The start of ACC play has arrived, and the league's contenders all have reason to believe they can rise to the top of one of the nation's toughest conferences. 

No. 5 Duke (12-1)

For a team that won 10 straight games to finish nonconference play, things could not have gone much worse for the Blue Devils in Week 7. After its eight-day exam break, Duke struggled at times on both ends of the court in sluggish wins against Tennessee State 65-55 Monday and Elon 72-61 Wednesday. But beyond the on-court challenges, junior All-American Grayson Allen earned an indefinite suspension from head coach Mike Krzyzewski following his third tripping incident of 2016 against the Phoenix Wednesday. 

Touted freshmen big men Harry Giles and Marques Bolden both looked hesitant in both contests and seem far away from playing significant minutes, and consistent ball movement was nowhere to be found for the high-powered Blue Devil offense. Duke will look to get back on track after a nine-day break when it travels to open ACC play at Virginia Tech Saturday without Allen. 

No. 8 North Carolina (11-2)

After making do without star point guard Joel Berry II for two games in early December, the Tar Heels welcomed Berry back for the game of the year to this point Dec. 17 against then-No. 6 Kentucky in Las Vegas. Wildcat freshman star Malik Monk scored 47 points, including the late go-ahead 3-pointer, to lift the Wildcats to a dramatic 103-100 win in a game featuring 75 made shots and nine players in double figures. Berry and junior Justin Jackson combined for 57 points in North Carolina's second loss, and the Tar Heels looked dominant in an 85-42 win against Northern Iowa Wednesday to finish nonconference play. 

No. 10 Louisville (11-1)

The Cardinals have been as impressive as any ACC team lately. Louisville routed Eastern Kentucky 87-56 Dec. 17 before playing its own barn-burner against the Wildcats Wednesday. The Cardinals had their first 20-point scorer of the year in guard Quentin Snider and forced 13 Kentucky turnovers to pull out a thrilling 73-70 home win. Louisville held Monk to 6-of-17 shooting after his eruption against North Carolina, and carries plenty of momentum into more tough tests against No. 12 Virginia and No. 16 Indiana this week.

No. 12 Virginia (10-1)

Traveling to face Louisville on the road without having played another Power-5 opponent in a true road setting would have been a tall order for Virginia, so the Cavaliers geared up for ACC play by beating a 9-2 California team 56-52 on the road Wednesday. Freshman guard Kyle Guy scored 17 points off the bench and senior London Perrantes helped Virginia close the deal after holding Golden Bear star Ivan Rabb to nine points. 

The Cavaliers also showed off their tenacious defense in a 79-39 win against Robert Morris Dec. 17, and will host No. 21 Florida State Saturday after the Wednesday challenge against the Cardinals. 

No. 21 Florida State (12-1)

The Seminoles matched the best start in school history with a 76-68 win against Samford Monday following a 83-67 victory against Manhattan Dec. 17. Florida State backed up its first win against a ranked opponent from Dec. 11 against then-No. 21 Florida despite slow starts in both of its most recent games, but will take another step up in competition against Virginia this week. 

Seminole star freshman Johnathan Isaac has yet to score in double figures in his last three games since returning from a hip injury, and the forward's explosiveness will be a factor to watch throughout ACC play. 

No. 25 Notre Dame (10-2)

After winning their first nine games of the year against soft competition, the Fighting Irish fell in a tight contest to No. 1 Villanova Dec. 10 before taking on then-No. 15 Purdue a week later in their last chance to earn a quality nonconference win. Notre Dame came out hot and led 52-38 at halftime led by its efficient offense and juniors Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, but could not hold on late. The Boilermakers fed star big man Caleb Swanigan inside down the stretch to pull out an 86-81 comeback win. 

Two days later, Notre Dame cruised to a 77-62 win against Colgate. But the bigger story was that Farrell's older brother, 1st Lt. Bo Farrell, who was deployed in Afghanistan, surprised his brother and family by returning home in a touching moment. 

