If you are a regular reader of my columns, you remember the SEC Myth Busted! piece I wrote during the college football season. Go back and give it a read, much of the argument regarding the ACC being overrated in basketball is in the same context. After years and years of conference strength being a topic that pundits love to drive home, this is a good year to examine how off people are when they say the ACC is always head and shoulders the best conference. This has been highlighted this year by only one ACC teams (UNC) making the Sweet 16, while 9 teams made the tournament. I’m not picking on the ACC just because of this year; it has been an issue in years past as well. Hilariously, there are some articles coming out now about how conference strength is overrated and not a big deal…what??? I agree that is how it SHOULD be. The reality is that it matters when it’s most important, NCAA tournament seeding. The media and fans have been conditioned so long to accept the narrative that ACC in basketball and SEC in football are the best, that when there is a down year or data to dispute the claim, they backtrack. Tell that to Wichita St., Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, and other mid majors who get shafted in NCAA tournament seeding often times because their conference is weak and strength of schedule doesn’t match up on paper with the big boys. This is simply a flawed way to judge teams. Just because Gonzaga doesn’t play in the Big 12 conference or happens to not have the strongest non-conference schedule, it doesn’t mean they aren’t able to compete for the national title every year. Some may feel that the Big 12, with Kansas being amazing every year along with very good teams in Iowa St., Baylor, West Virginia, has a case for the best. Pac-12 enthusiasts will point to Arizona’s 20+ years of dominance, along with UCLA tradition, and west coast media bias as why they aren’t considered the best.
The Big Ten is often made fun of by many for its slower pace of play and less NBA ready talent going to those schools. There is no disputing that the ACC does have more NBA ready players than other conferences. I’m not going to deep dive into the number of draft picks over the years, but it’s safe to say the ACC is king of top prospects like the SEC is in football. What I will argue is that the ACC itself isn’t better than any other power 5 conference, it just happens to have the two most successful and powerful college basketball brands in their conference. Duke and North Carolina are still king when it comes to college basketball royalty (sorry Kentucky and Kansas, if you had one more big dog in your respective conferences it could rival the Duke-UNC 1-2 punch). This is where much of the “ACC is the best” argument comes from. Duke and UNC are the best, yet their conference as a whole is just like all the rest. This can be seen as the same thing with SEC football; Alabama, LSU, and a random 3rd team are usually ranked top 5 in the preseason, and back it up with their play on the field. Louisville can be seen as that random 3rd team in ACC basketball now, but we will see if that lasts once Pitino retires.
I will back up my argument with Final Four appearance statistics from 2000-2016, a good period of time to measure success. I will count teams appearances based upon the conference that they were in when they won, not their current conference. For example, Maryland counts towards ACC’s total of Final Four appearances, even though the Terps are now in the Big 10. By comparing the ACC’s Final Four and championship appearances with that of the Big 10, I will show there isn’t that much of a difference if you measure team success by winning verse media hype and prospect success in the NBA. Why not give credit to team’s success regardless of the conference or how many 5 star recruits they can collect? Ultimately, all that people remember is who made the Final Four and cuts down the nets as National Champion.
Final Four Appearances – 2000-2016
ACC- 13 Final Four appearances (Duke-4, UNC-4, Maryland-2, Louisville 2, Syracuse 1). 7 National Championships (Duke-3, UNC-2, Maryland-1, Louisville-1).
Big Ten- 14 Final Four appearances (Michigan State-6, Wisconsin-3, Ohio State-2, Michigan-1, Illinois-1, Indiana-1). 1 National Championship-Michigan State.
What stands out the most is the dominance by Duke, UNC, and Michigan State when it comes to Final Four appearances and championships. The Big Ten is lacking what matters most, rings at the end of the season, yet the ACC heavily relies on the success of Duke and UNC. In fact, the other 2 National Championships that the ACC has were won by one team currently in the Big Ten (Maryland) and one team that joined the conference just a few years ago(Louisville). It might surprise people that the Big Ten has more Final Four appearances, and although they didn’t win it all as much as the ACC, 71% of those championships were due to Duke/UNC dominance. The Big Ten has had 5 runners up in the National Championship game, which shows it really isn’t as slacking of a conference as many would have you believe. My main take away from this data is give credit to Duke and North Carolina for their successes, but don’t let it bleed over into saying that the ACC is something more special than any other power 5 conference because of those two.
Sweet 16 Quick Picks-ATS
Friday, March 24th
Butler (+7.5) over North Carolina
South Carolina (+3.5) over Baylor
Kentucky (+1) over UCLA
Wisconsin (+2) over Florida