Sunday, November 20, 2011

ACC Looks To Be Down This Season

LSU 59, Georgia Tech 50
Games like this are interesting to me, even if they aren't interesting to just about anybody else, and I'll tell you why. Neither of these teams have much chance of making a postseason tournament, let alone being a factor in their conferences. But games like this tell me about the relative strength of the bottom of conferences, and that does mean something. I've talked many times before about how to rate conferences (you can read a long post of mine on that topic here). The media and average fans tend to conferences by how good the top two or three teams are, but in reality that's flat out wrong. Conference strength, more than anything, is about depth.

A perfect example, to me, is the 2009-10 season. The media was tripping over themselves to laud the Big East as the greatest conference in college basketball history. It was taken as fact that the conference was by far the best in the nation. The ACC, we were told, was way down. Duke was the only truly elite team in the conference that year, after all. The Big East had a slew of top teams. Yet according to both the Sagarin and Pomeroy ratings, the Big East was only the third best conference in the nation. Pomeroy rated the ACC first, and Sagarin had them second. Why? Because the Big East had some legitimately bad teams and the ACC didn't. Both Sagarin and Pomeroy rated Virginia the worst ACC team but the 76th best team in the nation. Both rated four Big East teams worse than that, with Rutgers and DePaul both outside the Top 150. What does that mean? Every single ACC game was a battle - there were no pushovers. In the Big East? You had a couple of days off.

Yet while you don't hear as much talk about how "down" the ACC is this year, or heard it last year, the reality is that the ACC isn't nearly as good as they were in that 2009-10 season. Last season there was a truly bad team (Wake Forest), and this year there are a few. We already knew Wake Forest and Boston College were weak, but what about Georgia Tech, after a win over VCU and a loss to Saint Joe's? This game was going to tell us a lot, and losing to LSU is just not a good result. LSU had already lost to Coastal Carolina and hadn't beaten a single decent team yet. In other words, we have seen the bottom of the ACC and it is not good. The conference wasn't "down" in 2009-10. It's down now.

Georgia Tech next suits up on Wednesday against Siena. After that their next game will be against Northwestern. LSU, with this win over Georgia Tech, will actually feel pretty good about themselves. They're still not a good team, and I'll be surprised if they even crack the Top 100 in the computer ratings, but they're playing better than they were last year. They will play South Alabama on Wednesday, and then will head to Houston.

Creighton 82, Iowa 59
This game was played in Des Moines, which is sort of midway geographically between the campuses of these two schools. Iowa was technically the "home" team, but anybody who watched this game unaware would have assumed it was the other way around. This game had the feel of one of those March games where with each made basket a team gains confidence, and a crowd gains volume. As this game was getting away from Iowa late in the first half, the Hawkeyes just looked powerless to stop what was happening to them. Doug McDermott was the star for Northern Iowa (25 points on 10-for-15 shooting, along with nine rebounds), and Gregory Echenique played well also (15 points on 6-for-8 shooting, along with nine rebounds), but everybody knew those two would be good players this season. What stood out to me were the strong performances by two newcomers - Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs and true freshman Avery Dingman. Dingman was particularly good here, with 14 points in only 11 minutes on the floor.

This was a disappointing performance for an Iowa team that has shown steady improvement since Fran McCaffery was hired and was picked by many (including me) to be a dark horse in the Big Ten. But in their defense, Creighton is a very good team that just played about as well as they can. Iowa ran into a buzzsaw. The Hawkeyes will look to recover against a couple of cupcakes before playing Clemson on November 29th as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Creighton, now 4-0, has one easy game (against Campbell, on Friday) before getting back to quality competition. They will play at San Diego State on November 30th, and then will go against Nebraska on December 4th. Creighton is a good enough team to earn an at-large bid if they can collect enough scalps in their non-conference schedule.

Valparaiso 84, Duquesne 68
Valparaiso, having finished narrowly outside the Top 100 of both the Pomeroy and Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings last season, and losing two starters to graduation and a third to transfer, and then starting over with a new head coach, was expected to have a rebuilding season in 2011-12. That's certainly what I expected, too. But a couple of players that were mere role players have really stepped up so far this season (Kevin Van Wijk and Jay Harris are two in particular), and ever since a nine point loss to Arizona they've won five straight, including wins over Akron and Duquesne, quality victories both. They will play at Ohio State on Friday but, since that's most likely to be a loss, I'm looking forward more to a road game at Butler on December 3rd. Butler and Cleveland State look to be the clear two best teams in the Horizon League, but if Valparaiso can take that game down to the final moments, or can actually win it outright, then they will have to be added to that conversation.

This season has been a series of frustrations for Duquesne. After horrendous luck last season, I expected Duquesne to bounce back this season. A 16 point loss to Valparaiso isn't what anybody expected. Their next game will be Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette. After that they'll play a neutral court game against Pittsburgh in the city of Pittsbugh (they're be playing at the Consol Energy Center, which is where the Pittsburgh Penguins play, rather than at the home arenas of either Duquesne or Pitt).


DMoore said...

"the ACC isn't nearly as good...we have seen the bottom of the ACC and it is not good"

Well, yes and no. You're absolutely right, there are more teams that will really struggle this year -- GA Tech, Maryland, Boston College, Wake Forest. Wake Forest was a serious contender for worst team in ACC History last year, and this year they have company in the cellar.

On the flip side, the middle is much stronger than last year. Florida State, Virginia, NC State and Miami are all better than last year (Yes, FSU will be better, and they were decent last year).

I think this year's UNC and Duke is stronger than last year's UNC and Duke.

It's hard to get a read on Clemson and VA Tech so far.

I understand and agree that the bottom of the ACC is bad (ok, you're right, even Depaul & Rutgers really really bad). But I think it's balanced somewhat by improvement elsewhere.

Jeff said...

Well, the ACC was down last year also. I meant that the ACC is down compared to two years ago and earlier last decade.

It's possible that the ACC will be a little better at the top and middle than last year, but not much. And my more general point is that the difference between team #90 and team #200 in the country is a lot bigger than the difference between team #20 and team #25.

Last year there was only one bad team in the ACC - everybody else was competitive. This year there look to be at least three bad teams. And that's shocking to me. That hasn't been true in the ACC in at least 20 years. In fact, since the ACC had fewer teams back then, it's probably never been true that the conference had three bad teams.