As the conference season began, most folks (myself included) thought the hated blues comprised a tier all of their own at the top, with BC, GT, and maybe Wake on the bottom. The vast middle consisted of teams that looked NIT-ish, with the likelihood that a few would do better, and a few do worse than that.
Now, I think somewhat differently. There are five “reasonably good” teams. Those five are UNC, Duke, Florida State, Virginia, and NC State. The remaining seven are all mediocre-to-bad, and although some will likely play in the NIT…nobody seems particularly worthy of even that. You can quibble over sub-pecking orders at the bottom (for example, BC and Wake have horrid athleticism, while GT “boasts” an appalling level of skill), but I wouldn’t be surprised at any result among the “Little Seven.” As we’ve seen, matchups – and simple “getting hot at the right time” – can make all the difference.
However, my eschewing of more typical “tiers” does not mean that the “Reasonably Good Five” are equals. Not at all. But rather than a clear power ranking order, they all have different problems:
Consistent, But Low-Medium Ceilings
Hello, NC State and Virginia. Not surprisingly, these teams just played a very close, but not particularly aesthetic or well-played, one point game (though quite oddly, Virginia played better at NC State’s pace, and vice versa). They take care of business against the bottom seven more than you would expect for their overall talent level – because they are consistent (a testament to their respective coaches). Although these teams could easily make the NCAAT field…nobody would be terrified to see either in their bracket. It would be shocking to see the Pack or Hoos make it past the first weekend.
High Ceilings, Inconsistent
UNC and Florida State reside here. When they are on, they can look incredibly good. But they are their own worst enemy – when they suck, they REALLY suck. And it’s hard to predict whether you will see Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde. UNC has the ability to win the national title, and Florida State could make the Elite Eight. But it wouldn’t surprise any astute observer to see them go down in flames much earlier than that.
Extremely Matchup Vulnerable
The subtier of Duke, and Duke alone. The Devils are a highly skilled bunch on offense, with multiple, diverse scoring threats. But they aren’t particularly tough. If you play lockdown defense, you will disrupt their offensive flow. They have no Plan B to work around that, nor are they defensively adept enough to grind out many wins against a decent caliber opponent. Watch the game film against Temple (ugly loss), Florida State (home loss), and UVA (nearly a home loss) and sense a pattern. Duke needs to get extremely lucky with their draw (or for fortuitous results elsewhere in their bracket) to make another Final Four, despite being fairly consistent with their play.