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A Historic Down Year For The ACC? Seems Likely

The league has not performed up to its usual standards this season

NCAA Men’s Final Four - National Championship - Texas Tech v Virginia
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 08: De’Andre Hunter #12 of the Virginia Cavaliers celebrates their victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the 2019 NCAA Photos via Getty Images Men’s Final Four National Championship game at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 08, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Virginia defeated Texas Tech 85-77 for the national title.
Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

You can’t count last year. No NCAA tournament, no NCAA bids, no basis of comparison.

But this season, barring further COVID catastrophe (think infection loose within the NCAA’s Indianapolis bubble), there will be a tournament and bids awarded to participate. And, unless some ACC team kicks into a higher gear not seen to this point, 2021 will match the lowest regard the league has commanded since the tournament field was first seeded in 1979.

This major topic of interest seems to have eluded discussion in ACC circles in much the manner, at a more granular level, an empty list of league players qualified for official leadership in 3-point accuracy (sufficient attempts made per game) goes unremarked.

As February entered its final week most sources projected Virginia as the team most likely to earn the league’s highest seed at No. 3. That was before the Cavaliers lost to a Duke squad struggling to stay above .500. As the best the ACC can muster a three seed would be more than a slap in the face; it should be a kick in the butt, raising probing questions about what’s wrong.

Three decades have passed since the ACC failed to command a first or second seed in NCAA play.

In fact, this could be the ninth time since ’79 the ACC failed to generate a top seed in the NCAA tournament, the fourth time in the last 25 years and the third this century. In all but one of those other seasons, except only 1990, the ACC at least had a No. 2 seed.

The most recent one-less ACC season was 2013 — the last time the league had as few bids as it’s likely to accumulate in 2021. That year Duke was a No. 2 and reached a regional final, where it lost to aspiring ACC member Louisville. (The Cardinals went on to win the NCAA championship, an achievement later officially obviated due to a scandal involving sexual favors arranged for recruits and players in an on-campus dorm under the implausibly unknowing eye of head coach Rick Pitino.)

But, to get back to NCAA participation, here’s how low the ACC has fallen in popular estimation. (Or do you really buy that selection is all dispassionate math?):

No league team was rated in the Top 10 for seven weeks this season — six in a row from Dec. 14 through Jan. 18 — a condition not conducive to fostering an impression of strength. That shutout streak stands as the longest run of ranking purgatory since 1960, when the conference was in its first decade. Wake Forest rose to eighth for one week in early January 1960 and that was it for the ACC.

This for a league that, in modern times, won eight of the 19 most recent NCAA championships, an unmatched 42 percent, with four different teams.

UVa made the AP’s top 10 in three of the four most recent weeks. We’ll soon know if they stay there after a close loss at Cameron. Other than that only Duke in the first two weeks of the 2021 season cracked the top 10. Last year five different ACC teams made the top 10.

In 2019 the conference produced a trio of No. 1 seeds and five of the top 16. This year it projects to have two of the top 16 in UVa and perhaps FSU. Dependent of course on how teams finish.

Those accustomed to the league’s routine prowess apparently haven’t yet tumbled to its ’21 decline. (Let’s see if the ACC’s TV network dares examine this state of affairs.) Soon enough we’ll know how league teams fare in the NCAAs, and whether they enjoy a redemptive bounce in tournament play now or in 2021-22.

One hopeful note: In 1990, the only other tournament in the last 40 when the best the ACC could muster were third and fourth seeds, both of the league’s top banner-bearers reached the Final Four.

Georgia Tech, a No. 4 seed that year, made its initial appearance in the national semifinals and was knocked off by UNLV. Third-seed Duke was smoked 103-73 by those same Runnin’ Rebels in the ’90 NCAA championship game.

Top Four ACC Seeds In NCAA Tournament, This Century
(2021 Projected Through 2/20, Asterisk Indicates National Champion)
Year No. 1-4 No. 1 No. 2 No. 3 No. 4
2021 2? None None V? FS?
2019 5 3-D,NC, V* None None 2-FS, VT
2018 3 1-V 2-D,NC None None
2017 4 1-NC* 2-D, UL 1-FS None
2016 4 2-NC,V None 1-Mi 1-D
2015 5 1-D* 1-V 1-ND 2-UL, NC
2014 3 1-V None 2-D, SU None
2013 2 None 2-D, SU None None
2012 3 1-NC 1-D 1-FS None
2011 2 1-D 1-NC None None
2010 2 1-D* None None 1-Md
2009 3 1-NC* 1-D None 1-WF
2008 2 1-NC 1-D None None
2007 3 1-NC None None 2-Md, V
2006 3 1-D None 1-NC 1-BC
2005 3 2-D, NC* 1-WF None None
2004 5 1-D None 1-GT, NS 2-Md, WF
2003 2 None 1-WF 1-D None
2002 2 2-D, Md* None None None
2001 3 1-D* 1-NC 1-Md None
  • Other Years Without A No. 1: 1996, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1985, 1980
  • Teams 21st Century Without Top-4 Seed As ACC Member: C, UP