Best ACC Bets – Week 3

The ACC is back in action this week, despite the postponement of Notre Dame and Wake Forest’s conference battle, and we are here to give you our top bets you can make for Saturday’s slate of games. All these bets – unless included in our parlay – have odds that are better than -200.

Louisville @ Pittsburgh, OVER 55.5

Louisville put up 34 points against a pretty decent Miami defense, and that was with three turnovers. If the Cardinals clean up the miscues, I anticipate them being able to put up another 30-35 points against Pitt. Meanwhile, Louisville’s defense looked absolutely abysmal, and Pitt QB Kenny Pickett has the talent to take advantage of the blown coverages that the Cardinals offered up at an alarming rate. I think Pitt races to keep pace with Louisville, trying to avoid a home loss, and this game ends up with both teams putting up 30+ points.

Syracuse @ Georgia Tech, UNDER 52.5

Talk about two abysmal offenses in this match-up. In four total games, these two teams have combined for 53 points. That’s horrendous. They should both be 0-2 had it not been for Florida State’s equally abysmal offense against Georgia Tech in the season opener. Syracuse has a pretty solid defense overall, keeping UNC in check for three quarters, and limiting Kenny Pickett and the Pitt Panthers to 21 points. I think this game is an ugly, defensive slog, where whichever team can break 20 points will claim victory. I can’t picture this game hitting the over.

NC State (+7.0) @ Virginia Tech

I flinched on this one. I liked Virginia Tech at first, but the Hokies really struggled at the start of last season, particularly in an embarassing loss to a BC team that lost by 24 to Kansas shortly after, and they’re playing a team that is already a week into their campaign. NC State boasted a new-look offense that was dynamic last week, plastering 45 points on Wake Forest. While Wake Forest isn’t as good as Virginia Tech, I wouldn’t bet on this Wolfpack offense losing by more than a touchdown right now. I’d be tempted to take the +210 moneyline here, but I’ll just give the spread as my go-to pick.

Miami (-11.5) vs. Florida State

This is probably the one I’m least confident out of the four, but I really am going to heap the embarrasment on the ‘Noles here. FSU lost by 17 at home to Miami last year, and the Hurricanes look a lot better this season. Meanwhile, the Seminoles were an absolute embarassment in their home opener, losing to an unimpressive Georgia Tech team in Week 1. Nothing gives me confidence that FSU keeps this one close on the road against their rivals, currently ranked 12th. I’m leaning Miami by two touchdowns in this one, covering the spread.

Top Returning ACC Guards: #1 – Carlik Jones, Louisville

Our #1 top returning (non-freshman) guard to watch in the ACC hasn’t actually played in the conference yet. Carlik Jones spent three years dominating the Big South with the Radford Highlanders, and now he’s looking to succeed Jordan Nwora as the do-it-all guard for the Louisville Cardinals. While the Big South is no ACC, Carlik Jones was rated as one the most efficient players in the country and, outside of Luka Garza, he was the highest-rated returning Power-5 player. Looking at Jones’ stats and game log, it’s not hard to see why – he quite simply does it all. 

After averaging 11.8 points per game his freshman year, Jones averaged 15.8 in his sophomore year, but he shot just 25% from three-point range. His junior season, the Radford star put it together, shooting 41% from beyond the arc and averaging 20 points a game to go with 5.1 rebounds (3rd on the team) and a squad-leading 5.5 assists. From his 31 point, 6 rebound effort in the season-opener, Jones was on fire out of the gate. He played two games against Power-5 competition (Northwestern and Mississippi State) and combined for 35 points and 14 assists. Against James Madison, Jones was just a single rebound shy of a triple-double – 23 points, 10 assists, and 9 boards.

Against the Big South, Jones tortured virtually every opponent, putting up video game numbers all season. Defensively, he was a lockdown defender, picking the locks on the hands of a bevy of Big South ball handlers. In the conference tournament quarterfinals, Jones poured in twenty-one points, collected nine boards, dished out six assists, and notched four steals. The Radford guard didn’t score under 15 points in the final two months of the season, leading the Highlanders to a 15-3 conference record and split of the regular season title. Now, Jones is on to bigger things, as he heads to Louisville, who certainly knows how to use a versatile guard, after enjoying the talents of Nwora for several seasons. 

Jones has proven over three-years he’s capable of being the go-to-guy for a successful basketball team, and now he’s taking his talents to the ACC, where the dynamic floor general will look to continue to ball out in the best basketball conference in America.

