The single biggest problem with FBS football is that preseason rankings give an unfair advantage to a subset of undeserving teams each season. It’s tantamount to being born with a silver spoon in your mouth. Before Cam Newton and Auburn went 14-0 in 2010, no team had ever come from a worse pole position. They began the year at #22. There are 125 teams. I abhor the fact that a season can begin and 103 teams have essentially been written off at the inception. Which is why I promised myself that Inside the ACC wouldn’t begin our power poll rankings until we could see what kind of body of work each team was capable of, both inside and outside the league. You are welcome to disagree with us, and call us any number of names here at ITA, but you won’t be able to call us unfair. Let’s begin, going worst to first:
#15 Virginia Tech Hokies (8-7, 0-2) RPI: 256 SOS: 286
The Hokies are the worst rated Power Five school in the RPI. They have sorely missed C Joey Van Zegeren who was suspended indefinitely for an outburst in practice on New Year’s Eve. Freshman Justin Bibbs would be a candidate for ACC Rookie of the Year, having netted 22 points and 25 points against Syracuse and Florida State respectively, but there is the (not so) small issue of Jahlil Okafor tearing it up down in Durham.
This team lacks size, and it lacks quickness on the perimeter to close out on the better three-point shooters, which have both proved to be killers as Syracuse corrected all their errant shots on the offensive glass, and FSU scorched them from deep in the first half last Tuesday. Buzz Williams isn’t being graded on this year, and he is coaching like he knows it. He’s getting contributions from all four freshmen, Bibbs, Jalen Hudson, Satchel Pierce, and Ahmed Hill. The question at the end of this year though might be: Will Justin Bibbs be the first VT player to declare early for the draft? Continued success like this, and his stock may never be higher, especially playing for a rebuilding program. Its tough to top efficiency numbers like .500 from the field, .475 from behind the arc. He needs some defensive seasoning, and another year in the weight room in my opinion. But I do think he will be the first Hokie to go pro before his eligibility expires (if you don’t count Robert Krabbendam, and umm….nobody counts him).
Ultimately, these Hokies will likely duplicate last year’s 2-16 record unless they add Van Zegeren back to the mix soon. They can’t continue to give up those extra possessions. If the Hokies finish last, it will be their third straight season in the cellar. And with a price tag that includes Seth Greenberg’s buyout, James Johnson’s buyout, and Buzz’s new car smell which clocks in around $2.5MM. If you add it all up, that’s close to $4.0MM for a 10 win season. When you consider all that was lost with Greenberg’s dismissal, which includes not having Montrezl Harrell manning the middle (the Hokies will see him Tuesday night at the YUM), it’s not that much of a surprise to see the once proud Cassell half-empty.
This Week: @Louisville (Tues); @ North Carolina (Sunday Night)
Mobility: Zero….things remain difficult as they return home to face Notre Dame and then Virginia. VPI is looking at starting 0-6 in the league.
#14 Boston College Eagles (7-7, 0-2) RPI: 151 SOS: 70
If there was ever a league road game to get, outside of Virginia Tech, it would have been Miami. The Canes have had a lot of trouble at home lately, losing to Wisconsin-Green Bay, getting blown out by Eastern Kentucky, and then succumbing in double-OT to UVA. The Hokies even led the ACC until January last year with their early-season win in Coral Gables (conference play hadn’t officially begun in earnest).
But BC lost to Miami for the 9th time in a row. It was tough to watch as their big rally fell short. It was in stark contrast to them allowing Pitt a 10-0 run to force OT, before losing on Tuesday night at Conte Forum. BC will face Harvard on Wednesday, in one of the final ACC non-conference games this year. So they will likely stay above .500 until at least the 20th of January by beating Harvard and then losing to UVA and Syracuse. From there, they’ll be veterans of the lottery (CBI?) process.
