G. Wil­liams says ACC lags in P.R. game.

Mary­land coach ar­gues ma­ligned league must pro­mote it­self bet­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY LIZ CLARKE clarkel@wash­post.com

Mary­land Coach Gary Wil­liams is the first to ad­mit win­ning si­lences all skep­tics. But at the moment, Wil­liams dif­fers with pre­vail­ing sen­ti­ment re­gard­ing the ACC, ar­gu­ing the league is bet­ter than the na­tional rank­ings sug­gest and get­ting stronger as the sea­son un­folds.

More­over, Wil­liams faults the ACC it­self — from top of­fi­cials to its dozen head coaches — for the short shrift it’s get­ting in the polls and from pun­dits, ar­gu­ing ev­ery­one as­so­ci­ated with the league needs to sell its prod­uct with the same savvy Madi­son Av­enue sells tooth­paste.

“Some leagues do a bet­ter job of ac­cen­tu­at­ing the pos­i­tives and aren’t afraid to throw stuff out there,” Wil­liams said Satur­day. “ The ACC has won five of the last 10 na­tional cham­pi­onships, so don’t tell me that we’re a weak league. I be­lieve [ACC teams won the NCAA cham­pi­onship] the last two years, the last time I checked. I be­lieve [Mary­land] beat the [last two] na­tional cham­pi­ons, the last time I checked. But ev­ery­body’s afraid to say that around here, for some rea­son.”

Asked if he felt the ACC’s ret­i­cence to brag about it­self could hurt the league when the field for the 68-team NCAA tour­na­ment is set in March, Wil­liams said: “You never know. You hope what­ever teams earn their way there, get in. I think [mem­bers of the NCAA se­lec­tion com­mit­tee] do a pretty good job about it — not lis­ten­ing to a lot of the things that are out there. But you never know. It’s just like any other mar­ket­ing. The world has changed.”

Sec­ond only to Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in se­nior­ity among the ACC coaches, Wil­liams has a long his­tory of pro­mot­ing the con­fer­ence and its play­ers. This sea­son, he has par­tic­u­lar rea­son to tout its com­pet­i­tive bal­ance. Head­ing into Sun­day’s game at Ge­or­gia Tech (10-9, 3-3), Mary­land (13-7, 3-3) is locked in a three-way tie for sixth in the ACC stand­ings with the Yel­low Jack­ets and Vir­ginia Tech. Eight of the ACC’s 12 teams are at .500 or bet­ter in con­fer­ence play, and only one team — Wake For­est at 8-13 — has a los­ing over­all record.

But the ACC, re­garded for decades as the nation’s pre­em­i­nent col­lege bas­ket­ball power, is still seen as hav­ing fallen on hard times this sea­son, with just two teams in the most re­cent As­so­ci­ated Press top 25: Duke (19-1) at No. 3, Florida State (15-6) at No. 22.

The Big East leads all con­fer­ences with seven top 25 teams. The Big Ten has six, the Big 12 has four, the SEC three. The Moun­tain West is tied with the ACC with two teams. And the Pa­cific10 has one.

While na­tional rank­ings don’t de­ter­mine which teams get NCAA tour­na­ment spots, they’re part of the in­creas­ingly rau­cous pub­lic de­bate about col­lege bas­ket­ball. As such, the rank­ings help form per­cep­tions about the rel­a­tive strength of con­fer­ences and, in turn, how many mem­ber schools war­rant NCAA tour­na­ment con­sid­er­a­tion.

Col­lege foot­ball coaches (Mack Brown of Texas, chief among them) aren’t shy about lob­by­ing for spots in the most pres­ti­gious bowl games. Nor are their me­dia re­la­tions staffs when it comes to pro­mot­ing Heis­man Tro­phy can­di­dates.

But when it comes to sway­ing pub­lic opin­ion about col­lege bas­ket­ball, the ACC — at least in Wil­liams’s view — has let ri­val leagues seize the na­tional mi­cro­phone.

“ The Big East holds their [pre­sea­son] meet­ing in­NewYork City ev­ery year, and the first thing you hear [is that] they should have nine teams in the NCAA tour­na­ment,” Wil­liams said. “ They just say that, and you haven’t played a game yet.”

The so­lu­tion, he ar­gues, is for the ACC to be­come more proac­tive in tout­ing its best teams and play­ers. Ev­ery­one else in this me­dia-sat­u­rated era is do­ing just that — from col­lege bas­ket­ball blog­gers to Tweet­ers to sport­stalk ra­dio callers.

Wil­liams said he would put the ACC’s top three teams — by his count, that’s Duke, North Carolina and Florida State— up against the top three teams of just about any con­fer­ence in the coun­try. So why not, Wil­liams sug­gested, sim­ply pro­claim the ACC is the best league in the coun­try at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

“What does it cost you to say that?” Wil­liams said. “Noth­ing. Some­body can say you’re nuts, but other than that? I’m not em­bar­rassed. Just say it. . . .

“What hap­pened when the ACC was so dom­i­nant, the other leagues just kind of gath­ered to­gether and went af­ter it. So you have to say what’s good about your league. I think we have some re­ally good teams right now.”

JOHN MCDONNELL/THE WASHINGTON POST

Mary­land Coach Gary Wil­liams on pro­mot­ing the ACC: “What does it cost you to say that? Noth­ing.”

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