Here’s a pop quiz: Who are the top basketball teams in the ACC this year? The Duke Blue Devils? Nope. The North Carolina Tar Heels? No, they’ve actually lost their first three conference games. The answer is the Syracuse Orange and the Pittsburgh Panthers, who were the two best teams in the Big East over the last 10 years before moving into the ACC this season. It’s a good thing the ACC expanded this year to include those teams; otherwise the league would be in trouble.
Both Syracuse and Pittsburgh are off to 4-0 starts in conference play, and the two former Big East powerhouses have a combined record of 33-1 midway through the month of January. The Orange and Panthers have had no trouble transitioning to their new conference. In fact, both have flourished early in the ACC season as they’re both used to a higher level of competition in conference play while the rest of the ACC has had to adjust to the newcomers.
It’s a good thing that the new powerhouse programs in the ACC are doing well, because the traditional powerhouse programs are struggling. Duke already has four losses on the season and are barely hanging onto a spot in the top-25 polls. North Carolina is winless in conference play and should be worrying about its spot in the NCAA Tournament. Last year’s conference champion, Miami, appears destined to stay in the bottom of the league standings all season while the Virginia Cavaliers have fallen well short of preseason expectations.
If it weren’t for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the ACC would roughly be on par with the Missouri Valley Conference this season. Take away the names on the jerseys, and the level of play in the ACC this year outside of the two newcomers is that of a mid-major conference. At this point, the ACC may only be in line for three or four bids to the NCAA Tournament, and that includes Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
Of course, there’s plenty of time left in the season for the rest of the ACC, including the traditional powerhouses, to get their act together. But it needs to happen soon because the league has been embarrassingly mediocre up to this point in the season. Luckily they have Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the league this year as those two teams have helped save face for the entire conference. Just imagine what the ACC would look like this year without the Orange and the Panthers.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.