How Weak is the ACC?

There has been a lot of discussion (going back to last April) about how the ACC would be “down” this year. I even saw one comment this season proclaiming that this year was the weakest ACC in memory. So I thought it would be worth the time to put a little perspective on conference rankings and to document exactly how much the ACC is down this year. (Side note…for those that don’t like discussing RPI, this is the point where you need to move onto your next internet surfing location.)

Before I get to historical rankings, I want to point out that in a mathematically-based conference ranking, the bottom of the conference is going to matter just as much as the top. So a mathematical ranking can produce a different ranking than what a lot of people build in their mind when all they see is that Conference X has 5 teams ranked in the Top-25 and Conference Y only has 3. This difference is not any big deal as far as this entry goes, but it is something to keep in mind as this type of discussion frequently comes up in both football and basketball.

In 2010, ACC basketball is currently ranked third. I don’t think that this ranking will change now that everyone is playing their conference schedules, but I’m not totally sure. So we’ll only look at end-of-season rankings for the last 10 years (2000-2009), from the RPI calculations:

Conference Rankings

The main reason that I went back to 2000 was that I knew from previous research where the “body was buried”. In 2000, the ACC was the 7th ranked basketball conference, behind the other five BCS conferences and C-USA. So unless we have posters here that are still in elementary school, this year is not the weakest ACC you have ever seen.

For those of you that enjoy trending like I do, I have prepared some graphs to answer two different questions:
– How much difference is there between a #1 and #3 conference?
– How much difference is there between a #1 conference in different years?

To illustrate the difference between a #1 and #3 conference, here is a graph that summarizes the RPI rankings (thru games played on 1/18) of this year’s Big East teams (ranked #1) and the ACC (#3):

(Right click and open in new window/tab)

Big East vs ACC

It seems like this graph should be self-explanatory.

Now let’s look at how much difference there is in a #1 ranking from year to year. From the first table listed above, the ACC was the #1 ranked conference from 2007-2009, so let’s look at those three years:

(Right click and open in new window/tab)

ACC Breakdown from 2007-2009

This graph gives us a rough idea of how much variation can occur from one year to the next. From looking at this graph, it should also help explain why the #1 ranked conference sent seven teams to the NCAAT in 2007 and 2009, but only four teams in 2008.

So after all of this, how important is conference ranking?

First of all, I didn’t do this entry because conference ranking has some huge, little discussed significance. I did the research to provide a little perspective on this season as well as future/past seasons.

If you are one of the top teams in the country, then conference ranking probably doesn’t have much significance. Memphis (with Calipari) and Gonzaga are two recent examples of programs that have risen to national prominence/recognition even though they play in weak conferences. On the other end of the spectrum, there is no solace in being one of the bottom teams in a strong conference. But in the middle of those two extremes, conference strength can play a role for a bubble team.

We’ve discussed The Dance Card here a number of times over the last several years. Briefly, two college professors have studied the Selection Committee’s decisions and derived a formula to predict which teams will “clear the bubble”. Surprisingly enough to me, they only needed six factors to develop a formula that shows a strong correlation with the Selection Committee’s decisions:

– RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) Rank
Conference RPI Rank
– Number of wins against teams ranked from 1-25 in RPI
– Difference in number of wins and losses in the conference
– Difference in number of wins and losses against teams ranked 26-50 in RPI
– Difference in number of wins and losses against teams ranked 51-100 in RPI

The bottom line is that State fans probably won’t care very much about conference ranking this year…but hopefully we will in the near future.

OOC Strength of Schedule

I have not delved into the inner-most calculations behind conference ranking. However, a key aspect of this ranking is the overall OOC schedule played by the ACC schools and its performance against those teams. As I was going through the SFN archives, it occurred to me that I have missed several “annual” updates on the OOC SOS. So this looks like a good place to catch-up on the OOC SOS through last year. Sometime after this season ends, I hope to put up a short entry to get us completely up to date.

Here are the OOC SOS rankings for the current ACC teams since 1999.

2009 OOC SOS

Beyond providing a way to detect trends, this table completely destroys the myth that OOC schedule strength is a matter of luck. Strength of schedule is a choice….some teams/coaches choose to have a strong schedule and others consistently run from them.

The comment that I made earlier about conference rankings also applies to SOS rankings….the bottom 4 or 5 teams in your schedule are just as important as the top 4 or 5. Scheduling a few “name” teams is not all that is required to produce a reasonable OOC schedule. Some teams/coaches obviously understand this and others either don’t understand or choose to ignore the implications of a weak OOC schedule.

Trends of interest

– I can remember making fun of Clemson’s OOC schedule in high school over 30 years ago. It’s very clear that Oliver Purnell has changed things there. In fact, Clemson has moved past State in average OOC SOS since my last update.

