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Apr
07
2015

Led by the Duke Blue Devils the ACC is again the nation’s top basketball conference.

Okafor

The ACC has always been historically known for it’s basketball. That is without debate. Each season there were a bunch of top 25 teams, with near annual runs to the Final 4 and national title game. Even with the Big East becoming an elite basketball conference in the 1980s, the ACC still challenged for the nation’s top basketball conference year in and year out.

Then slowly the basketball in the ACC dropped starting in the mid 2000s. The roots of the ACC basketball decline can be tied to basically two things.

1) ACC Expansion due to football

Virginia Tech, Miami, and Boston College have had some good basketball teams, but they weren’t brought to the ACC to elevate the basketball. This was a football move, and especially in the mid 2000s Virginia Tech and Miami were middling basketball programs. Boston College was better, but they fell off by the end of the decade.

2) Poor Coaching Hires

Sydney Lowe – NC State, Brian Gregory  – Georgia Tech, Jeff Bzdelik – Wake Forest, David Leitao – Virginia. These were all coaches during and after the mid 2000s at schools with some basketball pedigree. None could lift their programs into consistent winners. In the case of Gregory, he’s still at Georgia Tech. He replaced Paul Hewitt who struggled at the end of his tenure in Atlanta.

In a 12 team conference, that’s already 7 of your schools. Clemson and Florida State were actually decent during most of this period, but as basketball teams at football schools they had a ceiling. Maryland wasn’t bad either, but Gary Williams had let the program fall from basketball power to bubble team and was gone from Maryland by 2011.

In essence the ACC had become North Carolina and Duke, who won national titles in 2005, 2009, and 2010. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils help mask where the ACC had fallen too.

When UNC and Duke slipped slightly themselves after 2010, the conference had nowhere to hide. The Big East and Big 10 had surpassed the ACC as a basketball conference. The conference had no Final Four teams from 2011-2014, and last year the bottom fell out when the ACC had only 1 Sweet 16 team – the Virginia Cavaliers. Not 1 ACC team reached the Elite 8.

When traditionally strong basketball programs like Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, and Notre Dame joined the ACC,  they brought a physical Big East style to the conference. The conference had become very much finesse league in recent years. Coaching hires like Mark Gottfried at NC State, Tony Bennett at Virginia, and Jim Larranaga at Miami improved those basketball programs immensely.

This season the ACC returned to the basketball conference we all remember. The ACC went 11-1 during the opening weekend, and tied a NCAA record with 5 Sweet 16 teams (UNC, Louisville, Duke, NC State, and Notre Dame). NC State knocked off #1 seed Villanova. 3 ACC Teams (Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville) reached the Elite 8. Duke made the Final 4, and won the National Title under Mike Krzyzewski, who just continues to add to his list coaching accomplishments.

The conference went a brilliant 17-5 in the NCAAs for one of the records from any conference in tournament history. For most of the year 5 ACC teams were ranked in the top 20.

The Big 12 was arguably deeper, but it’s dismal NCAA performance left no question about where the country’s best basketball was in 2015.

If you think the conference is going to back up, this early pre-season 2015-2016 top 25 has 6 ACC teams  in it with Virginia and UNC starting at 1 and 2.

It’s been awhile, but the ACC is again the country’s best basketball conference

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