College basketball took almost a week hiatus over Christmas, and conference play begins in a week, making it the perfect time to take stock of the ACC.
Ahead of last Saturday’s break, Boston College picked up a gritty 65-62 road victory over DePaul. The Eagles didn’t lead until the game’s final minute but never let the deficit get too deep. Nik Popovic led the Eagles with 19 points and scored most of his baskets when the rest of the team was struggling to shoot. Wynston Tabbs led the comeback, scoring 10 of BC’s final 12 points.
Also on Saturday, North Carolina fell to a revitalized Kentucky squad 80-72. Reid Travis and Keldon Johnson combined for 41 points. The Tar Heels Nassir Little continued to struggle. He played only 14 minutes and shot 2-of-8 from the field.
Looking ahead, Kentucky is involved in the biggest non-conference game on the schedule before ACC play kicks off in earnest. The Wildcats face Louisville on Saturday in the Battle of the Bluegrass State. The Cardinals have faced a tough schedule thus far and have fared well enough early on. They defeated Michigan State and Seton Hall but fell to Tennessee, Marquette, and Indiana.
Six ACC teams currently sit in the AP Top 25 poll. Duke reclaimed the No. 1 spot after Kansas fell to Arizona State, and Virginia checked in at No. 4. Florida State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and NC State also ranked in the Top 25. Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech and North Carolina all rank in the top five in BPI.
Seven ACC teams are currently projected to advance to the NCAA Tournament, according to Joe Lunardi, down from the nine he projected heading into the season. He has all six of the teams in the AP Poll, plus Louisville. Syracuse also lands on the bubble.
Heading into the final week before conference play, every ACC squad sit above .500. Some teams have exceeded early-season expectations and others have fallen short.
Miami, which finished third in the ACC last season, sits at 7-4 after suffering a four-game losing streak that included a loss to Rutgers in Coral Gables and one to Yale in Miami. Chris Lykes has led the Hurricanes, but the team misses Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown.
Syracuse and UNC have also struggled but provide much less cause for concern. Jim Boeheim’s teams thrive as bubble squads, and the Orange have enough veteran talent to win in March if the team gets there. The Tar Heels are 8-3, but highly-touted freshman Nassir Little has struggled to find his shooting stroke. The three losses are to Texas, Michigan, and Kentucky and none have been home games. UNC does boast a home win over Gonzaga.
Florida State and Virginia Tech, both one-loss teams, look headed towards high seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The Seminoles don’t have many quality wins yet, but a balanced scoring attack (no player averages more than 13 PPG) has taken care of business to keep pace in the conference. Virginia Tech similarly only boasts a win over Purdue, but the Hokies have a more potent offense; four players average over 12 PPG.
Boston College doesn’t get as much recognition as these other teams, but Jim Christian has the Eagles primed to be ACC sleepers. BC has wins over Loyola-Chicago, Minnesota and DePaul and an overtime loss to Providence. The loss to IUPUI stings, but the potential is there with this Eagles squad. Wynston Tabbs could challenge Duke’s freshmen trio for ACC rookie of the year. Tabbs pairs with sharpshooting Chris Herren Jr. and top recruit Jairus Hamilton to form one of BC’s best freshman classes in recent memory. Ky Bowman is one of the best scorers in the conference, and Nik Popovic has made huge strides to help give BC consistent big man play.
Overall, the ACC should get more into the tournament than the seven currently projected by Lunardi. Even if a team like Louisville were to falter, Syracuse should jump off the bubble, and Boston College and Clemson should push for spots in March.