The Atlantic Coast Conference added three schools this season from the former Big East in Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. All three were in the NCAA tournament last year. Those teams join the storied programs on Tobacco Road and the other schools in the conference to form what John Swofford referred to as “the strongest collection of basketball programs ever assembled in one conference.”
Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News wrote about the early struggles of the conference, noting all the bad losses, and that the conference is ranked 10th in the RPI.
How bad has it been at the start of the season for this grand collection of teams?
ACC Teams are only 3-8 against teams from the other top conferences, those that are going to provide almost all the at-large teams for the tournament (Big XII, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big East, American, Atlantic-10, and Mountain West). Those wins are against Georgia, South Carolina, and West Virginia, three schools that had losing records a year ago. I’m fairly certain the conference has not added a win over a NIT team, let alone one that will be playing in the Big Dance.
That, of course, will change. ACC teams still have eight games against teams currently ranked in the top ten, and 28 games against teams that received votes in the latest AP poll. They will win some of those. They need to win more than their share to make up for the early issues with league teams.
The biggest issue is the bad home losses. ACC teams have lost six games to teams outside the top conferences. Those losses have an impact on the future RPI, especially considering the league hasn’t collectively played a very tough schedule at all. RPI for individual teams will change greatly in the next few weeks as many haven’t even played a quality opponent yet. Still, that #10 ranking is forboding, and it will not be good for the league’s hopes in March of placing several teams if it doesn’t rise, say, higher than 5th or 6th.
To try to estimate the impact, I used Ken Pomeroy’s current win projections for each team, and figured a future record, and future strength of schedule for each team (I guesstimated the opponent’s opponent’s schedule, which is also 25% of the RPI formula). For example, I am looking at Virginia as a 22-8 team playing their ACC schedule and non-conference schedule. I took that RPI estimate and compared it to where the same score would have ranked at the end of the last regular season.
Here are the projections for end of regular season RPI for all teams in the top 80. A team really wants to be in the top 40 to be safe, and the top 60 to even be in at-large consideration.
- Duke (11)
- Virginia (28)
- Pittsburgh (30)
- North Carolina (34)
- Syracuse (36)
- Florida State (54)
- Maryland (58)
- Notre Dame (59)
- Clemson (70)
- Georgia Tech (78)
We can debate the RPI all day (and I’ve made my position on that clear in the past and disputed the notion that Pomeroy’s rankings reward efficient losers while the RPI rewarded winners). Pragmatically, we know that the committee will use the RPI as a tool to frame their selections and seeding.
Keep in mind that Pomeroy’s rankings, by the way, have the ACC as the third best conference. The problem from an RPI standpoint is all those home games against bad teams, some of which have resulted in losses. I don’t think all those ACC teams will ultimately be seeded in the 6 to 8 range. They will probably get adjusted up a few seed lines. However, if things don’t change, they will have a ceiling where it will be difficult to have multiple top four seeds from the ACC.
The best way to change that is quality wins and road wins, because some of those bad non-conference opponents you cannot do anything with at this point. I detailed issues with the weak easy victories on the schedule dictating RPI, as it related to the ACC versus Mountain West last year. ACC teams have several such games that look like they are going to collectively sink the RPI numbers this year.
Some of the drop off this year was foreseeable. Miami had a veteran group and lost most of them, and would be hard-pressed to duplicate last year. NC State was also going to be in rebuilding mode. Other teams that could have stepped up, like Boston College, have been disappointments. Georgia Tech looks capable of being a tournament team, but followed the Georgia win with a key home loss to Dayton.
Teams like Florida State, Notre Dame, and Maryland really need the conference to start winning those quality games. It could make the difference between being on the right side of the bubble when the committee blindly lines up the RPI numbers, and being on the wrong side, just like Virginia and Maryland were a year ago.
You may view December as relatively meaningless in college basketball. Not for the ACC. They need results, or they may be looking at only five teams from a powerful group of fifteen come March.