Last Wednesday, I sat down with a couple of friends to watch Duke and Carolina hoop it up at the Dean Dome. My friends are from Greensboro and Charlotte, N.C., respectively, and “Duke hatred” has been a fact of their lives.
As Carolina held its lead deeper and deeper into the game, my friends got nervous. The Tar Heels weren’t pulling away, and Duke has a habit of breaking hearts. When Luke Kennard sank his go-ahead 3-pointer against Roy Williams’ 1-3-1, my buds just weren’t that surprised.
Angry? Yes. But shocked? No. All of this is to say the Blue Devils don’t just pull out what-the-heck wins against our Cavs. Coach K’s bunch is equal opportunity — that’s for sure.
Watching that game had me psyched about ACC basketball nonetheless. There’s just talent all over the court, and we’ll see plenty of that this Saturday, when College GameDay returns to Charlottesville.
This week’s rankings, from No. 15 to No. 1:
15. Boston College (no change)
Record: 7-20 (0-14 ACC)
Last week: 54-65 L at Clemson, 48-74 L at Wake Forest
This week: Feb. 23 vs. Virginia Tech, Feb. 27 vs. Georgia Tech
Wow, is there really that much separation between BC and Wake Forest? Sunday’s debacle likely represented the Eagles’ best chance for a win in ACC play. And what a dud the maroon and gold made of it. I have nothing more to say about this team.
14. Wake Forest (no change)
Record: 11-16 (2-13 ACC)
Last week: 96-101 L (2OT) at Pittsburgh, 74-48 W vs. Boston College
This week: Feb. 24 vs. No. 19 Notre Dame, Feb. 28 vs. Virginia Tech
The Demon Deacons have made a late-season run at respectability, although by now it’s more or less fourth-quarter garbage time for coach Danny Manning’s team. Well, I take that back, because the ACC tournament is looming. Wake Forest could give somebody a scare at The Phone Booth — which apparently is a nickname for Verizon Center?
I have to say, I’ve been reading The Washington Post for a long time, and I’m pretty sure I’ve come across that nickname once — twice at best.
13. NC State (down 1)
Record: 14-13 (4-10 ACC)
Last week: 53-73 L at No. 7 Virginia, 77-74 W vs. Clemson
This week: Feb. 24 vs. No. 5 North Carolina, Feb. 27 at Syracuse
Cat Barber might be the toughest cover in the ACC — that’s how Coach K described him after Duke edged the Wolfpack a couple weeks back — but as my editor Matt Wurzburger reported, Malcolm Brogdon shut him down. For everything Brogdon does on the offensive end, he might be better on defense. I’d take him over anybody in the ACC for lockdown perimeter defense.
12. Florida State (down 2)
Record: 16-11 (6-9 ACC)
Last week: 80-86 L vs. Georgia Tech, 73-83 L at Virginia Tech
This week: Feb. 25 at No. 20 Duke, Feb. 27 vs. No. 19 Notre Dame
The Seminoles, like Tim Duncan and Patty Mills, must’ve felt a bit off this week. With losses to two teams beneath them in the conference standings, Florida State’s now on a four-game skid at just the wrong time. The culprit? I can’t pretend to know for sure, but I’d guess most nights the ‘Noles would rather not surrender 80-plus points, which they’ve done six times in conference play, taking six losses for their troubles.
11. Georgia Tech (up 2)
Record: 15-12 (5-9 ACC)
Last week: 86-80 W at Florida State, 63-62 W vs. No. 19 Notre Dame
This week: Feb. 23 vs. Clemson, Feb. 27 at Boston College
The Yellow Jackets and Demon Deacons are brightening my outlook this rainy Sunday. It’s like two troublesome pupils have become model students overnight — I won’t bother asking how. Georgia Tech has been on the verge of a winning streak for a while now. As I’ve mentioned before, nobody’s thumped the Jackets in conference play. These guys have been in seemingly every game, and this week they finally pulled a couple out.
10. Virginia Tech (up 1)
Record: 14-13 (6-8 ACC)
Last week: 49-65 L at No. 11 Miami, 83-73 W vs. Florida State
This week: Feb. 23 at Boston College, Feb. 28 at Wake Forest
Barring a deep run at The Phone Booth — I’m using the moniker because somebody has to — the Hokies won’t be playing NCAA tournament basketball this year. Virginia Tech, however, can finish above .500 for the first time since 2010-11 — when Seth Greenberg still patrolled the sidelines at Cassell Coliseum. In coach Buzz Williams’ second season with the program, that’s reason for optimism.
9. Clemson (no change)
Record: 16-11 (9-6 ACC)
Last week: 65-54 W vs. Boston College, 74-77 L at NC State
This week: Feb. 23 at Georgia Tech
The Tigers can’t be too happy about falling to NC State on the road, but they’ve still got a pretty favorable schedule prior to the ACC tourney and might just suit up at The Phone Booth with 18 wins. Tuesday’s visit to Georgia Tech strikes me as a must-win, especially given Virginia is coming to the Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 1.
