This is a somewhat painful article to write as a devoted UNC graduate living and working in Chapel Hill, but I feel it is the truth.
The Atlantic Coast Conference is now 9-6 against the Big East this season, and no intraconference game was bigger than Duke's relatively easy 76-67 victory over the Georgetown Hoyas on Saturday.
When Duke obliterated then-No. 9 Xavier in December, I argued that Duke was the No. 2 team in the country, behind then-No. 1 North Carolina. After UNC's struggles against Boston College and Wake Forest, I now believe that Duke can be named as the team to beat in the ACC.
What about undefeated Wake Forest? What about undefeated Clemson?
It comes down to this: neither team has played the type of schedule Duke has and neither team has looked as dominant against quality opponents. Neither Wake nor Clemson has shown the exemplary level of depth, toughness, and strength that Duke has thus far exhibited.
One of those teams will no longer be undefeated after this afternoon. If Wake Forest defeats Clemson on the road, they certainly have an argument to make. After all, they defeated North Carolina, but it should be noted that they have had very few tough opponents outside of the Tigers and Tar Heels. It might be said that they also caught UNC at a weak moment.
Tar Heel fans might argue that they are still the team to beat in the ACC, but they will not be allowed to reclaim that mantle until (or if) both Duke and Wake stumble, or until they defeat those teams in February.
Right now, Duke is playing the best basketball in the country, with all due respect to Wake Forest and Pittsburgh. They have played the toughest schedule of the three teams (by far), and their only loss (to Michigan) was a rematch on the road with a team they had already defeated.
It may not be a popular opinion, but I believe the top three teams in the country are:
2. Wake Forest
3. North Carolina
Yes, I realize Pittsburgh is undefeated and has opened Big East play with victories. Do they deserve to be ranked higher than UNC? Yes, for the moment.
But I don't think Pitt would have fared any better against the ACC's Big Three than Georgetown did today against Duke.
Pittsburgh's extraordinarily weak out-of-conference schedule leaves them as a bit of an enigma, but keep in mind that they struggled to beat Florida State on the road. The Seminoles led for much of the second half, before the Panthers finally put them away.
Still, this argument is not based on one or two games, but a body of work.
Duke rarely let Georgetown within 10 points in the second half and, make no mistake, the Hoyas are an excellent team. The game was not really as close as the final score indicates.
North Carolina and Wake Forest have to be considered about equal, but right now remain a step behind the talented Blue Devils.
Duke defended the conference admirably today and, as a result, has garnered the "team to beat" moniker in the ACC...for the moment.