ACC Basketball Power Rankings, Vol. 10: Devin Vassell makes his case for ACC Player of the Year

The start of February means the 2019-20 college basketball season has entered its fourth month of existence, in terms of actual game play. At this point, there’s still a lot to be decided, but conference tournaments aren’t that far away.

Let’s jump in on this week’s ACC Basketball Power Rankings, which include another look at Devin Vassell of FSU, Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. and Syracuse’s issues on the defensive glass.


No. 1 Louisville

Louisville has wins in eight straight games and currently ranks inside the top 20 nationally in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiencies, according to KenPom. Things are good. This team is good, and deep with plenty of versatility.

In the middle of last week, Jordan Nwora went nuts against Boston College: 37 points, powered by seven 3-pointers.

Over the weekend, however, it was Ryan McMahon’s turn to sizzle for the Cards: 23 points (7-of-10 3PA) in the win over NC State.

For the season now, Louisville, as a team, has shot 39.7 percent on its 3-point attempts — No. 4 in the nation. The Cards have also scored 1.18 points per possession (58.8 eFG%) on catch-and-shoot attempts in the half court, per Synergy. That ranks No. 16 in the country.

If you want to build a case for Louisville as a serious Final Four threat, it starts with this team’s talent, obviously. The roster features several future pros, like Nwora and David Johnson. Beyond that, though, this team can defend — 42.9 eFG% for opponents, which ranks No. 5 in the nation — and shoot from distance. Combine those two factors, and Louisville has a really strong foundation.


No. 2 Duke

Duke’s offense is red hot. The Blue Devils have won three straight games — all of which occurred while scoring better than 1.2 points per possession. It certainly helps to have Vernon Carey Jr. in the middle of the floor, wrecking shop.

In wins over Pittsburgh and Syracuse (a solid road victory), Carey used close to 34 percent of Duke’s possessions while on the floor. VCJ combined for seven dunks and 16-of-21 (76.2 FG%) shooting at the rim, too. Even with Pitt’s defense geared to making his life difficult, VCJ continuously carved out deep post position.

Carey, who draws 7.8 fouls per 40 minutes (No. 4 nationally), went 8-of-10 from the free throw line while also mauling Syracuse on the glass. VCJ grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds at Syracuse, with six coming on the offensive side of the floor (33 percent offensive rebound rate). Carey is now shooting over 71 percent on put-back attempts, too, per Synergy.

Cassius Stanley was really good for Duke as well.

One could argue that having Louisville over Duke is a bit of a miss; multiple efficiency models rate the Blue Devils as the top team in the ACC, currently. However, these three teams, including FSU, have separated themselves — by a wide margin — as the league’s best. The margins, however, between these three teams are slim. This is a fluid situation; we need to see more basketball.


No. 3 Florida State

Florida State slipped early in the week against Virginia, but Leonard Hamilton’s club responded with a big road win at Virginia Tech. Once again, Devin Vassell was sensational — 27 points (7-of-7 3PA) on 10 field goal attempts. It’s time we discuss Vassell as one of the top contenders for ACC Player of the Year. (To be clear, he should absolutely win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award.)

Over 37 percent of his field goal attempts this season are of the 3-point variety; he’s connected on 44.3 percent of those looks, too. According to Synergy Sports, Vassell has an effective shooting rate of 64 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts — No. 6 in the ACC.

There’s just so much to like with Vassell; he checks so many different boxes. A sensational help defender, Vassell is the best 3-and-D prospect in the country. On offense, he’s a low-mistake player (7.6 percent turnover rate) who can handle some and score from four different levels of the floor. The NBA team that drafts Vassell will add a serious two-way prospect to its roster.


No. 4 Virginia

It wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, but Virginia’s win over Florida State last week came at a crucial time. After losing four of five games, UVA barely snuck out of Winston-Salem with an overtime win against Wake Forest. Two days later, Virginia had to turn around and host Florida State — with over a full week off after that game.

Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff (76.8 FG% at the rim this season) were excellent against FSU. Diakite is far from a perfect hub of efficient offense; however, his development on that end of the floor continues to impress. While his usage has jumped, Diakite has remained rather efficient: 56 percent true shooting.

In the FSU game, Diakite went for 19 points and nine rebounds, while shooting 3-of-3 on 3-point attempts. That’s the second time this season, including the November win over Vermont, Diakite has gone 3-for-3 from deep in a game.

According to Synergy, Diakite has an effective shooting clip of 58.8 percent on catch-and-shoot attempts (51 FGA).


No. 5 Syracuse

Even after an 0-2 week, there’s still plenty to like with this Syracuse team — No. 53 in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings. Led by Elijah Hughes, Syracuse has found a nice groove offensively this season. Syracuse ranks inside the top 35 nationally in both 3-point attempt rate (44.8 percent of FGA) and assist rate (59.5 percent). As of right now, Syracuse is a top 15-20 offense in the country.

Defensively, though, Syracuse continues to struggle with rebounding. That’s nothing new, really. Syracuse, as we all know, plays an aggressive 2-3 zone on defense; this leaves the Orange vulnerable to a high opponent 3-point attempt rate and on the offensive glass.

Syracuse ranks 305th nationally in defensive rebound rate; opponents rebound close to 32 percent of their missed shots against the Orange. In the loss to Clemson, the Tigers rebounded 38 percent of their misses. And on Saturday, Duke clobbered Syracuse on the glass — rebounding 46 percent of its misses. So far this season, opponents have scored 1.03 points per possession (52.2 FG%) on put-backs against Syracuse.


No. 6 Virginia Tech

After such a promising start to conference play — 5-3 in the ACC after the UNC win — things are a little wobbly for Virginia Tech. The Hokies have dropped three straight; in each of those three games, VT failed to score above 0.97 points per possession. It’s one thing to have those struggles against Florida State — which took away some of VT’s pretty off-ball movements with its switching scheme — but it’s a whole different ball game when it occurs at Miami: 0.88 points per possession.

