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Post-expansion ACC has reigning champ, but still trying to earn status as nation's best league


CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey remembers coaching in the Big East when it earned a record 11 bids to the NCAA Tournament and the no-question status as the nation's best conference that came with them.

That's what expansion was expected to do for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It hasn't happened.

"There's no question you can't really call yourself the best league until you're getting half your league in (the NCAAs) regularly," Brey said Wednesday during the ACC's media day.

The last round of expansion and realignment was supposed to catapult the ACC to juggernaut status, adding Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh to a tradition-rich lineup that already featured Duke and North Carolina.

Things haven't turned out the way the ACC had hoped or opponents feared it would. Last year was a snapshot of how things have gone since the much-ballyhooed expansion.

Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski won the program's fifth NCAA title and two other league teams reached the Elite Eight, but only six of 15 teams earned an NCAA invite.

"I think we've got work to do," North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said. "Duke won the national championship, which is great, but I don't think we can be a six-bid league and then say we're the best league in the country. We've got to be able to get more teams in the tournament."

The ACC has never gotten more than seven teams in the NCAA field since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, first in 2007 and then in 2009.

In the years since, the ACC has produced six or fewer NCAA Tournament bids, including getting six in each of the past two years since expanding to 15 teams.

PHOTO: Duke NCAA college basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski answers a question during the Atlantic Coast Conference men's media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Duke NCAA college basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski answers a question during the Atlantic Coast Conference men's media day in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Compare that to the former Big East home of the ACC additions; that league earned at least eight bids from 2010-13, including the record 11 in 2011, according to STATS.

The ACC hasn't produced the highest total of bids of any league since tying for the most in 2009. And that's led league officials to talk more about how to boost the league and duplicate some of the success of the former Big East.

"Their attention to detail about everything — scheduling, times of games, you name it — you look at the littlest points, I think the Big East studied all those things," Krzyzewski said. "I don't think we have over the years, basically because it's been easier. But now that we have all those teams and how they did it, the things they looked at, those are the things we should be studying.

"I don't know if it is (a 10-bid league) or not. I'm just saying you don't become really good at anything until you do little things. I don't know what all those little things are. I think we're still saying 'we should get' instead of figuring out 'how we should get.'"

A frequent option mentioned during Wednesday's interviews was to tweak the scheduling format and possibly expand beyond the 18-game league schedule. Each ACC team has two primary scheduling partners they play home and away every year, then play other teams on a rotating basis.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford floated the idea of playing more league games during his annual forum, with several coaches talking specifically of eventually moving to 20 league regular-season games as a way to potentially boost RPIs ahead of Selection Sunday as an example.

The trade-off would be changing some of the annual scheduling arrangements that have preserved a handful of rivalries — think North Carolina's partnership with North Carolina State behind its nationally known rivalry with Duke — from the former ACC.

Brey touts the potential for the ACC to push past eight bids this year, comparing it favorably to the look of the former Big East. Swofford sees that potential, too.

"But you have to keep doing it," Swofford said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's great motivation for us as a league and we never want to back away from having the standard as high as it has been for years and continues to be."

AP freelancer Bill Kiser contributed to this report.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org .

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