MEN'S BASKETBALL

Men's Basketball: February's half over, so it's time to kick this hoops stuff into gear

Tom Noie
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND – It’s getting late, and it’s getting rather crowded near the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball standings. 

February rolls past the halfway point this week, which means it’s time to get going. Or time to keep pace, or fall way behind. There now are six teams with double-digit league wins, including Notre Dame, which remains tied for the league lead with Duke. 

It falls off after that, but this final push by these half dozen might get realllllly interesting. 

Following are NDI’s ACC power rankings for the week of Feb. 14. Records are as of Monday morning. Quotes from the league’s 15 head coaches are from the Feb. 14 league Zoom conference call unless otherwise noted. 

Feb 12, 2022; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA;  Duke Blue Devils forward Paolo Banchero (5) dunks the ball during the first half against the Boston College Eagles at Conte Forum. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

►1. Duke (21-4 overall; 11-3 ACC) 

Last week: 1 

Worth noting: Saturday’s win at Boston College stretched Duke’s league road win streak to five, which ties Oregon for the longest in the nation among power conference teams. The Blue Devils have won their six league road games by an average of 11.9 points. 

Worth quoting:  "It should flex its muscle in figuring out what's going to happen with college basketball. I don't think any of us know. There's not a plan. There were no guardrails set up for the things that have come up. We're governed by a body that's reactionary, not proactive. The game has not benefitted from that. The league really is the league because of men's college basketball. You've got to keep renewing that commitment to it. You can't do it while you're working on football. You can't do it seasonally. You've got to do it every day of the year. That's not been done with college basketball. That's what I wish for our conference."

-Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski on how the ACC can remain strong in college athletics.

Feb 12, 2022; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Mike Brey reacts during the second half against the Clemson Tigers at Littlejohn Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

►2. Notre Dame (18-7; 11-3) 

Last week: 2 

Worth noting: Notre Dame is 14-2 in its last 16 games. Among teams ranked in the Top 25, only Auburn, Gonzaga, Providence and Murray State have been better. Those teams have gone 15-1. 

Worth quoting:  "This could be a group that could slide into the Top 25. That would be really cool for them (but) we like hiding in the weeds up here."

-Irish coach Mike Brey on being ranked in the Top 25. 

Feb 9, 2022; Coral Gables, Florida, USA; Miami Hurricanes guard Charlie Moore (3) reacts after making a basket against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the second half at Watsco Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

►3. Miami (Fla.) (18-7; 10-4) 

Last week: 6 

Worth noting: Saturday’s victory over Wake Forest was the first time that Miami won at Joel Coliseum that did not go to overtime. 

Worth quoting:  "What it means is you don't play the score, you play the game. Teams go on runs and there are spurts. Your objective is really to play consistently well. We have what I refer to 'spurt-ability.' Unfortunately, those spurts aren't always good."

-Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga, whose team has won four games this season in which they've trailed by at least trail 13 points.

Feb 5, 2022; Tallahassee, Florida, USA; Wake Forest Deamon Deacons head coach Steve Forbes during the first half against the Florida State Seminoles at Donald L. Tucker Center. Mandatory Credit: Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

►4. Wake Forest (20-6; 10-5) 

Last week: 3 

Worth noting: The Demon Deacons had a perfect chance to turn the screws on Duke and Notre Dame, but lost Saturday at home to Miami, a game that Wake Forest led at one point by 13.  

Worth quoting:  "You don't want to ask that question around here. That's not a very big day around my house. Today, it's about Duke."

-Demon Deacons coach Steve Forbes on importance placed on Valentine's Day.

Feb 12, 2022; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Virginia Cavaliers mascot Cav Man dances on the court during a timeout against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the second half at John Paul Jones Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

►5. Virginia (16-9; 10-5) 

Last week: 5 

Worth noting: Here come the ‘Hoos. Since the Jan. 26 loss at Notre Dame, Virginia has won four straight, three of those at home. 

Worth quoting: “We didn’t defend as well in the second half. That’s partly due to, they did a better job of attacking us. That’s just hard to guard.” 

-Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett after Saturday’s home win over Georgia Tech 

Feb 12, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels forward Armando Bacot (5) reacts in the second half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

►6. North Carolina (18-7; 10-4) 

Last week: 4 

Worth noting: The Tar Heels were scary good early against Florida State on Saturday while scoring the game’s first 18 points and jumping to a 24-3 lead in the first 8:28. North Carolina won by 20. The Tar Heels have won six of seven. 

Worth quoting: "From a defensive standpoint, we've been tied together better. Our talking has been better. We've clearly identified our recipe for putting us in position to be successful."

-Tar Heels coach Hubert Davis 

Jan 23, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies guard Nahiem Alleyne (4) takes contact from Syracuse Orange guard Joseph Girard III (11) in the second half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

►7. Virginia Tech (15-10; 7-7)  

Last week: 9  

Worth noting: Power forward Justyn Mutts registered the second triple double in program history in Saturday’s 71-59 victory over Syracuse, a game where the Hokies never trailed in the second half. Mutts finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for the Hokies, who’ve quietly won five straight. 

Worth quoting: “We’re just playing better ball. We’re just playing … more connected. … Gritty. Tough. Really a lot of fun to watch.” 

-Hokies coach Mike Young after Saturday’s home win over Syracuse 

Jan 23, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange guard Buddy Boeheim (35) handles the ball as Virginia Tech Hokies forward Justyn Mutts (25) defends in the second half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

►8. Syracuse (13-12; 7-7) 

Last week: 7 

Worth noting: Following a run of four league games in 11 days, the Orange get the next six off before returning to action Saturday at home against Boston College. 