Over this three-game stretch, Virginia Tech shot just 30.1 percent on 3-point looks, while only attempting a combined 25 free throws. That won’t get it done.


No. 7 NC State

There’s a lot to unpack with NC State’s offensive struggles. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to go into all of the nitty-gritty, though we’ve covered some of those issues in the past.

Long story short: NC State runs as much half-court pick-and-roll as anyone in the country. In theory, this type of offense should produce good shots — looks at the rim and 3-pointers — while also maintaining a low turnover rate. However, it can also stagnate, especially when its floor-spacers struggle and its main engine (Markell Johnson) slumps.

NC State is shooting a woeful 31.5 percent on its 3-point looks this season; according to Synergy, the Pack have an effective shooting rate of 50.6 percent on catch-and-shoots, which is good but not great.

As a junior, Johnson blitzed the NC State as lethal pick-and-roll creator and a big shot-maker. According to Synergy, Johnson shot 41.2 percent off the dribble in the half court during the 2018-19 season — 1.09 points per possession (54.7 eFG%), good for second in the ACC.

To be fair, Johnson is tasked with a lot; NC State’s offense puts a great deal of responsibility on his shoulders. But his shooting has cratered from every level of the floor. Now as a senior, Johnson’s off-dribble shooting has dipped down to 26.2 percent (31.5 eFG%). Of the 18 ACC players with at least 50 off-dribble jump shots this season, Johnson ranks last in terms of efficiency.


No. 8 Pittsburgh

While pushing Duke in Durham and picking up a home win over depleted Miami, Pitt got two big outings from sophomore forward Au’Diese Toney.

Toney played all 40 minutes in both of those games, while scoring a combined 42 points on 50 percent shooting (4-of-9 3PA). At Duke, Toney shot 8-of-13 on attempts from around the basket, including four dunks. Tony entered that game with just three dunks on the season.

Back home against Miami, the 6-foot-6 Toney grabbed five offensive rebounds, which tied a career high, and recorded two steals, too.


No. 9 Notre Dame

Notre Dame went undefeated during the first two legs of a three-game homestand — with wins over Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. In both of those games, Notre Dame managed to score over 1.2 points per possession; in fact, the Irish have hit that benchmark three times in their last four games.

Don’t sleep on Notre Dame. This team has potential.


No. 10 Clemson

Three weeks ago, behind a wonderful performance from Aamir Simms, Clemson back cut its way to glory against Duke: 1.08 points per possession on offense in 79-72 upset victory. That’s a healthy number, especially against an excellent defensive team in Duke.

Well, basketball can be a cruel game, at times. Wake Forest is far from a defensive juggernaut. In fact, the Demon Deacons are just a bad defensive unit — 142nd nationally in adjusted efficiency.

However, Clemson could only muster a measly 0.68 points per possession in the loss to Wake Forest on Saturday. In total, the Tigers turned the ball over on 23 percent of their possessions and shot just 4-of-21 on 3-point looks. Yikes!


No. 11 Georgia Tech

During ACC play, opponent have shot 34.6 percent on 3-point looks against Georgia Tech, which ranks 12th in the league. So far this season, though, the Yellow Jackets have done well limiting 3-point looks; less than 33 percent of opponent field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. That’s on pace to be the best number assembled by a Josh Pastner team at Georgia Tech.

In the loss to Notre Dame, though, Georgia Tech allowed 24 3-point attempts.


No. 12 North Carolina

Saturday brought the much-anticipated return of Cole Anthony to the lineup for UNC. And while Anthony was super aggressive — relentlessly attacking the rim (26 points, 14-of-14 FTA) — he struggled at times, too, in the loss to Boston College.

Anthony has a tendency to check out when he doesn’t have the basketball, though this was his first game in nearly two months. While wickedly talented, Anthony can monopolize the ball, which caused issues for UNC down the stretch against BC.

Overall, UNC managed to score just 0.97 points per possession while posting an effective shooting rate of 39.3 percent in the loss.

No. 13 Miami

You really have to give Jim Larranaga and Miami some credit for what they did last week. Without Chris Lykes, and with Kam McGusty struggling, Miami defeated a good Virginia Tech team, thanks to strong play from freshman guards Isaiah Wong and Harlond Beverly.

Then on Sunday — once again without Lykes and McGusty — Miami pushed Pittsburgh on the road, losing by five points.

Over the last three games, Wong has averaged 14.7 points on 58.3 percent shooting.


No. 14 Boston College

Boston College has five ACC wins on the season, which is nice. The Eagles also rate as a top-100 defense, too, which is also nice. However, of those five ACC victories, all five have come by seven or fewer points, including two one-point wins. That said, the win in Chapel Hill was inspired.


No. 15 Wake Forest

Hats off to Wake Forest, which put together one of its best defensive performances ever under Danny Manning in the 56-44 win over Clemson.

The Deacons, however, will have their hands full this week: home to Clemson, then at Syracuse.


Contributor Rankings

David GlennBrian GeisingerJosh GrahamConsensus
1LouisvilleFlorida StateLouisvilleLouisville
3Florida StateDukeFlorida StateFlorida State
6Virginia TechVirginia TechNC StateVirginia Tech
7NC StateNC StatePittNC State
8PittNotre DameVirginia TechPitt
9Notre DamePittNotre DameNotre Dame
10ClemsonGeorgia TechClemsonClemson
11UNCClemsonGeorgia TechGeorgia Tech
12Georgia TechUNCUNCUNC
14Boston CollegeWake ForestBoston CollegeBoston College
15Wake ForestBoston CollegeWake ForestWake Forest