Olivier Hanlan is a nice player, but the Eagles ask too much of him. His minutes are at 36+ per game, and his three-point stroke is suffering as a result. He is making just 26.6%, just 40 percent true FG%, which makes that a bad shot for him. His backcourt mate Aaron Brown runs hot and cold, and is an unreliable second option. Up front the team received a promising cameo off the bench from Eddie (from Ohio) Odio, who had 13 points and six rebounds doing battle with Miami big man Tonye Jekiri, who had 15 rebounds and absolutely minced Dennis Clifford. Clifford is going to be a problem for BC against anyone with a talented big man. Okafor ripped him for 28 last week in a blowout Blue Devil win. Solutions are few and far between in Chestnut Hill, as Hanlan develops more bad habits trying to carry a bad team.
This Week: Harvard (Weds), Virginia (Sat)
Mobility: None. Even if they played VT and got a win it would land them right back here. The ghosts of John Bagley, Dana Barros, Troy Bell, Reggie Jackson and Billy Curley aren’t working hard enough.
#13 Clemson Tigers (9-6, 1-2) RPI: 109 SOS: 63
The Tigers always manage to feature one very good player, but never seem to find him any help. KJ McDaniels, Trevor Booker, Sherrod Ford, all excellent players, and now we add Jaron Blossomgame (certainly an all-name team member). Blossomgame gives the Tigers a shot to win against most of the teams in the bottom half of the league as was evidenced this past Saturday in their home win vs Pitt. But where is the help?
Coach Brownell seems to think that the only reliable help is slowing the game down to a snail’s pace. Clemson’s pace factor has always been a bit slow, dating back to Rick Barnes’ tenure at the helm. But where Oliver Purnell managed to coax tournament appearances from his groups, Brownell only manages to summon yawns from anyone who is unfortunate enough to have to sit through 40 minutes of smell.
The one thing Clemson does reasonably well, as in they are ranked in the top 50 nationally, is protect the rim. They block shots at the 37th best clip. Beyond that, you are challenged to find anything exceptional beyond the play of Blossomgame. Some of you may view it as unfair to rank them below Pitt, who they beat soundly enough on the road, but I think Pitt still has some gelling to do while we saw Clemson’s best effort. Namely I respect Jamie Dixon’s coaching chops more than Brownell’s. Let this be our first controversy.
This Week: @UVA (Tues, sub-40 point warning), Syracuse (Sat, continued offensive futility)
Mobility: This team could finish as a nine or ten seed, the lower third of the league will be a scramble to the bottom of the barrel.
#12 Florida State Seminoles (9-7, 1-2) RPI: 145 SOS: 110
Florida State will play at Pitt on Wednesday in a battle to determine who is worthy of #12. Notice how I didn’t say a battle for #11? Those two teams are finding ways to play down to the competition. Florida State allowed Virginia Tech to hang around in what was the battle for 15th last Tuesday, even though the Hokies never win in Tallahassee.
The ‘Noles are a four-guard offense, with little to no inside presence. They can get hot from the arc from time to time, but inevitably regress into the kind of team that needs to keep games in the high 50s to have a shot. In other words, Coach Leonard Hamilton’s comfort zone. The difference with this squad though, is that it’s missing its best offensive player in Aaron Thomas. Hamilton is making do with what’s at his disposal. And to be honest, its not his worst coaching job. See Washington Wizards, 2001 (19-63, fired by GM Michael Jordan).
The ‘Noles play three guards more than 30 minutes apiece. And they employ a 4th guard as a stretch four of sorts when the occasion suits them. It’s an unorthodox approach to a familiar problem dotting the college hoops landscape, which is simply a dearth of quality big man play. A lot of simulations project the ACC to have no middle class. Essentially, seven very good teams, one middling team, and the bottom half of the league all at .333 (6-12 record) or below. Florida State has a chance to finish as high as 9th, and as low as 14th. I feel comfortable picking them to finish smack dab in the middle of that range.
This Week: @ Pitt (Weds), NC State (Sat)
Mobility: Both of these games are winnable. So they could find themselves moving up a notch or two with a good week. But it’ll take continued hot shooting from close range (they rank 34th nationally in FG%, despite being in the 330s in 3pt shooting metrics).
