It might be early in the season, but the ACC is already entering a critical week.
After a bumpy start to the season, conference teams enter the holiday tournament season needing to win some statement games. And the outlook isn’t great.
In the first week and a half, Wake Forest has dropped two home games, and Georgia Tech got obliterated by Kennesaw State. The Yellow Jackets gave up 80 points to the Owls, who mostly played only five guys. Georgia Tech’s eight-man rotation floundered, shooting only 35 percent while committing 19 turnovers.
In Winston-Salem, the Demon Deacons figure to have a long season ahead in coach Jeff Bzdelik’s first year at the helm. Stetson shot 46.4 percent against Wake Forest and, more revealing, out-rebounded Wake Forest 42-31. ACC teams shouldn’t get outworked in their own building to open the season, unless they’re facing a top 10 opponent. That’s just embarrassing.
But there’s plenty of time to change course. Although the conference ranks fifth in winning percentage of the six power conferences, there’s no shame in Virginia Tech losing at Kansas State or Miami losing at Memphis. Road victories for either team would have been a major upset for the conference.
The early season emergence of the ACC must start tonight, when Maryland plays Pittsburgh in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The Terrapins are one of seven ACC teams playing in tournaments during the next 10 days. However, Maryland is one of the few teams with an opportunity to pick up crucial statement victories.
Against Pittsburgh, Maryland will be decided underdogs, and a strong showing, even in a loss, would give the Terrapins plenty to crow about. If the team can beat Pitt or their next opponent — either Illinois or Texas in the championship or consolation game — the trip to Madison Square Garden would be a success. The worst-case scenario for the ACC and Maryland is a two-game sweep in which the Terrapins don’t look competitive against some of the strongest teams from the Big East, Big Ten and Big 12.
In San Juan, North Carolina is the highest rank team in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. That means the young, unproven Tar Heels are supposed to win the tournament, and anything short of a three-game sweep against a field that includes West Virginia and Minnesota would be a disappointment. We’ll quickly find out how this year’s Tar Heels handle the pressure of lofty expectations after last season’s squad fell apart.
Back on the shores of South Carolina, North Carolina State is one of the favorites in the Charleston Classic. The only way for the Wolfpack to pick up a quality win is to reach the championship game and beat Georgetown. A loss to anyone besides the Hoyas would be detrimental to North Carolina State’s résumé and the ACC’s credibility.
Georgia Tech and Boston College have the best opportunity to grab unexpected quality wins in the Legends Classic in Atlantic City and the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, respectively. Georgia Tech will face either Syracuse or Michigan in the championship or consolation game of the Legends Classic. However, the Yellow Jackets must first get past a tough UTEP team, which is perfectly capable of knocking off a shaky ACC team. The Eagles face a bunch of tough, unranked teams, with the exception of a possible match up with Temple. Boston College needs to represent the ACC well in potential games against Cal, Georgia, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Wisconsin.
On the West Coast, Virginia Tech finds itself in the same situation that North Carolina does in Puerto Rico: tournament favorite. The Hokies’ toughest opponents in the 76 Classic are Oklahoma State, UNLV, Stanford and Murray State. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech’s résumé, the Hokies won’t garner much more clout by doing anything less than stomping those teams, which won’t be easy, especially 3,000-plus miles away from Blacksburg, Va.
And then there’s Duke. The reigning national champs are No. 1, so they’re supposed to beat anyone, anytime. Despite those ridiculous expectations, the Blue Devils would have a great opportunity to assert themselves as the unquestioned favorites to win this season’s national title if they draw Kansas State and beat the Wildcats in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Mo. It’s practically a home game for the Wildcats, so a Duke victory would be huge for the ACC’s elite.