The party was finally over in Coral Gables by the time North Carolina was wrapping up a comfortable win over Georgia Tech later Wednesday night. At the Smith Center, the pleasure in seeing the Tar Heels win was almost secondary to Duke getting blown out in Miami.
The two games, played two hours and 800 miles apart, had in common the defining principle of the ACC this season: It’s good to be home. That was true for Miami in its 90-63 win over the Blue Devils, true for North Carolina in its 79-63 win over the Yellow Jackets and true across the ACC. There just aren’t many teams in the league good enough to win on the road on a regular basis.
So it was Wednesday, as it was Tuesday when Wake Forest upset N.C. State in Winston-Salem, as it has been throughout the ACC this year. Home teams are 21-9 in the ACC. Among BCS conferences, only the SEC is close at 18-12. Home teams in the Big East and Big Ten are below .500 collectively.
This home-floor superiority has occasioned the El Ninoesque spike in court-rushings this season: at N.C. State, at Maryland, at Wake Forest, at Miami, at an ACC arena near you soon.
The ACC hasn’t seen home teams win games at this rate since 2003, and it’s setting quite a pace. The last time a conference had this big of a skew was the 2007 SEC, where home teams went 72-24. That disparity was a product of a top-heavy SEC that had five of the top 12 teams in the Pomeroy ratings, sent three teams to the Sweet 16 and produced a national champion in Florida.
These circumstances couldn’t be more different: If the 2007 SEC was a league of haves and have-nots, the ACC is all have-nots. The ACC’s situation is a product of mediocrity, a muddle of teams that are relatively evenly matched and therefore more likely to benefit from a home-court edge. That includes Duke and N.C. State, the supposed powers of the league.
That doesn’t really explain N.C. State’s loss to Wake Forest, but it certainly applies to Duke’s loss at N.C. State – where the PNC Arena atmosphere combined with Ryan Kelly’s absence to give the Wolfpack the edge – as well as Miami’s win over Maryland, Maryland’s win over N.C. State, North Carolina’s win over Maryland, and all the other results that have made a mockery of the transitive property this year.
As teams continue to hold serve at home, it’s entirely possible the ACC standings will be decided by the so-far rare road wins, all the more valuable for their scarcity. Miami is in first place by virtue not of Wednesday’s win over Duke but the Hurricanes’ three wins on the road.
It only underlines how closely packed the ACC is this year, with Duke weakened by the Kelly injury and N.C. State weakened by its unwillingness to play defense and Miami riding its road record and a big home win over Duke to the top of the standings.
Georgia Tech, which opened the season 10-2, has already dropped two home ACC games – to Miami and Virginia Tech – and now faces an uphill climb to avoid last place. And N.C. State is watching its own title dreams dissipate thanks to road losses to Maryland and Wake – title dreams given an initial boost by a road win at Boston College that grows more impressive by the day.