No. 3 Louisville, No. 4 Duke enter ACC grind as favorites

Full Screen
1 / 6

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Duke's Jack White (41) grabs a rebound between Wofford's Messiah Jones, left, and Trevor Stumpe, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Durham, N.C., Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

RALEIGH, NC – Louisville and Duke have both reached No. 1 in the AP Top 25 poll and are Final Four contenders, even in a wildly unpredictable year in college basketball.

That has the third-ranked Cardinals and fourth-ranked Blue Devils looking like clear favorites in an Atlantic Coast Conference race that includes reigning national champion and 16th-ranked Virginia, No. 17 Florida State — and a lot of uncertainty as the league shifts fully into the rest of the conference slate. The uncertainty is not surprising, the league l ost 13 of its 15 all-conference performers from last year as it shifted into its first 20-game schedule. The change led to 14 of 15 ACC teams opening the season with a league game in November.

Louisville and Duke entered the Christmas week ranked in the top 11 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency rankings, with No. 2 Ohio State the only other team to join them in both.

The Cardinals have preseason ACC player of the year Jordan Nwora as the league’s top scorer (21.2 points). And they rank second nationally on KenPom by allowing 85.6 points per 100 possessions, trailing only Virginia (82.0).

“I’ve been preaching to these guys all year long that there are going to be nights when our offense isn’t clicking … and they don’t turn the ball over because they’re really trying to work the clock and get a good" shot, Louisville coach Chris Mack said after the Dec. 18 win against Miami (Ohio). “It’s nice to know that in those times you can really hang your hat on the defensive end.”

The Blue Devils lack the star power of last year’s squad led by Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, but have a deeper rotation this year with freshman Vernon Carey Jr. leading the way inside and sophomore point guard Tre Jones atop a fullcourt pressure defense.

“I feel like we’re able to adapt pretty well to whoever we’re playing and whatever situation we’re in,” Duke senior Jack White said. “I think our depth is a big factor behind that.”

Some other things to know about the ACC entering the bulk of the league schedule: