"People are always going to talk about Duke and North Carolina, as they should," Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Wednesday at the conference's preseason media gathering.
But is the Blue Devils' and Tar Heels' excellence, and their media omnipresence, a problem for the league's overall image? Can the ACC's decline in NCAA tournament bids be traced to the Duke-Carolina domination?
That's not likely to change any time soon. Roy Williams' Tar Heels start four future NBA first-rounders and are the consensus preseason No. 1. Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils are consensus top-10.
Meanwhile, their ACC rivals gasp for media air.
Consider Florida State. The Seminoles reached the NCAA tournament regional semifinals last season and are one of two programs — Duke is the other — to win at least 10 ACC games each of the last three years.
But the average fan is unaware.
"We're working on that," Seminoles forward Bernard James said, "just changing the public's perception of Florida State basketball."
Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton is working on changing his own players' perceptions. Last season he told them they were capable of making the Final Four, of winning the national championship. But Hamilton said he "could smell" their skepticism.
Not any more.
"We believe we can make a run to the final weekend," guard Michael Snaer said. "There's no doubt about it."
At Duke and North Carolina, players always believe.
"We feel the expectations, because we have those expectations ourselves," Duke forward Ryan Kelly said.
Brownell called Florida State "a great model" for teams looking to crack the Carolina-Duke conclave. But that model requires stability.
Leonard Hamilton is entering his 10th season as the Seminoles' coach. Brownell and seven of his ACC colleagues, including Virginia's Tony Bennett, have been on the job three years or less.
"I think there's a lot of programs that are getting their feet under them," Brownell said.
"The ACC's been the best league forever," said first-year Miami coach Jim Larranaga, a former Virginia assistant. "I believe the depth of the league is going to get back to where it was."
Larranaga went to Miami from George Mason, which he guided to the 2006 Final Four and challenged to play ambitious non-conference schedules. ACC programs need to follow suit.
Yes, ACC competition is draining and precludes a steady diet of early-season games against Big East and Big Ten opponents. But the harsh truth is, ACC programs have gone soft on scheduling, tainting the league in the NCAA tournament selection committee's eyes.
Collegerpi.com last season rated the ACC's collective non-conference schedule 26th among 31 leagues.
"Our non-conference schedules haven't been where they need to be," said Karl Hicks, the ACC's associate commissioner for basketball.
"In the last 10 years, it's been more us and North Carolina," Krzyzewski said. "it just kind of happens. Those two programs have stood the test of time. We can add value to everybody."
"They also help us a lot," Brownell said. "Believe me, we tell recruits, 'You want to play against Duke and North Carolina.' "
The Blue Devils and Tar Heels lose their share of ACC games — Carolina was a head-scratching 5-11 in 2010 — but have been the league's lone beacons in the NCAA tournament. Florida State last season was the ACC's first Sweet 16 team other than Duke or North Carolina since Boston College and Wake Forest in 2006.
"I just look at it and remember it," Virginia forward Mike Scott said of the Duke-UNC chatter. "I look at it as motivation, positive not negative. I don't get angry about it or anything. … Those two teams have always been great. You definitely want to (measure) yourself against those two."
"We've proven we can beat these guys" Virginia Tech guard Erick Green said. "So if we come to play every night, we can finish in the top two. … Yeah, it does get kind of annoying, the UNC-Duke thing."
Charlie Sheen knows the solution.