Four Teams in the Preseason Top 10: Banner Year for the ACC?

Posted by Brett Thompson on November 12th, 2014

The Atlantic Coast Conference looks poised to have a dominant season among basketball’s top conferences, boasting four of the nation’s preseason top 10 teams in Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Louisville. After a short one-year stint in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville is the latest former Big East team to join the ACC, while the Blue Devils, Tar Heels and Cavaliers are ACC mainstays — each hopes to carry the conference banner to the finish line in March. Virginia wants to defend its conference title and prove last season wasn’t a fluke; Louisville hopes to send a message in its ACC debut; and the Tobacco Road teams are hoping to make it back to their rightful place in the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. Simply put, the ACC is going to be a war at the top of the standings, and each team has a major driver pushing it this year.

Virginia's ascendance will only help the ACC's argument that it's the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

Virginia’s ascendance will only help the ACC’s argument that it’s the premier basketball conference (USA Today Sports)

This season marks the third time since 2002 that a conference has had four teams in the preseason top 10. Ironically, both of these instances came courtesy of the Big East. In 2011, the conference placed Connecticut and current ACC members Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville within the top 10; and in 2008, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and another current ACC member, Notre Dame, topped the list. In each of those years, the ACC’s only two representatives were — who else? — Duke and North Carolina. This definitely speaks to the prestige of the basketball programs that the ACC has added in recent years, and it’s not implausible to think the ACC could place even more than four squads in the top 10 in coming seasons.

Of course, preseason polls alone do not certify a conference’s dominance. In each of the years that the Big East placed four teams in the preseason top 10, a school from a different conference won the National Championship; in 2008-09, the ACC’s North Carolina brought home the hardware, and in 2011-12, the SEC’s Kentucky, led by Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, walked out of New Orleans with a trophy. In fact, out of the eight Big East teams in question over those two seasons, none made it to the National Championship game, and only Connecticut (2008-09) and Louisville (2011-12) reached the Final Four (note: Villanova joined UConn in Detroit in 2009, but the Wildcats were ranked #23 in the preseason). While the Big East may have had quite a bit more depth than the ACC or SEC, it didn’t have the best team, and it’s tough to make an argument for best conference when another league is raising the championship banner.

What does this mean for this year’s ACC? For one thing, don’t read too much into the preseason polls. They’re a nice gauge of teams to watch early in the season, but by no means are they a guarantee of a conference’s success in the regular season or postseason. And while the ACC has an impressive top tier, the rest of the conference could very well be described as mediocre. The bottom third of the conference will surely deliver its share of #goacc moments, and those mishaps will drag down some of the great play of the others. The overarching point here is that, with four teams ranked among the preseason top 10, there are significant expectations attached to the league this season. For the first time in a long while, the ACC has four teams that appear good enough on paper to reach the sport’s final weekend — what will constitute an appropriate level of success this year? Two Final Four teams? Four Sweet Sixteen teams? Only time will tell, but fans from Louisville to Durham to Charlottesville to Chapel Hill all have their eyes on the ultimate prize.

Brett Thompson (8 Posts)

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