Luke DeCock

DeCock: ACC reaps expansion rewards with NCAA seeding

North Carolina’s Marcus Paige (5) passes to teammate Isaiah Hicks (4) against Virginia’s Evan Nolte (11) during the ACC tournament championship at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
North Carolina’s Marcus Paige (5) passes to teammate Isaiah Hicks (4) against Virginia’s Evan Nolte (11) during the ACC tournament championship at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Another year of the 15-team ACC, another year without an extraordinary number of NCAA tournament berths. And no one complained for a second.

When the ACC got a second No. 1 seed at the expense of Michigan State, with regular-season and tournament champion North Carolina joined by title-game loser Virginia, it was not only a sign of respect for the ACC but a harbinger of success for the conference in the NCAA tournament.

The previous four times the ACC earned two No. 1 seeds from the selection committee, an ACC team won the national title three times. In 1982 and 2005, that was North Carolina, which bodes well for the Tar Heels.

Another five ACC teams got into the tournament, which still isn’t the regular diet of eight, nine or even double-digit teams promised by the addition of Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, but it’s half the eligible league and tied for the conference record – and far better than the four or five teams the ACC got in over its final three years as a 12-team league.

The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 all got seven teams in, and the ACC in particular clearly benefited from a committee inclined to cut major-conference teams the utmost benefit of the doubt. While Michigan and Vanderbilt squeaked in ahead of St. Mary’s and St. Bonaventure, Pittsburgh and Syracuse were both safely in as No. 10 seeds – even after the Orange appeared to have dug its own NIT hole with its early exit from the ACC tournament on Wednesday. They were both ahead of Virginia Commonwealth, the top at-large not forced to start in Dayton.

Even the seeding of the top ACC teams beyond the No. 1 seeds – Miami as the third seed in the South, Duke as the fourth seed in the West, Notre Dame as the sixth seed in the East – seemed to reflect and validate the perceived strength and depth of the conference.

All of that excludes Louisville’s self-imposed ban, as the Cardinals would have been somewhere around No. 4 seed if eligible, although it’s possible their participation in the ACC tournament might have had a ripple effect on Pittsburgh or Syracuse. And a few teams with either the raw talent (Florida State) or reasonable midseason foundation (Clemson, Georgia Tech) to make the tournament fizzled down the stretch.

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So what the ACC lacks in mind-blowing quantity it brings in mind-blowing quality, especially at the top of the bracket. North Carolina and Virginia are unquestioned national-title contenders, two of a group of five or six teams whose championship credentials are impeccable.

Sunday still provided a few of the usual committee shenanigans, with Virginia and Michigan State in the same quadrant for the third straight season – the new North Carolina-Kansas, with the Spartans 2-0 – while an embarrassing CBS root canal of a two-hour bracket reveal show, featuring the nonsensical and uninformed musings of Charles Barkley and his NBA counterparts from Turner, was wonderfully sandbagged when the actual bracket was leaked on Twitter halfway through.

After going four years without an ACC team in the Final Four, a drought that ended last season with Duke’s national title capping an NCAA tournament that saw five ACC teams through to the second weekend, it will be shocking if the ACC doesn’t have at least one team in Houston, if not the last team standing at the end of the night on April 4.

The ACC will have to wait another season to set records in terms of the number of NCAA tournament bids, but coming off a solid tournament performance in 2015, the conference continued to reap the rewards of expansion on Sunday.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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