Our recent piece on schools that should be perennial powers received a good deal of feedback, so we figured it's the perfect time to capitalize and bring more of the same content.
All jobs aren't created equal. There are some schools that have more funding, more prestige and better resources at their disposal to make recruiting (and, by extension, winning) more sustainable. As an attempt at pegging which jobs in the major conferences are best and which are most difficult based on those factors, we developed a seven-prong tier system, ranging from the perennial blue bloods to the spots with annual uphill battles.
A good coach can raise their program a tier, perhaps even two if there's longevity involved. These rankings fluctuate slightly as a result of the man in the head chair, but are largely dependent on factors outside of who the boss is right now.
In the ACC, everyone knows who the two national blue bloods are in Duke and Carolina. Beyond them is a deep conference of teams who trade shots at being third in line, a few teams who are in their shadow and two schools who struggle to create or sustain momentum.
Tier #1- Bluebloods
Duke - Coach K has built such allure that the program is almost too big to ever fail. His days are numbered, but the name brand of their basketball success will outlast the sideline general.
North Carolina - Jordan brand ties, everlasting prestige and the security of the job that makes it one of the most lustful in college hoops means the Tar Heels will always have strength in their program.
Tier #2 - Consistent and Historic
Louisville - There's basketball history and success in this crazed community. The in-state rivalry with blue blood Kentucky, their great arena and following, and strong Adidas ties keep the Cards relevant. Give Chris Mack a ton of credit for withstanding some implosive tendencies from the end of the Pitino era. The Cards should be in the NCAA hunt pretty much every year.
Tier #3 - Have it Rolling Right Now
Virginia - So long as Tony Bennett is in town, the Cavaliers should be a national power. He's a great coach, and is young enough to turn this stop into his last and a potential blue blood of the future. But Virginia isn't historically a place that accompanies national success. The Bennett way isn't loud or flashy, and they don't go after a ton of top national talent. That makes me think this is a program more built on the success of their coach than what the institution has and can sustain.
Tier #4 - Should be in Tier 2
Syracuse - Historic? Yes. Jim Boeheim is one of the winningest coaches of all time, and his style is immediately identifiable with the Orange brand: that stingy 2-3 zone. Consistent? Not so much. The Orange haven't been great since moving to the ACC. As Boeheim ages and former 'Cuse assistants flounder elsewhere as head coaches, there's risk that this spot isn't as sustainable as it once was. The lack of NBA success of his alums helps keep elite talent away. Plus, recruiting the ACC-level talent to upstate New York is more of a challenge now than ever.
Notre Dame - We wrote about Brey and the Irish in our "should be perennial powers" piece. The national name recognition should mean more than it does. Think about this: they're in the most basketball-crazed state, have ties pretty much everywhere and should be able to draw from the multitude of east coast parochial schools. But the Irish can't sustain success and are a bit of an odd fit in the ACC. They should be higher.
Miami - I maintain that this is one of the easier places to recruit in the conference. They're the better school and campus than in-state ACC rival Florida State. There's a cool factor that isn't fully disappeared. Out-of-state kids should want to come to Coral Gables. It's amazing that the lack of basketball success historically holds them down as much as it does, especially when their football program has reached such national levels in the past.
Tier #5 - You Can Sustain Winning There
Florida State - Leonard Hamilton is awesome. The OG is timeless and older than many think; his career won't last forever. But he's a trust voice and a great mentor who wins off defense and toughness. The Seminoles were bottom-feeders before he built this up recently. While they're winning now, it's hard to consider them a real contender to move up on this list.
NC State - They'll always be third-best in their state. Look, the facilities are fine, the talent deep enough locally and the history of success plentiful enough that the Wolfpack can piece together success. But they'll always be underdogs in some way. They hire coaches like it, and recruit like it. Style and personality will matter greatly in this job forever.
Tier #6 - In Someone Else's Shadow
Pittsburgh - They were really damaged by a move to the ACC. In the Big East, they could handle in-state recruiting and get into New York City and Jersey, where their blue collar identity resonated. That's much harder to do now that their conference games are out of region. Pitt doesn't have a rabid fanbase in a hockey city, and the local area is pretty weak for elite D1 talent. They won't win many battles on the eastern part of the state, squeezing off a backyard that most overachievers need to make recruiting a little easier.
Georgia Tech - Despite being in Atlanta, it's hard to sustain success at GT. Most southern kids will got to an SEC school, all of whom are regarded higher than Tech. They'll struggle to go much farther north on the coast and recruit. They need to really crush local talent to have a good chance. They haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2010 and aren't in the mix for top-100 talent much anymore.
Clemson - Their football success should be proof that the right coach can win at Clemson. They don't have in-state rivals to fend off as closely as some of their other competitors. As the school reaches football success, this should be a program where you can win. With Dabo Swinney calling the shots in the department, Clemson basketball needs to not draw NCAA investigations to town, and that internally caps their ability to compete.
Virginia Tech - It's the epitome of an underdog spot. Tech is not an anything close to an urban campus, doesn't have a ton of historical success and is near the bottom of athletic budgets in the conference. After all, there is a reason Buzz Williams left Blacksburg for Texas A&M, an SEC school without a winning tradition...
Tier #7 - Uphill Battles
Boston College - There just isn't a major focus on winning at BC, and there never really has been. A school that consistently lacks blue collar talent, the Eagles don't have enough name recognition or success to fend off outsiders who poach elite talent from the New England boarding school scene. And there's certainly little to convince talent outside the region to come there.
Wake Forest - A small school without much student section or on-campus buzz. The fourth in the pecking order in-state, so elite local talent rarely gets convinced to stay home. Winston-Salem is nice, but budgetarily they're last in the conference, and it constrains them from keeping momentum once they gain it.