Fans might think they don't recognize the basketball the ACC is playing this season.
The conference doesn't have a North Carolina juggernaut lurking at or near the top of the polls, and there's no Tyler Hansbrough to save the Tar Heels from their doldrums.
Duke is (barely) in the top 10, but isn't a serious threat to earn a No. 1 regional seed.
There isn't another team (think Juan Dixon-era Maryland or Tim Duncan-vintage Wake Forest) that appears likely to contend for the Final Four.
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But this season's ACC - with no serious national title contender and a bunch of decent teams slugging it out in the standings' crowded middle - is recognizable if you're a football fan.
This happens virtually ever year in the ACC - in football. And if you follow ACC football, you know that's not a compliment.
It's probably good for fan interest throughout the conference when the last-place team (N.C. State) can hammer the first-place team (Duke) by 14 points early in the season. But the conference generates national attention when its teams advance deep into the NCAA Tournament, and it's difficult to pick even the ACC's first-place team to do that after losing to the last-place team by double digits.
Here's the midseason report for this diluted but ultra-competitive conference:
Virginia (14-6, 5-2 ACC): Picked to finish 11th in the ACC by the media in the preseason, the Cavaliers are tied for second place. They are getting a lot of mileage out of role players such as Sammy Zeglinski and Mustapha Farrakhan.
Wake Forest (15-5, 5-3): Losing Jeff Teague and James Johnson early to the NBA draft didn't devastate the Deacons because senior Ish Smith and sophomore Al-Farouq Aminu have become leaders and freshmen C.J. Harris and Ari Stewart have contributed.
Virginia Tech (17-4, 4-3): Picked eighth in the preseason by the media, the Hokies have ridden ACC scoring leader Malcolm Delaney to their familiar spot on the NCAA Tournament "bubble."
Duke (18-4, 6-2): Although the Blue Devils have missed opportunities for big nonconference road wins at Wisconsin and Georgetown, ACC coaches seem to agree that they're the conference's best team.
Clemson (16-6, 4-4): Point guard Demontez Stitt's foot injury probably cost the Tigers a win. So although they're not as high as the third place some had predicted, there are extenuating circumstances.
Florida State (16-6, 4-4): Losing at home to Maryland on Thursday was a blow to coach Leonard Hamilton's hopes of getting back to the NCAA Tournament. Nonetheless, the Seminoles are strong as usual on defense and are getting a lot of mileage from their huge front line.
Georgia Tech (16-6, 4-4): A physical front line featuring Gani Lawal, Derrick Favors and Zachery Peacock has the Yellow Jackets in position to grab an NCAA bid if Georgia Tech's guards can reduce their turnovers.
Maryland (15-6, 5-2): If the Terrapins hadn't lost every time they had a chance for a statement win outside the conference, they would be in great shape for an NCAA Tournament bid. They need to continue their strong start to ACC play to wrap up a bid before the conference tournament.
Boston College (12-10, 3-5): Rakim Sanders' ankle injury set this team back for a while, but losing at home to Harvard, Rhode Island and Maine is inexcusable.
North Carolina (13-9, 2-5): The media seriously overestimated the Tar Heels when they tied Duke atop the ACC preseason poll.
Miami (16-6, 2-6): The Hurricanes' start to conference play confirms suspicions that an easy schedule is the only reason Miami is 14-0 outside the ACC.
N.C. State (14-9, 2-6): The last-place standing is no surprise because the Wolfpack was picked last in the preseason. But the 88-74 win over Duke showed what this team is capable of.
Coach of the year: Tony Bennett, Virginia. With solid defense and a smallish lineup, first-year coach Bennett has out-quicked his opponents and the league's veteran coaches.
Player of the year: Sylven Landesberg, Virginia. Landesberg's versatility has helped the Cavaliers become the ACC's most pleasant surprise. He plays power forward at 6 feet 6 when Virginia goes small and excels on the wing while averaging 17.6 points per game.
Rookie of the year: Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech. Favors leads ACC freshmen in scoring (11.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg).
Defensive player of the year: Chris Singleton, Florida State. A long, lean "small" forward at 6 feet 9, he leads the ACC in steals with 49.
Breakout player: Dorenzo Hudson, Virginia Tech. The junior has increased his scoring from 4.6 points per game in 2008-09 to 13.7 this season.
Most disappointing player: Pick a Tar Heel. North Carolina is just a half-game out of last place.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake
Malcolm Delaney, Va. Tech
Sylven Landesberg, Uva
Jon Scheyer, Duke
Greivis Vasquez, Md.
Staff writer Robbi Pickeral contributed to this report.