#11 Pittsburgh Panthers (10-5, 1-2) RPI: 99 SOS: 115
Pitt is about three minutes away from being 0-3 to start their ACC campaign. Their furious rally to end the BC game, and pure luck at having BC miss a wide open bunny on a last second OT drive to the goal is the difference between 11 and 14 right now. They looked wholly unimpressive in a loss to NC State in Raleigh, and again at home this past week bowing to Clemson.
Pitt does not shoot the ball well from anywhere on the floor. They play a very conservative brand of basketball, and limit their turnovers. This will keep them in many a game down the stretch. They have three solid, if unspectacular players that are all coming into their own in Michael Young, James Robinson, and Jamel Artis, two sophomores and a junior. It also appears that they have found a solid bench contributor in Sheldon Jeter, who was probably the single most important player in their lone ACC win at BC.
Simulations don’t expect much more than six or seven wins out of Pitt this season, and watching them go minutes without scoring it’s very easy to see that point-of-view. But this is Jamie Dixon we are talking about, and I expect his team to be at its best come early March. It should be enough for the NIT.
This Week: Florida St (Weds), Georgia Tech (Sat)
Mobility: Both winnable games, though Georgia Tech may be able to bludgeon them a bit inside on the glass and get the upper hand in the race to the bonus. As it stands the Panthers are too volatile at the moment to back with any sort of confidence. But with a pair of wins, they could easily move up as high as 8th or 9th in the next poll. The Panthers may have the easiest opening five game stretch of any team in the league, so caution to anyone who might buy into a 3-2 Pitt team as a potential NCAA entry.
#10 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-6, 0-3) RPI: 56 SOS: 21
Brian Gregory scheduled a bunch of A-10 games out of conference, and it is helping the Wreck with their RPI for sure. The problem is, they didn’t win enough of them to be taken seriously at selection time. They also have endured a tough bit of scheduling to begin the ACC season, losing to Notre Dame in a hard fought 2OT battle on the road that saw them fight back from five-point deficits to close out regulation and the first OT, and then coming from ahead to lose at home to Syracuse. The loss this past Saturday was to a rapidly improving Wake Forest team that has been battle-tested early on. It is the manner in which they lost that has them ranked this high, some of these efforts will have to translate into victories if they hope to maintain their “lofty” standing.
This is yet another ACC team that cannot shoot from distance, a common theme that has three teams in the 330s (lowest is 345) in three point FG efficiency. But with these Jackets, there is not too much of an identity crisis, they know how their bread is buttered. Simply put, they want to engage in a war of attrition and use superior interior depth to gain an advantage. They are 10th in the nation in rebounding margin. That number is deceiving though, as they retrieve a lot of their own misfires.
Transfer F Charles Mitchell (Maryland) has become an emerging force for GT and his minutes are steadily increasing. He is tough to handle, and he was already familiar with the league. Now that he is closer to home, his game is starting to flourish as he now has five double-doubles.
On the perimeter, the Jackets are a bit more unsettled. Marcus Georges-Hunt leads the team in scoring with 13 ppg and rebounds fairly well among the GT redwoods, but his .205 three-point shooting is an abomination, though not nearly as bad as their second highest volume shooter from deep, Tadric Jackson. In 12 minutes per game, Jackson has managed to attempt 46 threes and has converted just five. If the Jackets tighten up, and keep trying to work the ball in to Mitchell and Co and gain mismatches due to foul trouble, they could steal a few games. This will become more evident as the schedule eases up some.
This Week: Notre Dame (Weds), @ Pitt (Sat)
Mobility: Having not won a game, they are being given the benefit of the doubt here at #10. Two losses and they could easily move down to #13. They are familiar with Notre Dame, and outrebounded the Irish in South Bend by 20+, if they stick to the game plan and continue to get out to defend on 3 pt attempts (they are 34th in the country allowing just 28.9%) they might be able to pull the upset at home. Games at Pitt are winnable, as Clemson proved this past weekend. That game should serve as a proving ground for who will become the cream of the second division crop.
