GREENVILLE, S.C. — ACC commissioner Jim Phillips told ESPN on Saturday that he will meet with his league’s men’s basketball coaches and athletic directors as soon as the season ends to discuss ways to be more “proactive” and “aggressive” in changing the narrative surrounding the conference.
The ACC got only five bids this season to the men’s NCAA tournament, a big disappointment to Phillips and to those inside his league. He remains steadfast in his belief that Clemson and North Carolina should have made the tournament.
Although conferences such as the Big Ten and SEC got more bids (eight each), the ACC remains standing with Miami advancing to the Elite Eight.
“We have to portray ourselves in a different way, and maybe it’s our scheduling, maybe it’s our providing information back to the committee, but we’re going to be aggressive in how we look at it — but we’re also going to be proactive,” Phillips said. “We feel the narrative hasn’t been quite right the last two years. We’re going to try to do something about that in the offseason.
“I get it, I’ve been on the men’s selection committee. I’ve been on the women’s committee. It’s a hard assignment, and so we’re going to try to make it easier for them from an ACC standpoint to make sure we’re structured and set up in a way where we will have more teams in the tournament in the future based on merit.”
The same thing happened to the ACC last season, when the league also received five bids. This is the first time since the league expanded to 15 teams in 2013 that it has gone back-to-back seasons with only five tournament bids. Eight ACC teams made the women’s tournament.
Phillips says he believes the men’s basketball selection committee has become too reliant on the NET rankings to evaluate teams, rather than just evaluating teams based on the way they play.
“We’re paying too much attention to the NET. I’m just not there on that,” Phillips said. “It does not reward teams that play 20 conference games versus 18 or less, and so that’s one of the things I’m hopeful in the future we don’t spend more time on or put more credence to it. I think it deserves less. In the end, the greatest thing we have in that committee is the eye test, and I think that’s been ignored. Go sit down and watch these games and watch who the best players are. I know the committee does that. I understand how that goes, but in the end, I don’t feel that has really resonated the last two years with our teams.”
Despite the five bids last year, the ACC had three teams advance to the Elite Eight and two make it to the Final Four — a fact Phillips points to when discussing the way the narrative about the conference doesn’t fit the results. “At the end of the day, what do you do when you get that opportunity? I’m very proud of how we’ve done in the ACC,” Phillips said.
Pitt coach Jeff Capel made headlines in February when he questioned why the ACC was not getting the same respect as other conferences, igniting a debate about whether the depth and competitiveness within the league was hurting the conference overall. At the time, Capel said, “I definitely think that it’s unfair and it’s untrue what people say about our league or what’s been said about our league. I think our league is really good.”
Pitt was one of the five teams that made it into the tournament, but the Panthers were a part of the First Four. They ended up winning two tournament games — including the First Four game against Mississippi State — before losing to Xavier.
Phillips also noted that the transfer portal has affected rosters in a way that did not have to be considered even five years ago and that that has a huge effect on early nonconference games.
“So much is put into that early season,” Phillips said. “The rosters aren’t the same as they’ve been in the past. Teams don’t look the same in November, December as they do in February and March, so this idea the conference cannibalizes each other, we’re going to have to really look at the nonconference. I’m not sure you can take as much merit from a game in November as you can late in the year. There’s a process going on for us as conferences and individual schools and with the committee.
“This new day of college basketball is really present, and the influx of roster changes really does differentiate between a team that’s returning seven or eight in the fall versus somebody that has seven or eight new players that’s going to look quite different at the end of the year.”
Phillips said he would also like to get input from North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham, who is on the men’s basketball selection committee.
“I don’t want to wait until next fall,” Phillips said. “This needs to be done as soon as the season’s over so that we can get on it. We have to do more as well as a conference; we’re going to look at how we’re scheduling nonconference and some of the metrics. I’d like to get some thoughts from a few others, too, so we’ll have a nice think tank session over this.”