March Madness Means Showtime for the ACC

Fay Mitchell

Another harrowing, nail-biting Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament has ended and Virginia has emerged as the winner. In this league of NCAA Men’s Basketball Division I champions, that’s no mean feat. At the end of the regular season, five of the nation’s top 25 teams were in the ACC, more than any other conference. It’s a tough neighborhood. Many say year-to-year, the ACC is the nation’s top basketball conference.

The University of Virginia had the best conference record (17-1), national record (28-2), and was the top team in the ACC and the nation at the end of the regular season. It was rewarded with a number one seed in the conference tournament and is one of four number one seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Now true March Madness begins. Play commences Tuesday night with 68 teams, four teams will “play in,” all dreaming of the Final Four and being contenders for the national title. If history is any measure, the “Big Dance” may be playing music for the ACC. No conference has sent more teams to the Final Four, as the ACC boasts 29 appearances. Virginia has played in two Final Fours, but never won the national title. Those herculean and hard-won achievements belong to the North Carolina ACC cousins, where they play kick-butt basketball.

North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina have had multiple Final Four appearances and have won multiple titles. N.C. State has had two Final Four appearances and won two titles, the first in 1974. It also won what may be the most memorable finish in NCAA tournament history in 1983, when a last second air ball turned into a title- winning dunk.

Duke has won the most ACC tourney titles at 20, has gone to 16 Final Fours, and won five national championships, winning consecutive titles in 1991 and 1992. Its first national title came in 1991, the last in 2015. ESPN in 2008 declared Duke was “the most prestigious college basketball program since the 1985–86 season.”

North Carolina has won 18 ACC tourney titles, made the most Final Four appearances with 20, won six NCAA championships and was named national champion in 1924, predating the NCAA tournament. UNC won its first NCAA title in 1957 and its most recent 60 years later in 2017. ESPN in 2012 ranked North Carolina number one on its list of the 50 most successful programs of the past 50 years.

Although other conferences have well-earned glory, the Big 10 with 23 Final Four appearances and five national titles, the Big East with 20 Final Four appearances and six national titles, and the Big 8 (later Big 12) with 13 Final Fours and 2 titles, these are conference numbers that compare with individual ACC schools.

On the institution level, the University of California at Los Angeles must be recognized for winning the most championships, with 18 Final Four appearances and 11 national titles. The University of Kentucky has appeared in 17 Final Fours and won eight national titles. Still, Duke and North Carolina hold the top winning percentages in NCAA tournament play.

In 2018, ACC teams have done well, but North Carolina schools have not reigned atop the polls, as has happened in the past. The conference finds it must battle worthy contenders for glory. The much-discussed parity and upsets in college basketball make predictions seems a foolhardy risk.  Even as investigations of improper benefits, academic improprieties and the advent of “one and done,” permeate the game, we love the sport, and millions wait for the NCAA to set things right.

It’s time for March Madness. Let the NCAA tourney games begin!