Who says history does not repeat itself?
Following the discussion I had on 850 the Buzz about the mess found among the teams below UNC and Duke, I realized that this season bears a striking resemblance 1997-98 season. Now obviously the comparison is not perfect but 1998 saw two teams, UNC and Duke, that were well clearly above the other teams in the ACC. Once you got past the 15-501 pair everyone else went about savaging one another like it was Lord of the Flies. Here is what the ACC standings looked like by season's end.
At this point in the season it is very easy to see where we could end up with ACC standings that look like these with UNC and Duke possibly only losing one more game apiece(to each other) followed by one other team above .500 in the conference and the rest of the gang sporting losing marks. So what would that mean for the NCAA Tournament? In 1998 five teams found their way to the Big Dance including FSU with their 6-10 ACC mark and ACC Tournament play-in game loss to NCSU. Maryland and Clemson were the other two teams after UNC and Duke who were both #1 seeds. It would not surprise me to see a similar situation this season with the NCAA Selection Committee being forced to take a pair of ACC teams sporting less than stellar overall records along with a .500 ACC mark. And right now it is a longshot to consider both Duke and UNC #1 seeds. That being said, if they lose to each other only leaving Duke 15-1 and UNC 14-2 then UNC beats Duke in the ACC Championship while one among the UCLA/Kansas/Memphis group slips then an argument could be made for both teams being #1 seeds as they were in 1998.
Taking a closer look at UNC's season in 1998, it also bears some resemblance to this season in terms of how well they did or did not play against certain teams. Much has been made of the loss to Maryland and close games with Georgia Tech and Clemson as signs of weakness during this season. In 1998, the Tar Heels also had issues with unranked teams and lost one game at home in the ACC they should not have lost while playing a couple of non-NCAA Tournament teams past regulation to win. Here are some of teams UNC struggled a bit with:
- Louisville: defeated 81-72 in Chicago. Louisville ended up 12-20.
- Virginia: Only beat lowly UVa by eight at home.
- Georgia: Needed OT to win at Athens versus the Bulldogs who ended up 3rd in the NIT
- Georgia Tech: Needed double OT to beat the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta. GT ended up 6-10 in the ACC and lost in the 3rd round of the NIT.
- NC State: Lost to the Wolfpack by 14 in Chapel Hill while ranked #1. Obviously this was a horrendous loss, worse than the loss to Maryland this season.
Now there were plenty of dominating performances mixed in as well including beating then 22nd ranked FSU 103-55. It is interesting to note the 1998 season was replete with tough or close games for a team everyone had picked for the Final Four. Despite these close calls and the rather troubling loss to NCSU at home, UNC still managed to grab the #1 seed in the East with the regional rounds in Greensboro. The reason being is they won the games that really mattered and only actually stumbled badly in the loss to NCSU. The other two regular season miscues were at Maryland and at Duke. In the cases of all three losses, UNC basically canceled them out with subsequent wins over all three teams in the ACC Tournament. In the end UNC weathered some tough games and when March rolled around the Heels were playing at a high level.
Just some food for thought concerning the ACC as a whole and this version of UNC.
Quick Note: As Ed points out in the comments section, the Final Four this season and in 1998 was in San Antonio. Also the East Regional will go through North Carolina as it did then too only this season it will be in Charlotte instead of Greensboro. UNC also had the national POY that year in Antawn Jamison, something that Tyler Hansbrough could win this season also.