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Luke DeCock

Luke DeCock: Miami basketball flies the ACC flag in a busy — and historic — week for the conference

What is normally one of the quietest weeks of the ACC basketball offseason turned out to be not only busy, but historic.

While Miami was busy salvaging the ACC’s reputation by keeping the league’s Sweet 16 streak alive — not to mention extending the Hurricanes’ own Elite Eight streak to two Friday night — the ACC at large took a giant step toward diversifying its ranks.

Now that Micah Shrewsbury’s hire has been finalized at Notre Dame — an absolute slam dunk for the Irish — all three men’s basketball head-coaching vacancies this cycle have been filled by minorities, and in the space of a month the ACC went from six Black coaches to nine, now officially majority-minority. It’s a long way from 2019, when there were only two Black coaches in the ACC, or 2021, when there were only three.

Representation matters. Opportunity matters. While the ACC has always talked the talk in terms of hiring coaches that better represent the players they recruit and supervise, with the hiring of Shrewsbury and Damon Stoudamire at Georgia Tech, and the promotion of Adrian Autry to replace Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, it’s now walking the walk.

So, for that matter, are the ACC’s sitting Black coaches. They accounted for two of the ACC’s five NCAA bids, a third went to the Final Four a year ago and a fourth won the most ACC games at Boston College in 12 years. Throw in Virginia Tech’s Kenny Brooks becoming the first Black coach to win an ACC women’s title, and it’s been an important month.

Stlll, none of them will be under more pressure than UNC’s Hubert Davis next season, coming off a season of historic — even unprecedented — underachievement, and this week’s returns of Armando Bacot and R.J. Davis, along with the impending departure of four (and counting) bench players in the transfer portal, raises some fascinating questions about the Tar Heels and their immediate future.

If Caleb Love returns as well, which seems unlikely but not impossible, why should anyone expect different results from a group that clearly had motivation and chemistry issues? (And why skip the NIT if the core trio is coming back?) With Hubert Davis’ best incoming freshman class still a year away, who exactly is going to fill out the bench? (Not that he’s ever used that group much anyway.) And, barring the portal arrival of a point guard, who exactly is going to play on the wings?

Assuming Love departs, the Tar Heels will need shooters as much as they need a fresh start, and while getting two all-ACC players back is a win-win for school and player alike in the NIL era — especially for Bacot, who has talked about wanting to be a UNC icon — Davis is going to have to dip deep into the portal to find some long-range offense. As North Carolina has learned, with Brady Manek and Pete Nance, the portal can be a make-or-miss game.

Miami, meanwhile, is where the Tar Heels expected to be now going into the season as the preseason No. 1. It helps having someone who’s done it so many times before at the helm — and Jim Larranaga, at 73, showed Friday night he can still dance — but it helps even more having guards like Isaiah Wong and Nijel Pack to go with do-it-all forwards like Jordan Miller, Norchad Omier and Wooga Poplar.

With a few key returnees from last year’s team and two impact transfer arrivals, the Hurricanes bridge the the old and new worlds of college basketball. The Friday night game in Greensboro between Duke and Miami felt like the real ACC title game, and the Hurricanes have continued to play as well in the NCAA Tournament as they did in valiant defeat that night.

An annual disappointment in football since joining the ACC — except for that one year — the Hurricanes have become a perennial basketball powerhouse, thanks in part to the former Virginia assistant in charge. With Virginia succumbing to yet another first-round upset and Duke getting bullied out of the tournament by Tennessee, the ACC really needed Miami to carry the flag this March.

The N.C. Triangle may have been shut out on the men’s side for the fourth time since 1979, but the ACC has now advanced a team to the second weekend for the 43rd straight year, thanks to Miami.

In a historic week for the league, the Hurricanes helped avoid making the wrong kind of history.

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