Duke (AP #2, Coaches #2, KenPom #2)
Record: 8-0, KenPom SoS: 142
Notable Wins: Michigan St, @ Wisconsin
Notable Losses: None
Coach Mike Krzyzewski's squad won't enter conference play until their January 3rd match-up with Boston College. Between now and then, they'll face Connecticut in New Jersey on December 18th. The Blue Devils have racked up 8 wins so far in their non conference season. Their most notable victories are headlined by a 10 point win in Madison, Wisconsin and another 10 point win over common opponent Michigan State. Duke also beat Stanford on a neutral floor by 11.
The Blue Devils have been dominating thus far, getting it done with the nation's most efficient offense and the #2 eFG shooting team in the land. They don't turn the ball over, they're a good rebounding team, and they lack any obvious statistical weakness.
From a personnel point-of-view, the Blue Devils are a mix of solid veterans like Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, and Marshall Plumlee paired with youthful phenomenons Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, and Jahlil Okafor. In particular, Okafor has been spectacularly efficient on the offensive end while also protecting the rim and cleaning the glass. Jones has hit the ground running as one of the best point men in the country, with nearly six assists per game against only a single turnover per game so far.
Coach K sports a well-rounded, extremely talented squad that will remain part of the national discussion all year, even with the recent departure of sophomore forward Semi Ojeleye.
Louisville (AP #4, Coaches #4, KenPom #5)
Record: 9-0, KenPom SoS: 276
Notable Wins: Minnesota, Ohio St, Indiana
Notable Losses: None
Much like Duke, coach Rick Pitino's Louisville squad has managed to pepper in some Big Ten opposition among a very light non-conference slate. Also like Duke, they don't open their inaugural ACC season until January.
That is where most of the similarities end. The Cardinals are one of the most ruthlessly efficient defenses in the country, giving up only 0.834 points per possession. The 94' of fouling approach lives on in Louisville and they've harassed opponents into only 38.5% eFG and an amazing 27% turnover rate. Offensively, the Cardinal are a fairly efficient team, rated 33rd most efficient offense in the country, but they do it in an entirely different way. They don't shoot very well from beyond the arc or at the line, and they're very average in taking care of the ball. Where the Cardinals hurt you is on their offensive glass. They grab 43.1% of their own misses, good for 6th in the country, and good enough to drive the Cardinals to an 9-0 start.
From a personnel point-of-view, the Cardinals rely heavily on 6'8" junior Montrezl Harrell. Making 56 of his 80 two-point attempts on the season, Harrell's impressive interior skills serve him well on both sides of the floor. The veteran leader will certainly be in the conversation for several PoY awards. Along with Harrell, Pitino relies on contributions from seniors Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear. The Cardinal youth movement includes sophomore shooting gard Terry Rozier and 6'10" freshman Chinanu Onuaku, who is among top offensive rebounders in the country.
Before opening their first season of ACC play, Pitino's squad will face their toughest test in their annual tilt with Kentucky. That will give us all a great indicator of where the Cardinals might stack up nationally, but we can all rest assured they will be near the top of the ACC in their first year in the league.
Virginia (AP #5, Coaches #5, KenPom #3)
Record: 9-0, KenPom SoS: 193
Notable Wins: Maryland, VCU
Notable Losses: None
Head coach Tony Bennett has put together a largely untested Cavalier squad that won't open ACC play until they travel to Miami on January 3rd. Using KenPom ratings, the most challenging non conference game on the Cav's schedule is their 12/21 matchup with Harvard. In a bit of ACC/BigTen irony, the only stiff competition Virginia has faced so far was their trip to Maryland on 12/3, where they came away 9-point winners.
Virginia sports the nations 3rd most efficient defense paired with the 10th most efficient offense. Bennett's defense is designed less to turn people over versus forcing poor shots and consistently cleaning their own glass. The Cav's manage to clear 78% of opponent misses. Offensively, UVa shoots the ball consistently well from all over the floor and take good care of the ball.
From a personnel point-of-view, the Cav's are a veteran bunch. Juniors Anthony Gill and Justin Anderson lead the way with classmates Malcom Brogdon and Mike Tobey also logging significant minutes. Sophomore London Perrantes triggers the offense for Bennet's squad. Both Anderson and Gill are among the most efficient offensive players in the country, sporting gaudy 135 ORtg's and both shooting over 65% eFG. Anderson can do it from all over the floor, with a gaudy 59% from behind the arc, and Gill making 2/3rds of his 2 point FG attempts.
