Notre Dame to ACC: Ranking the ACC Basketball Programs with the Irish Included
Another day, another seismic shift in college sports’ ongoing realignment saga. The latest powerhouse program to change allegiances is Notre Dame, which (as reported by ESPN) is heading for the ACC in all sports except football and hockey, probably starting in 2014.
The Irish become the third outstanding Big East program to defect to the ACC, with Pitt and Syracuse coming in 2013. The arrival of many high-profile teams raises the following question: What will the balance of power look like in the ACC when all the dust settles?
Read on for a look at the best and worst of the conference after all the newcomers have arrived in 2014.
15. Virginia Tech
In spite of Seth Greenberg’s best efforts, the Hokies have a total of one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 15 years.
Now that Greenberg has been unceremoniously removed from his head coaching job, the program has even less of an identity than it did before—especially since Greenberg's departure prompted star freshman Dorian Finney-Smith to transfer to Florida.
Neophyte head coach James Johnson has his work cut out for him, and the road will get even rockier when Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame arrive.
The Hokies are likely to find themselves longing for Greenberg’s repeated 20-win finishes, even if they didn’t result in NCAA Tournament bids.
14. Boston College
The adjustment to the ACC hasn’t been a pleasant one for the Eagles, whose 2011-12 squad posted the program’s third losing season in seven tries since moving from the Big East.
Third-year coach Steve Donahue has struggled with recruiting, and B.C.’s fortunes will get worse before they get better.
The addition of three intimidating new conference foes isn’t going to make life any easier for the Eagles, who don’t even get the benefit of reestablishing any of the New England rivalries they left behind in the Big East.
Perhaps the best hope for Boston College is that the infusion of Big East defenses will slow down the wide-open ACC and allow their own defense to reassert itself.
13. Wake Forest
Although third-year coach Jeff Bzdelik has yet to find his footing in his latest job, Wake Forest still has reason to be hopeful about its future.
The Demon Deacons were an NCAA Tournament team as recently as 2010, and their combination of tradition and access to the North Carolina high school talent pool means that it’s tough to keep them down for long.
On the other hand, it also doesn’t take much of a drop-off to wind up with an ugly record in a conference as competitive as the ACC, a situation that's only going to get worse after the league expands.
Wake is likely to find itself near the bottom of the standings for a few more years after the Big East bruisers arrive, though they’ll surely right the ship before too long.
12. Georgia Tech
Since losing in the national title game in 2004, Georgia Tech has been a shockingly bad team. Last season marked the fourth time in those eight years that the Yellow Jackets finished under .500 overall.
That disappointing stretch has come in spite of some impressive individual players, including a trio of first-round NBA draft picks highlighted by defensive whiz Iman Shumpert.
Look for second-year coach Brian Gregory to turn things around sooner rather than later, because Tech is still a major player on the recruiting scene and it’s hard to keep losing over the long haul when the talent is there.
As third-year coach Brad Brownell runs out of predecessor Oliver Purnell’s high-powered recruits, Clemson has dug a bit of a hole for itself.
Still, the progress that Purnell made in building a squad that earned three straight NCAA Tournament bids—plus a fourth in Brownell’s debut—hasn’t been entirely squandered.
Clemson is hardly going to be an ACC contender in the near future, but they don’t look like a last-place team, either.
Expect the Tigers to scuffle around in the territory of .500 in conference play for a few seasons, but all it’ll take is one or two of the right recruits to put them back on the postseason track.
The Hurricanes have made just one NCAA Tournament in the last 10 seasons, but that figure doesn’t do justice to the improvement this program has made. Miami has four 20-win seasons in the last five years, with every chance of continuing that positive trend.
The one major question mark for the ‘Canes is second-year head coach Jim Larranaga, who has yet to prove himself as a recruiter at the power-conference level.
Assuming the former George Mason head man can parlay the talent on the current roster into a couple of strong recruiting classes, though, Miami will be in a solid position for the arrival of the Big East powerhouses.
Coming off its best season in almost two decades, Virginia has a great opportunity to keep building under well-traveled head coach Tony Bennett.
Bennett’s unexpected success in his third year in Charlottesville sets the table for the Cavaliers to be a factor in ACC play for years to come.
A strong 2012 recruiting class suggests that even when the Big East defectors arrive, Virginia isn’t going to fade quietly into the background. Look for Bennett to keep the Cavaliers relevant, and in the March Madness field, as the rule rather than the exception.
