Nine ACC teams made the field in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Among them were UNC as a one seed, Louisville and Duke as two seeds, Florida State as a three seed, Florida and Notre Dame as five seeds, Miami as an eight seed, Virginia Tech as a nine seed, and Wake Forest as an eleven seed. As you probably know, all of these teams lost except for the Heels. This is very disappointing for a conference that was heralded as the best in the nation all season. This poor showing has led some people to say that the ACC was overrated this year, but is that notion true?
ACC teams were favored in most of the games that they played (with some exceptions like Florida being favored over Virginia, Wisconsin over Virginia Tech, and Michigan State over Miami), yet most of them didn’t even play close. Miami lost to Michigan State by twenty in the first round. Florida State lost by 25 to Xavier. Virginia lost by 26 to Florida. It was a pitiful outing overall.
With such hype and heralding all season, these results make it easy to say that the ACC wasn’t, in fact, the best conference in the country. UNC’s resume as a one seed was mainly built upon the fact that they won the toughest conference in college basketball by two games. While that one seed can’t be taken away, it doesn’t reflect well on their accomplishments.
So was the ACC overrated this year? I’d say absolutely not. The ACC as a conference went 156-36 against non-conference foes in the regular season, and went 40-30 against major conference (“Power Five” in football along with the Big East, A-10, and AAC) foes. It’s also worth noting that 18 of those major conference losses were by the bottom seven teams in the conference. The ACC also had six ranked teams at the end of conference play, the most of any conference, and nine teams were ranked in the top 25 at some point this season. These numbers help support the fact that the ACC was the strongest conference in the nation this year.
While I personally believe that the ACC was as legitimate as everyone had been saying just a few weeks ago, let me play devil’s advocate for a second. The conference did only go 8-14 against ranked opponents (or rather opponents that were ranked at the time), which isn’t good. However, playing 22 games against ranked opponents shows that ACC schools weren’t afraid to schedule hard. Averaged among the conference, each team played about 1.5 ranked opponents in the non-conference schedule, which is good.
So, if the ACC wasn’t overrated, how do we explain all of the NCAA Tournament losses? Well, some of them simply aren’t explainable (Virginia, Florida State, Duke, and Wake Forest have no excuses), while some just went up against hot teams. Miami played a superior Michigan State team with a superior coach in Tom Izzo, Louisville went up against a hot team that has won six straight in Michigan, Virginia Tech played a superior team in eventual Villanova-beater Wisconsin, and Notre Dame lost to a superior defensive team in West Virginia.
I don’t mean to make excuses for these teams, but them losing doesn’t make the ACC any worse of a conference. In the end, it’s the regular season that counts in this situation, not the tournament. Any team can beat anyone once March rolls around, but the same can’t really be said about games in November and December. The ACC is still the strongest conference in basketball, no matter what people say. Let’s hope that the Heels wave the flag of the ACC proudly and can deliver the conference to the Final Four and beyond.