As Jim Phillips glad-handed his way toward a United Center tunnel and a shortcut to a jubilant Miami locker room late Friday night, a young man wearing a green-and-white striped rugby shirt and a perma-smile caught his attention. Phillips probably didn’t know who the kid was. But the kid definitely knew who Jim Phillips was. And he had some information he very much wanted to share with the ACC commissioner. The conference, he shouted toward Phillips from a few rows up, was now 11 and 2 in this NCAA Tournament. He stopped there, and kept on smiling.
Phillips paused for a second, contemplating a response.
He didn’t say a word. He simply raised his right hand and three of the fingers on it.
“We had good basketball,” Phillips told The Athletic a few minutes later, standing in a different arena tunnel. “I knew we had good basketball. You would think we would get the benefit of the doubt because of the history and tradition. Some of that was disappointing. I find myself watching games, listening to some of the commentary, and feeling that some of it was maybe unfair. But, shoot, life’s unfair sometimes. You just gotta work through it.”
Perhaps you heard the one about the ACC looking pretty good for a mid-major conference this season? Or perhaps instead you heard it described in less sardonic terms, such as “down” or “bad” or “quite, quite bad?” The many people saying many mean things had some numbers to back them up, if everyone is being honest. And if everyone is still being honest, the ACC has the only number that matters right now: three teams in the Elite Eight. Duke, North Carolina and, finally, as of midnight Saturday on the west side of this city, the Miami Hurricanes. The most beleaguered high-major league in the nation, on the verge of owning the most important time of the year. And an almighty crescendo is still in play.
The grand old ACC, out like a lion.
“All during the season, I tried to explain our league is really, really good,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said after a 70-56 win over Iowa State, afforded the opportunity to use the media room dais as a soapbox. “Everybody recognizes that Duke and Carolina, those programs are traditionally very, very strong.