When the Atlantic Coast Conference lost six of eight games to the Big East last month in their second basketball challenge series, it didn't come as much of a shock to the ACC coaches.
"I just think there are a number of teams that are going to get a lot better," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose Blue Devils lost to Georgetown. "If someone views a team being a certain way now, they might be a lot different in February and March."
The deciding factor in many of the ACC-Big East games was a lack of experience. That much was evident in the two ACC teams that managed victories: Virginia and North Carolina, both of which are chock-full of veteran players.
The ACC has undergone a face lift since the end of last season. It should make for an interesting conference season, which begins tonight with Maryland playing at Wake Forest and Clemson visiting North Carolina State.
"There should be a lot of teams going up and down this year," said Jeff Jones, Virginia's first-year coach.
When he was hired to succeed Terry Holland last spring, Jones became the youngest coach (29) in ACC history. Jones is a year younger than Dean Smith was when he took over in Chapel Hill in 1961.
The league's other new coach is North Carolina State's Les Robinson, who returned to his alma mater in the aftermath of Jim Valvano's controversial departure after 10 years with the Wolfpack.
Looking around last spring's ACC meetings attended by Jones, Dave Odom of Wake Forest and Maryland's Gary Williams, Robinson said, "We have two years' experience and four years' probation right here."
Three of those years' probation belong to Maryland, which is ineligible for the ACC tournament in Charlotte, N.C., this season and for any postseason competition the next two seasons and will not play on live television this season.
A week ago, things didn't bode well for the Terrapins in the league. That was before Maryland beat Rutgers and 12th-ranked South Carolina last week in New York to win the ECAC Holiday Festival.
"I think this will give us the confidence to play ranked teams in our league," said Williams. "Everyone is picking us for last. Maybe we can surprise some people like we did last season."
There are a lot of questions going into the ACC season. Does North Carolina have too much depth? Does N.C. State not have enough? Will Kenny Anderson be Lethal Force One for Georgia Tech? Can Wake Forest play together? Will Duke get to the big dance again?
"Just because we're Duke, people don't look at us for being young," said Krzyzewski, who has started an all-sophomore backcourt of Bobby Hurley and Billy McCaffrey as well as freshman forward Grant Hill. "We're a good team, but we're not a great team."
It figures to be a three-team race this season among Duke, North Carolina and Virginia. Though the Cavaliers might not have the parade of All-Americans who are sitting on the benches at the Smith Center and Cameron Indoor Stadium, Virginia probably does have the league's best all-around player, junior forward Bryant Stith.
Wake Forest could have a chance to break into the elite if Odom can figure out how to play freshman forward Rodney Rogers while keeping his upperclassmen, especially Anthony Tucker, happy. Georgia Tech also has a chance if Anderson can bring his teammates up to his level.
N.C. State, led by senior guards Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani, certainly will be middle of the pack, but Robinson's run-and-gun style could put a team thin on depth in a lot of games. Wolfpack forward Tom Gugliotta could be one of the league's most underrated players.
"I like this team," said Robinson. "They could have had a bad attitude coming in because of what happened with Jim, but they've been great since Day One. I think we're going to have a lot of fun this year, and I hope we'll also win some games."
Neither Maryland nor Clemson is expected to win many in the league. Though Walt Williams showed at the Holiday Festival that he could be one of the league's premier guards, the Terps are still thin, not to mention slow.
The Tigers could be the first ACC team to go from first to worst. Two-thirds of Clemson's anticipated frontcourt -- center Wayne Buckingham and forward Sean Tyson -- is out indefinitely. Buckingham is academically ineligible, and Tyson recently was suspended for unspecified reasons.
"I think it's going to be the kind of league where you'll see a lot of funny scores, especially the first month," said N.C. State's Robinson.