North Carolina college basketball power rankings

Most programs in the state should like where they are heading into conference play

Armando Bacot and UNC beat in-state foe UNC Wilmington 69-56 in their season opener Nov. 7, part of a difficult early-season schedule for the Seahawks, who have since won eight straight. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

The holidays mean a transition in the college basketball season. With the new year, and new semester for 19 Division 1 colleges in North Carolina, comes conference play.

Some teams in the state have already gotten a head start on conference games, but when the calendar changes to 2023, it will be a steady diet of conference foes for the bulk of the remaining regular season.

Here’s a look at where the teams in the state stand through Monday’s games as we begin Phase II of the season — the North Carolina men’s basketball power rankings.

1. Duke (10-2, 1-1 ACC, No. 14 in KenPom)

The Blue Devils are young, and the large freshman class is still finding its footing after a late start due to injury. But Dereck Lively and Dariq Whitehead appear on the verge of joining Kyle Filipowski to give Duke a 1-2-3 punch from the newcomers.

2. UNC (8-4, 1-1 ACC, No. 19)

The Tar Heels suffered through a four-game losing streak that had coach Hubert Davis calling the players soft and more interested in their NIL deals. The ship appears to have been righted recently, and the team hopes to come together late in the year as it did following a similarly rocky start last season. With Armando Bacot, Caleb Love and RJ Davis, they have the most veteran talent of anyone in the state.

3. NC State (10-3, 0-2 ACC, No. 54)

Yes, the Wolfpack have dropped their first two ACC games, but State looks leaps and bounds better than last year’s 20-loss squad. Terquavion Smith is joined by Jarkel Joiner and Casey Morsell to give the Pack three scoring threats and outside shooters. State put a scare into Kansas, losing by six, and will be springing some upsets in ACC play.

4. Wake Forest (8-4, 0-1 ACC, No. 91)

The Deacs have been inconsistent, earning wins over Georgia and at Wisconsin. They’ve also had blowout losses by 20 at Clemson and 24 at Rutgers. Wake has a balanced attack with four double-digit scorers, and a large number of newcomers should jell as the year goes on.

5. Charlotte (9-2, 0-0 CUSA, No. 107)

The 49ers take a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s conference opener. Their nonconference includes a Quad I win against Boise State and a Quad II win at Davidson. They run the second slowest tempo in the country and foes are shooting less than 40% against them, so the 49ers have taken to coach Ron Sanchez’s UVA-style defense.

6. Davidson (7-4, 0-0 A-10, No. 124)

Their most impressive outing might be a loss, 69-61 to top-ranked Purdue, but the Wildcats are off to a strong start in their first year post-Bob McKillop. Davidson is 0-3 in Quad I and II games, and eight of their last nine games have been decided by 10 points or fewer, so it’s shaping up to be a white-knuckle year.

7. UNC Wilmington (9-3, 0-0 CAA, No. 122)

The Seahawks had a death march to start the season, losing to No. 1 UNC, Oklahoma and UConn, all on the road, in their first four games. They’ve won eight straight since, including a Quad II win over North Texas.

8. East Carolina (8-4, 0-0 AAC, No. 200)

The Pirates are 0-3 against Quad I and II teams, and their most impressive win is over Toledo. The analytics aren’t fond of ECU, so there might be a crash to earth coming once the American Conference schedule starts.

9. Queens (9-2, 0-0 ASun, No. 187)

The newcomers to Division I are off to a running start. The Royals opened with a Quad II win over Marshall and have also beaten 8-3 High Point. The Royals won four straight and are led by Kenny Dye and AJ McKee, as well as Gavin Rains on the boards.

10. High Point (8-3, 0-0 Big South, No. 192)

Two of the Panthers’ three losses have been to Quad I foes, at UNLV and at UNC Wilmington. They hold a Quad II win at Furman. Queens was the only other foe they’ve played ranked in the top 200, and High Point lost by 8.

11. Appalachian State (7-5, 0-0 Sun Belt, No. 211)

Get the antacid ready. The Mountaineers are 4-5 in games decided by 10 points or less, including a one-point loss at Wake Forest. They also have a one-point win over Louisville. Their wins include three non-Division I teams and four Quad IV games, so App has not posted a resume-building win yet.

12. UNC Asheville (8-4, 0-0 Big South, No. 206)

The numbers say that a downturn may be on the horizon for the Bulldogs in conference play. They hold a Quad I win at UCF, however, which is one more than most other teams in these rankings can boast.

13. UNC Greensboro (6-6, 0-0 SoCon, No. 157)

Analytics like UNCG much more than their .500 record so far. The Spartans played Miami and Arkansas tough on the road and have a win over Marshall, but the Spartans also have two wins over non-DI foes boosting their record.

14. Western Carolina (6-6, 0-0 SoCon, No. 293)

The Catamounts are more than 130 spots lower in KenPom than UNCG, which is in the same conference and has the same record. Western has losses at Maryland and Davidson and was taken to overtime by Lamar and Lindenwood, who are a combined 9-14, but WCU still seems to be getting shortchanged a bit.

15. NC Central (5-7, 0-0 MEAC, No. 201)

LeVelle Moton’s teams always seem to have so-so regular season records then emerge at tournament time. This year is no exception. The Eagles are battle-toughened with games at Virginia, Marquette and LSU.

16. Campbell (5-6, 0-0 Big South, No. 224)

The Camels have boosted their record with two non-Division I wins, but they also played NC State to within six on the road and have a road win over App and a neutral site win over Kennesaw State.

17. N.C. A&T (5-6, 0-0 CAA, No. 265)

The Aggies’ 5-6 record is misleading since the losses include road games at Iowa, Iowa State and Houston while the wins include non-DI Edward Waters, St. Andrews and Greensboro College. Aside from that, they have two Quad IV wins and three Quad III losses, so they’re an unknown quantity heading into the CAA conference slate.

18. Gardner-Webb (4-7, 0-0 Big South, No. 181)

The Bulldogs opened with four road games and lost them all, including by two at Colorado State and six at UNC. They also lost by one at Old Dominion.

19. Elon (2-10, 0-0 CAA, No. 343)

The Phoenix’s only wins thus far have been over Division II Erskine and Division III Johnson & Wales, Charlotte. Six of their 10 losses have been by double-digits, and they’re 0-5 against teams ranked lower than No. 250.