Saturday Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be playing for first place in the ACC. They are the only the undefeated teams in the conference. Syracuse is 17-0 and ranked number 2 in the country and Pittsburgh is 16-1 and ranked number 22. The Panthers are 1 point from being undefeated themselves. This is one ACC’s biggest games of the season.
There’s more that makes this game so intriguing though.
It’s the first meeting of the Pittsburgh and Syracuse basketball teams as members of the ACC.
If you remember, back in 2011 when it was announced that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were going to join the ACC, there were mixed reactions by fans of other schools. I was always behind additions. I blogged on this in 2011, but as I said there were mixed reactions.
Critics of move had their reasons, the ACC was becoming the Big East 2.0, the conference only cared about basketball, the ACC should have invited a school with more recent football success, and on and on.
The Panthers and Orange started competing in ACC athletics last fall, and I think the early returns of their ACC membership have been very positive.
Let’s start with where most felt the two schools were weakest – football. Now Pittsburgh and Syracuse weren’t elite teams this past year, but they performed credibly in their first year in the ACC. The ACC had a NCAA record 11 teams make a bowl game. Both Pittsburgh and Syracuse made bowls games. The ACC went 5-6 in their bowl games this year. Florida State and Clemson did the heavy lifting with the Noles winning a National Title and the Tigers winning the Orange Bowl, but Pittsburgh and Syracuse won their bowl games. Those two bowl wins accounted for 40% of the ACC’s bowl win total. 5-6 is a lot better than 3-6.
Those numbers matter too, conference bowl records are repeated to us in the media over and over.
The Panthers defeated MAC Champion and 10 win Bowling Green, and Syracuse knocked off an 8 win Minnesota. Both finished year the 7-6.
Pittsburgh also beat a Notre Dame team that finished the year ranked in the top 25, and Panther Defensive Lineman Aaron Donald took home several major individual college football awards. Syracuse won 7 of their last 11 games. It was pretty good and a lot more that some expected, but it’s Pittsburgh and Syracuse and their real strength is basketball.
It’s been rough year in the ACC for basketball, but how much worse would it be without Pittsburgh and Syracuse? UNC can’t figure out who it is. Duke is talented, but struggles to defend in the post. Notre Dame has largely disappointed. Florida State and Virginia look strong, but outside of the Noles and UVA, Duke looks like the ACC’s only other NCAA lock. We would be talking about the possibility of a 3 bid ACC, and not single one of them being a top 3 seed at the moment.
Syracuse gives the ACC a legitimate national title contender, and both have brought a Big East physical style of play that the ACC has sorely lack in recent years. I believe the ACC had become largely a finesse basketball league, and that has hurt the conference in the NCAA tournament where the style of play is typically more physical.
Pitt and Syracuse football showed some potential this year, and their basketball teams have certainly enhanced ACC basketball.
So far so good on these two additions I would say.