Few college sports fans would debate the idea that the most recent flurry of conference expansion and realignment was about the growing cash cow of college football. But in the ACC, expansion will have a larger immediate impact during basketball season. By adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame this year, as well as Louisville next year, the conference should soon regain its status as the best collection of basketball programs in the country. Here's a look at two ways the additions will affect the ACC generally and Virginia specifically going forward.
Coaches - The addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame deepens the ACC coaching bench significantly. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim comes to the league with 920 wins and a national championship under his belt. He's beginning his 37th season for the Orange, and he's the second-winningest active coach in all of college basketball behind Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. His Syracuse teams have been known for their toughness, athleticism, and signature 2-3 zone. Boeheim is never afraid to speak his mind and has been an outspoken critic of conference realignment. He doesn't seem terribly impressed with the talent level in the ACC, but then again, it's probably difficult to impress someone with Boeheim's credentials. Syracuse should serve as the conference's northern heavyweight and will look to assert itself over the Duke and Carolina blue bloods immediately.
While Boeheim is the headliner, Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon and Notre Dame's Mike Brey will quickly jump into the top half of the ACC's coaching pecking order. Dixon is in his 11th year at Pitt and has nine NCAA tournament appearances on his resume. He sports an insane .753 career winning percentage and a steely jaw that endears him to the female Panther fans. Dixon led the Panthers to Big East regular season titles in '04 and '11, and a Big East tournament title in '08. He had Pitt on the cusp of the Final Four in '09 before a last-second loss to Villanova. Brey, meanwhile, is in his 14th year at Notre Dame. He's taken the Irish to the NCAA tournament nine times, but has only advanced past the first weekend once.
Two statistics jump out when considering how the addition of Boeheim, Dixon and Brey will change the complexion of the ACC coaching tree. The first concerns longevity. Between the three of them, there's a total of 59 years of service at their current schools. If you remove Coach K, the other eleven ACC coaches have 43 years combined at their respective schools.
The second number concerns coaching quality. With the addition of Boeheim and the eventual addition of Rick Pitino at Louisville in 2014, the ACC will have the four winningest active coaches in all of college basketball (Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Roy Williams, and Pitino). There will be an embarrassment of coaching riches in the ACC, and Virginia fans will get an opportunity to watch these all-time greats up close.
Potential Rivals - When I think about the newcomers as they relate to Virginia, I'm quietly optimistic about the chance for the Wahoos to develop new rivalries here. Pittsburgh is only 5 hours from Charlottesville, making it closer than longtime ACC opponents Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State. The Panthers and the Cavaliers have also found themselves in a handful of recruiting battles against each other in past years. Most notably, point guard James Robinson chose Pitt over Virginia in 2011. It doesn't take too much imagination to envision a Pitt-Virginia basketball rivalry developing.
Like Pitt, Notre Dame has also butted heads with Virginia on the recruiting trail. Tony Bennett outlasted Mike Brey in the recruitment of Darion Atkins. Notre Dame guard and Baltimore native Eric Atkins once considered Virginia while Dave Leitao was still the head coach. And Brey recently got his payback over Bennett, when 2014 post player Martin Geben picked the Irish over the Cavaliers. More broadly, Virginia and Notre Dame excel in a number of common sports. The Wahoos and the Irish will clash in lacrosse and soccer in addition to basketball. They'll also face off academically as Virginia and Notre Dame will continue to attract similar students. After enough time has passed for the two schools to get some memorable competition under their belts, I wouldn't be surprised if Notre Dame becomes a top-level rival for the Wahoo faithful.
Finally, I think Virginia could also develop a rivalry with Syracuse. The much-ballyhooed Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry has been relegated to nonconference status, so the Orange will need a new conference rival quickly. Outside of Boston College, Virginia seems as likely a replacement as any. The two schools will see each other quite often in the Olympic sports, with lacrosse providing a prime chance to develop some animus. On the hardwood, both Jim Boeheim and Virginia coach Tony Bennett stress defense foremost. The two teams will likely put on a defensive slugfest when the Orange visit JPJ for senior day this coming March. It could very well be the first of many great games between them.
Overall, the latest round of realignment will be a boon for the ACC. Fortunately for Virginia fans, the Cavaliers look ready to compete. If Bennett can keep the Wahoos at a high level, the improved competition will be a source of some serious excitement going forward.