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ACC Men's Basketball Coaches Hope for Increase in Bids to NCAA Tournament
The Tar Heels return all five starters from last season's Final Four squad, including national player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough. Beset by a lack of depth in recent seasons, Duke returns three players -- guards Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, as well as center Brian Zoubek -- reserves last season who are expected to contribute more heavily this time around. Both of those teams are ranked in the top 10 of the AP's preseason poll.
"Those guys, no question, are foundations for this conference, but other teams in this conference are very, very good," Gaudio said. "There's no layups in this league."
Here, Gaudio and his coaching brethren's argument has considerable potential to misfire. ESPN analyst and former Division I coach Fran Fraschilla acknowledged the ACC has several teams -- such as Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech -- with significant upside, but he took issue with the "no layups" claim.
"The bottom of the league, in many ways, is still rebuilding," Fraschilla said. "There's concerns about Maryland, Virginia, N.C. State losing some key guys, so I think, in all honesty, it's going to be a league of haves and have-nots."
The ACC's recognition problem, Fraschilla said, stems from the recent struggles of the conference's traditional "bellwether powers." N.C. State was ranked No. 21 in last year's AP preseason poll, yet finished its campaign with nine straight losses and a 15-16 record.
Maryland won a national title in 2002 but has missed the NCAA tournament in three of the past four seasons. Georgia Tech played for a national championship in 2004, but has not finished higher than sixth in the ACC in the past three years.
Since they believe no one else will spread it for them, ACC coaches have taken up the task themselves. Gaudio said 11 ACC teams have the potential to earn NCAA tournament bids this season. Purnell put the number at "seven or eight," while Maryland Coach Gary Williams said half of the ACC's 12 teams are bid-worthy. All ACC coaches contacted for this story agreed the conference deserves more respect than it receives.
"At the end of the day, you have to win quality games to get into the tournament, and that's what they're really complaining about is they didn't get enough teams up," said Jay Bilas, a former player and assistant coach at Duke and current ESPN analyst. "I just don't see it. I thought the ACC got treated fairly last year. The ACC has had six before, and some years it's good enough to get seven, but last year it wasn't. This year is probably going to be a better year overall."