Countdown to Craziness has come and gone and now it is time to truly prepare for the season ahead of us. And although the Associated Press has yet to release its preseason poll—it’s expected to come out some time at the end of this week—we do have the USA Today preseason coaches poll to peruse.
Once again, the ACC is loaded with talented teams from top to bottom and this season—after the final round of conference realignment—No. 9 Louisville joins the mix as the fifth ACC team in the coaches poll top 25 and the fourth in the top 10. No. 3 Duke, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 8 Virginia and No. 24 Syracuse represent the other four ACC programs in the preseason top 25.
But the ACC is always good. Why does any of this matter? Well, for two reasons.
First, the ACC is actually better than it normally is—especially compared to last season. Last year, the ACC had five teams in the preseason AP top 25 and only Duke and Syracuse cracked the top 10. The ACC ended up sending six teams to the big dance but amassed only a 6-6 record in the tournament and sent only Virginia through to the Sweet 16. Although I can’t necessarily predict how teams will fare come tournament time, it seems safe to say that the ACC will send at least five or six teams into the 2015 NCAA tournament and has more than a legitimate shot to grab a No. 1 seed.
Second, this year’s Blue Devil squad is the youngest it has been in a long time and a powerful ACC could cause it to stumble a few times as it tries to find itself throughout the season. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my column before Countdown, a few missteps shouldn’t be too much cause for concern, especially with how talented Duke’s opponents are.
ESPN Insider recently asked the coaches of the ACC to create their own poll, ranking the teams of their conference. Duke led the poll in both total points and first-place votes but Louisville, North Carolina, and Virginia were not far behind.
Parity in the ACC—much like parity in the SEC in college football—is actually a great thing for the conference. Not only would it help when the polls come out with slight favoritism leaning in favor of the ACC, but it would also allow the teams of the conference to face great competition game after game.
In the SEC, Kentucky and Florida reign supreme, but they are leaps and bounds above every other team in their conference, so much so that one conference loss to an SEC team could hurt their tournament seeding. If, hypothetically, Kentucky drops two games all season—one to Florida and one to Arkansas let’s say—and Duke and North Carolina each lose three—let’s say they split the season series and then drop some combination of games to Louisville, Virginia and Syracuse—you could make a serious argument to seed both the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels ahead of the Wildcats.
The only other conference with more teams than the ACC in the preseason coaches poll is the Big Ten with six. But only one of those teams, Wisconsin, is in the top 10. The other five teams—Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa—rank between 18th and 25th in the poll. So although the Big Ten has more teams in the poll than the ACC, it doesn’t have the same quality of competition.
ACC play doesn’t start for Duke until Jan. 3 when the Blue Devils host Boston College and in the meantime, Duke will face off against some of the Big Ten’s best: Nov. 18 against Michigan State and Dec. 3 at Wisconsin. There’s also a matchup against last season’s national champion, Connecticut, at the IZOD Center Dec. 18 thrown in the mix. By the time Jan. 3 rolls around, we’ll know a lot more about this Duke team and its competition in the conference, but for now, it appears that the ACC is the conference to beat in college basketball this season.
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