LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — In October it all seemed as direct as the 10.7-mile drive from Cameron Indoor Stadium to the Dean Smith Center on Tobacco Road.

Duke would win the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season title.

North Carolina would finish second.

Grayson Allen of Duke had both hands on the Player of the Year award.

Look for Notre Dame and Florida State in the middle of the pack. Don’t look for any Fighting Irish players among the Top 10 performers in the league.

Well, well, well.

We’ve passed the quarter-pole in the conference race and instead of focusing on how many ACC teams Joe Lunardi is projecting in the NCAA Tournament bracket, I prefer to enjoy the regular season.


Because little has been regular about the regular season. I made a list of the five most unexpected developments.

1. Duke Is On The Ropes 

I mentioned that Duke was picked to win the league at the ACC’s Operation Basketball. I did not mention the Blue Devils were the pick from here to Krzyzewskiville. Duke earned 85 of the 91 first-place votes — and the wise guys wondered why six holdouts voted for North Carolina.

Duke is looking up at Georgia Tech in the ACC standings.

If you watched Duke play Louisville Saturday, you know the Blue Devils have issues. I didn’t see a true point guard. I didn’t see much strength around the rim. 

I did see (actually hear) Allen throw the basketball away six times and get jeered every time he touched it. I did see Amile Jefferson wearing a boot on his injured right foot.

Maybe Duke fixes all those things. Maybe Mike Krzyzewski actually does return from back surgery in about three weeks. Maybe Jefferson gets healthy and provides poise and stability.

Maybe Harry Giles or Marques Bolden start playing like two of the 10 best freshmen in the nation.

Or maybe they remain about as valuable as Antonio Vrankovic.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

But maybe it’s time to remember this: As Pat Forde first reported at Yahoo Sports, the Blue Devils have lost their first three ACC road games for the first time in 22 years. 

Duke has road trips to Notre Dame, Virginia and North Carolina ahead.

2. Bonzie Colson is the Player of the Year

Duke did not offer Bonzie Colson a scholarship in 2014. Why would the Blue Devils need a 6-foot-5 power forward when Coach K had signatures from Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones and Allen?

Colson was barely considered one of the top 150 prospects in the nation. Too small to play power forward or center. Too thick to play small forward or shooting guard.

Colson ignored the memo.

Check the early ACC player of the year ratings at KenPom.com.

Colson ranks first — ahead of Luke Kennard of Duke, Jaron Blossomgame of Clemson, Kennedy Meeks of North Carolina and Donovan Mitchell of Louisville. 

Colson has averaged a double-double — 15.8 points, 10.9 boards. He leads the Fighting Irish in free throw attempts (79) and free throw percentage (better than 87 percent). 

He’s not Adrian Dantley, but he’s no longer the No. 145 player in his class.

3. North Carolina Can Win It All

They say you win championships on defense, but some coaches will whisper a conflicting opinion: 

Offense matters more than defense. 

Scoring makes you a force in March.

In the ACC, nobody scores like North Carolina. When the Tar Heels quietly moved into second place in the ACC Monday night by defeating Syracuse, they scored 85 points — and it was the second lowest total North Carolina has scored in a league game this season.

Louisville has scored more than 80 once in ACC play. Virginia has not topped 76. Notre Dame, the unbeaten league leader, has not topped 78.

The Tar Heels are getting healthy. Theo Pinson is back. Joel Berry’s ankle has healed. Roy Williams has a team that is an offensive force, crackling to 90 or more points in 11 of 20 games.

4. Leonard Hamilton Deserves a Hat Tip

Leonard Hamilton has not worked in the Final Four since he was one of Joe B. Hall’s assistants with the Jack Givens/Kyle Macy/Rick Robey 1978 Kentucky NCAA champions.

He’s 68, closing in on his 500th career victory and working on his 12th straight winning season at Florida State, which has never been confused with Seminoles’ football or baseball.

But Hamilton has quietly done solid work, positioning FSU to finish in the ACC’s top six. In fact, if Florida State manages to defeat Notre Dame (Wednesday) and Louisville (Saturday) in Tallahassee this week, the Seminoles should be parked near the front row at the midway point.

Hamilton has a terrific sophomore guard (Dwayne Bacon, eighth in the ACC in scoring) as well as Jonathan Isaac (the ACC’s top freshman rebounder).

Get this: FSU has gone 3-1 against Top 25 opponents while roaring to a 4-1 start in league play.

Joe B. Hall should be proud. And the rest of the ACC should be concerned.

5. Georgia Tech Is Not a Joke

Josh Pastner’s first Georgia Tech team was not picked to finish last at ACC Operation Basketball, but the Yellow Jackets could see 15th place from where they were sitting.

Only Boston College was projected to finish behind Tech.

The Yellow Jackets have not been awful — except for a 53-point beatdown at Duke. 

Tech has won three of five ACC games. One was on the road. All three wins have been by double figures. 

This is a program that did not win any ACC games by double figures last season.

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