Early losses not created equal: No respect for Virginia, North Carolina road defeats in polls

accVirginia lost a road game at George Washington a week ago. North Carolina lost a road game at Northern Iowa on Saturday. Duke lost a neutral-court game to Kentucky.

Virginia dropped six spots in both national polls. North Carolina dropped seven spots in one and eight in the other.

Duke held its spot in the AP poll and actually went up to third in the coaches poll.

Yeah, that makes sense.

For North Carolina, it was inevitable that the first couple of weeks would be tough, with star guard Marcus Paige on the sidelines with a broken hand. It’s admirable that the Tar Heels played as well as they did in their 71-67 loss to UNI, to be honest.

For Virginia, taking a game at GW early on is admirable. If you’re a preseason Top 10, you can get away with scheduling a bunch of games at home, say, if you’re like Duke, which doesn’t play a true road game until its ACC opener at Boston College on Jan. 2.

Wait, you didn’t catch that with all the huzzahs that Mike Krzyzewski got for playing Kentucky last week in Chicago, then playing VCU and Georgetown in Madison Square Garden?

Those were all neutral-court games. Duke has one more neutral-court game before ACC play, Dec. 19 against Utah.

Nine of the Blue Devils’ 13 pre-conference games are in Durham.

Two of those games, Wednesday’s tilt with Yale and a Dec. 2 game against Indiana in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, features a Top 100 RPI opponent.

Virginia plays five of its 12 pre-ACC games at home, for comparison, with true road games against two Top 50 RPIs (GW and Ohio State, on Dec. 1, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge), and two home games against RPI Top 50s (Villanova, on Dec. 19, and Cal, on Dec. 22).

North Carolina plays seven of its 12 pre-conference games at home, with two true road games, both against RPI Top 50s (UNI and Texas, on Dec. 12).

UNC also hosts #2 Maryland (Dec. 1 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge) and RPI Top 100 Davidson (Dec. 6), and plays two RPI Top 100s on neutral courts, Northwestern (tonight) and UCLA (Dec. 19).

You could argue that Coach K loaded up with homecourt cream puffs because he has another group of one-and-done freshmen to break in, whereas UVA and UNC have rosters with loads of veteran talent, and you’d be right.

Look at the minutes and productivity he’s getting from his heralded freshman class. Preseason first-team All-ACC guard Brandon Ingram is averaging a modest 10.6 points per game on 36.2 percent shooting, and in the three quality-opponent games last week his numbers were down even from that: 5.7 points per game on 25 percent shooting.

Point guard Derryck Thornton is scoring 9.8 points per game on 39.0 percent shooting with 3.0 assists and 2.2 turnovers per game, and seems to be catching up to the speed of the college game. But classmates Luke Kennard (6.4 points per game, 35.5 percent shooting) and Chase Jeter (3.5 points per game, 9.0 minutes per game) are finding themselves stuck to the bench, as we saw in Sunday’s 86-84 win over Georgetown, which, mind you, lost a week ago to Radford.

The trio of Ingram, Kennard and Jeter combined for 35 minutes in the win over the Hoyas, with a cumulative 17 points on 6-of-14 shooting.

Krzyzewski wisely loaded up with an easy, homecourt-based schedule to get the kids’ feet wet before the schedule gets harder in January with the ACC.

Tony Bennett at Virginia and Roy Williams at North Carolina don’t have to worry about their kids playing like deer in headlights on the road, and so they came out early with road tests that will make them tougher later on, and happened to come out on the wrong side of those early tests.

For whatever reason, they’re being punished for that in the rankings, whatever the rankings matter in November, which Bennett, Williams and Krzyzewski would all agree is absolutely nothing, but still.

– Column by Chris Graham


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