The ACC’s Soft Middle Tier: Time to Panic Yet?Posted by Chris Kehoe on November 14th, 2013
We are less than one week into the start of the 2013-14 college basketball season and the median of the ACC is nearing panic mode. Maybe not quite yet, but things certainly could have started better for the NCAA’s mightiest conference. To date, N.C. State has lost to Cincinnati by 11, Virginia lost to in-state rival VCU (displaying the power shift between traditional Virginia basketball schools), Miami barely squeaked by Georgia Southern in overtime and posted an inexcusable overtime loss to St. Francis (NY), and Boston College suffered an opening defeat to Providence and followed that up with a 13-point shellacking at the hands of a game Massachusetts squad. What does this all mean for the ‘almighty’ ACC as the nation’s premier basketball conference? Does this, for one, quiet the whispers of the ACC as the greatest basketball conference of all-time?
A lot of a conference’s overall reputation and greatness has to be attributed to its depth and the overall quality of teams across the board. Now VCU happens to be a top-25 team that has largely surpassed the Virginia basketball program of late under Shaka Smart, but a team that has ACC title aspirations and is laden with senior leaders needs to win games versus A-10 programs, especially if it doesn’t wish to find itself on the bubble again. N.C. State is in what most people consider a rebuilding year under Mark Gottfried, but Cincinnati is not a powerhouse and the middle of the league must prove formidable for the ACC to solidify its place in history. Last Friday night, Maryland lost to a top-25 Connecticut team boasting one of the best backcourts in the nation by only a single point, but the Terps walked away with a close loss rather than gloating about a big win on their non-conference résumé. Miami wasn’t expected to have a great year after losing Kenny Kadji, Shane Larkin, Reggie Johnson, Durand Scott and the rest of its roster from last season, but losing to a NEC foe is a humbling step backward, to say the least.
Boston College was pegged by most as upstart darlings of this year’s new league, with reigning ACC Rookie of the Year Olivier Hanlan, junior forward Ryan Anderson, and a host of talented youngsters expected to make waves and finish anywhere from fifth to eighth place in the crowded ACC. Instead they have taken two early season losses well before hitting the conference juggernaut, with one of their losses coming to an up-and-coming Providence squad that was missing its McDonald’s All-American guard, Kris Dunn. That loss to a lower-tier Big East team wasn’t quite as bad as their most recent loss to UMass, a team with pint-sized mid-major star Chaz Williams and Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon anchoring an explosive and versatile backcourt, but one that shouldn’t be able to hang with an ACC team that wants to solidify itself with an NCAA bid.
Should ACC fans worry?
No, not yet. The season is still incredibly young, having tipped off less than a week ago. The middle tier of the ACC will have plenty more opportunities to replenish its reputation on the national stage before conference play begins. This means teams like Boston College, Maryland, Pittsburgh, N.C. State, and even to a lesser extent Georgia Tech on the low end and Notre Dame on the high end, will have plenty of opportunities. While Georgia Tech, Maryland, N.C. State, and Boston College may struggle with bouts of inconsistency that commonly plague inexperienced teams not accustomed to sustained excellence, they should all hit their stride at some point and exemplify the quality of depth that makes this year’s ACC great.