The ACC is about to get a whole lot tougher.
With all the news of conference expansion and contraction that has been circulating this week, most commentators and fans have focused on its impact on college football. This, of course, is naturally and totally acceptable; it is, after all, football season, and football is often the single biggest money maker for many of the schools and conferences being discussed, particularly in the SEC and the Big 12 (and to a lesser but still noticeable extent, the Pac-12).
What many have missed, however, is the impact these changes will have on college basketball. The season doesn't tip off until mid-November, and many people don't latch on until conference play gets going in January and February and even more come March.
Now, with word that Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be leaving the Big East to join the ACC, the conference home to the Tar Heels and the Blue Devils is poised to become the toughest basketball conference in the country. And there's even rumor that UConn maybe be seeking ACC membership as well, according to sources in an ESPN.com article by Joe Schad and Andy Katz.
So what does all this movement mean for the North Carolina Tar Heels?
Well, it certainly means that the Tar Heels will have two very good to excellent teams to go through in their quest for ACC dominance. There's no doubt that Pitt and Syracuse will maintain a high level of play once they switch conferences, meaning that in addition to Duke, North Carolina will have two marquee teams who they will play at least once each year. Not only that, movement into the ACC will mean increased recruiting competition among the powerhouse schools, as it's very possible that the new schools will try to tap the southern market for high school basketball players.
With all that being said, it's not all doom and gloom for the Heels. Just as Pitt and the 'Cuse will try to get into the southern recruiting market, the Tar Heels can gain a greater presence in the northeastern market as well; New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania are recruiting hot-spots for the Big East, and the Tar Heels can now begin to make inroads into the area in order to directly compete with Pitt and Syracuse.
Also, keep in mind that not only will North Carolina have to play these teams, but their conference rivals like Duke and NC State will as well. This may help to dilute the effect of having two extra top teams in the conference, as NC State and the other have-nots will certainly suffer, allowing the gap between the two (and the lower half of the ACC as well) to widen, leaving only Duke, UNC, Pitt and Syracuse at the top to contend for titles.
Needless to say, the Tar Heels will have to step up their game as a team, as a coaching staff and ultimately as a university. The stakes will be even higher, as the ACC may very well end up as college basketball's toughest conference. The Tar Heels will have some extra competition in the coming years, but hopefully the increased challenge will make them even more potent come tournament time.
Who knows? Maybe they'll even move the ACC Tournament out of Greensboro.