What Needs to Happen For the ACC to Become Relevant Again

2016 was a great year for the SEC-haters, and especially for those constantly trying to laud the ACC’s talent in football. Not only did Clemson win the national championship, dethroning Alabama, but the Tide were the only top-10 team in the SEC. The two years prior, the SEC had slipped to just two teams in the top 10, after seeing four of their squads attain such a ranking in each of the previous three seasons. Meanwhile, the ACC had five Top-25 teams, with a pair of top-10 squads. It was the third time in four years they had accomplished that feat, after only doing it once between 1998 and 2013. 

The end of the SEC? The rise of the ACC? Not so much. 

Flash forward three seasons, and the SEC is as dominant as ever, and once again, outside a singularly impressive team, the ACC was more or less a complete joke. The conference championship saw Clemson defeat Virginia by a stunning score of 62-17. While Clemson may be able to challenge the best teams in the country, the SEC offers four or five teams team could give Clemson a very good game and definitely capable of beating them. Against those same four or five teams, I don’t think there’s a single ACC team I trust outside of Clemson to snare a victory on the gridiron. One such example of this? In the Orange Bowl this past season, the Florida Gators, second in their division and the third or fourth best team in the SEC, took on Virginia and won 36-28. The score didn’t reflect the nature of the game, as Florida never trailed and spent most of the contest nursing a two-score lead. A UVA touchdown with 38 seconds left cut the deficit to its final margin. The ACC’s second-best against a fringe top-5 SEC team? No contest. 

So what’s the issue with the ACC? And what needs to happen to get back to 2016, where they were arguably the better conference, or at least closer to the SEC’s equal? Here’s a few things that need to happen. 

Stability in the Coastal Division

In the SEC, the West largely dominates, but when you look at the East, they still have a decent amount of stability. Georgia and Florida have won 9 of the past 12 division titles and consistently are among the top teams in the conference. Between promising stretches from Missouri and South Carolina – and the occasional good year from Tennessee and Kentucky – there have been teams to fill the void when the Gators and Bulldogs falter. The stability in the East has allowed for consistent recruiting that establish top-tier teams in both divisions. In the ACC? No such stability has been created – the last seven years have seen all seven teams win the division once. Nobody has repeated since Virginia Tech in 2010-2011. When there’s no clear dominant team, or even a couple of consistently successful squads, no one gains any kind of significant recruiting edge. Furthermore, the lack of clarity in the division just sends more recruits scrambling for the safety blanket that is Clemson and their pure dominance of the ACC Atlantic, and the conference as a whole. Entering the ACC Coastal right now as a player essentially gives you an even 1-in-7 chance at getting to the title game. Players want to play at the highest level, and no ACC Coastal team is consistently offering that opportunity. 

Not only has no team repeated since Virginia Tech at the turn of the decade, but every single season since then, the ACC Coastal representative in the championship game has come from a team that finished third or worse in the division the year before that. Over the last seven years – the stretch with seven different champions – the Coastal division has had five teams finish in the Top 25 a combined seven times. Virginia Tech and Miami have slotted into the rankings twice, and Georgia Tech, UNC, and Duke have all accomplished the feat once. The last two division champs – Pitt and Virginia – did not finish in the Top 25. The lack of consistency among these programs is frankly astounding, and as long as the ACC Coastal is a complete mess, this conference won’t truly improve. 

A consistent challenger in the Atlantic Division

No recruit who has their eyes on making a CFP goes to a non-Clemson team in the ACC Atlantic if they have the choice. The Tigers are 38-2 over the past five seasons of ACC games. Rather than look forward to a big clash that decides the division, fans and Clemson-haters scour the schedule for a game that looks ‘tricky’ or could qualify as a ‘trap game’. In the SEC, even though Alabama looks like a favorite out of the West nearly every year, every single Bama-LSU game or Iron Bowl clash presents a significant obstacle for the Tide. For Clemson, even if they lose a shocker, no team has been good enough to steal the division crime. Clemson’s dynasty started as FSU faded from relevancy. During the Tigers’ five-year reign, the Seminoles have finished as a ranked team twice, and Louisville, NC State, and Syracuse have done it once apiece. Louisville’s 2nd-place finish in the Atlantic last year made them the first team to have 2 second-place finishes in the division in the past five years. Outside of Clemson, the division is a total toss-up, with nobody becoming consistently relevant. If the ACC wants to ever match the SEC – with 4-5 teams consistently cracking the top 20, and usually 2-3 in the top 10, a consistent challenger must emerge. 

Teams That Need To Improve

In the SEC, for each season of this past decade, at least five teams finished the year ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Outside of 2016, the ACC did not do that once. So which teams need to step it up for the ACC to gain further legitimacy? 

