Miami, NC State not boosting ACC's reputation
CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Jim Larranaga, the University of Miami’s first-year coach and a former Virginia assistant, was recalling the glory days of the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday.
North Carolina had Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Michael Jordan and Al Wood. Duke had Mike Gminski, Jim Spanarkel and Gene Banks. Maryland had Albert King and Buck Williams. Virginia had Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp.
“Every team had so many great players,” Larranaga said, “and you’re looking at it and you know every night if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you’re getting beat because that other team is really, really good.”
Fast forward to 2012, and things are much different, almost disappointing by comparison. The ACC isn’t nearly as talented, and the NCAA berths aren’t nearly as plentiful. This could be the second consecutive year the ACC only gets four NCAA berths.
Miami (18-11, 9-7) and North Carolina State (19-11, 8-7) are the swing teams for the ACC this season. Their NCAA Tournament fate will determine whether this was a good year or bad year for the conference. It’s a lot of pressure admitted or not.
“We never go into a game thinking we have tremendous pressure to get into the tournament,” Miami senior forward DeQuan Jones said.
It’s strange to think Miami and N.C. State, an odd set of basketball bookends, epitomize the ACC’s drop-off and its struggle to get back on top.
Look at it this way: The ACC Tournament starts Thursday at Philips Arena in Atlanta. And unless the Hurricanes and Wolfpack work some magic, the 12-team ACC will only get four teams — Duke, North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia — in the NCAA Tournament.
That would be just four ACC berths in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in five years. That’s disappointing no matter how it’s spun.
“I think our league is a lot better than people think, or thought coming into this year,” Boston College coach Steve Donahue said.
But the fact is the ACC is still lacking. By comparison, the Big East could have 10 NCAA Tournament berths this year. The Big Ten could have seven. The Big 12 could have six. The Southeastern Conference could have five. And then there’s the ACC.
The heart of the conference — teams such as Miami and N.C. State — is suspect right now.
Miami defeated Boston College, 77-56, Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams.
But Miami entered that game having lost four of its last six, going 1-2 against ranked teams and 1-2 against unranked teams in that span. That’s not impressive.
North Carolina State ended a four-game losing streak with Wednesday’s 77-73 victory over Miami. Again, the late-season swoon isn’t good. The victory represented the Wolfpack’s second win against a team with a RPI in the top 50. But unfortunately for the ACC both wins are against Miami.
That, too, isn’t impressive. Well, not to an outsider.
“Teams like Miami and N.C. State and Virginia are all worthy of going to the NCAA Tournament,” said Donahue, who took Cornell to the Sweet 16 in 2010.
A brief sidebar: Boston College (9-20, 4-11) is among the most bizarre stories of the ACC. The Eagles, who finished 21-13 a year ago, start four freshmen, three from California — guards Jordan Daniels and Lonnie Jackson and forward Ryan Anderson. Among their nine wins are victories over Stony Brook, Bryant and Sacred Heart.
And somehow Donahue, who took over the Eagles after 10 years at Cornell, got Boston College to upset No. 15 Florida State last month. Boston College even entered Saturday’s game riding the momentum of Thursday’s 56-52 victory over Georgia Tech, the only ACC team that’s worse than the Eagles.
Boston College is a weird group, a strange mixture of full beards and peach fuzz, of height (starting center Dennis Clifford is a 7-footer) and lack of height (Daniels is 5-foot-8).
Miami, which was a blazing 9-for-17 on three-pointers in the first half, went on a 16-1 run to take a 36-19 lead. Minutes later came the decisive bow, a running 26-foot three-pointer by guard Durand Scott as time expired in the first half.
Miami took a whopping 46-25 lead into the lockerroom at halftime. It had no problem holding that lead in that yawner of a second half.
It wasn’t much of a victory as far as NCAA hopes. But it was better than the alternative.
“A loss today would have been devastating,” Larranaga said after the game.
Larranaga feels good about the season. And so do his players, and rightfully so. The Hurricanes won nine ACC games for the time since joining the league in the 2004-05 season.
But with traditional powers such as Wake Forest (13-16, 4-11) and Georgia Tech (10-19, 3-12) struggling to stay out of the cellar the ACC is looking shaky as a power conference.
Miami and N.C. State will carry the flag this week. If they do well, the ACC is viewed favorably, if not, well, it’s another average year.