Ranking the talent-rich ACC is a real toss-up

col-cliffpetersonThe Atlantic Coast Conference is a mess this season. A spectacular, exciting, amazing mess – but a mess nonetheless.

The Duke Blue Devils are in 10th place in the conference yet are somehow probably one of the 10 best teams in the entire country. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are alone in first place in the conference standings, yet they are staring up at as many as three other ACC teams in the national rankings.

Overall, six of the conference’s 15 teams are ranked in the Top 25, and 10 of the 15 teams rank in the top 45, according to KenPom rankings. Essentially, two-thirds of the conference is good or great. That makes it incredibly hard to power rank the ACC, especially with the teams having played unbalanced in-conference schedules to this point. Let’s give it a try anyway:

* 1. North Carolina Tar Heels: A half game behind Notre Dame in the standings, UNC seems to be coming on. After an inexplicable road loss at Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels have won five straight, scoring no fewer than 85 points each night. UNC needs to build a cushion, though, as it will play six ranked opponents in its final eight games of the season.

* 2. Virginia Cavaliers: Everyone knows about Virginia’s elite defense, but the team’s offense has actually been highly effective this season, when adjusting for pace. The Cavaliers still play incredibly slow, but they shoot 50 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three as a team.

* 3. Florida State Seminoles: FSU is currently running the gauntlet: six consecutive conference games against a ranked opponent. It began the streak 3-1, which is as good as one could hope. The Seminoles are long, stretchy and versatile. They are a scary matchup for anyone.

* 4. Louisville Cardinals: Perhaps only press Virginia has a better defense in the country right now, and even then, Louisville’s may be better. The Cardinals’ ACC start has actually been worse than their out-of-conference slate, where they beat Purdue, Kentucky and Indiana.

* 5. Duke Blue Devils: Duke is biding its time. Grayson Allen has been suspended; Harry Giles and Marques Bolden were injured; Amile Jefferson is hurt now. Even Coach K is out injured. Yet this roster is crazy deep and talented at every spot on the floor. The team is still undefeated at home and can right the ship rather quickly.

* 6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish: The Irish aren’t as talented as these other teams, but that hasn’t stopped them from winning, specifically by making half of all their shots. Of course, a 5-0 ACC start has included just one game against a ranked team, and that came at home. We will find out a lot more about Notre Dame in the coming weeks.

* 7. Clemson Tigers: The Tigers rank No. 28 nationally according to KenPom, but are currently sharing the ACC cellar with only one league win. They have a chance to grab their biggest win of the season and snap a four-game losing streak on the road at Louisville on Friday. This will be no easy task, and Clemson  will need another stellar performance from Jaron Blossomgame. The senior forward has 20+ points in five straight ACC games, the longest Tiger streak since Horace Grant in 1987.

* The Rest: 8. Miami 9. Virginia Tech 10. Wake Forest 11. NC State 12. Syracuse 13. Georgia Tech 14. Pittsburgh 15. Boston College.

Cliff Peterson is a sportswriter for U.S.S. Sports Machine.

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