#9 Miami Hurricanes (11-4, 1-1) RPI: 78 SOS: 97
This team will go as far as the backcourt takes it. The junior duo of Sheldon McLellan and Angel Rodriguez have taken 340 of the teams’ 823 shots on the season, with varying levels of efficacy. The simulations still have this team going .500 in the league and making a push for the last four teams into the big dance. The loss at home to Wisconsin-Green Bay was technically a “good loss”; that team will likely win the Horizon League. The loss to Eastern Kentucky was unforgivable, particularly because the Canes got blown out. In the event they are playing for 65th best in the country this March, they can look back at that game. Once ranked as high as #14 nationally, it appears that the early season voters had the U all wrong.
They have a strong interior presence in Tonye Jekiri, who is averaging 9.9 rebounds in just under 30 minutes per outing. He also offers above-average rim protection, blocking close to two shots a game. Like Pitt, the Hurricanes play a boring brand of basketball, eschewing quick outlets and opportunities to push the ball in favor of working the clock and controlling the tempo. The problem is, their half-court spacing is out of whack, and leads to overloads and long rebounds lead to points in transition the other way.
The team is scrappy by definition, and threw a scare into UVA to open the ACC season. Trailing by 18 at the half, the Hurricanes rallied to force 2OTs. You wondered if something clicked and they were done with the funk that saw them lose three out of four heading in to that game. And then you watched them narrowly defeat a lousy BC team at home to follow up. Miami has a good win (Florida), and a good loss (Providence), but the rest of their schedule has been fairly blase. They will need a signature win or two, as well as a .500 finish in conference play to earn an NCAA bid; and if those are the criteria necessary, it appears their reach will exceed their grasp in 2015.
This Week: @ Duke (Tues), @ Notre Dame (Saturday)
Momentum: I am already kind of accounting for these two losses in this power poll. Not fair, but losing these two games would be commensurate with their efforts to date anyway. I fully expect Miami to struggle against two of the top five offenses in the entire country on the road. This would make them 1-4 in the league.
#8 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (9-8, 1-3) RPI: 138 SOS: 68
A brutal start to the conference schedule has Danny Manning’s squad a bit behind the eight ball in conference play, but this team has impressed me with it’s resilience. They gave Louisville a fright, and played Duke tough until the end. Breaking through and beating Georgia Tech this past weekend may have given this team the winning experience it needs to beat the bottom half of the league with consistency. The only problem: The current SOS is 68th, but is expected to be around 30th at season’s end. Every ACC team expects their SOS to jump up a great deal due to conference play, but this just validates how tough Wake’s intraconference docket is.
The main reason I have Wake at #8 is this: They have two all-conference players leading the way in juniors Codi Miller-McIntyre (G), and Devin Thomas (PF). Thomas in particular has been one of the most exciting players to watch thus far in conference play, having given Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) and Jahlil Okafor and Amile Jefferson (Duke) all they could handle. A smooth lefty, it takes opponents several trips down the floor to get a handle on how to defend him. But his unorthodox timing and ability to shield his shot from taller players has given his opponents fits. Mitch Wilbekin, who has a brother on Florida (Scottie) has a well-regarded stroke, and is the third leading scorer. He has been the recipient of numerous deft passes out of double teams from Thomas, who has a good sense of where the defensive help is coming from. If the Wake shooters could convert more of those passes into bombs, and the team could shoot better than 64.1% from the FT line, the Deacs could be in business and actually get to the NIT. They just need to ride those two guys and feast on the bottom of the league. Admittedly, I didn’t see enough of Wake in the non-conference slate to compare and contrast versus what I’ve seen in league play, but they appear to be a better team than their record reflects.
This Week: @ Syracuse (Tues), Bye (resuming 21st vs UNC)
Mobility: There would be no shame in losing at Syracuse, but with UNC looming they’d love to steal this game against a scuffling Syracuse team. The Orange just found out that Super Frosh Chris McCullough will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a torn ACL in Sunday’s win over FSU. If Wake were to get one of the next two, the schedule finally offers a respite with games against Clemson, FSU, and VT. They could end up at 5-4 at the turn, which would not have been anticipated by anyone.
