The Atlantic Coast Conference has long heralded itself as the premier basketball conference in the country.
This year, that hasn't been the case.
Besides No. 7 Duke, only one other ACC team has been ranked in the Top 25 this season. North Carolina was No. 18 in the second poll of the season, then lost two in a row. In the preseason poll, Florida State was No. 20 and Virginia No. 25; both lost in the opening week and fell out of the rankings.
It's been a season of ebbs and flows for the ACC.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said one reason for the inconsistent play is that the talent level is down this year.
“It usually comes down to players, so the level of marquee talent in the league is not what it has been,” Bilas said. “And I think you can go down the list of teams that are in the league and say, `Is this team as good as it once was over the past several years? At any point in the past several years?’ And the answer for the majority of them is going to be no, they’re not as good.”
NCAA Tournament projections suggest that unless several teams finish strong, the league’s stretch of five seasons with at least seven teams in the 68-team field -- the ACC sent nine in 2017 and 2018 -- is in jeopardy.
Wake Forest and Notre Dame (17-7, 10-3) have a shot, receiving Top 25 votes, but neither is close to cracking the rankings. Virginia had a big win this week against Duke, while the Tar Heels (17-7, 9-4) continued their up-and-down season with a win against Clemson.
The victory for the Cavaliers (15-9, 9-5 ACC), which came after a 71-58 victory against Miami on Saturday, could significantly boost their hopes of making an eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament, but they'll need to maintain that momentum with six remaining games.
Virginia's upcoming slate includes visits to surging Virginia Tech, winners of four straight, and the Hurricanes (17-7, 9-4), and a home date with Duke.
“Hopefully we grew up in this game, and we’ve certainly got a lot more left,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said after Reece Beekman’s 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left won the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who is winding down his 42nd and last season at Duke, said his team needs to realize there is urgency in the home stretch.
“These teams are fighting for NCAA bids. Virginia has such a rich tradition -- they’re an outstanding program -- and they play really well,” he said.
Reasons vary as to why the ACC has struggled depending on who is asked.
Miami Coach Jim Larranaga thinks the number of players that leave each year, many before exhausting their eligibility, causes teams have to incorporate many new players, and it often takes a good part of the season to develop cohesion.
The ACC has had 52 players selected in the NBA draft the past five seasons, with 33 going in the first round. Many others are in the league as free agents.
“The ACC has been the standard-bearer in college basketball for decades upon decades," Bilas said. "And if you look at the talent across the league, the first question I would ask is how many first round NBA draft picks are there?” he said. “And it doesn’t take very long to go through the list.”
Notre Dame's Mike Brey said, “we probably didn’t do enough as a league” in non-league games, but thinks the way seasons are evaluated has become a bit too based on analytics instead of the eye test — how they are playing now.
“There’s probably too much math in this by now,” he said. “I sure as hell hope we’ve got some basketball people on that committee that watched teams play and get a feel for how teams are playing.”
That math, however, shows league teams with a 16-26 record against teams from the other four power conferences, a 4-16 mark against ranked teams from other leagues and a 2-8 mark against the Atlantic 10.
Steve Forbes has turned Wake Forest’s program around in his second season, and said the Demon Deacons (20-5) didn’t help the conference’s cause with a weak non-conference schedule.
“We had nine new players, or 10,” he said. “We didn’t know what we really had before the schedule was made. Maybe that has something to do with it.
“For me personally with my team, we don’t talk about that because the best way to fix it is to keep winning. And then they can’t say anything. That’s kind of where we’re at with it.”
As are several other teams in advance of Selection Sunday on March 13.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25