Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the ACC, RTC Correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking to several ACC experts in Maryland basketball legend and ESPN analyst, Len Elmore, Duke basketball legend and CBS analyst, Mike Gminski, and the ACC reporter for the Fayetteville Observer, Bret Strelow. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)
Rush the Court: What kind of impact do you think the additions of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse has on the ACC as a basketball conference?
Len Elmore: It is clearly going to make a tough ACC even tougher. Adding those three established programs into an already tough conference – with Duke and North Carolina plus upstart Virginia and a Maryland team that seems primed to do some damage – is going to lead to a lot of jockeying up an down within the league standings.
Mike Gminski: I think it definitely strengthens the conference. The ACC is adding three established programs that are used to winning and going to the NCAA Tournament. They are coming to the ACC from the Big East, which was a great conference. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse are all coming into the ACC looking to play in the upper half of the league immediately. From that standpoint, the addition of those three teams makes the ACC one of the top conferences in the country.
Bret Strelow: A lot of people have been very vocal about this. Mike Krzyzewski has probably been the first and foremost voice about it, as he believes that this will make the ACC the strongest league in, perhaps, history. I think the Big East had 11 teams make the NCAA Tournament a few years back and I think a lot of people are pretty optimistic that the ACC can at least push towards double-digit berths. I think a double-digit number would be on the high end with a baseline around seven or eight teams. Adding Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse is a big deal because those are three teams that win a lot of games year in and year out. I think the ACC had four teams in the Tournament last year, as the league had taken a step back a bit. But with the addition of those three teams, I think the league will be back to being a power league within college basketball.
RTC: Duke lost its three leading scorers from last season (Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, and Mason Plumlee), yet it is still projected to win the ACC. What is it about this year’s Duke squad that has expectations so high?
Elmore: They have blue-chippers coming into the fold. They have two of the best newcomers in the country – from what I have been told – in Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and freshman Jabari Parker. These guys are coming in ready to play. Hood and Parker will have help from players like Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon. Duke might not have the biggest team in the country, but it has guys who will be able to compete all over the court. It certainly could be the most athletic team in the ACC.
Gminski: This is going to be a different team for Mike Krzyzewski. It is not going to have the bigs that it has had in the past, so the style of play will be different. I think this year’s squad will play a bit more like Krzyzewski has coached his Olympic teams. They are going to be very diverse, much more up-tempo, and will have some versatility. They have two great new guys in Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood and freshman Jabari Parker. A lot of people thought that even though Hood did not play last year, he might have been Duke’s best player in practice. Jabari Parker comes into the fold after being one of the best high school players in the nation. They will not have that big guy inside this season, but they will be much bigger and more athletic on the perimeter. I think they are going to be a very interesting team to watch.