Selection Sunday is on the horizon, and in ACC Country March Madness 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.
THE BLUES: As they do each year, North Carolina and Duke close out their regular seasons against each other Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It’s easily one of the most anticipated and hyped college basketball games annually, but it seems as though there may not be as much juice leading up to this rematch.
Perhaps the ongoing college basketball FBI probe and related scandals continue to distract from the actual product on the court. Maybe with the variety of entertainment options and dozens of ways to track sports scores and news, it’s much more difficult for any regular season game to be appointment TV.
But it also just might be that the Duke-Carolina rivalry simply hasn’t meant as much in recent years. With Virginia running away with the ACC regular season crown, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels are just playing for second place. More specifically, UNC is trying to hang onto the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament, but could easily find its way into a three-way tie for second with Duke and Clemson. North Carolina State could even make it a four-way tie.
This is nothing new. It’s been a while, since 2012 to be exact, since the Duke-Carolina game in early March was to decide the ACC’s regular season title. It’s becoming increasingly rare that Duke and Carolina have exceptionally great teams at the same time. The Devils and Heels are still great programs and very good teams, both are on their way to earning No. 2 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
But it doesn’t have the same feel as an unofficial tip-off to March Madness when these two meet. The urgency to see two national championship contenders is growing more rare. Times change, and the days of the traditional Blue Bloods owning the ACC appear to be over.
COACH OF THE YEAR?: There will be some debate for the ACC Coach of the Year award. Roy Williams has gotten some love for the way North Carolina has turned its season around. Brad Brownell coached his way off the hot seat at Clemson.
But really, the honor should come down to North Carolina State’s Kevin Keatts and Virginia’s Tony Bennett. NC State has won four games in a row, beaten North Carolina, Duke and Arizona this season, and could finish tied for second in the league. That’s all in Keatts’ first season in Raleigh where he took over a mess left by Mark Gottfried.
Bennett has taken a UVa team that began the year unranked all the way to the No. 1 ranking in both national polls. A win at Louisville would make Virginia the first team in conference history to go 9-0 on the road in league play. And Bennett has done it without a sure-fire first-team All-ACC pick on his roster.
A vote for either Keatts or Bennett would be well deserved.