Notre Dame boosts ACC hoops at ideal time

The 2013-14 ACC basketball season just got more interesting.

With Syracuse and Pittsburgh coming in, Atlantic Coast Conference basketball already was getting a needed boost. But with Notre Dame joining the conference in July, a year earlier than originally planned, the ACC will be even better.

The Fighting Irish’s move comes at a great time.

Notre Dame has been relevant in basketball for quite some time, a trend that should continue as the Irish transition to a new conference. Coach Mike Brey may have been on the hot seat several years ago, but Luke Harangody arrived and helped lift the program in the Big East, perhaps the nation’s best hoops conference. In subsequent seasons, Brey no longer has a stream of teams; the former Duke assistant now has a program.

And that’s what the ACC needs. Jim Boeheim has won 913 games in 37 years at Syracuse, and Jamie Dixon has an established program at Pittsburgh, winning at least 20 games in each of his 10 seasons at the helm. Next week, the Panthers will play in their ninth NCAA tournament under his direction.

Pitt has a premier program. The same cannot be said about any current ACC schools other than Duke, North Carolina and Florida State, and the Seminoles are NIT-bound this month.

Virginia appears headed in that direction under Tony Bennett. Maryland was a cultured program under Gary Williams, but he retired two years ago and Mark Turgeon is in the early stages of instilling his DNA into the program. The Terrapins are bolting for the Big Ten in a year, anyway, so in essence, their impact really doesn’t matter.

Therein lies the current problem with ACC basketball, which is why Notre Dame’s early entry should be welcomed with an open embrace. Forget boundaries, time zones and that South Bend, Ind., is nowhere near the Atlantic Coast. That train left a long time ago. Anchored ACC fans still harboring angst over expansion need to get over it.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh are good for ACC basketball. So is Notre Dame. And, for that matter, so is Louisville, which will join the conference for 2014-15.

The Irish (23-8, 11-7 Big East) have been ranked all season and currently stand at No. 24. Pitt and Syracuse sit at Nos. 17 and 19, respectively. Only No. 9 Miami and No. 2 Duke have been ranked from the ACC since early February.

The ACC needs a juice injection, and the newbies will provide that. Going back to 2004, when Georgia Tech lost to Connecticut in the national championship game, aside from UNC and Duke, only NC State (2005, 2012), Boston College (2006), and Florida State (2011) have advanced to the Sweet 16 from the ACC. The three new members have done it a combined five times.

In addition, Notre Dame has won at least 20 games for seven consecutive seasons. Pittsburgh (12 straight years) and Syracuse (16) have outdone that. By comparison, no ACC team other than Duke and UNC has done so more than five times in the past seven years. Clemson, Miami and Florida State have reached the 20-win mark five times each within that span.

“From a basketball perspective, the level of competition will be second to none,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement released by the league Tuesday. “As we look (toward) the future, there’s no denying that ACC basketball will continue to set even higher standards of excitement and excellence. The competition will be brutal, which is a great thing for our league and fans.”

Notre Dame coming aboard will put the ACC at 15 basketball schools, which may cause some scheduling issues, especially with the tradition-rich ACC tournament. But the additions of Syracuse, Pitt and ND should carve a new legacy for the conference. Imagine what the ACC quarterfinals could look like in a 15-team format, if form held from this season:

No. 1 seed Miami vs. No. 8 NC State
No. 2 Duke vs. No. 7 Virginia
No. 3 Pittsburgh vs. No. 6 Notre Dame
No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 5 UNC

Without even considering the future addition of Louisville, that is an awesome lineup. It’s one that will bring folks back to the days when teachers in the region rolled out TVs so kids could watch the afternoon games during school. It was when people left work early, or skipped it entirely, to watch the church of ACC basketball.