There shouldn't be any further debate about the relative strength of the ACC after the happenings of last weekend. Not after two of the top three teams in the conference lost to lower seeded and mediocre Big East foes on Friday and Saturday night. Clemson seemed to lose its composure against Villanova who handled their press and their interior advantage with relative ease. It was a tough first round game for a five seed but the Tigers almost played like they were just happy to be in the NCAA Tournament at all.
Duke had the flaws that were apparent all season long exploited by West Virginia, a lack of low post game and a fatal dependence on 3-point shooting. West Virginia's Joe Alexander, who really isn't all that different from or talented than former Terp Nik Caner-Medley, scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. It is a little less impressive when you consider that he only hit 7 of his 22 field goal attempts. He played well in the game but was hardly the reason they beat the Blue Devils. Duke's freshmen clearly went into the NCAA Tournament with little left in the tank. Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith and Taylor King could muster little offense in the two NCAA Tournament games.
The near loss to Belmont the night before should have made Duke fans very worried about the chances they would get back to the Sweet 16. The lack of interior presence for the Blue Devils was fatal in this game as an equally small West Virginia squad dominated the glass and got too many follow up shots off misses. Duke tried to play Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas in the middle but neither was able to provide the defense or rebounding that was needed. By the time Mike Krzyzewski decided to go with a small lineup in the 2nd half it seemed the die was cast. The perimeter shooting that had carried Duke during the season failed to materialize.
It was especially nice to see DeMarcus Nelson flop in his final two games at Duke. He followed up his two point stinker against Belmont with a 6 point effort against West Virginia and went a combined 3/17 from the floor in two NCAA Tournament games. He was simply terrible the entire game. You would have never known he was the defensive player of the year and 1st team All-ACC this season by watching the last two games. Maybe that will be a lesson not to talk about another player because it certainly came back to haunt Nelson after he called out Maryland's Greivis Vasquez after the last Maryland game. I think it was a tribute to Krzyzewski that this team, with its numerous flaws, won as many games as it did this season.
It is a sign of how bad things were for the ACC that some were taking solace in Miami's narrow loss to Texas in the second round. The only team left alive is North Carolina and that is a good thing for the ACC because the Tar Heels look to be playing their best basketball of the season. They have as good a chance as any to win another championship for Roy Williams but that doesn't change the fact that the ACC is no longer a preeminent basketball conference. If UNC doesn't fulfil its destiny and get to another Final Four it will be the first time since the early 1960's that the ACC has not had a Final Four participant in three consecutive seasons. Simply put the ACC is as bad as it has been in a long time.