One thing stands true about College Basketball. It just never disappoints. One thing struck me when watching Virginia and Villanova (the team many pundits point to as the best in the country) last weekend, that this was a late January NCAA Tournament type game. Same with Kansas and Kentucky. Big win for the Jayhawks, only to go back to their home in Lawrence, Kansas and do something they never seem to do…lose. The NFL likes to use the phrase “Any Given Sunday” which had much more meaning before the League started scheduling those bush league Thursday Night games that just suck. But, in College Basketball it literally is any given night. Unfortunately, you are most often judged by what you do in March and you don’t have to be the “best team” just a team that can win 6 straight games.
So it also stands to reason that the self-proclaimed Grand Daddy of all basketball leagues the Atlantic Coast Conference, hasn’t to this point disappointed and certainly won’t as February turns to March. Start with the premise that the ACC has the best rivalry in all of sports (in my opinion) between Duke and North Carolina who for some reason this year are playing on a Thursday night instead of their traditional first meeting on a Wednesday. I’ll just bet ESPN has something to do with that. Then there’s the fact that the ACC is loaded. If the NCAA Tournament committee picked its field of 68 today, there’s a general school of thought and I tend to agree that the ACC would put 10 teams into the tournament. Now, it’s complete bullshit for some to say that the ACC this year is the greatest league of all time. I don’t know how you ever make that statement or comparison, But think about what the ACC did last year. It put 7 teams in the Tournament, 6 in the Sweet 16, 4 in the Elite 8, two in the Final 4 and one in the Championship game. That’s pretty strong.
Of course, it helps to have a 15 team league, but let’s be honest, the ACC was making its name nationally long before Commissioner John Swofford raided the Big East to create a 15-team conference. And by the way, he needs to tell Notre Dame to quit putting its big toe in the water and jump into the conference for all sports and if they don’t want to, screw ’em. They’d suck in the Big Ten for football as much as they’d suck in the ACC. Forcing them to schedule 5 ACC games a year for their membership in the conference in all other sports, looks a lot like pandering to me. If Notre Dame wants to hold onto its precious NBC contract, then my guess is that NBC would agree to televise the ACC and if they won’t someone else will. What NBC gets out of match-ups like Notre Dame-Massachusetts and Notre Dame-Nevada remains a mystery, but I don’t run a network that has no real sports portfolio and thinks that average Americans are interested in Premier League Soccer. I just pissed off the “soccer heads” Who cares? Okay rant over.
For most of it’s history the ACC had 7 teams, then 8 when Ga. Tech joined in the late 70s, and then 9 when the league brought in Florida State in a clearly football move. North Carolina and Duke have won multiple National titles. N.C. State won its only championship in 1983, Ga. Tech has gone to two final 4s and one National Title game, and Virginia went to the Final 4 twice, 1981 and 1984.
This year, the usual suspects are likely to make the field, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, and Notre Dame. But, you are also likely to see Florida State, currently with an RPI of 6, Syracuse, which has a pretty poor RPI, but also has Jim Boeheim as its head coach and after last year’s 10 seed, it’s clear the NCAA Tournament Committee has a fondness for the Orange; Miami which has an RPI of 55 but some nice wins, and Va. Tech and Wake Forest. Both of those final teams, Va. Tech and Wake Forest still have some work to do. The Hokies have looked good at times, but have also looked just awful at times getting clobbered at N.C. State, North Carolina and Virginia. This Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. home game against Virginia is critical to their post-season hopes. Wake Forest has an RPI of 27 which is pretty darn good, but I wonder if the loss to Duke where they essentially had the game won is going to come back to bite them in 5 weeks.
Of course, the ACC has its share of bottom feeders as well. Boston College has doubled it’s ACC win total from last year when they didn’t win a single conference game. N.C. State is just a weird basketball team. Right now they are just 3-8 in the conference and one of the three wins was a win at Duke for the first time in 20 years. They smacked Va. Tech all over the place in Raleigh, have one of the best freshman in the country in Dennis Smith and yet are just 14-10 and appear to be headed to the NIT, if anywhere.
