LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- One early look at the next college basketball season, by CBSSports.com, shows four teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference ranked in the top 12 in the nation.
ESPN ups the ante, placing four ACC teams in its top eight. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News agrees – ranking Virginia eighth, Louisville seventh, North Carolina fifth and Duke fourth. No other league pushed more than one team in his pre-season top eight.
What do the ACC coaches who have been in Louisville this weekend at the AAU Nationals tournament think about the love that is only beginning to rage?
“Obviously with what coach (Rick) Pitino has done, what it will add, it will make this league unlike anything college basketball has seen,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said.
“I know the Big East was great in those days but this is unique with the four Hall of Fame coaches, and then the programs getting established, hopefully like ours, with the powerhouses, there is going to be some great, great basketball
“Not many off nights.”
Bennett is talking about Pitino (two NCAA titles), Roy Williams at North Carolina (two NCAA titles), Jim Boeheim of Syracuse (one NCAA title) and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (four NCAA titles).
Difficult. Extremely difficult. Too difficult?
“Doesn’t matter if it is going to be too tough,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said. “It is what it is. You’ve got to deal with it. It’s going to be great. If you can play well in our league and have any kind of success, you’re going to have a chance to do well in the post season.
“It’s fun for me being a southern Indiana (Evansville) guy, having Louisville and Notre Dame, two teams close to my state.”
“I can’t wait to see the Yum! Center,” Bennett said. “I’ve heard it’s amazing.”
This is what ACC coaches envisioned when guys like Krzyzewski encouraged commissioner John Swofford to expand the league. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame moved in last season. Louisville replaces Maryland this season.
Results from Year One were mixed. The ACC pushed only six of 15 teams into the NCAA Tournament. None made the Final Four or even the Elite Eight.
The ACC was no big deal. The SEC had a better March – with only three teams, two advancing to the Final Four.
In fact, the ACC’s overall NCAA Tournament record was merely 6-6. Virginia was the only program to make the Sweet Sixteen. Duke and Syracuse made unforgettable early exits, losing to teams with double-digit seeds.
That was the snapshot from March 2014. The big picture look from the coaches is that the addition of four solid programs over two seasons will improve the league’s recruiting base and overall media footprint.
That should lead to better players, which should lead to better performances than 6-6 – likely as soon as this season with four programs certain to be ranked in the Top 12.
“Of course, I’m biased and I’m going to say that,” Bennett said. “There are some great leagues but you’ll be hard pressed to find one any better than the ACC.
“I think you can judge leagues different ways. When you say top to bottom, look at depth, how good is the bottom of a league? That’s how you look at leagues. What’s the middle of the league like? That’s where I think it’s going to be the best.”
“With the recent additions, I think it’s going to help everybody in recruiting,” Brownell said. “I think we’re going to continue to get better players. We have a great TV package with ESPN. Very good exposure.
“Kids realize if they want to play in the best league in college basketball, you want to be a part of the ACC. I think we’re going to see that over the next couple of years.”
I asked Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton if he believes there will be a learning curve for Louisville as the Cards move into the ACC.
“No,” Hamilton said.
He deviated from that position slightly by saying that he believes ACC basketball is more athletic and less physical than the old Big East, a league he also coached in at Miami. But Hamilton said that style of play was not the leading factor in winning ACC championships.
“If you look at our league the last three seasons, you have to have experienced players to win the league,” Hamilton said. “Virginia (Joe Harris) last year. Miami (Durand Scott, Kenny Kadji in 2013). North Carolina (Tyler Zeller, John Henson in 2012). We had seniors when we won the ACC Tournament (2012).
“You can have really great freshmen but this is a league where veterans do well.”