Through the games of December 20th.
1. Duke (10-1) (last rankings: 1)
Best win: Michigan State
Worst loss: Ohio State
Offensively, Duke has been elite. Three of the starters have offensive ratings over 114. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Andre Dawkins are all shooting over 40% from beyond the arc. Miles Plumlee is 37th nationally in offensive rebounding, while his brother Mason is among the top 400. The loan kink in the armor is that Austin Rivers is attempting 29% of the shots when he’s on the floor, and he’s not Nolan Smith, yet. Defensively, this team is an enigma. Since tempo free data became available (2002-03 season) Duke has never finished outside of the top-20 defenses in the nation, and has finished in the top-10 six of nine times. Now they’re ranked 33rd, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not Duke-like. This team is pedestrian at forcing turnovers and pressuring shots. What they do well is not allowing offensive rebounds (59th) and not sending people to the line (63rd).
2. North Carolina (10-2) (last: 2)
Best win: Wisconsin
Worst loss: UNLV
I wouldn’t say that Harrison Barnes is slumping, it’s just that he hasn’t improved. His offensive rating is almost identical to last season (105.7 to 105.8). He’s shooting the three better (and taking far fewer), but he’s not converting as well on 2s or from the line. But John Henson’s offensive game is much better, Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston have been excellent off the bench, and Tyler Zeller is Tyler Zeller. As usual, they’re a fun team to watch as they have the 3rd fastest tempo in the nation and 14th best turnover rate. They’ve been excellent on the defensive end as well, though their failure to turn teams over (254th) could haunt them in March.
3. Virginia (9-1) (last: 3)
Best win: Michigan
Worst loss: TCU
I’m coming to grips with the idea that Tony Bennett’s offense just isn’t going to be that good. When Assane Sene has your 3rd highest offensive rating, something’s up. Joe Harris has gone from a 42% 3-pt shooter to a 33% shooter. KT Harrell has gone from 42% to 20%. After finishing 19th in the nation in 3-pt shooting last year, they find themselves at 123rd. I’m also coming to grips with the idea that the Cavaliers have a legit top-10 defense. They are one of two teams in the nation yet to allow an opponent to score a point per possession, and their worst defensive performance (0.935 per trip) is better than the ACC average (0.943).
4. Florida State (8-3) (last: 4)
Best win: UCF
Worst loss: Harvard
The Seminole offense has been a wreck, and its entirely due to turnovers. FSU ranks 331st nationally, and 76th of 76 major conference teams. What makes this especially frustrating is that when they don’t turn the ball over they’re actually one of the better offensive teams in the nation. They average 1.36 per non-turnover possession. UNC, for reference, averages 1.38 on their non-turnover possessions. They do get Ian Miller back this week (assuming he passed his classes), but have lost Terrance Shannon for the season. Shannon was the only player on the roster with an offensive rating over 105, and had the 2nd best turnover rate on the team. Defensively, this team has – literally – been awesome. With a veteran squad Leonard Hamilton is mixing up defenses more than he’s ever done. FSU is on pace to finish with the best defense of his career.
5. Virginia Tech (9-3) (last: 5)
Best win: Oklahoma State
Worst loss: Minnesota
With as much talent as Seth Greenberg’s team lost from last season, it’s hard to believe that they’ve improved offensively. Last year’s team ranked 57th, this year’s team ranks 41st. Erick Green has been spectacular, and has proven himself to be the best point guard in the conference. He currently has the highest offensive rating (126.2) in the ACC for players that use at least 20% of their team’s possessions. Jarrell Eddie is a completely different player than he was as a freshman. He’s shooting 53% from deep, and 93% from the line. Tech’s defense has slipped a bit, but that is to be expected as the young players learn the system. Of note, the Hokies lead the nation in 3-pt FG% defense.
6. Georgia Tech (7-4) (last: 10)
Best win: VCU
Worst loss: Tulane
Part of the Yellow Jackets jump in the power rankings is due to their losses looking better. LSU has won five in a row and knocked off previously undefeated Marquette. St Joe’s beat Creighton and Villanova. And Northwestern is 10-1. They’re getting it done defensively (23rd nationally). Offensively, not so much. They pose no 3-pt threat (307th), turn the ball over far too often (258th), and rarely get to the line (242nd). They have a huge showdown on January 3rd with Alabama.
7. NC State (7-4) (last: 6)
Best win: Texas
Worst loss: Vanderbilt
Since NC State blew a golden opportunity for a signature win on the road against Stanford they’ve struggled with NC Central, played well against Syracuse but lost, and won a nail biter against St Bonaventure. Unfortunately, they have no more opportunities to build their out of conference resume. They have four games left, and a loss would be a disaster. Mark Gottfried’s team has been much better on the offensive end that his predecessor’s (70th to 21st). Last year they couldn’t get to the line and struggled to hit the three. Now they’ve improved both of those areas. And they’re also a top-25 offensive rebounding team. Defensively though, the team has been a disappointment. They don’t force turnovers (270th), have a poor perimeter defense (305th in 3-pt%) and they foul too often.
8. Maryland (6-3) (last: 9)
Best win: Notre Dame
Worst loss: Illinois
Maryland narrowly avoided what would have been a couple of horrible losses (to Mount St Mary’s and FIU), but they’re winning. And winning matters. Ashton Pankey and Berend Weijs have done an admirable job holding down the interior until the arrival of Alex Len (only one more week, Maryland fans). The Terps have four games left on their out of conference slate, and if they can navigate that road unscathed then this will be a better-than-expected start for Maryland.
9. Miami (5-2) (last: 7)
Best win: Rutgers
Worst loss: Mississippi
Miami had great opportunities for a signature win versus Memphis and West Virginia, but lost both. This means Jim Larranaga’s club will be completely reliant on ACC play to get to the Tournament. The good news is that Reggie Johnson is back from injury and DeQuan Jones has been cleared to play. The biggest impact obviously will be Johnson. He immediately addresses the Canes rebounding issues, poor 2-pt shooting, and their inability to block shots. They have a big game at Charlotte on Thursday, which frankly they need to win.
10. Wake Forest (5-3) (last: 8)
Best win: Nebraska
Worst loss: Arizona State
Wake is still steadily improving. They struggled to put away High Point but that’s the kind of game they lost last year. They had an opportunity for their best win at Seton Hall, but fell short. On offense they are 335th at grabbing offensive boards, but their care of the ball has gone from 272nd to 62nd. CJ Harris is having an unexpected breakout year, and freshman Chase Fischer has been as advertised. Defensively, they’re still struggling to crack the top-200.
11. Clemson (6-4) (last: 11)
Best win: Iowa
Worst loss: Coastal Carolina
I don’t think that Clemson will finish the season 11th in the ACC power rankings. But right now their offensive struggles are extreme. They are 309th at getting to the line, 232nd at taking care of the ball and 205th in FT%. Andre Young is having his best season, but he’s never going to be a guy that can score at will. No one else on the team is in double digits, and the two highest volume regulars (Devin Booker and Milton Jennings) have offensive ratings of 96.3 and 84.8 respectively. The good news is that the defense is legit. They were 11th in Brad Brownell’s first season, and 17th this year.
12. Boston College (4-7) (last: 12)
Best win: Stony Brook
Worst loss: Holy Cross
BC’s signature win is Stony Brook. So there’s that.