The “rest of the ACC” has been weaker than commonly understood

ACC teams besides Duke and North Carolina used to do well in the NCAA tournament. But it's been a while.

ACC teams besides North Carolina and Duke used to do well in the NCAA tournament. But it’s been a while.

Every year we expect an ACC team besides North Carolina or Duke to finally break through, for lack of a better term, and certainly Miami seemed to fit that bill last year. The Hurricanes won the regular-season championship outright at 15-3 and took the ACC tournament title as well.

Maybe Jim Larranaga’s success in 2012-13 can provide a blueprint for the ACC’s non-Carolina and non-Duke programs. Certainly a blueprint is needed. That No. 2 seed the Canes got last year stands out in historical terms. Florida State received a No. 3 in 2012, but otherwise no ACC team not named “North Carolina” or “Duke” has secured anything higher than a No. 4 since Wake Forest was on the 2-line in the 2005 tournament.

And with the conference’s performance once again earning the wrong kind of headlines, this seems an appropriate moment to reflect on a rather weighty question:

What in the world happened to the rest of the ACC these last few years? 

ACC minus top two

               NCAA wins
                2006-13  Best result
Miami              3     2013 Sweet 16
NC State           3     2012 Sweet 16
Florida State      3     2011 Sweet 16
Boston College     3     2006 Sweet 16
Maryland           3     Round of 32 (3)
Georgia Tech       1     2010 round of 32
Wake Forest        1     2010 round of 32
Virginia           1     2007 round of 32
Virginia Tech      1     2007 round of 32
Clemson            1     2011 round of 64

Totals            20     Four Sweet 16s

At least every team in the league has won a tournament game (if you count Clemson’s “Preliminary Round” victory over UAB in 2011). Still, it hasn’t exactly been an era of untrammeled NCAA success for teams outside of Chapel Hill and Durham — just 20 wins in 80 team-seasons.

By way of comparison, let’s deprive the Big Ten of its two winningest NCAA tournament teams over the past eight years. Farewell, Ohio State (17 wins) and Michigan State (16). How has the rest of the league fared, even if we retroactively “add” Nebraska for the duration of that time? Pretty well, actually.

B1G minus top two

               NCAA wins
                2006-13    Best result
Wisconsin          9       Sweet 16 (3)
Purdue             8       Sweet 16 (2)
Michigan           7       2013 NC game
Indiana            6       Sweet 16 (2)
Illinois           3       Round of 32 (3)
Minnesota          1       2013 round of 32
Penn State         0       2011 round of 64
Iowa               0       2006 round of 64
Northwestern       0       (2011 NIT quarters)
Nebraska           0       (2008 NIT 2nd round)*

Totals            34       One F4, one E8, eight S16s
* As member of Big 12

Of course one could say the Big Ten has its own ACC-variety upward mobility problem, namely, a third of the conference hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game in eight years. That’s not ideal, but the good news is the other two-thirds of the league has produced 67 tournament wins. Note additionally that in terms of performance Illinois has been a garden-variety middling ACC team trapped on the prairies. The rest of the league has been rather neatly split according to whether it’s better or worse than that profile.

It’s not a huge surprise to find that the Big Ten’s mid-section has had a better last few years than the ACC’s. But what about a conference like the Pac-12? Everyone’s always saying the Pac-12 is “back,” which of course is another way of saying it hasn’t been very good. Take away UCLA (15 NCAA tournament wins over the past eight years) and Arizona (eight), and here’s the rest of the league:

Pac-12 minus top two

               NCAA wins
                2006-13    Best result
Washington         6       Sweet 16 (2)
Oregon             5       2007 Elite Eight
USC                3       2007 Sweet 16
Washington State   3       2007 Sweet 16
Stanford           2       2008 Sweet 16
Cal                2       Round of 32 (2)
Colorado           1       2012 round of 32
Arizona State      1       2009 round of 32
Utah               0       2009 round of 64*
Oregon State       0       (2012 CBI semis)

Totals            23        One E8, six S16s
* As member of Mountain West

For all the derision the Pac-12 has endured of late, its iceberg section has actually outperformed the corresponding portion of the ACC over the last eight NCAA tournaments.

Now the good news for the ACC. By the time you get to the football-centric and oft-abused SEC (not including newbies Missouri and Texas A&M) and you deprive them of Florida (21 tournament wins) and Kentucky (15), you almost have something the rest of the ACC can finally pick on.


SEC minus top two

               NCAA wins
                2006-13    Best result
Tennessee          8       2010 Elite Eight
LSU                5       2006 Final Four
Vanderbilt         3       2007 Sweet 16
Ole Miss           1       2013 round of 32
Arkansas           1       2008 round of 32
Miss State         1       2008 round of 32
Alabama            1       2006 round of 32
Georgia            0       Round of 64 (2)
Auburn             0       (2009 NIT quarters)
South Carolina     0       (2006 NIT final)

Totals            20        One F4, two E8s, five S16s

The “rest of the” SEC has won the same number of NCAA tournament games over the last eight years as the rest of the ACC, but at least the former conference got a Final Four appearance, two Elite Eights, and five Sweet 16s out of those wins. Not bad for a football league.

If you saw all of this coming circa 2005, take one step forward. To me it’s been a surprising turn of events for five-sixths of the ACC.