Coach K: ACC will be ‘best conference in the history of the game’

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While much of this past season was spent lamenting the changing of the Big East, another result of conference realignment was the improvement of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s basketball product.

Sure Duke and North Carolina managed to carry their share of the load in the years following the move from nine to 12 schools, but a number of the holdovers failed to make much of an impact nationally.

With the addition of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse (not to mention Louisville, which arrives in 2014) the ACC will not lack for firepower when next season rolls around.

One person confident that the new league will make its mark: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski.

During a press conference announcing his decision to return as head coach of the USA men’s basketball team for the 2016 Summer Olympics, Krzyzewski proclaimed the ACC to not only be a 10-bid (NCAA tournament) league, but also stated that “we’re going to be the best conference in the history of the game.”

That’s certainly possible given the new arrivals, but whether or not the ACC reaches (or even exceeds) the lofty expectations will depend as much on the remaining programs as it will the newcomers.

In the years following the ACC’s first major change, programs such as Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Wake Forest fell on hard times, leading to an era in which five NCAA tournament bids became commonplace.

The league has averaged only five NCAA Tournament bids per season since the expansion and only placed four teams in the field four times in that nine-year stretch, including 2013. All of the teams that are entering over the next several seasons made this past season’s field, and Louisville became the champion.

However, that still means some current members will have to improve their programs to back Krzyzewski’s promise. Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Boston College haven’t made the field since 2010. Virginia Tech hasn’t been there since 2007.

As was the case with the 16-team Big East, “getting off the canvas” will be even tougher for programs that have struggled in recent years. But for the programs that are in good shape (and well-positioned to remain so) the “new” ACC can do a lot to prepare them for the NCAA tournament.

Getting stronger doesn’t guarantee that the ACC will rack up the national titles (their last came in 2010), but it certainly won’t hurt matters.

Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.