Fear the Turtle?

Basketball Grim in the ACC Right Now

The Winston Salem Journal

February 5, 2010

ACC basketball and that dopey groundhog in Pennsylvania operate on similar schedules.

Show and tell becomes official in six weeks.


groundhog didn’t see his shadow Tuesday – never mind that it was dark

outside – and retreated for a longer winter’s nap. Meanwhile, the ACC

heard the elephant footsteps of gathering critics and stayed in the

hole, pondering the options.

At the moment, the options don’t

look all that appealing. Only No. 10 Duke and No. 21 Georgia Tech are

ranked among the AP’s top 25. They’ll play tonight in Durham, two of

the three candidates most likely to advance beyond the NCAA second

round. The other: Wake Forest.

As computer models and analytical

eyeballs judge things right now, six ACC teams would make the field:

Duke, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida State, Clemson and Maryland.

The rankings used by the NCAA put only Duke among the top 22, with

Maryland No. 50, a perilous position.

Defending champion North

Carolina’s fall gets the most attention, stunning in its swift descent

from No. 9 on New Year’s Day to No. 76 in the NCAA computer, or three

spots beneath Western Carolina. Minutes after a despondent-on-arrival

home loss to Virginia, Coach Roy Williams glanced at the 75-60 box

score and said: “How can you go any lower? Be honest. How can it be any

worse than it is right now?”

This is how: trips to Virginia Tech

tonight and Maryland Sunday, trips to Georgia Tech and Wake Forest down

the road, two games against Duke.

Carolina draws immediate

attention as the bellwether team, based on tradition and two national

titles in five years. The emerging consensus about ACC mediocrity is

based on NCAA Tournament results involving the other teams, the

league’s first defeat in the Big Ten challenge series and Duke’s

defensive collapse against Georgetown Saturday.

The Blue Devils

chose an awkward time to drop their call at Washington’s Cell Phone

Arena. With President Obama and Vice President Biden sitting in the

front row, Duke’s defense collapsed like a kite-based missile shield.


hit 72 percent of its shots, the best by any opponent since UCLA made

73 percent on Dec. 10, 1965 and still lost by 16 points at Cameron. The

Hoyas built a 23-point lead and coasted 89-77. The big guy left with

more than a minute remaining, and he didn’t miss a thing.

There’s no complete team


missing around the league? A sense of completeness. Duke has veteran

guards and young post players – and, for the fourth consecutive season,

nobody with anything resembling the physical presence of Shelden

Williams. Georgia Tech flexes substantial muscle and youthful vigor but

hasn’t yet developed a consistent floor leader. Wake Forest suffers

severe mood swings.

Everything is relative, of course. Outside

of about four high-ranking teams, the NCAA field doesn’t pack much

dynamite. With only two schools ranked, however, the ACC is an easy

target compared to the Big East (four teams among the AP’s top seven,

five overall). The Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC have four ranked teams each.

Even the Mountain West (New Mexico, Brigham Young) can match the ACC


Polls don’t mean much now. Computer rankings mean a bit

more because they incorporate schedule strengths. Virginia Tech, for

instance, can promote a solid overall record but its nonconference

schedule ranks No. 336 out of the 347 schools, a perennially bad


Unless things change, the ACC could sink below the

thudding finishes of 2003 and 2006, when nobody won a third-round game.

The league still had five top-10 teams combined those seasons, and Duke

was No. 1 in the final 2006 poll.

Perhaps things can change, and if they don’t, spring will come anyway.