The old joke about ACC football was that it was just something to do until basketball season starts. Well, basketball season has started, and besides the Duke Blue Devils, is there any ACC basketball team making any kind of national noise? Oh there were mentions of Virginia Tech and North Carolina, but both have already been humbled. No one else save maybe the Virginia Cavaliers, who have surprised early with wins over a ranked Minnesota team in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, and a conference win over the Hokies in Blacksburg. But the expectations for the Cavaliers were so low to begin with, those wins may seem more major than they might otherwise be.
Bottom line, this is a premier basketball conference that isn’t quite what it once was, at least this season. Yes, it is early in the season and while a Duke has met every preseason expectation so far, it is difficult to find a team that may give the Blue Devils much of a fight in conference. Perception is also shaped with articles such as these, where ESPN resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi starts in with the last rites of the ACC as a great conference. Fact is, I didn’t even know Lunardi projected a bracket this early in the season.
Nevertheless, there are a few things to point out so far this season. Virginia Tech, for years defined by coach Seth Greenberg appearing on television after the tournament selection show lamenting why the Hokies were left out of the field, toughened up the non-conference schedule this season, but hasn’t gotten the results he’d hoped for. With losses already to Kansas State, Purdue, and UNLV, the Hokies aren’t doing themselves any favors. Those aren’t of themselves bad losses; those are just missed opportunities. There are no shortage of bad losses by ACC teams out of conference. Wake Forest lost to Stetson. Georgia Tech lost to Kennesaw State. Virginia lost to Stanford and was drilled by Washington in a 43-point blowout. Boston College lost to Yale. And, for the second year in a row, the conference lost the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The marquee non-conference game for the week ahead features the once top-ten ranked North Carolina Tar Heels facing currently #25 ranked Texas Longhorns on Saturday. The Tar Heels were hyped as being on the way back when the season began, but the road back to the top of the conference has a few more bumps than anticipated. The Tar Heels do have a win over a young Kentucky squad on the resume, but also have losses to Illinois, Minnesota and Vanderbilt. A win over the Longhorns may get the Tar Heels ranked again, but even Roy Williams would admit that squad has quite a bit of work before it can be considered back to its once lofty glories. The same can be said of the conference as a whole.