With Statements, ACC Aims to Send Message

Gary Williams
Maryland's Gary Williams had plenty to say last year as the Missouri Valley Conference got as many bids to the NCAA Tournament (four) as the ACC. (Joel Richardson - The Washington Post)

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By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 5, 2006

Last season's NCAA men's basketball tournament represented an unprecedented achievement for the sport's underdogs. The Missouri Valley Conference sent as many teams to the tournament as the traditionally powerful ACC (four), and George Mason of the Colonial Athletic Association knocked off three of the game's pillars en route to the Final Four.

As the new season opens this week and many are wondering who will be this year's embraceable fairy tale, the deposed powerhouses are working to make sure it won't happen again.

Last month, before his team or any other had played so much as an exhibition, Maryland Coach Gary Williams declared that at least six ACC schools deserve to make this season's NCAA tournament, the first step in a public relations campaign hatched at last spring's coaches meeting.

"We need to walk out of here and send a message," Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg said. "Everyone is taking shots at the ACC. We're like the Yankees, either you love them or hate them. No one is neutral."

Indeed, this season's primary story line appears to be how the power conferences, namely the ACC, will respond to the unprecedented success of smaller leagues in the NCAA tournament.

The MVC, an emerging 10-team league spread over six Midwestern states, was accused by some coaches last year of using shrewd scheduling practices to outsmart the Rating Percentage Index, a mathematical measurement of a team's strength used by the tournament selection committee to help determine who receives the 34 at-large berths. One ACC coach recently called last season the "Revenge of the Nerds."

"I kind of like that," Missouri State Coach Barry Hinson said. "What's great about 'Revenge of the Nerds' is that the nerds ended up winning. Last thing I know, they left with all the hot chicks."

During last month's ACC media day, several ACC coaches, while careful not to publicly disparage any of the smaller schools that made the 65-team field, repeated what seemed like political talking points.

Between 1980 and 2005, only six ACC schools that finished .500 or better in the conference did not make the NCAA tournament. Last season, two schools -- Florida State and Maryland -- finished .500 or better in the ACC and were excluded.

Air Force, which made the tournament out of the Mountain West Conference, was given credit for beating Georgia Tech, three ACC coaches said, while Maryland's three victories against the Yellow Jackets were viewed by the selection committee as insignificant.

They also repeated that it is more important than ever for the league office and media to promote a league that they feel has no bad teams.

"You can't worry about people laughing at you," Williams said. "That's why, when I say we should get six or seven teams in, what does that cost me? Nothing. People said, 'He's crazy.' Well, people have said that before, so it doesn't matter. You've got to put that idea out there because it sets the [bar]. One thing we know we can do is be more aggressive in publicizing the conference."

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