Atlantic: Florida State, Louisville

Florida State was the clear second-best team to Clemson this past decade, winning four division titles to Clemson’s 6. However, the crossing of these two dynasties was thin. Florida State finished 14th and 8th in the country as Clemson took over in 2015-16, but they haven’t sniffed the end-of-season Top 25 since then, going just 17-20 over their last three seasons. Look at the SEC, where, although Alabama has won 7 of the past 12 titles in the SEC West, their three-peat from ‘14-16 was the only time they repeated. We need to see somebody rise and clash with Clemson at the top and Florida State has the pedigree to do it. But their program is in disarray right now, so it’s unclear whether they’re ready to get to a Top-25 level any time soon. One team that is trending back in the right direction is Louisville, who has been very good since joining the ACC, but they haven’t broken the glass ceiling just yet. The Cardinals had a blip in 2018 – finishing in last place in their first year post-Lamar Jackson, but they’ve been very consistently otherwise. Consistency is key – FSU was ranked for two straight years before settling into their three-year reign of the conference, and Clemson had been ranked the prior three seasons before their current stretch of dominance. Louisville bounced back last year with an 8-win season, so if the Cardinals can continue to trend upwards, they may be the best bet at giving Clemson a challenger atop the division. 

Coastal: Miami, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech’s three division titles of the past decade make them one of two programs with multiple (Georgia Tech, 2). They’ve had their off years, but with three #1 finishes, and another three at #2 or #3, the Hokies are close to as consistent as it gets in the Coastal division. That combined with their homefield – Lane Stadium – is one of the more intimidating environments in the conference. If they turn that into a deadly homefield advantage, Virginia Tech could establish some much needed stability atop the division. 

Miami was the second clear and logical choice here. Amidst all the turmoil, the Hurricanes have not finished below fourth in the Coastal Division in the past decade. That being said, they’ve turned those consistent results into just one appearance in the ACC Championship, which ended very poorly. Miami has the most pedigree of any team in this division, and it makes sense that if the ACC is to rise to glory, the Hurricanes need to lead the revolution, or at least be one of the leaders. Their fans say it every year but until The U is Back, the ACC Coastal may struggle to gain any semblance of relevance. 

Georgia Tech, with their two division titles, was an honorable mention here, but their recent switch from the triple option and last-place finish last season cast some doubts on to whether they are entering a rebuilding phase, or whether they’re able to compete. 

SEC apologetics make a lot of claims, but they definitely hit the nail on the head when claiming superiority on the football field. The ACC looked like they might be ready to match that, but the past three seasons have shown they are clearly not ready. It’s years away, but look forward to a time where the ACC may finally be able to rival the SEC – at least in top-tier talent if not in total depth.

MLB Draft Grades: ACC – Louisville leads the way

We’re going Dave Portnoy pizza review style for this piece, grading every ACC college baseball program draft. The grades included how successful programs were in getting players drafted, but also rating their short-term losses and gains from prospects going unexpectedly high facing greater temptation to turn pro. Each grade is 0 to 10 – let’s see who won and lost the draft in the ACC.

Miami – 5.2
Miami saw all three of their projected draft picks get picked, led by RHP Slade Cecconi. Cecconi was selected 33rd overall, right around his projected slot, but the Hurricanes saw Chris McMahon slide into the second round as a projected first rounder. Any more of a slide would have been a blow towards Miami’s reputation of producing top-level pro talent. Meanwhile, shortstop Freddy Zamora skyrocketed from the 100th ranked prospect to 53rd selection –  a great look on the recruiting front, but the Hurricanes now will have a tough time bringing back an elite multi-year starter.  

Virginia – 4.3
The Cavaliers had only one real draft prospect for 2020 in bullpen arm Andrew Abbot. He was a projected fourth-rounder, but he didn’t hear his name called over the course of the two-day draft. No draft picks from a team that won the national championship just five years ago is tough. They are engaged in brutal recruiting battles within the ACC, and not turning out pro talent will make winning some of those recruits an uphill battle.  

Duke – 7.7
The Blue Devils had only one draft prospect in Bryce Jarvis, who became the second ever 1st round pick in program history. The other one was Marcus Stroman, so that bodes well for both Jarvis’s success, and Duke’s improving program. Jarvis was a projected first rounder, so keeping him was always unlikely, and seeing him go 18th overall – after being a 37th round pick in high school – is a good look for the Blue Devils. It was only one pick, so Duke now need to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder. 

Georgia Tech – 6.4
Georgia Tech was a tough assignment, as they had a very confusing draft. They had one projected draft pick, but saw two players selected – but their one projected pick remained on the board. Defending ACC batting champion Michael Guldberg went 98th overall towards the end of the third round, so the Yellow Jackets will need to hope he won’t be enticed by a signing bonus expected to be in the $600,000 area. Outfielder Baron Radcliffe was a late pick in the fifth round, and shortstop Luke Waddell (ranked 125th by MLB.com) went unselected. Very tough draft to gauge, but ultimately not a bad one for the Yellow Jackets. 

