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In The ACC, Being Top Seed Is Kind Of Dangerous

It’s not as big an advantage as you might think. In fact, it’s pretty much a crapshoot.

NCAA Basketball: Duke at Pittsburgh
Mar 1, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Duke Blue Devils center Mark Williams (right) shoots against Pittsburgh Panthers forward John Hugley (23) during the first half at the Petersen Events Center.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Teams that enter the ACC Tournament as the top seed are about as likely to fall short of the championship as to finish victorious. In the league’s first 67 years, the No.1 seed won the title 48.5 percent of the time (32 of 66).

(In 2020 COVID concerns aborted the tournament after two rounds. The top four seeds never got on the court.)

Fifteen No.1 seeds lost in the final, although none since North Carolina was aced by third-seeded Florida State in 2012.

This year Duke is the top seed with a double-bye into the third round, alias quarterfinals. The Blue Devils have won more ACC titles than any other school with 21, six prior to Mike Krzyzewski’s arrival. Vic Bubas’s teams won four championships in the seven seasons from 1960 through 1966, when ultimate victory in the ACC Tournament was the sole way to earn an NCAA bid.

Krzyzewski set the standard for consistent dominance, winning a record five ACC titles in a row from 1999 through 2003 and seven of eight through 2006.

The Blue Devils set another standard in the event with 17 straight victories from 1999 through 2004, their ’04 defeat coming in overtime to Maryland in the final. Duke rebounded by winning the next two championships.

Speaking of dominance, five Krzyzewski squads finished alone in first place during the ACC regular season and went on to win the tournament – 1986, 1992, 1999, 2000 and 2006. The first three instances saw Duke reach the NCAA championship game, winning in 1992.

Duke also finished first during the regular season and won the ACC Tournament in 1963, 1964, and 1966 under Bubas. This year Duke won the regular-season race outright.

Three of the last four ACC Tournaments, and four of the last six, were won by teams seeded third (Notre Dame in 2015 and Duke in 2019), fourth (Georgia Tech in 2021), or fifth (Duke, 2017).

That ’17 Duke unit was the only fifth seed ever to win the ACC Tournament. Teams seeded sixth have captured five championships (see below), only one in the past 29 years.

The lowest seed to reach the final was No.10 NC State, which won three times in 2007 at Tampa under coach Sidney Lowe. The exhausted Wolfpack eventually lost to top-seeded UNC.

The Pack was among 13 teams seeded sixth or lower that faced No.1 in the final, with a half-dozen emerging victorious.

Top Seeds Eliminated In Final By Biggest Underdo
Year No. 1 Victor, Seed Regular Season
ACC Finish
Case Award
Winner (MVP)
1976 UNC Virginia, #6 4-8 Wally Walker, V
1980 Maryland Duke, #6 7-7 Albert King, M
1987 UNC NC State, #6 6-8 Vinny Del Negro, NS
1993 UNC Georgia Tech, #6 8-8 James Forrest, GT
2004 Duke Maryland, #6 7-9 John Gilchrist, M