The State of the ACC – Jan 6, 2005

As we get into ACC play it is time to look at how teams have been playing the last couple of weeks. At this point of the season injuries to key players are starting to have a big affect on team placement.

As we get into ACC play it is time to look at how teams have been playing the last couple of weeks. Once again this ranking has little to do with where I think teams may end up at the end of the season. Instead it is more of a barometer of who is playing the best in my opinion right now. At this point of the season injuries to key players are starting to have a big affect on team placement.

1. North Carolina 12-1

After losing its opening game minus Raymond Felton against Santa Clara, UNC has rolled off 12 straight wins, most by large margins. They are easily the best offensive team in the conference leading the league in ppg, fg%, 3FG%, FT%, assists. While not the strongest defensive squad in the conference they are doing considerably better than their bottom 2 performance of last year. The key to this team is simply keeping Felton healthy and non-tired. No one on the team averages more than 29 mpg and it is a very experienced team.

2. Wake Forest 12-1

After its embarrassing loss to Illinois, Wake has responded nicely. They get my nod here simply because they are in better health than Duke right now. This is the 2nd best offensive team in the conference and has the guards to go far. But there are issues that may make it less successful in March than some other teams that I currently rank behind them. Only Chris Paul averages more than 30 mpg. First they are still one of the weakest defensive teams in the conference and second, they are last in TO margin, two bad signs for March. Nice wins on the road right now against NM and UVA look good though.

3. Duke 9-0

Duke is here simply due to injuries. They keep winning like most Coach K teams do and have the advantage of a softer ACC schedule right now, but this is a team that will need to get healthy or it could run out of gas at the end of the season. With Shavlik Randolph and Reggie Love out this team is small and depth starved. Duke is one of the better half court defensive teams in the conference but relies an awful lot on 3-pt shooting on offense. A cold shooting night by J.J. Redick or Daniel Ewing will make it hard to win. More importantly Redick is already averaging over 35 mpg and Ewing almost 33 mpg with Shelden Williams over 31 mpg.. Will Duke run out of gas at the end of the season due to having to play its key players so much.

4. Maryland 9-2

Maryland has looked very strong the last 3 weeks with the exception of the overtime win against FSU at home, though the games have been against weak competition. John Gilchrist is playing very well offensively right now. A very strong offensive club, though middle of the pack defensively, they could still use more inside punch. I thought about putting them ahead of Duke, but won't until Duke loses. Maryland is also relatively healthy right now.

5. Georgia Tech 9-2

Tough loss at Kansas where they lost a game they could have won and lost their leading scorer for likely a couple of weeks. GT is now without 2 of its original top 7 players. If there is a silver lining it is that their freshmen will get more time which could help come March. GT is a middle of the pack offensive club, but the best defensive club in the ACC – leading the conference in opponents' ppg, FG% defense, 3FG% defense. Those numbers bode well for March and will be needed if they want to scratch out wins until B.J. Elder returns to health. Jarrett Jack is having a very strong year and is the only player averaging more than 26 mpg.

6. North Carolina State 10-3

NC State has really slumped the last couple of weeks with an injury to Julius Hodge and poor shooting by almost everyone. An 18-pt loss to a weak St. John's squad is dreadful. NC ST has been a middle of the pack team both offensively and defensively so far this season. The WVU game shows how much this team relies on Hodge to carry it. Tony Bethel has not played well as of late and has been sick. This team simply looks out of sync right now.

7. Clemson 9-4

Clemson has gotten off to a nice start this year and by the end of the year could be an NIT team. Ford and Akin Akingbala have made a nice combo inside and Shawan Robinson got off to a great start outside, though he has slumped recently and needs more help. Cliff Hammonds has done a nice job in the backcourt and this is a tough defensive team. One of the weaker offensive teams in the ACC it will need to rely on its defense to keep it close to steal some games.

8. Virginia 8- 2

UVA got off to a strong start but has come back to earth recently and the injury bug has hit it pretty hard. Devin Smith suffered a severely sprained ankle against Loyola Marymount and Sean Singletary is playing with an injured shoulder. UVA is a solid offensive team (when Smith is healthy) but still a fairly weak defensive team. It will have to scratch and claw to get enough ACC wins to make the NCAA tournament, though its OOC performance will help. This is another team like Duke, GT, and NC St that needs to get some key people healthy. If Singletary's shoulder stays injured all season it could cause problems down the road.

9. Miami 9-2

After a slow start Miami has played very well over the last month. It got a big win at Florida. They are riding an 8 game winning streak but the level of play really changes as they make play their first game outside the state of FL on Thursday and their first road game in a month. Miami has been getting great production out of its 3 guard offense (2/3 of its scoring comes from 3 guards) and then crashes the boards hard (1st in ACC in rebound margin). Like Duke they rely on 3-pt shooting to generate a lot of their offense. Not a high scoring offense, they get their points in bunches and then rely on solid defense. Will be interesting to see how this team reacts as it starts to play in hostile environments going forward. Miami's starters play a lot of minutes so this is a team that could fade later in the season

10. Florida State 8-6

FSU has the talent to be ranked much higher but has suffered from a lack of leadership. They had a nice win over Florida last weekend but were whipped by LSU before that and had a tough overtime loss to Maryland before that. There has been no consistency either offensively or defensively. So far this team really hasn't established an identity and doesn't do anything particularly well. Over time the talented freshman should really help but the consistency may not be there this season. They appear to be making small steps in the right direction and could move up significantly on the list before the year is out.

11. Virginia Tech 6-5

Easily the weakest team in the conference right now. Very challenged in the post, it relies on a 4-guard offense and a lot of threes. When they fall they have a chance, when they don't it will be a long night. Played Mississippi State tough but its conference opening loss may be a sign of things to come. VT needs to get even more from the freshmen than it has gotten so far.

A lot will change over the next 8 weeks, including these rankings. It will be very entertaining to watch the ebb and flow of the conference season as teams get hurt, get healthy, have players step up or players not produce as expected.

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