By David Glenn, ACCSports.com
This kind of thing just doesn't happen to the ACC. Not in basketball. Not in the modern era.
But it did.
Since the NCAA Tournament changed its rules in 1980, eliminating its long-held team limits on bids per conference (one through 1974, then two through 1979), the ACC had never gone two straight years without a Final Four team -- until now. In fact, the league averaged one Final Four team per year from 1980-2005, balancing its five seasons without a representative in the semifinals with five in which it filled half the four-team bracket by itself.
Heading into the 2007 NCAA Tournament, the ACC also had put at least two teams in the Sweet 16 every single year under the new (post-1979) rules -- until now. In one 12-year stretch, from 1984-95, the conference actually advanced four teams into the Sweet 16 an astonishing seven times.
This year, despite a league-record seven NCAA Tournament bids, the ACC fell apart in the postseason -- for the second time in a row.
Only North Carolina made the Sweet 16, and the Tar Heels fell short of the Final Four by losing in the regional final. On the previous weekend, Duke and Georgia Tech lost in the first round while Boston College, Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech fell in the second round.
At the Final Four in Atlanta this weekend, the ACC -- the same conference that produced a record 10 teams with 20-win seasons this year -- will only be able to watch as representatives of the Big East (Georgetown), Big Ten (Ohio State), Pac-10 (UCLA) and SEC (Florida) compete for the sport's greatest prize.
The ACC was merely a spectator at the Final Four last year, too. The league disappeared even earlier in 2006, when only four schools received NCAA bids, and the last teams standing (BC and Duke) fell in the Sweet 16.
"If you're around this league long enough, you come to expect great things," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "National players of the year, national coaches of the year, McDonald's All-Americans, college All-Americans, and of course Sweet 16s, Final Fours and national championships.
"When it doesn't happen, people start to ask questions. That's a compliment, because it shows the high expectations and the respect people have (for the ACC), but it's the kind of compliment you never want to get."
Consider these amazing facts as the modern backdrop for the ACC's postseason collapse this year:
The ACC has won three of the last six (50 percent) national championships, with three different teams -- Duke in 2001, Maryland in 2002, and North Carolina in 2005. The league also has won six of the last 16 (37.5 percent) NCAA titles, and eight of the last 25 (32 percent). The other national champions in that stretch: UNC in 1982, N.C. State in 1983, Duke in 1991, Duke in 1992 and UNC in 1993.
The ACC's all-time NCAA Tournament winning percentage (.674) entering this year's event was significantly better than that of any other conference. The Big East (.625) was second, followed by the Big Ten (.621) and the Pac-10 (.609). Nobody else was over 60 percent.
Since 1980, the ACC has had just one losing season in NCAA Tournament play (5-6 in 1987) and has a success rate over 66 percent. Again, nobody else is close.
From the expansion of the NCAA field to 64 teams in 1985 through last year's event, the ACC had 111 teams in the NCAA Tournament, about the same as the Big East (116). Yet the ACC had 221 wins in that span -- 35 more than the Big East. The Big Ten had 124 participants, yet had 42 fewer wins. The SEC, with 110 participants, had 61 fewer wins. The Pac-10 had less than half as many NCAA wins as the ACC in the modern era. From the formation of the Big 12 in 1996 through last year, it trailed the ACC, 96-72.
In the 54 years of ACC history, 24 of 51 champions advanced to the Final Four. (Three ACC champs were on probation and thus didn't participate in the NCAA Tournament.) That's a stunning 47 percent success rate for the league's top representative. In nine of the last 17 years (53 percent), a first-place regular-season finisher (including ties) from the ACC made the Final Four.
With history on their side, ACC officials are likely to argue that the league's postseason slides over the last year or two represent an aberration, rather than a sign of long-term change on the college basketball landscape.
But in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, questions will continue for the conference, probably until its next strong NCAA showing.
"That's the way the world works," Miami coach Frank Haith said. "In this game, you're always going to be judged from year to year, and sometimes even from game to game. That's the reality.
"You always hope that you'll be judged by your entire body of work, but it doesn't always work that way, and we know that. That's why the most important game is always your next game."
Issue 2.13: March 29, 2007