Today marks the half-way point in the ACC season, as 66 games have been played out of the 135 total this season. (We'll actually pass the 50% mark sometime tonight.) Happy half-way point, everyone!
Here are three things we've learned:
1. The strength and competitiveness of the conference are as advertised.
The ACC is a really good conference, and the top of the league is as good as we expected. That upper-tier includes UVA, Duke, UNC, Louisville, and Notre Dame (the only mild surprise up top). Duke has beaten Louisville and Virginia, who has beaten UNC and Notre Dame, who has beaten Duke and UNC, who has beaten Louisville, who has beaten UNC and Duke. Bottom line: It's a battle. All 5 teams are ranked in the top 12 of the AP Poll. But UVA's win over the Tar Heels last night put them back in the driver's seat for the conference crown. Here are the ACC standings:
Is the ACC the best conference in America? If you only consider the top of the league, the answer has to be "yes." But the ACC doesn't have the depth of the Big 12 or even the Big East - those would probably be considered the toughest conferences, top to bottom. This Ken Pomeroy piece tries to answer the question and agrees - the ACC has the most projected Sweet 16 teams and Final Four teams...but comes up third when looking at median strength.
Even the bottom of the league has started to come around. Florida State has seen a resurgence, winning 3 of their last 4, Georgia Tech and BC have poor records, but have lost many close ones (including a combined 3 games in OT), and the Hokies are miserable...but not quite as miserable as we've expected, as Buzz Williams has his team steadily improving - UVA fans almost learned that the hard way.
2. The ACC has 5 tournament locks...and 3 teams still fighting for a spot.
How many teams will the ACC get into the Big Dance? The five teams discussed above are no-doubters: Virginia, Duke, UNC, Notre Dame, and Louisville will be in the Tournament, with all likely seeded at 5 or better. After that, things get murky. NC State, Miami, and Syracuse have tournament hopes. Their RPIs (49, 54, 65, respectively) put them each in range of a berth, but in very dangerous territory.
The latest SB Nation Bracketology has Miami in as a 10 seed, NC State in the "last four byes," and Syracuse currently off the radar. Both the Canes and the Pack have marquee wins - mainly, each beat Duke (Miami's came on the road). But piling on bad losses like Miami did this week against GT and FSU (they've already lost to Eastern Kentucky at home) will hurt their chances. Still, it's a good bet that at least one of Miami or NC State is in the field.
Syracuse is a long shot at this point, but with two matchups against Duke and games with Notre Dame and UVA remaining, they could conceivably climb back into the conversation.
3. Virginia will be well-represented in end-of-season awards.
Last year, NC State's TJ Warren won the ACC Player of the Year award, with members of the conference champion Virginia Cavaliers shut out of the first-team. (However, Malcolm Brogdon made second team, Joe Harris third team, and Tony Bennett took home Coach of the Year honors.)
This time around, we'll probably see an even heavier UVA representation. Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon are both strong candidates to appear on the first-team, and Anthony Gill should garner consideration as well, though he's more likely to show up on second or third team. (Ken Pomeroy has all three on his ACC first-team. That's unlikely.)
At this point Jahlil Okafor (the frontrunner for POY) and Jerian Grant should be locks for first-team. I would add in Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon, and Louisville's Terry Rozier if I were voting.
(Second team? I'd go with Marcus Paige, Montrezl Harrell, Anthony Gill, Trevor Lacey, and Rakeem Christmas...but at this point, it's a bit of guessing game, and I'm going get myself yelled at.)
Here's to a thrilling second-half!