Everyone doubted us. No one respects us. We had to overcome so much just to get here.
You’ll hear some form of those words in every interview after every championship game. Yes, there are teams that surmount injuries and other setbacks to win, but perceived adversity grossly outweighs the actual item in the vast majority of cases.
Coaches and athletes invent obstacles as motivation even when none exist. Even after routing TCU 65–7 in January to go 15–0 and win a second straight national football title, one of Georgia’s players complained that one so-called “expert” had predicted the Bulldogs would lose six or seven games this year.
Which brings us to Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and its beef about a lack of national respect.
Let’s face it: this hasn’t been a spectacular year for the self-proclaimed best basketball league in the country. The NCAA last weekend unveiled its projected top 16 seeds for the upcoming NCAA tournament, and Virginia was the only ACC school included, at No. 10.
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These are the same Cavaliers who took a 21–4 record into Wednesday night’s game at Boston College and beat Baylor and Illinois in November, but who squeaked by Louisville and Notre Dame (combined ACC record: 4–29) by single possessions last week — after getting a controversial non-call at the end of regulation in a home win over Duke.
Part of the ACC’s modest perception may be that Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams recently retired with their nine combined national titles, and that traditional powers like Syracuse and Louisville are down. Even North Carolina, which reached last year’s national title game, is 0–9 against so-called “Quadrant 1” games against elite competition and in danger of missing this year’s tournament completely.
National rankings used to pick the tournament field like the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings or KenPom (founded by Virginia Tech grad Ken Pomeroy) are admittedly inexact science. But they do apply the same metrics to all 363 Division I teams, and they’re the best option so far.
In Wednesday’s NET rankings, Virginia was the only ACC school in the top 25 at No. 15, although Miami (27) and Duke (29) were on the fringe.
The ACC did win the final edition of its annual challenge series with the Big Ten. But in the latest RPI conference rankings, the ACC ranks sixth, trailing not only the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten, but the Mountain West and Big East.
So with 2½ weeks left before the NCAA tournament field is announced, it seems the ACC is getting exactly the respect it deserves.
Not if you ask the league’s coaches, though. And they are asked about it regularly.
Pittsburgh has been one of the nation’s surprise teams this year. Before the season, the Panthers (20–8) were predicted to finish 14th in the 15-team ACC; at 13–4 in league play, they were just half a game behind first-place Virginia entering play Wednesday night.
You’d think Pitt coach Jeff Capel would be pleased. Instead, on Monday’s ACC weekly coaches teleconference, Capel vented about — you guessed it — a lack of national respect. And one of his targets might surprise you: the ACC Network.
Dedicated 24/7 networks like the ACC’s (or Big Ten’s, or SEC’s) have lots of air time to fill. And during a recent panel discussion, ACC Network talking heads debated the league’s national standing.
“I was watching the ACC Network, ‘Is the perception a reality that the ACC is down?’ “ Capel said Monday “I never see that on the Big Ten Network. I watch that a lot because one of my best friends coaches in that league, and they always pump the Big Ten.
“I think it’s a really good league, but I think ours is, too. I wish the people who represent us would have the respect, pump our league and be positive instead of looking at negative things.”
Officially, it’s not the ACC Network’s job to pump up the league — although it often comes out that way. Most of its analysts are former ACC players and coaches, so they may have an inherent bias toward their alma maters.
But if they’re citing facts, it’s their right (and obligation) to tell it like it is. It’s also the right of Capel and his brethren to use that perceived slight as motivation.
The NCAA tournament is the ultimate opportunity to silence those critics. And if any ACC team cuts down the nets in Houston on April 3, you can be sure it’ll be one of the first things mentioned.
Steve DeShazo: 540/374–5443