Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in its final session for the 2005-06 college basketball season. Yep, it's time to drop the gavel one more time for my final DBR CourtMaster column.
I like things that are symmetrical, so I thought I would wrap things up the way I started them back in October; by sharing my thoughts on the state of the ACC.
I have seen this season referred to by numerous media types as a "down" one for the ACC. In some ways, especially regarding the NCAA tournament, it was. Any year a conference as strong as the ACC doesn't get a team as far as the Elite Eight is a disappointment.
The league did have, however, one of the more popular choices for coach of the year (North Carolina's Roy Williams), player of the year (Duke's J. J. Redick) and freshman of the year (Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough). From my chambers, it's hard to call a season in which the league hauled some major hardware like that a "down" one, so I won't and I suggest you don't either.
I'm more concerned with looking ahead in this column to what I think looms ahead for the ACC.
The conference is deep, it's balanced, and there are two programs currently among the nation's elite. That's an excellent foundation to have in place and continue building upon.
Although there were no great teams in the ACC this season, there weren't any terrible ones either. Only two teams did not earn post season bids, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. The Hokies were beset by injuries and personal tragedies, yet remained competitive. The Yellow Jackets were extremely young and have an excellent recruiting class coming in.
The only team I see in danger of slipping toward bad is Wake Forest. They finished last in the conference this season and the core of their roster was comprised of seniors. The Demon Deacons appear headed toward a rough patch of road the next couple of years.
The ACC has seldom seen better balance. The middle six teams in the conference standings posted records between 10-6 and 7-9 in league play. It was that balance in part that contributed to only four schools making the NCAA tournament. It was hard picking one or two out of the fifth through ninth place teams, so none made it. I expect at least two of those teams to rise up enough to earn additional tickets for the big dance next year.
Duke and North Carolina are clearly the two best programs in the conference and among the best in the nation along with Connecticut, While I think Duke will slip a bit next year, that should be only a slight drop-off and not last long. Carolina is my very, very early pick to win it all next season. If you knew how bad my brackets were this year, you would realize that was the kiss of death for the Tar Heels.
I wrote back in October that I thought Duke and Carolina were in position to dominate the ACC for the next few years, probably until either Roy Williams or Coach K retires. In some ways, this is good news for the conference. A trend of not having teams in the Final Four would chip away at the reputation of the ACC, but these two schools should be contenders for the foreseeable future.
There are several other schools in any given year that could pop up to challenge for the ACC and national titles. I am not prepared to write off schools like Boston College, Maryland, and Georgia Tech-I believe those schools belong in the "pop up category." The others will be fighting for spots on the NCAA bubble or the NIT, with NC State a big question mark until their coaching situation is resolved.
I grew up watching ACC basketball in the early 1970's when NC State, Maryland, and North Carolina were among the best teams in the nation and the conference was clearly the premier basketball league. There may be a year here and there where the ACC slips a bit like this season, but over time I feel the best college basketball has been and will be played in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The CourtMaster's Briefs
The vocal anti-Herb Sendek hating branch of NC State fans had their dream come true when we learned Sendek was leaving to take the job at Arizona State. It's hard to imagine that the phrase "I've had enough of this crap" didn't run through his mind during the decision making process.
I've recently written that I think the Wolfpack fans have overvalued how attractive that job currently is. When Sendek was hired, he was a successful mid-major coach at Miami of Ohio. I suspect that's the pool they will be drawing from again. Perhaps they'll look at former players like Dereck Whittenberg (head coach at Fordham) or Monte Towe (head coach at New Orleans), or maybe a hot mid-major man like Mart Turgeon (Wichita State), Winthrop's Gregg Marshall, or even the Cinderella man himself, George Mason's Jim Larranaga.
Are any of these candidates a sure bet to succeed at Raleigh, just down the road from Coach K and Roy Williams and battling in the tough ACC? Not really. Just what will fans consider success since five straight NCAA tournament appearances was not enough for Sendek to earn their love? Do they want another Jim Valvano who cut corners with academics and recruiting rules but won a national championship and, more importantly, had the type of charisma Sendek so painfully lacked?
NC State athletic director Lee Fowler is in a tough spot because his fan base is perceived by coaches like Texas' Rick Barnes as a liability. This will be an interesting story to watch, and I'll be commenting on it in my blog at www.thecourtmaster.net.
Sendek came across as the boring history teacher whose class you would fall asleep in, but later in life you recognize how much you actually learned from him. He's always impressed me as nothing but a class act and I wish him well in Tempe.
That's it for the CourtMaster here at DBR for a while. I'll probably pop up from time to time, including a book review on "The Krzyzewskiville Tales" coming soon. I want to thank the gang at DBR, especially James and Julio, for hosting The CourtMaster column again this season. They've always given me complete autonomy to write whatever I want, even when some of my points were not popular with their readership base, and they've been very supportive. Thanks guys!
It's been a lot of fun being part of DBR this season. Check out my blog if you get a chance, or drop me a line at email@example.com.
Until next time, court is adjourned!