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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, January 19, 2012 at 9:17 AM

We continue our college basketball series on major conferences today with a look at the ACC. That will set up tonight's ESPN doubleheader that matches Wake Forest at Duke followed by North Carolina at Virginia Tech. If you've missed earlier "catch up"reports on the Big 10, Pac 12, SEC, and the Big 12, please check our archives. The sixth and final major conference report will run Saturday and feature the Big East because ESPN's GameDay will be in Pittsburgh for Louisville-Pittsburgh.

The ACC's fall from grace at the national level has been something to behold. It's just astonishing that this league gets so little national respect now. Well, that's not exactly right. ESPN is doing whatever they can to polish up the league even though it's obvious to computer analysis and anyone watching games with their eyeballs that quality of play has fallen way off. But, people don't talk about the ACC the way they used to. And, INFORMED fans are astonished.


  • The ACC used to be a dominating attraction on the NCAA Tournament. This year only four teams are currently projected to make the Big Dance in Joe Lunardi's Bracketology.

  • You could usually point to a few championship threats, a couple more darkhorses, and then a few more spoilers when looking over the ACC's hopes every year. Other leagues were AFRAID to run into ACC teams even if it wasn't Duke or North Carolina! Now, you get past the big two and it's only "nuisance"opposition like Virginia or Florida State looking at you.

  • The ACC's worst were never so abysmal that they ranked outside of the top 200. There are two teams that bad this year in Ken Pomeroy's respected rankings. And there are several more who couldn't even crack the top 100. Where has all the talent gone?!

ESPN still has its big TV contract, which means the league gets marquee spots on the schedule no matter how bad things are. Dick Vitale still has the gall to wear a dress shirt colored Carolina blue in Tallahassee for the North Carolina/Florida State game...just to see the Tar Heels utterly obliterated by the fired up Seminoles.

You're still going to hear a lot about Duke and Carolina the rest of this season because they ARE decent threats to be important in March, even if we believe those teams are overrated by both the media and the computers. Let's see what we can do to paint the real picture in the ACC at the moment.

We'll start with ESPN's bracketlogy. Here's where Joe Lunardi has the ACC at the moment.

#1 seed Duke
#2 seed North Carolina
#6 seed Virginia
#11 seed Florida State

North Carolina State is among the first four out, so the Wolfpack could make it five teams going to the Dance with a strong finish. Of course, Florida State is barely in at #11 (#12 or #13 will be the bottom rung for at large's generally), and that's even with their blowout of North Carolina. Many computers respect Virginia Tech...and they should probably be considered as a bubble team at the moment even though Lunardi doesn't have them on his radar.

We'll use those teams as a "big six"that you should really pay attention to this season...the four bracketology teams plus NC State and Virginia Tech. Everyone else is so far off the pace in the computers that they're very unlikely to become relevant. And, if you've watched any of the games matching those teams on ESPN (because the network can't dodge all the bad teams!), you've seen some really ugly basketball.

Here are the key adjusted rankings offense and defense (adjusted for pace and strength of schedule) for the six teams who matter most this year in the ACC according to Pomeroy's database.

Duke: 3rd on offense, 50th on defense
North Carolina: 19th on offense, 11th on defense
Virginia: 96th on offense, 6th on defense
Florida State: 113th on offense, 5th on defense
NC State: 25th on offense, 122nd on defense
Virginia Tech: 65th on offense, 59th on defense

Before the season started, ESPN's website actually an article wondering whether or not North Carolina would win every game this year. Early in the season, they treated a landmark win for Coach K of Duke like it was a moon landing involving the pope. We say this every year...but it's just vital for handicappers not to be misled by all the hype. Yes, these are good teams with good coaches. And, yes...the best team in the ACC each year is capable of running the table in the Dance. But:

  • North Carolina has stretches where they seem to forget how to play. The debacle at Florida State was only their third loss of the year, and you can't judge teams on their outliers. Still, it was a DEBACLE from start to finish.

  • Duke has the 50th best defense in the land once you adjust for tempo and schedule. It's very hard to win a national championship that way. And, in terms of the eyeball test, they still look like they'll be outclassed by athletic teams in the Dance. That's what Charles Barkley's eyeballs saw last year in the first half of the Arizona game...when he called for the dominating second half from Duke's opponent. You could feel "The Land of College TV"shudder when he made the statement....but he was right. "The Land of College TV"should tell you more about what's wrong with Duke.

  • Virginia and Florida State play very similar styles...fantastic defense that deserves a lot of praise...but then inconsistent offense that cant' be trusted to string together wins. Either could be a darkhorse in the Dance...but it's very hard to grind your way to several wins in a row in tournament play. This style has too many coin flip endings for that. We love defense though...and we don't want all of our ACC coverage to be so negative!

  • NC State has a style that should at least play exciting games against the likes of Duke and North Carolina. And, they can beat those teams if the shots are falling. It might take a big name scalp to push the Wolfpack into the Dance this year. You just don't get enough credit for beating up on the lower division.


Thursday: North Carolina at Virginia Tech on ESPN2
Saturday: Florida State at Duke on ESPN
Sunday: Virginia Tech at Virginia on ESPNU

The games everyone is waiting for matching Duke and North Carolina come up February 8th at Chapel Hill, and March 3rd at Cameron Indoor.

It might seem harsh that we're leaving out the lower half of so many conferences in these early season breakdowns. The truth is...we just want you focusing on the teams that MATTER. If you're studying the right teams now...that will help you pick winners through the rest of the regular season, and then through the NCAA and NIT tournies. If you're trying to guess which stragglers might figure out how to play at the very last'll chase more illusions than are justified.

Of course, the NOTEBOOK is designed to help "do-it-yourselfers"like you. JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK controls the whole board, finding edges up and down the card every night. Our scouts, our sources, our statheads, our computer programmers DO all the dirty work in tracking down the weaknesses and soft spots for Clemson, Wake Forest, Boston College, and all the weak links from any conference we've discussed this week. That means, we find BIG JUICY WINNERS whenever you need them!

You can sign up for our picks online with your credit card. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. We have great rates for the rest of the season. Be sure to ask about combo packages that include these last three games of the NFL Playoffs too. The Super Bowl will be here soon...and that will springboard us right into March Madness!

Back with you tomorrow to talk NBA, before wrapping up our series on the major BCS conferences Saturday with a look at the Big East. Man, was THAT conference embarrassed by the eyeball test last March until UCONN rallied to save the day! Soon we'll embark on a review of the top mid-major conferences since those leagues have added so much fuel to the tournament fire in recent years. Thanks for joining us every day here in the NOTEBOOK!

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