Opening paragraphs of an article in today's Wall Street Journal titled "Where Have All the Fans Gone?":
It was the kind of college-basketball game that used to guarantee a packed house.
When North Carolina took the court to play Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C., one night last month, it marked the reunion of two storied conference rivals whose campuses are separated by a short drive across the spine of a basketball-crazy state.
Yet when the No. 5 Tar Heels arrived, they found a crowd nearly 2,000 short of capacity. Never mind that Wake is having an off year; it was the lowest turnout for that matchup since Joel Coliseum opened in 1989.
It would be easy to blame the low attendance on Wake's horrific teams these last couple of years, but I think anyone from these parts who was being honest would tell you that in years past a UNC trip to Winston-Salem to scrimmage a high school team would have sold out the Joel.
The article goes on to posit several possible reasons for the ACC's attendance decline: conference expansion which has diluted traditional rivalries, mediocre teams, low-profile coaches, a "charisma deficit" and the proliferation of cheap HD TVs that make the at-home viewing experience better than ever before. I'd say all of those factors have contributed to the conference's current malaise, but whatever the reasons I'd say ACC basketball seems to have jumped the shark, at least for now.
I know this comes as a shock (not) but in today's Wall Street Journal it's revealed that of all the schools in this year's NCAA tournament field Wake Forest is the greatest underachiever over the last, oh, 25 years or so. Basically Wake is to March Madness what Ryan Leaf was to top NFL draft picks.
Dan Collins uses a little blog space to look at how Wake Forest is doing at the halfway point of the ACC conference schedule. His tool to measure them is the ACC Stats page and I agree with his assessment:
This is not a pretty team. Teams that miss a bunch of shots and turn the ball over rarely look good, at least not until the game is over.
But defense and rebounding statistics reveal effort. And it’s hard to argue that any team in the ACC has given more effort so far this season than Wake Forest.
Dan doesn't dig into the other ACC teams, but after watching UNC the last couple of weeks I'll offer one observation that I think the stats clearly back up: right now the young Tarheels can't guard their own shadows. That's not really shocking given their relative youth (most young college players don't defend well), but they better learn how to defend soon or it won't just be a long season, it will be a long couple of seasons.
Remember how bad you felt when Wake lost to William & Mary? Well, this might help you feel a little better. The current RPI rankings have William & Mary at #2 in the country behind only West Virginia. Wake is ranked 29 and Duke, at #3 is the only ACC team with a higher RPI.
As a George Mason alum I'm intrigued that the CAA has three teams in the top 40: William & Mary at #2, Virginia Commonwealth at #14 and Old Dominion at #39. The ACC only has Duke and Wake in the top 40, but it has NC (49), Clemson (50) and Florida State (51) just below. Sadly my alma mater, the boys who were seconds away from beating Villanova (15) at the beginning of the year and played Georgia Tech (65) tough, yet managed to recently lose to Radford (89) by 27 points, is ranked #131.