I can’t believe the ACC basketball season is already a month old. Seems like yesterday that North Carolina faced Michigan State on the USS Carl Vinson out in San Diego on Veterans Day. And while the hoop season was playing in the shadow of that diversion known as ACC football, everyone knows that the ACC is most famous for being a premier basketball conference. And seemingly as always, the Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils have been proclaimed top two teams in the conference and have been getting the lion’s share of attention. Both were ranked in the preseason top 10, but it hasn’t exactly been a smooth ride in the first month. The Tar Heels have already suffered two losses; one to UNLV and another to Kentucky in one of the best games of the young season. Duke did win the Maui Invitational in a great game over Kansas, but was drilled by Ohio State in one of the marquee games of the ACC-Big Ten challenge. Both teams are capable of taking home the title, but both have seen chinks in their armor early on that will have to be shored up come March.
While those two teams are generally considered threats, the rest of the conference has mostly been considered afterthoughts. The national perception has been that the ACC is a two team conference-Tar Heels and Blue Devils, and that the ACC is not the conference it used to be. Those folks who believe that can use the ACC-Big Ten Challenge results as fuel for their argument. With an 8-4 victory, the Big Ten won its third Challenge in a row, suggesting that the ACC isn’t as deep in quality teams as their competitors in the Midwest. After one month, it’s too early to tell how teams below the top two will change over time.
The schedule for the upcoming week is filled with guarantee games with the occasional intriguing out of conference matchup. The big game of the week appears to be #1 Syracuse coming to Raleigh to face N.C. State. The game represents the Wolfpack’s biggest challenge of the season thus far, in a schedule that has included one ranked team (a loss to Vanderbilt). The Wolfpack are not without talent under first-year head coach Mark Gottfried, and he believes that the team has made strides through the first few weeks of the young season. Circumstances surrounding the Syracuse program of late have been focused more on off the court issues than whether or not Jim Boeheim’s team will contend for a national title. While the Fine case hasn’t seemed to distract the Orange thus far, we will see on Saturday if the team can keep its focus against a Wolfpack team looking to avenge last year’s loss at the Carrier dome.
The big question for the season ahead is whether any teams will step up and make themselves a name in the conference alongside the big two. I for one can’t wait to see how it all plays out.