The ACC might not be so bad after all.
Duke, despite Sunday's loss to St. John's, is still a Final Four favorite. North Carolina appears to be coming out of its funk and Virginia Tech is close to resembling the Top 25 squad everyone thought it would be before injuries led to an early season collapse.
Then there's Clemson.
The Tigers may not be the best team in the league, but they're certainly one of the biggest surprises.
When Oliver Purnell left for DePaul during the offseason, the assumption was that it would be awhile before new coach Brad Brownell got his players to buy into his half-court scheme. The Tigers had earned three straight NCAA tournament berths using Purnell's up-tempo attack.
Clemson, though, is hardly struggling with the change of pace. Instead the Tigers are flourishing in it.
Saturday's 62-44 victory over No. 22 Florida State – Brownell's first over a ranked team – improved Clemson’s record to 15-6 overall and 4-3 in ACC play. The Tigers held Florida State leading scorer Chris Singleton to just two points over the first 35 minutes. Not one Seminoles player scored in double figures during a game in which Clemson forced 22 turnovers.
The victory came just four days after Clemson rallied from a 19-point deficit to defeat North Carolina State 60-50.
What had once been labeled as a "transition year" is suddenly becoming a season of promise for the Tigers. As many victories as Purnell amassed during his time at Clemson, he was remembered even more for losing three straight first-round NCAA tournament games. Brownell is hoping seniors such as Jerai Grant and Demontez Stitt – the team's two leading scorers – see that streak end before playing their final college game.
Before they can worry about that, the Tigers have to win enough games to earn a berth. Clemson certainly has a chance.
Brownell's team still has remaining home games against North Carolina and Virginia Tech and a road game against Duke. A victory in just one of those contests would be a huge boost to the Tigers' resume – especially if they continue to beat ACC bottom-feeders such as Wake Forest and Miami.
Exciting as the postseason possibilities may be, they would likely be erased if Clemson flounders in upcoming road games against Virginia (Wednesday) and Georgia Tech (Saturday). In other words, this week is big for Clemson.
Tigers fans are just glad – and somewhat surprised – that their team is in this position in the first place.
(Last week's rank in parenthesis)
1. Duke (19-2, 6-1) – The Blue Devils missed 21 of their first 22 3-point attempts against St. John's on Sunday. (1)
2. North Carolina (15-5, 5-1) – Three of the Tar Heels' next four games are on the road. (4)
3. Virginia Tech (14-6, 4-3) – Jeff Allen had 18 points and 11 rebounds in Sunday's 72-68 win over Miami. (3)
4. Clemson (15-6, 4-3) – Brad Brownell is one of college basketball's top first-year coaches. (9)
5. Florida State (15-6, 5-2) – Leonard Hamilton's program will never be considered elite until it develops some consistency. (2)
6. Maryland (14-7, 4-3) – The Terrapins rank 13th in the country in rebounding, 14th in assists and 23rd in field goal percentage. (6)
7. Boston College (14-7, 4-3) – Reggie Jackson and Joe Trapani are averaging a combined 32.6 points. (5)
8. Georgia Tech (10-10, 3-4) – Iman Shumpert had just 12 points and committed five turnovers in Sunday's loss to Maryland. (10)
9. Miami (12-9, 1-6) – Three of the next four games are at home. (11)
10. North Carolina State (12-9, 2-5) – Lorenzo Brown had a season-high 20 points in Saturday's loss to North Carolina. (8)
11. Virginia (11-10, 2-5) – Mustapha Farrakhan went a combined 8-of-23 from the field in the Cavaliers' two losses last week. (7)
12. Wake Forest (8-13, 1-5) – Saturday's win over Virginia snapped a five-game losing streak. (12)
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina – The much-maligned freshman scored 25 points in the Tar Heels' 84-64 victory over North Carolina State on Saturday. The performance came four days after Barnes hit the winning 3-pointer in North Carolina's 74-71 victory over Miami.
Maryland – The Terrapins on Sunday did what North Carolina and Virginia Tech couldn't – win at Georgia Tech. Jordan Williams scored 21 points and grabbed 15 rebounds for Maryland, which is now 3-1 in ACC road games. Their only conference loss away from home came against Duke.
Seth Greenberg – The ACC Coach of the Year race will no doubt be a close one, but Virginia Tech's Greenberg should definitely be in the mix. Greenberg still has his team in the NCAA tournament hunt despite season-ending injuries to probable starters J.T. Thompson and Dorenzo Hudson. The Hokies improved to 14-6 overall and 4-3 in league play with Saturday's win at Miami.
Miles and Mason Plumlee, Duke – The brothers have been nothing short of disappointing during ACC play. In the Blue Devils' last three games, Miles and Mason have combined to score 22 points – that's a collective average of 7.3 points per game for the long, athletic forwards. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are good enough to lead Duke to a title in the weak ACC, but they'll need some help in the NCAA tournament.
Frank Haith – In some ways it's tough not to feel a bit sorry for Miami's coach. The Hurricanes have lost four straight games by a total of 11 points. Still, at 1-6 in league play, it would only be natural if Miami's fanbase and administration begins to wonder if Haith is the right man for the job. Miami went 4-12 and finished in the conference cellar last season. They were just 7-9 under Haith in 2008-09.
North Carolina State – The Wolfpack couldn't have had a worse week. On Wednesday they coughed up a 19-point lead in a 60-50 loss to Clemson. Then, on Saturday, Sidney Lowe's squad was manhandled in an 84-64 setback at North Carolina. It was North Carolina State's ninth straight loss to the Tar Heels.
THREE TO WATCH
North Carolina at Boston College, Tuesday – The Tar Heels have won 11 of their last 13 games, but beginning Tuesday, three of their next four contests are on the road.
Duke at Maryland, Wednesday – Will Sunday's loss to St. John's have lingering effects on the Blue Devils?
Clemson at Virginia, Wednesday – Wins in games like this are imperative if the Tigers hope to make the NCAA tournament.