Analysis: The state of ACC hoops moving forward
APR 02, 2014 7:45p ET
And as one of the more eagerly anticipated seasons in recent ACC history fell to the ground with a relative thud, the postmortem -- as laid out here on Tuesday -- is relatively grisly.
That doesn't mean, however, the ACC's future won't be bright.
When the league expanded two years ago -- adding Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, with Louisville to join next season -- Commissioner John Swofford had envisioned the ACC to be the nation's best basketball conference, far and away.
It may not have panned out this season, but there are still many reasons to believe the ACC will be top-notch ... and sooner than later.
With the possible exceptions of Syracuse's Jim Boeheim (69 years old) and Miami's Jim Larranaga (64), it seems the conference's other coaching legends -- like Louisville's Rick Pitino (age 61), UNC's Roy Williams (63) and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (67) -- have a few more years before opting for retirement.
And Florida State's Leonard Hamilton (age 65) doesn't look to be slowing down anytime soon.
There's still one coaching vacancy left in the conference (Boston College); and that search is reportedly progressing well -- sort of.
The Eagles program desperately needed a change at the top -- a move that will energize the team, the school and the BC fan base.
It will take some time for Boston College to reap the benefits of the new hire, but at least it's change. Wake Forest looks to be hiring Tulsa head coach, former Kansas star and North Carolina native Danny Manning -- certainly an interesting move.
Virginia Tech, though, won the off-season by hiring a head coach with a lot of success -- former Marquette head man Buzz Williams, now one of the conference's youngest coaches.
It's a great move for the Hokies and for the league in general, as Williams possesses that appealing mix of coaching acumen and personality.
The ACC's youngest coaches -- Williams (41), Virginia's Tony Bennett (44) and Clemson's Brad Brownell (47) -- have their programs headed in the right direction. Add in Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon (48) and North Carolina State's Mark Gottfried (50), and the conference has the look of stability for the coming seasons.
Assuming the coaches remain with their current programs.
The 2014-15 campaign looks to be relatively wide open, and not necessarily in a bad way.
North Carolina, which returns most of its players (except for shooting guard Leslie McDonald and maybe forward James Michael McAdoo), reportedly has the No. 4 recruiting class in the country (per Scout.com).
Within that scope, Duke -- which will likely lose Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker to the NBA -- currently has the country's top-ranked recruiting class. Put it all together and the Tar Heels and Blue Devils should have potentially dynamic teams next season.
Louisville is losing vital pieces in Russ Smith and Luke Hancock (and maybe junior-to-be Motrezl Harrell), but the Cardinals still boast the country's No. 8 recruiting class.
N.C. State's young core season returns next year, along with transfer Trevor Lacey and the No. 18 recruiting class. The only missing piece: ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren is expected to enter the NBA draft.
For good measure, Syracuse (No. 17 recruiting class) and Miami (24th) also belong in Scout.com's Top 25 classes for next season.
While Duke and North Carolina appear to be the early favorites, a lot of other candidates could end up taking the conference title. The ACC, per statistician Ken Pomeroy, had the eighth-most blowout games of any league, nationally. That's not fun for anyone to watch.
Things should be a lot more competitive next season.
As good as Kansas has been in the Big 12, isn't it boring how the Jayhawks win the conference title year after year? In the ACC, we've had a different tournament champion each of the last four years.
Bottom line: Counting one-year wonders, there are always new challengers to the proverbial thrones of UNC and Duke ... and that's important for balance.
Of the 21 all-conference selections (including six honorable mentions), it's likely that seven or eight will return to school next season.
Among the first-teamers ... UNC's Marcus Paige is definitely returning to Chapell Hill. Clemson's K.J. McDaniels may be a 50/50 proposition at this point. And Duke's Parker and N.C. State' Warren have yet to declare their intentions -- even though both are expected to pursue their NBA dreams.
Among the second-teamers ... Virginia sophomore Malcolm Brogdon is slated to return. UNC's James Michael McAdoo and Duke's Hood are up in the air at this time.
Syracuse guard Tyler Ennis has already announced that he's leaving school, and Pittsburgh's Lamar Patterson has exhausted his college eligibility. And Boston College sophomore Olivier Hanlan could be in for a big season in 2015, if he decides to return to BC's campus.
The same holds true for Florida State's Aaron Thomas -- a rising star in the ACC ranks.
With Duke bringing in a bumper crop of high-profile freshmen, the Blue Devils could be equal parts thrilling and maddening to watch next season -- especially if Parker and Hood turn pro.
Just like with Kentucky's large freshmen class this season, Duke's youngsters will need to have chemistry to make continual strides throughout the year.
The Footprint ... And Beyond
Greensboro, N.C. has long been the center of ACC hoops, serving as the semi-regular home of the conference tournament.
But with the league expanding to 15 teams (replacing Maryland with Louisville next season, the ACC must grow, as well. That's a primary reason for the ACC moving its tournament to Brooklyn, N.Y. (Barclays Center -- home of the NBA's Nets) for the 2018 and '19 seasons.
Swofford has also made it clear that, in a changing media market, the television contracts and grant-of-rights agreements must evolve in concert. (Grant-of-rights deals prohibit universities from leaving the ACC for another conference, without incurring a long-term media rights penalty. That expansion trend is one that Swofford arguably started back in 2004.)
Swofford got the expansion ball rolling 10 years ago, adding Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College from the Big East. It was the first bold move in a decade of constant change amid the nation's most prominent conferences.
When ACC basketball began to suffer a bit, Swofford then added Syracuse, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Louisville.
In today's money- and media-market-driven landscape, football still rules the roost in college sports. But ACC's foundation has plenty of basketball roots, leaving the conference in good shape moving forward.