After three years of turmoil the ACC has settled at a new equilibrium. With the addition of Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Louisville, the conference is as strong as it’s ever been. And with no more changes coming on the horizon, perhaps now is the time to sit back and embrace the new ACC.
Or maybe not. Conference solidarity is a nice ideal but has never truly defined ACC basketball. The beating heart of the conference has always been the bitter rivalries of the Tobacco Road schools – rivalries that have been divisive rather than unifying. Further flying in the face of ACC solidarity is the perception that the league has a vested interest in the continued success of Duke and North Carolina occasionally at the expense of other less marketable members.
Why not fan these flames by harnessing both the xenophobia of large portions of the charter members and the lingering Big East swagger of the newest additions? We’re pitting the new school vs the old school, the blue bloods vs the new bloods, Greensboro Coliseum vs Madison Square Garden. Yep, it’s time for the first annual ACC–ACC Challenge: Blue Bloods vs. New Bloods…
The official rules of the inaugural ACC–ACC Challenge:
1) The competition will be a season-long battle between the older members of the conference versus the newer, based on head-t0-head ACC matchups. An uneven number of 15 teams in the conference does leave one oddball, and after much deliberation we decided the team sitting out this season will be FSU. (Not only are they perfectly in the middle of the ACC’s 15 teams in terms of membership date, they’re also not very good this year.)1
2) So, with the Seminoles sidelined this season, the breakdown goes as such:
Greensboro Coliseum Division – Duke, UNC, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Clemson
Madison Square Garden Division – Virginia Tech, Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse
3) RaleighCo will not only track the standings of the ACC–ACC challenge and provide weekly updates, but will also post picks for all ACC–ACC matchups and feature ACC–ACC matchups of the week.
(Quick FAQ: Despite being the biggest rivalry in sports history, the Syracuse-Duke matchup will not receive any additional weight. Games officiated by Karl Hess will indeed count. And to be clear, the winning side won’t determine whether the ACC tournament is played in Greensboro or NYC…yet.) Now on to the picks…
Games of the Week (1/3 – 1/9)
Pittsburgh at NC State (1/3) – While to my knowledge no equivalent to “NC State Stuff” exists in the Pittsburgh vernacular, the Panthers may be one of the few schools in the ACC that can rival the Wolfpack in terms of heartbreak. From the Scottie Reynolds buzzer beater in the 2009 Elite Eight to the bizzaro finish of the Panthers’ 2011 matchup with Butler, Pitt fans have had more than their fair share of disappointment in March. Perhaps a move out of the grinding Big East to the ACC will lead to fresher legs and more postseason success for the Panthers.
In contrast to Pittsburgh, NC State always seems capable of making noise in the tournament when they get there — thanks in part to the lingering memory of the 1983 “Survive and Advance” run. And under Mark Gottfried the Wolfpack have done just that: make the NCAAs. Led by transfer Trevor Lacey the Wolfpack are looking to make their fourth consecutive tournament appearance this season and have quietly reestablished themselves as a factor in the ACC with Gottfried at the helm.
Last year Pittsburgh beat State in Raleigh behind the play of North Carolina native James Newkirk. While NC State struggled with another physical team in Cincinnati earlier this week the Wolfpack have also played a much tougher nonconference schedule than the Panthers. NC State starts off ACC play on the right foot with a win here.
Notre Dame at North Carolina (1/5)
If Pitt-NC State matches two fanbases known for expecting disappointment, UNC-Notre Dame do the exact opposite. While the Fighting Irish favor the gridiron over the hardwood, both fanbases have a tendency not to let reality get in the way of expectations. And in the same way UNC’s self-set standard of greatness trickles over to the football program, the inverse happens with Notre Dame and basketball. When it comes down to it winning is not only something these schools expect — it’s something they feel entitled to.
The game itself is the only matchup of two ranked teams in the challenge this week. Notre Dame enters with the better record but North Carolina played the tougher non-conference schedule. Having Jerian Grant back from last year’s suspension has been a huge boost for the Irish, and if the game was in South Bend they would be the pick. But in the Dean Dome I’m taking North Carolina in a nail biter.
The Rest (picks in bold):
Georgia Tech at Notre Dame (1/3)
Boston College at Duke (1/3)
Virginia at Miami (1/3).
Louisville at Wake Forest (1/4)
Syracuse at Georgia Tech (1/7)
Clemson at Louisville (1/7)
- The Seminoles joined in 1991, 13 years after GT joined and 13 years before Miami and VT joined. ↩