Thursday, May 10, 2007

ACC basketball coaches should discuss struggles

When the ACC men’s basketball coaches convene next week at the league meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., expanding the NCAA tournament is certain to be discussed.

Some ACC coaches favor at least adding more play-in games to the current 65-team format, because they believe good teams are being left out.

“Do you think that giving the student-athlete a chance to play in the NCAA tournament enhances his college experience?” Virginia Tech’s Seth Greenberg asked recently.

Yes, was the reply.

“So why wouldn’t you try to create a format that gives more deserving teams – I’m not saying teams that aren’t deserving – a chance to have that experience?”

The coaches also ought to examine an issue that might make them squeamish. They need to discuss why the ACC teams that do get to the tournament are struggling.

For the first time since 1979-80, no ACC team has reached the Final Four in consecutive years. In 2006, no ACC team even advanced to a regional final.

The conference’s .542 winning percentage in the NCAA tournament over the last two years is its lowest for a two-year period since 1996-97.

The coaches know the league best and are most qualified to analyze the reasons for these shortcomings. Here are some suggestions:

- Recruit better shooters. Florida ranked 15th in 2006 and ninth in 2007 in Division I in 3-point percentage and won two NCAA titles. The ACC didn’t have a team ranked in the top 25 in 3-point percentage in either season.

- Emphasize the halfcourt game. Florida was about the only team to reach the Final Four the last two seasons that wasn’t primarily a halfcourt team. UCLA (with two trips to the Final Four), Ohio State, Georgetown, LSU and George Mason all were particularly strong defensively in the halfcourt.

- Find a way to anticipate officiating. It’s become almost a cliché that the NCAA tournament is officiated differently from the regular season. Why not ask officiating coordinator John Clougherty to get league games called in such a way that ACC teams will be prepared?

The troubling thing for the ACC is that only North Carolina appears to be a serious Final Four contender next season, especially if Georgia Tech’s Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton don’t withdraw from the NBA draft.

ACC coaches always talk publicly about how great their league is. But with the league struggling in the NCAA tournament, it’s time for them to talk privately, at least, about what they need to do better.

- Ken Tysiac