GREENSBORO, N.C. – The ACC usually doesn't have to go trolling for respect in college basketball circles. In fact, it's other leagues and coaches often prefer to be compared to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Yet during the ACC's annual Operation Basketball on Sunday at the Grandover Resort, it was the issue of respect that dominated the conversation. A common theme the coaches discussed was the fact that the league received only four bids to the NCAA Tournament last season.
"Your hear it. People say the ACC is down, you hear them say it's not what it once was. I don't think that's true at all and we have to get out there and let people know how good this league is," said Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg.
At particular issue for the league's coaches was the exclusion of teams like Florida State and Maryland from the 65-team field last March. The Seminoles finished 9-7 in conference play while Maryland was 8-8. In Florida State's case, it was just the second time that a school finished with a winning ACC record and didn't receive a NCAA bid (Virginia in 2000 was the other).
ACC PRESEASON POLL
The results of the ACC men's basketball preseason media poll. First-place votes in parentheses.
1. North Carolina (59)
2. Duke (2)
3. Boston College (1)
4. Georgia Tech
5. Florida State
6. Virginia Tech
10. Wake Forest
12. N.C. State
Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser thinks that sometimes it's a matter of perception. Last season the newly expanded Big East received much of the national attention. Mid-major leagues were also being touted, and Prosser indicated that the ACC was neglected.
"I think our own media could perhaps have hyped the league a little more. Having coached outside of the ACC, I can tell you that this league is at such at high level," Prosser said. "The caliber of the players and coaches are both at such high levels here, I don't think some people realize that. There are no sick teams in this league. Last season, we were the last-place team and we were nationally ranked at one time."
Prosser wasn't finished
"This is such a good league that sometimes when you are the league that you almost forget about it. I know a lot of leagues would like to have the history, tradition and prestige of the ACC," Prosser said. "Maybe it makes for more interesting reading [to say the league is down] than celebrating the ACC."
Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who like Prosser has ties outside of ACC country, championed the ACC cause in comparing it to other conferences around the nation.
"As good as this league is, it's ridiculous that only four teams go. Take for example Maryland. In a lesser conference, that's a team that wins 10 or 12 league games," Hewitt said. "People don't respect how hard it is to succeed in this league. I think some of it has to do with how we market ourselves or how our announcers present the league."
Still, Hewitt does think that the ACC might have to change a little with the times.
"It used to be that if you looked who the top two or three players in country were, they'd all be in the ACC. That's not true anymore. No one has that level of talent," Hewitt said. "I think we have to take a look at our league and not wish that it was 1982 or '83, but understand that this is what college basketball now looks like - but that this is still the best."
While there might be some validity to their complaints about the ACC's national perception, it's hard to miss the fact that arguably the nation's top team – North Carolina – resides in the ACC. Teams like Duke, Boston College and Georgia Tech have all received more than a fair share of positive preseason hype.
North Carolina, led by sophomore center Tyler Hansbrough - the league preseason player of the year choice - has been picked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the country by many preseason prognosticators. In addition to the talent returning, North Carolina is buoyed by a recruiting class that was the nation's best according to Rivals.com.
The Tar Heels were also the easy pick as preseason conference favorite by the assembled ACC media. UNC received 59 of the 62 first-place votes. The Tar Heels were followed in the voting by Duke, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Virginia, Clemson, Wake Forest, Miami and N.C. State.
The Tar Heels were a somewhat surprising 23-8 last season after being decimated by numerous defections to the NBA after capturing the NCAA title in 2004-05 season. For North Carolina coach Roy Williams, the idea of the Tar Heels being picked as league favorites and near the top nationally doesn't seem a hindrance.
"I tell the guys I like it," Williams said. "If [the poll] says we have a chance of being good, that means we have a better chance of being good than being bad. I've never been one to be afraid to be picked high.
"I've never been one to be afraid of people saying good things about you. Nobody is going to put as much pressure or stress on me as I am myself. Nobody is going to put as much pressure or stress on the players than they are. We can't live up to everybody's expectations, just like last year we couldn't live down to everybody's expectations. We'll do the absolute best we can do and see what it looks like at the end."
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
The results of the ACC men's basketball preseason player of the year poll.
1. Tyler Hansbrough
2. Al Thorton
3. Josh McRoberts
4 (tie) Sean Singletary
4 (tie) Jared Dudley
While Williams' squad won't likely need the ACC's stature to be elevated this season in order for this team to reach the NCAAs, he nonetheless also took the role of league defender and promoter.
"There are no easy games in this league, none. Each and every night you have to play hard and play against some great competition. That's really part of the league's greatness," Williams said.
The league would seem certain to get at least four bids this year: UNC, Duke, Boston College and Georgia Tech, which should be vastly improved with the addition of Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton.
Who will get NCAA bids out of the middle groups of teams like Florida State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Virginia? Will it be one, two or three of those - or will the ACC again see its bids handed to another league?
"It all depends who's on that committee, that's usually a big factor," Hewitt said. "It's a subjective process, and until they expand the tournament, they are never going to be right and never going to be wrong."