March Madness is a month away, but in ACC Country it is always preceded by a Frantic February with teams jockeying for favorable seeds or one of the last spots on the bubble. 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.
CHANGE THE CHALLENGE: Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium, No. 2 Virginia and No. 4 Duke played the game of the season with each team rallying before the Cavaliers got out of town with a two-point victory.
But it was quickly overshadowed by the slate of high-profile matchups in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge, which culminated in the ESPN College Gameday featured contest of Kentucky at West Virginia.
The ACC is involved in something similar with its annual challenge against the Big Ten. But the Big 12 and SEC did something smart, scheduling their inter-conference festival in January rather than November.
The SEC-Big 12 games are strategically placed at a point on the calendar when the nation’s focus finally starts to move away from college football and casual fans begin to pay attention to college hoops.
Who, other than big Michigan and North Carolina fans, even remembers the Wolverines and Tar Heels played earlier in the season? Not enough people, that’s for sure.
Moving the ACC-Big Ten Challenge after the New Year would be a boost for a sport that needs ratings help, and provide the teams in each league with opportunities to boost their NCAA Tournament profiles later in the game.
The Ohio State-Clemson game would certainly generate a lot more conversation if it was played next weekend than it did in November.
Coaches might object, but it could be time for the ACC and Big Ten to reexamine the schedule.
PACK MENTALITY: Get ready to hear a lot about North Carolina State over the next few weeks. Not necessarily because the Wolfpack is among ACC or national title contenders, but because Kevin Keatts’ squad could be the most prominent and interesting bubble team to test the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s adjusted standards.
This year, the committee is placing each team’s wins and losses in four groups, with special weight given to games played away from home. For NC State, that means wins against Arizona and North Carolina will count for a lot. The win against Duke in Raleigh, slightly less so. The home loss to UNC Greensboro hurts quite a bit.
But for all the great victories the Pack has racked up, most of its non-conference schedule is essentially meaningless. This wasn’t supposed to be a good season for State, and the Pack loaded the schedule with winnable home games against bad teams.
That’s why, despite an impressive group of quality wins, most bracketologists agree NC State has some work to do.
That won’t stop plenty of people from crying foul if the Wolfpack is left out on Selection Sunday.