And then, finally, there were no more games against the likes of Southeastern Louisiana (we’re looking at you, Florida State and Georgia Tech) and Central Connecticut State (come on, Boston College), and the strange trips to faraway lands – Kansas City, Kan., Kissimmee, Fla. – ceased.
And then, finally, conference games began in the ACC. Well, we’re close enough, anyway. The start of the conference season is upon us and will begin Wednesday with North Carolina’s game against Clemson at the Smith Center.
The Tigers have never won in Chapel Hill and if they make history this week, it would happen with the entirety of the Clemson media corps in South Florida preparing to cover the Tigers’ game against Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff. No matter, though.
While football season continues on in other parts, the real part of the college basketball season will begin this week. But not before a look back at the best and worst of the nonconference season for each ACC school, and some thoughts on what’s possible during the next three months:
Boston College (6-6)
The good: The Eagles beat Harvard for the second consecutive season, after losing six straight to the Crimson. That victory is the Eagles’ best, according to kenpom.com.
The not-so good: Losses to Michigan State and Providence aren’t bad, but they came amid a six-game losing streak that also included defeats against Santa Clara (No. 244, according to kenpom.com) and Massachusetts-Lowell (No. 308). That’s not so good.
Best-case: The Eagles, behind Eli Carter and freshman Jerome Robinson, surpass last season’s four ACC wins.
Worst-case: An 0-18 regular-season finish in the ACC isn’t entirely likely, but it’s not entirely unfathomable, either.
The good: The Tigers have managed to avoid completely embarrassing defeats like, say, the ones they endured early last season in consecutive games against Winthrop and Gardner-Webb.
The not-so good: Clemson hasn’t beaten anyone of consequence, either, and has lost against any halfway-decent competition it has faced. The Tigers lost, too, against not-so-decent Massachusetts (No. 146 in Pomeroy rankings) and Minnesota (No. 150).
Best-case: With their size and defense, the Tigers scrape together seven or eight ACC wins and they play with enough grit to be a tough out in the league tournament.
Worst-case: An 0-9 start to ACC play is possible thanks to a brutal first half of the conference schedule, and such a thing would all but assure the second losing season of coach Brad Brownell’s tenure.
The good: The Blue Devils looked great, especially offensively, in a dominant victory against Indiana and they own a decent neutral-court victory against Virginia Commonwealth. Several players – Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram, Amile Jefferson, when healthy – have excelled individually, at times.
The not-so good: Jefferson will be out an undetermined amount of time with a foot injury and the significance of his absence can’t be overstated. Without him Duke is a team in flux, and a team without an established and consistently productive post player.
Best-case: Duke’s individual parts – and you can be sure that roster full of former high school All-Americans still is the envy of most coaches in the ACC – comes together to form a strong, cohesive team and Duke advances to the Sweet 16 with a chance to go further.
Worst-case: Another surprising but not-so-surprising early exit from the NCAA tournament after the Blue Devils either fail to mesh or fail to overcome various shortcomings, like the lack of depth in the post.
Florida State (9-2)
The good: Freshmen Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley have helped infuse some excitement back into a program that had lost some momentum the past couple of seasons.
The not-so good: The loss against Hofstra in the third game of the season is exactly the kind of thing that could come back to haunt the Seminoles if they’re on the NCAA tournament bubble.
Best-case: The Seminoles improve significantly as the season progresses – not a stretch given their youth – and they make their way back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012.
Worst-case: Florida State wins eight or nine conference games for the fourth consecutive season and it’s not enough, once again, to secure an NCAA tournament bid.
Georgia Tech (9-3)
The good: The Yellow Jackets came close to winning every game they should have won to this point, which is saying something for a program that has had its share of bad losses in recent seasons.
The not-so good: Another bad loss – this one against East Tennessee State at home. That can’t happen for a program trying to dig itself out of a deep hole.
Best-case: The Yellow Jackets finish 7-11 in the ACC, which would be their best conference record under coach Brian Gregory.
Worst-case: Another season with an overall losing record, would be the Yellow Jackets’ fourth in five years under Gregory and it likely would warrant a coaching change.
The good: The Cardinals have blocked out the “distractions” surrounding them and have dominated a mostly weak nonconference schedule.
The not-so good: Louisville lost to the only two good teams it has faced so far – Michigan State and Kentucky – though those defeats came by a combined six points.
Best-case: In what appears to be a wide-open season in the ACC, Louisville seems capable of winning the regular season and/or the ACC tournament. Neither were expected entering the season.
Worst-case: Coach Rick Pitino, and his team, crack amid the pressure of a burgeoning scandal that derails a once-promising season.
The good: The Hurricanes enter conference play with some of the best nonconference victories – against Utah, Butler and Florida – of any ACC team.
The not-so good: Miami’s loss is a puzzling one, a 78-77 defeat at home against Northeastern.
Best-case: Guards Angel Rodriguez and Ja’Quan Newton and center Tonye Jekiri lead the Hurricanes to a second- or third-place finish in the ACC and to the Sweet 16 in Miami’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013.
Worst-case: Ten conference wins or fewer would indicate the Hurricanes didn’t realize the potential they’ve shown in November and December.
North Carolina (10-2)
The good: The Dec. 1 victory against former ACC foe Maryland at a rocking Smith Center represented the high point of the nonconference season.
The not-so good: The Tar Heels have yet to be fully healthy, what with Marcus Paige missing the first six games and then Kennedy Meeks suffering a bruised bone in his knee that has forced him out.
Best-case: The injury woes cease, UNC plays to its potential – especially Brice Johnson and Meeks in the post – and the Tar Heels end the season in Houston in the Final Four.
Worst-case: Barring more injuries, anything less than a return to the Final Four, where UNC hasn’t been since 2009, would feel like a disappointment.
N.C. State (9-3)
The good: Cat Barber has been even more valuable and clutch than anticipated in leading the Wolfpack to a respectable recovery after a season-opening defeat against William & Mary.
The not-so good: That 18-point defeat at the start of the season against William & Mary, which is a favorite in the Colonial Athletic Association but still shouldn’t be beating the Wolfpack by 18 on the road in the season opener. N.C. State has had its share of injuries, too.
Best-case: Terry Henderson is effective when he returns from an ankle injury and Barber continues to make the most of his 38 minutes per game, doesn’t tire and leads the Wolfpack to a gritty 9-9 ACC finish, which would put N.C. State in NCAA tournament bubble territory.
Worst-case: The lack of help and all of the minutes take their toll on Barber, who can’t do it all while N.C. State stumbles to a 6-12 league record and misses the NCAA tournament for the first time under coach Mark Gottfried.
Notre Dame (8-3)
The good: The victory against Iowa (No. 17 in Pomeroy rankings) will help if the Fighting Irish find themselves on the fringe of an NCAA tournament at-large bid, which is possible if not probable.
The not-so good: Notre Dame lost by a combined three points against Monmouth and Alabama, both on neutral courts, and those are the kinds of defeats that come back to haunt bubble teams in March.
Best-case: Zach Auguste, Demetrius Jackson and company play well enough to finish with 11 ACC wins, which should be good enough for Notre Dame to avoid any bubble speculation.
Worst-case: Poor defense (Notre Dame is 167th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com) leads the defending ACC tournament champs to an 8-10, or worse, finish in the conference.
The good: The Panthers have won every game they should have won to this point.
The not-so good: Those victories don’t amount to much when the best one is against Davidson, and Pitt lost to Purdue, the only top-50 opponent it has played.
Best-case: The nonconference schedule offered few tests but, at the least, Pitt looks like an NCAA tournament team – and one that possibly could make the second weekend behind a formidable duo of Michael Young and Jamel Artis.
Worst-case: A 9-9 league record – depending on where those nine victories come from – could leave the Panthers’ NCAA hopes in doubt, again, entering the ACC tournament.
The good: Coach Jim Boeheim is back sooner than anticipated and will miss only three conference games, and not nine, because of an NCAA-mandated suspension.
The not-so good: St. John’s couldn’t beat Fordham, Incarnate Word or the New Jersey Institute of Technology, but it beat Syracuse.
Best-case: Just making the NCAA tournament would qualify as a successful season for the Orange, but Syracuse probably needs 10 or 11 ACC wins to feel good about its chances.
Worst-case: The St. John’s loss is a sign of things to come and Syracuse finishes with its first losing season in the ACC and misses the NCAA tournament in consecutive years for the first time since 2007-08.
The good: Just more of the same for the Cavaliers under Tony Bennett – stingy defense, efficient offense and some strong nonconference victories, including one against Villanova (No. 7, according to Pomeroy).
The bad: Virginia slipped up in its second game and lost at George Washington. But since then: nine consecutive victories.
Best-case: Behind seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Anthony Gill, Virginia takes the next step and reaches the Final Four after another regular-season ACC championship.
Worst-case: Another memorable regular season ends for the second consecutive year with a loss on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Virginia Tech (8-4)
The good: After a terrible season-opening loss against Alabama State the Hokies’ other defeats are nothing to be too ashamed about.
The not-so good: The struggle still is real in Blacksburg, as is Buzz Williams’ formidable rebuilding project. A victory against Alabama-Birmingham, in overtime, probably is Virginia Tech’s best win.
Best-case: The Hokies have won two conference games in each of the past two seasons, so anything more than that represents improvement.
Worst-case: Another 2-16 finish, which is possible given that Virginia Tech only plays against Boston College once.
Wake Forest (8-3)
The good: The Deacons defeated Indiana and UCLA, which, as they appear now, are Wake Forest’s best nonconference victories in years.
The not-so good: A home loss against Richmond kept this from being about as strong of a start as Wake Forest could have mustered in Danny Manning’s second season.
Best-case: Wake Forest is the (positive) surprise of the ACC, wins 10 or 11 league games and goes dancing for the first time since 2010.
Worst-case: The Deacons’ porous defense (it’s the worst in the ACC, according to Pomeroy) is too much to overcome and they fall back to Earth amid a five- or six-win ACC season.