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How Bad Is The ACC - And Could It Actually Help?

No question it’s a bad year overall but that doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost.

Duke v North Carolina
In this year’s ACC, even the first Duke-UNC game was a letdown.
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

If you accept the premise this is a down year for the ACC, just how far has the league fallen?

Or, do the numerous teams with losing records actually presage good things for the rest of the ACC?

There are all sorts of measures to judge league prowess. One of the simplest is the number of conference members reaching the March 5 finish line with a losing overall record, and how that compares with seasons past.

The count shows while things look bad this year, that’s nothing new.

This is the fourth straight season in which at least a third of ACC squads (5) have losing overall records. And it could be only the third time in this century in which at least 40 percent of the membership lands on the negative side of the ledger.

This year, as in 2019, 6 of 15 ACC teams have more defeats than victories, with only Louisville positioned to rally to a winning or breakeven mark. The other programs wandering the loser’s wilderness through Feb. 22 were Boston College, Clemson, Georgia Tech, NC State and Pitt.

In-league competition has limited relevance as a measure of strength, as mediocrity in a narrowly defined universe tends to level team records. In this instance pre-conference schedules, despite their discretionary nature, can be telling.

As noted above, the comparably shaped ’19 season saw 40 percent of the ACC’s membership notch losing overall records. (In most years, 33.3 percent or fewer is common.)

But in 2019 the other 9 teams (60 percent) each won at least 20 games. Seven were NCAA entrants, 3 ACC clubs were No. 1 seeds in the NCAAs, 5 reached the Sweet 16, and Virginia won its first national championship.

We may look back fondly on 2019 as a modern apex for ACC men’s basketball.

The league’s current profile promises less and is more reminiscent of 2002, the other recent season when a significant portion of the membership (4 of 9, 44.4 percent) posted losing records. Four teams in 2002 (an equal proportion to the also-rans) went to the NCAAs. The ACC’s 2 top seeds reached the Sweet 16 and Maryland won its only national championship.

So, maybe having so many teams fall short in the 2022 regular season is actually a good sign well disguised.

We’d guess, barring unexpectedly strong finishes or sterling ACC Tournament performances, the ACC will be lucky to have 6 clubs get NCAA bids. (The pool of possibilities: Duke, Miami, UNC, Notre Dame, Virginia, Wake.)

A lower number of entrants is more likely; 6 of the 11 NCAAs from 2002 through 2013 included just 4 ACC squads. This string of weak NCAA showings was shocking at the time because in 14 of 15 seasons between 1984 and 1998 (1995 excepted) a majority of ACC members were invited.

Such widespread ACC representation, which came to seem routine, was duplicated in 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2009, but not since.

The virtual, year-long absence of league teams from the AP top-25 in 2022 (except top-10 Duke), an historical rarity, promises relatively sparse numbers of ACC members extended NCAA bids. That in turn would reflect the collective dismissal of the conference as a power to be reckoned with.

No ’22 ACC squad figures to command a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. That stature mirrors last season’s disregard, when a No. 4 seed was the best the league could muster (Florida State and Virginia).

In 2002 and 2019, the other 21th century seasons with the highest percentages of losing teams, at least one ACC club stood tall throughout the year as a clear contender for the national title. No team similarly stands out in 2022. Duke augured more early on and intermittently since, but remains lacking in consistent team defensive focus and steadfast offensive menace from Paolo Banchero, its featured freshman.

How ACC Fared Based On Number Of Teams With Losing Overall Records
(Results Through 2/22/22)
Year Overall W-L NCAA Entrants Best in NCAA
2022 9-6? ? ?
2021 10-5 7 2 in Sweet 16 (FS, V)
2020 10-5 No tournament No tournament
2019 9-6 7 Virginia champion
2018 12-3 9 3 in Elite 8 (D, FS, SU)
2017 12-3 7 UNC champion
2016 12-3 7 2 in Final Four (NC, SU)
2015 11-4 6 Duke champion
2014 11-4 6 1 in Sweet 16 (V)
2013 8-4 4 1 in Elite 8 (D)
2012 8-4 4 1 in Elite 8 (NC)
2011 9-3 4 1 in Elite 8 (NC)
2010 10-2 6 Duke champion
2009 10-2 7 UNC champion
2008 9-3 4 1 in Final Four (NC)
2007 10-2 7 1 in Elite 8 (NC)
2006 8-2-2 4 2 in Sweet 16 (BC, D)
2005 8-2-1 5 UNC champion
2004 8-1 6 2 in Final Four (D, GT)
2003 7-1-1 3 2 in Sweet 16 (D, M)
2002 5-4 4 Maryland champion
2001 6-3 6 Duke champion