Checking In On The ACC: Coastal Division

So since I took a look at the ACC's Atlantic Division, Pitt experienced quite a bit of upheaval. First, there was the departure of Fraud to Arizona State. Then, Khem Birch returned to the Great White North. Finally, the holiday madness descended upon us. But now that all of that is behind us, here's a look at the ACC's Coastal Division.

Duke:

Duke football has long been the joke of the ACC. The Blue Devils haven't been to a bowl game since the mid-90's and haven't had a winning season since then, either. In between then and now, Duke has posted four winless seasons and had five seasons when they've won no more than two games. But since David Cutcliffe took over in 2008, the program has improved to where it is starting to fight for bowl eligibility. The standards in Durham are low during the early fall months, but there has been improved play, starting with the QB position. Sean Renfree has seen his completion rate, QB rating, and TD-INT ratio improved in his second season as starter. With another year, Duke can certainly challenge for six wins with him at the helm. Where Duke has to improve is on defense. In five of their conference losses, they've allowed more than 30 points. The Blue Devils allowed more than 420 yards a game in 2011.

Basketball at Duke, on the other hand, is a powerhouse in the ACC. You've heard of them all. Cameron Indoor Stadium. Mike Krzyzewski (man, that's going to get annoying to spell). The Cameron Crazies. Stars like J.J. Redick, Shane Battier, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Carlos Boozer, Christian Laettner - the list goes on and on. The Blue Devils been dominant in the conference, winning 47 regular season and tournament titles. Duke has made the NCAA Tournament 35 times, including the past 16 in a row. They've also been to the Final Four 15 times and won the NCAA title four times. This season, Duke has been just as dominant, with talented players like the Plumlee brothers, Austin Rivers, and Seth Curry. Currently Duke is 10-1 with their lone loss coming at Ohio State, a national title contender. The Blue Devils are a great shooting team, shooting just over 50% on the season while scoring more than 80 points a game. Look for them to once again challenge for an ACC title and a deep March run.

Georgia Tech:

I hope you didn't forget what the triple option looked like from when Pitt played Navy a few seasons back because we're going to be seeing a lot of it once Pitt joins the ACC. The Yellow Jackets, under Paul Johnson, have become a strong team running the triple option. They went to the ACC Championship Game in 2009, which they won to head to the Orange Bowl (only for it to be later vacated). 2010 saw the Jackets suffer their first losing season since 1996. But this past season, Georgia Tech started the season 6-0 before suffering setbacks against Virginia, Miami, Virginia Tech, and archrival Georgia. However, they beat then-undefeated and #5 Clemson and are heading back to a bowl game - this time the Sun Bowl against Utah (two great memories for Pitt - the Sun Bowl and Utah). Their offense and defense were much improved from a season ago and they should challenge Virginia Tech for the Coastal Division crown next year.

Since reaching the national championship game in 2004, the basketball program hasn't had similar success. They've only reached the NCAA tournament three times since and yet to make it past the 1st weekend each time. Because of the lack of success, Tech fired head coach Paul Hewitt, now the coach at George Mason. He was replaced by then Dayton head coach Brian Gregory. In his first season, so far his team is 7-5 with losses to Mercer, Tulane, LSU, Northwestern, and St. Joes. Scoring has been hard to come by for Georgia Tech as they've averaged just 65 points a game. But the Jackets have played fairly good defense, holding opponents to no more than 60 ponits nine times this season. But it may be too much to ask the Jackets to compete for an NCAA berth.

Miami:

The Hurricanes, once a national power during the end of the last century, have fallen on hard times since they left the Big East. Miami has never been to the ACC title game and hasn't posted double digit victories since their last season in the Big East (2003). This season opened with the Nevin Shapiro scandal, which was the biggest scandal to hit college football since the SMU death penalty. At least until the Penn State scandal, anyway. On the field, Miami posted a solid win over a ranked Ohio State team as well as a win over Georgia Tech. But Miami also sustained bad losses to Maryland and Boston College. They also barely won an ugly 6-3 game over South Florida. But the Canes have been solid on defense this season and while the offense has been average, it's the first year of the Al Golden era, so some struggles were expected.

The Hurricanes have been equally mediocre at basketball. Since they left for the ACC, Miami has been to the NCAA Tournament only once and had a non-losing record in ACC play only once (2008). Under Jim Larranaga, the former head coach at George Mason, Miami is 7-4 in their first season. But all of their losses have been to very solid competition and the Canes have played good defense this season. The question is whether they can continue their good play into the conference season. Should Miami fans expect the Canes to make the NCAA Tournament? No, but Miami can compete for a top half finish.

