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Hey ACC: NCAA looks for wins, not whines

October 23, 2006 12:50 am

GREENSBORO, N.C.--Get- ting Atlantic Coast Confer- ence basketball coaches to agree on anything--even what to have for lunch--is downright impossible. There are too many huge egos, too many agendas and too much testosterone to arrive at a consensus.

Unless the topic is the NCAA tournament, where the ACC didn't get its usual love last season. Despite expanding to an unwieldy dozen teams for football purposes, the league got just four bids--its lowest total since 1999--and failed to send a team to the Final Four for only the third time since 1990.

Florida State became just the third ACC team ever to win nine conference games and get snubbed on Selection Sunday. The mid-major Missouri Valley Conference (gasp!) sent as many teams dancing as the legendary ACC.

Said Maryland coach Gary Williams, who has been snubbed for two straight years: "We have to be proactive. Other conferences do it. This is not the old days, when everybody bows down to the ACC."

The campaign began yesterday at the ACC's annual Operation Basketball preseason media day. Armed with a list of talking points that would make Karl Rove proud, the league's coaches began lobbying for justice--weeks before the first game is played.

"It's ridiculous," Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt said. "For us to get four in this league it's an incorrect conclusion."

Coincidentally, the league's coaches meeting directly preceded their chats with reporters. One can only imagine the sight of a dozen men who devote countless hours and gallons of sweat to beating each other on the court coming together in a show of solidarity.

But there was Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg, talking about how the ACC is 7-0 in its challenge series with the Big Ten, which got six bids, and how his team (along with fellow newcomer Miami) was viewed as a poor sister when it entered the league.

"This is a seven- or eight-bid conference," Greenberg said. "We sent a bad message by accident, and people bought it. It was a PR faux pas."

There was Williams, who has made a career of tilting at windmills and decrying every perceived slight, testifying about the rigors of life in the ACC.

"If you play Duke and Carolina back-to-back, you may lose that third game because you're beat up, even if you should win," he said.

And there was Hewitt, one of the most reasonable men you'll meet, citing the ACC's No. 3 ranking last season in the conference Ratings Percentage Index.

"People don't respect how hard this league is," he said. "We need to look at how we market ourselves. People remember back in the late '70s and early '80s, when the best two or three players in the country were in the ACC. That's not the case now. There are great players everywhere. This isn't 1983 or '82. This is what college basketball in 2006 looks like.

"This is still the best conference. Every year, we still get the best classes, but they say we're not as good. Every year in the NBA draft, I hear a lot of our players' names called."

Yes, mistakes are made in the NCAA selection process. Air Force had no business being in last year's tournament.

But there's a flaw in the ACC's argument. It doesn't really matter how good a conference is; it's the strength of the individual teams. And beyond North Carolina, Duke, B.C. and N.C. State, the ACC didn't have a fifth worthy representative last winter.

FSU beat No. 1, then killed its chances with a loss to last-place Wake Forest in the ACC tournament. Maryland? A 3-7 record from Jan. 28 through Feb. 26 killed the Terps. Virginia, Miami and Clemson all finished 7-9 in the league.

Wilt Chamberlain once said that no one feels sorry for Goliath, and the ACC won't get much sympathy by whining. The way to earn bids is by winning.

But the game isn't played only on the court anymore. Williams cited Valley commissioner Doug Elgin's pre-tournament PR campaign as a reason for his league's record haul of four bids. The ACC is now firing back.

"We talked about being more aggressive," Williams said. "One of the great things the Big East commissioner [Dave Gavitt] did was stand up and say, 'We should have eight or nine teams in the NCAA tournament,' and everybody wrote that down and believed him."

In fact, there's a sense that George Mason's stunning Final Four run will give the selection committee reason to include even more mid-majors in the field of 31 at-large teams--at the expense of 17-win teams from power conferences.

"If there is a deserving George Mason or a Valley team, take them," Williams said. "But don't exclude an ACC team that's just as good."

Most of the coaches also lobbied for a bigger tournament field. Hewitt cited the recent explosion of Division I programs (334 and counting), while the tournament has expanded only from 64 to 65 since 1985. Another coach also pointed out that George Mason's Tom O'Connor was a member of last year's committee, even though he didn't get to vote on his team's inclusion.

"It always comes down to who's on the committee and what their biases are," Hewitt said. "It's subjective. Until they expand the tournament, they'll never get it right, and they'll never get it wrong."

Maryland's Williams acknowledged the selection process is difficult, and he also wants more teams included. How many? That's where, in a rare moment of candor, he deviated from the message and expressed every coach's true sentiment.

"Just enough until we're in," he said with a smile.

To reach STEVE DeSHAZO: 540/374-5443

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