– It appears that Skip Prosser made a drastic change for the worse in WF’s scheduling practices over his last several seasons there….one that Dino followed his first several years. WF’s OOC SOS is currently ranked 119, which may signal a change for Dino.

– Seth Greenburg also made a drastic change at VT…or he had until this year (more on VT below).

– Leonard Hamilton and FSU may have learned a valuable lesson in 2006. The 2006 FSU team is one of the examples that I use to justify my formula for how to fall into the NIT (which is one of the reasons that we have tracked OOC SOS):

Weak OOC Schedule +
Marginal Conference Performance +
Poor Conference Tournament Performance=

Along with FSU (2006), you can add UVA (2000) and VT (2005) as ACC teams used to justify my conclusion. Outside of the ACC, ASU (2008) and Penn State (2009) also support this conclusion.


Monday night’s schedule provided an opportunity to illustrate just how cupcakes affect a team’s RPI ranking. Both UVA and VT beat an OOC cupcake on Monday night, so let’s take a closer look at what effect the cupcake victory had on these two teams:

Cupcake Damage

I get several things from this table:
– Beating a bad team doesn’t always help your RPI ranking, but beating a truly miserable team can really hurt.
– Last night provides a preview of what will happen to State when it plays NCCU on Jan 30.


Unfortunately, none of the issues raised in this entry are likely to affect State this season. However, there is always value in providing a historical perspective of exactly where the ACC sits in a given season and how the overall conference strength varies from one season to the next. Likewise, the current philosophy of scheduling a horrendous OOC schedule is not likely to have impact on State fans this season, but could in the future.

About VaWolf82

Engineer living in Central Va. and senior curmudgeon amongst SFN authors One wife, two kids, one dog, four vehicles on insurance, and four phones on cell plan...looking forward to empty nest status. Graduated 1982

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31 Responses to How Weak is the ACC?

  1. LRM 01/19/2010 at 8:08 PM #

    Nice work, Va.

    Wasn’t that 2000 UVa squad the one that swept Carolina and finished tied with them in the ACC standings, but didn’t make the NCAAT while Carolina did? If so, it seems that your formula absolutely makes sense in that case.

  2. D_Medlin 01/19/2010 at 8:10 PM #

    Good stuff VaWolf.

    I, for one, love history.

  3. VaWolf82 01/19/2010 at 8:14 PM #

    That’s the UVA team….good memory.

    The problem for UVA was that their RPI was >70 and UNC was the only top 50 team that they had beaten….while UNC had a better RPI, several top 50 wins, and a top 25 win.

  4. Wolfy__79 01/19/2010 at 8:25 PM #

    or, they are unc-ch. favored by many.

  5. Wolfy__79 01/19/2010 at 8:36 PM #

    nice info. it’s alarming to see it in black & white. that table about ooc sos is pitiful. the one advantage a duke, wake or unc-ch has over us is the choice tournaments they play in f.e. pre-nit. maui invitational. there is usually pretty good competition there. paired with a decent opponent every few games. K usually has a midmajor in the middle of conference play to mix things up a little.

    not basing my opinion strictly on numbers. i’ve felt the ACC has been down for a few years. this year i don’t even have to think about it. we’re not as weak as people may think.. just b/c unc-ch isn’t looking so hot, people are quick to dismiss us. i think the big east is the toughest right now. but i’m happy with being third i guess. duke has the most ncaa tourney ready team i’ve seen them have in years. a large part of my thoughts of the ACC being down, is the level of physical play is absent. we send our best teams to the no. 1 seeds and they get man handled at times. i’m not a numbers guy all the time, but these don’t lie. that said, i think our physical play is no longer absent.. or atleast is improving. in the most recent years, our better conf teams have had just one or two good players carrying the load. this year, the entire conf seems to be a little green but very good in one respect or another…

  6. LRM 01/19/2010 at 8:41 PM #

    The irony was that most of us felt that UNC only made the NCAAT because of who they are…then the bastards made the final four as a #8 seed.

  7. VaWolf82 01/19/2010 at 8:55 PM #

    Unfortunately, The Dance Card doesn’t go back to 2000. It would be nice to hear from an unbiased source on whether or not there is anything strange about that UNC bid.

  8. Wolfy__79 01/19/2010 at 9:37 PM #

    despite what our power rankings, rpi or any other number… again i tend to stay away from some of those factual opinions.. the ACC in my opinion year in/out we are the best conference in college hoops. there is the occasional down year or years where conf’s like the big east are just stellar. we’ve always got teams that can run the table. that’s our gig. it is actually to the discredit of the ACC that we currently and for the last 20 years haven’t contributed much at all. since the start of the ACC (-the 90’s and 00’s) we a part of why the conf was the best. so in hopes of getting us back to the top of the ACC and the NCAA’s, GO PACK!