North Carolina:

NCAA violations have seriously hurt North Carolina's chances at competing for a Coastal Division title. A season ago, the Tar Heels had arguably the most talented defense in college football, but a scandal wiped out nearly half of that unit. This offseason saw the removal of head coach Butch Davis as he was replaced by interim coach Everett Withers.The Heels still managed to have a good defense, but the offense suffered lapses in games against NC State, Louisville, and Missouri, where UNC scored a combined 38 points. North Carolina can still challenge for a Coastal Division title next season with Larry Fedora as head coach, though. Fedora was a very good coach at Southern Miss, but it will be interesting to see how he handles his first job at a major program.

What is there to say about UNC basketball? Arguably the best program in the entire country, North Carolina has won five national titles, the last two under current coach Roy Williams. The Tar Heels entered the season as the preseason #1 team thanks to returning talent like Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller and incoming studs in PJ Hairston and James McAdoo. Despite having two losses on the season to UNLV and Kentucky, North Carolina is still, in my opinion, the best team in the country. They have talent, experience, depth, and a coaching staff who knows how to win national titles. North Carolina ranks near the top in rebounding, scoring, field goal percentage, and assists and is the clear frontrunner for the ACC title.

Virginia

No one expected the Cavaliers' football program to be as good as they were in 2011. And after they began the season 2-2, many at Virginia thought this could be another bowl-less season. But then, the team won six of their next seven games, including wins over then-undefeated Georgia Tech and Florida State to set up a 'winner take all' scenario at home vs. rival Virginia Tech. The Hokies' experience and talent eventually led them to another ACC title game appearance, but the fact that Virginia was even in that situation in November was huge for the program. Many expected them to be in this scenario next year under head coach Mike London, but both sides of the ball showed marked improvement in 2011. The offense had trouble scoring points, especially against some of the better defenses (Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State), but when the defense was playing well, it was difficult to beat Virginia this season. The next step will be building off of this season into a potential Coastal Division title next season.

On the court, Virginia hasn't played the most difficult schedule, yet they took care of business for the most part and have entered the Top 25 rankings for the first time this season at #23/#24 with a 10-1 record. The lone loss was an ugly one to a bad TCU team in the Paradise Jam Tournament in the Bahamas, but the Cavs still hold a win over a ranked Michigan team as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Virginia, under Tony Bennett, tends to slow down the pace on both sides of the ball. They don't score many points, but are still shooting well, hitting 48% of their shots. On defense is where Virginia will win games. They don't allow many second chance points and hold teams to around 42% shooting. The Cavaliers' non-conference successes could lead them back to the NCAA Tournament if they can parlay that into a solid showing in ACC play. Their defense will keep them in games, but their offense will have to be able to score enough.

Virginia Tech:

Since moving to the ACC in 2004, the Hokies have become the conference's power program, winning the ACC title game four times. They've only managed to win one BCS bowl, but that's another story. They've done so by playing solid football on both sides of the ball, but this season, it has been all about the defense. Virginia Tech is currently 8th in scoring defense, allowing just 17 points a game while allowing just 313 yards a game. On offense, it has been the David Wilson show as he's rushed for over 1600 yards this season. QB Logan Thomas, while only completing 59% of his passes, still threw for 19 TDs while rushing for ten more scores. The consistent success of the Hokies can obviously be contributed to the continuity of the staff, starting with head coach Frank Beamer, who, because of Penn Stat's dismissal of Joe Pa, is the active leader in wins for coaches at the D-I level. Look for the Hokies to continue to challenge for the ACC Coastal and ACC titles as long as Beamer remains in charge of Virginia Tech.

While the football team is consistently fighting for BCS bids, the basketball team is constantly fighting for NIT bids. The Hokies, under Seth Greenberg, have made the NIT Tournament the past four seasons, falling just short of an NCAA invite each time. Will this season be any different? Perhaps. But the Hokies have struck out in each of their three major non-conference games so far this year. Their best win is a neutral site victory over Oklahoma State, which is a middle of the pack Big 12 team. They have an opportunity to pick up another win over the Cowboys on Saturday when they face OK State on the road. The conference is slightly down, but should offer chances for other marquee wins. Like always, the Hokies are winning with defense - eight times this season they've held the opposing team to 60 points or fewer and are allowing teams to shoot just 23% from three-point range. Offensively, the Hokies are fairly average, scoring just over 70 points a game and shooting 45% from the field. However, they're rated 38th and 55th in offensive and defensive efficiency and the Hokies could have a chance to compete near the top of the ACC this season.

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