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Barry Jacobs On #1 Ranked ACC Teams

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Today's cliché to contemplate: Games aren't played on paper.

If they were, undefeated UNLV easily would have handled Duke to repeat as NCAA champion in 1991, and undefeated North Carolina would have beaten UNLV the other night to retain its No. 1 ranking. Instead, the Runnin' Rebels lost when they were heavily favored to win and then, 21 seasons later, won when they were expected to lose.

There are some who insist an early defeat is a good clarifying experience for a highly ranked, veteran basketball team like North Carolina. As a rule, this is silly.

On the other hand, when you have a seasoned unit there's always the danger of complacency. Sometimes the expectation of success supercedes the commitment to earn that success. In such circumstances a coach can harness an early stumble to focus players' attention.

As Duke's Mike Krzyzewski notes from time to time, there's also value in getting a nonconference opponent's read on your team's weaknesses when there's still time to make adjustments. Of course Krzyzewski usually mentions this in connection with late-season ventures outside the conference, the sort virtually no other ACC coach dares. But the point is well-taken.

So the Tar Heels' 90-80 loss to UNLV in the Las Vegas Invitational championship game could have long-term benefits for winner and loser alike. And, despite dropping four spots in the poll, it won't necessarily have an adverse long-term effect on UNC's standing.

Over the past 30 years a total of 14 ACC teams, including the current Tar Heels, were ranked No. 1 in the preseason Associated Press poll. None went undefeated during the regular season. Many bounced back to the top of the ratings heap - of the ACC's 13 previous No. 1's at the start of the season, eight finished first in the final AP poll.

Seven of those eight also won the ACC Tournament.

Three of those preseason No. 1s from the ACC went on to win the NCAA title and two more reached the Final Four. That's nearly 40 percent; someone knew something.

North Carolina's loss to UNLV in the third week is far from the earliest stumble for an ACC preseason No. 1. The quickest defeat was suffered in 1985 by Georgia Tech, which lost during the season's opening week. Two UNC clubs surrendered their unblemished mark and top ranking in week two - the 1987 and 1994 Tar Heels.

Duke in 1999 and UNC this season fell in the third week.

The 1992 Blue Devils matched the 1984 Tar Heels at getting deeper into the season than any other ACC No.1 over the past three decades before suffering their first defeat. The '92 Duke squad, the defending national champs, were so impressive, however, that they never fell out of the top spot. Not after losing, not all season.

No other team that was a preseason No. 1, from the ACC or anywhere else, has since gone through an entire season without relinquishing the top position in the poll.

The '84 UNC squad dropped to second in the first week in the poll without being defeated. The Heels bounced back to the top the following week, and remained there throughout the season.

Fate Of Preseason No. 1 Teams From ACC After First Loss
(Weeks At Top Includes Preseason)

Year School Week
Rank In Week After
1st Loss
Loss In
Game # 
At Top
Finish Rank ACC Tourn.  NCAA  Tourn.
2012 No. Carolina 3rd 5 6 -- -- -- --
2011 Duke 10th 4 16 11 3 Won Sweet 16
2009 No. Carolina 8th 3 14 9 2 Semis Champion
2008 No. Carolina 11th 5 19 14 1 Won Final Four
2006 Duke 11th 2 18 14 1 Won Sweet 16
2002 Duke 8th 2 13 14 1 Won Sweet 16
1999 Duke 3rd 4 6 8 1 Won Final
1994 No. Carolina 2nd 4 3 5 1 Won 2nd Round
1992 Duke 12th 1 18 18 1 Won Champion
1987 No. Carolina 2nd 5 3 3 2 Finals Elite 8
1986 Ga. Tech 1st 2 2 1 6 Finals Sweet 16
1984 No. Carolina 12th 1 22 16 1 Semis Sweet 16
1983 Virginia 5th 4 9 5 4 Finals Sweet 16
1982 No. Carolina 9th 2 14 11 1 Won Champion

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