At the start of the year, pundits took pleasure in picking NC State to win the ACC. The thought was that the Wolfpack had added a spectacular recruiting class to an already strong team. But after two early season stumbles, NC State has fallen to the tail end of the top 25.
Other than NC State and Duke, no other ACC team is ranked. With Duke holding the nation’s top spot, there is some sentiment that this Blue Devils team is among the heaviest favorites in ACC history to win the conference in the regular season.
While Duke is a favorite heading into conference play, the Blue Devils aren’t heavy favorites and certainly not historically heavy favorites.
First of all, being in the top 25 is fairly arbitrary. Thankfully, this isn’t college football so there is a tournament at the end of the year to sort out the best team in the country rather than having to rely on polling and computers.
So, just because there are only two ranked ACC teams doesn’t mean that Duke is looking at a conference cake walk.
NC State wasn’t a sexy pick just because pundits wanted to sound controversial—the Wolfpack actually do have a ton of talent. Depending on which sports book you looked at in November, NC State were +150 to win the ACC while Duke came in at +225. Vegas knew then that NC State would be good and although the Wolfpack have undergone some growing pains, the potential to be one of the nation’s best teams is still there.
Let’s not forget that of NC State’s two dropped games, one of them was against a solid Oklahoma State team at a neutral site and the other was at Michigan.
NC State does have some legitimate problems, but so does Duke. When these two teams meet, thinking the Blue Devils have anything more than a slight advantage would be overly confident.
Then there are the other ACC teams.
Maryland lost the first game of the season to Kentucky, but the Terrapins have since rolled over a stream of mid-majors. Though they don’t boast any marquee wins yet, Maryland will be a strong tournament team by the end of the season. Plus, they’re perfectly set up to exploit Duke’s rebounding weakness and play good enough defense to hold down Duke’s offense.
North Carolina may not have sorted out their center spot yet, but James McAdoo is going to cause all sorts of fits for Duke on defense. And the rivalry game is usually a dogfight in at least one of the two games.
Virginia has a fantastic defense, Miami bangs on the low blocks with the best of them, Florida State always gets after Duke and Georgia Tech seem to be playing well in their new arena.
Yes, Duke should walk over Wake Forest and Clemson to start conference play. But the dog days of the conference season will prove that the ACC regular-season title is going to be tightly contested.
The Blue Devils haven’t won an outright regular-season title since 2006 (in 2010 they shared the regular-season title with Maryland). There’s a reason for that. The ACC is a minefield of good teams that trip you up and as few as three conference losses could cost a team the regular-season championship.