What happens when you combine 15 head coaches, 30 or so players and a room full of writers?
Well, they all talk about the same thing.
I’m exaggerating a bit. But not much. Operation ACC basketball, the league’s media kickoff, held October 16 in Charlotte, had lots of secondary plotlines but one, over-arching primary narrative, specifically how good the league will be with three new teams.
Mike Krzyzewski may have jump-started the discussion back in the summer when he said “I love what’s happening with our conference. We’re going to be a 10-bid conference. We’re going to be the best conference in the history of the game. It’s exciting to be part of that.”
The ACC had four NCAA bids last season, Duke, North Carolina, Miami and NC State. The latter two are in full rebuilding mode this season and don’t project as NCAA teams.
That leaves the two blue behemoths. Virginia and Boston College project to have their best teams in several years and Maryland might be on an upswing.
That doesn’t come close to 10. But add new-kids-on-the-block, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh and now, you’re cooking with gas. All three went dancing last season and the media voted the schools second, fifth and sixth respectively in its preseason poll.
Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton certainly agrees with Krzyzewski. Here’s what he told us in Charlotte.
“I think that you’ve got to look at the big picture of what’s happened to the ACC. We have put together the greatest collection of successful, winning basketball programs ever assembled in the history of college basketball. You have three outstanding programs coming in and a great conference becomes amazing. Great coaches, great fan support, success on top of success. I’m not all that concerned with great coaches as I am great programs. Because great programs have great players. Those of you in the Tobacco Road area need to understand that just like it was in the Big East; it’s not going to be the status quo. It’s going to be exciting, unpredictable and it’s not going to be the same teams every year. I think there’s an explosion getting ready to happen.”
So, what can expect from the newbies? We’ll have a lot more on this as the season progresses but for an appetizer, let’s condense the programs to one defining trait.
Syracuse and its suffocating zone.
Jim Boeheim. “Just because you play zone doesn’t mean you can’t defend shooters. That’s a complete myth. Who led the Big East in field-goal percentage defense the last 10 years? We did. Because we guard that line. We just do it differently. We’ve always played it. But we change it like any defense. It’s actually gotten better. We’ve had our best defensive teams the last couple of years, probably because the coach realized to not play the other defense, but to get better at this one.”
NC State’s Mark Gottfried. “They want to make it tough to get the ball inside and seduce you into taking lots of threes. Sure, you’ll make some. But they’ve built their program on the assumption that sooner or later you’ll start missing those. You’re not going to beat them taking 30 three-pointers a game.”
Notre Dame and its veteran lineup.
Mike Brey. “I’ve always said as we build this thing, my goal is to never be young. We don’t have the one-and-done guys. We’re a bit of a throwback. We have fourth-year guys, we have fifth-year guys. In the case of Scott Martin, we had a sixth-year guy. Taking a transfer every now and then, using redshirts, you can stay old. I’ve always said I didn’t want to go the Carrier Dome-now I can say the Dean Dome-starting two freshmen and two sophomores. If we’re doing that, it’s going to be a long year. The clientele we attract, given the school we are, kids are coming there for four, maybe five years. The benefit I have over maybe some other guys in the room is that if a guy isn’t playing much his first year or two, they want to stick around, they don’t want to walk away from that degree. They know why they came. I’m able to keep them around, redshirt them and then all of a sudden in their third or fourth year, they’re ready. We have a great rhythm to our roster. I like that rhythm. It has kept us very consistent.”
Wing Lamar Patterson. “We’re a defensive-minded team. We are going to try to get stops every play. Our goal is to make other teams want to take plays off because we’re not going to take a play off. We have to be perfect on every defensive assignment. We go out and rebound and defend every possession. If we do that, we’ll beat people. That’s how we get ourselves going, with rebounding. That’s our mindset and that mindset will take us a long way. At the end of the day, you can’t play dirty. But when it comes to playing physical, people will be surprised at how committed we are.”
Will this add up to the best league ever? Well, the Big East got three teams in the 1985 Final Four and that’s a tough benchmark to match. Ironically, Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s advanced to that Final Four by beating ACC schools in regional finals.
The ACC hasn’t had a team in the Final Four since Duke won the 2010 title. Since Wake Forest made the 1962 Final Four, the ACC has not gone longer than three seasons without having someone playing the final weekend.
The best league ever should be able to end that streak. Right?
It also should be noted that the ACC placed six of its eight teams in the ACC Tournament in 1986, 1987, 1989 and 1991. The league would have to place 12 teams this season to better that .750 percentage. That would also surpass the 2011 Big East total of 11 (out of 16) teams making the tournament.
And yes, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh were among those 11 teams in 2011. Perhaps, they’ll be part of another record, in another conference. But they’ll need some help before all this best-conference-ever talk gets backed up on the court.
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