We're roundtablin'. It's technically not the preseason anymore, but this ACC blogger roundtable, hosted by our friend James Curle at Riddick & Reynolds, the best N.C. State blog on the 'net, doesn't really care. We're doing it anyway.
Curle's questions and our exceedingly eloquent (kidding) answers follow:
1. Every football season, we bloggers and pundits preach the importance of the league to perform well out of conference to improve the league's image. Basketball certainly has a much better reputation historically, but do you think the ACC has some work to do before league play starts to get back to being viewed as the NCAA's standard-bearer for the sport? Could a dominant or lackluster performance in November and December significantly help or hurt the ACC's reputation or are most folks' opinions about ACC basketball pretty much set?
I think you could make an argument (and probably win it) that the ACC isn't even a top 3 conference this year. The Big East will always be up there simply due to the huge number of teams there that have top-flight potential combined with the few consistently good teams in that conference (Pitt, Nova, Syracuse). The Big 10 is becoming consistently stronger in basketball, with Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin all top 15 candidates. The Big 12, too, is absolutely loaded: Kansas State is a top 5 team, Baylor is probably a top 10 team, Kansas is probably a top 10 team, and Texas and Missouri are both top 20 teams.
The ACC has Duke...and not a lot more. UNC should be good, sure, and Virginia Tech has that potential, but you could argue that even the SEC could challenge the ACC in basketball this year (Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt). There are a lot of quality teams in the ACC this year, as there are every year, and that creates a lot of parity. There aren't, however, a lot of elite teams past Duke and maybe UNC, and that's what sells on a national scale.
To the second part, a strong showing will certainly help and a poor one will certainly hurt. If UNC beats Illinois and Texas, Maryland beats Temple, Miami beats West Virginia, Virginia Tech beats Purdue, N.C. State beats Arizona, and Florida State beats Florida, well, you have six legitimate teams plus Duke (and maybe Clemson, who knows?). I don't think anyone is so stubborn that they'll see the ACC as a week conference after an OOC showing like that, nor anyone that would think that the ACC is still awesome after Clemson loses to Delaware St. and Virginia Tech is upset by St. Bonaventure.
2. We've all seen our teams at least once now. Have you seen anything in the limited action thus far that is cause for concern or cause for greater optimism than where your opinion stood just a couple of weeks ago?
I'm way more optimistic right now than I was a week ago. Cliff Tucker looks like a real, live starting swingman that can be a lockdown defender and a perimeter scorer. It doesn't really matter if Adrian Bowie can play point guard - and he might actually be able to - because freshmen points Terrell Stoglin and Pe'Shon Howard are behind him and have proven themselves adequate through a trio of games. The ACC is about to be introduced to the Icelandic phenomenon that is Haukur Palsson. And, of course, Jordan Williams is a star.
I admit Sean Mosley has looked downright bad in two of the three games, and that tempers my expectations a little. But there's been much more good than bad so far. Whether or not that will hold up once Maryland plays legitimate competition, I don't know. In fact, I'd guess that it won't. But I'll enjoy the optimism while I can get a slice.
3. Give me your preseason votes for: POY, COY, ROY. Explain.
Player of the Year vote goes to: Malcolm Delaney, with Jordan Williams a close second. I hate Kyle Singler. But Delaney will deserve it in his own right: he's a sensational scorer and will nearly single-handedly carry Virginia Tech into the NCAA tournament. Without Delaney, this is a team that's starting the season on the outside of the bubble. With him and his 22 points a game, they currently figure to be on the top 25 bubble. Singler takes his team from merely top 10 to top 3.
Coach of the Year vote goes to: I legitimately have no idea considering COY normally goes to the biggest surprise, but I'm guessing Roy Williams, no matter how undeserved it may be. UNC did go the NIT last year, and because Harrison Barnes is on the team they'll probably be #2 in the ACC this year. You and I know that that's not really indicative of the coaching job Roy has done, per se, but it is a big turnaround no matter how you look at it. For that, he'll get a lot of votes.
Rookie of the Year vote goes to: Harrison Barnes. Duh. Some people think he'll be the national player of the year. Even though I think he's relatively overrated, he's also a star and the most complete freshman the ACC has had in a long time.
4. Which stands the greater probability of reoccurring this season: Duke winning the national title or Carolina returning to the NIT?
Duke winning the title and it's not even close. There's too much talent for UNC to fail again. If Tyler Zeller is healthy and Jon Henson can add a few dozen pounds, they'll have the best post play in the ACC. Harrison Barnes is legit and Kendall Marshall will provide the biggest thing that was missing from last year's team: a steady point guard. I don't think at all that Duke will win the national title, but I know that Carolina won't be in the NIT.
5. I can't speak to the attendance figures for most of the other schools in the league, but State's opening matchup against Tennessee Tech was nowhere near a sellout. There were quite a few empty seats in the Dean Dome for the game against Lipscomb, as well. As television and internet technology continue to advance, consumers are starting to get better entertainment value for the dollar staying home rather than paying for tickets to attend the games themselves. In the coming years, how will ADs - struggling to balance very tight budgets - continue to move tickets and put butts in the seats without slashing ticket prices drastically?
That's a problem that's affecting every major sport, from college football to the NBA to the NFL to...you get it. Unfortunately, I'm not smart enough to figure it out by myself with some grand idea, and that's why I'm not getting paid a lot of money by some athletic department. The economy has had a somewhat sizable affect on it, sure, but the inherent problems - namely, that most sports give you a better experience at home than in person except for the hugely important games - still exist and will need to be addressed.
For one, it makes sense to schedule more premier opponents. Afraid of not getting enough butts in the seats for Maine? Schedule Michigan State instead. Problem solved, at least for one game. For Maryland specifically, it makes all kinds of sense to put a game in Cole Field House; I guarantee that game would sell out no matter who the opposition is.
On a larger scale, I really don't know. Like I said, a lot of sports give experiences that are just as good at home, and when you subtract the hours of travel time and several hundred dollars it took, I think most fans will be content to stick it out at home until Duke or Carolina pops up on the schedule. ADs need to incentivize attendance, whether by utilizing new technology or giving a better experience in some way or doing those cheesy, annoying "flex packages". As long as the economy stays like this and sports stay like they are, that's a problem that's going to be there.
6. Which team will be the big surprise this season, either exceeding expectations greatly or falling well short of them?
I'll get some hate from some of my more optimistic brethren on this one, but I'm going to say Virginia Tech falls short of their top 3 in conference, top 25 in country billing. I just don't see anything proven on this team past Malcolm Delaney, who's fantastic but isn't good enough to carry a team into national prominence like many are expecting. Jeff Allen is inconsistent to the max and Dorenzo Hudson is a chucker. There's not a lot of depth, either, particularly in the frontcourt. I'll come around once they prove something, but for now, they're a lot of talk with one outstanding player and not a lot else.