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Barry Jacobs On ACC Stratification

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There will be other milestones, other clarifying moments between now and the end of the 2011-12 men's basketball season. But, for now, when members of the North Carolina squad cite a reference point for their vulnerability, a gut check that propelled them to become the team that's a favorite to win this year's NCAA title, they invariably reach back to last Jan. 16 and a bitterly decisive defeat.

"Coach really pushed us after that," UNC playmaker Kendall Marshall recalled this summer, referring to Roy Williams. The 20-point loss left the Tar Heels with "a chip on our shoulder," the sophomore said.

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Months later, as practice commences, memories of that defeat linger. "Georgia Tech was a game that none of us were proud of," senior Tyler Zeller says.

Carolina won 17 of its next 19 contests after falling at Atlanta, the exceptions a pair of losses to Duke, before flaming out against Kentucky in the NCAA regional finals.

The bumble against the Yellow Jackets (who toyed with the nickname "Golden Tornado" during the 1930s) proved the only stumble in 2011 by top finishers UNC and Duke against any team that wound up in the league's bottom half. The pair combined to go 16-1 against the six also-rans, a 94.1 winning percentage.

So much for the top-to-bottom balance the ACC boasted over the years. While this once may have been true, it surely wasn't last season.

Last season's top six squads - in order, North Carolina, Duke, and Florida State, with Clemson, Boston College, and Virginia Tech tied for fourth at 9-7 - were 45-10 against the bottom six. That's an 81.8 percent success rate.

The top three were 24-2 in competition against the also-rans in 2011. That equates to victory 92.3 percent of the time.

Happily for them, Duke, Boston College, and Virginia Tech each played 10 games against bottom-dwellers, compared to only seven by UNC.

Virginia recorded the most upsets. The Cavaliers' three wins against upper-division foes helped them finish tied for seventh with Maryland at 7-9 in the ACC and 16-15 overall.

Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Miami each recorded a pair of wins against the top half of the league.

Wake Forest didn't beat anybody from the first division. In fact, the '11 Demon Deacons beat only UVa in finishing 1-15, fewest wins by an ACC squad since Maryland in 1989 (1-13) and the most league losses ever.

This season, count it as an egregious loss if an upper-division squad -- a group that almost certainly starts with Carolina, Duke, and FSU - loses to Georgia Tech, Wake or BC, the teams most likely to trail the field.

Last year's bottom three - N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Wake - were 3-24 against the top six.

FEEDING ON BOTTOM DWELLERS
Wins By Top Finishers In 2011 Versus Second-Division Finishers, ACC Action
(Listed By Order In ACC Standings)

School Overall
W-L, ACC
W-L Vs.
Bottom 6
Exceptions
North Carolina 14-2 6-1 Georgia Tech
Duke 13-3 10-0 None
Florida State 11-5 8-1 Maryland
Clemson 9-7 6-3 Maryland, NC State, Virginia
Boston College 9-7 8-2 Miami, Miami
Virginia Tech 9-7 7-3 Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia
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