CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mike Krzyzewski arrived at Duke in 1980, and during his first decade there, ACC basketball showcased the likes of Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson, Mark Price, James Worthy, Len Bias and Johnny Dawkins. So pardon Krzyzewski for tempering, if only a bit, the universal hosannas for the league's new look.
"It has a chance to be the best," he said Wednesday at the conference's preseason media gathering. "You hate to say the best ever because the '80s in the ACC, I'm not sure you can get much better than that. It has a chance to be the best right now and maybe be the best for a long time."
Agreed and agreed.
But what the eight-team ACC of Krzyzewski's youth cannot approach is the strength-in-numbers of a conference that grows to 15 this season with the arrivals from the Big East of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame — NCAA tournament regulars all.
Indeed, if the conference performs to potential, the ACC will earn more NCAA bids in 2014 than it had teams during the '80s.
"I think what it does for the conference is awesome," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "I think it gives us a chance to have double-digit at-large berths."
Ten at-larges translates to 11 overall. Does Larranaga realize that only the Big East in 2011 has ever received that many bids?
Larranaga responded instantly with a reference to his George Mason team's run to the 2006 Final Four.
"That's like saying to Butler and VCU, you can't get to the Final Four because it's only happened one time (for a mid-major) with George Mason," Larranaga said. "The whole idea is, records are made to be broken, and the ACC is primed to break a lot of records."
Just nine NCAA bids would match the ACC's disappointing total from the last two seasons — four in 2013, five in 2012. And those were not isolated cases. The conference has earned more than five NCAA bids only twice in the last nine seasons.
While the ACC declined, the Big East thrived. Since splintered, the Big East produced 43 NCAA teams in the last five seasons, seven of which reached the Final Four.
The ACC's most recent Final Four squad was national champion Duke in 2010, and the league's current three-year Final Four drought is its longest since 1959-61.
A Big East original, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called 10 NCAA bids a "reasonable" aim for his new conference.
"The bottom line is," he said, "we can talk about it being a great league, but you have to go out and prove it."
Boeheim, Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams give the ACC three Hall of Fame coaches, and Louisville's Rick Pitino will make it a foursome when the Cardinals replace Maryland in the league next year. But Boeheim suggested shelving the hype about ACC coaches.
"Players make the league," he said. "The Big East didn't come out of nowhere because of me, John Thompson and Louie (Carnesecca). It came out of nowhere because of Pearl Washington, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin."
Players from both the old and new ACC are jazzed.
"It's going to be a King of the Hill fight at the top," Pitt guard Lamar Patterson said. "Everyone's going to be fighting everyone to get to the top. I don't think there's going to be a dominant team or two teams that are going to rule the league. I think it's going to be a four- or five-way race."
"We've been thinking about this for a few years," Virginia senior Akil Mitchell said, "ever since the announcement. Syracuse has been a good team every year, for as long as I can remember. Notre Dame's been good, Pitt's been good. It's just another great opportunity. It's another reason why I love being in the ACC. … You couldn't ask for anything better."
Consider the ACC's preseason media poll. I'll be shocked if any of the top six — Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Virginia, Notre Dame and Pitt — fail to make the NCAAs. Maryland, Boston College and Florida State also have that NCAA look. N.C. State and Georgia Tech? Maybe.
The ACC has lacked such depth in recent seasons and became too reliant on its marquee programs: Duke and North Carolina.
"We didn't promote and sell our league (as a whole)," Krzyzewski said. "Now I think we've got a chance to do it right again."
This season's product should give the ACC plenty to promote.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun