The 2021 men’s basketball season will be remembered in part for being shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic. But, lost in the musical-chairs shuffle of games, another key element of this discontinuous season is the stunning depth to which the ACC has sunk in popular estimation.
Perhaps it’s simply because flagship programs Duke and North Carolina have yet to emerge as dominant forces. Maybe it’s seeing Clemson and Virginia Tech, programs that dwell at the edges of conference consciousness, enjoy uncommon prosperity.
Maybe the ACC’s luster is dulled by the absence of attention-grabbing stars, or the lack of excitement that normally accrues as highly-acclaimed league teams take each other’s measure. Or maybe folks are simply tired of the praise the ACC routinely commands.
And, of course. there’s the possibility no ACC team is yet worthy of a top-10 rating.
Whatever the reasons, through the seventh Associated Press poll of the year (not counting preseason predictions) the ACC just endured a 5-week stretch without any of its members ranked among the top 10 in Division I.
Shockingly, that matches the ACC’s longest absence from the poll’s top tier since the first five weeks of the 1999-2000 season and, before that, a 9-week dip to end the 1960 season.
The ’21 disrespect comes just two seasons after the league finished with the top three teams in the AP poll, and four of the top 10. Last year was sufficiently humbling, with only Florida State weighing in among the top 10 with a No.4 ranking.
We’re not even halfway through the current season, and so it’s unlikely the arid state of affairs evident in the Jan. 11 poll will endure.
Still, it’s noteworthy – and a bit peculiar — that Louisville, ordinarily a national heavyweight, failed to break into the top-10 despite an 8-1 start. (And was promptly sunk at struggling Miami.)
Nor can we expect Clemson, the team that led the ACC armada at No. 12 last week, will be there at season’s end. No Clemson squad has ever finished with a higher rating; the best the Tigers achieved was 13th in 1987.
Across the history of the ACC, this was only the second time Clemson was the conference’s highest-rated member. Third, if you count their No. 19 status in the Jan. 4 poll as the 2021 calendar year began.
As in the past, Clemson’s exalted status was evanescent. Virginia, the over-rated preseason No. 4 in the poll, took care of that, crushing the Tigers at Littlejohn Coliseum, 85-50. But the Cavaliers, the only ACC team along with Duke that’s appeared in every poll this season, entered the game ranked 18th. Immediately reaching the top 10 from there is a substantial jump.
The other occasion Clemson led the ACC poll parade came on Jan. 20, 1997 when the South Carolina school concluded a 12-game winning streak and rose to second in the AP poll. That was the best rating Clemson ever achieved. It lasted one week.
Led by a perimeter of Greg Buckner, Terrell McIntyre and Merl Code, Clemson then lost 65-62 to Wake Forest in a battle of top-5 squads. The teams entered the game at Littlejohn with a combined 29-2 record. The Tigers followed the high-level defeat with a customary loss at UNC and dipped to seventh in the next week’s poll. The Tim Duncan-led Demon Deacons replaced them at No. 2.
Brad Brownell’s estimable 2021 club may well rebound to improve on its Week 7 poll position and set a new Tiger standard by year’s end. Clemson may even lead all ACC teams in the final poll, which would be a first for the program.
Meanwhile, the last time the ACC finished a year without a top-10 club in the AP poll was 1960. The only other time that happened was 1954, the conference’s inaugural season.
Update: Duke was not ranked in Monday’s AP poll, falling out of the Top 25 for the first time since Feb. 8, 2016.
ACC In Associated Press Poll, Last Decade
(2021 Through Jan. 11)
|Year||Final Top 10||Every Week in Poll||Unbroken Top 10||Other Top 25|
|2021||TBD||D, V||None||C, UL, VT|
|2020||FS4||D, UL||None||D, UL, V|
|2019||D1, V2, NC3, FS10||D, V, VT||D, V||VT|
|2018||V1, D9, NC10||D, NC,V||V||C, UM|
|2017||D7, NC5, UL10||D, UL, NC, V||None||FS, ND, V|
|2016||NC3, V4||NC, V||None||D, UL, UM|
|2015||D4, V6||D, NC, UL, V||D, V||UL, NC|
|2014||D8||D, SU||None||NC, V|
|2012||NC3, D8||NC, D||NC, D||FS|