Over the past couple of weeks, things finally settled down enough for me to watch more ACC basketball. I leave my esteemed comrade VaWolf to give you the best ACC analysis by the numbers anywhere, but here’s how I see things.
First, every single ACC team is fatally flawed. Most in multiple areas. Duke is probably the least flawed (iffy depth and athleticism), so in the ACC’s land of the blind, the Devils are the one-eyed king. But does anyone seriously see Duke as a legitimate Final Four contender? I work with several Duke alums, and they unanimously would be less surprised to be upset in the first round. And I agree – this Blue Devil squad has “first weekend exit” written all over it.
Second, the gap between 2nd and 12th is virtually nonexistent. Having watched each school (for at least partial games) at least twice, none of them seem good to me. At all. Even when these teams have their “all cylinders clicking” games, it’s clear they aren’t on sustainable paths to success. This ACCT is going to be hell to predict. I can’t see anybody making it to the finals to get spanked by Duke – but someone kind of has to.
Third, two teams in particular have been very disappointing. I hate to point the finger at my two favorite ACC coaches – but I’m looking at you, Seth Greenburg and Oliver Purnell. Each squad has a bonafide superstar team leader (Malcolm Delaney, Trevor Booker), and enough surrounding pieces (and/or a tested system) that should provide opportunity for upward mobility in a lackluster league year. Clemson has lost 3 consecutive ACC games, including an ugly home loss to Duke (that mojo from last year has completely gone away) and an unforgivable loss to a lousy Boston College team. The Hokies unfathomably needed a last second shot to squeak by the Eagles at home, then lost decisively in Miami today. Next Saturday, these two teams meet in what could be a bubble bursting game for the loser.
Who has positively surprised the most so far? Probably Maryland and Wake Forest (each about 4-5 slots higher than expected). But each of them lost at home to William & Mary. How seriously can we really take them? Virginia has really cooled off after their hot start, and nobody ever really did take them seriously when they were still unbeaten. But Tony Bennett is showing what disciplined play and good coaching can do when conference weakness presents an opportunity.
This reminds me of a Big Ten season in the not-too-distant past. Ohio State and Michigan State were a little down (much like the Holes this year), and nobody else really rose to the top. I believe that 7 teams got NCAAT bids (and the conference SOS was thus fairly strong), but nobody had a seed better than 6th. All but said 6th seed lost in the 1st round, and they lost in round 2.
Even more subjectively, there’s just not a single ACC team that I really enjoy watching play. I suppose we’ve all been spoiled – even when one’s favorite team isn’t so good (uh, we’re pretty used to that here), ACC fans still get treated to watching basketball at its most watchable, enjoyable level. Not this year. I like watching the aforementioned Booker and Delaney, but their teams overall? Ugh.
Notice how little we’ve talked about UNC. Why? They are every bit as inconsequential as the Wolfpack this year. Welcome to our level, guys! Too bad you can’t stay longer.