Virginia dispatched VCU by 17 on the road and the Terps by 11 at Maryland. Both are impressive wins, and drive much of the buzz around this team, but it is also fair to say the Cav's haven't faced any true top-flight competition this year. That all changes at the end of January, when Bennett's team will face Duke, UNC, and Louisville in an 8-day stretch. With only a home game vs. Harvard and a trip to South Bend between now and then to truly concern themselves with, the Cav's could really have it rolling when they hit that challenging chunk of ACC scheduling. They better have it rolling and their place in the league secured before having to head to Syracuse and Louisville in early March to close out ACC regular season play.
Miami (AP #18, Coaches #19, KenPom #22)
Record: 9-1, KenPom SOS: 161
Notable Wins: Florida, Illinois
Notable Losses: Green Bay
Coach Jim Larranaga's Hurricanes opened the season with a bang by beating Florida in Gainesville by 2, and followed that up later with a 9 point win over Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. That earned Miami a lot of early season respect, but a visit from the Green Bay Phoenix left the Hurricanes with a 13 point loss on their home floor and a lot of questions. Miami will face common opponent Providence just before Christmas and open ACC play vs. UVa at home on Jan 3rd.
The Hurricanes have a top-20 offense, built primarily around 41.6% three-point shooting so far. They take good care of the ball, and play a fairly patient style. Miami, however, struggled versus the better defenses they've seen. Green Bay held the Hurricanes to only 5-20 shooting from downtown, whereas Miami was 9-18 from deep versus Florida. Larranaga's squad seems to be willing to both live and die by the deep ball.
From a personnel point-of-view, the Hurricanes are not a big team. Sub-six-foot guards Angel Rodriguez and Manu Lecomte play heavy minutes and take a lot of threes. Junior Sheldon McCelllan is also a deadly shooter, sporting a 63.3% eFG on the year, and classmate Tonye Jekri anchors the front line at 7'. Freshmen James Palmer and Omar Sherman are also seeing significant time for the Hurricanes.
Miami remains an intriguing enigma so far this season. When their shots are dropping, the Hurricanes are a force to be reckoned with, but when faced with a cool shooting night, they're certainly beatable. We'll learn a lot about Miami early in ACC play when they open with Virgina and then face trips to Durham and South Bend in a 4 day stretch in mid January.
North Carolina (AP #24, Coaches #24, KenPom #17)
Record: 6-3, KenPom SOS: 17
Notable Wins: UCLA, Florida
Notable Losses: Butler, Iowa, at Kentucky
Coach Roy Williams has put his Tar Heel squad up against a killer non-conference slate that still includes a game with Ohio State before opening conference play at Clemson on Jan 3rd. After Butler put a smear on North Carolina's trip to the Bahamas, handing the Heels an 8-point loss, Carolina went on to beat UCLA and Florida pretty handily. UNC couldn't throw a shot in the ocean when they went down to Iowa at home in the ACC/Big Ten challenge, and then took a beat down from Kentucky in Rupp arena.
Even with the high level of competition, North Carolina has demonstrated an efficient up-tempo attack that relies on taking care of the ball and the nation's second best offensive rebounding effort. The Heels collect 44.3% of their own misses, and there are a lot of misses to collect because they only shoot 48.4% eFG. Defensively, UNC uses length and athleticism to harass teams in to an even more woeful 40.4% eFG.
From a personnel point-of-view, the Tar Heels are anchored by 6'1" junior guard Marcus Paige. Coach Williams also builds his attack around the athleticism of juniors Brice Johnson and J.P. Tokoto. Kennedy Meeks, a 6'9" 290 pound sophomore, is a rebounding machine with great hands and tremendous size inside.
Because UNC has been battle-tested so far this season, opponents are starting to see how to game-plan vs. the Tar Heels. The issue, of course, is having the personnel to do it. You need a lot of length and athleticism to keep UNC from running and keep them off the glass. If you can, then you can harass them in to poor shooting and get in to your own offense. Good defensive teams like Butler, Iowa, and Kentucky have given people the blueprint, the question is, can others follow it?
Syracuse (not ranked, KenPom #37)
Record: 6-3, KenPom SoS: 201
Notable Wins: Iowa
Notable Losses: California, at Michigan, St. John's
Schedule notes: This is one of the tougher non-conference slates in Jim Boeheim's long history with the Orange, and they still have a trip to Philly to face Villanova before opening up ACC play at Va Tech on Jan 3rd.
Statistical Notes: The Orange are one of the worst three point shooting teams in the country, only 27% of their attempts come from behind the arc and they're making a paltry 22.5% of them.