#7 Syracuse Orange (12-4, 3-0) RPI: 46 SOS: 69
The vaunted 2-3 zone defense took a big hit this past Sunday evening when freshman Chris McCullough went down with a torn ACL. Syracuse will now lean on Tyler Roberson and Chinoso Obokoh. The rebounding will be easy enough to replace, as Roberson averages more rebounds per 40 than McCullough, but getting that 10 points per game might prove elusive. Both players offer Coach Boeheim that coveted wingspan for his zone, so little will likely change on that front. The loss of McCullough (who was improving every game out, and is still likely a 1st round talent per ESPN’s Chad Ford) is a severe blow to the Orange depth.
Syracuse should consider itself fortunate it isn’t 10-6 overall, having narrowly defeated VT and GT on the road by a combined three points. They got away with a blatant push underneath on the final GT miss that would have put the Jackets on the line with a chance to win, but the referee swallowed his whistle. They gave up a 19-point halftime lead at VT. Finally, getting a chance to play at home vs FSU, they showed that the Carrier Dome is still an undesirable environment for visitors.
Led by Rakeem Christmas and his averages of 17 and 9, the team is well-anchored in the middle. Michael Gbinije also provides some muscle and good post defense. They are holding down the fort as the backcourt tries to find its way. Trevor Cooney has been a wild gunner who hasn’t demonstrated the same sort of chemistry with freshman Caleb Joseph that he had with Tyler Ennis (now a Phoenix Sun).
Joseph also ranks right in the middle of all NCAA starting PGs in Assist/Turnover ratio. Ennis was preternaturally gifted in that regard, submitting a 5 to 1 ratio. This team is a Tyler Ennis away from being a Sweet Sixteen team; and though you can’t fault a young man for taking millions of guaranteed dollars, he might have done himself a disservice by going one year too soon. And as the luck of the draw would have it, the NBA team that took him is loaded at the PG with Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Isaiah Thomas. He’ll likely bounce between the NBA D-League and the Suns bench all year. 35 minutes a night might have exposed his weaknesses to the point of never getting drafted any higher than he did, so it was a calculated risk that paid off short-term, but could be detrimental to Ennis in the long run. I compare his situation to Kendall Marshall’s (formerly of UNC), who has led a nomadic NBA existence since declaring for the draft prematurely. Neither is an exceptional shooter, and both are on the short side, and susceptible to getting posted up by bigger guards at the next level.
This Week: Wake Forest (Tues), @ Clemson (Sat)
Mobility: They could be sitting at 5-0 going into next week when they’ll see Miami and BC. This team could be a very quiet, unassuming 7-0 in league play before they are truly tested on 1/26 @ UNC.
#6 Louisville Cardinals (14-2, 2-1) RPI: 25 SOS: 83
Now the crazy begins. Louisville just hasn’t impressed much over the past couple weeks. They have the talent to be #1, easily. But the fact is, they don’t protect the rim well in spite of having a size advantage in most games. Their guards are a tad selfish, and play with blinders on, and the scheme Pitino employs has Montrezl Harrell wandering around the arc far too often in the name of spacing.
Louisville should not have lost to UNC on Saturday, and Marcus Paige shouldn’t have been able to get his shot. Pitino is not going deep enough into his bench in order to press as much as his teams normally do. They are playing lots of full court man, which is fine for Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, but they lack a true third guard. If they go to the bench, they play either Anton Gill or Wayne Blackshear at the two and go a bit larger.
As for Blackshear, he needs to be more assertive for Louisville to truly optimize. He seems content to put up 10-12 points a night and blend in. He is a great transition player but the two guards seem intent on looking for their own offense or trying to find Harrell with a lob. This sometimes happens when you integrate a JUCO PG like Jones who was used to be being option A, B, and C on his team. Pitino made curious comments on Jones’ stubborn qualities in a recent press conference.
