Wednesday, March 25, 2009

ACC vs. BIG EAST

Yes, the ACC has faired rather poorly in both the NCAA and the N.I.T. tournaments.

But does the early exists in both post game tourneys clearly demonstrate overall conference strength? Is the ACC a weak conference with the exception of the two traditional powerhouses Duke and North Carolina? Is it not as good as the Big East based on two rounds of the 2009 NCAA tournament?

The answer might be a little more complicated than league v. league over the past two weeks.
First off there is the issue of matchups – Maryland v. Memphis being an example of an unwinnable one whether or not Greivis Vasquez runs his mouth.

Some teams simply don’t match up well with others, and the ACC currently seems to be overloaded with teams that have but one or two scorers. If their opponent match up well with a Jeff Teague, Toney Douglas or Tyrese Rice, the Dance can end rather abruptly.

Secondly, there is momentum. Coming into the NCAA tournament some teams are on an upswing (Maryland, Duke, UNC) and some are in late season slumps (Wake Forest, Clemson). Florida State probably hadn’t shaken an heart wrenching loss in the ACC final where they had an opportunity to do what no Seminole team had done before. They failed, and that kind of loss can be hard to shake. Boston College was simply outmanned and probably seeded too high. If they don't knock off the No. 1 Tar Heels in Chapel Hill in January, the Eagles probably don't even get in the NCAA tournament.

The ACC has the highest RPI which is how you are measured against everybody as it compares how everybody fares against everybody else. AOL Fanhouse has an interesting piece about the tournament seeding and relevant expectations. As the mighty Blaze says: “It is what it is.”

Which brings us to the Big East. The Big East is having a great year, and they should. The conference was expanded with a basketball focus. Conversely, the ACC expanded for football and, if you’ve noticed, that has worked too - since the expansion VA Tech and Boston College have dominated.

Don't be shocked if Miami roughs everybody up the next few years. It hasn't made the ACC the new SEC in football, but it's a step forward. It's a little easier to fast track success with 5 guys than it is with 22 guys. So it just takes a while for it all to shake out.

The best thing going on in the Big East at the moment is the wealth is well spread…Now if it gets to be 2029 and Pitt and UConn have dominated for twenty-some years, the overall quality of the conference won't be what it is in the current post-expansion environment as the rich will simply get richer. (That's how those pesky free markets go - just ask the boys at AIG).

To that end, we are of the mind that the dominance of Duke and North Carolina for what amounts to the past 25 years actually hurts the conference because it stymies recruiting (both coaches and players) at the other schools…Yes, they have their spells where they are good, but it's hard on coaches to recruit year-in and year-out against the Big Two (Toe in UNC's case). "No, you can't play at Duke or UNC, but you can play AGAINST them and get your butt kicked 8 times in 4 years - won't that be fun." And if you don't beat them you will be vilified by your students, alums and fan base (hey, N.C. State that was directed at YOU - for now.)

Also, the "one and done rule" helps the haves at the expense of the have-nots - which is probably the opposite effect of what was intended. Next year for example, UNC, which stockpiles players assuming they will turn pro, will have 6'9" Deon Thompson (sr), 6'110 Ed Davis (sph), 7'0" Ty Zeller (sph), a three new freshmen - a 6'10" forward and two 6'11" twins from California. Williams can recruit all those guys because they know Davis and Zeller won't be there for four years.

If the NCAA was like the NFL and pro eligibility was age driven and equal to being a Junior in college, it would help the ACC schools recruit those guys based on the simple "if you go to UNC, you aren't ever gonna play" situation.

In the end the difference between the two league might simply be how the various teams are recruiting and where they are located. Schools like Duke and UNC recruit nationwide. Most other schools may pursue one or even two players of national prominence, but the rest of their recruiting is done regionally - sometime it's geography related and sometime it's relationship driven.

Who has access to more large population centers with thousands of great high school basketball players - the ACC or the Big East? Who's more plugged into the feeder system? Rural teams or urban teams? We don’t pretend to know all the answers, but these are the myriad of factors that make up the recruiting tapestry which ultimately forms the teams and the strength of the conference.

The UNC/Duke situation also makes it tough on coaches…For example, is Tubby Smith coming to C'vlle? I say no - one he's probably had enough of racist basketball fanatics in the South like those that hounded him in Kentucky, and two, he isn't looking to rebuild a program in such a tough conference - that's a young man's game. If Duke and UNC weren't so dominant, it might be an easier pill to swallow.

Finally, there's parody - just like in pro sports, everybody is big, fast and athletic, and part of the equation is the influx of foreign players (see FSU for example).

So now everybody and their brother is picking Villanova to beat Duke (easily), but don’t abandon them just yet. The Devils are a tough team - much tougher than earlier versions of recent squads which floundered in the tourney. The Scheyer-to-point-guard move has worked extremely well, so don't count them out just yet. However, if Nova can knock them out, that leaves the Tar Heels as the lone ACC hope…

If UNC takes a bad step against Gonzaga or if Oklahoma or Syracuse plays well enough to beat them, it could be an all Big East Final Four…

Or Duke somehow beats Pitt to win the East , Kansas knocks off Louisville and Memphis beats UConn – that’s two ACC teams, 1 Big 12, 1 Conf USA in the Final Four…does that demonstrate conference strength?

No, it determines team strength and who played well on a given day. If it was best two out of three, it might end up entirely differently.

And so the pendulum swings…

(Photo by Getty Images)

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