The ACC’s reputation as a basketball conference is historically unmatched. In the last 25 years, no conference has more national titles or Final 4. That said the conference as a whole has fallen on some lean times when it comes to basketball. Yes the ACC has won 2 of the last 3 national titles, and 5 of the last 11, but still the perception is that the conference has struggled in recent years. I don’t disagree.
Duke and North Carolina have been top 10 mainstays, but the ACC has lacked quality depth that defined it for decades. I can remember years ago when the ACC would have 4 or 5 teams in the top 20, and a couple more NCAA worthy ones waiting in the wings. Every game was a war and the ACC Tournament might as well have been a de-facto Final 4. I’m here to tell you those days might not be that far off.
First off, the ACC cleaned house with a number of mediocre coaches. Sidney Lowe of NC State was replaced by Mark Gottfried who has the Wolfpack off and running to the tune of an 18-7 start. He recruited a 2012 class with 3 McDonald All-Americans. That’s the most of any team in the country. Paul Hewitt could never build on a 2004 Final 4 appearance at Georgia Tech and finally wore out his welcome. Brian Gregory inherited a team low on talent, but he also put together a solid 2012 class, that included top 30 National Player Robert Carter. Those aren’t the only strong classes being put together in the ACC.
Scout.com has 7 ACC teams ranked in their top 25 recruiting classes! No other conference has more than 5, but here is the truly amazing part. The 7 ACC teams with top 25 classes does not include Duke whose 1 person class is 5 Star prospect Rasheed Sulaimon the number 2 rated SG in the nation. When has Duke not been good under Coach K? It doesn’t include Syracuse or Pittsburgh either. Those incoming programs have the 11th and 15th rated 2012 classes. Even if neither program joins the conference until 2013, you can expect many of the 2012 players to still be there. Obviously Pitt and Syracuse have been historically great basketball programs. There’s more to it though…
This year there is no question that the bottom half of the ACC is not very good, but the top half features 4 top 25 teams (UNC, Duke, Virginia, and Florida State). Outside of that we’ve mentioned NC State, but newly hired Jim Larranaga at Miami has the Canes 15-7 and in position to get to the NCAAs for the first time since 2008. Oh yea they also won at Duke for the first time ever. Tony Bennett at Virginia has only guided the Cavaliers their best season since the 1980s so far. Florida State beat both North Carolina and Duke this year further proving the ACC is not just a two team conference.
If you happen to see the Duke\North Carolina Wednesday night, it was the first college basketball game of the season that literally took over Sportscenter. People were buzzing about that game in a way that I haven’t seen in a numbers of years for an ACC basketball game. With the incoming talent and the coaching turnover of last few years this may the last year anyone can say ACC basketball isn’t what it used to be.