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How Covid Damaged This Year’s ACC Season

There were a lot bigger problems this year than sports, but Covid-19 wreaked havoc on ACC Basketball too.

Virginia Tech v Syracuse
SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 02: Empty Syracuse Orange seats before the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies on February 2, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Syracuse defeats Virginia Tech 68-60 in overtime.
Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Next time we endure a society-ravaging pandemic we’ll know a little bit more about what to expect. At least as far ACC basketball scheduling goes.

That is, we’ll know that any published schedule is subject to change with little notice, that carefully calibrated balances of creampuffs and challenges will be disrupted, and that any notions of a level competitive playing field are at best aspirational. This will be no one’s fault, except those occasional idiots who disregard established medical protocols and cause their teams to stand down for days and weeks on end.

Fitting replacement games into team schedules will be as much a matter of convenience as availability. Opponents will pop up and disappear seemingly at random, as when previously unengaged Marquette, a Big East team with a losing record, played and won at Chapel Hill in late February.

Large, debilitating gaps will appear in schedules while teams are shuttered. Returning to action, the newly awakened are apt to sputter on the court against opponents operating in full stride. This was apparent when Louisville endured a 19-day February hiatus and lost to the Tar Heels 99-54, or Clemson lost 85-50 to Virginia following an 11-day layoff in mid-January.

The stop and start rhythm affected 12 of 15 ACC programs this season, allowing only Miami, Virginia and Wake Forest to play everyone at least once, a standard allocation that constitutes being part of a modern conference.

UVa’s first-place finish was validated by facing every other ACC team.

The remaining 80 percent of the ACC’s population finished the regular season with gap-riddled schedules resembling the smiles of patients denied dental care. No one played 20 conference games, the modern standard. The average was 16. Miami ventured 19. Duke, Notre Dame and Wake played 18.

The most ravaged schedules belonged to Boston College, Louisville and Virginia Tech.

After its football team was perhaps the most successful BCS member at avoiding COVID-19 shuffling, the BC basketball squad missed five ACC opponents – Clemson, Georgia Tech, UNC, Pitt and Virginia Tech. The Eagles enter their ACC Tournament opener against Duke with 13 league games under their belts, matching the Cardinals and Hokies for fewest in the conference.

BC won only twice in the ACC, against fellow bottom-dwellers Miami and Notre Dame. The Eagles faced Duke at Cameron on Jan. 6 and lost by a point.

UL and Virginia Tech finished in the league’s upper division; whether playing fewer ACC games helped or hindered is open to interpretation.

The Cards were 5-1 outside the league; they sputtered after a 9-1 start that included their outside opponents. The Hokies were 6-1 in nonconference action, with a late-November victory over Top 10 Villanova on a neutral court. They won 7 of their last 10.

Miami, wracked by injuries that reduced its squad to a shell of its potential, finished six places lower in the standings than anonymous ACC insiders projected in preseason (13 v. 7).

The largest gap between projected and regular-season finishes was incurred by Duke (10 v. 2)

‘Expert’ expectations were most exceeded by Virginia Tech (3 v. 11), Georgia Tech (4 v. 9), and Clemson (5 v. 10).

The Yellow Jackets, who closed the ACC regular season by winning six straight, their best league run since 1996, defied measly projections for the second straight year. In 2020 they came in fifth although picked 12th.

Believe it or not, despite intermittent years as a national powerhouse, two Final Four appearances, two first-place league finishes, three Top 10 AP finishes and three ACC Tournament titles, this is the first time since 1989 and 1990 the Jackets posted consecutive winning records in the ACC regular season (11-9 in 2020).

Final 2021 ACC Regular-Season Results
Finish School

ACC Games:

ACC Games:(W-L)

ACC Opponents
Missed Entirely
1 Virginia 17 (13-4) None
2 Florida State 15 (11-4) (3) Duke, Syracuse, VTech
3 Virginia Tech 13 (9-4) (4) BC, FSU, UNC, NC State
4 Georgia Tech 17 (11-6) (2) BC, NC State
5T Clemson 16 (10-6) (2) BC, Notre Dame
5T North Carolina 16 (10-6) (2) BC, VTech
7 Louisville 13 (8-5) (2) NC State, Syracuse
8 Syracuse 17 (9-7) (3)FSU, Louisville, Wake
9 NC State 17 (9-8) (3) GTech, Louisville, VTech
10 Duke 18 (9-9) (1) FSU
11 Notre Dame 18 (7-11) (1) Clemson
12 Pittsburgh 16 (6-10) (1) BC
13 Miami 19 (4-15) None
14 Wake Forest 18 (3-15) None
15 Boston College 13 (2-11) (5) Cle, GTech, UNC, Pitt, VTech