Taking a closer look at the ACC race
Because of unbalanced scheduling, the ACC can be difficult to comprehend
Stare at the ACC standings all you'd like, just don't expect to see it in 20/20 vision.
The same can be said for any conference where unbalanced schedules reside, including the Big Ten, the SEC and the Pac-12.
On Saturday, Syracuse and Duke played one of the best regular-season games the league has seen since its inception in 1953. The Feb. 22 rematch certainly will be heavily anticipated as the Orange visit Cameron Indoor Stadium for the first time.
But want to see the matchup between first-place Syracuse and second-place Virginia? Sorry, it's not until March 1. It's their only regular-season meeting. And it's in Charlottesville.
So, to help get a clearer view of the ACC, let's take a closer look.
No team epitomizes the skewed view of an unbalanced schedule better than Florida State. The Seminoles are 4-5 in the conference. But three of those losses have come to Virginia (twice) and at Duke. With six of their past nine games against teams at .500 or with losing records in the league, they will have a chance to make up ground.
FSU also will have a chance for marquee wins at Pittsburgh and against North Carolina and Syracuse when those teams visit Tallahassee.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi had six ACC teams receiving bids to the NCAA tournament in his latest installment of Bracketology. He had the Seminoles as a No. 9 seed, but, after their third loss in a row dipped them below .500 in the league, they're a bubble team that could be replaced by Clemson.
Clemson has proved to be horrible at times on the road, as evidenced by its 33-point loss at Pittsburgh. The Tigers should get a pass for losing at North Carolina, given that, you know, they have never won in Chapel Hill in 57 trips there. A win at Florida State and a 13-point home win over Duke make Clemson intriguing.
Some teams don't need a dilated look at their schedules.
Syracuse can list wins over Villanova and Duke in bold on its résumé as well as quality wins over Baylor, Indiana, Pittsburgh and California. The fact that the Orange are one of only two undefeated teams is testament to their toughness.
Duke has adapted to playing with a size disadvantage. Despite the Blue Devils' setback at Syracuse, they've regained their balance after starting conference play 1-2. Duke's potential stumbling blocks will come in its old rivalry games with North Carolina and at Wake Forest along with its rematch against new rival Syracuse.
Virginia clumsily stumbled through its nonconference schedule but has hit its stride in ACC play. The Cavaliers take a five-game win streak into Wednesday's game at Boston College. Their toughest two games remaining might be at Clemson and against Syracuse at home.
Earlier in the season, the Cavs might have been the most disappointing team in the league. That distinction now belongs to Boston College. The Eagles, with the talent they had returning, were at least expected to be a competitive, middle-of-the-pack team. They started the season with a three-game losing streak and never recovered. Their only two conference wins came against Virginia Tech.
Despite the dismissal of leading scorer Jerian Grant, Notre Dame started off its debut season in the league with a shocking win over Duke. Since then, the Irish have been exposed and are seemingly left to compete with the lower half of the league.
Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami fit the same profile. The Hurricanes, however, are that team no one wants to see. Miami is very disciplined and deliberate, which, on any given night, could produce an upset. Just ask North Carolina.
Pittsburgh is the most difficult team to make out. The Panthers haven't won a marquee game yet -- with losses to Cincinnati, Syracuse, Duke and Virginia. Things should get clearer next week when the Panthers get the Orange at home and travel to Chapel Hill.
The same could be said of the Tar Heels, who will face Duke on Feb. 12 before playing Pitt. UNC's current four-game win streak has come in games it was favored to win.
Maryland, NC State and Wake Forest are built with the same frame. They're all capable of playing well at home but have produced disasters on the road. For example, the Terrapins' 85-61 loss at Florida State, the 95-60 debacle the Wolfpack suffered to Duke and the Demon Deacons' 74-51 beatdown at Virginia.
All three could finish with a winning record or, at worst, a .500 record in the league, but so far none has made a splash. Consider their records against the top six teams in the league: Maryland 0-3, NCSU 0-4, Wake 1-5.
Those records alone show the ACC standings aren't exactly what they seem.