Thursday, April 10 2014 2:43 PM EDT2014-04-10 18:43:26 GMT
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(RNN) - Welcome to the new-look Atlantic Coast Conference, a remodeling job with nothing but bright orange, navy blue and gold splashed all over the walls.
Wow, what an image.
No. 2 Syracuse (17-0) and No. 22 Pittsburgh (16-1), both escapees of the Big East, face each other Saturday as the top teams in the ACC.
They are both atop the conference with 4-0 records and also ahead of every other ACC team in the national rankings. Duke is currently the only other ranked team at No. 23.
I would say stop the presses, but newspapers don't exist anymore (not to mention I tried to do that one time, and the press manager raised a wire cutter menacingly in my direction).
Back to my point: why is this surprising to anyone?
We know it's not surprising to fans of the old Big East, especially one writer who said the 12 teams behind the Orange and Panthers are all tied for 14th place in the conference. Harsh.
But for several years, both these teams have built a reputation on defense. And defense wins anywhere.
Need a little more convincing? OK, here ya go.
From 2007 to 2011, the ACC had a higher winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament (.600 vs. .589), but the Big East had more tournament bids (40 vs. 28). The Big East also had more teams reach the Sweet 16 (11 vs. 8).
In the past 10 years, four former Big East teams have won the NCAA Tournament, including last year's champion Louisville, compared to three from the ACC.
In last year's tournament, we saw twice as many Big East teams (eight) than those from the ACC. They produced a .647 winning percentage, better than the ACC's .600.
Then consider that only two ACC teams got past the first weekend last March. One of them, Miami, lost its entire starting lineup; and Duke lost all of its post presence, leaving wide-open territory for any newcomer could poach.
Of course, it is a long season, and four league games is hardly a fair sample size.
But get used to the new paint on the walls. The Orange and Panthers are likely here to buy, not to rent.
Saturday games (all times eastern)
Pitt at Syracuse, 4 p.m.
The Panthers played their first game Monday without sixth man and fourth-leading scorer Durand Johnson, who tore his ACL against Wake Forest.
Against Georgia Tech, Talib Zanna scored 22 and James Robinson scored 16, both doubling their season averages. It was an all-around great night.
No offense, but Georgia Tech isn't Syracuse.
Syracuse is as qualified as anyone to test an opponent's depth. The Orange's Jerami Grant, a bench player in name only, stands to gain the most if someone doesn't keep picking up the slack for Pitt. Teams have to pay a lot of attention to dynamic forward C.J. Fair, but Grant is a consistent double-digit scorer in his "reserve" role.
Fortunately, if there is one place Pitt is truly deep, it's the frontcourt.
The other big battle, and possibly the best one, is between the guards. Freshman sensation Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney are 1-2 in the ACC in steals.
Pitt's Cameron Wright is third, and Robinson leads the conference in assist-turnover ratio.
In other words, this will be an extremely fun game to watch.
Florida State at Virginia, noon
It's hard to score on either of these teams. Very hard.
FSU (12-4, 3-1) is ranked third in the nation in field goal percentage allowed and leads the ACC in blocked shots, while Virginia (12-5, 3-1) holds opponents to the sixth-lowest shooting percentage in the nation.
And chew on this. Six of the top 25 teams in the country in scoring defense are from the ACC, including Virginia (second) and FSU (25th).
I hope both teams use ice tubs for recovery because this type of game will warrant them.
NC State at No. 23 Duke, 2 p.m.
The Wolfpack (11-6, 1-3) is slipping back into old habits - dominating physically and undermining their potential with mental mistakes - and a textbook example was the team's 70-69 loss to Wake Forest on Wednesday.
NC State ruined the Deacons on the glass, ruined them in the open floor and then ruined a chance for a win with fouls.
Duke, though, has to be feeling pretty good right now. The Blue Devils (13-4, 2-2) climbed out of the bottom of the ACC standings [still can't believe I'm saying that] with a home win against Virginia this week.
The Blue Devils [again, I can't believe I'm about to say this] probably don't deserve that No. 23 ranking, but they can prove me wrong by taking care of the Wolfpack.
Wake Forest at Clemson, 4 p.m.
Don't mess with Clemson. These were my exact words a week ago: "If the Tigers lose [to Duke] by anything less than 12 points or - gasp! - win, we'll know they didn't just get fat on early season cupcakes."
Having humbled both the Dukies and Virginia Tech since, Clemson (12-4, 3-1) has shown it's a lean, mean, defense-playing machine.
And the Tigers are doing it with a centerpiece player who manages to be in two places at once - forward K.J. McDaniels leads the ACC in blocks and leads his team in 3-point attempts. Ironic much?
Wake Forest (12-5, 2-2) is opportunistic, if nothing else. The Deacons have beaten everyone they were supposed to beat and feasted on better opponents who showed the slightest signs of weakness (North Carolina, NC State).
A win against Clemson would be its first conference victory against a team outside its home state. It would also be only their second victory on the road in coach Jeff Bzdelik's tenure (1-26).
Also on deck:
Boston College at North Carolina, noon
Miami at Georgia Tech, 2 p.m.
Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 6 p.m.
Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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