|Some early-season opponents haven't measured up.|
The common theme of the conversation? All agreed that this is the time of year when the intensity level goes up. A good thing, considering that at times during the non-conference portion of the season, North Carolina appeared a bit bored.
During this extended home stand that lasted most of December, UNC coach Roy Williams emphasized the need for his team to play with more intensity. We saw that emphasis manifest itself against in dominant victories against Texas, Elon and Monmouth – games in which the Heels wasted little time establishing tempo and energy.
And now we’ll see how that translates into the start of 2012 ACC play. The weird thing is, though Boston College represents the start of the ACC schedule for UNC, the Eagles don’t represent that much of an upgrade over the Heels’ recent competition.
Boston College is 270th in the RPI – this according to realtimerip.com (there are other versions of the RPI out there) – and Monmouth is only 19 spots below the Eagles. In fact, Nicholls (No. 242) ranks higher than the Eagles. And Appalachian State (No. 275) is in the neighborhood.
Kind of a weird scheduling quirk, but you can argue that UNC’s ACC schedule progressively becomes more difficult in each of the Tar Heels’ first five games. They open up with Boston College, which has been by far the worst team in the league. Then UNC plays Miami at home. Then on the road at Florida State. Then on the road at Virginia Tech. Then at home against N.C. State.
So what does this all mean? Not sure, exactly, other than the fact that the opponents become more difficult as the games wear on. But I found it interesting, nonetheless.
It’s the kind of thing, though, that could be helpful come the postseason, when the competition level – in theory – increases from game to game. That’s what will happen through the Tar Heels early ACC schedule.
Of course, the most difficult portion of the schedule probably comes in late February and early March. Over their final four conference games, the Heels will play N.C. State, Virginia and Duke on the road. The lone home game in that stretch comes against Maryland, which should be significantly better then than it is now.
Did you happen to catch Duke’s 78-73 defeat against Temple last night? You probably did. And, if you’re a UNC fan, you probably took some satisfaction in the Blue Devils' loss. But I’d argue that, for once, UNC fans shouldn’t be happy that Duke lost.
A defeat at Temple is nothing to be ashamed about, of course. Surely, the Owls were motivated and played well. Duke didn’t play all that well (16 turnovers for the Blue Devils, who allowed Temple to shoot 56.4 percent). The loss isn’t all that embarrassing.
Still, it’s another black mark for the ACC during the non-conference portion of the schedule. Last year was considered a down year for the conference, at least until the ACC sent three teams into the Sweet 16. But right now, 2012 is shaping up to be even more of a down year.
Look at SEC football. It’s always more fun – more interesting, too – when the power teams in a conference are playing to their potential. UNC-Duke will still be intense, of course, when the teams meet twice later this season. But with each misstep that both teams take, the games this season between them lose a bit of luster and importance.
-- Andrew Carter