture of overall bodies of work and present levels of play. That's partially why Duke is still just a bit above UVa and why UNC isn't down at No. 11 or 12 right now.
With the Hurricanes though, I'm focusing less on their early struggles and more on how they've fared since going to a matchup zone defense after their loss to George Washington.
This new version of the Canes has gone 7-4 since the switch and has yet to give up more than 61 points in a game during that stretch. Jim Larrañaga (whom we'll just call Coach Tilde from here on out) and his team proved this wasn't just a gimmic when they followed up their stunner at UNC by going on the road and throttling Georgia Tech.
NO. 11 MARYLAND (11-8, 3-3 ACC, NO. 72 RPI)
Last Week: 11
This tweet from Washington Post Maryland beat writer Alex Prewitt captured last night's debacle perfectly:
You had one job, Terps. One job.— Alex Prewitt (@alex_prewitt) January 21, 2014
And that one job was to make sure Ralston Turner didn't go off. N.C. State was already playing without T.J. Warren. So the only plausible perimeter threat State had was Turner, who's a catch-and-shoot guy. Easy enough then, right? Assign a guy to chase Turner everywhere and make someone else beat you.
You could let Turner get shot after shot, 19 in fact, and score 23 points in leading the Wolfpack to an unlikely win.
The Terps still sit at 3-3 in the ACC, so all hope is not lost. But man, that was a road win just BEGGGING to be taken ... and Maryland blew it.
NO. 12 NOTRE DAME (11-7, 2-3 ACC, NO. 89 RPI)
Last Week: 9
Those feel-good vibes from the upset of Duke didn't last too long, did they?
The Irish followed up that win by losing three straight, only stopping the bleeding when everyone's favorite house guest - Virginia Tech - came to town.
Losing Jerian Grant really hurts, don't get me wrong. I mean, REALLY, hurts. But the Irish would be much better equipped to survive if they could, you know, guard somebody. Notre Dame's 161st nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency - 14th out of 15 ACC teams. That's ... that's not going to cut it.
NO. 13 GEORGIA TECH (10-8, 1-4 ACC, NO. 145 RPI)
Last Week: 12
Can we really attribute this all to the loss of Robert Carter, Jr.? Maybe so.
Of course, it didn't help that the talented sophomore big man, who was averaging 10.3 ppg and 9.3 rpg when he was lost to injury, went out just as ACC play started for the Yellow Jackets.
Still, while we might have expected the Jackets to have scoring issues without Carter, that doesn't fully explain why Georgia Tech - a team reputedly built around tough D and rebounding - is 14th in the league in field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin, does it?
What I'm basically trying to say is: this team shouldn't be good without Carter, but it shouldn't be this bad, either.
NO. 14 BOSTON COLLEGE (5-13, 1-4 ACC, 134 RPI)
Last Week: 14
The good: BC finally appears to have Lonnie Jackson on track. The swingman has averaged 16.3 points over his last three games, sinking 15-of-23 3-pointers during that stretch.
The bad: The Eagles still lost two of those three games, with the one win coming at lowly Virginia Tech.
The good: Georgia Tech's up next! And then Virginia Tech again!
I'm kind of running out of nice things to say about the Eagles. At least Lonnie Jackson (16.3 ppg, 15-of-23 3-pointers) has been hot lately!
NO. 15 VIRGINIA TECH (8-9, 1-4 ACC, NO. 178 RPI)
Last Week: 15
Thank goodness for that December win at Miami, huh?