As strange as I thought it was for Kevin Stallings to remain the head coach at Vanderbilt for as long as he did, his leaving Vanderbilt to coach at Pitt was stranger. Stallings grew up in the Midwest, played at Purdue and began his coaching career at Kansas with Roy Williams before getting a job at Illinois State. Nothing about Kevin Stallings says Pittsburgh. Former coach Jamie Dixon obviously didn’t think Pitt could compete in the ACC long term because he left for TCU. I understand it was his alma mater, but it’s still stinking TCU. Pitt was a success in the Big East by recruiting the hell out of New York City. Now that they are in the ACC, my guess is that pipeline is probably doing to dry up. Stallings has struggled in his first year at Pitt sitting at just 12-11 and 1-9 in the conference. That one win was over Virginia of all teams. He did win an SEC title at Vanderbilt so I’ll give him some time before making a final decision, but the early returns aren’t good. Then again, they weren’t for Donald Trump either.
And why oh why, Clemson thinks that Brad Brownell is a good option as a basketball coach is a mystery. The guy – and I realize I’m judging him without knowing him – looks like a joyless soul. He got pissed off earlier this year and chewed out Roy Williams because one of North Carolina’s players was talking shit during the game. Now, if you play at North Carolina you shouldn’t be talking shit to Clemson, but at the same time it’s part of the game and if you don’t want UNC rubbing it in your face, figure out how to beat them. I guess Clemson is content with winning football, even though the cut from the NCAA basketball pool funds a large part of any school’s non-revenue sports. Brownell started well by taking his first team – that was recruited largely by former coach Oliver Purnell – to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Since then, he’s been in the NIT in 2014 and that’s it. I would like to think even Clemson would have loftier goals than playing in the NIT and the ACC Tournament’s “Les Robinson Invitational” which is what the tournament’s first day amongst the bottom feeders is jokingly called. It’s named after former N.C. State Coach Les Robinson whose N.C. State team was always seemingly playing in the tournament’s opening night 8-9 game when the Conference had only 9 schools.
The ACC has seen it’s share of chaos off the court as well this year. Louisville is still dealing with the residual effects of its “sex scandal” where a former Director of Basketball Operations was buying prostitutes for recruits and players. The school declared a self-ban from the post-season last year in an effort to head off the NCAA, but the hammer is still coming. Don’t tell me that head coach Rick Pitino didn’t know what was going on either, or at least turned a blind eye to it. This is after all a guy who had sex with a woman on a table in a pizza parlor only to have her try to extort money from him and wind up in prison. She’s out by the way at a halfway house. Just this weekend, two of his players missed curfew, probably the easiest thing to comply with and they had to sit out the Virginia game last night as a result. The results were predictable.
West Virginia has ended Virginia’s home winning streak, Florida State somehow lost to a really poor Temple team, North Carolina let a player from Kentucky hang 40 plus points on them, Syracuse has lost to U-Conn of the American Conference and Georgetown and St. John’s of the Big East, and Ga. Tech has a first year head coach who was left with essentially zero players after Brian Gregory was fired. All he’s done is beat North Carolina, Florida State, and Notre Dame. And is it a sign of the times that Syracuse’s students are storming the floor after they beat Florida State? You went to the Final 4 last year so why are you storming the floor when you beat Florida State? This isn’t football. And I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that Maryland – long a stalwart in the ACC – is in the Big Ten. Just doesn’t seem right. Then there’s Coach K who had back surgery forcing him to take a leave of absence from the team. Now, I understand health problems, and at least this time he did come back and claims to be pain free, but this is the second time this has happened. He did it in 1995 and left for the entire season leaving Pete Gaudet to coach Duke to an 11-19 season. Poor Jeff Capel had to deal with that season as a player and then this season taking over for Coach K as the acting head coach. Capel may well be respected as an assistant and he should be, but the way Duke played in Coach K’s absence had all the look of a fourth grade class with a substitute teacher.
For the first time in its history, the ACC Basketball Tournament will go to New York City and play at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. To pull this off the ACC had to pay off the Atlantic 10 to vacate the building for two years and move its tournament to Pittsburgh. It’s clearly a nod to the Northeast schools the league has added to what was always largely a Southern based conference. We can debate forever if these conference tournaments are worthwhile, but they aren’t going anywhere because the money is too big and in the case of the ACC, its official conference champion is the conference tournament winner. One thing is for certain, like the rest of college basketball the ACC’s 5 day run in the Big Apple figures to not disappoint.