Irish, Hokies make early exit in ACC Tournament, coaches' future unclear
Expansion meant an extra day to the ACC Tournament, but Notre Dame and Virginia Tech are done after one game after losing to Wake Forest and Miami, respectively, and it remains to be seen if either team's head coach returns next season.
Wake Forest's Coron Williams scored a season-high 25 points against Notre Dame.
Bob Donnan / USA TODAY Sports
By Lauren Brownlow
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The first ACC Tournament Wednesday in league history, and somewhat appropriately in Year 1 of the latest round of expansion, the first team out was a new member. Notre Dame finished its first ACC season 15-17 overall and under .500 for the first time since 1998-99. It's also the first time in six seasons Notre Dame failed to win at least one conference tournament game.
Head coach Mike Brey said after the game that the Fighting Irish, which fought through injuries, suspensions and general tumultuousness all season, wouldn't accept a postseason invitation even if it were to be extended. "I think it's best we end this saga," Brey said.
Brey says there will be no postseason for Notre Dame. "I think it's best we end this saga."
Wake Forest might have wanted to end this saga as well, but the Deacs sure didn't show many signs of it, hitting 61 percent of their shots (including 7-of-10 three's).
Wake Forest improved to 17-15 on the season and with at least a game to go, there's no telling how the Deacs will finish. It's already the most wins for Wake since 2010.
It does seem like any time embattled head coach Jeff Bzdelik is really under the gun, he gets the win or two he needs to come back for one more year.
It's Wake Forest's first ACC Tournament win since 2007, and that was under former head coach Skip Prosser (who died later that year; there have been two head coaches since).
"It's a step in the right direction, no question," Bzdelik said afterward. "It's about Wake Forest. It's not about any one of us. It's about Wake Forest, tradition, history, how much it means to so many people, this Tournament, and it's something that is greater than ourselves. So we need that honor that and just leave it all out there and play as well as we possibly can."
Many Wake Forest fans are already convinced that Bzdelik is not the guy, particularly after a 14-6 start this season -- Bzdelik's fourth -- quickly evaporated into a 15-14 record not long after, including seven straight losses at one point.
But the Deacs do have some nice wins this season, like at home against Duke and North Carolina, so who knows what the future holds for Bzdelik?
Wake will face Pittsburgh on Thursday, a game that, while not easy for the Deacs, is certainly winnable. If he wins two ACC Tournament games for the first time in Wake history since 2006, maybe it's not too late for him.
Bzdelik isn't the only coach under fire whose team was playing on Wednesday.
Unfortunately for Virginia Tech second-year head coach James Johnson, his team lost, dropping it to 9-22 on the season.
Johnson himself is young and so is his team -- this year's problems were compounded by a lot of injuries to an already struggling group. Johnson, a former assistant, was hired for an almost impossible situation as a lot of Virginia Tech's roster transferred after Seth Greenberg was fired unexpectedly in late 2012.
Johnson's team fought hard against Miami and nearly made it three straight against the Hurricanes, but ultimately fell 57-52.
Somehow, even as injuries piled up nearly as much as the losses, Johnson managed to maintain his optimism. Even as the Hokies' season was over, he didn't feel any differently. Even when it came to his job status.
"I'm optimistic that I'll be back and I'll be the head coach here at Virginia Tech, and I look forward to coaching these young men and us moving forward," Johnson said.
His current players certainly felt that way.
"It would mean everything. He's the guy who brought me in here," ACC All-freshman team member Devin Wilson said of his head coach. "I was a little under-recruited in high school, and he had faith in me that I was going to be able to come in here and produce, so having him back next year is going to be everything for us and the freshman class and the class that he's bringing in, as well."
And then, of course, there's the ACC itself. The ACC Tournament opening day has hardly been a must-see affair, even before the first round of expansion in 2004 as the 8-seed vs. 9-seed game started things off.
After Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College joined the league, the Thursday session started to feel like one long 8-9 game.
Now they've added a Wednesday session -- three games between six of the worst teams in the league, none of which has any real postseason hope.
Drapes covered the top half of the Greensboro Coliseum -- most of the upper deck -- and the atmosphere was, at best, bland. And at worst, it was ... silent. Lifeless.
The basketball itself wasn't much better.
This league is filled with great programs with a lot of rich tradition and history. Notre Dame is usually better than this.
There will probably be a day soon enough where the Wednesday game crowds are fuller, the atmosphere is better and maybe even a team that plays on Wednesday will have a realistic shot at making the NCAA Tournament. Who knows?
Right now, the league will be fortunate if a single team that isn't in its top four makes it.
Nowhere to go but up, of course, but as the league expands, it becomes harder and harder to justify keeping the ACC Tournament in Greensboro -- even though it's such a big part of the league's history and tradition.