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Posted at 11:18 AM ET, 01/11/2011

It is Duke and everyone else in the mediocre ACC

By Eric Prisbell

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.

By Eric Prisbell  | January 11, 2011; 11:18 AM ET
 
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Comments

This season is not that different from the past, except that with the increased made-for-TV interconference games, the ACC has been shown for what it has always been, a top-heavy league with one or 2 power teams and most poor to average. The main difference this year is that North Carolina is not the 2nd strong team. On the other hand, since Duke and NC seldom have a tough conference schedule, they are fresh for the NCAA tournament. A big advantage when playing teams from the tougher conferences.

Posted by: mcstowy | January 11, 2011 12:41 PM | Report abuse

As a Maryland fan, this is what really worries me. In the past, the bottom of the conference has been bad, but this year, it's REALLY bad. Wins against Wake, GaTech, and Clemson will likely drop your RPI just because they're RPIs will bring you down as soon as the game is factored into your SOS. The ACC hasn't had this problem in the past like other power conferences. Usually the teams at the bottom at least hold their own in the non-conference and get at least one decent victory. The bottom three are just terrible, and might battle to be the worst bottom in all of the power conferences aside from maybe the Pac-10.

The middle of the ACC this year is mediocre, and the distinction of this season is that there's only ONE team at the top of the conference (Duke). In past years, there's been at least one other team at or near the top of the conference. There's a huge dropoff from Duke to everyone else this year, and it's going to be a real problem for the conference without any real solid non-conference victories this year outside of what Duke as done. If the middle-of-the-pack teams beat up on each other like normal, it's going to be hard to distiguish them come Selection Sunday, especially with unbalanced conference scheduling. If Duke goes through the conference undefeated (unlikely, but possible), the ACC will have a lot of teams in the NIT.

Posted by: Russtinator | January 11, 2011 1:30 PM | Report abuse

Definitely a down year for the conference which hurts Maryland. The Terps had a number of chances to get good non-conference wins this season and failed. They'll be lucky to find themselves on the inside of the bubble come March.

OF COURSE, I believe they'll get thereā€¦

GO TERPS!!!

Posted by: msveasey | January 11, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

the ACC has been shown for what it has always been, a top-heavy league with one or 2 power teams and most poor to average.

Posted by: mcstowy | January 11, 2011 12:41 PM

Not this year. There's one power team (who will be found out sans Irving and a decent interior), some talent in the diluted chase pack and a couple straight up terrible teams. Maybe I'm romanticizing the 80s and 90s, but back then it seemed there were a couple elite teams and a strong pack from 3 to 8 (or 9). Maybe you'd have a really poor Wake or Clemson team in there every now and then - but they'd never lose to Kennessaw St and Presbyterian!

Posted by: Kev29 | January 11, 2011 1:51 PM | Report abuse

A mediocre ACC is fourth:

http://www.kenpom.com/conf.php?c=ACC

That's not so bad.

Posted by: BrokenClipboard | January 11, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

A mediocre ACC is fourth:

http://www.kenpom.com/conf.php?c=ACC

That's not so bad.

Posted by: BrokenClipboard | January 11, 2011 2:36 PM

5th, by RPI (not to be picky):

http://realtimerpi.com/rpi_acc_Men.html

Posted by: Kev29 | January 11, 2011 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Prisbell you know I respect you but calling the ACC mediocre is just plain ignorant--and it's the same bologna you pushed during football season when you repeatedly talked of how weak the ACC was. A quick glance at today's final top 25 rankings and I notice 4 ACC teams ranked--including Maryland--and not a single Big East team in the top 25. And likely a 5th team, UNC, would be ranked were it not for all their suspensions this year...which probably cost them at least 1 or 2 wins.

It's fair to say the ACC is mediocre in bball this year COMPARED to previous ACC seasons. But it is not at all fair nor accurate to make the blanket statement claim that the ACC is simply mediocre. It's still among the best few conferences in the nation--that's not even debatable.

Please stop reaching to prove your point.

