During the course of the college basketball regular season, whenever the ACC was discussed it was generally in grandiose terms. For most of the year, many observers believed the league could break the Big East’s single-season record of 11 NCAA tournament bids. Teams barely above .500 were lauded as tourney at-large candidates. The New York Times even suggested it might be the best conference in the history of the sport.
If we’ve learned anything during this NCAA tournament it’s that those statements were nothing short of absurd. Forget the best conference of all-time. This tournament has to make us wonder if they were even the best conference this season.
Of the nine teams that made the NCAA Tournament, just one made it to the Sweet 16 while more maligned conferences like the Big Ten and SEC will each send three teams to the the second weekend of the tournament. So will the Big 12 and Pac-12, with the Big East pushing two representatives into the Sweet 16. The West Coast Conference will have the same number of teams playing next weekend as the ACC does.
It’s not just that eight of nine league teams lost but how it happened. Four of those losses came to lower-seeded teams and five came by double-digits. Three were by at least 20 points, and included some of the most embarrassing defeats of the tournament.
There was Florida State losing by a staggering 25 points to Xavier, making the Musketeers the only double-digit seed to advance to the second weekend of the tournament. For Florida State that loss came in its own backyard (Orlando) and to a team whose best player suffered an ACL injury back in late January.
In the same building on the same day, Virginia fell to Florida 65-39. The Cavaliers lost to a higher-seeded team (which is respectable) but their 39-point output also marked the lowest for any team in the tournament so far. Even the lowest-scoring No. 16 seed in the tournament – South Dakota State – put up 46 points in their loss to Gonzaga.
In the first round, Miami suffered a 78-58 loss to Michigan State in a game the Hurricanes were actually ahead 17-5 in at one point. Notre Dame was a missed shot from losing to Princeton in Round 1 before getting beat by double-figures against West Virginia in Round 2.
And finally, there’s Duke. So much can be said about the Blue Devils’ 88-81 loss to South Carolina that it’s hard to know where to begin. A good place to start might be the Gamecocks’ offense, which ranked 188th nationally this season and produced just 72 points per game.
Just about the only saving grace for the ACC is North Carolina, the league’s only team to advance to the Sweet 16. But even they Tar Heels trailed for most of the second half versus Arkansas and needed some spotty refereeing down the stretch to seal the win. This coming against a No. 8 seed in a game where they were a 15.5 point favorite.
As we turn our attention to the Sweet 16, it’s clear that the biggest story of the NCAA tourney so far has been the ACC’s awful opening weekend run.