ACC is losing its elite status Reply
My friend John Feinstein posed a simple question.
“Since the [Atlantic Coast Conference] expanded in 2005, how many teams other than Carolina have been to the Final Eight, let alone Final Four?”
Figuring there was no trick involved, I took a very educated guess.
“Ah, none?” I said, full of hope.
“Correct,” he declared.
Whew. Glad I passed the test.
But it got me to thinking. What is the real story concerning the balance of power in men’s college basketball? I mean, the talk always seems to be centered around the plight of the so-called midmajors, and their quest to secure what they feel are their well-merited at-large spots in the field of 65 on Selection Sunday. And this was a disastrous year for them, with only four of the at-larges going to a school outside the six power conferences, as we like to call the Big East, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern, and Pac-10.
The chatter this year concerns the Big East, which began play yesterday afternoon with four of its members still alive as we have whittled the field from 65 to eight. There is a very real chance of us waking up tomorrow morning to have a 1985 redux, with three teams carrying the banner of Dave Gavitt’s inspired creation into the Final Four. And, please, make no mistake. The Big East is a monument to one man. No one else possessed the foresight, political skills, and downright charm to pull it off.
We know without question that the Big East reigns supreme in 2009. It may not have the eventual champion when the final buzzer sounds in Ford Field a week from tomorrow, but it will have dominated the field.
But what really has been going on in the five years since college basketball’s big upheaval, which resulted in Big East charter member Boston College aligning itself with the ACC, and the Big East, responding to football concerns, turning itself into a 16-team monster in basketball?
Here’s a breakdown of the available Sweet 16 and Elite Eight slots occupied by the power conferences since 2006, the first year of the expanded, 16-team Big East.
Sweet 16 Eight Eight
Big East 14 8
Big 12 8 6
Pac-10 9 4
ACC 6 3
SEC 6 3
Big Ten 5 2
Now here’s a further breakdown. It’s interesting to see just how many schools are involved in these slots.
Pac-10 (8): UCLA, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Southern Cal, Washington State, Stanford, and Arizona State.
Big 12 (6): Oklahoma State, Texas A&M;, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
Big East (7): Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Villanova, Georgetown, West Virginia, and Syracuse.
Big Ten (5): Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and Ohio State.
SEC (5): Florida, Kentucky, LSU, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee.
ACC (4): North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State, and Boston College.
Is it possible the ACC isn’t all it thinks it is? Where is Maryland, the 2002 national champion? Where is Clemson? Where is Florida State? Where is Virginia Tech? Where is Miami, which was a No. 2 seed when Boston first welcomed the NCAA as a first- and second-round site in 1999? And, most disturbingly perhaps, where is Wake Forest, a school that takes basketball very seriously? Wake’s demise was the biggest shock of this year’s tournament, not just that the onetime No. 1-ranked team in the country didn’t get out of the first round, but also that Wake was utterly demolished by Cleveland State.
But the ACC really does have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do. It’s not supposed to be a big deal for a conference like that to have someone get to the Elite Eight. Duke players used to think it was in the school charter, but the Blue Devils haven’t been there since 2004.
In that period, Big East members Louisville, Connecticut, Villanova, Georgetown, and Pittsburgh all have made it to at least one Elite Eight, with West Virginia and Syracuse making it into the Round of 16. That’s deep depth.
Another question: What’s going on in the SEC? We know Kentucky is in upheaval, but the league has more problems than just the situation in Lexington. Since Florida won its second national championship in succession two years ago, not a single SEC team has made it to the Elite Eight. For years, the SEC regarded itself as the unappreciated league that would make its big statement at tournament time. But the only statement the league has been making the past two years is, “You’re right. We really do stink.”
Meanwhile, we folks east of the Sierra Nevadas must listen to the annual bleats of the people in the Pac-10, who believe all of us Eastern sophisticates suffer from a terminal case of “East Coast bias,” never recognizing the great achievements of the Pac-10. Now while that league may not be quite as good as its adherents say it is, we must acknowledge its depth. The Pac-10 has had the most widespread representation in the Round of 16 over the past four years, and that doesn’t include a decent California team. There is also a pulse once again at Oregon State, where Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of the hoopster in chief, has brought immediate respectability.