If Louisville has more nights like this past Saturday’s game against UNC, where the guards combine for 33 shots and Harrell and Blackshear find themselves with just 18, Louisville will lose more games than it should. Their defense is excellent, and they create points off of turnovers, but that only serves to mask their horrendous 3-point shooting. Yet another ACC team is clocking in at a below 30% clip, good for a 305 ranking. By now, teams should have it figured out in terms of knowing their own limitations. I hold the coach responsible. This year it appears as though Pitino is not communicating. His two centers are in the doghouse and the 5 spot is a sieve defensively. For Devin Thomas to have a career game as he did two weeks ago, and for Kennedy Meeks to have his way this past weekend, this is a full blown problem that must be addressed. Is Coach Pitino just along for the ride this year? So far in the biggest tests the Cards have faced, they have come up short.
This Week: Virginia Tech (Tuesday), Duke (Saturday)
Mobility: Hokie fans get to see up close and personal what they would have gotten in Harrell had Seth Greenberg not been dismissed, and a win there won’t move the dial much for the Cards. However, besting Duke at home to move to 4-1 in the league would probably call for a bump up the power rankings.
#4B North Carolina State Wolfpack (12-5, 3-1) RPI: 32 SOS: 7
The battle for #4 will occur on Wednesday night when NC St. hosts the arch-rival Tar Heels. UNC’s SOS is 6th. So they are neck and neck in terms of that metric. UNC has one less loss. Both sported signature wins last weekend with NC St. handily defeating Duke, and UNC pulling out the win vs Louisville. A hat tip to our own Mike McDaniel who predicted the NC State upset over the Blue Devils.
NC State made the NCAA tournament via the new-fangled play-in system where extra 10 seeds are added to the at-large pool. It took them 22 wins. Coach Mark Gottfried has them well on their way to a similar campaign assuming there are no health concerns. It is a veteran led team with starting junior PG Trevor Lacey on his way to earning all-league honors (I have him pegged for 2nd team right now), and senior Ralston Turner offering steady perimeter production as well. Sophomore guard Anthony Barber is rounding into a nice 3rd option, and allows Lacey to play off the ball some and focus on scoring.
On the inside, the ‘Pack has a rotation of guys earning solid minutes, but none they rely on too heavily. Sophomore Beejay Anya is averaging an incredible 3.1 blocks per game in just under 20 minutes per contest. His having lost some 65 pounds in the offseason has increased his mobility and allowed him to play for longer stretches. If he can develop some hands to go with the position his posterior earns him on the block, he could develop into a double digit scorer at some point, even if it isn’t this year.
NC State has a very good chance of getting to the turn at 6-3 in the league. The second half of the league schedule also looks like it could be converted into a 6-3 record. At 12-6, the Wolfpack would be shoo-ins for a top five seed. They have just one questionable loss (Wofford); the other losses were to West Virginia, Cincinnati, UVA, and @ Purdue. They now have their signature win, having gotten scorching hot this past Sunday vs Duke. A couple more of those head-to-head wins against top tier ACC squads like Notre Dame, UNC, Louisville, or Syracuse, and they could be looking at a bye in the ACC tournament.
This Week: North Carolina (Weds) , @Florida St (Sat)
Mobility: They could shoot all the way up into the #2 spot if they win both games and Louisville beats Duke. This is a team that seems to know what it can and cannot do, and plays within those constraints. Credit the coaching staff and the heady leadership of Trevor Lacey for the pack staying within themselves.
#4A North Carolina Tar Heels (12-4, 2-1) RPI: 14 SOS: 6
Marcus Paige is a gamer. Ever since PJ Hairston was dismissed by Coach Roy Williams last year for repeated off-court incidents, Paige has come on strong and has been responsible for several W’s the Heels earned in the closing moments. At this point, I am not sure there is a more proven crunch-time player in the conference. His game winner on Saturday against a Louisville backcourt that is becoming known for it’s on-ball defensive tenacity was just one more line item for the bio. As an undersized junior, his heart is rarely paralleled by his opponents.
The Tar Heels are ranked 301st in 3-point makes per game. They simply do not shoot it well. They crash the offensive glass though, and now that teams are measuring which of their players miss with the best efficiency, Paige is clearly among the leaders. Simply meaning that he draws a crowd on his forays to the cup, leaving his rebounders without a body on them, so they can convert the putbacks with ease.