Posted by: Barno1 | January 11, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I don't care about RPI or rankings. I care about how teams play. Thanks for the link though!

Posted by: BrokenClipboard | January 11, 2011 3:10 PM | Report abuse

It's fair to say the ACC is mediocre in bball this year COMPARED to previous ACC seasons. But it is not at all fair nor accurate to make the blanket statement claim that the ACC is simply mediocre. It's still among the best few conferences in the nation--that's not even debatable.

Please stop reaching to prove your point.

Posted by: Barno1 | January 11, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Maryland is 117 in the RPI right now with the 106 SOS.

I'm sorry Barno, but it doesn't take much searching to realize that the ACC is not good this year. The Big East, Big 10, SEC, Big 12 are all better this year. The A-10 might even be better top to bottom than the ACC right now. It's completely fair to say outside of Duke, the ACC is mediocre, and that's how it has played out in the non-conference. Please enlighten us as to the top 10 teams that have been knocked off be members of the ACC aside from Duke. Please look at the conference's record against the RPI top-50 aside from Duke.

The bottom of the ACC is putrid, and the middle of the conference (everyone else except Duke) is average. BC, who lost at home to Yale and Harvard, is considered the top half of the conference right now.

There's no reaching needed to prove the ACC is not good this year.

Posted by: Russtinator | January 11, 2011 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Why is this Terps team considered "young"?

Posted by: lkfkd876 | January 11, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Russ,

You're easily one of my favorites on the blogs but on this we clearly disagree. First and foremost, I think it's foolish to be talking about this stuff 10 days into January, when most teams haven't even played more than 1 or 2 conference games. We have no idea how the season will unfold and I would not be at all surprised if more than 4 teams from the ACC make the tourney. In fact, if I were betting I'd say at least 5 WILL make it. And if that happens, how many conferences will be able to claim they are better than the ACC? Maybe 2?

To illustrate my point...as you pointed out MD is not perceived to be very good right now--and that is part of why Prisbell and others are claiming the ACC is so mediocre. But let's see if MD is still rated that low come a month or two from now. Do you really think MD won't even be a top 100 team by season's end?

These things have a way of working themselves out...and the ACC, while on paper at this point in time may seem mediocre, let's just wait and see if that holds true come March.

Posted by: Barno1 | January 11, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

C'MON MD grads, say it with me. Altogether now......NIT. Now that wasn't hard was it?

Posted by: rdondero123 | January 11, 2011 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, rdondero, we hear that ever year around this time. Problem is for MD-haters like you, we have a guy on our sideline named Gary Williams. Might have heard of him. He has a way of getting teams into the tourney once in a while (14 times since 1994).

Posted by: Barno1 | January 11, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Usually, I would have the same optimism as Barno at this point of the season because the conference season is just now upon us. However, this year is noticeably different. Duke is by far the class of the conference, and in the past having one team head and shoulders above the rest doesn't necessarily hurt a conference if the rest of the teams are good. However, that is not the case this year in the ACC. I know that most teams in the ACC have only played a couple conference games, but the problem is the current RPIs of teams in the conference. Aside from a couple games here and there, teams in the ACC will be playing each other, so the only chance to improve in the RPI is against ACC competition. There are currently only 4 teams in the top 50 of the RPI (Duke, UNC, BC, and Miami, who are sitting with Maryland at 0-2 in the ACC). VaTech is sitting at 60 and FSU is at 82, while the rest of the conference in below 100 (NCSU at 106 is next). UVA is at 144, GaTech is at 172, and Wake is at 253, just below Coppin State. Even if a group of 3 or 4 teams starts to separate themselves, along with Duke, from the rest of the pack, their RPIs aren't going to improve very much because they won't be playing quality opponents. The Terps get shafted even worse because they have to play Wake twice, and even 2 victories against the Demon Deacons wouldn't budge their RPI. The Terps also have Longwood (RPI of 328) left on the schedule to further depress the RPI.

Let's compare the ACC to the other power conferences...

