If the NCAA tournament projections are correct – and bracketology, as it’s known, is becoming a more exact science in this age of advanced analytics and statistics – then the ACC’s troubling trend of under-representation will continue in the NCAA tournament.
Five league teams – Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse and Pittsburgh – are projected to make the 68-team field. Five would have been a good total back when the ACC was an eight- or nine-team league, but it’s hardly a good showing anymore – not with 15 conference teams.
The math is simple enough. If five – and only five – ACC teams make the field, it would tie the league’s worst NCAA tournament representation (by percentage) since the field expanded in 1985 to 64 teams. It would also continue the conference’s downward trend of tournament representation.
The upcoming tournament will be the 30th since it became a 64-team event. In 18 of the past 29 tournaments, the ACC has placed at least half its teams in the field.
That hasn’t happened, though, since 2010, when six of 12 received bids. Four teams – 33 percent – made it last season, and that was again the case in 2011. In 2012, five went.
If five teams receive bids a week from Sunday, it’d be the equivalent – percentage-wise – of 1999 and 2000, when three of the ACC’s nine teams were selected. Those were seen as lean years for the ACC – despite the dominance of Duke and Maryland – and this one would be remembered that way, too.
Not that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski agrees with it. He expressed disbelief earlier this week that the ACC might wind up being a five-bid league.
“For me, I don’t understand it,” he said. “No matter what numbers you crunch and whatever, crunch the numbers. To me, it’s reality.”
And in Krzyzewski’s reality, the ACC deserves more than five tournament teams. He called for seven or eight, which means Clemson and Florida State – teams thought to be on the fringe of the bubble – should be in.
Both teams have difficult arguments.
Clemson lost its two most important non-conference games – Massachusetts and Arkansas – and outside of its victory against Duke, the Tigers have one victory, against Florida State, a team with a winning ACC record.
Florida State, meanwhile, has two quality non-conference victories – against VCU and Massachusetts – but just two of the Seminoles’ nine ACC victories are against teams with winning league records. A Clemson victory this weekend against Pittsburgh, and a Florida State victory against Syracuse, would bolster Krzyzewki’s argument.
“The reality of it is we have a really good league,” Krzyzewski said. “And we have some teams that have been the best teams in the country, and we have some – not one, not two. We have some. And as a result, our league should get more credit for having a number of those teams.”
In this wide-open season – one in which the most dominant team has been mostly untested Wichita State – it looks like the ACC is home to as many Final Four contenders as any other conference. Recent results – Wake Forest beating No. 4 Duke; Then-No. 1 Syracuse losing to Boston College and later at 7th to Georgia Tech – suggest the depth is there, too.
One of the league’s problems, though, is the highly unbalanced schedule makes it more difficult for some teams to prove themselves against the the best. Conversely, it makes it more difficult for other teams to pad their record against the bottom dwellers.
Regardless, the ACC no longer commands respect simply because of its brand and history. Between 1985 and ’99, 61.7 percent of the ACC’s teams made the NCAA tournament. Since 2000, it’s 45.3.
Strong NCAA tournament representation used to be a given for the ACC, so much that an off year – like 1999 and 2000 – stood out. Now they’ve become routine, and the league’s most prominent coach is lobbying for respect that was once automatic.
“It would be a shame if only five teams make it from our league,” Krzyzewski said.
On the awards
The ACC’s annual awards – the all-conference team, player of the year and the rest – will be released after this weekend. It’s a good time, then, to explore the selection process.
The All-ACC awards are decided by ACSMA (Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association) but the problem with that is that just about anybody with a Tumblr page or Twitter account can pay $10 to join and vote. There’s no way to ensure the people who are voting are spread geographically throughout the ACC footprint – which in theory would suggest teams would be seen equally by voters – and no way to know how closely they’ve followed the league.
In fairness, the voters usually get it right. And this isn’t exactly enshrining guys in Cooperstown, either.
Still, there’s a better way to decide the awards: The league office creates a smaller media voting panel – about 15 members – that features equal geographic representation. Then combine that vote with one from the league’s head coaches.
I don’t vote, regardless, but if I did:
Player of the Year: N.C. State forward T.J. Warren. Points aren’t everything but they do matter, after all. Warren has scored at least 20 points 25 times this season, and at least 30 eight times. He has been the ACC’s most dominant player.
Coach of the year: North Carolina’s Roy Williams. Virginia coach Tony Bennett will probably win it and he’s deserving. But no coach has done more with less than Williams, who guided UNC’s from the depths to 12 consecutive victories and, possibly, 2nd place in the league. And he did amid tumultuous circumstances.
All-ACC first team: Warren; Virginia G Malcolm Brogdon; Clemson F K.J. McDaniels; UNC G Marcus Paige; Duke F Jabari Parker.
Carter: 919-829-8944; Twitter: @_andrewcarter