We're once again doing our mid-season catch-up on the 10 biggest leagues in college hoops. We're going to run these on the day leagues start intra-conference play -- or at least as close to them as possible. The ACC (here's our preseason preview, if you'd like to see it) started over the weekend, so let's get right to it.
Here's the Atlantic Coast Conference reset, and a look at how the ACC has underperformed this season can be found here.
Teams on track to make the Field of 68: Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Florida State
Teams with work to do: Pittsburgh, Virginia, Notre Dame, North Carolina State, Clemson, Wake Forest
Teams already out, barring a miracle: Maryland, Boston College, Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech
Most memorable moment to date: North Carolina's road win against Michigan State. That's my pick, anyway, but there are about five moments tied to UNC and another three with Duke. The Tar Heels have been the most vexing team in college hoops to this point. They're a 9-3 team, the losses to Belmont, UAB and Texas. Wins over Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan State. The Spartans were undefeated until UNC came to town, and that produced this great locker room moment for Roy Williams.
Storyline you were too busy to notice: North Carolina State: Surprisingly, not that terrible! It was thought Mark Gottfried's Wolfpack would be in for a rebuilding year, perhaps a year that would see the team struggle to be above .500. But the team's at 9-3 and looking like it will make a go of being part of the bubble conversation. T.J. Warren is a massive part of that, as is Cat Barber, and we'll get to those two in the N.C. State capsule below.
Coach feeling the heat: Steve Donahue's team has top-six talent in the ACC this season. The Eagles have fallen flat yet again. No doubt about it, this is the most disappointing team in the country. A 4-9 start has Boston College fans irked even more than Wake Forest honks -- and that's saying something! If BC isn't able to get to .500 in the league, is there any way Donahue keeps his job? The pace he's on right now would leave him at 13.5 wins per season in four years at BC with no trips to the NCAA tournament.
Player who needs to step up: An academic issue led to Jerian Grant's dismissal from Notre Dame last week. He was the Irish's best scorer. Without him, it's quite clear senior guard Eric Atkins is going to have to produce in a big way in order for Mike Brey's team to have a chance to dance in two and a half months. Atkins currently scoring 13.2 points per game while dishing 4.5 assists. Nice, but the load will heavy.
Team better than its record: At 8-5, Maryland's spent the past two months operating a team without a starting point guard. But Seth Allen is back after a broken foot had him on the sidelines. I don't think the Terps are making the NCAA tournament, but I do think they'll be a bubble team because Allen is a nice point guard that can keep this group from toppling against weaker foes.
Team not as good as its record: At 11-1 and with the one loss against the only good team it's played, Pittsburgh is the only choice. This is not a team that will end the season with anything close to its .917 winning percentage as of today.
Three must-see games:
- Duke at Syracuse (Feb. 1)
- Syracuse at Pittsburgh (Feb. 12)
- Duke at North Carolina (Feb. 12)
Player of the Year favorite: Jabari Parker is the winner in this category currently -- at the national level. So of course he's the pick here. Parker has been as bad as good and as great as phenomenal. Seldom does he put himself in a bad spot. No one is like him in college hoops. His averages: 22.2 points; 7.8 boards; 1.3 blocks. He's above 46 percent from 3, which is standout for a fella who's 6-8 and around 235 pounds. Entering league play, his 3-point shooting is third-best in the league.
Freshman of the Year favorite: We can't have Jabari at the POY and not have him here.
Probable all-league team: Jabari Parker (Duke); C.J. Fair (Syracuse); Tyler Ennis (Syracuse); T.J. Warren (N.C. State); Marcus Paige (North Carolina)
Ranking the teams from first to worst:
1. Duke: It's a tight call between the Blue Devils and the Orange as the ACC's best, but give me Mike Krzyzewski and the best player in basketball, Mr. Parker. Duke's scoring 85.2 points per game, best in the conference, and the 1.20 points per possession is also better than any other team in the league. The plethora of options at guard and wing for Duke is as deep as any team in the country. There are questions around the rim, in terms of defensive options and rebounding reliability, but I have never believed they are so vulnerable in the paint that Duke would solely lose games because of a lack of size or presence within five feet of the rim. Also, Quinn Cook's dishing out 6.5 assists per game, more than anyone in the ACC.
2. Syracuse: I think this Syracuse team is very close to being the best group Jim Boeheim's had since the team that won the 2003 national title. That's praise I don't toss out lightly; I know last year's club made the Final Four, and he's had other teams as of late earn No. 1 seeds. But the balance on both sides and the reliability of Tyler Ennis has me thinking this team is as capable of winning it all as any team in the country. And with a + 6.4 margin in turnovers (top five in the country), it's hard to say Syracuse isn't one of the two or three best teams -- at the moment -- out there. Long-term, I like Duke just a smidge better.
3. Pittsburgh: Kind of taking a chance here. Pittsburgh's strength of schedule is around the 150 mark, depending on which metric you're looking at. Either way, it's weak, and the best wins are over Penn State and Stanford, neither of which will make this year's NCAAs. I put Pitt at No. 3 because the team is top-20 in offensive and defensive efficiency on KenPom.Com. Another bright spot: Pittsburgh has a 1.74 assists-above-turnovers margin, which is fourth-best in the nation.
4. Florida State: Wins against VCU and UMass have done wonders for FSU, which enters league play at 9-3 if it defends Charleston Southern on Monday night. The losses came to Michigan, Minnesota and Florida by a combined 13 points and one overtime. The Noles have the No. 7 defense in the country on KenPom and feature a top-20 RPI as of now, which will go a long way. Unless the bottom falls out, you figure FSU will be a top-40 RPI team, which means this group is almost definitely going to the NCAAs if it navigates to 20 wins (minimum 11-7 league record).
5. North Carolina: The wins are great, but the losses are bad, and I'm putting UNC fifth because I've seen how streaky the team is. I believe it's going to be up and down all season, never putting together a losing streak of more than two games and a winning streak of more than five. I think this team is really helped by the emergence of J.P. Tokoto, and of course Marcus Paige has played beyond expectation. Losing P.J. Hairston was a saga that's finally over. Can Leslie McDonald come in and give the Heels 12/game? That'd go a long way.
6. Virginia: Allowing an ACC-best .833 points per possession. On offense, it's not nearly as nice. 1.026 PPP is near the bottom of the league. The Cavaliers have that pack-line D that keeps them in every game ... but does the same for their opponents. Four of the next five games for UVa come on the road, so it's going to get uglier before it gets better. By season's end, I think things are "OK" and this team is a No. 9 seed.
7. Clemson: I'm high on the Tigers -- but putting them at No. 7 also speaks to the ACC as of now. Still, this squad has quietly done all right for itself this season. Allowing 53 points per game, Clemson is second-best nationally in points-per-game D. It's not pace, either. Teams are shooting just 35.8 percent against Brad Brownell's team. At 882 blocks overall, the ACC is the highest-swatting team in the country. The best in the league? Plays for Clemson. K.J. McDaniels gets 2.8 per game.
8. North Carolina State: McDaneils at Clemson has the per-game lead in blocks, but N.C. State's Jordan Vandenberg's 8.8 block rate is best in the conference. T.J. Warren is the stud, though. He takes 35 percent of the team's shots when he's on the floor -- a very high ratio -- but they need him. He also leads the team in steals and free throw percentage and rebounds. Freshman Cat Barber has been very refereshing at the point. Also, opponents are hitting 79.1 percent of their free throws against N.C. State, a very high/unlucky number. All the more impressive the team is 9-3.
9. Notre Dame: I was dead wrong on the Irish. I thought this team could compete with Syracuse to finish second behind Duke. No way. I'm now selling big-time and willing to be wrong again, should it come to that. Jerian Grant's absence leaves a huge hole to be filled. There's been unrest in the program all season, really, and this is looking like a group that's as underachieving as anyone in this conference outside of the team ranked 15th. The best news is the team tallies nearly 20 assists per game. It is an offense that communicates well.
10. Maryland: I'm guessin Seth Allen will have tangiable impact and ultimately help the Terps be a team that plays the role of spoiler very well. Decent rebounding team but not that good from just about everywhere with their shots. Call 'em what they are: average.
11. Wake Forest: Might be the best rebounding team in this conference, actually. Currently snagging more than 40 per game, and the rate on the defensive end is top-25 in the country. Offensively, Wake is too fast and out of control for its own good. But beating USC and Richmond has helped Jeff Bzdelik's team start 10-3. I have to see growth inside the league, though. I do not believe this team gets to 20 wins. Eighteen would be a huge year.
12. Georgia Tech: Saw this team in person in Brooklyn in November. They're OK. A 4-1 December is a good sign. But it's cloaked in a non-conference SOS that's near 200 overall. Trae Golden is the one-year transfer from Tennessee that's come in, been OK, but won't be enough to get this team to the NCAA tournament.
13. Miami: Hurricanes' ACC-winning season from a year ago seems like five times as long. It'll be a forgotten year for this program. They score .984 points per possession, the worst in the conference. Could you tell me one player that dresses for this team? Senior Rion Brown leads the group, scoring 13.6 per game.
14. Virginia Tech: With Jerian Grant now off ND, Jarell Eddie is the second-most productive senior in the league to Fair at Syracuse. Eddie's averaging 17.4 points and snagging 6.1 rebounds. Overall, Va. Tech doesn't have the bodies to withstand a brutal ACC schedule that awaits.
15. Boston College: Think about how bad it would be if BC didn't make its free throws. That 78.5 percent from the charity strip is No. 2 in the nation. But the team's won just four games and probably won't get to 12 this year. A shame, because Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson will most definitely make money playing basketball for at least 10 years after they leave.