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Is This the Weakest the ACC Has Ever Been?

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IJanuary 1, 2013

Is This the Weakest the ACC Has Ever Been?

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    The ACC men’s basketball league play opens on Saturday, January 5th. This conference season, like most, promises a wide variety of upsets and blowouts, close calls and near misses.

    While undefeated Duke sits on top of both the AP Top 25 and USA Today Coaches Polls, the question could be raised about the strength of the conference this year. No fans like to think of their league as being weak or lacking. Everyone wants for their conference to be respected and robust.  

    However, it is not out of the question to wonder: Is this the weakest the Atlantic Coast Conference has ever been?

    For many ACC followers, even considering that notion could be thought of as sacrilege. To even imply that the conference is not up to scratch is equivalent to heresy.

    Caulton Tudor of “The News and Observer” (a regional newspaper based out of Raleigh, N.C), suggests  that, going into conference play, “only Duke and at times N.C. State are in tune with expectations.”

    The following is an open-minded review of where the ACC stands as 2012-13 league play opens up next week. Rather than just making emotional claims, this article will be as fact-based as possible.

    Note: Unless otherwise noted, the figures and information in this article are taken from Statsheet.com

Preseason Rankings

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    Four ACC schools - North Carolina State (No. 6), Duke (No. 8), North Carolina (No. 11) and Florida State (No. 25) – were ranked in the AP's 2012-13 Preseason Top 25.

    The Big Ten was the only conference with more teams (5) that were ranked in this year’s preseason poll.

    To compare, here is the number of ACC teams that have been ranked in the AP’s Preseason Top 25 over the last ten years:

    • 2003-04: (4 ACC teams ranked in the AP’s Preseason Top 25)
    • 2004-05: (6)
    • 2005-06: (5)
    • 2006-07: (4)
    • 2007-08: (3)
    • 2008-09: (4)
    • 2009-10: (5)
    • 2010-11: (4)
    • 2011-12: (2)
    • 2012-13: (4)

    Four teams included in the preseason polls seem to be pretty much the norm for the ACC. No signs of a major letdown here.

Out of Conference Records

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    Reviewing the 12 ACC teams’ out-of-conference records would help to gauge how the schools are doing this year so far.

    As of games played by Saturday, December 29th, seven ACC schools (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech) have won at least nine games already in the 2012-13 season.

    That sounds up to standard, doesn’t it?

    This puts the ACC as No. 4 among all Division I conferences in terms of winning percentage:

    1. Big East (81.5 percent)
    2. Big Ten (79.9 percent)
    3. Mountain West (79.5 percent)
    4. ACC (74.6 percent)
    5. Pac 12 (72.5 percent)
    6. Big 12 (72.4 percent)

    To compare, here are the ACC’s non-conference winning percentages and rankings over the last ten years:

    • 2003-04 (78.2 percent; ranked No. 1)
    • 2004-05 (75.1; No. 1)
    • 2005-06 (73.6; No. 1)
    • 2006-07 (74.8; No. 1)
    • 2007-08 (72.7; No. 3)  
    • 2008-09 (78.1; No. 1)
    • 2009-10 (76.6; No. 2)
    • 2010-11 (68.4; No. 5)
    • 2011-12 (66.0; No. 6)
    • 2012-13 (74.6; No. 4)

    While the conference is not performing as it did a few years ago, they are far from falling off the college hoops cliff.

RPI

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    One of the ways that NCAA college basketball teams are ranked besides polling the media or coaches is the Ratings Percentage Index or RPI.

    Wikipedia's RPI article explains how the index is calculated:

    In its current formulation, the index comprises a team's winning percentage (25%), its opponents' winning percentage (50%) and the winning percentage of those opponents' opponents (25%). The opponents' winning percentage and the winning percentage of those opponents' opponents both comprise the strength of schedule (SOS). Thus, the SOS accounts for 75% of the RPI calculation and is 2/3 its opponents' winning percentage and 1/3 times its opponents' opponents' winning percentage.

    The same formula is used to figure conference RPI.

    The ACC’s current conference RPI rank is No. 3, behind the Big Ten and Mountain West. The following is the conference RPI Rank for the last ten seasons:

    • 2003-04 (No. 1)
    • 2004-05 (No. 1)
    • 2005-06 (No. 4)
    • 2006-07 (No. 2)
    • 2007-08 (No. 1)
    • 2008-09 (No. 1)
    • 2009-10 (No. 2)
    • 2010-11 (No. 5)
    • 2011-12 (No. 6)
    • 2012-13 (No. 3 – partial season)

    Considering where the ACC’s RPI has been the last two years, No. 3 doesn’t look too bad, does it?

March Madness Participation

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    One of the most common ways that people assess the strength of a conference is by how many teams make it to the NCAA Tournament. The ACC is usually well represented in March Madness.

    In the last ten years, the ACC has sent seven teams to the tournament twice (2007 and 2009), six teams twice (2004 and 2010), five teams twice (2005 and 2012) and four teams three times (2006, 2008, 2011).

    We will have to wait for this season to play out before we will see how many ACC teams will represent the conference in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. However, at this point in the season, CBS Sports.com’s Jerry Palm, their Bracketology expert, predicts that the ACC will send five.

    If Palm is right, we are likely to see Duke, NC State, North Carolina, Maryland and Miami in the field of 64.

    That won’t exactly blow anyone away, but it’s not a sign of conference collapse.

    And, really, isn’t it more important to see how far teams go, not just how many play in the opening round?

NBA Draft Picks

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    One final way to assess the strength of a conference is to look at how many players are selected in the NBA Draft.

    And, the ACC is usually one of the conferences with the most players selected.

    Here are the numbers of ACC players who have been selected since the 2004 NBA Draft:

    • 2004: 3 players selected
    • 2005: 9
    • 2006: 7
    • 2007: 9
    • 2008: 4
    • 2009: 9
    • 2010: 9
    • 2011: 7
    • 2012: 8

    NBADraft.net 2013 Mock Draft currently predicts the following ACC players will be taken in this year’s Draft:

    • Alex Len (Maryland)
    • Mason Plumlee (Duke)
    • James Michael McAdoo (UNC)
    • Lorenzo Brown (NC State)
    • C.J. Leslie (NC State)
    • Erick Green (Virginia Tech)
    • Michael Snaer (Florida State)

     

    It is possible that all of these ACC players, plus others like Reggie Bullock (UNC), T.J. Warren (NC State) or Rasheed Sulaimon (Duke) will go in this year’s Draft?

    If so, then this will be a strong Draft class for the conference, not a weak one.

Conclusion

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    Top to bottom, the Atlantic Coast Conference is down from past years.

    When North Carolina enters conference play not ranked in the Top 25, you know that the league has dropped off.

    However, the ACC is not the weakest it has ever been.

    Duke is not only No. 1 right now, but they have the talent and experience to win it all.

    Though NC State State and North Carolina got off to uneven starts, the Wolfpack and Tar Heels will again make deep runs come March.

    And who knows, Maryland and Miami could even make some noise in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.

    The sky is not falling.

    The ACC is going to be okay.

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