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ACC touts itself as best 'ever assembled'

| Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, 6:18 p.m.
Pitt basketball player Lamar Patterson (right) answers a question as teammate Talib Zanna listens at a news conference during tAtlantic Coast Conference media day in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It would be inaccurate to say ACC commissioner John Swofford wasted no time touting his conference as the best in college basketball.

Swofford spent more than seven minutes reading from a script and citing statistics to support a statement that ACC coaches see as plain on paper.

“As many of you and our coaches have indicated, this may be the strongest collection of basketball programs ever assembled in one conference — and that is exciting,” Swofford said of the expanded conference that includes former Big East powers Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse. “The competition within the league will be brutal. And I mean that in a very positive sense.”

The 15 ACC coaches, including Hall of Famers Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Mike Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams of North Carolina, own a combined seven national titles, appearances in 23 Final Fours and 15 national championship games.

“I'm not sure anybody understands the gravity of what's happening,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “This is special.”

Boeheim cautioned that conference greatness is judged not by coaching resumes but rather by star power on the court.

The Big East, Boeheim said, was built on the backs of Patrick Ewing, Pearl Washington and Chris Mullin and not John Thompson, Boeheim and Lou Carnesecca.

“We sometimes forget the key to any team and any league is players,” Boeheim said. “What are players interested in? Not what fans are interested in. That's different. Not what coaches or commissioners are interested in. What are high school kids looking at? What do they want? That's a recruiting tool. That's something that does matter.”

Where the blue bloods reigned in the preseason poll, as Duke, Syracuse and North Carolina were picked Nos. 1-2-3, the ACC's depth is evident in that defending champion Miami (Fla.) was predicted to finish 12th.

“I don't think they're going to be able to say one team is a dominant force in this league,” Pitt swingman Lamar Patterson said. “It's going to be like a king-of-the-hill match to the top. You're going to have four or five teams fighting for that No. 1 spot. That's what you want.”

Swofford called the ACC's basketball history a “very proud one” soon to be bolstered by the three newcomers and the addition of defending NCAA champion Louisville in 2014.

“We're bringing some terrific programs, with great history and tradition from an excellent conference,” Swofford said, “and adding that to the great history and tradition and programs that are already a part of the Atlantic Coast Conference.”

To Tobacco Road purists, the expansion dilutes the ACC's tradition. But Krzyzewski sees it as a league filled with instant rivalries, such as Duke-Syracuse.

“That's why I think our conference, for basketball, is way ahead of anybody,” he said. “That's why we think we're going to be the best conference. For basketball purists and traditionalists like we are, to come up with this, I know this probably wasn't even a focal point or agenda item when they were talking expansion, but we won a huge hand here.”

Now comes the hard part for the ACC: living up to its own hype.

“We spent the whole day talking about ourselves and how great we are,” Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. “Now we've got to go do something about it.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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