I thought about this explanation when writing my article on the decline of the ACC and rejected it because the Big Ten is a very slow conference and yet it is succeeding both at the gate and in terms of quality. Upon reflection, it occurs to me that ACC fans are probably used to a faster product. They did not grow up watching physical, grind-it-out games; those were the province of the Big East and Big Ten. Now, there is a potential culture clash and ACC fans are not enthusiastic about the styles of coaches like Brian Gregory and Dick Bennett (both of whom have Big Ten roots).
A glance at Ken Pomeroy's pace statistics* confirms that ACC basketball is slower than it used to be...
Here are the ACC's national rank in terms of conferences in the last ten years (the entire period covered by Pomeroy's database): 9, 3, 2, 7, 9, 1, 2, 9, 9, 20. In other words, this season is unprecedented in the ACC - at least for the past decade - in that the conference is in the lower half of all conferences in terms of tempo. If the Wall Street Journal is looking for an explanation as to a drop in fan interest, then maybe they should examine the idea that fans have tuned into games, yawned at the lack of running, and then changed the channel.**
* - Pomeroy's conference-wide pace statistics are subscription-only. I highly recommend paying the $20 for a one-year subscription. If you fill out a bracket, his numbers are very valuable.
** - It's worth mentioning that the slower pace could explain a decrease in fan interest, but not the fact that the league is below its normal standards in terms of quality. In fact, Virginia is having its best season in a long time with Dick Bennett's homage to molasses.