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It was not the most riveting week in the ACC, as only four of the ten conference matchups were decided by less than 20 points. The Louisvilles and Georgia Techs of the world rightfully beat down upon the likes of the Pittsburghs and Virginias. As we go deeper into conference play, the ACC is separating itself into different tiers, and as you will see in my power rankings below, I believe there are four distinct levels of talent right now in the conference.
Movement within the tiers is expected, but for a team to change levels entirely it will need to have an outstanding (or inauspicious) performance. All that being said, there were a few teams who stood out this week and deserve a more in-depth breakdown.
North Carolina - Over their past two games, UNC has scored 116 points and allowed 118, totals that would seemingly indicate two close, low-scoring, defensive matchups. However, UNC was blown out by NC State for their first loss of the season 72-45, and then three days later crushed a hot Virginia Tech team 71-46.
The Wolfpack had beaten their first three ACC opponents by an average of 30 points, but UNC, at 13-0, figured to provide a stiffer challenge. That chance was quickly squandered as the Tar Heels fell into a 24-7 hole after the first quarter that they were never able to climb out of.
On a better note, UNC was not as bad as the final score suggests. They held NC State’s backcourt in check both in terms of shooting and playmaking, but their own shooting struggles, both open and contested, cost them any chance at an upset.
No one was expecting UNC to win that game (our Her Hoop Stats model gave them only a 19% chance for victory at tipoff), so the real test was how their young core would respond after their first loss when Virginia Tech, who were 3-0 in ACC play, came to town. The Tar Heels played one of their best games of the season, with excellent offensive diversity and taking much better care of the ball, on their way to a 25-point victory.
North Carolina won the turnover battle by nine, and doubled the number of made threes by the Hokies for as good of a bounce-back win as you can ask for. Deja Kelly had a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Eva Hodgson led all scorers with 19 off the bench.
NC State - Wes Moore was not about to hand the reins of the ACC over to UNC, especially with Elissa Cunane in the picture. Despite taking a back seat at times earlier in the season, Cunane showed that when the Wolfpack needed her most she would be ready. The All-American scored 19 points on 75% shooting, grabbed 13 boards, and did not even have to play for most of the fourth quarter against North Carolina.
It was a statement win that the Wolfpack are still the top dog (alongside Louisville) in the ACC. NC State also beat Miami this week in a surprisingly close 76-64 matchup. Cunane once again had 19 points, and helped hold the Hurricanes’ starting front court scoreless the entire game, a testament to her defensive presence inside.
Boston College - I have not been giving enough love to some of the lesser covered programs in the ACC, and the Eagles have finally caught my attention. Despite no show-stopping wins, BC is a quiet 11-4 and picked up conference wins over Syracuse and Clemson this week. Led by Taylor Soule and Cameron Swartz (who had 39 points in the Clemson win), the Eagles could potentially sneak into the NCAA Tournament (currently ranked 46th by our Her Hoop Stats rating) if they can hang with the mid-tier ACC squads throughout the rest of the season.
ACC Blunders of the Week:
COVID cancellations robbed us of three conference games this week, including a highly anticipated matchup between No. 16 Georgia Tech and No. 17 Duke. However the biggest losers of this week are Syracuse and Wake Forest, two teams that showed great promise in non-conference play and are slowly falling back to our expectations from the beginning of the season.
Wake Forest secured a one-point victory over Miami, but then got embarrassed in a 31-point loss to a Florida State team they had beaten earlier in the season.
For Cuse, it is now three straight conference losses, with Louisville up next and the hope of a miracle season in Vonn Read’s first year at the helm getting slimmer and slimmer.
Important Game Tracker:
Virginia Tech @ No. 16 Duke, Thursday January 13th
No. 21 North Carolina @ No. 20 Notre Dame, Sunday January 16th
No. 16 Duke @ No. 4 NC State, Sunday January 16th
James’ Weekly ACC Power Rankings:
NC State (14-2)
North Carolina (14-1)
Georgia Tech (11-3) ⇧1
Duke (11-2) ⇩1
Notre Dame (11-3)
Virginia Tech (11-4)
Boston College (11-4) ⇧3
Wake Forest (12-4) ⇩1
Florida State (7-6) ⇧2
Syracuse (8-7) ⇩2
Pittsburgh (9-5) ⇩2
Miami (7-5) ⇧1
Clemson (6-9) ⇩1