Virginia Tech – 8.2
The Hokies saw both of their draft prospects drafted well above slot value with Ian Seymour (115th) going 57th and catcher Carson Taylor (194) going 130th. The Hokies got a great grades not only for their success in the draft, but also they look great compared to Virginia’s struggles, giving the Hokies an inside track on in-state recruiting. Seymour may turn pro, but Taylor likely stays on with another three years of eligibility, so overall a highly successful draft for Virginia Tech. 

North Carolina – 7.8
Aaron Sabato came in as a projected early second rounder and went late in the first round as UNC’s only top prospect. Not much to complain about there. 

Pittsburgh – 4.0
No top draft prospects. No draft picks. Nothing much to say for one of the worst teams in the ACC on this one.

Notre Dame – 6.5
The Fighting Irish saw projected fifth-round pick Joe Boyle drafted 143rd overall, about 20 picks ahead of where he was expected. He was their only legitimate prospect so nothing much to speak of here for Notre Dame, solid results, and a little better than expected. 

Clemson – 7.1
The Tigers had two pitchers – Sam Weatherly and Spencer Strider – selected last week. Weatherly went within a few picks of his expected slot value at 81st overall, and Strider jumped from outside of MLB.com’s top 200 prospects into the fourth round. It was a good showing from the Clemson prospects, without jumping into the world of seven-digit signing bonuses that would almost certainly draw these hurlers into professional ball. 

Louisville – 9.2
Louisville had two first round picks in pitchers Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller. Both hurlers went from late draft selections out of high school (32nd and 38th rounds) to top-30 picks in 2020, so that says a lot for the Cardinals’ program. Outfielder Zach Britton also heard his name called in the fifth round, although he seems like a likely candidate to return to Louisville for another run at the College World Series. 

NC State – 6.8
The Wolfpack can thank the San Francisco Giants for taking their battery pair in catcher Patrick Bailey and left-handed hurler Nick Swiney in the first two rounds. Projected fifth-rounder Tyler McDonough remained unselected. Swiney jumped into the second round, so he may test the professional waters, which would be a tough loss for NC State, but it was ultimately a good day for the Wolfpack.

Florida State – 5.4
The Seminoles had two players drafted, both slightly under slot value, and one potential selection in outfielder Elijah Cabell left on the board. Nothing spectacular, and nothing particularly unexpected from FSU. 

Wake Forest – 4.6
From a program standpoint, seeing junior Jared Shuster jump fifty spots into the first round may have been nice for the Demon Deacons. But now they will likely lose Shuster to the Atlanta Braves’ organization, and no other Wake Forest player heard their name called. It’s a bit of a bittersweet feeling for the Demon Deacons after this draft. 

Boston College – 4.0
Same deal as Pittsburgh here. No real prospects, No draft picks. Nothing more to say.

GREATEST NCAA BASEBALL MOMENTS COUNTDOWN – #2: A walk-off straight out of a movie

Little-used freshman pinch hitter steps to the plate, with his team down 3-0 in the bottom of the ninth, having done absolutely nothing offensively all game. With the bases jammed, facing one of the best pitchers in the country and down to his final strike, the freshman golfs a 1-2 pitch over the right field fence for a walk-off grand slam. It sounds like something out of a movie, but UC Santa Barbara can assure it is not. And Louisville, although they’d rather forget, can also confirm its reality. 

UC Santa Barbara was a 2-seed in their region, and they went 3-0 en route to reaching the Super Regionals for the first time in program history. They were lucky enough to not have to take on top-seeded Vanderbilt, getting to face 4. Xavier twice instead. However, they received no such luck in their inaugural Super Regional, having to take on Louisville, who finished the year ranked second in the country. Louisville had also cruised their regional, dispatching each of the three teams in their pool with relative ease, giving up just five runs along the way. 

Game 1 was a good one, as the Gauchos shocked the Cardinals 4-2 to open the series, putting them one game away from a College World Series berth. But it was Game 2 that provided one of the best moments in college baseball history. Drew Harrington took the mound for the Cardinals and looked very comfortable from the get-go. He scattered six hits and a walk over seven dominant innings, shutting out the Gauchos with a dozen strikeouts. He did not allow a hit until the fourth inning, when he had been staked to a 3-0 advantage. He allowed the first two batters of the eighth to reach and left the game. Departing after 7+ innings and 92 pitches, Harrington looked in line for a well-deserved win. Louisville’s bullpen escaped the eighth-inning mini-jam with ease, and the Gauchos were down to their final three outs. 

