For the second straight season, Virginia seems unable to rely on the ACC to build its NCAA tournament resume. While the Cavaliers have done well to carry the Atlantic Coast Conference flag by notching two strong wins against ranked opponents, the rest of the conference has not had similar success in non-conference play.
As of this writing (ahead of Friday, 11/25 games), the ACC has a 6-12 combined record against their major conference opponents. The bottom half of the ACC was particularly bad, with the bottom seven teams in the conference going 9-0 against major conference opponents. Even the Carolina Blue Bloods haven’t looked as dominant as they were billed.
North Carolina went into the season as the consensus preseason favorite to win the national title and the best preseason team in the country by a landslide. Yes, the Tar Heels are 5-0, but they’ve hardly won those five games in the manner of a No. 1 team. UNC gave up 86 points to Charleston, beating Gardner-Webb by just six and almost angering Portland in the quarterfinals of the Phil Knight Invitational, who walked away with an 89-81 win in a game UNC would win by 14 points. There will be an opportunity for the Tar Heels to prove themselves for the remainder of this week as winning the Invitational means a win over Iowa State and another major conference opponent — either No. 20 UConn, No. 12 Michigan State or No. 18 Alabama. But so far, North Carolina didn’t look at all like the team that finished as national runners-up last season.
Duke was also far from perfect to start the Jon Scheyer era. The Blue Devils are 5-1, their only loss being a respectably close loss to Kansas. Duke picked up blowout wins over Jacksonville, South Carolina Upstate, Delaware and Bellarmine and then narrowly avoided an angry bid from Oregon State to win 54-51 in the Phil Knight Legacy tournament. If the Blue Devils get past Xavier in the semifinals, they could go on a date with Gonzaga in the finals. It could also be Purdue or West Virginia so this game should be an opportunity for a marquee win no matter what. But right now, Duke seems vulnerable.
Alongside UNC and UVA, Notre Dame is the third and last undefeated ACC team – but the victories are far from impressive. The Fighting Irish have beaten Radford, Youngstown State, Southern Indiana, Lipscomb and Bowling Green and three of those five wins have come in single digits.
NC State has been decent so far, going 5-1, their only loss coming just six points against Kansas, and the Wolf Pack clinched a solid 74-64 win over Dayton. Ditto for Miami, who beat Providence but lost to Maryland by 18 points. Clemson is 4-1, with wins against Citadel, South Carolina Upstate, Bellarmine and Loyola and one loss in South Carolina.
Several ACC teams have had more than their fair share of dire, sometimes embarrassing, losses. Virginia Tech lost at Charleston. Wake Forest suffered an upset overtime loss to Loyola Marymount. Boston College has two heavy losses against Maine and Tarleton. Georgia Tech is 3-2, losing both major conference games to Utah and Marquette. Syracuse lost to St John’s in overtime and were upset by Colgate. Pittsburgh suffered three straight losses to West Virginia, Michigan and VCU, and the Panthers were blown out in the losses to West Virginia and Michigan.
Scroll to Next
Florida State and Louisville battle it out for the coveted Worst Team spot in the ACC. The Seminoles are 1-5, their only win coming against Mercer. FSU lost to Stetson, UCF, Troy, Florida and Siena. Florida State was selected to place fifth in the ACC.
Kenny Payne took the reins of the Louisville program at a very difficult time and this season was always going to be challenging for the Cardinals, but nobody expected things to get this bad. Louisville started the season with three consecutive one-point losses to Bellarmine, Wright State, and Appalachian State. Those losses were heartbreaking, but the three losses the cards have suffered since then have been far worse: dropping 26 points to Arkansas, 32 to Texas Tech and 21 to Cincinnati. Louisville is favored to win just four of their remaining 25 games.
How does this affect Virginia? The non-conference game dictates what the college basketball world thinks about each conference. We’ve seen the negative impact that a poorly performing conference early in the season can have on their member teams’ chances of reaching the NCAA tournament last season. For many years of its history, the ACC has brought 8-10 teams into the NCAA tournament. But last season, the ACC performed poorly in non-conference play, leaving the entire conference ranked weak or “down” for the remainder of the season, although several teams like Wake Forest and Virginia had decent performances in ACC play . The result was that only five ACC teams – Duke, North Carolina, Miami, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech – received NCAA tournament selections. Wake Forest didn’t make March Madness despite winning 21 games in the regular season.
The reality of the ACC’s strength last season was shown in the NCAA tournament, as three ACC teams made the Elite Eight and two advanced to the Final Four. But non-conference play largely determines the conference pecking order in any given college basketball season. There is still time for the ACC to improve its position. But right now, no single team in the ACC like Virginia should expect to rely on their conference to build a resume worthy of the NCAA tournament.
To keep up with all of the Virginia Cavaliers sports news, follow CavaliersNow on social media:
More Virginia Men’s Basketball news and content: Virginia Men’s Basketball on Sports Illustrated
More sports news and content from Virginia: Virginia Cavaliers on Sports Illustrated