What makes the ACC so special is the competitiveness and the level of pressure that comes along with it. So the fact that Duke and Virginia meet Sunday with both teams having significant front court injuries and with both coaches less than thrilled with their teams recent play, rather than guaranteeing a lame game, suggests quite the opposite.
Dave Leitao was so upset after his team's disaster at Xavier (and losing by 38 points) that he locked his team out. As far as we're aware, Coach K was the first guy in the conference to do this, but so far this season, both Leitao and Gary Williams have followed suit, barring their players from all the perks their fancy new arenas provide.
Leitao has really pushed his team hard since that fiasco, and you can be sure after ten days, his players are tired of hearing about it.
In Duke's case, the loss to Pitt was not well received, or at least the perceived lack of toughness wasn't anyway, and the two games since (following the well-documented long layoff) weren't works of art although they were both wins.
As far as injuries go, Virginia has gotten the worst of it, with most of the damage in the frontcourt. Solomon Tat and Tunji Soroye have only played in two games. Soroye has had knee issues but now it's his back. Guard Sammy Zeglinski is lost for the year. Lars Mikalauskas is out against Duke.
That said, you just have to go with what you have.
The injuries haven't helped, but Virginia's strength is on the perimeter, and that's basically fine, and it starts with Sean Singletary.
When he won the national title in 1977, beatiing UNC, Al McGuire famously said, "cut off the head and the body dies." Butch Lee played the game of his life against Phil Ford and sure enough, the body died.
Same deal here. If Duke controls/cuts off Sean Singletary, Virginia is all but done. But that's easier said than done.
Duke surely hasn't forgotten his brilliant performance in Charlottesville last year, and most of us probably remember that stone cold look the camera caught after he hit that phenomenal shot to make it clear he wasn't letting his team lose.
But that team didn't have a lot to throw at Singletary, and this one does. Between Greg Paulus, Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer DeMarcus Nelson, and Gerald Henderson, Duke can keep someone fresh on Singletary throughout. Nelson will be the primary defender - he was guarding Singletary on that shot last year before a defensive switch.
But while Virginia starts with Singletary, they also have a deep perimeter. Mamadi Diane and Adrian Joseph are both really athletic and capable of offensive explosions.
Jeff Jones has had a nice freshman year so far, and Mustapha Farrakahan is capable. Calvin Baker, who transferred from W&M to walk on, has been a huge asset.
At 6-8, Mike Scott has been pressed into service down low, but he's not Leitao's first choice in the post.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of the Xavier loss for Leitao was his team's feckless defense (Virginia gave up 18 threes to the Musketeers, who got to earn their nickname).
It's been a theme for Duke too. After the Pitt game, Coach K was not happy with his team at all. He questioned the toughness, the lack of rebounding from some players, and against Cornell, he made some changes, starting Nolan Smith and Brian Zoubek. Zoubek would have started against Temple except for his injury. Lance Thomas played against Cornell but had to sit out the Temple game with a respiratory issue and it's not certain he'll play against Virginia.
But as far as the frontcourt goes, Duke brings Kyle Singler, who has had a solid freshman year thus far, and Gerald Henderson, and probably Dave McClure, who is rounding into shape, and possibly Thomas, if he's healthy.
Both teams face some difficulties and some obstacles. But given what looks to be a wild ACC season, if Saturday's games are any indication, no one can afford to give up anything. That's the ACC - first game of the conference season, and it's already critical. Unreal.