Duke, Clemson on the rise in ACC standings

Duke%27s+Vernon+Carey+Jr.+%281%29+dunks+against+Miami+at+the+Watsco+Center+in+Miami+on+Jan.+4.+%0A

Michael Reaves/Getty Images/TNS

Duke's Vernon Carey Jr. (1) dunks against Miami at the Watsco Center in Miami on Jan. 4.

By Henry Jackson, Staff Writer

The light at the end of ACC conference play’s tunnel has appeared, yet this year’s season is still defined by wild inconsistencies. While four teams have climbed to the shallow peak of the ACC and the bottom four have made themselves apparent, an astounding seven teams remain within two games of .500 in conference play.

For now, it looks as if Duke will finish as the regular season champs, following a week which saw all types of cracks appear in Louisville’s previously brilliant season. Clemson received a much-needed boost, while Pitt’s hopes faded painfully away. And of course, the Tar Heels continued to stink up the court in creative ways.

Ultimately, in a year which has seen perennial powerhouses’ fortunes turn sour and recurrent cellar-dwellers pull off stunning upsets, the only prediction left to be made is one of a wild postseason. That being said, here’s how the rankings stand at this uncertain point in time.

1. Duke (22-3 overall, 12-2 ACC)

An important win last Monday against Florida State coupled with two losses by Louisville have granted Duke sole possession of the top spot. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad, centered around first-year center Vernon Carey Jr. and sophomore guard Tre Jones, seems to have hit its stride at a crucial time and is dominating on both sides of the court.

With no ranked opponents appearing in Duke’s last six games and disaster averted in Chapel Hill, it may be time for the Blue Devils to start practicing how to overcome the inevitable Stephen F. Austin-esque opponent imminent in the NCAA tournament.

2. Louisville (21-5 overall, 12-3 ACC)

It was a rough week for Louisville basketball. The team lost back-to-back games to sub-par opponents Georgia Tech and Clemson and appeared wholly unable to shoot the ball. But it is still far too early to count head coach Chris Mack’s group out. All great teams have their rough patches, and if junior forward Jordan Nwora can lead the team to a strong finish, the Cardinals will no doubt find new life.

3. Florida State (21-4 overall, 11-3 ACC)

Florida State has proven itself to be one of the most balanced, well-coached teams in the ACC throughout head coach Leonard Hamilton’s 18th season. Although poor shooting cost them in a close loss against Duke, the Seminoles still managed to force 21 turnovers. They followed by winning a close game against Syracuse despite the absence of their leading scorer, sophomore guard Devin Vassell.

Buoyed by strong play from guards Trent Forrest and MJ Walker, along with some late-game antics by first-year center Balsa Koprivica against Syracuse, the ’Noles find themselves ranked No. 8 in the nation. If they can emerge victorious from a Monday night date with Louisville next week, they’ll be sitting pretty for the home stretch.

4. Virginia (17-7 overall, 9-5 ACC)

Even though head coach Tony Bennett’s team isn’t as dominant as it’s been in earlier seasons, UVA seems to have its ticket to March Madness reserved. The Cavaliers have stuck to their familiar model of lockdown defense along with adequate offense — it just hasn’t been as good this year. 

Regardless, Virginia is doing pretty well for what is largely a rebuild year. Oh, and then there was that buzzer-beater from junior guard Tomas Woldetensae to put North Carolina away. You love to see it.

5. NC State (16-9 overall, 7-7 ACC)

Things were beginning to look up for NC State in head coach Kevin Keatts’ third season. Then, the team blew what was supposed to be an easy win against Boston College and suddenly finds two matches with Duke and a date with FSU looming in its final six games. 

But if senior guard Markell Johnson can somehow guide the Wolfpack through troubled waters and the ACC shakes out in a favorable way, State fans may find themselves blissfully singing, “go to hell Carolinamid-March.

6. Syracuse (14-11 overall, 7-7 ACC)

Although famed Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has managed to avoid the all-out disasters of his counterpart, Roy Williams, his team has still failed to rise above mediocrity. The Orange’s season has been defined by narrow escapes and missed opportunities, losing and barely beating such a variety of teams as to make the team almost unrankable. They’ve made one thing clear — they’re not nearly as good as the top three teams on this list.

