Mid-majors aren't getting ACC salute yet

March 09, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Greensboro, N.C.-- --The letters R-P-I garner little, if any, respect around this town right now, at least not among the coaches preparing their teams for a certain conference tournament this weekend.

Three other letters, the Gary Williamses and Leonard Hamiltons of this world will tell you, ought to carry a lot more weight when the NCAA tournament committee makes its decision Sunday. Those letters: A-C-C.

It's time, they've been saying - and repeated yesterday - for all the talk to cease about the conference having a down year and deserving only four invitations. True, it's their own teams, Maryland and Florida State, for whom they're stumping at the 11th hour.

But they're not alone in this belief. Atlantic Coast Conference coaches have closed ranks and are speaking with one voice, saying: Mid-majors? Give some love to the major-majors.

"All this [stuff] about these mid-Division I schools - they'd better respect the big conferences," grumbled Bobby Cremins, the former Georgia Tech coach who now is broadcasting for the conference TV network, as he watched practices at Greensboro Coliseum yesterday.

"Who brings the money in? Who plays in the 9:30 [national] games? Big conferences. You've got to respect what they've accomplished. So we'll see."

The conference is feeling disrespected, though. It's hearing a lot about being down from a year ago, about how it's top-heavy and bloated with mediocrity. Worse, it's hearing that the numbers are not in its favor, that unfathomable criteria like the RPI is doing its reputation in, and that the noise being made by the Missouri Valleys is creating perceptions that are going to hurt Maryland and Florida State on Selection Sunday.

So when Williams was asked yesterday about likely needing two wins in this tournament to secure a berth, his reply was swift and barbed.

"You don't know that," he said. "We don't know what we have to win, and nobody else knows, either, despite all the people who get paid to act like they know. They don't know. The selection committee ... they're the only people that really know."

And what do those people know? Hamilton wondered, and ended up on a train of thought he barely kept on the track.

"The process is interesting to me, because no one can come to a consensus on what all the numbers mean," he said. "I have to believe there would be very few people who would not say we are a team that should be included in the 65. I'm not real sure a lot of people would like to play us.

"I'm really discussing something that's a little confusing that I don't quite totally understand. I know I'm going to say something that someone's going to mistake and will be taken out of context. I don't mean to be disrespectful to any conference. ... [But] I don't even know why I'm sitting here, a fifth-place team in the ACC, having to defend anything. I'm really confused about that. Matter of fact, I think we need six or seven teams."

The perception outside of ACC country is a lot different, though. Conventional wisdom says Florida State and Maryland won't get in by just winning today. It also says that six teams from the conference is an unjustifiable stretch, that this is the year of the mid-majors, that the ACC even pales in comparison to other power conferences. Few can dispute, for example, that the Big East isn't going to have to settle for four spots.

Even Cremins admitted, "They deserve a lot of bids." They'll get a lot. But the perception is that the Big East deserves them all. The national (not to mention local) perception of Maryland and Florida State doesn't measure up.

It has put the conference on the defensive. The talk is of how no matter what the computers, the naysayers and the politickers supporting other conferences say, the ACC is as strong as ever in comparison to the rest of the country. Its .500 teams (like the Terps and Seminoles) are as deserving as double-digit winners in other leagues. Its teams can go deeper into March Madness than the mid-majors would. The bottom teams, in fact, would give most of the field of 65 a tough game.

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg was asked about the perception of the ACC being top-heavy, with the Tar Heels and Blue Devils loading up on supposedly weak sisters like his Hokies, one of three with 12 or more conference losses.

"I don't know how you say people have beaten up on us, or on the lower tier. No one's beaten up on us," he said, recalling the Hokies' nine ACC losses by six points or fewer or in overtime, low-lighted by the buzzer-beater at Duke in December.

"I get a kick" out of such talk, Greenberg added. "Just because there's parity doesn't mean the league is down."

He and his colleagues know, however, that this year, America isn't convinced.


Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.