Perhaps the most shocking development of this college basketball season — more surprising than Tennessee’s roller coaster ride of a season, Kansas State’s inability to win a game, or UConn’s rise into the top ten — has been the train wreck that is the ACC.
Duke is a legitimate national title contender at the top of the conference, but there hasn’t been another ACC team ranked since North Carolina was 25th in both polls back on November 22nd.
Then you go and look at the league standings. Three teams sit atop the conference at 3-1. One of those teams is Duke. The other three? North Carolina, who is coming off of a 20 point loss to Georgia Tech; Boston College, who has lost to Yale and Harvard already this season; and Florida State, who has beaten Duke but also lost to Auburn.
How bad are things in the ACC?
Many folks seem to think that 11-6 Maryland is the second best team in the conference because they have kept it close against a number of good teams.
It got me to thinking — which isn’t always a good thing — is the ACC worse than the Pac-10 this year?
Its a legitimate question to ask at this point, as the Pac-10 can boast two teams ranked in the top 25 of the Coaches Poll. Arizona snuck in at 25th this week after moving to 15-3 on the season with a win over Arizona State.
According to RealTimeRPI, the ACC is the fifth best conference while the Pac-10 checks in at sixth. But the RPI doesn’t tell the whole story, and as anyone that follows college hoops will tell you, Kenpom’s rankings tend to be a better gauge of a team’s true standing.
And some of the differences between the RPI and Kenpom’s rankings are startling.
For starters, Washington is 20th in the RPI, which is about where they are slotted in both major polls. But Kenpom has the Huskies as the fifth best team in the country.
That’s far from the craziest jump a team makes. Maryland is 91st in the RPI, largely because they haven’t been able to close out games. According to Kenpom, the Terps are 14th in the country, 77 spots higher. Virginia Tech (76th in the RPI, 27th in Kenpom), Clemson (90th in the RPI, 46th in Kenpom), and Florida State (66th in the RPI, 43rd in Kenpom) also make big jumps. In fact, Boston College and Miami are the only ACC teams that Kenpom tabs as “overrated”.
The Pac-10 is not quite as skewed as the ACC. The only team whose Kenpom rank has a noteworthy difference between the RPI and Kenpom’s rankings is Oregon State, who checks in at 222nd in the RPI but 128th in Kenpom. The rest of the league? Its fairly accurate. USC (87th in the RPI, 54th in Kenpom), Washington State (59th in the RPI, 38th in Kenpom), Arizona (28th in the RPI, 20th in Kenpom), and Stanford (96th in the RPI, 73rd in Kenpom) are all underrated while Cal (52nd in the RPI, 74th in Kenpom) is overvalued while UCLA is actually dead on, 63rd in both rankings.
In this completely unscientific study, its tough to argue the Pac-10 is better. The ACC is ranked higher in the RPI, and the conference’s second and third best teams are significantly underrated according to Kenpom’s data.
Think about it like this — the Pac-10 has just ten team in the conference. Two teams may be ranked, but two teams — Oregon and Arizona State — are borderline atrocious this year. Oregon State, who has lost to Utah Valley State, Texas Southern, and Seattle — has three league wins. Stanford, who was a favorite to be the league’s cellar dweller coming into the season, also has three league wins.
Teams like Arizona or UCLA or Washington State may be able to compete with the group of teams fighting for second in the ACC. But the depth and quality of teams fighting for second in the ACC is better than that of the Pac-10.
The ACC is not good by any standard this season, particularly the ACC’s standards, but they have not yet dropped to the Pac-10’s level.