After a disappointing – more on this in a second – non-conference portion of the season, the ACC basketball season begins this week.
North Carolina, of course, hosts Boston College on Saturday. So now’s as a good time as any to look ahead at the Tar Heels’ conference schedule which, really, doesn’t look all that formidable.
That’s the case for two reasons: One, UNC is very good. And, two, the ACC, as a whole, appears to be significantly down compared to its normal standard.
Two ACC teams – Duke (No. 2) and UNC (No. 13) – rank among the top 15 teams in the RPI, according to realtimerpi.com. The rest of the league? You’ve got Virginia Tech at No. 37. N.C. State at No. 43.
Virginia at No. 56. Florida State (No. 72) and Miami (No. 78) are the only other conference teams in the top 100. Five ACC teams – nearly half the conference – rank 105th or worse in the RPI.
And some teams appear to be truly abysmal.
Boston College, which ranks 262nd in the RPI, has losses against the likes of Boston University, Holy Cross and Rhode Island. Those three teams, by the way, are not good.
Clemson, meanwhile, lost to Coastal Carolina at home. And that’s not even the Tigers’ worst loss, according to the RPI. Georgia Tech lost at Tulane. And against Mercer. And at Fordham. Not good. Not good. Not good.
Florida State, meanwhile, has to be thankful it’s not in the Ivy League. The Seminoles, who were supposed to be one of the stronger teams in the ACC, would already be trying to climb out of an 0-2 hole after losses against Harvard and Princeton.
So the bottom half of the ACC – and even some of the top half – appears to be in complete disarray entering the start of league play. Most teams usually improve as the season progresses, so it figures that Boston College, Clemson and Georgia Tech won’t be as bad in February as they appear to be now.
Still, though, when the floor already so far underground, how high can the ceiling really go? My guess is that once conference play begins, more defined tiers will emerge within the ACC. Here’s how those tiers would look now, entering league play:
TOP: UNC, Duke.
NEXT: N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Virginia.
NEXT: Florida State, Miami, Maryland.
BOTTOM: Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Boston College.
How crazy is it that here on Jan. 4, UNC and Duke appear to be the ACC’s only sure-things to make the NCAA Tournament? Of course, at least a couple more conference teams will make it. Who they’ll be, though, is anybody’s guess.
So back the original point of this post, which was to rank the Tar Heels’ conference games in order of difficulty.
In order of difficulty, from easiest to most difficult. We’ll break these up into tiers:
- Boston College
- Georgia Tech
- At Wake Forest
- At Miami
- N.C. State
- At Virginia
- At Maryland
- At Virginia Tech
- At Florida State
- At N.C. State
- At Duke
- UNC shouldn’t lose any of the four games in tier 1. Those are all basically gimmies. If any of those are even close games, it’d be surprising.
- UNC shouldn’t lose any of the four games in tier 2, either, though the level of competition increases over tier 1. Virginia has potential (we don't know how much because the Cavaliers haven't really played anybody), and the game in Charlottesville could be difficult. But UNC should win with ease at home. Right now, Miami is not good.
- Tier 3 is where it starts to get interesting. N.C. State has talent and, it seems, coaching. At least one of those things has been missing in that program for a while now. UNC could win that game by 20 at the Smith Center, and probably should win that game comfortably. But you never know. The other three games in tier 3, all on the road, are loseable. They’d be big upsets, but all three of those places can be difficult places to play.
- Tier 4 include what I think are UNC’s four most difficult conference games. Florida State is not playing well right now, but I covered the Seminoles for four years and I’ve seen strange, weird things happen in that building in Tallahassee. I thought FSU had no shot – none – to beat Duke down there last year. I was wrong. Florida State is a difficult place to play for about two games per season: When Duke and UNC come to town. The other three games in tier 4 are all rivalry games, two of them on the road, two of them against Duke.