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The 500?

Well, this very likely won’t be the first ACC basketball season where every single team finishes with an 8-8 record. While it looked for a while that the entire conference might finish at .500 in league play, and a bunch still might, a bit of separation has taken place in the standings. There is also the little matter of the league’s ‘other’ major in-state rivalry.

It turned out there was nothing wrong with Carolina that the sight of El Sid’s red blazer couldn’t cure. The Heels finally seemed to decide to pay attention to concepts such as play to your strengths and dispatched NC State with a Second Half blitz. While the good ole N&O hastens to inform us that the danger is past and Ol’ Roy will never lose another game, ever, there might be at least one more, somewhere around the NCAA’s round of eight. While Carolina continues to boast of the greatest assemblage of basketball talent in the ACC, it remains very young talent, most likely a year and another stellar recruiting class away.

As for State, while El Sid continues to make progress, as the big win over Duke demonstrated, the Pack is still a bit away from making the ACC’s Big Four again a reality. A couple of high-profile guards wouldn’t hurt one bit.

Another of North Carolina the state’s laser-sharp basketball points of focus, Duke, continues to muddle along. Despite the always-high ranking and the enormous exposure, the Devils have firmly planted themselves as a Sweet Sixteen team, not bad but a far cry from the days of yore when a Final Four was expected. As has been the case for the last few years, Duke is an incomplete team.

Watching them play, it is hard not to imagine how this team would look if anchored in the middle by Greg Monroe and on the perimeter by Elliot Williams. But, Monroe is playing for Georgetown instead of Duke and while Williams was around Methodist Flats for a year, he returned to Memphis to be nearer to his very sick mother. Left behind is a team that is pretty good when the jump shots are falling, but very beatable when they are not.

Duke hasn’t been quite the same since ace recruiter Quinn Snyder left a while back to wreck the Missouri program. Now longtime right-hand man to Coach K, Johnny Dawkins, is gone, too, gathering head-coaching experience at Stanford while waiting out Coach K catching Bobby Knight’s victory total. Wojo and Chris Collins don’t seem to be quite the replacements. Duke is still plenty good, just no longer world-beaters.

Around the rest of the ACC, Gary Williams is riding his two senior guards for all he can get, which at the moment is the top of the league standings. That will likely change, but nothing beats senior guards and Vasquez and Hayes are pretty good ones. Dino Gaudio has a very good one at Wake, too, in Ish Smith, plus a tremendous inside talent in Aminu. The downside is that Gaudio is still very much engaged in on-the-job head coach training. Oliver Purnell has done a heck of a job at Clemson, but still manages to lose just enough to keep his Tigers from attaining elite status in the ACC. Paul Hewitt continues to bring in top-shelf talent to Georgia Tech, but much of it never sticks around long enough to mesh as a coherent team. At the other end of the spectrum and standings is Miami, looking very much like an utter train wreck. Frank Haith should have gotten out of Coral Gables while the getting was good.

While Carolina and State received much attention for their Tuesday night clash in Raleigh, the meeting between the ACC’s other two major in-state rivals isn’t generating much attention outside of the Commonwealth of Virginia and not a hell of a lot inside. Well, it ain’t football. While the football meeting between Tech and the Hoos features at least one pretty good team and generates enormous interest, basketball meetings have tended to be a bit more casual.

Much of this is due to the Hoos having dominated the series for decades, using their stable ACC membership to establish themselves well above the conference-hopping Hokies. That began to change when Tech joined the ACC and Terry Holland went from fielding excellent teams to, along with protege Craig ‘Tubby, coaches come and go but I stay’ Littlepage, hiring coaches. At least for the time being, the Tech basketball rivalry with the Hoos is a competitive if not earth-shaking one. It certainly is more competitive than what currently exists in football.

Tony Bennett is the latest to take a crack at resurrecting Hoo basketball to Holland-esque levels. Like Jeff Jones, Petey and Fallback Dave before him, Bennett has experienced some early success, at least until going on the road to Wake. It remains to be seen whether Bennett is the Answer, although it is astounding that, after his 3-0 ACC start, Littlepage didn’t extend his contract for 20 years.  Like Tech coach and blabbermouth Seth with Malcolm Delaney, Bennett this year is riding one player, all-everything Sylven Landesberg. Provided the overused Delaney is upright and capable of extended quality minutes and Landesberg can avoid the foul trouble that plagued him at Wake, this just might be a pretty good game.

So, it looks like this won’t be the year the ACC sends the NCAA Tournament committee into seizures by having all teams finish at 8-8, .500 in the conference. The Canes have staked out the bottom of the standings. At the other end, Carolina remains the best team on paper, while Duke is still the most recent Duke, if not the old one. How the other nine teams finish will be determined over the next six weeks. The ACC may not be the best conference around this year, or even the second or third, but, it is still a lot of fun.

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