Hyperbole comes with the territory of sports, in the ACC and everywhere else.
Everywhere you turn, there’s at least one person trying to make the case that something or something is the best ever. Is Tom Brady the greatest quarterback ever? Can LeBron James every catch Michael Jordan as GOAT?
Is this year’s ACC the greatest conference in the history of college basketball?
To some, the answer to each of these questions is yes, definitively. The third of these three example questions has emerged lately, thanks in large part to FanRag’s own Jon Rothstein. He has an opinion on this subject.
Pitt — the last place team in the ACC — just lost back-to-back games at Duke and UNC by a combined 10 points. Best league ever? Think so.
— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) February 4, 2017
The notion that this year’s version of the ACC could be the best conference ever is something Rothstein has been hinting at since the offseason. Granted, there was plenty of potential there for a record-breaking number of teams from the league to make the NCAA Tournament, and to this point it appears they might just do it.
Currently, the record for most bids for one conference is 11 by the Big East in 2011. Of those 11, seven won first round games, only two made it to the Sweet 16 and just one team made it beyond that: Connecticut, led by Kemba Walker, won the national championship. The other team to make it out of the first weekend was Marquette, who was put in as an 11-seed and beat Syracuse in the second round to get there. The two teams that made it to the Sweet 16 beat other Big East teams to get there. UConn beat Cincinnati (then in the Big East) in the round of 32.
Arguments are being made that the 2011 Big East is the best conference ever. Those arguments are wrong. The best teams from that conference didn’t even make it past the first weekend. The team that finished ninth in the conference standings was the one team to make something of the tournament. Of course, you could make the case that because the ninth-best team in the conference winning it all shows how deep the Big East was that year. It’s a weak case, one that wouldn’t win in juvenile court with your dad as the judge.
Looking at the ACC this year, there is a case to be made for the conference’s greatness. The problem: We won’t actually know how good it is until the national champion is crowned. Is that a cop-out? No, it’s reality. You can’t say a conference is amazing by regular season measures. Teams beating up on each other, from the top to the bottom, can mean it’s a deep conference. It could also mean that as a whole the conference is largely underwhelming because of how little separation there is between teams.
I don’t think that’s the case, but notice how easy it is to flip the conversation? One minute you think it’s great. Look at it through another lens and the view is different.
As of his latest bracket, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has 10 ACC teams in the NCAA Tournament field with just four teams (North Carolina, Louisville, Florida State and Virginia) in the top 16 seed lines. CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm has 10 teams as well with the four teams being in the top 16. These kinds of things fluctuate, obviously, but consider that the 2011 Big East had five teams in the top 16, putting the ACC behind in the race for the best.
Connecticut won the national championship as the ninth-best team in the Big East. If you stopped the season now and went with today’s standings, that would make Miami the 2017 national champion. Both Lunardi and Palm have the Hurricanes as an 11-seed.
There’s also the case to be made that this year’s ACC isn’t much better than last year’s Big 12, or even last year’s ACC for that matter.
Eleven teams finished with at least 19 wins last season in the ACC. Three teams are at 19 wins or have exceeded that mark already, and six more that could get there the rest of the way, putting them behind last year’s total anyway. Still “best conference ever” material? Oh, and they got two Final Four teams, four Elite Eight teams and six Sweet 16 teams. Not better.
The Big 12 had seven teams make last year’s Big Dance, three in the Sweet 16, two in the Elite Eight and one in the Final Four. Percentage wise, seven teams from the Big 12 is basically the equivalent to 11 teams from the ACC. Just because the number of teams is bigger doesn’t make it all that much more impressive. It’s the imbalance of conferences that makes it seems better.
Let’s be honest about this. Determining whether a conference is ultimately successful comes down to the postseason. Your conference can look great when you’re playing each other. Your conference can also look awful if the teams fail to win against other teams. Should the Elite Eight be all ACC teams, then we can talk. Deciding what’s the best is subjective, so claiming superiority, especially in early February, is hard to quantify.