Before the last games of the 2016 Elite 8 are even played, the ACC already is guaranteed a pair of teams in the Final Four. Too bad North Carolina has to face off with Notre Dame in the East Regional, and Virginia with Syracuse in the Midwest, or the league could have challenged the record of three representatives in the national semifinals set by the Big East in 1985.
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Unfortunately, East meets Midwest in the national semifinals on April 2; should No. 1 seeds UNC and UVa advance, it would be a reprise of the 2016 ACC Tournament title game.
The four ACC teams among the last eight standing are a record for the conference. Only once previously has a league matched the ACC’s output in 2016. That was the old Big East, which in 2009 saw Connecticut, Louisville, Pitt and Villanova among the eight regional finalists.
Oddly, or perhaps fortuitously, UL and UP are now United with the ACC.
Villanova knocked off Pitt in the ’09 Elite 8, ending the best advance of Jamie Dixon’s now ended 13-year tenure with the Panthers. North Carolina beat Villanova in one Final Four game, then UConn lost to Michigan State. The Spartans in turn fell in the championship contest to the Tar Heels, giving Roy Williams his second title at Chapel Hill.
The ACC has had as many as three teams in the Elite 8 on three previous occasions: 1983, when NC State bumped off Virginia in the West Regional final and went on to shock Houston for the NCAA title; 1985, when Georgia Tech, UNC and NC State tied for first during the regular season, all reached the Elite 8, and all were eliminated in the regional finals by teams from the Big East; and 2015.
Yes, last year we barely noticed that Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame all reached the Elite 8, with the Blue Devils advancing to win the national championship.
Perhaps if the Cardinals and Fighting Irish seemed more a part of the ACC we would have paid more heed. But it was the first year in the conference for Rick Pitino’s club, and the second for Mike Brey’s Irish. At least Brey had a pre-existing ACC tie, having been an assistant at Duke, with assistant coach Anthony Solomon a former Virginia player.
A league placing three teams in the Elite 8 isn’t as unusual as it seems. Over the 42 seasons since the NCAA tournament field expanded to allow multiple entrants from the same league, it’s been done 19 times, nearly every other year.
|League||3+||Years 3+ in Regional Finals||Won NCAA|
|ACC||4||1983, 1985, 2015, 2016 (4)||1983, 2015, ?|
|Big East||6||1982, 1985, 1987, 1989, 2009 (4), 2013||1985|
|Big 10||4||1992, 2000, 2005, 2014||2000|
|Big 12||3||1988, 2002, 2003||1988|