Luke DeCock

ACC basketball’s strength puts scandals on sidelines

Video: UNC coach Roy Williams offers some insight on key Tar Heel players

University of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams talks about his sophomore players, team toughness, and adds in some funny stories on Theo Pinson, Marcus Paige and Kennedy Meeks.
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University of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams talks about his sophomore players, team toughness, and adds in some funny stories on Theo Pinson, Marcus Paige and Kennedy Meeks.

Rick Pitino, who is presumably sorry he trusted Andre McGee, was nowhere to be found. Roy Williams was still answering questions about the North Carolina scandal, albeit fewer of them, with an end possibly in sight. Jim Boeheim will be suspended for the first nine games of the ACC season, but was not suspended Wednesday.

Another media day with the ACC in disarray, steeped in scandal, and unlike recent years past no one really cares because ACC basketball is good again.

Really good. Finally.

After a season that saw the ACC break a four-year Final Four drought, put five teams in the Sweet 16 and three in the Elite 8 and reclaim the national championship thanks to Duke, and with North Carolina, Virginia and Duke all expected to contend for spots in the Final Four, the subcurrent of scandal was merely a sideshow on Wednesday.

ACC commissioner John Swofford spent little time reciting the league’s resume in his state-of-the-conference address, using the bulk of his statement to point out areas where the ACC should be exploring change, from playing more conference games to making the opening weekend of college basketball a celebration of the sport to adopting the baseball draft model to further adopting rules from the NBA and international games.

He didn’t have to give his stump speech, because the league’s success now speaks for itself.

Which is how it was for generations and how it is always supposed to be, but between the scandals and a lack of success on the court – whether measured in national titles or Final Fours or NCAA tournament bids – the ACC’s moral authority in the world of college basketball waned.

It’s waxing now, especially with several Final Four contenders and talk of nine or 10 NCAA bids, with the respected and influential Paul Brazeau serving as assistant commissioner for basketball. There’s no reason, Swofford said, why the ACC shouldn’t be setting the agenda for college basketball at large the way the SEC does in football.

“With the status this league has earned over a long period of time and the prominence of the sport in this league and the leadership at the coaching level that we have in the ACC, certainly it’s appropriate for us to play a leadership role in taking a look at any changes as we go forward,” Swofford said. “Periodically, we need to do that.”

We understand why he’s not here. He’s been advised not to speak on these matters. That’s the only reason he’s not here. He would like to speak on this but he just can’t.

Louisville players Trey Lewis and Damion Lee on coach Rick Pitino’s absence from ACC media day

First, though, the league’s schools need to get out from under the NCAA cloud. North Carolina, Syracuse and now Louisville are dealing with it now, and Florida State, Georgia Tech and Miami aren’t far removed, albeit for football, not basketball – more than a third of the 15-team league.

A year ago at this event, Williams and Boeheim were both under the spotlight addressing their programs’ NCAA issues. At least they spoke. Williams talked at length, once again. Boeheim wasn’t going to talk, then agreed to give a brief statement in the lobby, then ended up holding court at his table for as long as anyone wanted. And they were both back Wednesday.

Pitino, citing his lawyers’ advice amid the prostitution accusations that have enveloped his program and former assistant coach McGee, was a complete no-show. That left Louisville players Trey Lewis and Damion Lee, neither of whom were even on campus a season ago, to answer for him.

“We understand why he’s not here,” Lewis said. “He’s been advised not to speak on these matters. That’s the only reason he’s not here. He would like to speak on this but he just can’t.”

When Williams and Boeheim can face the music, when Butch Davis showed up at football media day twice – including mere days before he was fired – there’s no reason why Pitino shouldn’t be here as well.

Pitino’s absence only called attention to Louisville’s problems on a day when the ACC reaffirmed its intention to flex its basketball muscles going forward.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

ACC Preseason Poll

(First-place votes in parenthesis)

 

Team

Points

1. North Carolina (60)

1292

2. Virginia (18)

1226

3. Duke (8)

1187

4. Notre Dame (1)

949

5. Miami

841

6. Florida State (1)

827

7. Louisville

821

8. NC State

808

9. Syracuse (1)

666

10. Pitt

623

11. Wake Forest

391

12. Clemson

359

13. Georgia Tech

296

14. Virginia Tech

260

15. Boston College

134

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