The toughest part of their comeback was that it was going to have to come against Louisville’s stud closer, Zach Burdi. Burdi had been one of the best pitchers in the country. There was no reason to expect that Burdi, a first-round draft pick with a career 1.92 ERA, would fold. He had 11 saves on the year, and the Cardinals were 47-0 when leading after eight innings. Those were the odds that UC Santa Barbara were facing, so you can forgive anyone who was already mentally prepared for a Game 3. 

Burdi started the ninth with a strikeout, but ultimately, it would only be the only out he recorded. JJ Muno singled for the Gauchos, and Burdi unraveled, uncharacteristically issuing two walks to load the bases, allowing the Gauchos to bring the winning run to the plate. They elected to do so in the form of freshman Sam Cohen, a little-used substitute with all of 26 plate appearances on the season. He had appeared in 19 games for a team that had never been to a Super Regional against the nation’s best closer – it was the unlikeliest of postseason match-ups. 

Burdi fired a ball and whipped in a 96mph offering for a strike. Cohen fouled off another heater, putting him in a 1-2 hole. Burdi elected to deliver a changeup that spun down and in on the left-handed hitting Cohen. The freshman reached down and got a hold of the pitch, pulling it high and deep down the right field line. It stayed fair easily and cleared the fence for a walk-off grand slam, sending the Gauchos to their first ever College World Series. 

The Aftermath

UC Santa Barbara didn’t make any lengthy run in Omaha, but they did collect one more stunning victory. They lost 1-0 to Oklahoma State in the opener before shocking Miami, the #3 team in the country to survive for one more game. There, the Gauchos fell to eventual NCAA runner-ups Arizona, ending their Cinderella Run. 

The Gauchos saw ace Shane Bieber taken in the 4th round of the MLB draft. Bieber now pitches for the Indians, and he was the MVP of the 2019 MLB All-Star Game. Sam Cohen played with UC Santa Barbara for three seasons, hitting .246 over three seasons, with his final two as a starter. He played out the last of his eligibility with Hope International, but he is no longer playing baseball.

February 12, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

NOTE: Although this article was published late, these rankings reflect games played through Monday, February 10.

We’re back with this week’s power rankings and we have some major shakeup within our top-10 and honorable mention. Slotting teams into the honorable mention and high single digits slots were tough, as many of these squads took brutal losses in the past week or two. Ultimately, after combining our ballots, we came up with another list of 13 teams, so we will summarize some of the biggest movement here, and then read on for the full rankings (and to see our new #1). 

Biggest Riser: Auburn

Biggest Faller: Oregon

Dropped out: Oregon

Joined the Rankings: West Virginia

Honorable Mention

  • Seton Hall
  • West Virginia
  • Villanova

#10 – Maryland Terrapins (Last Week: Honorable Mention)

  • Maryland has won seven straight to rejoin the Top-10, both in the AP Poll and in our Power Rankings. The Terrapins are now a 2-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology after an impressive week in which they took down Rutgers and then went on the road to defeat #22 Ilinois.

#9 – Dayton Flyers (Last Week: #8)

  • Dayton suffers from the sad fact that they are the ‘ other’ elite mid-major. With San Diego State stealing the headlines, it’s been tough for Dayton to draw attention to their remarkable season. These Power Rankings were assembled before last night’s impressive win over Rhode Island, so they could still have room to rise. But last week saw Dayton play and win just one game, which isn’t enough to keep their #8 slot. 

#8 – Auburn Tigers (Last Week: Honorable Mention)

  • Our biggest risers of the week, Auburn is once again red-hot after crashing out of our top-10 with consecutive blowout losses. Auburn isn’t dominating, but they are passing the gut-check test after a series of tight victories, including an overtime 91-90 win over #25 LSU this past weekend.

#7 – Florida State Seminoles (Last Week: #5)

  • The Seminoles lose to Duke, and so they slip behind them in the power rankings. Two games out of the conference lead, Florida State is virtually out of the regular season title chase, but they still can beat Louisville at home to help their chances for a top-2 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

#6 – San Diego State Aztecs (Last Week: #6)

  • In their third straight week at #6, San Diego State continues to play excellent basketball, but it also is coming against less-than-excellent teams, so our ballots still reflect our general distrust of the Aztecs. Their only game last week was a road contest at a sub .500 squad in Air Force, making it very difficult to climb at all in this week’s rankings, even as they are 24-0. 

#5 – Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: #7)

  • Duke escaped disaster against BC, engineered an incredibly gutsy comeback at UNC, and then earned a statement victory over #8 Florida State to cap off an impressive three-game stretch. Their winning streak is at six, and the Blue Devils hope they’re not out of the hunt for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament just yet. 

