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In My Opinion


Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is ACC’s most interesting newcomer – until Rick Pitino and Louisville arrive

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.


Poll: Will the expanded ACC be the strongest league in the history of college basketball?

I know Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt have joined the ACC. I used to be a reporter.

But seeing those big orange S’s at the Ritz-Carlton Wednesday morning is jarring. Seeing the ND warm-up jackets is jarring. Seeing Pitt shirts is jarring.

It’s like Danica Patrick coming to NASCAR, except that Syracuse expects to compete for a championship.

Do we care about new? This is how much we care about new.

Each of the conference’s 15 head coaches is given his own table at the ACC’s Operation Basketball.

When Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, begins to speak, 23 reporters or photographers stand around his table.

When North Carolina coach Roy Williams, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, begins to speak, 19 reporters or photographers stand around him.

When Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, begins to speak, 29 of us stand around him.

And when Louisville joins the conference next season, the 18-story, 146-room Ritz-Carlton no longer will be big enough.

“We won a huge hand here,” Krzyzewski says about the annexation of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. “I think we fell into something that’s going to be remarkable.”

Some fans that prefer that the ACC stop growing. Change can be scary because we don’t know what it will bring.

But we do know what it will bring. It will bring competition. Duke and North Carolina will keep up. The others have no choice.

“I think it takes a really good league and makes it phenomenal,” says N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried.

“This may be the strongest collection of college basketball programs assembled in one conference,” says ACC commissioner John Swofford.

“I can’t see anybody being better than us,” says North Carolina’s Williams.

“This is a better league” than the Big East, says Boeheim. “It’s absolutely the right time.”

Duke and Syracuse are like members of different species. They’ve played only four times and Kryzyzewski and Boeheim have coached against each other only twice, each winning one game.

On Feb 1., they play an ACC game in the Carrier Dome. The game already has sold out, and Boeheim says games never sell out in October. Attendance at the Carrier Dome will be capped at about 35,000.

Syracuse is the most interesting of the newcomers because it’s the most accomplished. How compelling will it be to watch the Tar Heels and Blue Devils attempt to exploit the most famous, and perhaps most effective, zone defense in college basketball?

“Everybody wants to beat us, show that the zone can be pierced,” says Syracuse’s 6-10 center, Baye Moussa Keita.

How do you pierce it?

“I think there’s no weak spot,” he says. “Everywhere you go, somebody’s there.”

Unless you were at Maryland coach Mark Turgeon’s table Wednesday. At one juncture during the media session, Turgeon stood up and went for a walk.

Maryland is leaving the ACC after the season for the Big Ten. Either the Terps are being shunned or nobody could think of a question.

Krzyzewski and Williams were never free of reporters. North Carolina-Duke is the best rivalry in the state and in the sport. So here comes the Orange. The media voted on the expected order of finish this season and picked Duke first, Syracuse second and North Carolina third.

Yet the big winner is the Orange. They have a game in Miami in January.

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, a Duke assistant from 1987-95, was sitting with Boeheim and Pitt’s Jamie Dixon at their first ACC gathering. They were outnumbered, new kids at school.

Did you bring any covert, undercover, big city stuff with you?

“It’s not like we have a secret Big East handshake,” Brey says.

You really don’t?

“When Pitino gets here, we might,” Brey says.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119;; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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