  9. ruffles31 01/19/2010 at 10:20 PM #

    Great stats as usual. They do point out the one thing that Herb always did, our OOC SOS was near or at the bottom of the league and one reason we always were on the bubble for the NCAA.

    But from a macro point of view, asking “How weak is the ACC?” can be summed up by saying that the league doesn’t have a marquee stud team this year. There isn’t a final four team (unless someone goes on a roll when they get into the tourney) around. In fact, I would say the league isn’t that much different at all than it was last year.

    BC 2010 slightly worse than BC 2009
    Duke 2010 slightly better than Duke 2009
    Clemson 2010 = Clemson 2009
    Florida State 2010 = FSU 2009
    Georgia Tech 2010 >> Georgia Tech 2009
    Maryland 2010 slightly worse than Maryland 2009
    Miami 2010 equal Miami 2009
    UNC 2010 way worse than UNC 2009
    Virginia 2010 definitely better than Virginia 2009
    VT 2010 slightly worse than VT 2009
    Wake Forest 2010 << Wake Forest 2009

    Total 3 teams better than last year
    5 teams worse than last year
    4 teams equal to last year

    The difference is that the two teams that are much worse than last year, UNC and Wake, were both ranked number one at some point last year. This year, we have no teams that have a chance to be #1. And when one of your marquee teams (UNC and Duke…thanks to Swofford—sorry had to throw my anti-blue team bias in there) looks very average and no other teams have stepped up to be great, like Maryland in 2001-02 or GT in 2004, then the league appears down. Look at the ACC in football when Miami and FSU were down.

  10. choppack1 01/19/2010 at 10:26 PM #

    Great work VaWolf (as usual).

    That RPI drop for VaTech is pretty scary. Did anything else happen w/ a couple of their opponents to aggrivate that?

    I didn’t look….but there really aren’t that many games played on Monday, so I would guess that playing the worst team in Div 1 has some pretty severe consequences.

  11. Wolfy__79 01/19/2010 at 10:48 PM #

    so this year after playing auburn, new orleans, marquette, nw, arizona and florida our ooc sos is 317th? that’s kind of shocking to see it from that point of view. i know some of these teams aren’t anything to brag about.. but i would think we’d be better off than that.

  12. VaWolf82 01/19/2010 at 11:02 PM #

    so this year after playing auburn, new orleans, marquette, nw, arizona and florida our ooc sos is 317th?

    That was last year’s SOS…though this year’s probably won’t be much better after State plays NCCU. The highest rated team that State played is NW, currently ranked 57. So that means that even though you’ve heard of those schools, they just aren’t very good this year.

    You’re also forgetting to look at the teams at the bottom of the schedule…where State has played 7 teams ranked 200+ with probably the worst team in Div 1 (NCCU) coming up.

  13. VaWolf82 01/19/2010 at 11:11 PM #

    I would say the league isn’t that much different at all than it was last year.

    I disagree. The ACC is noticeably weaker at the top of the conference when compared to last year. In 2009, the ACC had five teams in the RPI Top 30. AS of this morning, there were 3.

    We really need to wait until the end of the year to make final comparisons because the current standings change every day. This daily change is why I didn’t include a comparison between the current RPI standings and last year’s final numbers.

  14. dsgill87 01/20/2010 at 12:03 AM #

    Not sure if anyone has said this directly but I think the talk of the ACC being “down” is directly related to one thing and one alone: UNC. If UNC had returned all their starters the ACC would be talked up in the media and touted as the best conference, despite the talent of other squads. It matters very little what goes on in our conferences besides UNC and Duke. This is not a North Carolina centered view point. Think about it it, how often does NC State, Maryland, Boston College get on ESPN if their not playing UNC and Duke?

    For another topic, but ACC expansion really hurt the fluidity and tightness of our league in basketball and has contributed to the top heavy nature. For me, that was a sad day for ACC basketball.

  15. Wulfpack 01/20/2010 at 6:50 AM #

    “the ACC in my opinion year in/out we are the best conference in college hoops.”

    Inaccurate statement in recent years.

    “we’ve always got teams that can run the table. that’s our gig.”

    As of late, that is again an inaccurate statement. UNC has been the only team even remotely close to going the distance. Everybody else is bowing out very early.

    “so this year after playing auburn, new orleans, marquette, nw, arizona and florida our ooc sos is 317th?”

    It shouldn’t really come as a suprise that our SOS is low, again, this year. On a given year these are some pretty good teams (save Auburn and UNO). But none of these teams are currently in position to qualify for an NCAA bid. Northwestern is close, but have stunk it up in conference play (2-4). Same for Marquette, though they could qualify with 7 or 8 conference wins (not an easy task in the Big East).