#4 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: #2) – 1 First Place Vote

  • The top of our ballots differed incredibly, as all of us have different opinions on who the best team in college basketball. Louisville gets a first place vote, but they ultimately drop two spots after needing a huge comeback to beat Wake Forest at home. After escaping Georgia Tech, it was their second close-call win at home in two weeks. They’re walking a tight-rope, but they’ve also won ten straight so they slot in at #4. 

#3 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: #4) – 1 First Place Vote

  • For some people, including AP voters, Gonzaga is the best team in the country. Not all of us feel that way evidently, but they do rise a spot in this week’s rankings. Why? Well, Gonzaga travelled to St. Marys to face the consensus second-best team in the West Coast Conference and beat them by thirty points. Especially with a weak conference schedule, wins don’t get much more impressive than that for the Bulldogs. 

#2 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: #1) – 1 First Place Vote

  • It’s probably our most controversial ranking. But Baylor has won three straight games by single digits over unranked teams, and they’ve displayed some of the red flags that had us concerned about the Bears in the early going. These red flags included scoring just 52 points in a recent game at Texas and needing to go down to the wire at home to beat Oklahoma State, who are 2-9 in Big 12 play. They’re still an elite team, but these close calls aren’t inspiring confidence. 

#1 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: #3) – 1 First Place Vote

  • Each of our ballots reflected a different team that we felt was #1, but Kansas was the only team that was Top-3 in each of our ballots. They beat Oklahoma State by 15 on the road, handled Texas by double digits, and they’ve won eight straight since losing to Baylor. Yes the head-to-head loss makes this ranking difficult, but overall, the Jayhawks just feel like the closest thing to a sure thing in a year where turmoil has reigned supreme.

March Impact Player Profile: Jordan Nwora, Louisville

One major thread linking our March Impact Player Features is experience. While there are lots of talented freshman that are sure to make an appearance in the tournament, the players that so often dominate March are players with experience in the pressure of the tournament. In his third season with the Louisville Cardinals, Jordan Nwora has become one of those experienced players to watch for the Cardinals – who some view as the best team in the country.

After a freshman year playing 12 minutes a game off the bench for a team that didn’t make a postseason tournament, Nwora broke out last season, dropping 17 points per game and notching 7.6 rebounds. However, come March Madness, Nwora’s breakout season came to an unceremonious end in the first round of the tournament, as the 7th-seeded Cardinals were handled by Minnesota, and Nwora was held to just 10 points.

Nwora has entered his junior year playing at an extremely high level, replicating or improving most of his stats from his sophomore campaign. He’s up to 19.3 points per game, and he’s improved to 46% shooting including 42% from long range. Most impressively, Nwora has shown an ability to do whatever it takes to win, as he hasn’t always been the Cardinals’ leading scorer. Locked down at Duke, Nwora crashed the glass and snagged eight rebounds and distributed the ball, committing just one turnover. Three games later, when Boston College seemingly couldn’t miss a shot, Nwora drilled seven triples and scored a season-high 37 points. 

Nwora’s ability to both dominate a game with scoring, and to play efficient low-turnover basketball has allowed him to control games and exhibits the potential to simply take over games when the Cardinals inevitably go dancing in March. Keep Nwora in mind when filling out your March Madness brackets.

February 4, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

We are back with this week’s edition of the NCAA basketball power rankings. Auburn got a huge home win to get back into the conversation, and one other squad climbed back towards the rankings. Two teams dropped out, and while we have the same #1, there was some movement right beneath them. Check out the full rankings here!

Biggest Risers: Dayton, Louisville

Biggest Fallers: Kentucky

Dropped Out: Kentucky, West Virginia

Joined the Rankings: Auburn, Maryland

Honorable Mention

  • Seton Hall
  • Maryland
  • Auburn

The Rankings

#10 – Villanova Wildcats (Last Week: #8)

  • The Wildcats were looking like one of the biggest risers in college basketball, a few games seperated from a 76-61 beatdown of a ranked Butler squad, but then Villanova played an unranked Creighton squad and got throttled by the same score. They stay in the rankings due to how they’ve looked up until that game, but Villanova raised some serious question marks on Saturday. 

#9 – Oregon Ducks (Last Week: #9) 

  • Oregon has stayed at #9 for the past three weeks, and the Ducks had inspired a lot of confidence until their recent slip-up at Stanford. However, one road conference loss can be excused, and the Ducks still appear to be the Pac-12 team to beat. 

#8 – Dayton Flyers (Last Week: #10)

  • Dayton rises two spots after two more victories, surviving one of their toughest road games remaining against Duquesne, a 16-5 team with a previously spotless 9-0 home record. They host dangerous Saint Louis and Rhode Island squads in the next week, so they’ll need to prove themselves to keep rising in the rankings. 

