Long regarded as one of the top college basketball conferences in the country, the ACC looks rather pedestrian given its relative lack of representation in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.
Only three teams from the ACC appear on this list, with only one additional school even receiving votes. This 15-team league, with the additions of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange this season, was figured to join the Big 10 in the conversation for best conference in the country. By comparison, the Big 10 has four teams in the Top 25 this week, but three of them are in the top 5, including the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes, No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers and No. 5 Michigan State Spartans.
That moniker still may apply to the ACC by the end of the season. But some head-scratching losses and even some wins that were much closer than they needed to be have left the ACC looking a bit run of the mill as the season nears mid-December and some schools begin conference play.
One of the ACC newcomers, Syracuse, tops the conference list by being ranked second in the AP poll, behind the top-ranked Arizona Wildcats. The Orange is 9-0 and received two first-place votes in this week’s poll. Syracuse can’t be hit with the usual criticism of not leaving their home state of New York during non-conference play, since the Orange won the Maui Invitational last month with victories over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, California Golden Bears and Baylor Bears.
The Orange followed that up with a convincing 69-52 win over the Indiana Hoosiers, leaving no doubt about their place in the AP poll.
Beyond Syracuse, however, the ACC is a quagmire.
The Duke Blue Devils check in at No. 8, with a strong record of 7-2 given that the Blue Devils’ only losses are to Arizona and the Kansas Jayhawks, ranked fourth and fifth when those games were played, respectively. Duke did notch a 10-point win over the then-No. 22 Michigan Wolverines on Dec. 3, but their most memorable victory this season is probably its 91-90 escape over the Vermont Catamounts at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Nov. 24. Top ACC teams are expected to win such games handily.
The North Carolina Tar Heels round out the ACC trio in the new poll, checking in at No. 18. The Tar Heels have been a confusing team this season, losing to the Belmont Bruins and the UAB Blazers, but beating the then-No. 3 Louisville Cardinals and the a previously top-ranked team in Michigan State — a true road game that the Tar Heels won by 14 points.
North Carolina (6-2) has failed to put to put together a three-game winning streak this season. Despite having currently won two straight, it will be a struggle to break that pattern. The Tar Heels’ next game is at home on Saturday against the 11th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (7-2).
The Pittsburgh Panthers are the only other ray of hope for the ACC right now as far as the AP Top 25 is concerned. Despite a pair of 20-point wins over the Stanford Cardinal and Texas Tech Red Raiders at the Progressive Legends Classic, the perfect Panthers (9-0) have only reached the status of “Others Receiving Votes,” in the poll, three spots behind the 25th-ranked San Diego State Aztecs.
All but two teams in the ACC have winning records and eight ACC schools have two losses or fewer this season. But that hasn’t been enough to impress pollsters, who see games like the Virginia Cavaliers losing to the Green Bay Phoenix, a 13-point loss by Notre Dame to the Indiana State Sycamores or the Wake Forest Demon Deacons losing by 19 points on a neutral floor to the Tennessee Volunteers, and wonder whether the ACC is all it was cracked up to be before the season.
With only three games involving ACC games scheduled prior to Saturday, the league’s teams won’t have much of a chance to change the narrative for pollsters. Saturday will be a key day, as Notre Dame takes on Indiana, and UNC hosts Kentucky. Syracuse plays at the St. John’s Red Storm on Sunday, in the revival of what used to be a great Big East rivalry.