Personnel Notes: Six foot nine senior, Rakeem Christmas is shooting over 60% from the field and blocking 9.2% of opponent shot attempts when he's in the game. Freshmen Chris McCullough and Kaleb Joseph are logging a lot of minutes and picking up experience quickly for the Orange.
North Carolina State (not ranked, KenPom #48)
Record: 8-2, KenPom SoS: 304
Notable Wins: none
Notable Losses: at Purdue, Wofford
Schedule Notes: Coach Mark Gottfried somewhat back-loaded his non-conference schedule this season. The Wolfpack host Tennessee, face West Virginia and host Cincinnati before opening ACC play at home vs. Pitt on Jan 3rd. NCSt has a very front loaded ACC schedule with a seven day stretch in January that has them traveling to Virginia, then hosting cross-town rivals Duke and UNC back-to-back.
Statistical Notes: The Wolfpack defense is holding teams to only 40.3% eFG and clearing 74% of opponent misses.
Personnel Notes: The Wolfpack are another sophomore-dominated squad with 5 of the 7 guys that play nearly 50% or more of the minutes listed as sophomores.
Pittsburgh (not ranked, KenPom #51)
Record: 6-3, KenPom SoS: 172
Notable Wins: Kansas St.
Notable Losses: at Hawaii, San Diego St., at Indiana
Schedule Notes: While I'm sure Jamie Dixon's Panther squad enjoyed their trip to Hawaii, losing to the Rainbow Warriors won't go on their highlight film. They won't be tested by another top 100 team until they open conference play in Raleigh vs. NC St. on Jan 3rd. The Panthers might also face one of the toughest stretches in the country when they host Syracuse, travel to Louisville, host UNC, and travel to Virgnia and to Syracuse over a 14 day stretch in February.
Statistical Notes: The slow-paced Panthers haven't been able to turn teams over or clear their glass effectively this year and rely on harassing teams into poor shooting for defensive success.
Personnel notes: Dixon is fielding a very young squad with junior James Robinson the only upperclassman seeing significant minutes.
Georgia Tech (not ranked, KenPom #95)
Record: 6-2, KenPom SoS: 243
Notable Wins: Georgia
Notable Losses: Marquette, USC Upstate
Brian Gregory has a veteran squad that is struggling to shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor, including the charity stripe, where they're only converting on 62% of their FT attempts. This is yet another team struggling to get what little offensive efficiency they can out off the offensive glass.
Clemson (not ranked, KenPom #113)
Record: 6-3, KenPom SoS: 327
Notable Wins: LSU
Notable Losses: Winthrop, Gardner Webb, and Rutgers (all > 150 rated)
Stop me if you've heard this before, but the Tigers also struggle to shoot the ball well. Brad Bronwell's team isn't a skilled passing team, ranking 310th in the country in assists per made FG.
Florida State (not ranked, KenPom #119)
Record: 4-5, KenPom SoS: 255
Notable Wins: None
Notable Losses: @ Notre Dame, Northeastern, Nebraska
A team that has been a match-up nightmare for the Irish in the past is a shell of its former self as Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles lost their best offensive player to a rules violation. They are the only ACC team to come in to league play with a .500 non-conference record.
Wake Forest (not ranked, KenPom #126)
Record: 5-5, KenPom SoS: 278
Notable Wins: None
Notable Losses: Iona, Deleware St.
Danny Manning isn't going to pull the Demon Deacons out of the ACC cellar in a single season, and it has been a rough start for them. Notre Dame catches Wake in-between 2 games with Virginia in mid February in what could prove to be a tough month for the Deac's.
Boston College (not ranked, KenPom #129)
Record: 6-3, KenPom SoS: 311
Notable Wins: Providence
Notable Losses: Massachusetts, West Virginia, Dayton
Jim Christian's rebuilding project in Chestnut Hill is going to take a while. Despite a veteran-laden roster, the Eagles have struggled against top-tier opponents. Making life more difficult is a grueling ACC schedule that doesn't give them a home game against a bottom-half ACC opponent until the final game of the season vs. Wake Forest.
Virginia Tech (not ranked, KenPom #172)
Record: 5-4, KenPom SoS: 346
Notable Wins: None, they haven't beaten a team with a Notable Losses: Appalacian St, at Penn State
Buzz Williams left the friendly confines of Milwaukee for Blacksburg and faces a massive uphill climb. Despite playing a marshmallow-soft non-conference slate, the Hokies are sitting at 5-4 and staring down the gun of an ACC schedule that has them playing @ Louisville, @ UNC, Notre Dame, and Virginia in a 12 day span in January. Virginia Tech starts a young team and it shows in their high turnover rate and abysmal 57% FT shooting.