Let’s be honest, from Syracuse to Charlottesville down to Tobacco Road, the real holiday season has little to do with Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas lights or menorahs. The true reason we celebrate in ACC country is the start of college basketball season. Each week in this space we’ll take a look at the most interesting and important happenings around the league that made college hoops a national phenomenon.
BIG 12 BLUES: As we noted in a previous installment, the ACC is having itself a really nice non-conference run. That includes dominating the ACC-Big Ten Challenge once again. But the Big 12 continues to be a thorn in the side of ACC programs in the regular season.
Over the past few days, Syracuse and Virginia each suffered their first losses of the season, to Kansas and West Virginia, respectively. Overall, the Big 12 is 3-1 against the ACC with Duke’s victory against Texas the only one for the East Coasters.
Last season, the Big 12 went 6-1 against the ACC without playing a game on a Big 12 homecourt. And the Big 12 wasn’t beating up on the dregs of the league, the record included victories against Duke, Virginia and Louisville teams that were ranked in the Top 10 at the time.
Now, the ACC has enjoyed quite a bit more NCAA Tournament success in recent seasons — North Carolina not only gave the ACC a win against Oklahoma State last year, it delivered a national title — but the regular season rivalry between what have become the top two basketball conferences has caused a bit of hand wringing amongst ACC faithful.
AS GOOD AS ADVERTISED: I haven’t written a ton about Marvin Bagley III in this weekly column because, frankly, what can one say that hasn’t been said about the super talented Duke freshmen.
But I’ll take some time just to acknowledge that Bagley, who reclassified to join this season’s Blue Devil squad and make it national championship favorites, is living up to immense hype. The Duke big man is leading the ACC in scoring and rebounding, averaging 21.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. And those averages are skewed negatively by the Michigan State game, in which he injured his eye and scored just four points in 10 minutes.
Beyond that he’s come to play each and every game, yet brought his best in the biggest matchups. Bagley had 34 points and 15 rebounds in the overtime victory against Texas and followed that up with 30 and 15 against then No. 7 Florida and 23 and 10 at Indiana.
There have been years when either North Carolina’s Luke Maye or Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson would have been runaway favorites to win ACC Player of the Year with the season’s they’ve been having. But both veterans are taking a back seat to the Blue Devil’s one-and-done phenom.
NOT DEAD YET: Time to give some credit to the Wake Forest and Pittsburgh teams I’d previously been hard on, particularly the Demon Deacons, who look like a completely different team than early in the season.
Both Wake and Pitt lost four of their first five games against a schedule that should have been loaded with cakewalks for a decent ACC team. Both have improved to 5-4 and given their fans at least a glimmer of hope of salvaging the season.
Pitt’s winning streak is more fool’s gold than Wake’s. The Panthers, who lost to Penn State by 31 (IN MEN’S BASKETBALL!) have now snuck past High Point, Duquesne and Mount St. Mary’s with single-digit wins.
The Deacs, though, look seriously improved and/or past whatever issues where hindering the shockingly bad start. They beat a solid UNC Greensboro squad, blew the doors off Richmond and handed Illinois its first loss of the season. Those aren’t the kind of games that will build much of an NCAA Tournament resume, but perhaps the program hasn’t gone completely off the rails either.