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Top of the Arc - January 5, 2009

Jan. 5, 8:00 a.m.: While watching Boston College’s stunning victory over North Carolina last night, I kept thinking about a conversation I had this summer with former Tar Heels star Sean May. He told me these Tar Heels were better than his team that won the national title in 2004-2005. And May was not the only one showering this team with hype. There was plenty of talk suggesting that North Carolina had a chance to go undefeated and was one of the best teams of the decade. After losing to Boston College, which was picked to finish 11th in the ACC, let’s put that conversation on hold and take a look at what last night’s result means to the national and the ACC pictures:

There will be no North Carolina Invitational at the Final Four. It is no longer a foregone conclusion what the Tar Heels will waltz to the title. They remain the favorite and could still win the national championship, but there are a number of teams capable of knocking them off in a one-game matchup. With Connecticut and North Carolina, the nation’s top two teams, losing at home in the same week, it has quickly become clear that there will be tremendous parity once we get into the heart of the conference season. Look no further than Notre Dame’s loss to St. John’s. Gonzaga, meanwhile, has gone from No. 1 seed contender to West Coast Conference contender after head-scratching losses to Portland State and Utah. Pittsburgh now can stake claim to a No. 1 ranking.

The ACC race now consists of at least four teams. Duke, Wake Forest and Clemson all have a chance to win the league title. Wake Forest has looked particularly strong during non-conference play, most recently earning an impressive victory at Brigham Young. The Demon Deacons host the Tar Heels on Sunday. There are only four undefeated teams, and two – Wake and Clemson --- are in the ACC. I love what Boston College’s Tyrese Rice told the Boston Globe last night: “You look at people playing defense against them – people’s hands were back,” Rice said about teams being reluctant to play UNC aggressively. “When [they] drive, [opponents are] just standing straight up, they are not trying to contest shots. I couldn’t even look at the tape because everybody’s scared.”

Boston College could be this season’s Miami. The Hurricanes were inexplicably picked to finish last in the ACC last season and went on to have a strong season. The Eagles were predicted to finish near the bottom of the conference this season. When I asked Greivis Vasquez to rank the teams in the ACC in October, he referred to Boston College as simply “Rice,” suggesting the Eagles were a one-man team. The first two months of the season have shown the Eagles to be much more than that. Freshman Reggie Jackson’s 17-point effort last night was particularly impressive. Joe Trapani has also proven to be a capable scorer. This is ominous news for a team like Maryland, which likely will be competing for the ACC’s sixth NCAA tournament berth.

By Eric Prisbell  |  January 5, 2009; 7:58 AM ET
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