#7- Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: #7)

  • Duke survived a raucous environment to triumph at Syracuse, winning their third straight game since a home loss to Louisville. They have road games versus Boston College and UNC coming up before a home date with Florida State. If they’re looking for a chance to prove they’re one of the country’s elite squads, they’ve got a few opportunities coming up. 

#6 – San Diego State Aztecs (Last Week: #6)

  • In writing about potential trap games for the Aztecs, we identified a tricky-looking road matchup versus New Mexico, who was 13-0 at home prior to the match-up. San Diego State marched into the game and dismantled the Lobos by 28 points, sending yet another notice to the country that they are for real. They survived a potential letdown by pulling away from Utah State. 

#5 – Florida State Seminoles (Last Week: #5)

  • There were mixed reviews among our ballots on how to rank the Seminoles after a close loss to Virginia and tight win over North Carolina, largely because it is difficult to tell exactly how good those teams are. Virginia is starting to round into form and North Carolina just got Cole Anthony back, yet both squads are tournament bubble teams at best. Either way, the Seminoles are still 19-3 and 2nd in the ACC, so they stay at #5 this week. 

#4 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: #3) – 1 first place vote

  • Gonzaga deals with questions year-in and year-out about how valid their success is, as they play in the West Coast conference. They didn’t do much to quiet their doubters after needing a go-ahead three-pointer with under five seconds remaining to survive San Francisco. Without signature wins available on the remainder of their schedule, such close calls drop the Bulldogs in the rankings. 

#3 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: #2) 

  • Kansas continues to win, although they’ve had to survive a few stiff challenges. The Jayhawks certainly have a few tough Big 12 games ahead, but there is no doubt they’ve circled the February 22nd rematch with the Baylor Bears. A win there could make Kansas the team to beat.

#2 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: #4)

  • One of our biggest risers of the week, the Cardinals continue to win convincingly, having won three straight ACC contests by at least 17 points, including two games on the road. Both BC and NC State gave them a push, but the Cardinals continue to put together full 40-minute efforts. 

#1 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: #1)

  • Baylor raised some eyebrows after escaping Oklahoma at home, but they’ve since made short work of Florida, Iowa State, and TCU, winning all three games by double-digits. They are 20-1 and on a 19-game winning streak, one game shy of the longest winning streak in the history of all Big 12 teams, and they are slowly strengthening their hold on the #1 spot in the rankings.

January 28, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

We are back with the third edition of our power rankings, and while the top of our rankings stayed largely the same, there was some significant movers. We highlighted the major movers here, but be sure to check out the full top 10 (and honorable mention) below!

Biggest Riser: Villanova

Biggest Faller: Michigan State

Dropped Out: Michigan State

Joined The Ranks: Villanova, Seton Hall, West Virginia, Dayton

Honorable Mention 

  • West Virginia (Last week: Not ranked)
  • Seton Hall (Last week: Not ranked)
  • Kentucky (Last week: Honorable Mention)

#10 – Dayton Flyers (Last Week: Not Ranked)

  • The Flyers appeared on just one of our ballots last week, but they got the nod in three of four ballots this week, after they dismantled St. Bonaventures and took down a solid Richmond squad on the road. An under-the-radar mid-major due to the success of San Diego State, the Flyers have their eyes on the Atlantic 10 title and an NCAA tournament run. 

#9 – Oregon Ducks (Last Week: 9)

  • Oregon choked up a late lead before surviving in overtime against USC, and they followed that up with a dominant victory over a struggling UCLA squad. We didn’t learn too much about the Ducks, as we already knew they were extremely good at home (12-0) so the Ducks tread water at #9 until further notice. 

#8 – Villanova Wildcats (Last Week: Not Ranked)

  • The Wildcats shot up our rankings, after being little more than an afterthought on last week’s ballots. Villanova looked absolutely dominant in beating #16 Butler by 15 points, and they edged out Providence for a key road conference win to secure their sixth straight win. They are our biggest risers of the week, joining the rankings for the first time this year at #8. 
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

#7 – Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: 5)

  • The Blue Devils drop due very little to their own doings. They played one game against a horrendous Miami team and won handily, but their elite ACC competition had more wins against better competition, and so Duke slides two more spots to #7 this week. 

#6 – San Diego State Aztecs (Last Week: 7)

  • The Aztecs continue to win and continue to climb. In a prior mid-major report, we identified their road game at New Mexico as a potential trap game. The Lobos have struggled recently, but they are 13-0 at home, so whether the Aztecs continue their climb up the rankings remains to be seen. 

