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Heel Tough Blog: Are the Tar Heels the Best Team in the ACC?

University of North Carolina Athletics

There’s a lot of basketball left to be played, but it’s fun to speculate and debate certain topics, as conference season is in full swing around major college basketball. A topic worth debating after UNC’s 65-55 win at #16 Clemson yesterday, is at 11-3, and 3-0 in the ACC, are the Tar Heels the best team in the ACC? ABCers are going to try and find any reason not to admit it, but no matter how you slice it, it’s hard to argue that Carolina hasn’t separated itself from the rest of the league. 

Of Carolina’s 14 games, 6 of them have come against ranked competition, which Carolina is 4-2 in such games. Their ranked wins include Arkansas, a top-10 Tennesee, an undefeated Oklahoma, and most recently, #16 Clemson, that one coming on the road in Littlejohn. Duke is 2-1 against ranked foes, but their loss came on their home floor to Arizona. Like UNC, Duke has also played Arkansas, but Duke failed to beat them, losing in Fayetteville. Miami is 11-3, like the Tar Heels, but they’ve only played 2 ranked games, earning a 1-1 record. Where UNC played Kentucky to the final whistle, the Hurricanes ran out of Rupp Arena, losing 95-73 back in the ACC/SEC Challenge. They also beat #16 Clemson, but did so at home, not on the road. Wake Forest has emerged as a team to take seriously in the ACC, as they are also 11-3 overall, and 3-0 in the ACC. But it’s uncertain just how good the Demon Deacons are, as they’ve yet to play a ranked team this team, and they won’t do so until January 22nd when they visit Chapel Hill. After going 0-2 this week, it’s hard to believe that Clemson is the best team in the league, although they still figure to compete for the all-important double bye for the ACC Tournament. The Tar Heels historically play as tough a non-conference schedule as possible, and that was true this year, with their success against ranked opponents, no matter if the games were at home, away, or on a neutral floor, it’s hard to make the argument that there’s a better team in the ACC right now. 

It’s not just their performance against ranked opponents that leads you to believe that UNC is the best team in the ACC, it’s also their computer metrics, starting with KenPom. After the win over Clemson, Carolina is now 8th overall according to KenPom, and they are inside the top 16 in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency.   Those ratings are the best of any ACC team, although Duke is 10th according to KenPom, with Clemson coming in 24th. 

Furthermore, after the win over the Tigers, UNC is now ranked 9th in the NET, a metric that the NCAA Tournament uses to help seed the field and determine the field. Just like in the KenPom metric, Duke is the second-highest ACC team in the NET, coming in at 18th. Carolina is 4-3 in Quad 1 games, 3-0 in Quad 3 games, and 4-0 in Quad 4 games. All of that chalks itself up to a #9 ranking in the NET, the highest ever under Hubert Davis. 

Lastly, when you look at the early Bracketology, it also favors UNC. Even before the win over Clemson yesterday, Joe Lunardi had UNC as a #3 seed, in the South Region, with UNC playing in Charlotte to open the NCAA Tournament. Lunardi has Duke as a #4 seed in the West Region, Clemson as a #3 seed in the Midwest Region, Miami as a #9 seed in the East Region, and Wake Forest among the Next Four Out. After the results yesterday, you could expect UNC to move up to the #2 seed line, Clemson to drop a seed line, with Duke expected to stay on the #4 seed line.


The important thing to remember is that the college basketball season is a marathon, it’s not a sprint, and there is a lot of basketball left to be played, and all of this talk could be for nothing by the time we get to Selection Sunday. With that said, as the evidence above proves, Hubert Davis has done a tremendous job restoring the Carolina Basketball program to the top of the ACC, and back into the national conversation, just a year after missing the NCAA Tournament, as Carolina has emerged as the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

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