Conference spotlight: The ACC

By By Matthew Piper

By Matthew Piper

The New Year has begun and fans of big-conference NCAA football programs seek to fill a great void in their lives. If you’re one of those people who have to fill your weekly quota of collegiate dominance, or if you seek a fitted cap that is appropriately seasonal, you need look no further than the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Just as always, the ACC contains the highest concentration of grotesquely athletic super mutants in college basketball, minus the few who got the early call-up to the ACC’s parent organization, the NBA. And as always, they boast of more top 25’s than Courtney Love has in E!’s “Most Embarrassing” series.

No. 3 North Carolina, No. 4 Wake Forest, No. 5 Duke and No. 8 Georgia Tech all factor prominently in pre-tourney projections -and a handful of others are sure to contend for bracket slots. In the meantime, they are barreling their way through unfortunate non-conference competitors. ACC teams have gone 103-24 in non-conference play as of Thursday, and conference losses account for a higher percentage of their total losses than for any Division I conference.

Pole sitters North Carolina Tar Heels (14-1) are led by a trio of scorers averaging more than 15 points a game. Four of their starters appear to be destined for the NBA draft, and the consensus opinion stands that time is of the essence for Roy Williams’ squad. Rashad McCants is one of the few players left in college basketball capable of creating his own shot, Raymond Felton has emerged as a savvy floor leader and Sean May provides a dominating presence underneath. They are shooting an unconscious 52 percent as a team, including 45 percent from Trey Wingo land. Since their opening-game loss to Santa Clara, the Tar Heels have run off 14 straight victories. Only one of their margins of victory has been within 10 points, and 11 have been more than 20. While Illinois has shown no signs of relinquishing the top spot in the rankings, it may have to start shooting exclusively left handed to impress voters as much as North Carolina’s huge victories of late over difficult opposition.

Wake Forest (14-1) is also talent-loaded. Sophomore point guard Chris Paul, widely considered the best player in the country, has almost been overshadowed of late by the exploits of sharpshooter Justin Gray. Big Eric Williams prevents teams from guarding solely against these perimeter stars, and is a large part of the reason that Paul is shooting an absurd 58 percent for three. Skip Prosser’s only loss this year came to Illinois, and the rest of the schedule has been no cakewalk. Already ranked sixth in national schedule strength, 11 of the team’s next 15 are against ranked opponents. The Demon Deacons face the Tar Heels this Saturday (at 11:30 MST on ABC) in a battle for the conference lead.

Coach Krzyzewski has led Duke to an undefeated (11-0) start that would surely satisfy most basketball fans, but they haven’t proved themselves against the same competition as the conference leaders. Nevertheless, they have two of college basketball’s best pure shooters in J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing, and Sheldon Williams has contributed 12 rebounds and 3.6 blocks a game. The team lacks nothing in potential, and will be sure to garner more attention when it engages more heavily in conference play.

Georgia Tech (11-3) kept in tact the roster which performed so well in the NCAA Tournament last year, and it is still a force. Jarret Jack, B.J. Elder, Will Bynum, Luke Schenscher and high-flying Isma’il Muhammed all continue to perform at a high level-and the Yellow Jackets have one of the deepest lineups in the nation. However, North Carolina hammered the Techies 91-69 on Wednesday, and it will be interesting to see how well they recover.

The lower-profile ACC teams have also been performing well. Maryland’s multitasking John Gilchrist has shined for Gary Williams, though he sat out most of Wednesday’s loss against the Demon Deacons because of a missed academic assignment. Robert Hite has led Miami to an 11-3 start, and NC State (10-4) and Clemson (10-5) are also firmly on the path to postseason play.

“Bottom dwellers” Florida State, Virginia Tech and Virginia have combined for a 25-15 record, which speaks volumes about the overall talent in the ACC. No conference in basketball attracts more big-name players, and they will continue to dominate for some time until national TV contracts go elsewhere.

This is not likely, in a sport where conference rivalry games draw better ratings than games of significant relevance to overall rankings.

The ACC is, and will always be, the highest echelon of college basketball. It has multiple rivalry games that happen to coincide with the overall rankings every week.

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