January 21, 2010
Stunned. That was me this morning when I saw the Duke-N.C. State result. I watched the beginning of the game, after I watched UNC get hammered by Wake Forest 82-69. But I didn't expect it to end with State ahead 88-74. Thus is the nature of conference play in ACC basketball this year, and most years. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night is an understatement. That's why, come tournament time, I never let conference play affect the way I pick my brackets, for any conference. That's because I believe, more times than not, that conference play is not a true barometer of how strong a team actually will be in national competition. It's just too finicky. There are too many rivalry games and home court advantages and coaching tricks in play. Not to mention, referees just don't officiate regular-season games the same way they do the NCAA Tournament (why can't they just call it like they see it?). In past NCAA Tournament pools, I've picked the teams that were hot at the end of the season — the ones that were freshest in my mind — only to watch them fizzle out in the postseason. The best (and most recent) example that comes to mind was in 2006-07, when I was taken by watching Maryland hammer Duke from press row at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Terrapins finished the regular season on a seven-game winning streak that year. I was so impressed, not only did I favor them on my All-ACC ballot, I picked them to come out of their bracket in the NCAA Tournament. They were bounced 62-59 by Butler in the second round. Nowadays, I make my NCAA Tournament picks before Christmas, and nothing short of a catastrophic injury or a total collapse will make me change them. Sure I get burnt when George Mason makes it to the Final Four or Georgia Tech plays for the national championship. But most years, it's the handful of teams that are there in the beginning of the season that are there in the end. So I guess I'm not all that stunned. I wasn't going to pick Duke or UNC anyway.