As the ACC tournament returns to D.C., a reminder of what’s changed

As the ACC tournament returns to D.C., a reminder of what’s changed

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Long hailed for its preeminent collection of men’s basketball coaching luminaries, the ACC has undergone a dramatic transformation since it last came to the nation’s capital in 2016 to crown a tournament champion. Back then, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim were thriving as the faces of the league.

When the 2024 ACC men’s basketball tournament is held at Capital One Arena this week, beginning Tuesday with opening-round games, those Hall of Famers will be conspicuously absent following their recent retirements. The conference instead has been infused with younger coaches, by decades in some instances, and only a few others whose résumés feature longevity as well as postseason achievement.

Virginia’s Tony Bennett is at the top of that list, with the 2019 national championship, six ACC regular season titles and two conference tournament championships. In his 15th season with the Cavaliers, Bennett is the only national title winner participating in this season’s ACC tournament.

2024 ACC men’s basketball tournament bracket, schedule and scores

When Bennett, 54, led the Cavaliers to the ACC tournament final in 2016, losing to North Carolina, three of his ACC peers had claimed at least one NCAA title. Williams, who won three, retired in 2021; Krzyzewski, who won five, retired in 2022; and Boeheim, who won one, departed in 2023.

The only other active ACC coach with credentials approaching those is Miami’s Jim Larrañaga, 74, with two Final Fours — most recently last season — and 740 victories over his career with three Division I schools, including George Mason from 1997 through 2011.

Bennett; Larrañaga; Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton, 75; and Clemson’s Brad Brownell, 55, are the only coaches making a return engagement to the District to direct their respective programs in this season’s ACC tournament.

“Sorry that it’s me and not Roy or those other guys, and you’ve got to put up with me,” Bennett said with a smile during a Zoom conference call last week before the Cavaliers (22-9, 13-7) secured the No. 3 seed and a double bye. “It was good to have those coaches, but I think — it’s interesting — there are very few, if any, poorly coached teams anymore.”

Take the trajectory of Duke Coach Jon Scheyer, 36, and North Carolina Coach Hubert Davis, 53, who is heading back to the area following a decorated high school basketball career at Lake Braddock in Northern Virginia.

North Carolina (25-6, 17-3) and Duke (24-7, 15-5) arrive in the District as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, with significant separation from the rest of the field based on the metrics the NCAA tournament selection committee considers in awarding at-large berths. Those blue bloods, for instance, are the only ACC schools in the top 10 of the NCAA’s NET rankings.

The next closest is sixth-seeded Clemson at 26. No. 5 seed Wake Forest (38) and fourth-seeded Pittsburgh (44) are the only other ACC schools inside the top 50 of the NET — Virginia is 51st — which includes components such as winning percentage, margin of victory, game location and net offensive and defensive efficiency.

In his 14th season with Clemson (21-10, 11-9), Brownell is the longest-tenured coach in program history. Kevin Keatts, 51, has been with North Carolina State (17-14, 9-11) since 2017; Jeff Capel, 49, has been the coach at Pittsburgh (21-10, 12-8) since 2018; and Steve Forbes, 58, is in just his fourth season with Wake Forest (19-12, 11-9).

Other coaches in the nascent stages of their ACC coaching careers include Syracuse’s Adrian Autry, 52; Notre Dame’s Micah Shrewsberry, 47; and Georgia Tech’s Damon Stoudamire, 50, each in his first season. Kenny Payne is in his second season at Louisville, and Earl Grant is in his third season with Boston College.

“My thought goes back to when you throw the pebble in the pond or you throw a big rock in — when it’s all settled, it’s the same,” said Boeheim, who is serving as an analyst for ACC Network after 47 seasons coaching the Orange. “If you look at all those teams with new coaches, they’ve done great, not just good.

“I mean, the Dukes and North Carolinas, they’re going to get players at those schools. Mickey Mouse could be coaching them, and they’re going to get players, but you’ve still got to coach. [Scheyer and Davis] have done great jobs, I think, and the other coaches, it’s incredible.”

One of the more memorable recent coaching performances among the next wave of ACC coaches came two years ago when Mike Young directed Virginia Tech to four wins in as many days to claim the 2022 ACC championship at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. After beating Clemson by a point in the second round, the Hokies won their next three by an average of close to a dozen, capped by an 82-67 victory over top-seeded Duke in the final.

Young, 60, is now in his fourth year with the Hokies (18-13, 10-10), who closed the regular season with three straight wins.

Still, No. 8 seed Virginia Tech probably needs another deep run in the ACC tournament to get back into the NCAA tournament picture. The Hokies are 56th in the NET with three Quadrant 1 wins.

“I’ve been doing it so long,” said Young, who is in his 22nd season as a head coach. “I’ve lost my last game of the regular season on senior night and went and won the [conference] tournament. I’ve won three in a row, four in a row — my team has won three in a row, four in a row — and gone up there and not played very well and lost. It’s a new world. I mean, it is. Your sole focus, our sole focus, will be winning one game, winning a game.”

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