I hope to do bi-weekly update of one man's (mine) opinion on where ACC programs stand. This will be a fluid list as it looks mainly at what happens over a two week span. At this time of the year it is also somewhat difficult due to the difference in competition being played by the various programs – so right now it is even more subjective. But here we go anyways.
First off, it was a strong week for the ACC. ACC won the ACC-Big 11 Challenge 7 games to 2, even though the Big 10 had a 5 to 4 advantage in home sites. Then over the weekend the ACC won the unofficial ACC-SEC challenge as it went undefeated in 6 games against SEC competition. This will help come March as it raises the RPI of the conference and makes more bids likely. The only real bad marks this week were Wake's annihilation at Ill and MD losing 2 games after looking so strong against Memphis.
Here is one man's subjective opinion of 1 through 11 as of December 6th.
1. Georgia Tech 5-0
While some complained that GT looked under whelming in its first 3 games, they largely looked only at one side of the ball – offense. GT certainly did not come out running on all cylinders offensively and survived a scare at Illinois-Chicago, but they already look in mid-season form on defense. With two solid offensive performances this week that translates into easy wins. GT continues to look like the best defensive team in the conference and one of the best nationally – which is why they get my current #1. Only one opponent has shot better than 34% from the floor and overall opponents are shooting 33.7% FG and 25.3% 3FG. GT also currently has the largest rebounding margin in the conference at +11.4. The one chink in GT is still outside shooting. B.J. Elder and Jarrett Jack have been very good, but others need to step up.
2. Duke 6-0
Duke gave a solid performance over Michigan State and I gave them second overall because I rate defense more highly than offense and right now Duke is playing more consistent offense than UNC. Duke is the second highest scoring team in the conference at 86.8 (right behind UNC). One key for Duke will be to continue to hit well from outside. They are shooting 41.2% as a team and will need to continue to shoot well to keep pressure off their inside game which has been good but not great.
3. North Carolina 6-1
Good week for UNC beating Indiana and Kentucky. At times UNC looks unstoppable offensively – leading ACC teams at 87.1 ppg, but if Sean May or Raymond Felton have to sit for any extended periods it has a huge impact on their offense. While the depth is better than last year, I would not call it quality depth yet – especially at PG. Their defense is better than last year but not at the level of the top defensive teams in the conference – at least not yet. This team has so much talent it will be fun to see how well it gels as the season progresses. Defensive progress could spell the difference between a Sweet 16 and Final Four type of year.
4. Wake Forest 6-1
After an embarrassing loss to Illinois on the road, Wake recovered with a nice win over Richmond before taking off for exams. The Illini exposed some of the same problems as Wake had last season – most notably inconsistent focus and lack of defense. Wake is currently 5th in ppg in the ACC but is next to last 72.2 ppg (UNC is 72.3) in points allowed. Wake is also allowing opponents to shoot 42.3% from the floor and 39.8% from three – both last in the ACC currently. Offensively Wake is scoring a lot of points but it is one of only three ACC teams (Miami, FSU) with more TO than assists right now. Until Wake fixes its defensive issues and tendency to drift during games it will be a team that has the talent to make a Final Four but probably comes up short of that.
5. North Carolina State 6-0
NC State has looked good beating up on the sisters of the poor at RBC. In two games against slightly stronger competition they were able to beat both Purdue and Manhattan after some struggles. Nobody is shooting the ball better than NC State at 52.1% FG and 40.3% 3FG, but can that last. NC State is also one of the better defensive squads in the conference. They are rebounding a little better this year with Jordan Collins and Levi Watkins. Can Julius Hodge take them to the Final Four in his last season?
6. Virginia 6-0
While not as overall talented as MD, they are playing more consistently right now. Elton Brown is having a strong senior year and Sean Singletary is giving them good play at PG. The win over Arizona early will really help come March if they keep their head above water in ACC play. Their defense is better than last season – though still only middle of the road by ACC standards. Their early season performance has really given them a leg up over FSU early if it comes down to those two for a NCAA bid.
7. Maryland 4-2
The most maddening team in the conference. They have the talent to be up at the top but are playing way too inconsistent – following a huge blowout of Memphis with losses to solid Wisconsin and George Washington teams. MD has been able to score but hasn't done a particularly good job defending in key situations. John Gilchrist needs to keep his emotions in check or it will be a very up and down year for MD.
8. Florida State 4-2
FSU likely saved its season this past week getting road wins against mediocre to poor MN and MS teams. A year removed from Tim Pickett this is a very different team. 11 players are playing between 15-25 mpg but there is little cohesion at this point. This team has the talent to play really well, but inexperience could make it a very inconsistent team. Only Miami is averaging fewer points offensively than FSU's 70.6 and right now this team is nowhere near the defensive team it was a year ago currently giving up 40.8% FG and 35.5% 3FG. It is also one of two teams in the ACC that is being out rebounded. Due to its early losses FSU has a long hill to climb to be an NCAA team this year.
9. Clemson 4-1
Clemson is not your father's Clemson anymore. While they are still probably 2 years away from being a good ACC team, they will give some team fits with their defense. Nice wins this week over Ohio State and at South Carolina – neither an overly strong team – but both teams Clemson would have lost to in past years. Defensively they will have to improve on the perimeter or they will get killed in ACC action. This is a team that if it can win enough games in OOC it might slip into the NIT.
10. Miami 3-2
This spot was reserved for VT until this weekend's games. Excellent win by Miami at Florida. Miami is offensively challenged (68.6 ppg) but will play hard. It is giving up too high of FG percentages on defense but this team will have to play smart to have chances to steal games in the ACC – the Florida game shows it is capable of doing it. They have a nice pair of guards and Anthony King has been a revelation in the post.
11. Virginia Tech 4-1
VT was doing what it was supposed to do - whipping up on weak competition until this weekend when it took a bad loss relegating it to RamblinRed's #11 spot. This team is very small and is going to get killed on the boards all year (already -6.6 a game). They need to play fast and hit three's to have any shot at wins. It will be a struggle all year between Miami and VT to stay out of last place.