With arguably five future NBA players on his roster and four upperclassmen in his starting lineup, N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried has the best blend of talent and experience in the ACC. But his team has lost three straight games on the road, including a 58-55 verdict Tuesday night at Virginia.
"When we've been on the road, it seems like it turns into a rugby match," Gottfried said afterward.
Gottfried's frustration was with the referees and perhaps what he perceives as his underachieving team. But there might be a better reason his team is losing road games: The ACC is vastly improved.
Entering play Wednesday, eight of the 12 teams in the league had better RPIs than they finished with last year, including Duke and Miami, which are rated first and second, respectively. And it could be argued that two of those with worse RPIs -- Virginia and Virginia Tech -- are better. Only North Carolina and Florida State have taken a step back.
One measure of improvement is the road records of ACC teams. Entering Wednesday's games, road teams had won just 11 of 41 games (26.8 percent). Last year conference teams won 38 of 96 games (39.6 percent).
Making it tougher to win on the road has been the rise of the lower division of the league. Boston College (9-11) has only one ACC win but an RPI of 150 after finishing last year at 245. Georgia Tech (131/196), Clemson (116/150) and Wake Forest (115/182) are markedly better as well, even if their records show only minimal improvement.
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon believes the difference is that coaches have had a chance to get their programs off the ground. Tony Bennett (Virginia) is in his fourth season. Jeff Bzdelik (Wake Forest), Steve Donahue (Boston College) and Brad Brownell (Clemson) are third-year coaches. Turgeon, Gottfried, Jim Larranaga (Miami) and Brian Gregory (Georgia Tech) are in their second seasons.
"They've brought these guys in and turned these programs around," Turgeon said. "I think it's just coaching, and when you take over programs you're really hungry and you bring in players."
- Kevin Dunleavy