Syracuse Basketball: ACC expansion weakens league in hoops, per expert

Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse basketball (Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports) /

Beginning with the 2024-25 season, Syracuse basketball and their league peers will welcome three new members for hoops (and other sports), and one national pundit says this expansion by the Atlantic Coast Conference doesn’t appear to be an overly positive thing for the conference as it pertains to basketball.

At the beginning of September, ACC leaders gave the green light for the conference to add Pac-12 Conference members California and Stanford, as well as SMU out of the American Athletic Conference.

This brings the ACC’s membership to 18 schools in basketball. The league, as a whole, has proven “down” in recent years when it comes to ACC squads getting invites to the NCAA Tournament, many national experts believe.

In a recent article by CBS Sports senior writer Matt Norlander, the story’s headline read, “ACC adding Stanford, Cal and SMU means the conference’s days of being an elite basketball league are over.” Ouch.

A national expert thinks the ACC’s expansion isn’t great for Syracuse basketball and its league peers.

For some context, Miami made the Final Four this past spring. In the 2022 Big Dance, Duke went to the Final Four and North Carolina advanced to the championship game. Heck, Virginia cut down the nets in 2019, as did UNC in 2017 and Duke in 2015.

North Carolina also got to the final contest in 2016, losing to Villanova on a buzzer-beater from deep, and in that same year, Syracuse basketball unexpectedly journeyed to the national semifinals.

For this relatively solid post-season success, though, experts believe that over the last few terms, the ACC hasn’t been its usual self, with other power leagues such as the Big East Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Southeastern Conference and even the Big Ten Conference faring better as far as regular-season strength and NCAA Tournament bids are concerned.

That’s fair. What’s also true is that Cal, SMU and Stanford are not basketball heavyweights, at least not in recent memory.

Cal’s last Big Dance appearance was in 2016. We all remember when the Bears played, and fell, to Syracuse basketball in the 2013 NCAA Tournament’s round of 32 (Cal tried to, but didn’t, get back in this).

SMU hasn’t been to March Madness since 2017. Stanford’s last run in the Big Dance came back in 2014.

"Writes Norlander: “A league that is coming off maybe its worst regular season in history just diluted its product. Arguably the proudest basketball league of them all is losing its footing, while the Big 12, Big East and SEC are positioned to thrive. I haven’t spoken to a single ACC coach who is in favor of adding Calford and SMU, but their opinions don’t matter in these matters.”"

Norlander goes on to discuss various attributes of this ACC expansion in basketball, regarding conference scheduling, league rivalries, regional match-ups, long-distance travel, and whether the league will stay at 20 conference encounters in regular seasons or possibly move to 22 league games.

The CBS writer notes that Stanford, Cal and SMU – in no particular order – could end up finishing in the bottom three of the ACC’s regular-season standings. If those three squads are sub-par, when other ACC teams play them, these are likely to be quadrant-three or quadrant-four affairs, and that’s not doing any favors for league members trying to improve their resumes for NCAA Tournament consideration.

What also remains unclear is how this expansion could impact the annual ACC Tournament. Would the conference have all 18 teams play? We’ll have to see.

Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim, the former long-time head coach of Syracuse basketball, recently said he understood why the ACC has grown, even if it’s not a completely desirable thing, particularly concerning travel logistics for student-athletes in Olympic sports. I agree with him.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better, but with all of the conference realignment craziness, the ACC did what it had to do to keep up with, primarily, the Big 12 in trying to remain in the No. 3 spot behind the two superpowers, the SEC and the Big Ten.

I’m not immensely excited about the prospects of Syracuse basketball playing Stanford, Cal and SMU, mainly because they’re not currently big-time hoops programs, and the future geographic footprint of the ACC is just plain silly.

That being said, I don’t entirely agree with Norlander here. I don’t think the days of the ACC being elite in hoops are guaranteed to be over amid the conference’s expansion to 18 members.

The league still has numerous excellent programs among its ranks, and those conference heavyweights will continue to have opportunities to play one another, along with quality non-conference foes.

Plus, Cal and Stanford reside near San Francisco, one of my all-time favorite U.S. cities. I’ll have to schedule a trip out west in the future when the ‘Cuse faces either the Bears or the Cardinal.

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