UNC's Williams on the strength of the ACC: 'Guys, the ACC is frickin' a really, really, really...good league'
If TBS' disastrous selection show is the worst thing that happens to the NCAA tournament this month – and, sadly, no one leaked the bracket mid-show the way they did in 2016 when CBS mucked with the format – everything will be fine. The basketball tends to take care of itself. And above and beyond the curiosities of who got in and who got out, the ACC fared well and the Triangle's teams even better.
With nine teams in the tournament for the second straight season, the ACC has a chance to match its famous 2016 showing when North Carolina and Syracuse made the Final Four and the conference accounted for six of the Sweet 16 and four of the Elite 8. Virginia, North Carolina and Duke enter the tournament clearly capable of making it to San Antonio, and five of the other six teams all beat at least one of that trio, with only Syracuse – one of the more surprising inclusions in the field anyway – the exception.
And it could have been more, with Louisville and Notre Dame both left out. But the ACC still has more teams than anyone else and every opportunity to make history. Again.
No one wants to play Kansas in Kansas, but the rest of N.C. State's draw as a 9 seed is fine – Seton Hall is eminently beatable. The geography is tough, but Kansas lost in Kansas City last year and N.C. State is only three years removed from beating a No. 1 seed in its home state.
North Carolina has to go out west to Los Angeles if it gets out of Charlotte, but the Tar Heels have always gotten out of Charlotte. It's not the most fearsome bracket, with the weakest of the 1 seeds and no one that screams “underseeded.” A path of Lipscomb-Providence-Michigan-Xavier/Gonzaga/Ohio State is easier than a typical two-week stretch in the ACC.
Michigan State looms in Duke's bracket, which would be scary were it not for Mike Krzyzewski's history against Tom Izzo. To get there, Duke's not only going to have to win its first-round game against Iona – as we've seen in the past six years, no sure thing – and potentially beat a Hurley (Danny, not Bobby). A juicy Duke-Kansas regional final looms, assuming the Jayhawks can run the ACC gantlet of N.C. State and Clemson.
It seems unfair to pit the two HBCU conferences against each other in the First Four, but either the MEAC or the SWAC is guaranteed an extra tournament unit by moving on – worth $1.7 million in each of the next six years. That's real money for a small conference. Someone's going to get a windfall. If N.C. Central can get past Texas Southern, Xavier is a tough ask, but as noted earlier, the weakest of the No. 1s, and it's an easy, short hop from Dayton to Nashville.
While the usual complaints come from the usual suspects elsewhere – let's guess: Kentucky got a terrible draw? – there won't be much grumbling from these parts.
The ACC probably deserved nine teams, even if it seemed like Louisville had a better case than Syracuse. The fact that Notre Dame would have gotten in if Davidson hadn't beaten Rhode Island was a pleasant surprise to everyone in the conference but the Irish, who were understandably retroactively disappointed.
N.C. State may have preferred to avoid Kansas in Wichita, but the Wolfpack has been at its best when counted out, and it certainly will be in that game if it gets past Seton Hall. Duke and North Carolina won't have many complaints, if any, and N.C. Central gets to start the tournament with a winnable game on national TV.
The way the bracket was revealed may have removed some of the usual nail-biting drama at the end of the bracket, but the one everyone printed off afterward ended up looking pretty good around here – and throughout the ACC.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock