Let me be the latest to say “HELL YEAH!” UNC’s win at Raleigh Monday night was, along with their upset of Oregon, their biggest win of the season and could signal that the Heels are consistently finding their footing. It couldn’t come at a better time: The schedule is about to become lethal and top form (or as close to it as health allows) is essential.
As for the rest of the ACC, the story remains largely the same: Virginia’s unexplainable upset of FSU aside, it is now solidly a three-team race for the Regular Season crown and the leaders already have collected key tiebreaker wins against one another. The next huge game will come on February 10th when Florida State heads to Durham to take on the Blue Devils...who will be just 48 hours removed from their visit to Chapel Hill.
1. #6 Louisville Cardinals 17-3 (8-1)
Chris Mack’s squad is currently riding a six-game win streak, which is all the more impressive considering that their All-World big man Jordan Nwora has been in a slump of late. The Cardinals’ last two wins came this week against Georgia Tech and Clemson. They continue the softer part of their schedule when they head to take on Boston College for their next game.
2. #9 Duke Blue Devils 17-3 (7-2)
The Blue Devils rebounded from their tough home loss to Louisville by thrashing a hapless Miami in Durham last Tuesday, then overcoming a brief scare against Pittsburgh and winning by 12. Matthew Hurt’s up and down season hit an up in the Miami game, where he tallied 8-11 from the field and 4-7 from three. Remarkable what playing Miami seems to do for one’s shooting.
3. #5 Florida State Seminoles 17-3 (7-3)
What has been shaping up to be Leonard Hamilton’s best team ever had a close scare at home against a struggling Notre Dame but the Noles survived 85-84. They followed that up with a clunker at Virginia, losing 61-56, so they’re showing some vulnerability and lost their pole position for the ACC regular season crown. Still, they’re a very good team. Their strength has been their defense and terrific balance: No player is averaging more than 13 points per game, while eight different players are averaging at least six. FSU will travel to Blacksburg on Saturday next.
4. Syracuse Orange 13-7 (6-4)
Reports of the Orange’s demise were greatly exaggerated... maybe. Jim Boeheim’s team won five in a row to vault them up the ACC Standings before losing to Clemson Tuesday night, 70-71. Their last two wins came at Notre Dame in a close one (more on that later) and at home against Pitt. They’ll play Duke next on Saturday for a true test of their mettle.
5. Virginia Cavaliers 14-6 (6-4)
The Cavaliers had been cutting things close lately: A narrow loss at home to NC State was followed by nailbiter of a win on the road against woeful Wake Forest. Then they beat the Seminoles by a (for the Wahoos) convincing 5 points, and this wacky conference threw us for another loop. UVA’s got their signature win, but are still clearly reeling, and will have a change to maybe put that behind them and get a streak going when they take on Clemson in their next game.
6. Boston College Eagles 10-10 (4-5)
The Eagles took down Virginia Tech at home last week, which is fortunate for them because they have been abysmal on the road all season. More fortunate still, they will be facing Louisville at home tonight and not at the Yum! Center.
7. Virginia Tech Hokies 14-7 (5-5)
After barely surviving Carolina last Tuesday, the Hokies dropped a close one on the road at Boston College, to drop them out of the Top 25. They followed that up with a 71-61 loss to a severely depleted Miami team, and Mike Young’s team is going to have to figure out what’s wrong with it in a hurry before it hits outright freefall. Things don’t get easier, as they host Florida State on Saturday.
8. Pittsburgh Panthers 13-7 (4-6)
The Panthers gutted out a close win at home against BC but lost to Syracuse later in the week, keeping them solidly in the mediocre mid-level tier that seems to be growing larger and larger with each passing week. They put up a fight against Duke, but didn’t do anything to really move the needle. Next up is a visit from Miami.
9. N.C. State Wolfpack 14-7 (5-5)
The Wolfpack had as big of an up-and-down week as you can have: They grabbed a solid win on the road against Virginia, then followed it up with a loss against Georgia Tech. Then they suffered the ignominious defeat against the Tar Heels at home, in the most winnable of winnable home games.
10. Clemson Tigers 10-9 (5-5)
Clemson held serve at home against Wake Forest, but got walloped on the road at Louisville on Saturday, then squeaked out a win against Syracuse. They’re doing what slightly south of mediocre teams do, in other words.
11. North Carolina Tar Heels 10-10 (3-6)
UNC’s back-to-back wins over Miami and State don’t put the Heels anywhere near where they’d like to be, but make no mistake: Wins like this are absolutely essential to UNC’s tournament chances. Barring an unthinkable run in remaining conference play, Carolina’s shot at making it to the Big Dance is by winning the ACC Tournament. Were they to be a 10-seed or lower, that means they’d have to win five games in five days to do it. That’s not happening. Securing at least a 9-seed shortens the tourney and makes for less of a task (though still a Herculean one).
12. Georgia Tech 10-11 (4-6)
The Yellow Jackets got in on the State-spanking as well this week, and followed it up with a rare mid-season non-conference game where they were able to handle Morehouse, an Atlanta HBCU. Cool.
13. Miami Hurricanes 11-9 (3-7)
The Hurricanes successfully ended their losing streak against Virginia Tech in Coral Gables, but they’re still majorly struggling. They’ll play Pittsburgh next in an attempt at starting a mini-streak.
14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 11-8 (2-6)
You have to feel for the Irish. Mike Brey’s squad has lost a whole slew of close games throughout the season and that continued this week when they fell at home to Syracuse 84-82, then barely missed their chance at an upset bid in Tallahassee. They play rock-bottom Wake Forest next.
15. Wake Forest Demon Deacons 9-10 (2-7)
The Deacs dropped two close ones to Virginia and Clemson this week, will play Notre Dame on Wednesday.