Can the ACC be saved in time for March Madness?
Dating back to 2013, teams currently in the ACC have won the National Championship every other year (Louisville cut down the nets as a member of the Big East in 2013 and was later stripped of the title). Take that vacated title out of the equation and the ACC has captured five of the last 10 championships dating back to 2009.
Although this 2019-20 NCAA basketball championship seems entirely up for grabs, the ACC does not appear poised to add to its haul. Duke is currently the fourth favorite, but its +1100 odds are not encouraging. It is rare for the Blue Devils to find themselves all the way down at +1100 with March just one week away. Even more concerning is the conference’s depth—or lack thereof. Following sixth-ranked Duke in the AP Top 25 is No. 8 Florida State, and No. 11 Louisville.
And that’s it. That’s the list.
Yes, only three ACC teams are currently inside the top 25. Behind that trio, only Virginia is even receiving votes. With the Cardinals (14-3 ACC), Blue Devils (13-3), and Seminoles (13-3) hogging so many wins, only Virginia (11-5) is also sporting a plus-.500 record in the conference. N.C. State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Clemson are all 8-8. After that it’s just a whole lot of losing.
As such, Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology has only four ACC squads in the NCAA Tournament (N.C. State is in a play-in game for a No. 12 seed). By comparison, the Big Ten (10) and Big East (seven) are putting a combined 17 teams in the field of 68. Even the Pac-12 has as many teams preparing to put on their dancing shoes, per Lunardi.
Can the ACC sneak a few more representatives into the Big Dance? It’s possible, but right now seeing five dwindle to four—with N.C. State potentially dropping out—is more likely than five ballooning to six, seven, or eight. The rest of the 8-8 quartet would really have to make a move in order to get into the mix. All three—Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Clemson—have a chance to do so. The Fighting Irish finish with three opponents trailing them in the ACC standings and the lone especially tough foe (Florida State) is at home. The Tigers have a similar closing stretch (three lower teams and Florida State at home). The Orange go up against opponents that are currently in 10th (out of 15), 12th, 14th, and dead last (North Carolina—yes, North Carolina—brings up the rear at 3-13).
Lonely at the top
Now, back to the top of the standings. Duke, FSU, and Louisville are realistic title contenders, but teams from even the Atlantic 10 (Dayton is +1500 to win it all) and Mountain West (San Diego State is +1400) have basically just as good of a chance. Dayton looks like one of the best teams in the nation with perhaps the best player in the nation, Obi Toppin. Duke had the best player last year (Zion Williamson, of course) and still could not make the Final Four. The Blue Devils are not as top heavy this season, but Tre Jones has that takeover-a-game ability—as we saw against North Carolina. Louisville’s Jordan Nwora can do the same, while the Seminoles are their typical deep, long, athletic selves.
Will one of those formula’s be enough to get the job done in March? Will one of them be enough to beat the likes of Dayton, San Diego State, Kansas (+600), Baylor (+900), and Gonzaga (+900)? For the time being the answer is ‘maybe’ at best.