Commentary

ACC loaded with potential

Updated: August 2, 2011, 10:55 AM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

ACC commissioner John Swofford issued a strong statement during a recent media day interview, telling the league's football coaches that they need to win big nonconference games. He stressed the importance of earning victories on a national scale. For example, it would be huge if Florida State could take down Oklahoma on the gridiron in mid-September.

He can take that same message and bring it over to the league's basketball programs.

[+] EnlargeMike Scott
AP Photo/Andrew ShurtlefDid you forget about Mike Scott? You can bet ACC coaches haven't.

Except for Duke and North Carolina, there has not been tremendous, consistent success in the ACC. Honestly, it has been Struggle City in a lot of cases. It is time for the rest of the conference to elevate its game. If the league wants recognition as one of the elites, it needs other schools to compete on a regular basis with those upper-echelon teams.

When you look at the ACC for the 2011-12 campaign, there is a wide-open run for the No. 3 spot. You could put Florida State, Virginia, Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson and maybe even new coach Mark Gottfried's NC State Wolfpack in the mix. I think in the long run, Gottfried will get the Pack back to where it should be.

With the coaching turnover in recent years, it will be interesting to see how schools respond. Can Maryland sustain the success they had under Gary Williams over the years? That task will fall on new coach Mark Turgeon, who came over from Texas A&M. In addition, Miami now has Jim Larranaga from George Mason, Georgia Tech got Brian Gregory from Dayton and Gottfried takes over for Sidney Lowe in Raleigh.

Let's take a look at where some ACC teams stand:

• Virginia could make some noise with the return of 6-foot-8 Mike Scott, a fifth-year senior coming off an ankle injury. When he was healthy, he was a double-double man and a difference-maker. Redshirt freshman James Johnson provides more size up front. Plus, Tony Bennett has a solid class coming in.

• At Miami, Larranaga has a solid backcourt in Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant. The key question is the health of Reggie Johnson, who will try to return from a serious ACL injury.

• Virginia Tech has a diaper dandy in 6-foot-8 Dorian Finney-Smith, plus a key returning contributor in Erick Green. Seth Greenberg could get help from several players coming back from injuries, including Dorenzo Hudson and J. T. Thompson. But can the Hokies overcome the loss of Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen?

• Florida State will be heard from even without Chris Singleton. Coach Leonard Hamilton got a recent boost with the addition of Arkansas transfer Jeff Peterson, who will be eligible right away. The Noles also added a solid nucleus through recruiting.

• At NC State, Gottfried will rely on forward C.J. Leslie to carry the Wolfpack. He also has veterans like Scott Wood, C. J. Williams and Richard Howell on his roster.

• Don't discount Clemson, as coach Brad Brownell did a solid job last season. The Tigers have experience in Milton Jennings and Devin Booker up front plus Tyler Smith and Andre Young.

The ACC is a league rich in tradition and history. Basketball has always been the No. 1 item. But there is no doubt in my mind that the Big East is the crème de la crème again among the top conferences in America. Remember, the Big East's ninth-place team in the regular season, Connecticut, cut down the nets in Houston.

But this season will be interesting for schools trying to impact the ACC hoops race and elevate that conference as a whole. There is a lot of talent out there, my friends. So get ready for some exciting hardwood action, baby!

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.