The ACC is responsible for 20% of the latest AP Top 25. That’s pretty respectable. There was a day, though, when ACC Basketball didn’t look for respect because no one else challenged its superiority. In 2017 and 2018, the Atlantic Coastal Conference sent nine teams to the NCAA Tournament, with three teams in the top two seeds each year. North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia won five of the eleven possible National Championships between 2009 and 19. Eighty-two current NBA players went to an ACC school.
So why am I giving you a walk down ACC Basketball memory lane?
Well, because the clear separation between the ACC and everyone else is not the landscape of college basketball anymore. It has been a string of consecutive “down” years for the league, and the Big 12, Big East, and SEC have continued to move that needle closer to what the ACC used to offer.
Fast-forward through those “down” years to November 6th, 2023, when we watched the dawn of a new college basketball season. Believe it or not, it’s already been 38 days since we tipped off. On that date, the ACC had just three ranked squads (Duke, Miami, North Carolina), as AP writers projected another middle-of-the-pack year for the once soaring league.
How about now?
We’ve seen a lot of high-level non-conference basketball through a month and a half all across the country. Through that, we have begun to answer the annual questions of pretenders vs. contenders and what teams to watch out for. The quality of the ACC looks significantly different than it did six weeks ago, and I’m here to break down where the league seems to be after an excellent first chapter of a developing season.
Starting from the bottom up, Louisville (4-5) and Notre Dame (4-5) are the clear-cut uncompetitive teams in the ACC. I hate to rule out anyone in December, but with losses to Chattanooga and Western Carolina, respectively, it may be a long year for these two teams and fanbases, because conference play isn’t going to get any easier.
Florida State (4-4), Syracuse (7-3), and Boston College (8-3) have done their fair share of beating who they are supposed to and little else beyond that. We all saw Florida State give North Carolina all they could handle a couple of weeks ago... Since then, they suffered their third straight loss to 2-4 USF. Yikes. Syracuse has dealt with the toughest of schedules in this tier of squads, having to face the gauntlet of Tennessee and Gonzaga in the loaded Maui. They also lost by 18 to Virginia, showing they are far off the league’s best right now, but there isn’t much the Orange haven’t seen. BC’s record is solid, but it has been quite an elementary road to get there. The Golden Eagles haven’t seen a single ranked team and lost their lone ACC game to NC State. Quinten Post is a baller, and we knew that, but this team just may not be there quite yet.
Like the previous three, Wake Forest (6-3) and Pittsburgh (7-3) have very uneventful resumes. The Demon Deacons have some scorers, and the addition of transfer Efton Reid makes them an interesting team to keep your eye on come conference play, but they haven’t been able to put all the pieces together yet. Pitt has played five consecutive unranked Power 5 opponents, which seems complicated to schedule in itself. They are 2-3 in that stretch, indicating their average production thus far.
Georgia Tech (5-3) is in a conversation of their own. They are tied atop the league with two ranked wins over Duke and Mississippi State but also lost to UMass Lowell and Cincinnati by 35. The Yellow Jackets are definitely the most confusing group at the moment, but they’ve proved they can play spoiler, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw that again in conference play.
NC State (7-2) and Virginia Tech (7-3) are beginning to push the conference’s upper tier. The Wolfpack don’t have a marquee win, but they’ve taken care of business and won their only ACC game. Their two losses are to #18 BYU and undefeated Ole Miss. They don’t jump off the page yet, but they’re right around the conversation. VT may be the best ACC team that isn’t currently ranked. They have three respectable losses and a great win over 8-2 Iowa State. Hunter Cattoor remains an elite bucket-getter, and don’t sleep on former Tar Heel Tyler Nickel. The Hokies have some firepower.
By far, the biggest surprise of the ACC, and maybe the entire country, has been the #13 Clemson Tigers. The undefeated Tigers have wins over Alabama, TCU, South Carolina, and Boise State. PJ Hall has been a stud. They’re experienced and versatile, and they have a case for being the top team in the conference right now.
#22 Virginia is doing Tony Bennett things, as they are 8-1 and winners of four in a row. They stifle you with their defense, per usual, but the handful of options they have on offense is a nightmare to guard. They flew under the radar this preseason and still haven’t had that win that solidifies them with the elite, but keep your eyes peeled because we know what the program is capable of, and the Cavs are going to take care of business more times than not.
Miami (7-2) has been one of the most underwhelming groups in the ACC. They still sit at #24 in the latest AP Poll, but they have two losses to their only two significant opponents, and they were by a combined 49 points. I’m not hitting the panic button on the Canes quite yet because the personnel is just too good, but they’ve got a lot to figure out before conference play.
That leaves us with the two blue bloods and neck and neck betting favorites to win the conference, #9 North Carolina and #21 Duke. The short story is, these are two really good teams that are going in opposite directions. As you can find all over our page, the Tar Heels have been soaring after scoring 100 against Tennessee, a huge comeback win against Florida State, a promising showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and a respectable loss to the reigning national champs in UConn. On the other hand, Duke came in with National Championship expectations and have looked sloppy and a step behind, as they’ve already racked up three losses.
Like Miami, I just can’t fathom a Duke team with this much talent not being amongst the elite of the ACC come March. It’s been ugly, but it may be slightly misleading. We are also still learning a lot about Hubert Davis’s squad, but they have shown promising flashes against tough competition, and once they hit January, things may actually get easier.
13 out of the 15 ACC teams are .500 or better, showing promise for how the league may shake up down the stretch. There are still a lot of questions to be answered regarding this conference and the teams in it, but the hope for all of us ACC fans is that teams continue to rise and the elite continue to prosper. Our eyes will be open as the rest of the non-conference window marches on and league play comes along.