Checking in on the… ACC

Ryan ZumMallen of the LBPostSports is the RTC correspondent for the ACC, SEC and Big West Conferences.

It was a week of blowouts and letdowns for the ACC setting the stage for this week’s showdowns as the elite jockey for crucial conference standings position. Let’s get right into it.

With UConn staying undefeated and remaining atop the nation’s polls, this week is just the fourth this season in which an ACC is not ranked #1 in the country. Despite that 4 of the nation’s top 11 teams are still ACC squads and 5 of the top 25. Based on that, one could assume that the ACC is in peak form and boasts the best of the best. But is the fact that ACC teams have been ranked #1 in nine out of thirteen weeks proof of the conference’s strength or its fickleness? Three different teams have held the top spot, and all three have been knocked off the perch. So is the conference so good that there are legitimately four teams capable of playing the best basketball in America and, inevitably, they will beat each other? Or is it that these four teams are good enough to get to the top but not stay there, losing focus, and falling to teams that a top contender would wallop? After last week, it would seem to be the latter.

Duke entered last week in first place in the ACC with a single loss, while UNC, Wake Forest, and Clemson all had just two conference losses – favorable position for any team confident in its ability to win the games it needs to win, and step up in the games that separate contenders from pretenders. North Carolina, likely the conference’s true cream of the crop, held steady by beating two God-awful teams in Maryland and Virginia. The other three contenders, eh, they didn’t fair so well.

Duke put serious questions into their validity as a Final Four team by getting blown out in Clemson, while Wake was given the business by Miami. Both teams lost by 27 points on the road. Ouch. It was the perfect situation for Clemson, knocking off the first place team and setting up a winner-take-all match-up for first between Duke and UNC this week that could only work in Clemson’s favor as they sat back and watched their biggest competition beat each other up. That was, until Clemson fell just three days later to Florida State. In three days, three Top-10-ranked ACC teams fell by an average of 19.3 points to teams with a combined 14-12 conference record.

Clemson and Wake now find themselves in a four-way tie for third when if either of them could have won both of last week’s games, they’d be sitting pretty and waiting to leapfrog whoever lost this Wednesday night’s showdown between Duke and UNC. The situation couldn’t have worked out any better for UNC, who need only beat Duke to take sole control of the conference with a little added breathing space. It was a classic choke job when all three teams needed it least.

Which brings us back to our original questions: Is the ACC so good that any team is capable of winning on any night, or are the ACC’s elite not as good as advertised to the point that they can lose on any night?

Either way, it all worked out perfectly as this week’s Duke-UNC game will actually mean something! Winner takes first place and loser moves to the Atlantic-10. Just kidding! No one deserves such a fate.

All that said, you really should be paying attention to the ACC’s mid-level. Florida State checks in at #25 after the Clemson victory followed a win over hapless Georgia Tech, and Miami’s senior guard Jack McClinton was on an absolute mission as he garnered Player Of The Week honors for his 33.0 points per game efforts.

If I were you, I’d really make sure I tune in to #8 Wake Forest vs. #25 Florida State on Saturday. If both teams win earlier in the week, they’ll stand tied for second at 6-3. It’s another winner-take-all game in the ACC that could well determine Tourney seeding. In fact, I’d dare say that Wake vs. FSU on Saturday is the Game of the Week!

Yeah right, the Game of the Week is Duke-UNC this Wednesday. It’s cliché, it’s predictable, and it’s damn-near boring. But it’s still the best rivalry in the sport and Wednesday night could give us a very clear insight into which team will be ready for Madness and which is headed for the Madhouse.

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