ESPN’s Myron Medcalf annually makes a series of what he calls “bold” predictions for the NCAA Tournament. This year, one of his boldest – and loudest – predictions is that the ACC will underperform. His very first pick was that no ACC team will reach the Final Four in San Antonio.
He might be right, but his prediction flies in the face of recent NCAA Tournament history. Because the fact is that the ACC is currently on the greatest three-year NCAA run in the history over the tournament.
In the last three years, the ACC has won two national titles and missed a third on a last-second shot. It has placed four teams in the Final Four, eight teams in the Elite Eight and 12 in the Sweet 16.
ACC teams have won a total of 47 tournament games in the last three years – not only the three-year record, but the record by a wide margin. The closest league to matching that was the Big East that won 40 games between 2011-13.
Of course, that’s no guarantee of success this season.
But the odds are in the ACC’s favor.
Between 1980 (when the NCAA began to invite multiple teams from the top conferences) until 2005, the ACC was consistently the most successful league in NCAA play. Again, it wasn’t close. I’ve listed the numbers before and the ACC has a clear edge over the other power conferences.
But 2005 was a watershed year. UNC won the title and the ACC went 12-4 in NCAA play. That was actually a pretty normal season (although the ACC “only” won eight NCAA titles in that 26-year span).
In 2006, the ACC went 6-4 and failed to advance a team to the Elite Eight. That started a span of nine seasons when the ACC struggled in NCAA play. Oh, UNC in 2009 and Duke in 2010 won national titles, but in that nine-year span, the ACC failed to win 10 games in any single NCAA Tournament. In 2014, the league was a paltry 6-6 and only Virginia advanced to the Sweet 16.
All that changed in 2015.
Just six ACC teams got bids, but five of them reached the Sweet 16 – three reached the Elite Eight and Duke won it all. A year later, the ACC got seven bids – and six reached the Sweet 16, four reached the Elite Eight and two reached the Final Four. The league was 19 tournament games in 2016 – the most for any conference in NCAA history.
A year ago was more problematic.
The ACC got a record nine bids, but eight of them lost the first weekend. However, just three lost in the opening game and UNC won it all. Overall, the ACC won 11 games, matching the most of any conference.
The ACC has nine entries again this year. How will the league do?
Well, according to seeding, the ACC should win at least 13 and a half games and put one team in the Four Four and three in the Elite Eight.
Virginia, seeded No. 1 in South, should win at least four games and reach the Final Four (note - Al submitted this before De’Andre Hunter’s injury was known which may affect Virginia’s fate - ed). Duke and North Carolina, both No. 2 seeds, should be expected to win three games each and reach the Elite Eight.
No. 5 Clemson, No. 6 Miami and No. 8 Virginia Tech should win one game before meeting a better seed. No. 9 Florida State and No. 9 N.C. State will be slight underdogs in their opening games.
That works out to 13 expected wins. The half win comes from Syracuse, which is in the play-in game against Arizona State. Whichever wins that game will be a No. 11 seed. Technically, the Orange and the Sun Devils are the same seed, so that game works out to a tossup.
Of course, the tournament rarely goes as planned, so those “expected” outcomes are so much bunk. Still, it provides a nice guideline for ACC expectations. So I’m putting the over/under for ACC Tournament wins at 13.5.
I suspect that Mr. Medcalf would take the under.
Marvin Bagley emerged from the ACC Tournament with his narrow ACC scoring lead intact.
He leads Boston College junior Jerome Robinson 21.0 to 20.8 ppg. The race will continue as long as there are games – Bagley in the NCAA and Robinson in the NIT. A year ago, Luke Kennard lost the ACC scoring title to Pitt’s Michael Young with his 11 point effort against South Carolina in Duke’s last game.
Bagley has a healthier lead in rebounds – 11.3 to 10.2 for UNC’s Luke Maye. That’s unlikely to change.
If he holds on to the scoring title he would become 13th player in ACC history to lead the league in scoring and rebounds.
Actually, it happened seven times between 1957 and 1965, but just six times since. It’s almost been a once-in-a-decade occurrence. It happened in 1978 when Rod Griffin of Wake did it; in 1987 by Horace Grant of Clemson, in 1997 by Tim Duncan of Wake; in 1998 by Antwan Jamison of UNC; and it 2008 by Tyler Hansborough of UNC.
Three ACC teams are competing in the NIT, but – unlike the NCAA – we should not expect big things from Notre Dame, Louisville and Boston College.
An ACC team last won an NIT title in 2000, when Wake Forest won in New York (incidentally, beating N.C. State in the semifinals). The ACC also won in 1992 (Virginia), 1980 (Virginia), 1972 (Maryland) and 1971 (UNC – beating Duke in the semifinals).
That’s five titles in the 51 years that the ACC has been allowed to compete in the NIT (compared to 12 NCAA titles over the same span).
The sad fact is that ACC teams struggle in the NIT – and always have, ever since the ACC lifted the ban on NIT participation in 1967. Over the years, ACC teams have won 134 NIT games and lost 89 for a 60.1 winning percentage – less than the league’s 66.0 win percentage in the tougher NCAA.
Why the struggles?
I suspect it has something to do with disappointment. Few ACC teams are excited to play in the NIT and the lack of enthusiasm shows.
Some of the best ACC teams have turned down NIT bids – most notably Maryland in 1974 and N.C. State in 1975. The Terps won the NIT with many of the same players in 1972 (Tom McMillen, Len Elmore) and were bitterly disappointed by their OT loss to N.C. State in the ACC title game. Since just one team per conference could compete in the NCAA, Maryland – which ended up ranked No. 3 in the nation – did not get to make a run at the NCAA title.
The Wolfpack was also disappointed in 1975. The Pack wanted to defend their national title, but an injury to the great David Thompson caused State to lose a heartbreaker to UNC in the title game. Personally, I’ll always be disappointed that we didn’t get to see Thompson play more games in New York.
There are rumors that the Louisville players voted not to participate this season, but the school accepted the bid anyway. I suspect their performance will reflect that attitude.
I have no idea how Notre Dame reacted to the bid, although I know the Irish were bitterly disappointed to miss an NCAA bid. Boston College, after its recent years in the postseason wilderness, should be very happy to play in the NIT – and is the kind of enthused team that should exceed expectations.
For the record, Duke has never turned down an NIT bid, although the Blue Devil football team did vote in 1962 not to accept a bid to the Gator Bowl (at the time that was the fifth most significant bowl game).