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National Championships Are A Tough Act To Follow

ACC winners and how they did the year after

NCAA Photos Archive
Christian Laettner cutting down the nets after the 1992 national championship game.

There are 15 now, not counting three on the women’s side. And while every national champion from the ACC stands alone, they do share certain traits.

No, not measured against a specific statistical standard, such as a free throw percentage or average margin of victory. Maybe 30-win seasons, or Hall of Fame coaches. Thirteen of 18 national champs from the ACC were directed by coaches deemed among the best ever.

And that’s not counting a pair of active stars in the profession: Muffet McGraw, coach of the 2018 women’s champs from Notre Dame and the winner of more than 800 games at the school; and UVa’s Tony Bennett, widely regarded as a candidate for eventual Hall of Fame inclusion even before his Cavaliers won the 2019 men’s title.

One trait shared by many of the championship coaches was a team that rarely faltered the season after reaching the mountaintop. Of the 18 champs, only three finished lower than third place in the ACC a year later. Five of 17 suffered double-digit losses the season after winning it all.

And just one repeated as national champion: Duke in 1992.

All of which creates an interesting subplot as the season turns toward its conclusion and Virginia attempts to rebound from its January struggles.

The Cavaliers lost four of five games between Jan. 5 and 20, giving them as many defeats overall as in the last two years combined (6). The suddenly-vulnerable Cavs’ wins during that stretch were against also-rans Georgia Tech and Wake Forest (in overtime).

With prognosticators insisting ACC prospects for NCAA inclusion are uncommonly weak, reflecting the conference’s temporary mediocrity, Virginia could still build a case for squeezing into the tournament. Ten games in, the Cavs are bunched with seven other teams with ACC records between 6-4 and 4-6, collectively occupying fourth- through 11th-place.

UVa had 14 wins as of Feb. 4, tied for fourth-best in the league, a total accompanied by the fewest losses.

Since multiple entrants from the same conference were allowed in the NCAAs in 1975, only two national champs from the ACC failed to gain tournament inclusion the year after they won it all – NC State in 1984 and UNC in 2010. We’ll soon see if Virginia is the third.

National Champions From ACC Year After Winning Crown
(W Indicates Women’s Team)
Year Champion Record Year After ACC Finish Coach
1957 North Carolina 32-0 19-7 2 (tie) Frank McGuire
1974 NC State 30-1 22-6 2 (tie) Norm Sloan
1982 North Carolina 32-2 28-8 1 Dean Smith
1983 NC State 26-10 19-14 7 Jim Valvano
1991 Duke 32-7 32-2 1 Mike Krzyzewski
1992 Duke 34-2 24-8 3 (tie) Mike Krzyzewski
1993 North Carolina 34-4 28-7 2 Dean Smith
1994 North Carolina W 33-2 30-5 2 Sylvia Hatchell
2001 Duke 35-4 31-4 2 Mike Krzyzewski
2002 Maryland 32-4 21-10 2 Gary Williams
2005 North Carolina 33-2 23-8 2 Roy Williams
2006 Maryland W 34-4 26-6 3 Brenda Frese
2009 North Carolina 34-4 20-17 9 (tie) Roy Williams
2010 Duke 35-5 32-5 2 Mike Krzyzewski
2015 Duke 35-4 25-11 5 (tie) Mike Krzyzewski
2017 North Carolina 33-7 26-11 3 Roy Williams
2018 Notre Dame W 34-3 35-4 1 (tie) Muffet McGraw
2019 Virginia 35-3 TBD TBD Tony Bennett