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As Usual, Power Conferences Dominate The Sweet Sixteen

But the ACC is setting a higher bar.

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Mar 19, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Duke Blue Devils center Marshall Plumlee (40) and forward Chase Jeter (2) hug after their win over the Yale Bulldogs in a second round game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Duke won 71-64.
Mar 19, 2016; Providence, RI, USA; Duke Blue Devils center Marshall Plumlee (40) and forward Chase Jeter (2) hug after their win over the Yale Bulldogs in a second round game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Duke won 71-64.
Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Certainly the ACC has plenty to crow about this year, with six teams in the Sweet 16. Last season it had five teams get this far.

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In the last two years the ACC had as many Sweet 16 entrants (11, for those weak on math) as the Pac-12 has had over the past seven seasons. Over the past three years the ACC has enjoyed as many Sweets (12) as the SEC had in the seven years since 2010.

Only the Big 10 matches, and actually eclipses by one, the ACC’s participation in the Sweet 16 since the start of this decade.

The 2015 and 2016 survival rate by ACC teams surely adds luster to claims the new, improved, bigfoot-print conference is or will be the best in the nation. Having Duke win the national championship last season, after the league’s four-year failure to send a team to the Final Four, reinforced that narrative.

Now the ACC has a three in eight chance (with 37.5 percent of the field) of sending at least one member to the 2016 Final Four.

As discussed earlier in this space, this is the fifth time the ACC has a pair of No. 1 seeds in the NCAA field – Carolina and Virginia; on each of those previous occasions the league sent a team to the Final Four.

Duke and Miami have no fellow conference members in their path until the Final Four. UNC and Notre Dame, Virginia and Syracuse are one game removed from facing each other for a shot at the Final Four. The ACC champion Tar Heels and Fighting Irish split two meetings this season, at South Bend and in the ACC Tournament, while Syracuse lost at UVa on Jan. 24.

It’s also worth noting that, for all the endless parity patter, the trend since 1990 continues to be toward fewer Sweet 16 entrants from non-power conferences.

During the 1990s 72.1 percent of the teams advancing to the regional semifinals came from the six most powerful basketball leagues (including some version of the Big East). During the period from 2000 through 2009 the power inclusion rate rose to 80.0 percent.

Since 2010 the power portion has been 82.1 percent, with a single outsider in the Sweet 16 in 2016, the fewest this decade. Sure, Stephen F. Austin, Northern Iowa, Middle Tennessee State et al almost got that far. But almost still doesn’t count.

Leagues Listed By Participants Since 1990
Bold and Underlined Indicates Champion, Asterisk Reached Final Four)
League Sweet 16 
Since 1990:
Sweet 16
Since 2000:
Sweet 16
Since 2010
ACC 69 40 20
Big East 64 44 15
Big 12 55 36 13
Big 10 53 40 21
SEC 49 29 12
Pac-12 47 31 11

ACC 6 Duke, Miami, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Virginia
Big East 1 Villanova
Big 10 3 Indiana, Maryland, Wisconsin
Big 12 3 Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma
Pac-12 1 Oregon
SEC 1 Texas A&M
Others 1 Gonzaga
ACC 5 Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia
Big East 1 Xavier
Big 10 2 Michigan State*, Wisconsin*
Big 12 2 Oklahoma, West Virginia
Pac-12 3 Arizona, UCLA, Utah*
SEC 1 Kentucky*
Others 2 Gonzaga, Wichita State
ACC 1 Virginia
Big East 2 Connecticut, Louisville
Big 10 3 Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin*
Big 12 2 Baylor, Iowa State
Pac-12 3 Arizona, Stanford, UCLA
SEC 3 Florida*, Kentucky*, Tennessee
Others 2 Dayton, San Diego State
ACC 2 Duke, Miami
Big East 3 Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse*
Big 10 4 Indiana, Michigan*, Michigan State, Ohio State
Big 12 1 Kansas
Pac-12 2 Arizona, Oregon
SEC 1 Florida
Others 3 Florida Gulf Coast, LaSalle, Wichita State*
ACC 2 North Carolina, N.C. State
Big East 4 Cincinnati, Louisville*, Marquette, Syracuse
Big 10 4 Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State*, Wisconsin
Big 12 2 Baylor, Kansas*
Pac-12 0
SEC 2 Florida, Kentucky
Others: 2 Ohio, Xavier
ACC 3 Duke, Florida State, North Carolina
Big East 2 Connecticut, Marquette
Big 10 2 Ohio State, Wisconsin
Big 12 1 Kansas
Pac-10 1 Arizona
SEC 2 Florida, Kentucky*
Others: 5 Butler*, BYU, Richmond, San Diego State, VCU*
ACC 1 Duke
Big East 2 Syracuse, West Virginia*
Big 10 3 Michigan State*, Ohio State, Purdue
Big 12 2 Baylor, Kansas State
Pac-10 1 Washington
SEC 2 Kentucky, Tennessee
Others 5 Butler*, Cornell, Northern Iowa, St. Mary's, Xavier