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The ACC’s Sustained Success In The Sweet Sixteen Rolls On

Despite a notably down year for the conference overall

Syracuse v West Virginia
 INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 21: Buddy Boeheim #35 and Marek Dolezaj #21 of the Syracuse Orange celebrate their win over the West Virginia Mountaineers in their second round game of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 21, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

For many of us the fun of watching the NCAA tournament is seeing how top teams fare on a national stage when challenged and prepared.

If our ACC favorites are both good and lucky we can reasonably expect one will come away with a title or, nearly every year on average for nearly 40 years, a berth in the Final Four.

Or certainly reach the Sweet 16, to which the ACC sent at least a pair of members in 37 of 46 seasons in which leagues were allowed multiple entrants in the field. That includes this year, when Florida State and Syracuse alone among seven ACC entrants won twice each in the NCAAs.

By the way, two or more ACC squads reached the Sweet 16 every year from 1983 through 2006, an unparalled run.

The NCAA tournament almost always offers great surprise endings that endure in highlight videos and common memory, cloaked in a blizzard of clichés, irritating theatric affectations and idiosyncratic ramblings by certain TV commentators, and game producers’ maddening withholding of relevant stats at key junctures. (This year’s action also was interspersed with the great Geiko ad featuring Tag Team dishing, dancing and declaiming exultantly over ice cream: “Sprinkles!”)

Some of us, perhaps more perverse, watch the NCAAs rooting for upsets, surprises for the big boys and experts who preen as they reel off roster details like gourmands savoring entrees on an artisanal menu. We saw several delightful results this past weekend, among them No. 15 Oral Roberts over No.2 Ohio State of the Big Ten, No.14 Abilene Christian shooting down in-state giant Texas from the Big 12, and No.8 Loyola Chicago over No. 1 Illinois, yet another Big Ten flameout.

Even if it means the targets include ACC powers we’d root for in the abstract, fans of the underdog will forever savor results like 16-seed Maryland Baltimore County snuffing No.1 Virginia in 2018. A ’19 national title overshadows other blemishes, but UVa is surprisingly often an NCAA non-factor – Tony Bennett’s conservative Cavaliers haven’t made it to the Sweet 16 in 4 of the last 6 NCAA tournaments, 5 of the last 8, including this year’s one and done effort.

It’s all part of the fabric of what can be a joyous, riveting few weeks in spring even in the dark shadow of COVID-19.

For the ACC overall, this disappointing 2021 season was modestly redeemed in the NCAAs. Solace was secured by Syracuse advancing to the Sweet 16 as an 11 seed and Florida State as a No. 4.

Syracuse’s success shouldn’t be mistaken for proof of ACC depth. Rather, survival is a happy quirk of a proud program that’s made the NCAAs four times in six opportunities as an ACC member.

The Orange reached the Final Four in 2016 as a No. 10, one of six ACC teams that advanced at least to the regional semifinals that year. Two seasons later, as an 11th seed, Syracuse was one of three ACC representatives in the Elite Eight. Jim Boeheim’s squads may sputter unimpressively during the regular season, but come postseason they tend to prosper.

FSU, meanwhile, confidently demonstrated the multiple strengths it’s manifested for years, particularly a smart, tough, athletic defense capable of throttling opponents. Leonard Hamilton’s squad not only canceled UNC Greensboro but easily handled Colorado while back in Boulder, the Buffaloes’ hometown, yet another senseless, murderous shooting took the luster off the playing of games.

Number of ACC Teams Per Year in Sweet 16 and Percent of Membership
(Since Multiple Entrants Allowed From Same League)
Teams Sweet 16 Year (Percent of Total Membership)
6 1 2016 (40.0)
5 2 2019 (.333), 2015 (33.3)
4 8 2018 (26.7), 1995 (44.4), 1993 (44.4), 1992 (44.4), 1990 (50.0), 1989 (50.0), 1986 (50.0), 1985 (50.0)
3 5 2011 (33.3), 2005 (27.3), 2004 (33.3), 1998 (33.3), 1983 (37.5)
2 21 2021 (13.3), 2013 (13.3), 2012 (16.7), 2009 (16.7), 2006 (16.7), 2003 (22.2), 2002 (22.2), 2001 (22.2), 2000 (22.2), 1999 (22.2), 1997 (22.2), 1996 (22.2), 1994 (22.2), 1991 (25.0), 1988 (25.0), 1987 (25.0), 1984 (25.0), 1981 (25.0), 1980 (25.0), 1977 (28.6), 1975 (28.6)
1 7 2017 (06.7), 2014 (06.7), 2010 (08.3), 2008 (08.3), 2007 (08.3), 1982 (12.5), 1978 (14.3))
0 3 2020 (Lost Season), 1979 (00.0), 1976 (00.0)