The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-4, 6-3 ACC) are exactly halfway through ACC play. They have just nine conference games remaining and like I wrote a few weeks ago, a conference championship is still in play. The Irish currently stand just a game out of first place — just behind North Carolina and Virginia and tied with Florida State and Louisville. We’ll break down who are the contenders, the pretenders and the long shots.
North Carolina Tar Heels (19-4, 7-2 ACC)
UNC is half game up on Virginia for first place. They just got whacked at Miami on Saturday. This is talented group led by point guard Joel Berry III and forward Kennedy Meeks. The only thing not to like about UNC is its remaining schedule. The Tar Heels still have games with Notre Dame, Duke, Virginia and Louisville, as well as trips to NC State, Duke, and Virginia. They perhaps have the toughest remaining schedule of anyone in the conference.
Virginia Cavaliers (16-4, 6-2 ACC)
Maybe it’s because I was there to see the shellacking they put on Notre Dame last week, but that game changed my mind on the UVA. Before that matchup I just didn’t believe UVA had the offense to win big this season, but that defense is so good that they don’t need an elite scorer. The Cavaliers can shut down the best of offenses. Virginia had a huge second half lead against No.1 Villanova on Sunday before losing on a last second tip-in. They can play with anyone.
Florida State Seminoles (18-4, 6-3 ACC)
The Seminoles are my favorite to win the ACC. I love their depth, size and talent. Jonathan Isaac is playing like a lottery pick. I don’t know if there is any player like him in the ACC with his skill, size and athleticism. Dwayne Bacon is one of the league’s best guards. And not too many teams can take out a 7’1” player and replace him with a 7’4” player. Look for the ‘Noles to make some noise in March. Florida State also has a favorable schedule down the stretch.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-4, 6-3 ACC)
The Irish hit a little bump in the road this past week with losses to Virginia and Georgia Tech, but many other top teams stumbled this week as well. The Irish have shown they can play with and beat anyone this season. They got a great group of guards led by Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia. Good guard play can win you games. One reason I like the Irish is their remaining schedule. Notre Dame plays host to Duke and Florida State and has trips to UNC, NC State and Louisville. Their other remaining games are Boston College twice and Georgia Tech at home. If the Irish can hold serve at home and steal a few games on the road, they’ll have a good shot.
Louisville Cardinals (18-4, 6-3 ACC)
I’m not as high on this Louisville team as some others of the past. They only have one really good scorer in Donovan Mitchell. They play great defense, but it is not UVA-like defense where you don’t need to score to win. Point guard Quentin Snider, the team’s second leading scorer, has been out the past two weeks with injury and is expected to be out another 10 days. Louisville does have a favorable schedule though — only having to travel to UVA, UNC, Syracuse and Wake Forest.
Duke Blue Devils (16-5, 4-4 ACC)
The Blue Devils simply have too many losses already. Yes they are super talented, but with four ACC losses they’d essentially have to run the table to have a shot at the crown. That will be almost impossible for them to do as they still have trips to Notre Dame, UNC, UVA and Syracuse. They also have home matchups with UNC and Florida State. Watch out for this team in March though.
Virginia Tech Hokies (15-5, 4-4 ACC)
Syracuse Orange (13-9, 5-4 ACC)
Georgie Tech Yellow Jackets (13-8, 5-4 ACC)
Miami Hurricanes (14-6, 4-4 ACC)