Gorman: ACC's 'golden goose' has company

Pitt's Talib Zanna celebrates after a first-half dunk against Wake Forset on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.
Pitt's Talib Zanna celebrates after a first-half dunk against Wake Forset on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Kevin Gorman
| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014

Overshadowed by the hyperbolic hype and pompous proclamations of ACC commissioner John Swofford that it was the best college basketball conference ever assembled were the wise words of the man behind it all.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski warned that while the ACC was welcoming Notre Dame, Pitt and Syracuse to the ACC, with Louisville on the way, it was about to experience a colossal change.

“We're going to see much more than Duke and Carolina showcased in this league with all these new additions. I think it's a great time for that,” Krzyzewski said at ACC media day in October. “In some way, I think, that may have held the league back or held the people who think about basketball in our league back because you had this golden goose of Duke and Carolina.

“Now, we don't have just one goose, man. We've got a lot.”

Now, with No. 22 Pitt visiting No. 2 Syracuse on Saturday at Carrier Dome, the new narrative along Tobacco Road is that the Big East has bullied its way to ACC supremacy while that golden goose laid an egg.

When the three Triangle teams all lost last Saturday — North Carolina at Syracuse, Duke at Clemson and N.C. State to Virginia — it marked the first time that all three were defeated on the same day since the 1996 ACC tourney.

With Pitt beating Wake Forest, it was the first time that the Big Four of the ACC's founding fathers had fallen on the same day since 1944-45.

Carolina coach Roy Williams was asked if it's too early to suggest the balance of power is changing in the ACC.

“That's a tough question because, first of all, I would say it's too early, but you're never going to get me to answer that one way or the other because I think it changes year to year,” he said. “Over time, Duke and North Carolina, particularly, have been pretty doggone good. They have stood the test of time, whether this has been a bad year or a bad month or a bad week or two bad games, who knows? … So my first inclination is, let's not bury us yet.”

Yet, this Pitt-Syracuse game is for sole possession of first place in the ACC. They are the league's last undefeated teams and two of only three that are nationally ranked.

A loss to Notre Dame knocked now-No. 23 Duke (13-4, 2-2) out of the top 10 for the first time since 2007. Meantime, Carolina (10-6, 0-3) is in last place, the ACC's only team yet to win a conference game.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knows the Panthers can't claim any ACC bragging rights until they've beaten both Duke (Jan. 27 at Petersen Events Center) and Carolina (Feb. 15 in Chapel Hill).

“I certainly don't think we've taken over the league in two weeks,” Dixon said. “It's their league. They started it. They have won. And they have made most of the decisions regarding it. So it's their league, and it will always be their league. They've won the championships. They've won more than everybody else. That's not changing.”

A reminder: Duke and Carolina have won a combined 48 regular-season championships, 36 ACC tourney titles, 33 Final Four appearances, 19 NCAA final appearances and nine national championships. They are college basketball bluebloods, just behind UCLA and Kentucky and just ahead of Kansas and Indiana.

Where the ACC's raid of the Big East in 2003 for Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech was to improve its football standing, this expansion was to strengthen both sports.

No surprise, then, that Coach K was willing to embrace the caliber of competition Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse bring. Either Duke or Carolina had won a share of every regular-season ACC title since 2004 until Miami won it outright last year.

“One two-week span doesn't change 50 years of basketball,” Dixon said. “Certainly, one season won't do that, as well. Perception is hard to change in a weekend, and certainly not in a course of a year or two. We changed the perception of Pitt in the Big East, so you can do it. But it doesn't happen overnight.”

Maybe not, but the Panthers would have goosebumps if they wake up Sunday atop the ACC standings. That would be as good as gold.

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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