7. Boston College (13-13 overall, 7-8 ACC)

Considering the low expectations Boston College had going into its first season under head coach Jim Christian, perhaps the young and inexperienced Eagles are the real winners on this list. Granted, they were blown out by Miami last week, but the team has managed to pick up inspiring wins against UVA and NC State, all the while having poor Virginia Tech’s number.

Led by graduate transfer guard Derryck Thornton and boosted by the strangely effective play of senior forward Nik Popovic, the Eagles will likely continue to be a determined underdog and a possible landmine on ACC schedules.

8. Clemson (13-12 overall, 7-8 ACC)

Though Clemson has failed to do much of anything outside the College Football world this season, this basketball team will forever be remembered for taking out Duke and Louisville. In what is a definite rebuilding year for head coach Brad Brownell’s Tigers, perhaps the first signs of future Clemson dominance are appearing. Or maybe Dabo Swinney is calling the shots. We’ll never know.

9. Notre Dame (15-10 overall, 6-8 ACC)

Naysayers might say, “Notre Dame doesn’t deserve to be in the ACC, especially considering the half-hearted deal with its football team.” And those naysayers would be correct. Call it karma, but Notre Dame’s basketball team isn’t really good — a point Duke made crystal clear in a blowout which left head coach Mike Brey speechless.

That being said, the Fighting Irish can rely on senior forward John Mooney to be one of the best bigs in the conference, and their schedule to finish out the season is mostly manageable.

10. Virginia Tech (15-10 overall, 6-8 ACC)

If it weren’t for a five-game losing streak spearheaded by the likes of Boston College, head coach Mike Young’s Hokies might have a different story to tell. The team looked solid in last week’s win against Pitt, and Tech’s schedule has never been particularly difficult. But alas, Boston College did happen, and the Hokies don’t have a different story to tell.

11. Georgia Tech (12-13 overall, 6-8 ACC)

It seemed as if Georgia Tech fans (who we presume exist) would simply have to make themselves content with another subpar season. Then last Wednesday night happened. The Yellow Jackets, led by junior guard Jose Alvarado, exploded into action, delivering Louisville a stinging loss and limiting Jordan Nwora to just two points.

12. Pitt (15-11 overall, 6-9 ACC)

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The Panthers’ fortunes seemed to be on the rise in head coach Jeff Capel’s second season, especially after early wins against FSU, Rutgers and UNC. Sophomore guards Xavier Johnson and Trey McGowens were supposed to lead the team, and the NCAA tournament was even in the conversation just a few weeks ago.

But now, Pitt is mired in a two-game losing streak and facing a challenging road trip. Barring a miracle, the team will have to settle for the already major improvements it has made this season and begin to look forward to next season.

13. Miami (13-12 overall, 5-10 ACC)

The season has been far from smooth for Miami. Led by redshirt junior center Rodney Miller Jr., the Hurricanes have failed to do much of anything. But there is hope for future seasons under the guidance of longtime head coach Jim Larranaga and boosted by first-year guard Isaiah Wong’s shot.

14. Wake Forest (11-14 overall, 4-11 ACC)

The Demon Deacons aren’t particularly talented, but they do hustle. A hard-fought win against UNC proved, if nothing else, that the Deacs cannot be counted out.

15. North Carolina (10-15 overall, 3-11 ACC)

Well, well, well. The Tar Heels finally altered their ACC winning percentage to reflect their in-state acceptance rate, and the legions of ABCs (anyone but Carolina) are rejoicing across the great state of North Carolina. In the race to the bottom between the university’s football program and basketball program, Roy Williams has managed to guide his squad to a comfortable lead — and even fake classes won’t fix that!

Anyway, since there really are no words left to be said about the dumpster fire stinking up Chapel Hill, this writer will simply revel in the season that took 18 long years to come to fruition after dodging serious sanctions for academic fraud. 

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