The bottoms of the power conferences are like this:

Wake 253, GaTech 172, and UVA 144
DePaul 239, South Florida 127, and Seton Hall 119 (Big East)
Oklahoma 216, Texas Tech 215, and Baylor 122 (Big 12)
Auburn 324, Mississippi State 233, and LSU 211 (SEC)
Oregon State 235, Oregon 188, and Arizona State 147 (Pac-10)
Indiana 195, Iowa 152, and Michigan 71 (Big Ten)

The top of the power conferences looks like this:

Duke 5, UNC 21, and Miami 33
Kansas 1, Texas A&M 25, and Kansas State 29
Georgetown 3, Syracuse 4, and UConn 6
Kentucky 8, Florida 14, and Vandy 18
Purdue 11, Ohio State 13, and Illinois 19
Washington 22, Arizona 32, and California 49

Based on that, the bottom of the ACC is not quite as bad as the SEC, but is about the same is the Big 12 and Pac-10. However, the top of the ACC is no better than 5th best, better only than the Pac-10.

The Big East has 8 teams in the top 20 RPI ('Nova is actually the worst of those at 16). Most teams have played most if not all of their non-conference games until the tournament, so teams will have to go on extreme runs to move significantly in the RPI. The ACC is the 4th or 5th best conference, and pretty mediocre when compared to the rest of the power conference. The numbers don't lie, and the Terps have some serious work to do to make the tournament. In the past, the ACC has been helped by the bottom not being so bad, but that is not the case this year.


Posted by: Russtinator | January 11, 2011 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Interesting stats. So much can change though, even in just the conference season. Sure, teams will beat up on each other...but we could turn out to be a top heavy conference with 5 or 6 good teams beating up on the bottom of the conference. Happens every year in the Big East, while the ACC is traditionally more balanced. Maybe this year that will change.

Posted by: Barno1 | January 11, 2011 5:05 PM | Report abuse

You never mentioned that while a good season record helps tremendously, winning the ACC tourney is an automatic NCAA entry and Maryland looks like by the end of the season they may have an opportunity with that even if their season record fails to impress the NCAA. They've done it before, and they can do it again.

Posted by: tojo45 | January 11, 2011 7:02 PM | Report abuse

AAll ACC teams below 11-5 should not be allowed into the NAA tournament after last year's dumping of Va Tech. Maybe 12-4.

Posted by: RogerRamjet2 | January 12, 2011 8:23 AM | Report abuse

As a MD fan I am saddened by how far we have fallen since '01. The ACC is weak and we are part of the problem. Shame on Gary.

Posted by: sjp879 | January 12, 2011 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I will be more respectful of your opinion of the "weaker ACC" but I ask you to pay attention at selection time. Two months from now there will be at least 5-10 game winners in the ACC and as long as they are close to the magic 18 wins, they are going to get a bid in the NCAA's. The good will beat up on the bad for the next 8 weeks. I think even UM is capable of a 10-6 ACC record. It starts with a win at Wake tonight!

Posted by: adamritter1 | January 12, 2011 9:29 AM | Report abuse

I will be more respectful of your opinion of the "weaker ACC" but I ask you to pay attention at selection time. Two months from now there will be at least 5-10 game winners in the ACC and as long as they are close to the magic 18 wins, they are going to get a bid in the NCAA's. The good will beat up on the bad for the next 8 weeks. I think even UM is capable of a 10-6 ACC record. It starts with a win at Wake tonight!

Posted by: adamritter1 | January 12, 2011 9:29 AM | Report abuse

Since when is 18 a mgic number. The last time I checked, the magic number is 20. There have only been a few teams make the tournament as an at large with fewer than 20 wins (Georgia in the mid-90's I think made the tourney at 18-15 as an at large). Even with the expanded field, 20 wins is going to be necessary, and with the Terps' SOS that won't be much better than 40 at the end of the season, they will probably be on the bubble with just 20 wins.

Posted by: Russtinator | January 12, 2011 9:52 AM | Report abuse

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