There was a time, say, ten years ago, when nearly every ACC match-up was can’t miss. It was a league that encouraged the media to name it the best college basketball conference in the country, and fans to "ooh" and "aah," marvel really, as the pure beauty of the league's competitiveness and depth of talent. John Feinstein even wrote a book about it after a year of full conference immersion.
That is not the case anymore. Despite producing two of the last three national champions, the ACC is way down, unfortunately. But while the Big East enjoys a string of beautiful seasons that has slowly grappled the title of "Best Conference" away from their peers to the south, the ACC may have solved their talent problem by their own grappling of Pittsburgh and Syracuse into the conference.
Finally, after eight years where either Duke or North Carolina won or shared the ACC regular season crown, the Panthers and Orange will undoubtedly bridge the growing gap between two shades of blue and many shades of mediocre when they join the league in 2014.
Quick ACC Predictions
It may be about football, but there's no question this is the first conference realignment move to truly impact basketball, and thank god for that.
This season, though, the conference will continue to deal with a disparity of talent that is nearly analogous to the class gap this country is seeing during the ongoing economic downturn.
With one national title contender and a second that could flirt with the Final Four, the ACC also has three programs – Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest - facing incredibly lean times that will force inexperienced players into roles they're frankly not ready to handle. Including them, eight of the 12 ACC teams are led by coaches who have been around for less than three seasons . Four of them, Miami’s Jim Larranaga, Maryland’s Mark Turgeon, Tech’s Brian Gregory, and NC State’s Mark Gottfried are brand new beginning this season.
While fans of everyone not named Duke and UNC are likely not incredibly jazzed for the upcoming season, the silver lining is that third place is up for grabs, and there is a great opportunity for teams to overachieve and compete for a spot in the field of 68.
Built on a sound defense system where everyone contributes to the cause, Florida State is more than capable of solidifying themselves in that bronze medal spot. Coming off a surprising Sweet 16 run last March, Leonard Hamilton will aim for the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament once again by preventing opponents from scoring, rather than looking to outscore them. The Seminoles led the country last season with a 36 defensive field-goal percentage. If they're able to continue that sort of stifling D, they'll be in great shape.
If defense bores you, look south to Miami, which returns an often overlooked scoring duo of Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. The Hurricanes starting backcourt mates combined to average nearly 29 points a game last season, meaning fans should prepare for some breakout games this winter. We foresee a few morning recaps gushing about the chances of this team. Under the aforementioned first-year head coach Jim Larranaga, the U will at least be both fun to watch and competitive throughout the season.
Meanwhile, once again looking like a bubble team, Virginia Tech will rely heavily on junior guard Erick Green to score points after the Hokies lost 56 percent of their scoring from a year ago. Their non-conference strength of schedule features Oklahoma State and Kansas State, and possible NIT Preseason games against Syracuse and Stanford. Perhaps they finally realizing the importance of not scheduling cupcakes.
Despite these dim glimmers of hope for a competitive league in 2011-2012, the ACC desperately needs Pitt and Syracuse to restore the glory from the days when your older brother told you how this was the best brand of college basketball. Duke and North Carolina will always be there, but watching them be challenged is pretty cool too.
2014 can’t come soon enough.