It is Duke and everyone else in the mediocre ACC
Developments in the ACC usually follow the same script during the first three months of a season: A few really strong teams and a handful of pretty good teams engage in compelling matchups up and down the East Coast, a bunch of teams beat up on one another, and by early March most teams with better than a .500 league record are deemed worthy to play in the NCAA tournament.
Not this season, folks.
ACC teams have won the last two national championships, and Duke may well win its second consecutive national title this season. But after receiving no less than six NCAA tournament invites the past two seasons, the ACC is unlikely to earn more than five and could get as few as three even in an expanded tournament field. If you are an ACC team and do not beat Duke this season, RPI top 50 victories -- which the selection committee values -- will be hard to find. The only other ACC teams in the top 50 are North Carolina (20), Boston College (40) and Miami (33).
The state of the ACC promises to be among the more interesting story lines the next two months. The first round of the ACC tournament may not exactly be easy on the eyes. To compare the ACC to the Mountain West this season may be an insult to the Mountain West, which has two teams --- San Diego State (7) and Brigham Young (2) --- in the top 10 of the RPI.
But I am not going to rip the league much more than that. There are reasons for this decline: Schools replaced coaches, players left early, Virginia Tech saw players go down with injury, Maryland saw Greivis Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne graduate and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes never asked to be showered with such preseason hype.
But there have been some, well, unfortunate nonconference losses by ACC teams. Miami lost to Rutgers (110 RPI). Boston College lost to Yale (145). Florida State lost to Auburn (322). Virginia lost to Seattle (302). Georgia Tech lost to Kennesaw State (330), Siena (182) and Charlotte (189). Wake Forest, one of the worst ACC teams in recent memory, lost to just about everyone halfway decent or worse.
Here is a look at how this season's ACC stacks up with the league in past years since 2000. (I wish I could figure out a clearer way to compile this data.)
Year Bids Conference ranking
2011 X 5
2010 6 3
2009 7 2
2008 4 1
2007 7 2
2006 4 4
2005 5 1
2004 6 1
2003 4 3
2002 4 2
2001 6 3
2000 3 7
So what does all this mean? Well, Maryland's game at Villanova (16 RPI) on Saturday is significant for the entire conference because it's one of the last time this season an ACC team has a chance to earn an attention-grabbing nonconference victory.
Maryland could be an interesting case come March. The Terrapins, for the most part, pass the eye test. They are athletic and fast -- but also young. They have been competitive in all of their losses, all against good or really good teams. They just have not beaten anyone of consequence. And if they are unable to beat Villanova or Duke in the Feb. 2 rematch at Comcast, it may be hard for the Terrapins to impress the selection committee. They are not going to get a lot of opportunities to do so.
Provided Maryland cannot beat Duke or Villanova, the Terrapins won't get another chance against a current top 50 opponent until Feb. 12 at Boston College, which may not even be in the top 50 by that point. After that, the Terrapins also have road games against Virginia Tech (64) --- which could creep up into the top 50 --- North Carolina (20) and Miami (33). How many top 50 victories are needed to have a reasonable chance to reach the NCAAs varies each season and depends on many other factors. The best guess now is at least two or three. But this much is clear: After Villanova, Maryland has few more opportunities to impress the selection committee because of the state of a very mediocre ACC.
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