Jacobs: Hype No Substitute For Performance

Mike Krzyzewski has long been a thoughtful and articulate analyst of the challenges and opportunities confronting college basketball in general, and the ACC in particular. 

The guy’s credibility stems from more than all his victories, championships, and gold medals.

He’s been around.

Dick Vitale started work at then-fledgling ESPN barely three months before Krzyzewski arrived at Duke. Krzyzewski has been the Blue Devils’ head coach longer than Boston College, Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse and Boston College have been in the ACC.

Georgia Tech beat Krzyzewski into the league by about a year. His ACC tenure exceeds that of any three current conference head coaches you can name.

So Krzyzewski, who turns 67 on Feb. 13, is well-suited to take an historical perspective.

That doesn’t mean he always sees things clearly, however.

Krzyzewski was among those who surveyed the ACC’s 2013-14 expansion, with Louisville slated to join in 2014-15, and pronounced the reconstituted league “the best conference in the history of the game.”

As it turned out, that evaluation was as much speculative as real, an extrapolation based on tradition as much as contemporary prowess. ACC commissioner John Swofford was closer to the truth when he declared, “I think it’s fair to say this is the strongest collection of basketball programs that has ever been assembled in one conference.” 

Programs, not teams. Not this season, anyway.

In case you haven’t noticed, there were only four ACC teams ranked in recent polls – Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, and Pitt. That quartet seems destined for NCAA inclusion; a few more squads (most notably UNC and N.C. State) are maneuvering into position to be considered this year.

Unfortunately, nearly as many ACC teams (5) are at or below .500 overall as are likely NCAA participants.

So, when a questioner asked Krzyzewski about performance falling short of projections for the expanded ACC, the expected response was a dose of hard-eyed self-awareness. Instead, the coach fell back on a familiar and somewhat irrelevant theme.

“Over the years, what I’ve found is we (do the) least (to) promote our league,” Krzyzewski said. “Our league is not promoted very well. We should figure out how the Big 10 does it. They’re really good, don’t get me wrong.”

Presumably referring to the national media, or fans in general, or maybe just his friends back in Chicago, Krzyzewski continued, “They’re still saying it’s great, and they’re not saying anything about (the ACC). We have the No. 1 team in the country. We have Virginia, who’s having a hell of a year. I think ours matches up with anybody.

“We have 15. That’s a lot. Someone’s going to lose. I think, though, for the future, with what we have, we’re in the conversation there with anybody.”

There’s no doubt the ACC could do more to make its product visible and accessible. Certainly a better web site would help; the present model is about as user-friendly as the hard plastic that maddeningly encases tools and small electronic devices on sale in stores. And a dedicated TV network surely is an advantage, both in public relations and recruiting.

But the argument that other leagues enjoy better PR is no explanation for the competitive failings of ACC programs. Performance speaks for itself.

For years ACC coaches vocally envied the Big East – which got 11 teams into the 2011 NCAAs — to the point Gary Williams, then Maryland’s coach, lobbied to hold the league’s preseason basketball media event in New York, the media capital of the nation.

Well, last year the ACC celebrated its new 15-member configuration with a press conference in New York and made it known it wanted to play its tournament there. Yet that was no magical solution – the burst of big-time promotion didn’t prevent Florida State or North Carolina from being maddeningly inconsistent on the court, or Boston College from falling far short of expectations.

In fact, even in shifting his focus from the Big East to the Big 10, Krzyzewski may have been a bit off-target.

Conference ratings this season have the Big 12 as the best, with the Big 10 second. The ACC? According to Jeff Sagarin, RealTimeRPI.com and CBSSports.com, the ACC is the nation’s fifth-best league in 2014.

Such a reduced state of affairs has become painfully familiar.

Yet all is not lost in the PR wars. In at least one respect, the ACC office has been subtly sensitive to the league’s diminished status, a form of information-massaging any coach might appreciate.

Back when the ACC regularly commanded the top RPI rating, its men’s basketball media guide annually listed “Top RPI Conferences.” For good reason: from 1985 through 2010 the ACC was top-rated an impressive 15 out of 26 seasons. The chart looked great.

But that feature was dropped after the ACC finished fifth in RPI in 2011, then fell to sixth in 2012. Now the ACC media guide confines itself to touting last season’s wins and winning percentage against top 100 RPI teams.

The long view promises a return to preeminence by the enhanced ACC. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be hiccups along the way. Nor is it anyone’s fault the product has yet to match the hype.