Luke DeCock

Like the weather, ACC season has gone against expectations – DeCock

N.C. State's Dennis Smith Jr. (4), center right, celebrates with Markell Johnson (11), left, after Johnson stole the ball during N.C. State's 104-78 victory over Virginia Tech at PNC Arena on January 4, 2017.
N.C. State's Dennis Smith Jr. (4), center right, celebrates with Markell Johnson (11), left, after Johnson stole the ball during N.C. State's 104-78 victory over Virginia Tech at PNC Arena on January 4, 2017. ehyman@newsobserver.com

As unpredictable as winter weather in North Carolina can be – and who knows if either of Saturday’s ACC games in the Triangle will even be played – the ACC has somehow managed to top that this season.

Georgia Tech beats North Carolina and turns around and gets blown out of the building by Duke, which was soundly outplayed by Virginia Tech, which then proceeded to get thoroughly hammered by N.C. State, which looked completely lost at Miami. The two worst teams in the league, Georgia Tech and Boston College, both won their ACC openers.

The one thing all those games had in common was the location, and home-court advantage appears to be a bit stronger than usual in the early going of the ACC season at 11-5, on pace to be the best home winning percentage in the league since 2010. That figures to revert to the mean eventually, but so far, home has been hospitable – for everyone.

All of which goes a long way toward saying, who knows what’s going to happen Saturday, assuming the blizzard doesn’t interfere? North Carolina will be heavily favored against N.C. State in Chapel Hill, but you never know who’s going to show up with either team. Will it be the Tar Heels who tore through the early season or the group that somehow lost in Atlanta? Will it be the Wolfpack that looked utterly baffled at Miami or the one that rode Dennis Smith Jr.’s triple-double to victory against the Hokies?

And Duke normally wouldn’t expect to struggle with Boston College at Cameron, but this will be the Blue Devils’ first game without Mike Krzyzewski, whose back surgery went as planned Friday, and as good as Duke looked against GT on Wednesday, the Blue Devils haven’t always hit that level. There are a lot of unknowns there as well.

The real phenomenon behind all this craziness is that the gap between the ACC’s elite teams and the rest of the conference hasn’t been this small in years – and that’s without the top teams losing any ground. Duke, North Carolina, (0-2!) Louisville and Virginia are all unquestionably among a very small group of national-title contenders nationally, but the rest of the league isn’t far behind.

If last season – when the ACC put an NCAA-record six teams into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and seven into the field – hinted at that depth, it’s been on full display so far.

Mike Brey continues to work miracles with some odd rosters at Notre Dame, and the Irish are one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country. Florida State, meanwhile, is the best team in the country no one is talking about, with perhaps the best nonconference resume of any ACC team.

Those two are the best of the middle tier, but N.C. State has three potential first-round draft picks and two transfers who scored double digits in other conferences, a talented mix as inconsistent as the Wolfpack has been on defense. Wake Forest continues to improve under Danny Manning, and this is his best-shooting team yet. Clemson is better. Virginia Tech and Miami are impeccably coached.

There are nine, 10, even 11 potential NCAA tournament teams in the group, even with Syracuse off the pace. Even the two presumed pushovers, Boston College and Georgia Tech, have proven to be otherwise so far.

So what happens Saturday? Snow. Beyond that, N.C. State and North Carolina will resume a rivalry that has produced some amazingly entertaining games in recent years, and Duke will proceed into the Krzyzewski-less future. If they play, that is. Like the ACC this season, with snow, you just never know what you’re actually going to get.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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