This is the third in Stadium’s “Conference Chain of Command” series in which we polled a handful of veteran coaches in every league to determine the best JOBS in each league, all the way down to the ones that are the most difficult.
Here are the eight categories that were utilized to determine the overall rankings. We did not utilize buy games as a category for the ACC because just about every program has the resources to buy a similar number of games.
- Tradition – The history of the program
- Media Exposure – Games on national television
- Game Atmosphere – Includes attendance
- Facilities – Not just the arena, but also practice facilities, weight room, locker rooms, etc.
- Selling Pros – Being able to sell not only NBA players, but also those who play overseas
- Admission Requirements – Ranked from easiest to get into to most difficult
- Budget/Resources – Includes coaches’ salaries, recruiting budget, travel budget, private planes, cost of attendance, etc.
- Geographical Recruiting Base – Proximity to players
This is how polling in the ACC shook out among coaches who voted, with one being the best and nine being the worst:
1. Duke (105.5) – Mike Krzyzewski, who arrived in 1980, has turned Duke into arguably the best program in the entire country. He’s won five national titles (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, 2015), put a ton of guys into the NBA, and has basically whatever he wants in terms of resources.
Where they win: Incredible tradition, NBA players, tremendous recruiting base, non-stop national media attention and also arguably the best environment in the country. “That little bandbox is mythical now, kind of like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.” – ACC coach
The knock: Can the program withstand the success once K leaves? This program has been built on one individual more than any other in college sports.
2. Louisville (104) – The Cardinals have won a trio of national titles — though the banner has been taken down from the last one in 2013 — and been to 10 Final Fours. Denny Crum went to a half-dozen of them and also went to 23 NCAA Tournaments with the Cards. Rick Pitino took over for Crum in 2001, and while there was plenty of off-court drama, he went to three Final Fours.
Where they win: Elite facilities, incredible resources, big-time fan base, winning tradition and plenty of former and current NBA players.
The knock: “Basketball is king there. There’s not much you can really pick apart, other than maybe the fact that Louisville is like the little brother to that program down the road in Lexington.” – ACC head coach
3. North Carolina (100.5) – Six national titles and considered one of the elite programs in the country, many will be shocked to see that UNC ranks third in its own league. The area that proved to be the difference-maker between UNC and both Duke and Louisville comes with the Dean Dome. While it’s still considered one of the better venues, it’s not at the level of Cameron or the Yum! Center in terms of the atmosphere.
Where they win: The tradition, Michael Jordan, the Nike affiliation and the Jordan Brand. They have the resources, recruiting base and everything you’d want in Chapel Hill. There’s also a fraternity among ex-players (not named Rashad McCants) that you won’t find anywhere else.
The knock: Maybe the fact that there is more scrutiny on UNC after the NCAA academic fraud investigation, meaning the program won’t get the exceptions that some others are given. “There’s really not much, except for maybe that Roy hasn’t produced NBA stars. They used to spit out NBA All-Stars and Roy, believe it or not, hasn’t had one since he’s been there.” – ACC assistant
4. Syracuse (90) – Jim Boeheim has been the head coach since 1976 and Syracuse has been one of the top programs in the country. The Orange won the national title with Carmelo Anthony in 2003, and have gone to a handful of Final Fours (1987, 1996, 2013, 2016). Syracuse can sell its fan base, the Carrier Dome, a bevy of NBA players and tradition.
Where they win: It’s the only game in town. The fan base is tremendous, and the entire area revolves around Syracuse basketball. Tremendous support in all areas.
The knock: “The location. It’s not easy to get kids to Syracuse – and then you have the weather. It’s brutal in the winter. Cold, dreary and it snows a lot.” – ACC head coach
5. N.C. State (86) – The Wolfpack won national titles in 1974 and ’83, but haven’t gotten past the Sweet 16 since 1986. Jim Valvano had it going in the 1980s, but it’s been a roller-coaster ride ever since. N.C. State has been mediocre while Duke and UNC have thrived. But N.C. State ranks in the upper-tier in everything – from tradition to resources to being able to get and keep kids in school.
Where they win: “They have the facilities, tradition and it’s all about basketball. They are committed to it, and the fan base is rabid.” – ACC assistant
The knock: “They have the little brother complex. Fans have completely unrealistic expectations. They haven’t won at a high level since the mid-1980s and most people know they weren’t exactly following all the rules back then.” – ACC assistant
6. Virginia (80) – Terry Holland got it going in the early 1980s with Ralph Sampson when the Cavaliers went to the Final Four, Sweet 16 and Elite Eight in successive years. Jeff Jones went to the NCAA tourney five times in eight years, Pete Gillen just once in seven seasons and Dave Leitao once in four years. Tony Bennett started slow, but UVA has won the ACC regular-season title three times in the last five years – and Bennett has a significantly better mark than Mike Kryzyzewski and Roy Williams over that span.
Where they win: Great fan base, big-time home court advantage at John Paul Jones Arena, facilities are top-notch and Charlottesville is within a five-hour drive of D.C., Charlotte and even Philadelphia. Tremendous location.
The knock: “I honestly can’t come up with a criticism. For academically, as challenging as it can be, they can still get kids into school and keep them in. Maybe that’s the tough part – the misnomer that a kid can’t get into Virginia, when he really can.” – ACC assistant
T7. Notre Dame (56) – Mike Brey has taken the Irish to the NCAA tourney in nine of the last 11 years, and it would have been 10 if Bonzie Colson hadn’t gotten hurt last season. Notre Dame ranks in the middle of the pack in just about every category, yet Brey has consistently overachieved over the past decade – even with the transition from the Big East to the ACC in 2013.
