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Good Coaching Has Greatly Improved The ACC

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NCAA Basketball: Duke at Virginia
Feb 15, 2017; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers head coach Tony Bennett (L) shakes hands with Duke Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski (R) prior to their game at John Paul Jones Arena. The Blue Devils won 65-55. 
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t all that long ago that the ACC was complaining about bids to the NCAA Tournament.

That probably won’t be the case this year with Duke, UNC, Virginia, Florida State and Virginia Tech all certainly in and Syracuse, NC State and Clemson all still possible.

One of the biggest changes (aside from expansion and Maryland’s departure) is coaching.

We argued a while back that ACC coaching was, at that point, distinctly mediocre.


Look at the standings?

  1. Virginia
  2. UNC
  3. Duke
  4. Florida State
  5. Virginia Tech
  6. Louisville
  7. Syracuse
  8. NC State
  9. Georgia Tech
  10. Boston College
  11. Miami
  12. Wake Forest
  13. Pittsburgh
  14. Notre Dame

Virginia replaced the awful Dave Leitao with Tony Bennett. Virginia Tech replaced Seth Greenberg and James Johnson with Buzz Williams - a distinct upgrade.

Louisville had Rick Pitino and now has Chris Mack.

NC State has gone through Sidney Lowe and Mark Gottfried. Georgia Tech replaced a faltering Paul Hewitt with Brian Gregory then Josh Pastner.

Boston College dumped Al Skinner then hired Steve Donovan and now has Jim Christian.

Miami had Leonard Hamilton and hired Perry Clark when he moved on. He was replaced by Frank Haith who left and was replaced by Jim Larranaga.

Wake Forest tragically lost Skip Prosser to a heart attack. He was replaced by assistant Dino Gaudio, who was then replaced by Jeff Bzdelik who in turn was replaced by Danny Manning.

Pitt had Ben Howland who was replaced by Jamie Dixon. Pitt then hired Kevin Stallings who was an utter disaster and now has Jeff Capel.

Notre Dame has had Mike Brey since 2000.

Expansion of course added Virginia Tech and Miami in 2004, Boston College in 2005, then Syracuse, Pitt and Boston College in 2013 and Louisville in 2014 after Maryland departed.

We’re focusing mostly on the schools that joined by 2005 but the principles are the same here and of course Duke, UNC, Florida State and Syracuse all have long-time coaches. Notre Dame does too and Mike Brey is arguably the best coach Notre Dame has ever had, though this season has been an exception to his usual success.

Virginia and Virginia Tech made tremendous upgrades. Basketball didn’t matter much in the state for a long time. Now? Now it’s a very big deal.

We’re big fans of Clemson’s Brad Brownell, Miami’s Jim Larranaga and NC State’s Kevin Keatts. They're all outstanding coaches.

At Pitt and Louisville, Jeff Capel and Chris Mack have both been successful at previous stops and will do well a their new schools too.

The question marks now are at Georgia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest .

BC is now a very tough job and Jim Christian, at a minimum, has stabilized it and shown a keen eye for underappreciated talent. He may get dumped at some point but unless BC has a plan in mind, the Eagles are still looking foolish for firing Al Skinner.

If it were our call we’d give him more time.

Josh Pastner has been erratic at Tech and hasn’t yet recruited Georgia as well as he should, but he’s still relatively new. At least he’s taught his team to play defense. He’s said that he is a “stud away” from being a solid team.

Wake Forest has shown a bit of late season gumption but that may not be enough to keep Manning safe, particularly not since his current boss, Ron Wellman, is retiring. Basketball is going to be the focus of new A.D. John Currie’s efforts. Manning may not survive the transition.

Despite the overall improvement in the conference, there is long-term uncertainty. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, UNC’s Roy Williams, FSU’s Leonard Hamilton, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Miami’s Jim Larranaga are all past 65. UCLA is reportedly prepared to make a serious run at Bennett.

The basic point is still the same though. The best path to success is by identifying and hiring a good coach.

So keep an eye on Wake Forest. Having an A.D. transition makes having a coaching transition much more complicated (assuming Wake decides to can Manning, which we think they’ll do).

First, Wellman will have to decide whether to fire Manning. If he does, he’ll have to start the search but the new coach will work for Currie.

If he punts and leaves it to Currie, he won’t be able to hire anyone until May, which is less than ideal because a lot of other hires will have been made and recruiting will be much more difficult.

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