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ACC update: No. 4 Notre Dame avoids upset bug that bites other top teams

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s one setback remains a loss to the now-No. 13 Maryland Terrapins on a buzzer-beater. No other ACC team has a resume that close to flawless.

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Maddy Westbeld is first on Notre Dame in blocks, second in rebounding and fifth in scoring.

Checking in on how the teams in the ACC have done since our last update (Dec. 14):

No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-1, 3-0 ACC, No. 1 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

The highlight for the Irish over the last stretch was their first game after our last update: a 63-52 victory at now-No. 9 Virginia Tech. Notre Dame was No. 5 and VA Tech was No. 6 at the time and the contest lived up to expectations in terms of being close. It was a defensive struggle and the Irish pulled away with a 23-9 fourth quarter that featured 10 points from Olivia Miles.

Notre Dame also endured a three-point scare from a Miami team that has six losses, though none of those losses have been embarrassing. The Irish would have of course preferred to beat the Hurricanes by more, but at least they were able to avoid the upset bug that bit the ACC’s other top teams. As a result, they are now a No. 1 seed in ESPN’s bracketology.

In their two other games since our last update, the Irish easily took care of business against Western Michigan and BC. Miles averaged 13.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 2.5 steals over the stretch.

No. 19 Duke Blue Devils (13-1, 3-0 ACC, No. 3 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

Duke deserves a lot of credit for ending NC State’s impressive streak. The Blue Devils didn’t suffer a letdown afterward, defeating the proud and preseason No. 7 Louisville Cardinals 63-56 this past Sunday. Their one other game over the last stretch was a 70-56 win over Virginia on Dec. 21. That serves as the Cavaliers’ only loss thus far.

Celeste Taylor came up big in the big-time win over the Wolfpack with 23 points and eight rebounds.

NCAA Womens Basketball: ACC Tournament-Duke at Miami
Celeste Taylor is leading Duke in scoring in her second season since transferring over from Texas.
William Howard-USA TODAY Sports

No. 9 Virginia Tech Hokies (12-2, 2-2 ACC, No. 4 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

The Hokies were on the wrong end of that Notre Dame game, but were on the right end of a different defensive struggle on New Year’s Day thanks to an ill-advised UNC foul late that led to three free throws from Georgia Amoore, the first of which was the game-winner in a 68-65 decision. With the Heels being No. 13 at the time, that win was big and it kept the Hokies’ ensuing slide in the rankings to just two spots. They had fallen to Clemson (not receiving votes) last Thursday by a score of 64-59. The Hokies had more success scoring the ball in their one other contest over the last stretch, an 86-66 victory over High Point.

Elizabeth Kitley had 16 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks against Notre Dame and 25 points, seven boards, seven assists and four rejections against High Point before cooling off against Clemson and UNC. Amoore had 20 points and four assists against the Irish and 24 points and six helpers against the Heels.

No. 10 NC State Wolfpack (12-2, 2-1 ACC, No. 4 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

Other than Stanford in the Pac-12, perhaps no team had been more dominant recently in a Power 5 conference than NC State up until last Thursday. The Wolfpack had won 18 ACC home games in a row, but fell to then-unranked-but-receiving-votes and now-No. 19 Duke 72-58 in Raleigh. They shot just 34.4 percent from the field in the loss. They then beat unranked and not receiving votes Syracuse by just two this past Sunday. In that one NC State scored two less points than it had scored against the Blue Devils and shot 33.3 percent from the field. Keep in mind that both these subpar performances came without the services of leading scorer Diamond Johnson, who is out with an ankle injury. The good news is that the Wolfpack comfortably won their other two games over the last stretch, defeating Davidson 81-47 and Clemson 77-59. Also, they are still in the Top 10.

No. 22 North Carolina Tar Heels (9-4, 0-2 ACC, No. 6 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

UNC was ranked at No. 7 at the time of our last update, so it has fallen 15 spots since. First, it moved up to No. 6 on Dec. 19 after a smooth-sailing week of the 12th with wins coming over Wofford, 99-67, and South Carolina Upstate, 89-47. But the Heels fell to No. 13 on Dec. 26 after losing to then-No. 19 Michigan, 76-68. As you can read from our recap of that game, Michigan went 12-of-16 from the field in the first quarter and led by as much as 23 in the contest. The Wolverines set a program high in a first quarter with 35 points. Not a distinction the Heels wanted and it echoed their blowout loss to another Big Ten power (now-No. 6 Indiana on Dec. 1).

To add insult to injury, last week UNC lost to a Florida State team that wasn’t receiving votes at the time. As a result, the Heels fell nine spots in the rankings. It’s hard to fault them for also losing to a very good VA Tech team last week.

Deja Kelly averaged 19 points over the four games since our last update.

RV (29 points) Florida State Seminoles (14-2, 3-0 ACC, No. 6 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

I’m on the Florida State bandwagon; I think they are a dangerous team that will eventually be in the rankings and be a problem in March. Star power is so important and the Seminoles have that with freshman Ta’Niya Latson leading the way. Latson was the focus of our last ACC update, written by Josh Felton.