8. Syracuse (down 1)
Record: 18-10 (8-7 ACC)
Last week: 58-72 L at No. 18 Louisville, 52-66 L vs. Pittsburgh
This week: Feb. 27 vs. NC State
The NCAA tourney is still a month away, but the ACC is once again among the nation’s best conference, and folks must be wondering how many league teams will make the field. Joe Lunardi has the Orange as a nine-seed in his latest bracket, with Pitt coming in at No. 11 in the East Region.
Syracuse probably isn’t thinking much about the tournament just yet, though. After picking up eight wins in 10 games following coach Jim Boeheim’s return from suspension, ‘Cuse has dropped back-to-back contests.
7. Pittsburgh (up 1)
Record: 19-7 (8-6 ACC)
Last week: 101-96 W (2OT) vs. Wake Forest, 66-52 W at Syracuse
This week: Feb. 24 vs. No. 11 Louisville, Feb. 28 vs. No. 15 Duke
No one can say the Panthers aren’t scraping, and this week, they’ll have to keep on clawing, with the Cardinals and Blue Devils both making stops in the Steel City.
I’ve written about Cat Barber and Jaron Blossomgame plenty, but Pittsburgh’s Michael Young is also having an outstanding season. The junior forward paces his team in scoring and rebounding, and makes shots, plain and simple. This season, Young is shooting 53.6 percent from the field, 80.1 percent from the line and 37.5 percent from three.
6. Notre Dame (down 2)
Record: 18-8 (9-5 ACC)
Last week: 62-63 L at Georgia Tech
This week: Feb. 24 at Wake Forest, Feb. 27 at Florida State
The Irish were on the wrong end of this week’s upset special, taking a one-point loss at Georgia Tech when Marcus Georges-Hunt put in the game-winner with two seconds left. Rebounding seems to have hurt Notre Dame in Atlanta, Ga. where the Irish pulled down just 26 boards to the Ramblin’ Wreck’s 36. Big man Zach Auguste kept cleaning the glass, though, and is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds on the season.
5. Duke (no change)
Record: 20-7 (9-5 ACC)
Last week: 74-73 W at No. 5 North Carolina, 64-71 L at No. 18 Louisville
This week: Feb. 25 vs. Florida State, Feb. 28 at Pittsburgh
I hesitate to make such a blanket statement, but if Amile Jefferson is not coming back soon, I think Duke has to have Matt Jones healthy. Without Jones, the Blue Devils’ rotation becomes even tighter, which is hard to imagine, because Coach K is already working with a short bench. Saturday against Louisville, every starter played at least 34 minutes, and only one reserve — freshman Chase Jeter — saw real minutes.
4. Louisville (up 2)
Record: 21-6 (10-4 ACC)
Last week: 72-58 W vs. Syracuse, 71-64 W vs. No. 20 Duke
This week: Feb. 24 at Pittsburgh, Feb. 27 at No. 12 Miami
Senior Damion Lee came to play this week, just as he has all season. The Baltimore native posted 15 points, six rebounds and four assists in the win over Syracuse before dropping 24 against Duke. Lee’s college career is fast coming to a close, but the graduate transfer is making the most of what’s left.
3. Virginia (down 1)
Record: 21-6 (10-5 ACC)
Last week: 73-53 W vs. NC State
This week: 61-64 L at No. 12 Miami, Feb. 27 vs. No. 7 North Carolina
Mr. Brogdon continued to dominate Monday at Miami, pouring in 28 points on 12-of-18 shooting — he just didn’t get much help. The game came down at least in part to the three-point shot, as the Cavaliers ceded 10 Hurricane treys on 19 attempts. It’s too bad center Mike Tobey didn’t do much off the bench given Anthony Gill’s rough night from the field.
Still, Saturday is not too far away, and that’s cause for excitement.
2. Miami (up 1)
Record: 21-5 (10-4 ACC)
Last week: 65-49 W vs. Virginia Tech, 71-96 L at No. 5 North Carolina
This week: 64-61 W vs. No. 3 Virginia, Feb. 27 vs. No. 11 Louisville
Did you see Sheldon McClellan’s runner from just beyond the arc to end the first half Monday against our Cavaliers? The Hurricanes’ leading scorer had a tough game shooting the basketball — unlike Davon Reed, who finished 5-of-6 from deep — but still managed 11 points and is averaging 15.8 per game in his final collegiate season.
1. North Carolina (no change)
Record: 22-5 (11-3 ACC)
Last week: 73-74 L at No. 20 Duke, 96-71 W vs. No. 11 Miami
This week: Feb. 24 at NC State, Feb. 27 at No. 7 Virginia
Should Roy Williams have called timeout in the waning seconds against Duke? My Carolina pals certainly thought so. Really, I just wished the Tar Heels had gotten Brice Johnson the ball. He’d destroyed the Blue Devils all game long, racking up an absurd 29 points and 19 rebounds — including 18 and 11 in the first half. And he doesn’t touch leather with the game on the line?
Regardless, Carolina picked up a nice bounce-back win against Miami. Can it be Saturday already?