On the football side of things, I don’t think anyone disputes that Pitt and Syracuse (and Louisville next year) are taking a step up in football competition. Or in the case of Syracuse and Pitt it is more akin to a restoration to the level of competition they faced at the start of the millennium.
The basketball side, however, is not the same deal. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski has pushed a meme in recent weeks:
“I love what’s happening with our conference,” Krzyzewski said. “We’re going to be a 10-bid conference. We’re going to be the best conference in the history of the game. It’s exciting to be part of that.”
Since the words came from Krzyzewski, the mainstream acceptance has been predictable. There has been some small pushback from writers that use tempo-free stats more to at least say, “we’ll see about that.”
And finally, a little bit of a pushback against the whole “history of the game” thing.
Notably, Jamie Dixon is one of the first to say something.
“We’ve played in some pretty good places, our place (the Petersen Events Center) is pretty tough,” Dixon, tongue-in-cheek, told SNY.tv on Monday afternoon at the Orlando Summer League. “I don’t want to take away from what those programs have done and where they’ve been, but we’ve played against good people and our league has been the best. For us, we’ve summed it up as we’re going from the best conference to the best conference. There may be some differences, but the main thing is we’ll be playing in the top conference in the country. That’s what we want for our school, that’s what we want to tell recruits and that’s what we want for our fans.”
And that is exactly right. The Big East has been the biggest grind in college basketball. Yes, there were the DePauls and USFs. But it was also a conference that produced an 11 bid season. One big game night after another. It’s the ACC that had become stagnant, stale and seemingly a two-team conference. Not the Big East in basketball.
But let’s not forget that the Big East conference these schools just left was stronger, deeper, more competitive and certainly more respected of late than the most recent version of the ACC. The Big East had a record 11 teams in the NCAA tournament in 2011. The league consistently pushed to get eight or nine teams into the NCAAs every March. The ACC should be in that range, but it’s not a lock the way the Big East was in dominating the selections.
“It’s funny the way people react,” Dixon said. “They’ll say, ‘Man, it’s going to be really tough in the ACC.’ And I’ll be, ‘Wait, what league were we just in?’ I don’t know if people don’t want to admit that we were in the toughest. In most cases [in realignment], people are jumping up [in conference competition]. In this case, we’re going for different reasons. Every other move mainly was made for football, but this one was made for basketball reasons. It was unlike any other addition. It was basketball-based.”
For Pitt, ND, Cuse (and again, next year Louisville), they are the reason for Krzyzewski being able to make that new claim.
In other words, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame shouldn’t spend too much time stressing this season’s long-awaited move from the old Big East to the new ACC. Indeed, they should spend even less time worrying than Butler — or any of its conference-climbing brethren — ever did.
That might be the most important point: The Orange, Panthers and Irish didn’t leap to the ACC because it was a better basketball league. All three are well-established, successful programs to varying degrees, and all three leapt for drastically different reasons than your average mid-major social climber.
Except for that money part. Everyone leaps for the chance at more money.
As such there is reason to believe all three programs should do well right off the bat in the ACC.
Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame has been consistently Notre Dame. Under Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh has been consistently great.
That greatness hasn’t always translated to single-elimination March success, but there’s no denying what Dixon has built since he took over for Ben Howland in the spring of 2003. The Panthers have averaged 26.2 wins per season during his tenure, notched two Big East regular-season trophies and one conference tournament title and missed the NCAA tournament only once (in 2012, when they ranked No. 151 in adjusted defensive efficiency, only the second time Dixon’s team finished outside the top 40 defensively). In those nine tournament appearances, the Panthers’ average seed is No. 4.
Plus, it’s not as though Dixon’s teams don’t deserve their hard-nosed reputation. They are almost always very good, and occasionally excellent, defensively. But they’re really at their best — and, yes, most consistent — on the offensive glass. In 10 seasons, the Panthers have grabbed 40.2 percent of their available misses. They’ve ranked in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding rate in four of the past five seasons. It’s not hard to figure out why Dixon’s teams have earned a reputation for defense: They’re slow and they don’t shoot the ball well. Chalk it up to defensive intensity, right? Sometimes, maybe, but more often than not Pittsburgh excels on the offensive end because it outworks opponents for second chances on every possession.
This is going to be the case in the ACC from the opening tip in January. In 2012-13, only three ACC squads (Maryland, UNC and NC State) were among the nation’s 100 best on the offensive boards, and only four (Virginia, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Miami) ranked higher than 120th in preventing opponents from grabbing second chances. The Panthers lost senior guard Tray Woodall to graduation and freshman center Steven Adams to the NBA draft, but return their typical panoply of high-motor frontcourt players and add No. 15-ranked freshman power forward Mike Young to the mix.
