Friday, February 02, 2007

How good is the ACC?

The last second victory by Virginia over Duke inspired me to ponder the state of ACC basketball. The league champions will point to the number one RPI ranking of the ACC, the four teams in the top 25 rankings and at least five teams in good shape to make the NCAA tournament.

On the other hand, the ACC is only 25-22 against the other major conferences and that is mostly based on the lopsided ACC-Big Ten challenge results. Remove the 10-3 record against the Big Ten and that record drops to 15-19. The 0.532 winning percentage against the other major conferences this season is lower than the 0.566 all time percentage against those conferences.

The ACC has three out of its top four teams with six or more losses while no other power conference had more than one as of Friday.

Vermont, Marshall, Duquesne, Western Michigan, Utah and Appalachian State have all score victories against the top teams in the ACC this season. I'm not sure something like that has happened in the modern era. Most of those losses were on neutral sites. I'd say that those losses carry as much weight in regards to the resumes of Boston College, Virginia Tech and Virginia as any of their wins. Besides Virginia's win over Arizona to start the season none of the other teams has an impressive out of conference victory. With the Wildcats swooning that win has looked less impressive by the week. It seems very hard to argue that these teams are more than just good, and certainly nothing special.

Outside of North Carolina is there any team that would give anyone reason to think that they can make a serious run past the sweet sixteen? I don't think so. Assuming the ACC gets around five teams in the NCAA tournament I'd be surprised if two or more of those teams makes it out of the first weekend in the tournament.

The quality of basketball in the ACC has declined beginning with the expansion of the league. By proportion the ACC is getting fewer teams in the tournament than before and the quality of traditional teams like Wake Forest, Maryland and NC State has declined. The demise of the round robin schedule has gone a long way towards assuring that 0.500 records will more often than not be sufficient to get a team into the NCAA tournament. The fact that flawed teams like Virginia and Virginia Tech are among the elite teams in the conference speaks to the weakness of the ACC this season. The abysmal play of the Big Ten and Big East has failed to highlight the overall mediocrity of what was once a great basketball conference.

Maryland was the lone road team to win on Saturday as Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Clemson, all ranked in the top 25, lost. Some would argue this demonstrates the depth of the conference, I say that is just a smoke screen for parity. North Carolina's young squad still hasn't figured out how maintain its defensive intensity, while Clemson and Virginia Tech are clearly flawed teams. Duke's loss to Florida State on Sunday, the first time ever at Cameron, puts the period on the sense of mediocrity that the ACC has now.

The ACC is still one of the best conferences in college basketball, which seems to be in an ebb of quality play across the nation, but it isn't what it once was. Last season's NCAA tournament was one of the poorer exhibitions in recent memory. The eventual national champion Florida team probably wouldn't have beaten any of the last five or six national champion teams. The fact that college basketball is at a low tide makes it more troubling that Maryland has struggled so badly.

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