Syracuse, N.Y. — The Syracuse men’s basketball team reinvigorated its NCAA tournament at-large hopes last week with wins over North Carolina and Clemson, while a surprising final weekend result gave Virginia the regular-season title.
Florida State’s stumble against Notre Dame opened the door for the Cavaliers, who took the crown with a win over Louisville and the fact that they played two more games, both wins.
It’s the third time in four years that Virginia has won at least a share of the regular-season crown, and it’s one of the things these ACC Power Rankings predicted correctly at the start of the year.
This is the last version of the power rankings of the season, so I’ve included a look back at what my expectations were when the year began. You can judge for yourself how well or poorly I did, and how much you feel like trusting these next season.
1. Florida State
Record: 15-5 (11-4)
Last week’s ranking: 1
Last week’s results: Win 93-64 vs. Boston College; Loss 83-73 at Notre Dame
Preseason ranking: 4
Story of the season: Florida State has done a great job building depth, size and athleticism under Leonard Hamilton and it was pretty obvious they belonged in the top tier of teams before the season started.
Junior RaiQuan Gray’s improvement has been a big reason for Florida State remaining toward the very top. While Virginia won the regular-season title, I think the ceiling is actually a little higher at Florida State.
Record: 17-6 (13-4)
Last week’s ranking: 2
Last week’s results: Win 62-51 vs. Miami; Win 68-58 at Louisville
Preseason ranking: 1
Story of the season There’s no better bet in the ACC than Tony Bennett. His Cavaliers haven’t quite met their usual exceptional standard on defense and that’s the only reason Virginia is a really good team instead of a great one.
The assumption that Virginia’s offense would be vastly improved with the shooting of transfer Sam Hauser wound up being a good one.
3. Georgia Tech
Record: 15-8 (11-6)
Last week’s ranking: 7
Last week’s results: Win 81-77 vs. Duke in overtime; Win 75-63 at Wake Forest
Preseason ranking: 8
Story of the season: The Yellow Jackets came into the season with an obviously strong big three but had little depth behind them. Forward Jordan Usher took significant steps forward as a complementary player and Moses Wright went from good to great, resulting in a six-game winning streak to end the year.
The depth issues didn’t come into play the way I expected. Georgia Tech didn’t have a key player miss a full game due to injury or the coronavirus, getting a little bit lucky.
Record: 16-6 (10-6)
Last week’s ranking: 4
Last week’s results: Loss 64-54 at Syracuse; Win 77-62 vs. Pittsburgh
Preseason ranking: 9
Story of the season: Clemson almost always plays good defense and came into the year with a game-changing player in forward Aamir Simms. I’m not sure it was possible to predict the Tigers’ defense would be one of the country’s 15 best and help them overcome these many offensive shortcomings.
The loss to Syracuse is Clemson’s only defeat in its final seven games.
5. Virginia Tech
Record: 15-5 (9-4)
Last week’s ranking: 2
Last week’s results: None
Preseason ranking: 10
Story of the season: The Hokies finished third in the regular-season standings but played only 13 league games, tied for the lowest in the league. It’s hard to imagine they’re going to finish the year playing their best basketball after playing just twice in the past month due to coronavirus issues.
Transfer forwards Keve Aluma and Justyn Mutts don’t have ideal frontcourt size but they’ve done an excellent job giving the Hokies something in the middle and correcting Virginia Tech’s glaring weakness from last year.
6. North Carolina
Record: 16-9 (10-6)
Last week’s ranking: 5
Last week’s results: Loss 72-70 at Syracuse; Win 91-73 vs. Duke
Preseason ranking: 3
Story of the season: North Carolina’s talented young guards haven’t grown quite as quickly as the Tar Heels would have hoped and still have a propensity to make freshman mistakes. When they avoid turnovers, North Carolina’s powerful frontcourt can make things difficult for any team in the country. When they don’t, UNC is capable of providing some head-scratching results.