FSU blew out Presbyterian 98-37 on Dec. 15 and a respectable ACC team in Georgia Tech 99-58 on New Year’s Day. The highlight of the last stretch was its battle against mighty UConn. The Seminoles were unable to force the now-No. 5 Huskies into back-to-back losses for the first time in 29 years, but put up a fight and only lost by eight.

FSU also had the win over UNC and a seven-point win over the Miami team that gave Notre Dame so much trouble. Latson averaged 24.6 points over the stretch, which is just below her season average of 25.2. She also averaged 4.2 assists and 3.4 steals.

Virginia Cavaliers (13-1, 2-1 ACC, No. 9 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

Virginia has been a feel-good story this year. It went 5-22 (2-16 ACC) a season ago and has transformed under first-year head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton. It was receiving seven voting points the last time we checked in and moved up to 21 voting points on Dec. 19 after an 84-28 victory over Morgan State. Its stellar start then saw a small blip with the loss to Duke on Dec. 21; on Dec. 26 the Cavs were no longer receiving votes. They defeated Georgia Tech 69-63 last Thursday, but that didn’t gain them back any voting points.

Mir McLean averaged 13 points and 8.7 rebounds over the stretch.

Louisville Cardinals (11-5, 2-1 ACC, No. 9 seed in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

The Cards’ loss to Duke on New Year’s Day dropped them from receiving votes. They won their other four games over the last stretch, with two coming against ACC opponents (Pitt and Syracuse). You have to believe that Louisville will still be a factor in the conference. It is just too good to remain out of the picture. The team needs to continue to believe in superstar Hailey Van Lith, whose leadership was critical to last year’s Final Four run. Van Lith continued her stellar play over the last stretch, averaging 20.6 points and 3.8 helpers. She was the lone bright spot against Duke, but wasn’t alone in every game. Five-foot-five guard Chrislyn Carr, who averages 2.9 rebounds, grabbed 17 boards to go along with her 21 points in a Dec. 21 win over DePaul.

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You know Hailey Van Lith is determined to turn Louisville’s season around.
Scott.Utterback/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Clemson Tigers (11-4, 2-1 ACC, First Four Out in ESPN’s Jan. 3 Bracketology)

The Tigers beat NC State 28-22 in the first quarter on Dec. 18 before going on to lose by 18. Perhaps that served as a springboard to the team’s five-point upset of VA Tech last Thursday. The Tigers should feel very good about these strong showings; like UVA they struggled last year, going 10-21 (3-15 ACC). On Dec. 20 Clemson crushed Radford 81-38; on New Year’s Day it edged Wake Forest 60-59.

Miami Hurricanes (8-6, 1-2 ACC, No. 53 in the NET rankings)

The Hurricanes lost to a good FSU team by just seven and lost to a great Notre Dame team by just three, then turned around and only beat 7-7 Pitt by seven. That just speaks to the parity of the ACC. People have been talking about the conference being wide open.

Haley Cavinder averaged 16.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists over the stretch.

Syracuse Orange (10-4, 1-2 ACC, No. 67 in the NET rankings)

Syracuse started the last stretch by beating Wake Forest 67-58 on Dec. 18 and Albany 87-64 on Dec. 20. It then lost close ones to Louisville and NC State. Dyaisha Fair averaged 19.5 points over the stretch.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (10-5, 1-3 ACC, No. 70 in the NET rankings)

The Deacs went 3-2 over the last stretch. They defeated Longwood 83-43, Rhode Island 59-45 and Pitt 66-51. They lost to Cuse 67-58 and to Clemson 60-59. Jewel Spear averaged 15.6 points over the stretch.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (9-5, 0-3 ACC, No. 72 in the NET rankings)

Picked to finish eighth in the conference, the Yellow Jackets appear 13th on this list after a 1-3 stretch (0-3 ACC). They were unable to handle a Virginia team picked to finish 11th and a BC team picked 13th. They were then completely blown out 99-58 by an FSU team picked to finish ninth. The one bright spot was an 82-41 win over Furman.

Boston College Eagles (11-5, 1-2 ACC, No. 90 in the NET rankings)

BC lost to Notre Dame by 37 on New Year’s Day. The Eagles have had better showings against their other ranked opponents, losing to now-No. 3 Ohio State by 18 and to VA Tech by 15. So hopefully for them they can clean things up and be more competitive in the future. On Dec. 18, they got the better of Cameron Swartz in her return to Conte Forum, defeating Georgia Tech 74-62. On Dec. 22, they dominated Central Connecticut 86-35.

Taina Mair had eight assists against GA Tech and 11 against Central Conn., but the team was held to just six assists overall against the Irish.

Pittsburgh Panthers (7-7, 0-3 ACC, No. 116 in the NET rankings)

Pitt also went 1-3 overall and 0-3 in the conference over the last stretch with losses to Louisville (by 24), Wake (by 15) and Miami (by seven). The close margin against the Hurricanes is promising. The team’s one win over the stretch was by just two points over North Alabama.