Roy Williams doesn’t hesitate to use his bench either. Every player has utility, whether its simply to foul, or for a given match-up’s sake. On Saturday, Pitino played three of his guys (Jones, Rozier, Harrell) 37 minutes or more; of all the Tar Heels only Paige played 30 minutes or more, and it was exactly 30 minutes. It was eye-opening to watch them bully the Cards, outrebounding them 40-30, and 17-9 on the offensive end.
The Tar Heels haven’t looked like world-beaters but they don’t look likely to be beaten by many in the world either. If I had to compare them to a Heavyweight boxer, they’d be Ken Norton. Ready to go 15 rounds, hit as hard as anybody in the game, but eventually going to lose some of the judges’ love due to a lack of panache and charisma.
This Week: @ NC St (Weds), Virginia Tech (Sunday night game of the week! And what a game it’ll be as UNC will sport four guys at 6’9″ or taller to VT’s one lone freshman Satchel Pierce, if Joey Van Zegeren remains suspended. Has a team ever been held to single digit rebounds before?)
Mobility: With a pair of wins, they will at least lock down this four spot by themselves for the week. Cracking the top three will be difficult this year.
#3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (15-2, 3-1) RPI: 48 SOS: 142
Had they lost at UNC, they would be #5. But they won by a point in an emotionally charged environment, as it was the night that UNC celebrated Stuart Scott’s life. This team goes into battle each game knowing that it will need to execute it’s offense perfectly in order to offset the size differential. They play four guards without apology to lone big man Zach Auguste, who is very productive in his own right, averaging 14 ppg in just over 24 mpg.
The Fighting Irish do execute as well as anybody in the country, as their #1 FG % (53.5) attests. Led by the return of Jerian Grant, who at one point looked like front-runner for ACC Player of the Year, and his fellow senior Pat Connaughton, the Irish space the floor beautifully. Sophomore Demetrius Jackson allows Grant to roam off the ball, and Steve Vasturia (also a sophomore) is contributing offense as well. The Irish have six players averaging more than 8 ppg, which is amazing balance considering only one of them calls the post home.
For a team so perimeter oriented, its odd to see a team that tries to push the pace take such good care of the ball. The return of Grant, and his 8th best (nationally) Assist/Turnover ratio has freed everyone up to get to their favorite spots. He can beat virtually any defender off the dribble, and from there it is a turkey shoot for an open three ball, or a quick dump to Auguste and his 65.3% conversion rate. Coach Mike Brey has some reliable shooters, so what we see right now is what we’ll get.
And as Robert DeNiro told Al Pacino in the diner scene in the movie Heat, “You know there’s a flip side to that coin….” And even though we’re seeing great offensive efficiency figures, we’re able to conveniently ignore a couple factors for now.
1) The Irish have a miserable SOS, and haven’t been tested very much until now.
2) A great player at the wing spot can beat them almost single-handedly, see Henton, LaDontae of Providence College.
3) The elephant in the room: Rebounding. Auguste is outmanned every game. They rank 310th in offensive rebounding. Meaning that they don’t even try. The guards do well enough on the defensive glass. But rebounding margin will be a problem all year, and Coach Brey will cross his fingers when the brackets come out.
Facing UVA last Saturday, backup Cavalier PF Darion Atkins had 14 and 8 while helping shut down Auguste, and limiting Grant’s drives to the hole, rendering both players ineffective. The Irish were 10-24 from behind the arc and 10-35 from two-point range, simply abysmal. Another byproduct of this “finesse” style is the absence of free throws. Notre Dame shot just 12, and the UVA substitution patterns were never disrupted by foul trouble. Of all the top 10-15 teams in the land, Notre Dame has most shown us their hand, there won’t be any surprises coming out of South Bend. They got fat playing a weak non-conference schedule, and still need a signature win or two to secure a high seed in March, and even more importantly hold on to this #3 spot here in our Authoritative Inside the ACC Power Rankings 😉
This Week: @ Georgia Tech (Weds) , Miami (Sat)
Mobility: GT proved they could hang with ND in South Bend, a road loss in Atlanta wouldn’t be shocking. They will likely not move up in these rankings if they win and the teams in front of them hold serve. They could drop a couple spots though with a bad loss or two.
