We are through the first weekend of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, and guess what? It turns out, maybe the ACC wasn’t the pathetic, dead, historically bad conference that we’ve been told it was for the last five months. In fact, the terrible ACC is currently tied with the Big-12 for the most teams in the Sweet Sixteen with Duke, UNC, and Miami all advancing.
Let’s take a quick look at the NCAA tournament records by some of the conferences this season:
Big East: 5-4
Imaging my shock. The great SEC and Big-10 conferences, who were often propped up as the best conferences in college basketball this season, completely flopped. The SEC had one of the worst tournaments of all time, losing five of their six teams in the first weekend, including 2 two seeds (Auburn, Kentucky) and a three seed (Tennessee). Not to be outdone, the mighty Big-10, which got an absurd 9 bids for the second year in a row, lost all but Purdue and Michigan after one weekend.
The Big Ten has put 18 teams into the last two NCAA Tournaments. Only three of those teams have advanced to the Sweet 16.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 21, 2022
It seems like all those Q1 wins couldn’t save conference champion Iowa from getting upset by 12 seed Richmond, or regular season champions Wisconsin and Illinois from getting bounced in the second round.
Houston won 1 Quad 1 game. Illinois won 6 Quad 1 games. I can't believe this is happening!— Ken Pomeroy (@kenpomeroy) March 20, 2022
This is not to try to say that the ACC was the best conference in basketball this season, but rather to point out that the media narrative that the ACC was historically bad this season was wildly inaccurate. This was a conference that some people said in January was only deserving of one NCAA Tournament bid this season.
Had Virginia Tech not gone on a run in the ACC Tournament, the ACC would have ended up being a 4-bid conference. The committee also thought the Mountain West was a 4-bid conference, and they lost all 4 teams before the sun even went down on the first day of the tournament.
Our second-place team, Notre Dame, was a last four team in, which still didn’t stop them from winning two games (including upsetting Alabama) before they came about a minute away from knocking out #3 Texas Tech. Our third-place team, UNC, was apparently barely going to make the tournament for much of the final week of the season and went on to upset #1 seed Baylor (and they honestly slaughtered them until the refs ejected Manek). The ACC’s third place team Miami went on to stomp #2 Auburn by 18 points and Duke just took care of business. Even with VT losing their first game, the ACC is 8-2 in the NCAA Tournament this season. If you throw in Wake and UVA in the NIT, the conference is 12-2 in the 2022 postseason. Doesn’t quite sound like a down year to me.
I know what you’re thinking: A single elimination tournament where luck and matchups are probably just as important as the overall strength of the two teams isn’t a great metric of which conferences are strong. You are probably right. But then, how do a bunch of random games in November and December determine which conferences are strong? Especially when players are completely new, and coaches are still trying to figure out what rotations work best for their team. Does a loss to St. Peter’s mean less if it occurs in the tournament than if it occurred in November? In my opinion, games in November and December matter a whole lot less than games at the end of the season, after a team has played together for 30 games.
Perhaps Miami Head Coach Jim Larrañaga said it best after the ACC Tournament: “...there have been some teams in our league that they had to bring in five transfers and then play them a bunch...It takes you a month, and then during that month you might lose a few games to even low major, mid-major, quad four, quad three teams when you’re making the adjustment because not only are the players making the adjustment, the coaches as well. You say, don’t other leagues have that? No, not like we do. We had 57 transfers come into our league. It’s like half the league is brand new. So it takes a little time.”
This has been a really long-winded way to dunk on the NCAA Tournament committee and get to this final point: If the narrative of the ACC being historically down this year had not taken hold in November, then a Wake Forest team that is 13-7 in the conference absolutely makes the NCAA Tournament. In that regard, even if I find it impossible to root for Duke and UNC, I hope the ACC keeps smashing teams in the NCAA Tournament, just make the talking heads look as stupid as they sound. Put some respect on the ACC and Go Deacs!