Where they win: Tremendous academics and can also sell the Notre Dame brand, even though it’s a football school. While also not in the ACC footprint in terms of location, the Irish can sell that to Midwest kids.
The knock: The pool of recruits is smaller than just about everyone else due to the academics. They can’t get just anyone into school, like many others in the league. “Notre Dame also is hurt by the declining number of Catholic schools, because they recruit the Catholic schools better than anyone.” – ACC head coach
T7. Georgia Tech (56) – Paul Hewitt took the Yellow Jackets to the national title game in 2004, and both he and Bobby Cremins brought in no shortage of NBA players while they were coaching Tech. Since 1985, Georgia Tech has gone to the NCAA tourney 15 times, but the Yellow Jackets haven’t been since 2010.
Where they win: The city of Atlanta, which includes a strong recruiting base, as well as the history of NBA players and pros from all sports that have come through the program.
The knock: “The budget is towards the bottom of the ACC, and the academics make it difficult because there are a limited number of majors – so it’s a challenge to find kids who fit into the majors.” – Former ACC coach
9. Florida State (48) – Leonard Hamilton has taken the Seminoles to the NCAA tourney six times in his 16 seasons at the helm, including an Elite Eight a year ago. FSU has been in the ACC since 1991. Florida State checks in the bottom half of every single category except for admissions, where it’s one of the easiest schools to get (and keep) kids eligible.
Where they win: “Great college town with a lot of things going on with Florida State and also FAMU. They have resources, and the school has a brand name. This is a sleeping giant. They also fit in terms of being able to recruit kids from Florida and Georgia. It almost looks like an SEC school in the ACC.” – One ACC assistant
The knock: “The arena is an absolute dump, it’s in a small market and Tallahassee isn’t an easy spot to get to, which doesn’t help in terms of recruiting. Football also dominates hoops.” – Former ACC assistant
10. Clemson (46) – It’s been known as a football school and rightfully so, but the hoops team has tasted success, going to four Sweet 16 appearances including one last season under Brad Brownell. But there just hasn’t been enough of it. It’s regarded as a middle-of-the-road hoops program in which there are limited expectations.
Where they win: Elite football program that can help sell basketball recruits – especially when they come on visits. Also a renovated practice facility and a new arena. Clemson is also located just a couple hours from both Atlanta and Charlotte.
The knock: “Lack of tradition and also resources for the basketball program. It hurts that they are an hour from the closest airport, and that’s Greenville – where there aren’t a lot of direct flights.” – Former ACC assistant
11. Wake Forest (45) – Remember when Wake was really good? The Demon Deacons went to the Sweet 16 three times within a four-year span in the mid 1990s under Dave Odom, and Skip Prosser took the program to the NCAA tourney in four of his six seasons. Since Dino Gaudio was fired in 2010, they have gone just once – a First Four appearance two seasons ago.
Where they win: They can sell NBA stars Tim Duncan and Chris Paul, and also the fact they reside in a college basketball hotbed. Wake boasts a great recruiting base.
The knock: “It’s a small school in what’s kind of a boring town, and there are three other schools in the state that overshadow Wake. It just doesn’t have a big brand.” – ACC assistant
12. Virginia Tech (44) – Prior to the arrival of Buzz Williams, the Hokies had gone to just one NCAA Tournament since 1996. Williams has taken Virginia Tech to the NCAA tourney each of the last two years, and looks primed to make it three in a row. But tradition is clearly lacking in Blacksburg.
Where they win: College town, few distractions and one of the more underrated game-day atmospheres in the league – especially recently.
The knock: “Blacksburg. It sucks. It’s in the mountains, the arena is old and is snows a lot. Yeah, it’s a college town – but not a good one.” – ACC assistant coach
13. Pittsburgh (42) – The Panthers went to the NCAA Tournament 10 consecutive seasons from 2002-2011, but haven’t been relevant the last couple years. It started to change shortly after Pittsburgh made the move from the Big East to the ACC in 2013. One ACC assistant even called the move a “death warrant.” Now Jeff Capel will see if he can get this program back to where people talk about it again for the right reasons.
Where they win: “The best thing you have to sell is the city of Pittsburgh, the cost of living, the fact it’s a little city campus in a bigger city. But now you have Miami and BC which have campuses, but near far better cities.” – Former Pittsburgh assistant
The knock: The league affiliation doesn’t fit Pittsburgh. They used to be able to get New York kids when they were in the Big East, but now that’s a difficult sell. The facilities are bottom half of the league, and there aren’t a lot of guys to recruit in the immediate area.
14. Miami (39) – The Hurricanes have been to the NCAA tourney 10 times, but prior to Jim Larranaga, the program had gone to the Sweet 16 just once in 2000. There’s just not much history with the program, and the investment is clearly in football. Miami has gone the transfer route recently, due to necessity.
Where they win: “Location, weather and women. You have a college campus, but their coaches can sell South Beach and the weather.” – One ACC head coach
The knock: Lack of tradition and Miami, like Boston, is a pro sports town. But unlike Boston, the weather is great year-round, so people have plenty of other options.
15. Boston College (19) – It’s not as if BC has never tasted success. The Eagles went to the Elite Eight in 1982 and 1994, and the Sweet 16 in 2006. But this is a very difficult job, and the Eagles haven’t been to the NCAA tournament in nearly a decade.
Where they win: “The city of Boston, it’s the best college city in the country. Beautiful campus that’s not far from the city, and a great school where the degree actually means something.” – One former ACC assistant
The knock: The facilities are arguably the worst in the league, the resources are also at or near the bottom and it’s a pro sports town. The only time fans truly come is when Duke, UNC or Syracuse come to town. The move going from the Big East to the ACC didn’t help.