#2 Duke Blue Devils (14-1, 2-1) RPI: 6 SOS: 24
Duke has it all. Again. Yes, the loss on Sunday was a shock to the system, but a young team like this Duke squad needs to re-calibrate a couple times in the interest of learning how to bounce back from adversity. Not that this particular mechanism comes in handy in a single-elimination tournament, but the fact is the three highly touted freshmen on Duke all needed to taste defeat just so they’ll learn that they have more in their tank than they thought.
Center Jahlil Okafor is likely the runaway candidate for both ACC Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year. He’ll probably be earning $5MM a year in the NBA this time next year. He is averaging 19 and 9 in just under 30 minutes a night, and represents the first big man at Duke to be the focal point of the offense since Elton Brand in the late 1990s. Sure, Shelden Williams and Carlos Boozer and a Plumlee or 17 have had success, but never as the primary option.
Having such a weapon has made life much easier for fellow frosh Tyus Jones who has a 3 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. And it has freed up space for swingman Justise Winslow and senior guard Quin Cook to fire up threes at an above 40% clip. Rasheed Sulaimon has moved to the bench in a scorer’s role, and the team has been bolstered on all counts just by having the Okafor man the paint.
Duke has Carolina twice, UVA on the road, and Louisville on the road, and even though it may be a transition year for the Orange, Duke plays them twice as well. Winter is coming, and the night is dark and full of terrors. Fortunately for Coach K, his recruiting acumen is matched only by the snake oil purveyor in Lexington, Kentucky. He is ready to do battle with this group, and hopes to make it back to the final for the first time since beating Butler in 2010. He’s only getting one crack with Okafor, we can all agree on that if nothing else.
This Week: Miami (Tues) , @ Louisville (Sat) Sadly the game is a matinee on Saturday. Scheduling Gods be darned to heck.
#1 Virginia Cavaliers (15-0, 3-0) RPI: 3 SOS: 5
Tony Bennett teams play defense, they rebound, and they don’t turn the ball over. It may not always be pretty on offense, but this year even that has been going pretty well. The Wahoos don’t beat themselves. They have veteran play at PG in London Perrantes and they have two extremely efficient wings in All-ACC 1st teamer Malcolm Brogdon and potential vote-stealer Justin Anderson, who is so hot shooting right now that his teammates aren’t even talking to him anymore (in the same spirit as guys in the dugout don’t talk to the Pitcher who is tossing a no-hitter).
The inside guys Mike Tobey, Darion Atkins, and Anthony Gill are all content to get their touches when they can, and do the dirty work. They don’t foul, they play windex defense, hands straight up, feet set. They, like UNC, dominate rebounding margin.
Free throw shooting has been a critical point of failure for several teams in the league this year, but UVA converts theirs, meaning that once they’ve passively strangled your offense into an 8-10 pt deficit with under two minutes to play, they close you out (save for the Miami game).
I’m sure everyone here has heard of synergy, along with all the other business buzzwords that have been overused in the past decade. But this team is a prime example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It’s like I gave Bennett a Canadian dollar in change and he gave me back a Euro. UVA fans haven’t been this deep into a season undefeated in many a moon, going back to the 1980s. They are equipped to play with anyone at any pace. And this is why they begin the season on top of the Authoritative Inside the ACC Power Rankings.
This Week: Clemson (Tues) , @Boston College (Sat)
Mobility: Nowhere to go but down with losses this week. Holding on to the top spot is going to be a challenge with several challengers nipping at their heels.
There are four games tonight and four games tomorrow night. Hopefully you find this coverage a helpful guide as you bounce around the dial. While you’re at it, check out Mike’s previews of tonight’s games!
Follow me on Twitter @InsidetheACC, or look us up on . Have a great Tuesday!