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Monday, January 23, 2012
Conference power rankings: ACC

By Robbi Pickeral

Four teams now top the ACC standings with one league loss; thank Florida State’s resurgence for making this conference race so all-of-a-sudden competitive. My attempt at this week’s power rankings (up for debate, as always):

1. Duke: After coming off the bench to score 20 points in a win over Wake Forest, freshman Austin Rivers was back in the starting lineup against FSU -- only to have his would-be overtime-inducing shot upstaged by Michael Snaer's game winner. The Devils allowed the Seminoles to make two-thirds of their shots in the second half; Duke’s defense has got to continue to improve.

2. Florida State: Is this really the same team that lost to two Ivys, and at Clemson by 20? The Seminoles said at the beginning of the season that the goal was to push their way into the top two of the ACC. By blowing out North Carolina, beating Maryland, then ending Duke’s 45-game home winning streak (all in a matter of eight days), they’ve done just that. FSU is the hottest team in the league right now.

3. North Carolina: The Tar Heels bounced back from the worst loss of the Roy Williams era, at FSU, by getting an intense win at Virginia Tech, fueled by 27 points from Harrison Barnes. But it still suffered another huge loss in that game, in the form of Dexter Strickland. The team’s best perimeter defender/starting shooting guard/fastest player/backup point guard is out for the season with a torn ACL. How will the Tar Heels rally?

4. NC State: After Sunday’s win over Miami, the Wolfpack is 4-1 in the ACC. One of the positives of the game: Guard C.J. Williams, who injured his shoulder against Boston College last week, started and played 31 minutes. The Wolfpack aren’t very deep, and the loss of any key player would be devastating.

5. Virginia: First, Assane Sene suffered an ankle injury last week that will keep him out for about six weeks. Then, the Cavs lost to Virginia Tech on Sunday for their second league defeat. Virginia will need to adjust without its center, and one thing that would help: more production from guard Sammy Zeglinski, who has made only 4 of his 23 shots over his past three games.

6. Maryland: After averaging 14 points and eight rebounds in his first three games, freshman center Alex Len has struggled -- averaging only 2.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in his next three, then exiting the Terps’ loss at Temple early because of a twisted ankle. Maryland lost both of its games last week, and a healthy, rejuvenated Len would be key to getting back on track.

7. Miami: The Hurricanes’ latest loss, to NC State on Sunday, means they have dropped three of their past four. This isn’t exactly what first-year coach Jim Larranaga was expecting out of this team, especially with its returning talent. "I was anticipating what our squad would be like before my staff and I arrived and I've found that we have a lot more work to do than we originally thought,” he said Sunday, according to the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

8. Virginia Tech: Dorenzo Hudson's 3-pointer from the corner with 16.5 seconds left secured the Hokies’ rivalry win over Virginia -- and their first ACC victory of the season. But after a slow conference start, they have a lot of work (and winning) to do in order to catch up to the top of the pack.

9. Clemson: Andre Young crushed his shooting slump by scoring a career-high 29 points (including seven 3-pointers) to hold off Georgia Tech and break a three-game losing streak. The Tigers need him to continue scoring.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets managed only 38 points in their loss to Virginia, their worst output since 1982. Then they fell short in their rally at Clemson, losing by two. They’ve now dropped three straight, and seven of their past eight.

11. Wake Forest: After losing three straight, coach Jeff Bzdelik called Saturday’s game at Boston College a must-win. After beating freshman-laden BC by 15, he told the Winston-Salem Journal: "This game was our Super Bowl. Every win is huge, and they are hard to come by. This is another big step for us in our journey to be the type of team we want to be."

12. Boston College: After winning two ACC games, the young Eagles have now lost two in a row. “Right now, we have a snowball effect -- in both directions,’’ coach Steve Donahue told The Boston Globe. “When things go bad, we have a tendency to let them get to us and compound it on both sides of the ball. When we do positive things, it ends up snowballing in that direction.” Not a great sign, with a trip to Virginia next up.

Robbi Pickeral can be reached at bylinerp@gmail.com. Twitter: bylinerp.