Touting the ACC when it was down, Josh Pastner has been proved right

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner works the bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville during the ACC men's tournament, Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner works the bench during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville during the ACC men's tournament, Tuesday, March 8, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

It was the morning of Jan. 17, a Monday. The Associated Press Top 25 poll that would come out that day would include one team from the ACC, Duke at No. 6. Remarkably, the conference synonymous with basketball glory, had only two additional teams among the 39 receiving votes – Miami and North Carolina.

It was time for Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner to hop on his soapbox.

“I think North Carolina’s really good,” he said of a team that had been blown out by Tennessee and Kentucky in non-conference play. “I think they’re good enough to go to the Final Four. They’re a top-10 team. I don’t know why they’re not ranked. I don’t get it.”

He went on.

“Duke’s good enough to win the national championship,” he said. “People want to talk about the ACC being down or something. I think that’s crazy. The ACC is really good.”

A couple of more:

“Duke and Carolina can win the national championship. They’re good enough to win the whole entire thing. They both might be in the Final Four.”

“Miami, how about when they’re in the tournament, how hard of an out they’ll be?”

“In the end, you’ll see multiple teams competing for Sweet 16′s, Elite Eight′s, Final Fours, and I think we have a good chance of someone coming out of here as a national title (winner) from the ACC.”

Move ahead 10 weeks, and Pastner appears positively prescient. Dismissed the entire season as being in a down year, the ACC has Duke and North Carolina in the Final Four, the Tar Heels as a No. 8 seed that stunned No. 1-seed Baylor in the second round. Miami reached the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed.

Notre Dame won as a No. 11 seed in the first round over No. 6-seed Alabama. Only Virginia Tech failed to get out of the first round. The conference is 13-3, and the worst the league can finish is 14-5. The Big 12 is 11-5, with Kansas remaining. The schools from the remaining three power conferences have all been eliminated. The SEC, whose six teams were all No. 6 seeds are higher, bombed out at 5-6.

Pastner’s own team didn’t make it past the first round of the ACC Tournament, but his trumpeting of the conference apparently had credence. Since his hire before the 2016-17 season, Pasnter has touted the ACC as the best conference in the country. This year, when the conference was widely derided and arguably snubbed by the tournament selection committee, the results of the past two weekends have supported his contention.

“Look, I’m not good at changing a lightbulb, but I know when good teams are there,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I just know when teams are good. I have a good feel on that.”

Pastner’s prediction batting average isn’t perfect. Earlier in the season, he also vowed that “Georgia’s going to be really good in the SEC” and that “Georgia Southern’s going to win a lot of games in conference.” Georgia was historically bad and fired coach Tom Crean, while the Eagles finished 5-11 in the Sun Belt Conference.

But, to Pastner, it is stone-cold confirmation.

“I think what it means for Georgia Tech is we’re in the best basketball league in the country,” he said. “A year ago, to win the ACC is a heck of a deal, and the year before that, we were pretty darned good.”

Pastner had an out-of-the-box solution for getting more teams in the tournament in the future – a 28-game league schedule. Since it was poor non-conference play that established the conference’s reputation this season, Pastner theorized that the conference should limit non-conference games and play a full round-robin with every team in the league.

“Our league is a league that gets better as the year goes on, because a lot of guys leave early for the draft, and it starts out as a younger league – you’re getting portal kids – so it might take a little more time for everyone to get in synch with each other,” Pastner said.

Hence, rather than play non-conference games when league teams are, in his view, more vulnerable, avoid those games almost entirely. Pastner acknowledged his solution is “a little extreme” and that it hadn’t gotten much traction.

“But something’s got to be done,” he said.