The accolades and accomplishments surrounding the ACC and their power basketball conference are endless: four Hall of Fame coaches, storied programs, 15 NCAA National Championships (6 in last 14 years), top venues and some of the best young talent college basketball has to offer. But with all that, the conference hasn’t sent a team to the Final Four in four seasons, often leaving a ugly taste in the mouths of their fans with shocking March Madness losses.
Last season, the ACC sent six teams to the NCAA tournament, but by the time the dust settled after the first weekend, Duke, UNC, Syracuse, Pitt and NC State were all eliminated. So now the question is, in a sport where teams and conferences are measured by how they perform in March, does the mighty ACC have something to prove?
“Do I think the conference has something to prove? It varies from year to year,” UNC head coach Roy Williams said. “I mean, we had a stretch where we won it in ‘05, ‘09. Duke won it in ‘10. Duke won it in 2001. Louisville won it a couple of years ago What have you done for me lately? Last year we didn’t do well.”
Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski says that despite his team’s 2nd round loss to Mercer in last year’s tourney, his team has nothing to prove.
“You have to start out fresh. Each guy starts out fresh. We’re not going to put the score of the Mercer game on the scoreboard, just like after 2010 we didn’t flash our championship rings. You’ve got to concentrate on who you are right now”
Moving on from tough losses is important, but learning from them is more important and when you’re talking about the reputation of a league like the ACC, fair or not fair, losing early in March isn’t acceptable.
“I think right or wrong, teams…coaches…and conferences are judged by how deep you go in the NCAA Tournament,” Virginia Head Coach Tony Bennett said. “Certainly we want to make that and with the depth of the conference, with the talent in it, I think we are in a spot where if we can do that, it will show that the ACC is elite.”
And there’s your key word…ELITE! In sports, where the “what have you done for me lately” philosophy most often applies, elitism is synonymous with consistency, and in college hoops that is measured by how far you advance in March. Kentucky has been to the Final Four three of the last four years. Nobody is talking about the 12 years from 2010 – 1999 they were missing from college basketball’s premier event. So as much as they might not want to admit it, with the high expectations that come with being the best conference in college basketball, coupled with the unceremonious NCAA Tournament departures that have plagued them in recent years, the powerhouse ACC most definitely has something to prove this year, because ELITE teams and conferences are established in March. Anything less than at least one Final Four team from this stacked conference and we just might have to question whether the conference is…dare I say…overrated.