#5 – Florida State Seminoles (Last Week: 6)

  • There are two ways to look at Florida State’s lone game and win of the week – an 85-84 thriller over Notre Dame. One is a really close game against a below-average ACC squad. The other way is a gutsy finish against a resilient team that plays everyone close. We tended to side with the latter, as the Seminoles won their twelfth straight to move up a notch on the ladder. 
Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

#4 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: 4) – 1 First Place Vote

  • The ACC-leaders looked shaky in holding off Georgia Tech before rebounding with one of their most complete performances of the year against Clemson. The Cardinals utilized a 20-0 run to seize control and dominated the upstart Tigers for their sixth straight victory. They are holding off Florida State, but they’ll need to keep winning if they want the top seed in the ACC tournament because the Seminoles aren’t backing down. 

#3 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: 1) – 1 First Place Vote

  • Gonzaga slid in the AP Poll out of the #1 slot, and they slide here, largely due to their weak schedule. It’s hard to make a statement when you beat every team in your conference by 20 or 30 points, and that’s exactly Gonzaga’s issue currently. Whereas other top teams are winning huge statement games, the Bulldogs are cruising through the West Coast conference, beating up on a cupcake schedule. 

#2 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: #3) 

  • The Jayhawks haven’t lost since their home defeat to Baylor, but they’ll play second-fiddle to the Bears in these rankings. They showed flashes of brilliance in putting away Tennessee, and they sandwiched that outing with dominant performances versus Kansas State and Oklahoma State. They’re a legitimate national title contender. 

#1 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: #2) – 2 First Place Votes

  • Baylor shut down a lot of haters with a dominant performance at an unranked Florida team. The #1 team in the nation, the Bears entered the game as 2-point underdogs. They played with a chip on their shoulder and stifled the Gators to the tune of a 72-61 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. With 15 straight wins, the Bears finally rise to the top of our Power Rankings.

Saturday’s ACC Recaps and Takeaways

The ACC was busy on Saturday, but there were a few yawners before a Notre Dame-Florida State thriller ended the day. Recaps and takeaways are here, as well as the one Sunday game still to be played in the conference.

Louisville 80 Clemson 62

The Game: Darius Perry scored 19 points, Samuell Williamson chipped in 14 points off the bench, and Louisville went on a 17-0 run in the first half to put away the Tigers with ease, the game never coming closer than 13 points in the second half. 

The Takeaway: Clemson is not a legitimate ACC contender. The Tigers had their inspiring underdog week, when they snapped a 59-game road losing streak to UNC and beat Duke at home, but they’ve lost two of three since then, and I don’t see the Tigers making any serious run in the ACC Tournament. 

UNC 94 Miami 71

The Game: Brandon Robinson balled out with 29 points for the Tar Heels, Armando Bacot had a double-double as UNC put up 51 points in the second half and rolled versus Miami to break  a 6-game skid. 

The Takeaway: Miami is the worst team in the ACC. They’ve lost 6 of 7 games with five of those losses by 16 or more points and three by 20+. They entered the day in a tie for last in the ACC with UNC, and they were run off the court by the Tar Heels, clearly highlighting their struggles to be competitive this year. 

Syracuse 69 Pittsburgh 61

The Game: Buddy Boeheim put up 21 points, Marek Dolezaj notched 17 points, and the Orange stayed hot, putting away the Panthers at home for their fifth straight ACC win. 

The Takeaway: Syracuse’s ability to win in different ways could be huge in March. The Orange beat Notre Dame in a shootout 84-82, but they relied on their defense to win on Saturday. During their current winning streak, four of their five wins have been 8 or less points – come March, their ability to win ugly close games could be clutch. 

Boston College 61 Virginia Tech 56

The Game: BC got 23 points from Jairus Hamilton and outscored the Hokies 35-25 in the second half to overcome a halftime deficit and win at home. 

The Takeaway: We have no idea what to expect out of BC. The Eagles beat Wake Forest and Notre Dame to start ACC play, but they lost four of their next five conference games, losing by 39, 18, 19, and 26 points. They lost to Pitt earlier in this week, but won today as an underdog – in conclusion? BC might be the worst or best team on your schedule depending on what version of the Eagles shows up.

Florida State 85 Notre Dame 84

The Recap: Highlighted by Wyatt Wilke’s 19 points 5 for 6 shooting performance from long range off the bench, Florida State shot 12/18 from deep as a team and held off a furious comeback by Notre Dame, who missed four shots in the final 15 seconds. 

The Takeaway: Notre Dame is the best in the country at almost making huge comebacks. As the final Irish shot fell short of its mark, John Mooney grabbed the ball and hucked it at the base of the hoop in frustration. The Irish fell to 2-5 in one possession game and have lost four games in ACC play by a total of 7 points. In all four games, the Irish came back from a double-digit deficit only to lose it in the final seconds.