Virginia Tech (10-1)

The Hokies held off Mississippi 80-75 Dec. 11 before routing The Citadel 113-71 Dec. 17 and Charleston Southern 87-59 Tuesday. Like a few other ACC teams, the Hokies have looked excellent against a weak nonconference schedule, and will look to prove themselves starting this week when they host the Blue Devils. 

N.C. State (10-2)

No ACC team has made a bigger jump the past few weeks than the Wolfpack, who finally added decorated Turkish center Omer Yurtseven to the mix after an eligibility battle with the NCAA. The 7-footer scored 12 points apiece in his last two games and returned Dec. 15 in a 97-64 rout against Appalachian State. Yurtseven sparked the Wolfpack in a 99-78 win against Fairfield Dec. 18 and a 89-57 victory against McNeese Thursday, as sophomore sharpshooter Maverick Rowan has also been taking on a bigger workload in his return from a concussion.

Although N.C. State did not play well for much of nonconference play, the Wolfpack could be dangerous once again with their full complement of players.

Pittsburgh (10-2)

Pittsburgh ran its winning streak to four with a 83-73 win against Rice Dec. 17 and a 94-75 victory against Omaha Wednesday. Senior forward Michael Young is averaging 22.2 points per game as first-year head coach Kevin Stallings implements a more up-tempo attack, and Young and fellow senior Jamel Artis—who averages 20.0 points per contest—make the Panthers dangerous if they can sustain disciplined defense. 

Clemson (9-2)

The Tigers also have momentum after earning a trio of wins the past few weeks, including two against SEC opponents. Clemson routed South Carolina State 93-65 Dec. 13 before downing Alabama 67-54 Dec. 18 and upsetting No. 22 South Carolina 62-60 in a tight contest Wednesday for its first win against a ranked team this year. Senior forward Jaron Blossomgame led the way against the Gamecocks with 15 points and 10 boards, and is averaging 17.4 points per game this year. 

Miami (9-2)

Miami extended its winning streak to five with a 76-56 win against Florida Atlantic Dec. 16 before downing George Washington 72-64 Thursday. Senior guard Davon Reed continued pacing the Hurricanes with eight 3-pointers combined in both contests, and the sharpshooter is averaging more than two triples per game. 

Wake Forest (9-3)

The Demon Deacons nearly notched a huge upset at No. 17 Xavier Dec. 17 before falling 69-65 then wrapped up nonconference play with a 110-76 romp against LSU. Junior forward Dinos Mitoglou sparked the win with a career-high 28 points and eight 3-pointers, and Wake Forest showed off its shooting ability by going 16-of-26 from long range against the Tigers. The Demon Deacons will also face a step up in competition when they take on Florida State to start ACC play this week. 

Georgia Tech (7-4)

Georgia Tech knocked off Alcorn State 74-50 Dec. 18 but could not stay close to SEC rival Georgia just two days later in an ugly 60-43 loss. Just two days after that, the Yellow Jackets rebounded with a 76-72 win against Wofford as their rebuilding year continues in head coach Josh Pastner's first season. 

Syracuse (7-5)

The wheels have come off the wagon for the Orange. Losing neutral-site games is one thing, but Syracuse dropped a 78-71 contest at home against Georgetown Dec. 17 before downing Eastern Michigan 105-57 Dec. 19 and suffering the worst loss in the history of the famous Carrier Dome 93-60 Dec. 21 against former Big East rival St. John's. A team that made the Final Four last season now finds its back against the wall entering ACC play—Syracuse cannot afford many more slip-ups if it wants to make the NCAA tournament. 

Boston College (7-6)

The Eagles got back on the right side of the .500 mark by beating Auburn 72-71 Dec. 12, Sacred Heart 82-75 Dec. 18 and Providence 79-67 Friday to offset a 89-83 loss to Fairfield Wednesday. Sophomore guard Jerome Robinson led the way for Boston College, posting at least 20 points in all four games to raise his season average to 20.5 points per contest.