College Basketball Insider: ACC powerhouses struggling out of the gate

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2014 - 12:40 AM
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The early ACC schedule has left Duke, among others, unraveled and legendary Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, above, undone. Duke is 3-2, but rival North Carolina is feeling even more pain.

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For a region known for its undying love for college basketball — and college basketball’s apparent undying love in return in the form of success — the day must have seemed a little shocking.

In the span of a few hours, all four North Carolina teams in the ACC had dropped their respective conference games — all by double-digit scores, no less.

Wake Forest flopped at Pittsburgh. North Carolina State was routed by Virginia. North Carolina was overcome by Syracuse. And Duke unraveled at Clemson.

Each of those scores, on their own, aren’t all that crazy. All of those teams have gone through ups and downs. But all on the same day? That scenario had never before been recorded, according to FOX Sports.

So it goes in the strange world of the ACC this season.

At the start of the year, with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, the ACC was discussed as most likely the strongest conference in the nation. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski seemed to agree, telling Yahoo Sports: “We’re going to be a 10-bid conference. We’re going to be the best conference in the history of the game.”

There is plenty of time before March, but so far it hasn’t looked that way. Both CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi from ESPN have projected six ACC teams playing in the NCAA tournament, with some of them on tenuous footing — Palm has UNC losing in the opening round.

Good thing for ACC Commissioner John Swofford that Syracuse, with its exciting trio of Tyler Ennis, C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, did come along — the Orange are just about the only thing keeping their new league in the national spotlight.

North Carolina was ranked No. 12 in the AP preseason poll, but it had to dismiss talented guard P.J. Hairston for numerous infractions and has has mustered just a 1-4 record in the ACC so far, starting the conference slate with three consecutive losses. The Tar Heels have showed stunning inconsistencey, winning against Louisville, Kentucky and Michigan State, but dropping an array of head-scratchers, including Belmont and Alabama-Birmingham.

Duke (3-2), meanwhile, while not experiencing quite the same slump, already has lost a pair of games in the league schedule (to Notre Dame and Clemson) and has dropped out of the national top 15 for the first time in six years — a stunning statement about the Blue Devils’ success up until this point.

Anytime that two of the consistent frontrunners in a league struggle simultaneously, that conference is going to take a hit in the national perceptions.

But the ACC shouldn’t stay devoid of multiple stars all season. No. 20 Pittsburgh (5-1 in the conference) is only starting to climb the national ranks after failing to impress with its early-season schedule. Virginia (5-1), for all of its embarrassing nonconference losses, is beginning to look like a contender.

Are down-ish seasons for the ACC giants good for the powerhouse conference? With those programs’ large fan bases and command of national interest, it’s hard to argue yes.

But it just might make the league a little more interesting.

College Basketball Short Takes

Three unbeaten teams remain: Arizona, Syracuse and Wichita State. Of course, history tells us it’s very, very difficult to continue that trend for a full season — no team has gone undefeated since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. But according to kenpom.com, one team has a relatively respectable chance at doing so.

Wichita State has a 33.6 percent shot at the distinction, compared with a 13 percent chance for Arizona and 0.7 percent chance for Syracuse. Still a long shot, to be sure, but not as bad as one might think.

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