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The ACC: America’s most Covered Conference

by Kyle Winchester | January 11th, 2007

OK, who did it? Come on, don’t be scared–step forward. Who’s been monkeying with the Atlantic Coast Conference standings? There’s no way these are right.Well, hang on. Duke is 3-0 in league play and sitting at the top, so things must not be completely altered. But seriously, North Carolina and Georgia Tech are tied for second? Florida State and Clemson are both 2-1 in conference play? I guess they do play basketball at those schools after all. 21st-ranked Maryland is 1-2 in conference? And oh my, look at the bottom. Wake Forest: 0-2; Boston College: 0-3; Virginia Tech: 0-3. Seriously, look:

    As of January 11, 2006

Heading into the season, nearly everyone picked Boston College as the clear number two team in the ACC, Wake Forest to be right on the Eagles’ wings, and Virginia Tech as a potential sleeper, even according to league coaches. Furthermore, North Carolina and Georgia Tech lost nearly an entire twelve-man roster between them from their 2004-2005 squads, including five NBA first-round draft picks. So, what happened?

What is the deal in the ACC, otherwise known as America’s most Covered Conference? And how did all the analysts covering the conference miss the boat? A few items of explanation jump out to solve the confusion.

The Schedule. This is the largest factor in most leagues’ standings at this point of the season. For example, some Michigan State fans were up in arms about sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. But when you look at their schedule, an 0-2 start to the season was almost predestined, with visits to Illinois’ Assembly Hall and Wisconsin’s Kohl Center to start the season.

The same holds true in the ACC, to an extent. Boston College opened its ACC membership with two point losses on the road at Maryland and Georgia Tech, then dropped a home game to a tough NC State team looking to bounce back from a loss of its own at North Carolina. Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, and Maryland have each played Duke already, which is an automatic loss for everyone playing the Blue Devils to this point in the season. Surprisingly, the Hokies gave Duke the best game, as Wake Forest was run out of their own gym and Maryland failed to show up for what ESPN has called the “New Age Rivalry” of the ACC.

Homecourt Advantage. Keeping with ESPN’s apparent marketing theme of the week, winning on the road is tough. Obviously. But in the ACC thus far, the road has been especially harsh. A whopping FOUR games have been won by the road team in the ACC: Duke at Wake Forest, North Carolina at Virginia Tech, NC State at Boston College, and Florida State at Virginia. Not surprisingly, the four teams who have lost conference games at home are at the bottom of the standings. Everyone is aware that Duke, Maryland, and North Carolina are tough places to play. However, every other venue in the league brings the heat as well. Let’s face it: road games in any conference are tough to win.

Bad prognostication. Maybe everyone was just wrong about the teams in the ACC besides Duke. It is easier to explain why BC and Wake Forest are at the bottom right now, but not as easy to explain why North Carolina and Georgia Tech are at the top behind Duke. Paul Hewitt has proven once again that he is not only a terrific recruiter, but a terrific coach. The Hawks may even want to give him a look at taking over their team eventually. Yet this Yellow Jackets squad is severely limited in maturity and scoring options. North Carolina has gotten huge press this season for its play, but faces similar challenges.

In order for this explanation to hold up, both the Jackets and Heels have to perform at a high level the remainder of the season. North Carolina especially has a favorable stretch in the near future, but will face Duke and Maryland twice, and Boston College, NC State, and Wake Forest on the road. Georgia Tech does not have a bye until the last week of the regular season–can they keep up their intensity without a break?

All in all, what can we learn from the first two weeks of ACC play? First, do not panic. Though things won’t truly balance out in conference play, thanks to the league’s recent expansion, the teams who are actually good will win the tough games, the pretenders will be exposed, and Duke will win the conference. Teams have started the season as poor as 0-3 in the ACC and still won the league in the past.

Second, is the battle for second place. Ultimately, Herb Sendek’s NC State Wolfpack may be the strongest contender for this position (which, incidentally, will probably earn its holder at worst a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament).

Third, it will be fun to watch. Even beyond the Duke-North Carolina matchups, this conference is sure to produce entertaining, fast-paced games between as many as eight potential bubble teams fighting for their postseason lives.

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