For the second straight season no ACC team faced a league rival before January. Besides eliminating one more reason to gripe about the primacy of Duke and North Carolina, which rarely played ACC games in December, the lack of early conference contests eliminated another yardstick for measuring relative strengths and differences.
Just another adjustment to life in a league where it’s unclear whether you should care anymore what Maryland does, even as the turncoat Terrapins roll to a likely 12-game winning streak against largely inferior nonconference competition.
Better, perhaps, to pay closer attention to the four programs waiting to join the ACC fold in the near future. So what if the Big Ten has six teams ranked in the top 25? So does the ACC – if you count members-in-waiting Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh.
Louisville, of course, slid into the ACC lineup after the Terps cast their lot with the Big Ten. Both moves spiced up what was otherwise a fairly predictable fall for the ACC.
Football season came and went with the usual bottom line -- wait until next year.
Unless you’re Frank Spaziani or Tom O’Brien.
As for men’s basketball, nearly two months into the season matters have gone pretty much as anticipated.
Sure, some details could not be anticipated:
Duke beating three top-five teams within a two-week span.
Florida State, the defending ACC champion, losing at home to South Alabama and Mercer.
Miami, projected as an upper-division contender, losing to Florida Gulf Coast.
N.C. State, the league’s preseason favorite in some quarters, putting forth desultory effort in a 20-point defeat by Oklahoma State.
Virginia Tech getting off to its best start in 30 seasons (7-0) under James Johnson, a first-year head coach.
Individually, few projected Duke’s Mason Plumlee as the early favorite for ACC player of the year, or Rasheed Sulaimon as the best rookie.
N.C. State’s Rodney Purvis was supposed to be the top freshman, but teammate T.J. Warren has quietly mounted a threat to the league record for shooting accuracy, making 68.9 percent of his 103 field goal attempts through a dozen games.
And no one imagined the Hokies’ Erick Green would lead the nation, let alone the ACC, in scoring.
For all that, the main topics of basketball discussion as January dawns are hardly unexpected.
Duke atop the national polls? What else is new? Mike Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils have now been ranked No. 1 in 16 different seasons. This is the 107th week they’ve topped the Associated Press poll.
The Blue Devils won every game prior to year’s end, the eighth time since 2001 they’ve started with at least 10 straight wins.
Logic and precedent suggested Duke, with three senior starters and more McDonald’s All-Americans than any team in the country -- not to mention Krzyzewski on the sidelines -- was apt to be formidable. Returnees also had the goad of stinging embarrassment from their loss to little Lehigh in last year’s NCAA tournament opener.
Many observers, anxious to see something different, looked at N.C. State’s hot finish in 2012, along with four returning starters and a stellar freshman class, and immediately anointed the Wolfpack the ACC favorite.
Then the Pack lost twice, including at Michigan - the Wolverines remain one of four undefeated teams in the nation along with Duke, Arizona, and Wyoming. Those stumbles caused opinion to shift so abruptly, Mark Gottfried’s club dropped entirely from the polls.
Some of the same over-enthusiastic prognosticators touting N.C. State in preseason rushed to call the team a disappointment, demonstrating the thinness of their conviction.
The Pack followed the Michigan loss with six straight wins. A team bristling with offensive weapons, N.C. State paces the nation in field goal shooting.
Not to worry -- there’s still room on the bandwagon, especially if State knocks off Duke at Raleigh on Jan. 12.
A few years back all the talk was about upgrading the league’s coaching, and the inevitable rise in prowess that would bring.
Gottfried is doing his part. As for the rest, we’re still waiting.
So far only four ACC teams beat ranked opponents in 2012-13, none on hostile courts. Overall the league has a losing record in such meetings.
Krzyzewski engineered half of the wins -- over Kentucky, Louisville, and Ohio State. Miami topped Michigan State, North Carolina subdued UNLV, and Virginia Tech bested Oklahoma State.
To be fair, early stumbles by Miami and Virginia came without key, injured starters.
UNC is exactly as expected – young, highly perimeter-oriented, lacking a reliable inside presence, and probably a year away from its customary eminence. FSU is even less seasoned, with seven freshmen to incorporate into its lineup.
Maryland has exceeded expectations, but has played all but two games near or at College Park. The Terps’ second road contest comes on Jan. 13 at Miami in their 16th outing of the year. That game lost a good bit of its luster with the news that
Georgia Tech, at 9-2, may be the true surprise in the bunch. Last year at this time Brian Gregory’s Yellow Jackets were 7-6; they would win only four more times in 18 tries and finish in a four-way tie for last in the ACC.
The Jackets are indicative of a minor resurgence -- for the first time in three years, no ACC team will have a losing record entering league play.
Whether that means anything is anybody’s guess.