With the ACC welcoming Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, this season began with talk that the conference would be strong. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski even tossed around the words "best conference in the history of the game." (Although in Coach K's defense, he might have been referring to how strong the league will be when Louisville is added in 2014-15.)
Then a funny thing happened. By January in any college basketball season, there's a lively discussion on which conference is the best or toughest in the country. And in January 2014, the ACC is simply not a part of that discussion. I hear the Big Ten mentioned quite often in connection with this particular badge of honor, and on occasion I've heard the merits of the Big 12 or the Pac-12 touted along these same lines this season. But not the ACC, the alleged best conference in the history of the game. What happened?
The short answer is simple: Duke and North Carolina are, through Tuesday, a combined 2-5 in ACC play. And when your league's two most successful programs are suffering "down" seasons at the same time, the perception of the conference's strength will take a hit.
True enough, but I think an equally good question is this: Where does the league go from here? Can the Blue Devils or Tar Heels -- or both -- rally this season and boost the ACC's credibility? Will Syracuse end the season as the conference's only legitimate national championship threat? And what about the rest of the league?
Here are some learned projections on the topic of the ACC's true strength in 2013-14, leading up to a bottom-line prediction for the league as a whole: