Syracuse Orange fans weren’t alone puffing out their chest and tweeting “ACC Rulez” over the weekend. With three teams left in the Elite Eight and two of the Final Four squads, the conference stands taller than any other league in America this March. Make no mistake this was a great NCAA Tournament for Jim Phillips and his basketball teams.
However, that doesn’t mean that all those takes from November up until a week ago were wrong. The ACC was down this year. The two teams left playing in New Orleans next Saturday started the year as the two highest-ranked teams in the pre-season AP poll- Duke was 9th, North Carolina was 19th. They ended the year as the only two ACC teams ranked in the final regular-season AP poll (Duke-7th, UNC-25th).
Most of the narrative resulted because the ACC as a whole was not successful during the non-conference portion of the schedule. Duke beat Kentucky and Gonzaga but lost to Ohio State. Here’s Carolina’s marquee non-conference games:
93-84 loss to Purdue
89-72 loss to Tennessee
72-51 win over Michigan
98-69 loss to Kentucky
The Tar Heels also lost four ACC games by 18 or more points. Duke, Wake, Miami and Pitt all were able to hand out beatdowns to Hubert Davis’ squad in league play. Credit to Davis and his players as they won six in a row after losing to Pitt. They didn’t fluke their way into the Final Four as they beat the #1 and #4 seeds in their region on their way to a historic first NCAA Tournament match-up with Duke.
Miami’s run to the Elite Eight was the most surprising part of the season. The Hurricanes came within two last-second wins against Syracuse and Boston College from being in the NIT instead. They took out Auburn, a team who many thought was the best chance for the SEC to win a title.
Yes the ACC didn’t fall flat in the Tournament like the SEC and Big Ten. The off-season talk is shifted from “Can the ACC recover?” to even more “How does Duke move on after Coach K?” conversation (ummm hooray??). It doesn’t mean that people were wrong to question the ACC men’s basketball in 21-22. You had two pre-season top 25 teams that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Traditional powers Syracuse and Louisville weren’t even in the bubble discussion after January and the bottom of the league wasn’t as deep as other leagues.
What happens next depends on what the programs do on the court. If the Duke-UNC winner cuts down the nets on Monday then the league stands at the top until next season. If they don’t the success so far doesn’t carry over. Right or wrong that’s how things work these days and no matter what happens in the next week Jim Phillips still has work to do to secure the position of ACC Men’s Basketball moving forward.