Brick City: the Decline of the ACC

In 2004 the ACC was king of the basketball world. Six of nine teams were selected to the NCAA Tournament and two made the Final 4. The nation’s top-3 offenses all hailed from the State of North Carolina (the Tar Heels were 9th), and the conference rating – as calculated by Ken Pomeroy – still remains the highest of any conference since his rankings became available. Expansion came the following year, but still the conference produced two #1 seeds and a #2. UNC won the National Title. After a slight dip in the 2005-06 season, the ACC once again moved back to the top of the ratings the following year with seven of twelve teams going to the Dance. Another down year followed, but then seven of twelve made the 2009 Tournament and UNC won it all. 2010 produced another National Title (Duke) and the 3rd highest conference rating ever. For the third straight season the #1 offense in the country came from the ACC, and for the first time in several years the #1 defense did as well.

The ACC was rolling. The ACC was proud. And then the 2010-11 season happened.

For the eight years that Ken Pomeroy’s data was available, the ACC had never finished worse than 3rd in conference strength. They led the nation in four of the years and no other conference was ranked 1st more than once. But suddenly there were four new coaches in the ACC. Tony Bennett – in his 2nd season – was struggling. Rookie coaches at Wake Forest, Boston College and Clemson were having mixed success. Wake Forest lost to Stetson, Winthrop, UNC Wilmington and Presbyterian. Georgia Tech lost to Kennesaw State, Siena and Charlotte. Miami lost to UCF and Rutgers. Virginia lost to Seattle. BC lost to Yale and Rhode Island. FSU lost to Auburn. Only four teams made the Tourney and UNC was the only one to advance as far as the Elite 8. For the first time ever the ACC dropped to 4th in the conference rankings.

Gary Williams retired. Frank Haith somehow convinced Missouri to hire him. Paul Hewitt and Sidney Lowe got canned. Four more coaches were gone.

Now seven ACC coaches are in their first or second year, and Tony Bennett is in his third. And the ACC just got waxed by the Big Ten. New coaches bring new hopes but so far the performance has been terrible. Six offenses are ranked worse than 100th (with Clemson lurking at 97th), which is three more than the ACC ever had until last season (when four finished worse than 100th). And for the first time ever four defenses are ranked worse than 100th. The ACC is currently rated 5th in the Pomeroys.

Is this a real decline, or is it just the first (and worst) drought in recent memory? Time will tell. Syracuse and Pitt are on their way. The new coaches are implementing their systems. For now all we can do is watch.

Here are some games to circle on your calendar:

UNC at Kentucky, Dec 3rd

Wake Forest vs Richmond, Dec 3rd

Virginia Tech vs Kansas State Dec 4th

NC State at Stanford, Dec 4th

Maryland vs Notre Dame, Dec 4th

Virginia vs George Mason, Dec 6th

Miami vs Memphis, Dec 6th

Georgia Tech at Georgia, Dec 7th

Duke vs Washington, Dec 10th

Clemson at Arizona, Dec 10th

Miami at West Virginia, Dec 10th

Wake Forest at Seton Hall, Dec 10th

NC State vs Syracuse, Dec 17th

Virginia at Oregon, Dec 18th

UNC vs Texas, Dec 21st

Florida State at Florida, Dec 22nd

Boston College vs Harvard, Dec 29th

Virginia Tech at Oklahoma State, Dec 31st

Georgia Tech vs Alabama, Jan 3rd

Duke at Temple, Jan 4th