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Thursday, September 15, 2011
The ACC's crystal ball is tough to see

By Dana O'Neil

Eight of the 12 coaches in the ACC have been on their respective campuses for two seasons or less.

That can be construed one of two ways: It’s either new blood for Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams to feast on, or it’s a new wave of energy to challenge the kingpins.

Mark Gottfried
NC State's Mark Gottfried is among the ACC's energetic new coaches.
Lacking a crystal ball, we’re going to try on the optimist’s viewpoint in this space. Because hope does live in the ACC and it doesn’t just have a Tobacco Road address.

Let’s face it. New voices and fresh ideas needed to come to this conference. The league needed an influx of coaches, guys who weren’t beaten down by the oft-heard refrain that you can’t compete with Duke and Carolina.

At Georgia Tech, the dignified Paul Hewitt had lost more than games. He’d lost his fan base. Brian Gregory, who packs the same punch as his mentor, Tom Izzo, will go at the league leaders like a pit bull.

Sidney Lowe suffered the most in the shadow of his neighbors, clamoring to satisfy people who believed a red sports coat would help him conjure up a Jimmy V miracle. Now Mark Gottfried is in town, revving up the fan base with stunts that Valvano would love -- like insanely parachuting into a football game -- and vowing to go toe-to-toe with those two schools down the road.

Last season, Brad Brownell and Steve Donahue brought the same sort of new verve to Clemson and Boston College, respectively. Brownell had more to work with than Donahue, but both have breathed new life into programs that were treading water in mediocrity.

Of course, coaches can lose you a game, but they rarely can win one. For that, you need players.

More good news: The ACC is getting them.

Five ACC schools are listed in ESPN’s latest recruiting rankings for the class of 2012. Yes, two of them are named Duke and North Carolina, but Maryland (No. 9), Virginia (No. 10) and Wake Forest (No. 22) also make the cut.

The significance lies not just in the numbers, but the names.

Maryland fans, wearied by what some considered Gary Williams’ inability or unwillingness to land top-notch recruits, have to be rejoicing at Mark Turgeon’s decision to lure high-priced assistant Dalonte Hill from Kansas State and back to his D.C. roots. At Virginia, Tony Bennett is slowly and methodically building a credible talent base, getting a head-turner with the addition of Justin Anderson to his 2012 class.

And now for the caveat: Two years ago, the ACC landed six teams in ESPN’s top 25 recruiting classes. From those Class of 2010 rankings, just three schools (Florida State and, you guessed it, Duke and UNC) made the 2011 NCAA tournament.

So yes, there is reason to be optimistic in the ACC.

But also reason to temper your enthusiasm.