Friedlander: Isaiah Wong and Miami doing their best to change the ACC's basketball narrative
ACC basketball has an image problem and commissioner Jim Phillips says he wants to do something about it.
Realizing and acknowledging that there’s something wrong is the first step toward making it right.
In an interview with ESPN’s Andrea Adelson last week, the commish revealed plans for an offseason summit among his league’s basketball coaches and athletic directors to explore ways of changing the narrative surrounding the conference’s basketball product.
He said he wants to become more “proactive” and “aggressive” with messaging that will help create a more positive perception of a league and by extension, lead to more ACC teams getting into the NCAA Tournament field. Just 5 teams made it this season, just like last season.
If Phillips is looking for someone to lay out the strategy for accomplishing that goal, he’d be wise to invite Miami’s Isaiah Wong to the confab as its keynote speaker.
The ACC’s recently named Player of the Year took advantage of his moment in the national spotlight Sunday to provide a roadmap on how to be a “proactive” and “aggressive” advocate for the league.
That he had the presence of mind to do it while still basking in the afterglow of the Hurricanes’ come-from-behind victory against Texas that earned them their 1st trip to the Final Four made his comments all the more powerful.
“I would just say I thank the ACC for preparing us for these types of games,” he said in answer to a question about his team’s ability to rally from a double-digit 2nd half deficit. “Every game we played in the ACC was a close game. It’s always a shot to win. I feel like coming into March we’d been in those types of situations.
“We weren’t afraid or scared of any situation. We just stuck together and played together throughout the game. I would just say I appreciate the ACC for the competition.”
“Shoutout to the ACC for the competition.”
Isaiah Wong credits ACC-play for Miami’s preparation in its NCAA Tournament run.https://t.co/zCH8aRzDxm pic.twitter.com/0024F292a8
— Michael Yero (@MichaelYero) March 27, 2023
Yes, the competition.
That’s the first thing the ACC’s critics bring up when they look to marginalize the league.
They point to a computer metric nobody fully understands and results such as Miami’s loss at Georgia Tech on Jan. 4 and scream: “See how bad that conference is?”
Then they turn right around and heap praise on the Big Ten for its balance and depth after its league leader Purdue is upset by Rutgers. The same is true with the SEC.
It’s a narrative, fueled by the national media, that filters into the conference room occupied by the NCAA men’s basketball committee in the days leading up to Selection Sunday.
As a result, West Virginia, with its losing league record, and fellow 19-win team Iowa end up safely into the bracket as 8 and 9 seeds while 23-11 Clemson gets shut out and 22-win Pittsburgh barely sneaks in as one of the First Four.
There are any number of reasons, so take your pick.
The league isn’t as top-heavy as it used to be and its brand name teams are no longer as dominant. The retirement of Hall of Fame coaches Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams and now Jim Boeheim has also had a negative impact on the ACC’s stature and personality.
So has the league’s shifting priority to its football product.
Putting more of emphasis on the sport that brings in the most revenue is a prudent move, especially considering how far the ACC lags behind both the Big Ten and SEC in that area. But not at the expense of what has traditionally been – and arguably still is – its most marketable commodity.
Then there’s the issue Phillips wants to address with his coaches and ADs.
In sports as in advertising, politics and virtually every other walk of life, the people who shout their opinions the loudest are usually the ones most often heard and believed.
The ACC’s message is currently being drowned out by the Big Ten and SEC, whose coaches and cable network talking heads are doing a much better job of creating and spinning their desired perception.
As we all know, perception is reality.
But here’s the real reality: Despite getting only 5 bids in each of the past 2 NCAA Tournaments, significantly fewer than most of its Power 5 rivals, ACC teams have advanced significantly farther each time.
This year’s cumulative 7-4 record improves the conference’s mark to 21-9 over that stretch while Miami is the ACC’s 3rd different team to make it to the Final Four. That compares to only 1 combined for the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12.
So much for the argument that if you want more respect, win more games.
The ACC does. At least when it counts.
And the Hurricanes aren’t finished.
Now that coach Jim Larrañaga and his players have done what they can, it’s up to Phillips, his coaches, the ACC Network and everyone else associated with the conference to take the message and repeat it as proactively and aggressively as they can.
If they can’t figure out how to do it, they can always consult Isaiah Wong.