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Caulton Tudor

ACC's October optimism was so last year

Posted January 3
Updated January 5

— ACC basketball practices began with predictions that up to eight or nine league teams would land NCAA Tournament bids. So much for October optimism.

As the conference regular-season schedule pops into full bloom this weekend, only five of the new-look 15 teams are comfortably positioned to reach the NCAA.

If bids went out today – rather than March 16 – Syracuse (13-0) would be a No. 1 regional seed, Duke (11-2) a No. 2 or 3, UNC (10-3) and No. 3 or 4 and Pittsburgh (12-1) a No. 6 or 7. Everyone else either is a long shot or on the bubble. That list that includes perceived preseason locks Notre Dame (9-4), Virginia (9-4) and Maryland (9-5).

The back stories:

Notre Dame’s status changed in large part when preseason all-ACC pick Jerian Grant (6-5, Sr.) became academically ineligible after averaging 19 points through the first 12 games.

But in reality, the Irish were failing to meet expectations even before Grant was scratched from the roster. An 83-70 loss to visiting Indiana State on Nov. 11 was the first clue, but a 73-69 loss to North Dakota State was even more telling.

The Irish will play their first conference game Saturday against Duke, but they may not have the usual home-court emotional edge in the Edmund Joyce Center. Second semester classes don’t start until Jan. 8, and very few of the school’s 8,300 or so undergraduates reside in the South Bend area. Even those from Chicago, roughly 100 miles west of campus, may find the driving conditions challenging as a result of a heavy winter storm.

Virginia’s preseason all-conference pick – senior guard Joe Harris – is averaging a relatively modest 11.1 points, shooting a disappointing 62.5 percent on free throws and barely has more assists (28) than turnovers (23). Harris suffered a left-foot stress fracture in late June, and it’s still not clear that he’s completely comfortable.  But entering Saturday’s game at Florida State (9-3), something obviously is out of sync. In 35 games last season, Harris averaged 16.3 points and converted 74 percent of his free throws.

Pack could benefit from schedule quirk

N.C. State (10-3) has an opportunity to upgrade its resume immediately. The Wolfpack will host Pitt on Saturday (noon), visit Notre Dame on Wednesday (9 p.m.) and return to face Virginia on Saturday, Jan. 11, (5 p.m.) in PNC Arena. If State wins two of the three, the seasonal outlook suddenly would be much brighter.

Home wins in January will be must for Mark Gottfried’s third team. For starters, State’s league schedule is arguably the most difficult in the conference, and starting with a Feb. 1 trip to Carolina, the Pack will have only one home game (vs. Wake Forest Feb. 11) before getting the return game against the Tar Heels on Feb. 26.

With the rapid, widespread expansion, ACC schedules will be quirky forever. But State this season really drew a strange hand. Beginning with Maryland on Jan. 20, the Pack is scheduled for three home games, then two away, one home and then three straight on the road. It, no doubt, will be a wild winter ride.

Carolina’s opener at Wake (10-3) on Sunday (8 p.m.) should give both sides a quick reading on their composure. Wake is 9-0 at home, although there has not been a high-profile win. The Deacons were reasonably effective much of the way in an 87-78 loss against Kansas in November and have displayed isolated moments of improvement over Jeff Bzdelik’s first three teams.

After going 8-24, 13-18 and 13-18, Bzdelik needs a good league start in a bad way.

The Tar Heels have had the nation’s most eventful early season – 13 games marked by stunning performance extremes, the permanent loss of P.J. Hairston, the return of Leslie McDonald and a personnel chemistry that may continue to be completely unpredictable all season.

For Roy Williams and his generally young team, every road game probably will be an venture into mystery. He won’t have to wait very long to find out for certain.

13 Comments

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  • aprince27 Jan 6, 8:39 a.m.

    The ACC now has FIFTEEN basketball teams. It would be hard for them NOT to have at least half or... View More

    — Posted by cjw6105

    you're gonna hate it more when the tournament moves to MSG. Face it, the Big East teams coming in are going to change how the ACC thinks. And the ACC traditionalists are going to do nothing but throw fits.

    These are teams that want to win their conference and their conference tournament.

  • GunnyGoesArrrgh Jan 3, 8:04 p.m.

    Let the games begin!

    Wake seems to have improved over the past few seasons, and last year Duke escaped the Joel with a five-point win, so I expect the Heels to be tested there on Sunday.

    Duke and Syracuse will be the teams to beat in the ACC, but the Heels will be tough as well, depending on which team shows up (I'm hoping the one that beat Michigan State, L'Ville, and Kentucky).

  • vt94hokies Jan 3, 5:10 p.m.

    It's too early to pick teams other than those playing some legiminate schools. Just about all have winning records right now. But you have to look at the top programs across the landscape too. I could probably pick the lower teams vs the top half teams right now. Some teams always improve and surprise. UVA hasn't shown their billing, nor has ND. WF and VT dragging up the rear again.

  • evadbbat Jan 3, 5:06 p.m.

    I liked the eight team conference.

  • jmdog37 Jan 3, 4:33 p.m.

    go wolfpack!!!!!

  • heelsgrad 1988 Jan 3, 3:06 p.m.

    Tudor is soooo yesteryear!

  • cjw6105 Jan 3, 2:13 p.m.

    They'll care when I, along with season ticket holders in other ACC fan bases, quit buying tickets.

    Nobody owns me, let alone the team I currently support.

  • jmcdow2792 Jan 3, 1:53 p.m.

    One thing for sure. We will no the answer to a lot of these questions starting tomorrow and getting clearer ever day for the next few weeks. Nothing like playing the games to answer the speculation.

  • unc70 Jan 3, 1:26 p.m.

    My previous post should read:

    Most likely 1-2 or 0-3.

    (You can't edit posts under some of the columns.)

  • unc70 Jan 3, 1:22 p.m.

    That article is certainly putting the positive spin on the challenge to State the next two weeks. Yes, two wins would be a great conference start, but the odds are really against that. Only about even odds of getting a win at all. Odds are probably around 5% of getting two wins. Most likely 1-2 or 2-3.

    As for State's conference future SOS, it is in currently in the middle -- well behind Wake or Maryland, though much stronger than Duke which has the weakest future SOS.

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