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ACC Basketball Power Rankings: 1/4/2013

Conference play is set to kick off this weekend. Today we look at where each team stands heading into ACC play, what they need to improve to be successful in conference, and how we think they will perform.

Streeter Lecka

To see how the league has evolved in the past month, see ACC Power Rankings 12/3/2012 (my previous rankings).

With our further delay here are my final pre conference schedule rankings - 1/4/2013:

#1 Duke.

Reason they are ranked where they are: They are 13-0 and are clearly the best team in the nation right now. Mason Plumlee is a strong candidate for POY. Quinn Cook has emerged as a steady PG. Rasheed Sulaimon is one of the better freshman guards in the country. I could go all Dick Vitale here, but you get the picture.

Room for Improvement: They have significantly improved their perimeter defense since last season, but if there is a flaw on this team, that is it (certainly nit-picky).

Biggest Win: There are quite a few to choose from. But the come from behind win over Ohio State is probably the most impressive to date.

Tourney chances: 1000% - it's more a question of will they stumble enough in conference play to lose a #1 seed that looks to be a sure thing at the moment.

ACC Projection: 15-3 (road losses at NC State, Maryland, and Miami)

#2 Maryland

Reason they are ranked where they are: Aside from a close loss to Kentucky to start the year they have been flawless. Alex Len has taken the next step and become a force down low. The strong play of Dez Wells on the perimeter provides balance. They go 10 deep. The young guys (Jake Layman and Shaquille Cleare) are only going to get better as the season emerges.

Room for improvement:
15 turnovers a game is a bit high. If they struggle to take care of the ball against the ACC elite, it will cost them.

Biggest Win:
Thrashing Northwestern by 20.

Tourney chances:
Count on the Terrapins to make a splash in March.

ACC Projection: A very solid 13-5. Erring on the side of caution here, as they could be even better.

#3 NC State

Reason they are ranked where they are: After a few tough losses against good teams, they have been outstanding, ripping off 7 straight wins. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown remain the best one-two punch in the conference. Freshman TJ Warren is a pure scorer. Richard Howell is a force down low. Very few teams in the country boast as much pure talent as the Wolfpack.

Room for improvement:
On a team of stars, who besides Howell can do the dirty work? Defensive intensity has lacked for stretches as well.

Biggest Win:
The UConn game stands out because they dug deep against a very determined team, and it started the recent stretch of excellence.

Tourney chances:
Outstanding. Coach Gottfried had NC State rolling at the right time last year. There is no reason not to expect the same this year.

ACC Projection: 12-6. Too much talent to be much worse. However, depth remains a concern.

#4 Miami

Reason they are ranked where they are: The 'Canes are 5-0 when they have all of their players in place (including a win over Michigan State). Shane Larkin and Durand Scott are arguably the best back court in the ACC. Kenny Kadji, Trey McKinney Jones, and Julian Gamble are good enough to keep Miami's head above water until Reggie Johnson's thumb heels.

Room for improvement:
UM was not a juggernaut on the boards WITH Johnson. With out him they will really need to focus on the glass.

Biggest Win: Miami's RPI was 18 before Wednesday night's victory over LaSalle. The win over MSU is the biggest reason why.

Tourney chances: Well above average. The high RPI coupled with the #7 SOS (to date) will be key come Selection Sunday.

ACC Projection: 11-7. It is conceivable that the Hurricanes could be 500 in the conference when Johnson returns. But the big guy's presence, and a soft schedule down the stretch should lead to a late season surge.

#5 North Carolina

Reason they are ranked where they are: After struggling against upper echelon teams early in the season, the Heels may have turned the corner in beating #20 UNLV last weekend. James Michael McAdoo continues his spectacular play, and Reggie Bullock is an outstanding second option. Marcus Paige still has a ways to go, but his play is improving.

Room for improvement:
UNC still looks a little thin against big physical teams. They need to play stronger, as they likely will not be able to out-shoot everyone on the ACC slate.

Biggest Win:
The UNLV game because it proved they can beat a ranked opponent.

Tourney chances:
Very good. Name recognition does not hurt.

ACC Projection: 11-7. They will win some nights on talent alone, but more experienced and elite teams will push them around some.

#6 Virginia

Reason they are ranked where they are: They have won 9 of 10 against a decent schedule. Joe Harris has become a viable go-to player. The defense remains stellar, and Akil Mitchell is having an outstanding year at PF. PG Jontel Evans has missed 9 games this year, but is expected back early in the ACC schedule, which should provide a boost.

Room for improvement:
Scoring is always a challenge for the Hoos.

Biggest Win:
The Wisconsin win is by far the most impressive.

Tourney chances:
50/50 to be blunt.

ACC Projection: 10-8 seems about right. This team is good enough to be competitive with anyone, but not quite good to enough to be in the upper echelon.

#7 Virginia Tech

Reason they are ranked where they are: After an impressive 7-0 start, things have cooled down a bit for the Hokies. They still have the league's most explosive scorer in Erick Green, who eclipses 24 a game. Jarell Eddie and Robert Brown are nice second and third options on the perimeter, but consistent inside scoring and depth will remain issues as the work their way through the ACC.

Room for improvement: The combination of Cadarian Raines and CJ Barksdale need to give them something inside.

Biggest Win:
The Oklahoma State game opened some eyes. If they can hang around in conference, it will certainly help their chances to make the Tourney.

Tourney chances:
Not terrific. Losses to Georgia Southern and Colorado State really took some of the luster off this squad. They are going to need to put some work in, in conference.

ACC Projection: 9-9. Good enough to beat the porous, but still looking a long ways away from the elite.

#8 Georgia Tech

Reason they are ranked where they are: Their 10-2 mark is misleading. Their schedule is loaded with cupcakes. Marcus Georges-Hunt has provided steady scoring punch, and Robert Carter & Chris Bolden are players to watch in the future. Daniel Miller needs more touches if this team is to climb the ACC ladder.

Room for improvement:
They do not shoot the ball well from deep or the line. This is a team full of wing players, who take too many shots.

Biggest Win: Georgia by a narrow margin. They will need a few marquee wins in the ACC to bolster a poor SOS.

Tourney chances:
A nice run in the ACC is mandatory. I do not see it happening.

ACC Projection: 7-11. This team is improved, but not yet ready for prime time.

#9 Florida State

Reason they are ranked where they are: Michael Snaer appears to be the only player Coach Leonard Hamilton trusts. Ian Miller has really taken a step backward. They are young, and turn the ball over a LOT. They have lost to South Alabama, Mercer, and a bad Auburn squad. On the bright side of things, freshmen Montay Brandon and Aaron Thomas have looked good at times.

Room for improvement:
They need to take much better care of the ball. The Seminoles also need to start playing the kind of defense that has been their trademark during the recent run of success.

Biggest Win:
The Charlotte game looked good, until the Auburn loss. Nonetheless it was a nice win.

Tourney chances:
This is not their year. I do not see it happening.

ACC Projection: 6-12. If they got their act together and exceeded this #, I would not be shocked. But right now, this is a team with a lot of issues.

#10 Clemson

Reason they are ranked where they are: While the Tigers are 8-4, which isn't so bad, they also recently lost to Coastal Carolina by 23 (ouch). Devin Booker, Milton Jennings, and K.J. McDaniels are nice forwards, but they have almost nothing resembling a back court scoring threat.

Room for improvement:
See above. Adonis Filer and Rod Hall need to do more.

Biggest Win:
The South Carolina win actually looks pretty good now, considering they are a solid 9-3.

Tourney chances: Not going to happen.

ACC Projection: 6-12 just feels right for this team. They have a few players, but do not resemble a good team.

#11 Boston College

Reason they are ranked where they are: They lost to Bryant College!! Harvard may be a good Ivy league school, but if you can't be the Crimson, you have no chance in this conference. Ryan Anderson is a good player, but not good enough for this team to contend. What the heck has happened to Dennis Clifford???

Room for improvement:
Recruit some better athletes and then we'll talk.

Biggest Win:
They did defeat Providence as part of a current 5 game winning streak.

Tourney chances: Unless Scoonie Penn has a year of eligibility left, fu get bout it!!

ACC Projection: 4-14. And that is being generous.

#12 Wake Forest

Reason they are ranked where they are: The continue to be the most disappointing team in the conference. They have 2 premier scorers in CJ Harris and Travis McKie, but their young inside players are developing slowly.

Room for improvement:
Aside from inside scoring, they do not always defend well (see the comeback loss to Seton Hall).

Biggest Win:
Last time out, they did best a struggling Xavier squad. Other then that........

Tourney chances:
Slim to none, and slim is on his way out of the building.

ACC Projection: 4-14. Harris and McKie are still good enough to light up any team that doesn't come to play.

Thanks to all who took the time to read this. More Power Rankings to emerge as the season progresses. Feel free to leave plenty of feedback.