With wins by Syracuse and Notre Dame yesterday, the ACC advanced six teams to the Sweet Sixteen, breaking the record for third round representatives by a single conference. Prior to this year, the Big East and ACC (just last year, actually) had sent five teams, but no one had ever sent six. And for some reason, not many people actually want to give the conference any credit.
Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Duke in particular are receiving the brunt of the “Yeah, but” arguments people are beginning to spout off about. Take a quick scroll through a typical college basketball fan’s Twitter timeline and you’ll see people quick to point out that Duke only had to play 12-seed Yale, Notre Dame barely scraped by 14-seed Stephen F. Austin, and Syracuse lucked out by playing 15-seed Middle Tennessee.
Of course, that completely ignores a couple of things. One: you can only play who’s in front of you, and those were the teams in front of each of those three schools. Two: Yale, SFA, and MTSU all had to beat someone to advance to the second round. Who’d they beat? Oh, just three Power Five schools named Baylor (5-seed), West Virginia (3-seed), and national title favorite Michigan State (2-seed).
Michigan State didn’t luck out by getting to face Middle Tennessee, apparently. That was just an enormous upset, and immediately led to college hoops talking heads wondering how MTSU had been so dramatically under-seeded. Seth Davis made MTSU over Syracuse his second round upset lock.
But then the clock strikes midnight for Cinderella, and Syracuse cruises to a 25 point victory over the Blue Raiders, and suddenly…they weren’t actually a good team, anymore? They were everyone’s darling when they knocked off one of the two teams most people were picking to win it all (along with UNC), and at that point, people were actually talking about how good the Blue Raiders were. To the college basketball world, Middle Tennessee was a good team when they beat Michigan State, but a pushover and a “gift” when Syracuse beat them.
Sure, that makes a lot of sense.
Obviously, Michigan State would have been a more difficult second round opponent, but it’s sure as hell not Syracuse’s fault that the Spartans couldn’t get the job done against Middle Tennessee. Just like it’s not Notre Dame’s fault that West Virginia couldn’t handle SFA, and it’s not Duke’s fault that Baylor choked against Yale.
There’s a simple reason that the ACC has six representatives in the Sweet Sixteen: it’s quite simply the best conference in America, and that’s by a pretty significant margin. It’s no fluke that the ACC is dominating the tournament. I’m not going to even get into the full top 25, but let’s take a look at the top 10 in the USA Today poll throughout the season.
In 19 weeks of rankings, including the preseason poll and the final pre-tournament poll, there were only two weeks in which there was only one ACC team ranked in the top 10. In nine of those weeks, the ACC featured three teams in the top 10, and again, I’m not even getting into the rest of the top 25. There were a number of weeks when the ACC had teams ranked in the 11-15 range, as well.
In other words: the ACC was dominant throughout the season, and frankly, the conference was dominant last year as well, when five teams went to the Sweet Sixteen. In the 2015 tournament, ACC teams went a combined 17-5 and an ACC team won the national championship. This year, the conference is 12-1, with the lone loss being Pittsburgh…and who really gives a shit about Pitt?
That’s a record of 29-6 over the last two years, with a very strong chance at back-to-back national championships for the conference. It’s probably unlikely, but the conference could possibly wind up with all four representatives in the Final Four.
But sure, that’s just because the ACC teams faced a bunch of lower seeds. And they only faced those lower seeds because…well, let’s not get into that, because it’d punch a nice, big hole in the theory, now wouldn’t it?