Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
In May of 2013, when the ACC knew it was adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame for the upcoming season and Louisville for 2014-15, Coach K issued this famous proclamation.
“We’re going to be a 10-bid conference,” the Duke coach said. “We’re going to be the best conference in the history of the game. It’s exciting to be part of that.”
In light of recent events, it seems appropriate to revisit Coach K’s comments.
Across the past three days, the ACC fell behind the Big Ten 5-0 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before rallying late to win six of the final nine games, including four of six on Wednesday night, highlighted by Duke’s impressive 80-70 victory over No. 2 Wisconsin.
The final tally?
Big Ten 8, ACC 6.
Does that look like the résumé of “the best conference in the history of the game”?
Um, we’ll let our man Seth Greenberg of ESPN, a former ACC coach, answer that one.
“I think it has the potential to be a special conference, but in the end you gotta win games,” Seth told me over the phone Thursday morning. “The teams at the bottom of the league are not very good and the teams at the top are not as good as their traditions.”
Duke handled Wisconsin in impressive fashion.
Louisville scored a quality win over Ohio State.
Notre Dame outlasted Michigan State in overtime.
Virginia remained unbeaten by beating back local rival Maryland by double-digits.
And Miami beat a Top 25 Illinois team.
But traditional powerhouses Syracuse and North Carolina both lost and former Big East power Pittsburgh fell to Indiana by double-digits.
The Orange are clearly not the same team they have been in past years, although they did fight Michigan tough before stumbling late.
North Carolina lost to a pretty good Iowa team that was beaten by both Syracuse and Texas last week in New York.
“It means little,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino told me of the final 8-6 tally in favor of the Big Ten. “Both conferences’ top halves are very strong.”
Coming out of this thing, Duke and Louisville appear to be the cream of the crop and are among a handful of teams that appear as though they could challenge Kentucky for the whole enchilada come March and April. We’ll throw Arizona, Gonzaga, Wisconsin and possibly Texas into that mix as well.
But the ACC certainly doesn’t look like the “best conference in the history of the game,” does it?
Keep in mind that in 1985 — during the Patrick Ewing/Chris Mullin Era — the Big East put three teams into the Final Four, with Villanova upsetting Georgetown in one of the greatest college games ever played.
In 2009, the Big East sent seven teams to the Big Dance, and three garnered No. 1 seeds.
In 2011, the Big East put a record 11 teams into the Big Dance — 11! UConn, the league’s ninth-place team, won the NCAA championship.
Pitino, a veteran of the old Big East who, like Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, probably wishes things had remained as they were, told me before the season that the ACC still had a lot to prove.
“You know, we have to prove that first by getting, like the Big East did, nine [or 11] teams in the NCAA, Pitino said. “Once we do that, then we can say that that’s true.”
For the record, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has eight ACC team and eight Big Ten teams projected into this year’s tournament. And yes, it’s still early December.
The ACC may one day transition into the “best conference in the history of the game,” but it’s certainly not looking like it right now.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.