    Right now, I think we get 5 bids: Duke, Clemson, GT, WFU, and UNC. UNC may well slip out of the discussion if they don’t fix their guard play real soon. Then could a team like Maryland or VT or FSU or maybe in UVA sneak in? That’s what we need.

  16. Rick 01/20/2010 at 8:06 AM #

    Who would have thought our OOC schedule would have gotten worse after HWSNBN left?
    That was one of my complaints about him. You cannot prepare yourself for winning tough games if you do not play tough games.

    IMO that schedule is raping the ticket holders. Making them pay for crap games. No wonder NCSU is reduced to trying to sell single game tickets. Who wants to watch that kind of crap?

  17. VaWolf82 01/20/2010 at 9:21 AM #

    Not sure if anyone has said this directly but I think the talk of the ACC being “down” is directly related to one thing and one alone: UNC.

    No matter how much you hate UNC, this is simply not true. The top half (or so) of the ACC is demonstrably weaker than last year.

  18. coachkoh 01/20/2010 at 9:29 AM #

    ^I agree the ACC was weak the last few years as well. Sadly we have not been able to take advantage of this.

  19. tuckerdorm1983 01/20/2010 at 9:46 AM #
  20. bradleyb123 01/20/2010 at 10:25 AM #

    Nice work, VaWolf!

  21. bradleyb123 01/20/2010 at 10:28 AM #

    Carolina should have dropped out of the rankings. Since they stayed in, that means they will beat Wake Forest and their ranking will appear to be justified. Win or lose, they should not be in the top 25 with their record. They’re 12-6, having lost 3 of their last four games. They’ve beaten a ranked team (so have we). But they’ve also been plastered a few times from the better teams they’ve played, with Kentucky being the exception. But Kentucky has had some close calls with unranked teams, too. They’re inconsistent. So Carolina keeping it close against Kentucky doesn’t necessarily prove anything.

    The Heels should not be ranked. But no doubt they will win their next game and make it difficult for us to say they shouldn’t be ranked.

    If there’s any justice, Wake will win the game tonight.

  22. Wolfy__79 01/20/2010 at 11:59 AM #

    kentucky i agree is wishy washy. unc-ch is not good at guard, so they aren’t good at all with their style of play.. bring into that their record and i fully agree.. get them out of the top two five please. and the ACC is noticeably weaker, no agrument there, idk if i’d say demonstrably. i also differ concerned with duke, they are solid. not to blow good teams out but a solid duke team that can do very well in the NCAA’s! they may not even win the ACC but they’ll do some damage in the tourney. justice is in order for tonight. wake’s guard play may very well reak havoc on the babies’ blue!

  23. dsgill87 01/20/2010 at 12:27 PM #

    “No matter how much you hate UNC, this is simply not true. The top half (or so) of the ACC is demonstrably weaker than last year.”

    First off – I don’t hate UNC. Sometimes I can’t stand their fanbase, but I have accepted their position in the schema of college basketball. My girlfriend just graduated from UNC. In fact, I actually kinda rooted for them in 2005, but NOT 2009 (Hansborough really grated on me, and that may be an understatement)

    From a visual perspective (“eye test”), I have to disagree with you about the top half of the ACC, sans Carolina. Duke is improved, Clemson is strong again, Tech is scary talented, Wake lost talent but can still be potent, FSU seems stronger and UVa is much improved. Virginia Tech still hangs around, as always. We are considerably better, IMHO. I think the real proof will be in the pudding in March. At least one ACC team will make the Final Four. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tech found some chemistry and made a run, they’ve done it before despite Hewitts sometimes questionable coaching. I’m not writing UNC off either, they have way too much talent. If they get some consistency from Drew (who is trying to do too much right now) then they could make another run as an 8-9 seed (or higher). If Roy was the second coming this team wouldn’t be 12-6, but I will reserve judgement until March.

    I hope we beat Duke tonight, I’ll be at the game. But.. I would like to see Duke do well in the tourny this season, I like Scheyer and I feel for Nolan Smith and Andre Dawkins.. what a terrible tragedy he has gone through this year.

  24. LRM 01/20/2010 at 12:44 PM #

    “First off – I don’t hate UNC… actually kinda rooted for them in 2005.”

    “I would like to see Duke do well in the tourny this season.”

    “I hope we beat Duke tonight…”


  25. VaWolf82 01/20/2010 at 12:50 PM #

    From a visual perspective (”eye test”), I have to disagree with you about the top half of the ACC,

    You need to get a different perspective:

    The top of the ACC is measurably down from last year. This difference will really show up come Selection Sunday.

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