Record: 13-6 (8-5)
Last week’s ranking: 6
Last week’s results: Loss 68-58 vs. Virginia
Preseason ranking: 5
Story of the season: Louisville starting center Malik Williams missed nearly the full year with an injury but the Cardinals have managed to hold their own inside without him and have gotten exceptional play from transfer guard Carlik Jones.
Record: 15-8 (9-7)
Last week’s ranking: 10
Last week’s results: Win 72-70 vs. North Carolina; Win 64-54 vs. Clemson
Preseason ranking: 7
Story of the season: Syracuse lost starting center Bourama Sidibe one game into the season due to injury and has struggled to defend the middle and secure a rebound to finish defensive possessions. The Orange has gotten strong contributions from Illinois transfer Alan Griffin and freshman point guard Kadary Richmond to help offset some of that.
9. North Carolina State
Record: 13-9 (9-8)
Last week’s ranking: 9
Last week’s result: Win 80-69 at Notre Dame
Preseason ranking: 11
Story of the season: The Wolfpack have done a nice job building depth under head coach Kevin Keatts and it’s helped them close the season with five straight wins despite losing star Devon Daniels to injury at midseason. A reload wasn’t as necessary as I thought.
Record: 11-11 (9-9)
Last week’s ranking: 8
Last week’s results: Loss 81-77 in overtime at Georgia Tech; Loss 91-73 at North Carolina
Preseason ranking: 2
Story of the season: Duke has obvious talent but the Blue Devils never put things together. Unlike many of his predecessors, freshman star Jalen Johnson wasn’t ready to carry a college team, dealt with injury issues and eventually left the team.
Perhaps the most telling stat for Duke is that the Blue Devils have one of the country’s worst rates of getting to the free-throw line, a very strange outcome for a team with such clear physical gifts. This was a big whiff.
11. Notre Dame
Record: 10-14 (7-11)
Last week’s ranking: 11
Last week’s results: Loss 80-69 vs. North Carolina State; Win 83-73 vs. Florida State
Preseason ranking: 13
Story of the season: Junior Nate Laszewski took a big step forward and helped Notre Dame continue to play really good offense. The Fighting Irish also continue to play very poor defense. That’s just who Notre Dame seems to be.
Record: 10-11 (6-10)
Last week’s ranking: 12
Last week’s results: Win 70-57 vs. Wake Forest; Loss 77-62 at Clemson
Preseason ranking: 12
Story of the season: With Justin Champagnie turning into a star, Pittsburgh had the potential to do much better than expectations. But When Xavier Johnson and Au’Diese Toney left the team, Champagnie lost his two best members of his supporting cast and the Panthers struggled the way they were expected to.
Record: 8-16 (4-15)
Last week’s ranking: 13
Last week’s results: Loss 62-51 at Miami; Win 80-76 vs. Boston College
Preseason ranking: 6
Story of the season: No team was crushed by injuries worse than the Hurricanes, who will finish the year with six healthy players who came to the school on scholarship.
Starting point guard Chris Lykes played just two games. Starting power forward Sam Waardenburg didn’t play any. Freshman Earl Timberlake played just seven games. Other players were in and out of the lineup.
14. Boston College
Record: 4-15 (2-11)
Last week’s ranking: 14
Last week’s results: Loss 93-64 at Florida State; Loss 80-76 at Miami
Preseason ranking: 14
Story of the season: This whole thing was rather predictable. The Eagles began the year with limited talent, a coach on the hot seat and a very difficult schedule. They will finish without one of their best players (Wynston Tabbs), an interim coach and the league’s worst overall record.
15. Wake Forest
Record: 6-15 (3-15)
Last week’s ranking: 15
Last week’s results: Loss 70-57 at Pittsburgh; Loss 75-63 vs. Georgia Tech
Preseason ranking: 15
Story of the season: Wake Forest entered the year in need of a complete rebuild under new coach Steve Forbes and will finish the same way it started. The Demon Deacons have lost seven consecutive games and the last six have been by at least 12 points.
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