There is no real way around it: The first weekend of the NCAA tournament was a total and complete disaster for the ACC.
Of the nine ACC teams that qualified for the Big Dance, only one of them remains: No. 1 seed North Carolina, who needed a late 12-0 run that was aided by a questionable no-call on a late collision involving Joel Berry II just to get past No. 8 seed Arkansas.
The ACC is the only power conference that has just a single team left in the tournament; the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC all have three teams remaining while the the Big East has two.
But that doesn’t really get to the core of just how bad it was for the ACC this weekend:
- The ACC went 7-8 in the first weekend, with those eight losses coming by an average of 13.9 points. For comparison’s sake, the four No. 13 seeds lost by an average of 10.b points and the four No. 14 seeds lost by an average of 14.3 points.
- There were 10 games decided by 20 or more points during the first weekend. Four of them involved No. 16 seeds getting beatdown. Three of them — No. 5 Virginia losing to No. 4 Florida, No. 3 Florida State losing to No. 11 Xavier and No. 8 Miami losing to No. 9 Michigan State — involved ACC teams losing.
- There were only four top four seeds that lost this weekend, and three of them — No. 2 Duke, No. 2 Louisville and No. 3 Florida State — were from the ACC.
- The ACC went 2-13 against the spread.
All this is coming from a conference that was, throughout the season, mentioned as not only the best in college basketball, but one of the best, top to bottom, of all-time.
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And, it should go without saying, that was not the case.
Generally speaking, it’s not really fair to judge a team based off of what happens in a knockout tournament like this, let alone judge an entire conference. Villanova’s run this season wasn’t any less impressive because they ran into an under-seeded Wisconsin team that matched up with them about as well as humanly possible. Those things happen in March, and it’s silly to make massive generalizations of an entire season based off of 40 minutes of basketball.
But this wasn’t just 40 minutes of basketball.
This was nine members of one conference all doing the same thing: playing below the level they should have played.
The question is ‘Why?’
Well, part of it is that the conference won a bunch of games in November and December, which meant that teams like Wake Forest, Miami and Virginia Tech were propped up by the strength of the league. When Georgia Tech and Clemson aren’t bad losses on paper, the leagues computer numbers are going to be inflated.
That, in turn, made Notre Dame, Florida State and Virginia look better than they were. Don’t get me wrong, those three teams had incredible seasons. Notre Dame’s best big man stands 6-foot-5. Virginia had very limited perimeter weapons and lost the only front court piece that they had that could score in the post. Florida State was talented, but they were about as trustworthy as a used car salesman.
To be frank, it’s not all that shocking that those three teams failed to make it out of the first weekend.
The surprises came with Duke and Louisville.
The issue with Duke is that, at the end of the day, they were just a flawed basketball team. They didn’t have a point guard and they didn’t guard, and South Carolina had the pieces to be able to expose that. It wasn’t due to a lack of chemistry or internal strife or a power struggle for “control of the team.” Getting nothing out of Chase Jeter and Marques Bolden, and having Harry Giles III spend the year as a shell of his former self hurt, but I’m not sure what any of those three guys would have been able to do to help Duke run offense on Sunday night in a de-facto road game.
We probably should have seen that one coming.
If anyone from the league was on the wrong end of some poor madness luck, it was probably Louisville. The Cardinals ran into a Michigan team that hasn’t lost since their plane skidded off the runway en route to the Big Ten tournament in Washington D.C. The Cardinals dominated the glass, held Michigan to six threes and kept Derrick Walton Jr. from going off and still managed to lose despite holding a lead for much of the second half.
It happens, especially when you’re a team whose point guard play is subpar.
That was supposed to be a top three team in the ACC.
If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the league, than I don’t know if anything will.
And now we head to the Sweet 16 with just one ACC member left to carry the torch for the conference.