The ACC continues to be the best conference in college basketball this season. This weekend was something special with four of the top six losing and Duke needing a last second shot to beat Wake Forest.
There appear to be six teams capable of winning this league: North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Virginia. Not to mention that there are definitely other good teams in the conference in Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and now Syracuse capable of winning any game, any night.
But let’s take a look at the originally mentioned six teams, starting with the four teams that lost this weekend.
First thing’s first, #12 Virginia lost on a buzzer-beating tip-in at Big East foe Villanova. Getting this out of the way because of the four teams to lose, Virginia’s was the only to a ranked team. This loss does nothing bad for Virginia, they played good basketball and got beat by a good team, but they looked like they were going to win the game before blowing the 13 point lead, but that happens against teams like Villanova. Virginia should be fine.
So if that was the most excusable loss, North Carolina’s 15 point drudging at Miami is least. Miami didn’t even play that well in the game, and beat in my opinion the best team in the conference. It looked like every player besides Justin Jackson chose the same day to have the worst shooting days of their career, led by Joel Berry’s 0-8 from the floor. As a team they shot just 35 percent and Berry and Kenny Williams combined 0-9 from deep. Even if half of those shots had fallen, they still lose the game. BUT, this should serve as a huge wakeup call for the Tar Heels and they will turn it around. The bad news is Theo Pinson will probably miss another few games.
Now to the more excusable losses starting with Florida State, who lost to Syracuse by 10. Florida State’s two game losing streak right now is really more about how deep the conference is than how much trouble Florida State is in. They just beat 5 ranked opponents in the previous 3 weeks and lost to Georgia Tech and Syracuse, two teams that should make the NCAA Tournament. But, that doesn’t mean that Florida State fans shouldn’t be a bit worried. They appear to be virtually unbeatable at home, no matter who the opponent, but they have lost their last 3 road games, by a combined 45 points.
The other team that has lost two straight games is Notre Dame. The Irish lost at Georgia Tech on Saturday by 2 points and then Monday night at home against Duke despite both Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard fouling out for the Blue Devils. Notre Dame needs more consistency on the glass from players not named Bonzie Colson. Colson has been working his tail off, but has seen little help on the boards in the last 2 games, grabbing over 45 percent of their rebounds. Notre Dame fans are also starting to get worried about the shooting of Steve Vasturia who is just 4-20 from three in the last 4 games. VJ Beachem has been great, but he needs help from behind the arc from Vasturia if Notre Dame is going to threaten the top of the league again.
Now to the two teams that won this weekend, Duke and Louisville. Duke just wrapped up the Notre Dame win, a huge sigh of relief for Blue Devils fans. Grayson Allen didn’t have any extra attention brought on himself and played a brilliant game too. And as mentioned, Duke held on despite being without 2 starters for the last few minutes. Jayson Tatum was critical in the win, collecting his first career double-double. But most importantly for Duke, Luke Kennard is the best player in the conference right now, and it couldn’t come at a better time. His play of late has taken some of the elevated pressure off Allen and lets Duke play the way they want to. Kennard’s three pointer against Wake might have been the biggest moment of the season for Duke so far and they are about to become the same dangerous Duke again.
Louisville may have had the easiest opponent of the weekend, but did what they were supposed to and beat NC State by 25 at home behind Donovan Mitchell’s 28 points. Louisville has quietly been a dominant team in the conference, maybe the second best behind North Carolina. They have an outstanding starting lineup and eight players that they can trust to score the basketball on each and every possession, not to mention a defense ranked 13th in the nation.
So who is the top dog right now? It has to be Louisville. The Cardinals are the only team mentioned above that haven’t lost to anybody who isn’t an elite contender. Virginia’s loss to Pittsburgh still sticks in my mind as the worst loss of any team in the conference thus far and it’s still Pitt’s only win. North Carolina might still be more talented than Louisville, but they aren’t as deep. When Louisville has two players struggling in a game, so what? They can look to their bench and get production from a number of other guys.
Duke’s buzzer beating win over Wake, may have been a season-changing moment, but they are a few more Grayson Allen technicals away from having another collapse. Louisville just seems poised to avenge last season’s postseason ban and I think they should win at least one of the regular season or conference tournament titles.