Mark Turgeon’s Maryland debut wasn’t exactly a rousing success, but the Terrapins are still a program to be reckoned with in the ACC.
Turgeon has landed two outstanding recruiting classes already, and the tradition of the Maryland name will help him keep that momentum going.
After all, it’s been 20 years since the Terps finished with a sub-.500 record overall, and for all the trouble they had a year ago, 6-10 isn’t exactly a disaster in ACC play.
Expect Turgeon to have his squad in NCAA Tournament contention as soon as next year, and keep them there even after the newcomers join the conference.
7. N.C. State
In the rare position of being the outright ACC favorites in 2012-13, N.C. State isn’t going to maintain that lofty status for the long term.
Even so, Mark Gottfried’s impressive first season in Raleigh suggests that the Wolfpack is going to be in the mix for the ACC crown more often than not.
Gottfried’s extraordinary recruiting showing this offseason also bodes well for his team’s ability to stay competitive in the post-expansion ACC.
Rodney Purvis and T.J. Warren aren’t likely to be around by the time Notre Dame arrives, but their performance will attract more top-tier recruits who will keep the Wolfpack in ACC contention for the foreseeable future.
6. Notre Dame
Notre Dame hasn’t been the greatest postseason performer under Mike Brey, but it’s hard to fault the Irish for their regular-season efforts.
Brey’s dozen years at the helm have produced eight NCAA Tournament bids and nine 20-win seasons without a single losing record.
The Irish have been an exception to the Big East’s defense-first tendencies, winning as much with great scorers (Ben Hansbrough, Luke Harangody) as with great stoppers.
That trend will help them keep pace with the high-powered offenses in their new conference, though recruiting may become tougher for an Atlantic Coast Conference team some 700 miles from the Atlantic coast.
5. Florida State
It took a while for Leonard Hamilton to build the Seminole program to his liking, but the results have been worth waiting for. Four straight NCAA Tournament bids are a school record, and the mighty FSU defense isn’t likely to slow down any time soon.
Even if 2012’s heavy graduation losses snap the postseason streak, the Seminoles have established themselves as a legitimate factor on the national stage, especially after last year’s sensational conference tournament showing.
No ACC team will be better equipped to bang with the bruising ex-Big East squads than Hamilton’s always-physical bunch.
The Panthers’ string of 10 straight NCAA Tournament appearances ended last March, but Pitt is still a formidable program. 2011-12 was Jamie Dixon’s worst season as a head coach, and his team still won 22 games.
Dixon has brought in yet another talent-laden recruiting class, meaning that the future for Pitt hoops is likely as bright as its recent past.
Joining the ACC may not mean the Panthers can get over their postseason jinx, but when it comes to regular-season basketball, they’ll be a factor in the conference title hunt almost every year.
It says a lot about the top of the ACC that Jim Boeheim stands in third place among the conference’s coaches because he has “only” one national title to his credit.
Of course, Boeheim’s 890 career wins also speak volumes, and the Hall of Famer will make sure that Syracuse remains one of the best programs in college hoops, regardless of what conference it plays in.
Boeheim’s signature 2-3 zone has always made for a tough adjustment for non-conference foes, and his new league will need some time to get used to two games a year against the best zone in the country.
Syracuse was a perennial contender when the Big East was the nation's toughest conference, and they won’t suffer any moving to an ACC that will claim that title for itself.
Mike Krzyzewski is the best coach in college basketball, but he’s no longer the best recruiter in his own conference.
For all Coach K’s ability to win without the absolute best talent, the fact that his teams can’t count on having the best talent every night leaves Duke in a very close second in this race.
Of course, a program that won a national title as recently as 2010 doesn’t exactly need to worry about where it ranks at any given moment.
Duke may be down in the short term thanks to Lehigh’s monumental upset in March, but it’s a safe bet that they’ll be back in the Final Four within a few seasons, even with a tougher ACC to contend with.
1. North Carolina
With two national championships and an amazing five 30-win seasons since 2004-05, North Carolina takes the top spot in the crowded ACC…for now.
The Tar Heels and the archrival Blue Devils have traded this honor back and forth throughout the conference’s history, and they’ll keep right on doing so after the league expands.
The Tar Heels’ recent edge has had everything to do with Roy Williams’ sensational recruiting performance, and even after losing four first-round draft picks to the NBA, Williams has a boatload of talent left in Chapel Hill.
His ability to bring in top-drawer athletes year after year will ensure that North Carolina basketball remains synonymous with the best in college basketball.