Nine of the 15 ACC basketball teams already have at least one loss less than three full weeks into the season. North Carolina and Notre Dame were upset over the weekend. Maryland lost to a team it could’ve beaten and one of the still remaining undefeated teams, Syracuse, just missed being upset.
This kind of start is not what was expected when the ACC expanded to include the Orange, the Irish and the Pitt Panthers. This was supposed to be a power conference that instilled fear in everyone. It is not that yet, but it still could be. Luckily for the ACC, this is college basketball and not college football. One bad loss does not cost teams the way it does in football. There is time for every team to heal up, get players back from suspension and gel before the NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina’s loss to Belmont probably sticks out as the worst loss in the league because of team names alone. But looking beyond the box score, many of the problems that stood out in UNC’s loss can be corrected if P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald return. Belmont just kept shooting and swishing three-pointers all game long. If Carolina gets its entire squad back, younger players will see less time and veterans will be able to play the kind of defense they have practiced for more than a season. A slight improvement on the defensive end will completely change how the Tar Heels look. A stop on defense will start the running offense fans are accustomed to seeing.
Notre Dame is a team made up of juniors and seniors. This means the Irish understand the team cannot dwell on one loss. The Irish will learn from mistakes and prosper because of them. The Irish went through the rigors of the Big East and survived because coach Mike Brey knows how to communicate to his team. In Notre Dame’s loss to Indiana State, the Irish beat themselves with 16 turnovers and could not buy a shot during the Sycamores’ 18-3 run. The Irish are known as a disciplined team year-after-year and these kind of mistakes will be fixed.
Maryland also did not have a successful weekend after falling to Oregon State. Dez Wells (13.3 PPG, 3.0 APG) has underperformed based on preseason expectations and the Terrapins have suffered. The inconsistency from Maryland is the team’s biggest problem. The Terps played well in the loss to UConn and cruised over a lowly Abilene Christian. However, this kind of play did not transfer over against the Beavers. Maryland needs to find the fix soon or they will be left behind.
Syracuse did not lose, but the Orange easily could have against St. Francis. This kind of close game will actually help the Orange going forward. A talented team can always use a wake-up call and to have one early in the season is a benefit. Syracuse, at worst, showed it could play under adversity and win. This is invaluable come March when teams hoping to make Cinderella runs hang around late in games.
All of the ACC will have challenging out-of-conference games with tournaments and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge scheduled. These games will be crucial in the maturation of the ACC. If these losses continue, the ACC will, once again, have a disappointing number of entrants in the NCAA tournament.