When Georgia Tech beat Duke, then followed with another upset of North Carolina, it was interpreted by those with an agenda as further proof of the ACC’s decline.

It was the same story when Syracuse took out the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill 2 weeks ago and again on Tuesday when Notre Dame knocked Wake Forest down a peg only 3 days after the Deacons court-stormed Duke.

But maybe there’s another way of looking at those “upsetting” results.

Instead of interpreting them as a negative, maybe it’s a positive sign that the middle and bottom of the ACC are getting stronger. You know, just like the Big 12 and other leagues – including the Mountain West – where similar results are hailed as a sign of the conference’s depth and parity.

A big reason for the improvement is the arrival of 3 new coaches – Adrian Autry at Syracuse, Micah Shrewsberry at Notre Dame and Damon Stoudamire at Georgia Tech.

Although their Year 1 resumes are not yet complete, with another week left in the regular season and the ACC Tournament to come, their respective bodies of work already have enough in them to make informed judgments of performances.

Here’s how they grade out:

Adrian Autry, Syracuse

Being the man who follows the man is never an easy task. But Autry has had an advantage both Jon Scheyer at Duke and Hubert Davis at North Carolina didn’t in managing the expectations. Unlike Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams, who went out on their own terms at or near the top of their game, Autry’s predecessor Jim Boeheim lowered the bar considerably before being pushed into retirement.

The Orange averaged only 17 victories in each of Boeheim’s last 4 seasons on the job, finishing 8th or lower in the ACC 3 times and never higher than 6th. Autry’s first team has already won 19. And with a 10-8 league record with 3 games remaining, the Orange remain in contention for a double bye as a top 4 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

Autry was blessed to have All-ACC guard Judah Mintz return for his sophomore season rather than staying in the NBA Draft. But others, especially fellow sophomores Chris Bell, Maliq Brown and Quadir Copeland, have improved considerably since he took over.

Besides bringing the program into the 21st century by, gasp, playing primary man-to-man defense rather than Boeheim’s trademark 2-3 matchup zone, Autry has injected some badly needed energy back into Syracuse. Although it’s still a longshot because of a low 82 NET ranking, just being on the periphery of the NCAA bubble is an encouraging sign in a season of transition.

Grade: A.

Micah Shrewsberry, Notre Dame

Shrewsberry is the most accomplished of the ACC’s 3 newcomers, having spent 2 seasons in the Big Ten at Penn State – where he led the Nittany Lions to 23 wins and an NCAA Tournament bid last year.
He took over from long-time Irish coach Mike Brey with a virtual clean slate. With only 3 scholarship players and 1.6% of returning starting production, he was able to stock his first team almost completely with talent of his choosing.

And he chose well.

Between Shrewsberry’s son Braden and fellow freshman Markus Burton, the 2023 Indiana Mr. Basketball, Notre Dame has one of the highest-scoring backcourts in the country. They provide the elder Shrewsberry a solid foundation upon which to build as he goes out and looks to improve his team’s inside talent and depth moving forward.

It’s not surprising that the Irish experienced their share of growing pains early. Their roster is by far the youngest in the ACC. But they’ve improved steadily throughout the season, the mark of any well-coached team. With 4 wins in their past 5 games, they’re currently playing their best basketball and could cause a higher seed some misfortune at rapidly approaching the ACC Tournament.

Grade: B.

Damon Stoudamire, Georgia Tech

Stoudamire inherited 4 of the top 5 scorers from the team Josh Pastner coached to a 13th-place finish in the ACC in 2023. And yet, other than junior wing Miles Kelly, the Yellow Jackets’ best players are those brought in by Stoudamire. That includes ACC Freshman of the Year contenders Baye Ndongo and Naithan George.

Assuming those 2 stick around, Stoudamire will have a strong inside-out combination to build around. Considering his youth, energy and credentials as a former NBA player and assistant, he’s got the chops to be a successful recruiter.

In the meantime, Stoudamire has concentrated his efforts on building a culture of toughness, accountability and not backing down from anyone. Especially the highest-profile opponents on their schedule. Proof that his efforts are already taking hold comes in the fact that of their 5 ACC victories this season, 2 have come against the bluest of the league’s bluebloods.

Duke and UNC.

Tech has won 2 of its past 3. But at 12-16 overall (5-12 ACC) with 2 of its final 3 games on the road against opponents battling to get or stay on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, Stoudamore still has a lot of work to do.

Grade: C+.