Last night the No. 6 Duke Blue Devils took on the Maryland Terrapins, and the nostalgia sparks were flying throughout the Comcast Center.
Not only did it provide flashbacks to one of the fiercest and most underappreciated college rivalries that has since severely tempered itself, a former integral character was honored at halftime to remind us all of how great these matchups once were.
Unless you’re delusional as to the dilution this conference has seen in recent years, then you’ll agree that the ACC is not once what it once was. Depending on your age, it’s either not the ACC you grew up on or not the ACC you introduced to your kids.
You may even be too young to know how top-to-bottom great the league used to be.
When I was growing up in the late ’90s and early aughts the league was at its prime and Duke was my team. I was one of those fans who had zero affiliation to the school, but was a causality of the overexposure the Blue Devils received from the media. Despite my fandom, I really appreciated and enjoyed the league as a whole. It looked the best on television and didn’t play second fiddle to its football brethren.
I remember in the weeks leading up to John Feinstein’s March to Madness hardcover release I did a few more rounds of dishes to earn extra allowance money. Two weeks later, I knew every head coach’s and assistant coach’s name. Dave Odom, now a complete afterthought, was like a quasi-superstar to me. Now, I think that Jeff Bzdelik mans the Wake Forest sidelines.
Today the league somehow manages to get labeled as both top heavy and full of parity. The Blue Devils and North Carolina have won or shared the last eight league titles with minimal competition. During this span, the aforementioned Terrapins have simply struggled to keep up, North Carolina State hasn’t been able to consistently recruit elite high school talent, Virginia Tech began building a new part of their campus on The Bubble, and Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have become a collection of anonymous athletes.
Florida State, many congratulations are in order for them, but as fantastic as their recent play has been, it just makes the conference even more confusing. Now the Heels, once National Championship favorites, have major question marks, and Duke just doesn’t have the look of a premier team.
The go-to counter argument here is that top heavy and parity in the ACC is a great year in, oh, the Mountain West. But for the past season and a half the ACC has actually found themselves ranked behind the MWC in conference RPI rankings. They’ve also taken an inordinate amount of non-conference losses on the chin this season, which is part of an two-year low in wins out of conference since before 1980.
They’ve also lost that dang Big 10 – ACC Challenge the past three years!
Hasn’t a higher level of precedent been set for this “basketball first” BCS conference?
Within the league, yeah, Duke and UNC have almost always been the two most feared predators, but every other team seemed to at least boast one or two scoring threats that could keep games interesting and gyms packed. Now, famed student sections like the Cameron Crazies are showing up at a decreasing rate year-over-year. Something about camping out to see your school play middling Clemson on a Sunday night just doesn’t sound appealing.
You can say there is not enough fact to back up the claim this league is not what it once was, but to a man we know that the ACC simply felt different years ago. It provided excitement that generated chatter in school hallways and workplace water coolers every winter morning.
A lot of people used to want to talk about the ACC. Now we just talk about what it used to be.