2017 North Carolina Power Rankings: UNC, Duke back on top ahead of rivalry clash

North State Journals sports staff picks their top college basketball teams from the state each week

Rob Kinnan—USA Today Sports
The North Carolina Tar Heels bench reacts during the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Greensboro Coliseum. The Tar Heels won 83-76.

The traditional powers in the Triangle are back at the top of the N.C. Power Rankings after a few weeks of erratic play. It’s perfect timing, too, with the Battle of the Blues coming up on Thursday night for the first time this season.Ahead of the first clash between UNC and Duke, the North State Journal has both at No. 1 and 2, respectively. Cameron Indoor Stadium will host the two teams with the Blue Devils looking for their fourth straight win while the Tar Heels search for their third straight.As for the rest of the Big Four, Wake Forest made a huge jump while NC State dropped completely off the list. UNCW, the lone Core Four powerhouse, remains in the top three despite another loss in conference play.With the fourth week of conference play wrapped up, here’s a look at the top 10 teams in the state, according to North State Journal sportswriters R. Cory Smith, Brett Friedlander and Shawn Krest.1. North Carolina (30)Last Week: 1Even a relocated game couldn’t derail the Tar Heels, who won two straight ACC games after the loss to Miami. Pittsburgh put up a great fight in an 80-78 win for UNC, but the win over No. 20 Notre Dame came in slightly more convincing fashion in Greensboro.Currently ranked fifth in points (87.8), third in assists (18.5) and first in rebounds (44.7) in the in Division I, the Heels are clearly the top team in the state. And with hot play from Justin Jackson, Joel Berry and Isaiah Hicks, UNC is the class of the ACC heading into the Duke showdown.2. Duke (27)Last Week: 3It took nearly a month in ACC play, but the Blue Devils are finally back on track with Mike Krzyzewski back on the bench. Duke fell to 3-4 in the conference following the stunning loss to NC State, but is now 6-4 and 18-5 overall heading into the first rivalry showdown with UNC.A huge part of that turnaround has been the resurgent play of Grayson Allen, who is averaging more than 20 points in the last three games. With Allen, leading scorer Luke Kennard, Jayson Tatum and Amile Jefferson all playing great basketball, Duke is climbing back up the ACC standings with the conference’s No. 1 team coming to Durham Thursday night.3. UNCW (24)Last Week: 2Kevin Keatts’ squad lost a second straight CAA game on a missed free throw in the final seconds, but remain inside the top three this week. That’s due, in large part, to a rout of Delaware behind a conference-record 21 3-pointers on Saturday.The Seahawks will look to continue righting the ship against James Madison at home on Thursday night. With three straight sellouts in Wilmington, Trask Coliseum should be hopping for another conference showdown to pull away in the CAA.4. Queens (21)Last Week: 4Queens University of Charlotte is rolling again with a five-game winning streak and rounded back into dominant form last week. Against Coker and Brevard, Queens won by a combined total of 59 points to move up to No. 7 in the Division II Coaches Poll.5. NC Central (16)
#NCCUMBB sr Kyle Benton tied a career-high with 17 points as the Eagles captured first place, with a 68-62 win at MSU! Photo: @Dzus4 pic.twitter.com/8psaGtmPQa— NCCU Athletics (@NCCUAthletics) February 5, 2017
Last Week: 5Apart from the hiccup against Delaware State on Jan. 10, the Eagles have crushed their way through the rest of the MEAC. With a 7-1 conference record and no other team in the MEAC above .500, NC Central should cruise in February and remain inside the top five in the state.6. Pfeiffer (14)Last Week: 8No offense in the state puts up more points than the Falcons’ 107.2 ppg behind a 40.3 three-point shooting percentage. Pfeiffer is still one game behind Limestone in the Conference Carolinas, but will face off with the Saints one more time next week with the conference title possibly on the line.7. Guilford (12)Last Week: 6Carson Long (15.1 ppg) has the Quakers riding a four-game winning streak in their conference. In the last 14 games, Guilford stands at 13-1 and 18-3 overall with a defense allowing just 61.5 points per game. The Quakers lose one spot due to Pfeiffer’s jump, but remain one of the top programs in the state.8. Wake Forest (10)Last Week: 10The Demon Deacons bounced back last week in the ACC with wins at Boston College and against Georgia Tech. John Collins (17.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg) is a one-man wrecking crew, giving Wake Forest a glimmer of hope for a strong finish in the toughest conference in the country.9. UNC Asheville (6)Last Week: 9UNC Asheville remain the No. 9 team in the state after earning two more wins in the Big South behind great play from Ahmad Thomas (17.4 ppg) and MaCio Teague (15.1 ppg). The Bulldogs will get a chance at revenge against Winthrop — the only team to beat them in the last 11 games.10. UNC Pembroke (3)Last Week: NRLook, if NC State played UNC Pembroke, it might end in a rout. But with the Wolfpack playing terrible basketball since the Duke win, it’s the Braves who take the final spot. Currently boasting a two-game winning streak, Pembroke has earned a spot on the N.C. Power Rankings.Also Listed: Barton (2)