Meet me somewhere in the middle

Published 6:11 pm Friday, October 11, 2019

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Atlantic Coast Conference’s Operation Basketball took place in Charlotte this past week. In what seems to me like eons ago, it was once a one-day weekend affair. It’s still just 24 hours, but now with its own network – not to mention three national championships in the last five years – the ACC has gone from the ‘elephant in the room’ to the ‘800-pound gorilla’. Yes, this league can now do pretty much anything that it wants.

After over a decade of people feeling like the championship is a two-team race with UNC and Duke, there’s something on the horizon we haven’t seen in a while: parity. Oh, the Heels and Devils will still be the class of the conference, but this may be a good year to be somewhere in the middle of the pack, because three-thru-11 should belong to any one of nine teams – maybe 10 if Carolina doesn’t get a few of its early MIA players back.

Get over it, folks, Zion doesn’t live here anymore. His one-year run was fantastic, but now, after player turnover not seen in years – there are only two returning all-ACC players, both off the third team – not only could this be a wide-open title race, but maybe even a down year, conference-wise.

Duke will be mostly freshmen, again. The stars of Virginia’s national championship team are no longer in Who-ville, and UNC’s starting over with another new freshman point guard. Louisville and Notre Dame may have the best returning veteran talent in the league, followed by NC State, Florida State, and Miami.

Of the 11 non-seniors on last year’s All-ACC teams, only Louisville’s Jordan Nwora and Notre Dame’s John Mooney are back. Eight made that early leap to the NBA, and another transferred.

Louisville, with Nwora and Stephen Enoch, has as good a chance as anyone. Chris Mack came close to the Final Four at Xavier, maybe 2020 is his year. Notre Dame, if it can stay healthy, has Mooney and two more senior stars. Florida State is, well, Florida State. Maybe a guard-heavy N.C. State, if they can stay out of trouble. There’s no question the gap between UNC, Duke, and Virginia, that accounted for those recent national titles, have all come back to the rest of the league, making it the smallest it’s been in a long time.

Also new this year, 20 ACC games – Hooray, for the new ‘Net! – but look at how that’s going to thin out the league race: less non-conference games, fewer ‘cupcake’ games to bolster your strength-of-schedule, and maybe more conference games before January.

Since only Clemson is carrying the football banner on the new ACC Network, a lot of folks are looking for the basketball schedule to make up for lost glory.

Instead, Georgia Tech just got hit with a postseason ban by the NCAA, making the ACC Tournament a 14-team affair again. And don’t forget, N.C. State is laboring under its own NCAA allegations; and, Louisville, well they’re learning the hard way about ‘doing things just a little bit different from the rest of the clique’.

I guess this doesn’t make it such a great time for a network that’s supposed to be a 24-hour infomercial for ACC basketball.

“We’re spoiled from a basketball standpoint,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in a short ‘State of the ACC’ speech. “But that’s okay, because it’s nice to have those expectations.”

Swofford also spoke about the recently-signed California Fair Pay to Play Act to compensate college athletes starting in 2023, saying the new legislation puts colleges in the other 49 states in a hard place, and it also gets the ball rolling to possible NCAA reform.

“I think the California law, in and of itself, is extreme, personally. But I’m not a doomsday guy in terms of college athletics,” Swofford said. “I think intercollegiate athletics has been tremendously resilient over the years and will be going forward.”

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at: or 252-332-7211.