Worth quoting:  "I don't know why they wouldn't get the waiver. The Ivy League didn't get to play. I would think any player from the Ivy League should get the year. Every player from the Ivy League should have that option. It just makes no sense." 

-Orange coach Jim Boeheim on past and present Ivy League players getting an additional year of eligibility because of COVID 

Feb 12, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Florida State Seminoles guard RayQuan Evans (0) dribbles as North Carolina Tar Heels guard Kerwin Walton (24) defends in the first half at Dean E. Smith Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

►9. Florida State (13-11; 6-8) 

Last week: 8 

Worth noting: Florida State trailed North Carolina at halftime on Saturday by 38 points, its largest halftime deficit in at least the last 25 years. Down three key contributors because of injury, the Seminoles have lost six straight on the heels of winning six in a row. 

Worth quoting:  "There's no doubt that it's been extremely challenging. It's affected our guys in a lot of ways. The lack of leadership, the lack of experience on our team has psychologically taken a toll. We've got to get back to who we were and who we've been."

-Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton

Feb 9, 2022; South Bend, Indiana, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard Jarrod West (13) guard Noah Locke (0) guard Mason Faulkner (11) and guard Dre Davis (14) huddle during the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

►10. Louisville (11-13; 5-9) 

Last week: 11 

Worth noting: No league team may have needed a bye weekend more than Louisville, which has lost six straight and eight of nine since opening league play 4-0. 

Worth quoting:  "Our goal is to beat Miami. We're not concerned about team goals at this point for a team that hasn't won a game for as long as we have. We just want to win one game. We look at the schedule, we see six games left. We feel like this point of the season, we're still a competitive group. We want to get a win and see where it takes us."

-Cardinals interim coach Mike Pegues 

Feb 12, 2022; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA;  Boston College Eagles guard Jaeden Zackery (3) drives to the basket while Duke Blue Devils forward AJ Griffin (21) defends during the second half at Conte Forum. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

►11. Boston College (9-14; 4-9) 

Last week: 12 

Worth noting: Football coach Jeff Hafley helped lead cheers in the student section during Saturday’s sold-out home game against Duke. It didn’t much help. The Eagles led for only 4:19 and trailed by as many as 21 with much of the Conte Forum crowd pro-Duke. 

Worth quoting:  "We've been pretty consistent defensively. I'm just waiting to see our defense and offense come together on the same night. That's when we're really, really good, We're working to be a confident offensive team as well. We've gotten better. We're trying to reach our full maturity."

-Eagles coach Earl Grant 

Feb 12, 2022; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; Clemson Tigers forward PJ Hall (24) moves to the basket against Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Nate Laszewski (14) during the second half at Littlejohn Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Dawson Powers-USA TODAY Sports

►12. Clemson (12-13; 4-10) 

Last week: 10 

Worth noting: Clemson had three games in five days - all at home – but lost them all to North Carolina, to Duke and Saturday to Notre Dame, a game where it led for all of 24 seconds. 

Worth quoting:  "Certainly, we could use (a win). It's been, whatever it's been, a week or 10 days. Part of life in the ACC. It's just been one game right after another. It's hard to make adjustments and deal with that. We haven't played great every game, but I think we've competed. Our spirit is good."

-Tigers coach Brad Brownell 

Feb 12, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  Pittsburgh Panthers forward John Hugley (23) dunks the ball against the North Carolina State Wolfpack during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. Pittsburgh won 71-69. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

►13. Pittsburgh (10-16; 5-10) 

Last week: 14 

Worth noting: Winners at home for the first time since Jan. 25, Pittsburgh went 23-for-25 (.920 percent) from the free throw line in Saturday’s 71-69 victory over North Carolina State. 

Worth quoting: "It's not something we force on anyone. We have some guys that are interested in it and are pursuing some things. It's a great opportunity for young people. This is college athletics now. Everyone has to adjust to it and try to figure it out the best they can for their program and for their guys."

 -Panthers coach Jeff Capel on Name, Image and Likeness opportunities for his program. 

Feb 12, 2022; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets guard Deivon Smith (5) shoots the ball against the Virginia Cavaliers during the first half at John Paul Jones Arena. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

►14. Georgia Tech (10-14; 3-10) 

Last week: 13 

Worth noting: The Yellow Jackets scored a season low 19 first-half points in Saturday’s loss at Virginia, a game where Tech never led and trailed by as many as 17 in losing for the fourth time in the last five league games. 

Worth quoting:  "That's what happens when you're toward the bottom (of the standings), nobody has any questions for you. They just move on. I hope we can get some wins so I can get some more questions."

-Yellow Jackets coach Josh Pastner on lack of Zoom queries for him.

Feb 12, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA;  North Carolina State Wolfpack guard Dereon Seabron (1) dribbles the ball as Pittsburgh Panthers Pittsburgh Panthers guard Femi Odukale (left) and guard Jamarius Burton (11) defend during the second half at the Petersen Events Center. Pittsburgh won 71-69. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

►15. NC State (10-16; 3-12) 

Last week: 15 

Worth noting: The Wolfpack are on a serious slide that’s shown no sign of slowing. Following Saturday’s loss at Pittsburgh, North Carolina State has lost six straight, eight of nine and 14 of 17 dating back to mid-December. 

Worth quoting:  "When you win, everybody loves you and it's the best thing in the world. When you're losing games, you feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. A lot of times people are upset that you're losing. The coaches are the worst. if you think you're upset, how do you think I feel? The kids move on a lot quicker than we do."

-Wolfpack coach Kevin Keatts on dealing with losing

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI