- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is one last nugget from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's Team USA news conference worth discussing, and then I promise we can move on forever.
Here it is: On Thursday, in the midst of his forward-looking announcement, Coach K said the new ACC -- which is adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and eventually Louisville -- was going to blow your favorite conference right out of the water. He was a little more direct:
"We're going to be a 10-bid conference,” Krzyzewski said. “We're going to be the best conference in the history of the game."
The college basketball fan and/or nerd's first impulse here is to scream and wave her hands and get out the trusty old encyclopedia and prove, with science, that Coach K can't possibly be right.
That was my first impulse, at least. Since 2003 -- as far back as Ken Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency-based conference rankings go -- the strongest league by the numbers was the 2004 ACC, which sent six of its nine teams to the NCAA tournament (five as No. 4 seeds or higher), and didn't have a single team finish outside the top 100 of Pomeroy's rankings. (Florida State, Virginia and Clemson finished the season ranked No. 27, No. 56, and No. 97, respectively.) That was a pretty good league, right?
Or what about the 2009 Big East, which had three No. 1 seeds (Louisville, Connecticut and Pittsburgh)? Or what about the 2011 Big Ten, which sent seven of its 11 teams to the NCAA tournament without seeing a single one finish outside the Pomeroy top 80? Or ... or what about some old six-team alphabet soup conference that was really awesome long before I was born?
That's right around the time I decided to stop frantically flipping pages and slapping post-it notes down on my desk. I gave up.
It's not that I wasn't having fun. (Oh, was I.) It's that I realized Coach K had, however unwittingly, sent me on a cosmic college hoops goose chase, the same subjective comparative argument we have every season, writ large.
Because that is the fundamental truth about our annual best conference debates: They are exercises in futility. I mean, we can't even agree on the terms of engagement. Does having the most NCAA tournament teams make you the best? Is it better to be top-heavy -- to have the most national title contenders? Is it a top-to-bottom evaluation? If a league has two or three bad squads dragging it downward, does that offset the excellence at the top? How much should NCAA tournament performance matter?
And on and on and on. This is the debate we have within individual seasons; forget trying to stretch it to the whole of college hoops history. It's like arguing about the best album of all-time. I may have a handful of what I think are totally unimpeachable choices*, but what matters to me might not matter to you. Or maybe you're just a huge fan of the Big Ten and refuse to believe any conference could possibly be better. Maybe you're super into ska. It happens.
So: Is the 2013-14 ACC, or the ACC that follows in the years to come, going to be the best conference in the history of college basketball? Probably not. Maybe? I don't know. All I know is that Coach K's assertion is very difficult to argue for or against, because there isn't a definitive answer. I don't know about you, but I'm cool with that.
* Revolver, Illmatic, Highway 61 Revisited, Blood on the Tracks, OK Computer, Voodoo, Pet Sounds, Kind of Blue, Exile on Main Street, Ready to Die, 36 Chambers, London Calling, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Born to Run, Definitely Maybe, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, Funeral, The Blueprint, Loveless, Harvest, Late Registration, Kid A. More than a handful, I suppose.