ACC Power Rankings: Wolfpack prevails
Unpredictability was the theme of last week for ACC basketball along with a changing of the guard.
Virginia Tech wasn’t supposed to win again this season, many of its panicking fans feared, but grabbed a big road win over the weekend. Wake Forest won twice, North Carolina showed it still has life in leaving Tallahassee, Fla., with a hard-fought victory, Miami keeps rolling and N.C. State flexed its muscles in taking out Duke, knocking the Blue Devils from their top-ranked perch above college basketball.
Here are this week’s power rankings:
Duke has still compiled more pretty points this season, but over the last month the Wolfpack have climbed closer and closer. With Duke not fielding its full complement of players and NC State healthy and playing better, the Wolfpack climbed right to the top on Saturday. Even if Ryan Kelly had played, N.C. State might have won Saturday. Mark Gottfried’s team is playing that well and has been trending this way for a while.
Not having Ryan Kelly plays into this. As it is, N.C. State is the better team. N.C. State has been the better team overall since Christmas and nailed home that reality over the weekend. Duke is more than capable of reclaiming this spot in another week, but it has to figure out what must change in its approach, as Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson are not remotely close to serving as Kelly did.
The Hurricanes have fully adjusted to not having Reggie Johnson and they are once again one of the top teams in the ACC. Julian Gamble had a great week and gives them more of a lengthy presence defensively, and Kenny Kadji is playing some of the best hoops of his career. Sunday’s win over Maryland wasn’t pretty, but it was impressive.
The Terrapins couldn’t buy a basket in stretches at Miami on Sunday night but still hung tough. Dez Wells was excellent and worked his tail off, which has a trickle-down effect on the team. A lousy non-conference schedule has hurt two teams in the ACC in preparing for league play: Georgia Tech and Maryland.
For the second time this season – the first being in a win over UNLV – UNC saw what playing with focus and unbridled intensity can do. It led the Tar Heels to the winner’s circle at Florida State over the weekend after falling down the stretch at home to Miami two days earlier. UNC needs to play small.
Winning at Maryland carries value for a while, but the Seminoles should have also beaten a reeling UNC team at home to start 3-0 in league play. Florida State is usually the more physical team, but the 'Noles were seriously out-battled by the Tar Heels. That was a missed opportunity.
This is where there’s a significant division in the ACC. Someone has to fill this slot, yet none of the remaining six teams belongs here this week. So, because it does have some decent wins and should be better moving forward, Virginia gets the nod.
The turning point in Clemson’s season could have been its second-half performance in the loss at Duke on Tuesday. The Tigers had a measly 10 points at halftime but didn’t quit. They fought hard and used that decent vibe to hammer Virginia over the weekend. They aren’t headed to the NCAA Tournament, but they at least may avoid disaster.
Climbing from the bottom spot this week are the Demon Deacons, who won two league games last week and have won three of four overall, which also includes a win over Xavier and a fairly competitive loss at Duke. Narrow victories over Virginia and Boston College at home likely would have been losses in Jeff Bzdelik’s first two seasons. So, finally, there’s a sign of progress at Wake Forest.
It would be completely justifiable to drop the Yellow Jackets to the bottom spot after losing at home to Virginia Tech, but a decent performance at NC State for 32 minutes and the reality that the Jackets could go on a run helped them settle into this spot.
The Eagles have clearly improved, but shouldn’t that growth show itself with a victory, not a loss, to a program such as Wake Forest, even on the road? They dropped one at Wake Forest after winning at Virginia Tech. Boston College is better than a year ago, but not much better.
The Hokies finally broke through and picked up a surprising overtime win at Georgia Tech over the weekend. But prior to that, they had dropped four straight games by a combined 104 points. That’s just awful and too much to keep them from climbing out of the cellar.