The Atlantic Coast Conference has won two of the last three national championships, consistently features some of the best players in the country, and has possibly the deepest conference in college basketball. It might be safe to assume the ACC is the best basketball league in the country, which is a title that brings a lot of teams that are contenders for the crown. About a month into the season, some squads have separated themselves from the pack and look like legitimate contenders, while others look like they’ll most likely have an early exit from the tournament.

The Top Dogs

Fun fact of the day: Duke is currently dead last in the ACC.

Yes, you read that right.

They have only played one ACC game and no one besides Boston College has played one yet, but for Duke haters that doesn’t really matter. It’ll probably be the only time the Dukies will be in that spot all season.

In the loss to Boston College, Grayson Allen had one of his worst games of the season, going 5 of 20 from the floor, and the Duke starters were forced to play the majority of the game with limited production from the bench. Boston College does have one of the better statistical defenses in the country, but Duke fans shouldn’t worry too much, as this game was most likely an anomaly.

They have already proven they’re one of the best teams in the country early in the season. Marvin Bagley III has played as good as advertised, Allen is having a fantastic start to his senior season, and Gary Trent Jr. has also been a key player in Duke’s high scoring offense. Early wins over a top three Michigan State, a decent Texas squad, and Florida, albeit an overrated Gator team, showed that Duke was just as good as many people projected in the preseason.

So yes, Duke just lost to BC and people are celebrating in the streets, but don’t hold your breath because Duke should, once again, be one of the favorites to win the National Championship.

Now we can take a look at this season’s defending national champions, the North Carolina Tar Heels. UNC has taken trips to the last two national title games, and even after losing a lot of talent from last season, they’re still one of the top teams in the conference.

The group is led by a lot of upperclassmen, mainly Luke Maye and Joel Berry, both of whom have been having phenomenal seasons so far. Maye is average 19.9 points-per-game, second best in the ACC, and has finally become the main man after serving as more of a role player the last two seasons.

Berry, who somehow is still in college, is also having a great year so far. When the senior isn’t breaking his hand after losing in 2K (which, admittedly, is understandable) he’s been scoring 16 points and dishing out 3.7 assists per game. The rest of the roster is talented and deep, with guys like Kenny Williams and Theo Pinson also having stellar years so far.

The Heels did suffer a tough loss to Michigan State a few weeks ago, but will most likely still go into conference play with no more than two losses. UNC isn’t as deep as they have been in years past, but Carolina still looks legit, and look for them to stay inside the top 10 throughout the season.

Contenders or Pretenders?

Like most college sports, games in the early season don’t really tell the full story about a team. This is very true in college basketball, where teams don’t always play the toughest schedule to start the season, so a bad team could come into conference play with a decent record. When the conference begins to start in a few weeks, we’ll find out more about some of these teams, but right now, here are some other contenders in the ACC.

Florida State lost a ton of talent to the NBA after last season. Jonathan Isaac was a lottery pick, Dwayne Bacon ended up on the Knicks, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes ended up making the G-League. With all that talent gone, not much was expected out of FSU this season, and they were picked to finish eighth in the conference in the preseason by the media.

It’s starting to look like the media was wrong.

The Seminoles have not played the toughest schedule to begin the season, but they do have an impressively dominant win over Florida on the road, as well a road win over Rutgers. Florida State is 9-0, one of only six undefeated teams in the country, and a lot of upperclassmen have stepped up in place of the lost talent. Brian Angola and Terance Mann have both been having good seasons, with Mann playing at an all-conference level so far this year. CJ Walker is averaging double figures in points per game and Phil Cofer has been shooting above 50% on the season, along with locking down guys in several games this season.  

Unlike last season, this team is led by older guys who have been in the program awhile, and that will bode well for the Seminoles when conference play begins. The ‘Noles are led by solid defensive play and high percentage shots on offense. They’ll be tested in the next few weeks, and when ACC games start, we will know a lot more about this team. They do look like a contender right now.

Miami is another Florida school that is a strong contender in the conference. The Canes have become known as one of the better programs in the conference over the last few seasons, and this year is no different. At 8-0, Miami’s signature win so far is Minnesota, who at the time was #12 in the country but have faltered as of late.

Still, an 8-0 record is very impressive, and power forward Dewan Huell has been behind a lot of that success. The sophomore has upped his game from last season, leading the Canes in scoring and rebounds, while giving Miami a lot of opportunities at second-chance points. Huell and fellow sophomore Bruce Brown have been having great seasons so far. Conference play will be telling for the Canes, but if the early games are any indication, they’ll be a force in the ACC.

Finally, two other teams that have looked like contenders at times this season are Notre Dame and Virginia. The Fighting Irish are currently 8-2 but are still ranked #18 in the country. Before last week, their worst lost was to a top ten Michigan State team, but then they dropped a close game to Ball State. That loss, while head scratching, was simply the product of a fluke game because while the Irish do have some issues, they’re led by one of the dynamic players in the country,

Bonzie Colson is currently averaging a little over 19 points a game along with 9.6 rebounds. Colson is the heart of ND, and he’s been, by far, their biggest contributor. In games where he’s been ineffective on the glass, the Irish have lost, which shows how valuable the senior is to the team.  The backcourt duo of TJ Gibbs and Matt Ferrell have also both been having solid seasons so far, with Ferrell dishing out 5.2 assists a game and dropping 16.5 points per game. Both Farrell and Colson have been the best the Irish have to offer so far this season, and they must continue to play well if ND wants to actually compete in the ACC. So are they a contender? Only time will tell.

Virginia is in a similar boat. They don’t really have any signature wins, but they are 8-1 in mid-December. The Cavaliers have about nine guys that they rely on, which for a Tony Bennett coached-team, is true to form. Chief among them are Kyle Guy and Devon Hall, both of whom are putting up over twelve points a game each. Guy is mainly a scorer, while the point guard Devon Hall dishes out more assists and gets more rebounds. They are both tough defenders, as is Isaiah Wilkins, who is averaging a little over seven points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The senior forward is a force in the paint and is also where most of the Hoos defense places trust.

UVA’s only loss came to West Virginia last week in a game where Wilkins was only able to amass two field goals. The game was close throughout, but Virginia only had the lead for a few moments during the contest. Still, the Hoos are in a good position to be highly ranked going into conference play with several cupcake games coming up. If UVA can find an offense, then they’ll definitely be contenders, but as of now, the jury is still out.

Like most seasons, the ACC is stacked, and there a lot of teams that we really don’t know about yet. Boston College is now 9-3, so was their win over Duke just a fluke, or could they be headed towards the big dance. Syracuse has looked okay so far, as have Clemson and NC State. It’ll be another action-packed year on the coast, and with conference play coming up, things will just get better and better.

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