The ACC has five teams in the Top 25. The top of the league is very good. But after that? Maybe not so much. With a huge game next week between Duke and North Carolina (isn’t every meeting between those two teams a big deal?), there’s still a lot to be sorted out in one of the strongest conferences in the nation.
The Virginia Cavaliers have continued to build on their success of last season. Currently they sit at the top of the ACC (which has added Syracuse and #9 Louisville). The Cavaliers’ defense is what stands out on paper; holding teams to an average of 50.2 points per game, the lowest in the nation. Their offense doesn’t match up in stats but the experience and scoring ability of guards Justin Anderson (13.8 ppg) and Malcolm Brogdon (13.5 ppg) should off-set some of their offensive woes. Power Forward Anthony Gill gives the Cavaliers help in the front-court as a “do everything” player. Look for Virginia to continue its great run and compete for a 1 or 2 seed come tournament time.
- Key Wins: Maryland, Notre Dame, NC State, Miami
- Key Losses: Duke
- Player to Watch: Anthony Gill, 10.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, .556 FG
- Schedule: Wake Forest (Feb. 14), Pitt (Feb. 16)
#10 Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish sit at #2 in the ACC so far this season primarily because they have stayed consistent, taken down some very good teams, and held a great road record. The Irish can thank their offensive play this year for their success. Notre Dame ranks ninth in the country for points per game, yet its defense ranks in the bottom third at 124th. Senior Jerian Grant has stood out for the Irish in his final season at Notre Dame by leading the team in points and assists. Zach Auguste helps down low leading the team in rebounds while also bringing upper-class leadership. Notre Dame is likely looking at a 3 or 4 seed at the moment.
- Key Wins: Michigan St., North Carolina, Duke, NC State
- Key Losses: Pitt, Virginia, Providence
- Player to Watch: Jerian Grant, 17.3 PPG, 6.3 APG, .513 FG
- Schedule: Wake Forest (Feb. 17)
You cannot mention the Duke Blue Devils without giving credit to Coach K recording his 1000th career win and also acknowledging the dismissal of Rasheed Sulaimon.
To go along with his accomplishment, Coach K also has a great team heading in a great direction this year. Duke seems to be trending in the right direction at just the right time. The Blue Devils rank in the top 11 in both points per game and field goal percentage. Also they have a great road record, winning at Virginia, at Louisville and at Wisconsin. This should fare extremely well for the Blue Devils come selection time. Jahlil Okafor (18.3ppg) and Quinn Cook (14.4 ppg) lead the Blue Devils in scoring and Okafor also handles the glass with junior Amile Jefferson.
The story this year for the Blue Devils is the play of their freshmen. Jahlil Okafor is considered a lock to go to the NBA next year and, with fellow freshmen Tyus Jones improving every game, the Blue Devils could make a run through the tournament on the backs of two freshmen. Look for the Blue Devils to compete for seeds 1 through 3.
- Key Wins: Michigan State, Wisconsin, Louisville, Virginia
- Key Losses: Miami, NC State, Notre Dame
- Player to Watch: Jahlil Okafor, 18.3 PPG, 9.4 RPG, .664 FG
- Schedule: at Syracuse (Feb. 14), North Carolina (Feb. 18)
The Louisville Cardinals and coach Rick Pitino continue to produce athletic and defensively aggressive teams. The Cardinals are fast, big and very athletic … while also being fast, big and very athletic. Louisville currently sits in fourth the ACC with momentum to move up. Ranking 12th in the country in rebounds per game, 8th in steals per game, and 25th in opponents points per game, the Cardinals are complete force. Terry Rozier, a sophomore, leads the team in point (18.3) while Montrezl Harrell adds 15.3 points per game and cleans up the glass with 9.2 rebounds per game. Senior Chris Jones helps out in scoring and assisting in the back-court and also brings leadership and experience. They way Louisville has shown its toughness, it could move up to as high as a 2 seed, although they would probably be a 3 seed at the moment.
- Key Wins: Ohio State, North Carolina
- Key Losses: North Carolina, Duke, UK
- Player to Watch: Montrezl Harrell, 15.3 PPG, 9.2 RPG, .572 FG
- Schedule: NC State (Feb. 14), at Syracuse (Feb. 18)
#12 North Carolina
The North Carolina Tar Heels started this year with high hopes but stumbled out of the gates early on. The Tar Heels depth stands out when you look at how they have recovered from their mediocre start to the season. North Carolina is currently in fifth in an ACC that is very deep at the top half of the conference. Underclassmen Nate Britt, Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks playing like more like upperclassmen has been very key to the Tar Heels success as of late. This gives them depth where Roy Williams can play up to 9 or 10 players throughout a game. Marcus Paige (14.2 PPG, 4.2 APG) and Brice Johnson (8.0 RPG, 1.0 BPG) continue to be the go-to leaders with junior J.P. Tokoto adding from everywhere in a “utility” position. The Tar Heels rank in the top-5 in rebounds per game and in the top-20 in points per game. The Tar Heels as of right now could probably expect a 4 or 5 seed come dancing season.
- Key Wins: UCLA, Louisville, Ohio State, Syracuse
- Key Losses: Louisville, Notre Dame, UK, Iowa, Butler
- Player to Watch: J.P Tokoto, 9.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.1 APG
- Schedule: at Pitt (Feb. 14), at Duke (Feb 18)
Outside Looking In:
- Clemson: (14-10, 6-6 ACC) Key win vs. Arkansas
- Miami: (15-9, 5-6 ACC) Key wins vs. Duke and Illinois
- NC State: (14-11, 5-7 ACC) Lost 6 of last 8. Key win vs. Duke