With the calendar about ready to flip over to April, Syracuse pulled a trick on us all and dumped roughly six inches of snow on the city during a time when most of the country is already wearing shorts. Locals might‚Äôve expected this, but trust an outsider to tell you that we weren‚Äôt at all ready. The schedule may be over, but the weather has now made it feel like we‚Äôre right back in Syracuse basketball season. SU closed out the year about three weeks ago, and since then we‚Äôve been enjoying a March Madness tourney filled with underestimated success stories like the now-immortal Saint Peter‚Äôs. Shaheen Holloway to ‚ÄòCuse rumors, anyone?
Speaking of underestimated, it‚Äôs beginning to look like we all did just that when discussing this year‚Äôs Atlantic Coast Conference. It‚Äôs hard to pinpoint the exact cause, but it appears most pundits and ball-watchers simply got the conference wrong. It‚Äôs very possible that ACC entrants Duke and North Carolina – half of this year‚Äôs Final Four – got hot at the right time, but it‚Äôs not like either one of those teams bumbled through an unimpressive regular season.
Looking back, it‚Äôs hard to find anyone on the Fizz who bricked their ACC analysis harder than yours truly back in late December, when a conference-wide poor start led plenty of people to hit the panic button. Apart from Duke, no other team brought very convincing early resum√©s to the table, which helps explain why the following scrutiny now lands with such a smattering thud.
‚ÄúThe conference seem[s] a little bit more like the seasonally-appropriate Land of Misfit Toys than a perennial basketball juggernaut‚Ä¶UNC might be your immediate gut pick [for second best], but‚Ä¶a closer look reveals their most impressive wins are over a disappointing Michigan team and some nearby non-con softballs‚Ä¶Miami‚Äôs record [9-3] is fooling no one‚Ä¶It may not be a single-bid year for the ACC in March, but things aren‚Äôt far off if current trends continue.‚Äù (OrangeFizz, 12/21/21)
For those of you keeping score at home, that‚Äôs a strong 0-for-3 performance from the paint. UNC‚Äôs season eventually reached a nadir with back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and Miami in late January, but Hubert Davis and company have caught fire to go 16-3 since. Forward Armando Bacot has been a machine in the tournament en route to upset wins over defending champion Baylor and UCLA.
Meanwhile, Miami took a 10 seed and promptly shed their paper tiger label for a more fitting ‚ÄúCardiac ‚ÄòCanes‚Äù moniker with upsets over USC and Auburn. The pesky Hurricanes went 7-6 this year when trailing at halftime, including 2-0 against SU. Miami ended up being one of five ACC teams to make the tournament, and every single one won at least one game.
So how did this happen? The most likely culprit for the apparent weakness of the ACC was a middling start for some of its teams, high-profile losses against tournament contenders, and in-conference cannibalizing. Take UNC, for example. The Tar Heels got off to an 8-3 start, but the losses were awful blowouts against Purdue, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Losses in-conference to Notre Dame and later Pittsburgh likely took some of the shine off North Carolina. They probably deserved an 8 seed in the tournament just based on resum√©, but Davis‚Äô team has outplayed it.
For Syracuse, the newfound strength of the conference is a good thing. It makes the Orange‚Äôs 16-17 mark sting just a little bit less knowing that they were blown leads against Miami or an inbound pass away against UNC from finishing on a much higher note – with both a winning record and victories over teams that have proven to be far more impressive than they looked. No matter how this year‚Äôs NCAA tournament shakes out, an ACC entrant will play in the National Championship. It should only serve as a point of motivation for SU and its gleaming Class of 2022 to come out swinging in the Fall to unseat an Atlantic Coast slate with newfound confidence.