Wake Forest, Miami and now the Clemson Tigers are slowly beginning to earn this elite respect as well.
Yes, North Carolina and Duke have looked impressive, romping some teams by 40+ points time and time again while defeating other more highly-ranked teams handedly as well this season. But there are other teams in this loaded conference that have not had their games against patsy teams nationally televised and have looked equally impressive at times. Do not misunderstand: North Carolina is still the hands down favorite in this conference and in the country. But these three have begun to hear their names mentioned in the same paragraph, if not the same sentence, as the Heels.
Clemson especially is a team that casual basketball fans are just waking up to. Most figured the Tigers to be solid this season but not unbeatable which is the way they have appeared at times. This week, they broke into the AP Top 25 Poll for the first time this season and currently sit at the No. 25 position.
The Tigers, 11-0 so far, have defeated their opponents by an average of twenty points this season. And they haven't played fellow South Carolina school Wofford eleven times either. On top of defeating the Terriers by 53 points, Clemson has picked up victories against TCU, Temple (who knocked off Tennessee), and Illinois (on the road) in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge this season.
Junior forward Trevor Booker has led the way for the Tigers, averaging nearly a double-double with 15.1 points and 9.0 rebounds a game.
But what makes the Tigers so good is that there is not one player that carries the scoring load. There is no Greivis Vasquez, no Jack McClinton.
Guard K.C. Rivers has been just as big of a key as Booker. The senior has picked up right where he left off last season, averaging 13.5 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Fellow guard sophomore Terrence Oglesby is performing at the high level coach Oliver Purnell needss, boasting a three point shot percentage of 43.3 percent and averaging 12.5 points a game.
But the Tigers' efforts as a team are what have been really dazzling. Clemson has shot over 50 percent and outrebounded its opponents in eight games out of its eleven games as well. The Tigers are also second in the conference behind North Carolina in three-point efficiency, shooting 38% beyond the arc.
But what about the conference's other second-tier teams? Why don't the other teams with strong out-of-conference records make cases to be considered worthy adversaries to Duke and North Carolina?
The 5-1 NC State Wolfpack's five wins have come against teams that are a combined 11-31 this season. NC State has yet to play a BCS conference opponent this season while four of their six games have come against Big South and Southern conference teams.
The 10-1 Florida State Seminoles, although sporting a couple of impressive wins, haven't won a game by more than 12 points this season.
Maryland has been one of the biggest surprises in the conference this season as the Terps were widely predicted in the preseason to finish eleventh or dead last. Instead, Maryland is 7-2 having already played through the toughest part of its non-conference schedule. But the verdict is still out as this team appears to be inconsistent. Case and point ? a big win against Michigan State in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic was followed up by 20+ point losses to Gonzaga and rival Georgetown.
The day when the general consensus is that the Tigers are "for real" appears to be coming, and soon too. The people who are still unsure of this will get yet more time to decide as the Tigers play their conference opener at Miami, then face a pair of SEC teams in rival South Carolina and Alabama before finishing non-conference play. After those four contests, it will be hard to say that the Clemson Tigers have not proven themselves this season.
CHN's ACC Player of the Week for 12/7-12/13: Deon Thompson ? Junior, Forward, North Carolina
Thompson was automatic in the Tar Heels' 100- 84 win against Oral Roberts on Saturday, shooting 10-12 from the field while scoring a career-high 22 points. His 83 field goal percentage was the second highest by an ACC player this season (min. 10 attempts). The forward also grabbed eight boards in the game with seven coming defensively.
CHN's ACC What to Watch for - week of 12/21-12/27: Clemson at Miami - Sun. December 21
Amazingly, the first ACC game of the season is on Sunday and features perhaps the two most evenly matched teams in the conference. The Tigers will take their perfect 11-0 record into Coral Gables and be tested against a hungry Miami team that is desperately searching for a key win after dropping a heartbreaker in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to Ohio State and not having enough in the tank to upset the No. 2 Connecticut Huskies in the Paradise Jam.