Whether Pittsburgh will be talented enough on both ends of the floor to win a conference title is an open question, but it will absolutely be the best rebounding team in the ACC. That should be more than sufficient to push for a top-five finish — and maybe more.
Now one of the themes with this Pitt recruiting class has been that Pitt needs/is trying to get faster in the more up-tempo ACC. The question becomes, is the ACC that much faster than the Big East?
Using the Adjusted Tempo (essentially the pace at which a team plays) numbers from last year we can see some things.
Big East ——- AdjT ——- Rank (out of 347) — Conf. Record
DePaul ———- 72.4 ——— 4 ———————— 2-16
Villanova ——– 67.7 ——– 91 ———————– 10-8
St. John’s ——– 67.7 ——- 93 ———————— 8-10
Louisville ——– 66.8 ——- 126 ———————- 14-4
Providence ——- 66.2 ——- 159 ———————– 9-9
UConn ———— 65.5 ——- 194 ———————- 10-8
Seton Hall ——– 64.7 ——- 229 ———————- 3-15
Marquette ——– 64.4 ——- 239 ———————- 14-4
Cinci ————– 64.3 ——- 243 ———————– 9-9
Syracuse ——- 64.2 ——- 252 ———————- 11-7
Rutgers ———– 64.1 ——- 256 ———————– 5-13
Georgetown —— 62.5 ——- 301 ———————- 14-4
Notre Dame — 61.7 ——- 319 ——————— 11-7
Pitt ————– 60.7 —— 337 ——————— 12-6
USF ————– 60.0 ——- 342 ———————– 3-15
Average AdjT – 64.85 (about 220th)
Avg. AdjT (w/o Pitt, Cuse, ND) – 65.51 (about 193d)
ACC ———– AdjT ——- Rank (out of 347) — Conf. Record
UNC ———— 70.6 ——— 15 ———————– 12-6
Wake Forest — 69.3 ——— 33 ———————– 6-12
NC St. ———- 68.0 ——— 80 ———————– 11-7
Duke ———– 67.6 ———- 96 ———————– 14-4
Maryland —— 67.3 ——— 107 ———————– 8-10
Georgia Tech — 66.7 ——— 134 ———————– 6-12
VT ————– 66.6 ——— 138 ———————– 4-14
FSU ———— 65.1 ———- 208 ———————– 9-9
BC ————– 64.0 ——— 261 ———————— 7-11
Miami ———- 63.1 ——— 287 ———————— 15-3
Clemson ——- 62.6 ——— 298 ———————— 5-13
Virginia ——– 61.0 ——— 328 ———————— 11-7
Average AdjT – 65.99 (about 174th)
Avg. AdjT (w Pitt, Cuse, ND) – 65.23 (about 201st)
Thoughts on the numbers.
This is all about the pace. Not the style of play. There’s wild and wonderful variances in the actual style a team plays versus the tempo at which they play.
After you get past the first 100 or so in adjusted tempo, things really flatten out.
Wonderful symmetry in the Big East. The two worst teams bookending on adjusted tempo.
The ACC is indeed a bit faster, but it isn’t quite as large a difference as it gets made out to be. The difference is the marquee teams of the ACC — UNC and Duke — play at a faster pace. While in the Big East, Louisville is about the only team that comes close. That definitely skews the perception versus the reality.
It’s also important to note that you can succeed in the ACC with a slower tempo. Miami won the conference and the ACC Tournament this past year with a pace (though definitely not style) near to Georgetown’s. Virginia is shaping up nicely in Tony Bennett’s deliberate style.
As much as the newcomers will have to adjust to the ACC, the same holds true for the ACC. Jim Boeheim isn’t changing. Neither is Mike Brey.
Pitt will definitely be at a faster tempo than this past year, but they will still be Jamie Dixon’s team. They will still work the boards. Keep turnovers low and be very efficient on both sides of the ball. To expect them to be in the upper-half of teams in the ACC in terms of adjusted tempo is just not going to happen.
That’s why I showed what happens to the average tempo if you included Pitt, Cuse and ND from this past year in the ACC averages. Suddenly there is a very strong split in pace. About half the conference above an adjusted tempo of 66 with half close to 64 or below — with FSU right in between.
The ACC is not only going to get better at basketball, it’s also going to get a little slower. Something that I’m sure will provoke some hand-wringing new stories out of North Carolina by February about how expansiopocolypse has further cost the ACC it’s basketball soul.