AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – Next basketball season will be the first since 1960-61 that neither Dean Smith nor Mike Krzyzewski graces an ACC sideline, and amid daily turmoil in the transfer and NIL space, the league’s current leadership is encouraged, yet sobered, by sobered, by the 2022 NCAA tournament .
Those were the prevailing topics and vibes this week as the conference’s coaches huddled with ACC commissioner Jim Phillips and Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president for men’s basketball, at the league’s annual spring meetings.
First and foremost, the group discussed this year’s NCAA tournament. Though North Carolina and Duke reached the Final Four, and Miami the Elite Eight, they were among just five ACC teams in the field, the conference’s fewest bids since the league grew to 15 basketball members in 2014.
More striking: For the first time since the NCAA began seeding in 1979, only one ACC team, Duke, was among the tournament’s top 30 seeds.
“Why did we only get five teams in, and why were we so disrespected as a league?” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “… There was frustration in [the meeting]. ”
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Virginia’s Tony Bennett was also among those asking questions.
“Notre Dame was one of the last teams [selected] and they went 15-5? ” he said.
Indeed, the Irish Fighting tied UNC for second place in the league at 15-5 but were among the last four at-large teams chosen.
“Selection Sunday in my house this year, there was more tension than any locker room I’ve coached,” Brey said.
But as Gavitt reminded Brey, 13 of Notre Dame’s 15 conference victories came against opponents in the bottom half of the ACC standings. Moreover, the ACC endured similar struggles (4-14 record) against ranked non-conference opponents during November and December, the narrative of a down ACC hovering for the remainder of the regular season.
Fifth-place Wake Forest, 13-7 in the league, didn’t make the NCAA field, done in by a weak non-conference schedule that Deacons coach Steve Forbes intentionally designed as he rebuilt the program. UVA (12-8) was also relegated to the NIT, the Cavaliers’ plight caused by early setbacks to Navy and James Madison. And Virginia Tech (11-9) might not have earned an NCAA bid without its ACC tournament championship.
Those records once associated with a stress-free Selection Sunday, but unbalanced conference schedules have made league standings less relevant to the NCAA men’s basketball committee, and rightfully so. And while some of the ACC’s early season issues can be attributed to the measured assimilation of freshmen and transfers, other leagues faced that same challenge.
So save the sympathy cards. No ACC team was unjustly excluded from the field.
Wake Forest had the strongest case, but when your non-conference schedule is ranked 343rd nationally, you have no flu. For all the selection committee’s inconsistencies over the years, some of which can be explained by its rotating membership, one principle has remained: A bubble team from a power conference with a weak non-league schedule is toast.
“I understand, and Dan Gavitt just said it: November and December are every bit as important as February and March,” Virginia Tech coach Mike Young said. “It’s the body of work. … We had a lot of discussion, but the bottom line is, you gotta win games. ”
With a wealth of returning and incoming talent at programs such as UNC, Duke, Miami, Virginia, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Louisville, the ACC should be much better next season. But Brey wants the conference also to promote itself more aggressively.
In a presentation to the coaches, ESPN analyst and former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg suggested that the league’s programs grant additional media access. Brey, for one, is all-in.
Mic up players and coaches during games. Conduct interviews during timeouts. Open the locker room to cameras.
“That’s the world we’re in,” Brey said. “You have to build your brand. … If you’re going to market your program and market your league, you gotta be out there. ”
Brand-building is becoming even more essential as the ACC approaches its first season in memory without a Mount Rushmore coach folks associate with the league.
Smith retired in 1997, Roy Williams last year and Krzyzewski last month. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame but will always be linked to the Big East. Besides, his program hasn’t finished among the ACC’s top five since 2014.
“I think the reality is we as a league have to do better, everyone,” Pitt coach Jeff Capel said. “We have to do better non-conference, the promotion of our league, the marketing of our league. Now you have these faces that are gone, and so it’s going to take even more now for everyone to be totally aligned. ”
Ideally, the alignment would include a coherent approach to name, image and likeness compensation for athletes, but with dozens of varying state laws and minimal guidance from the NCAA, good luck with that.
And while the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors this week recalled the membership that boosters are prohibited from recruiting activities, few, if any, have faith that the overworked NCAA enforcement staff can identify and sanction those who use NIL as an inducement and / or camouflage for pay-for-play.
“It’s so easy to circumvent rules,” Bennett said, “to find loopholes in name, image and likeness, transfer, tampering. That’s just what it is. You’ll never be able to stop that, control that. That’s the reality. “
“It’s so all over the place,” Young said. “There’s a lot of liar’s poker going on. I hope, I pray, that it finds its level, that there is not the competitive disadvantage created through NIL that we are all fearful of. ”
Brey and Capel suspect that the NCAA is searching for low-hanging fruit, boosters and / or schools blatantly violating the letter and spirit of the law.
“Someone’s going to have to get in trouble,” Capel said, “whether it’s a coach, a program, a player. I don’t want it to be me. … I’m trying to do everything right, because I feel like they’re looking for something, something or someone, to make an example of. ”