The ACC was the best conference in college basketball this season – or so we thought. It was supposed to challenge the Big East’s record of 11 NCAA Tournament bids (it didn’t), and it was supposed to send multiple teams to the Final Four (it didn’t).
In fact, nine ACC teams entered the NCAA Tournament, and, after just one weekend, only one remains. That would be No. 1 North Carolina, which squandered a 17-point lead to No. 8 Arkansas in the Round of 32 before holding on for a 72-65 win Sunday.
Was the ACC just not as good as we thought this year?
“Well, listen, the regular season on balance determines, to me, the strength and depth of the conference,” ACC Network host Tim Brando said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Now I realize the great majority of college-basketball viewers now didn’t watch games in December, January and maybe even a great part of February. But the ACC was the best league top to bottom. What happened in one weekend is not going to change that for me. But in the world of images and impressions that we currently live in, it will change the mindset, just as it was the case in football when we saw what happened with the Big Ten. After such a remarkable year, things didn’t go well for them in the college football bowl season. That’s always going to be part of the checks and balances.”
Duke, seeded second in the East, lost to No. 7 South Carolina, 88-81, on Sunday. The Gamecocks erupted for 65 second-half points to reach the first Sweet 16 in program history, while Duke lost for the first time since March 4. After losing to the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill that night, Duke brushed itself off and won the ACC Tournament, winning four games in four days March 8-11.
“That was legitimately a gauntlet they went through,” Brando said. “To have beaten Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame in successive nights after really being challenged by Clemson – to play four games in four days and win the ACC Tournament, that was quite an undertaking and achievement for that team. But you could also make a case that they were spent, that that adrenaline flow was such that they may have peaked too soon. Certainly that could have been the case.”
The same could be said for North Carolina, which almost suffered one of the worst tournament losses in recent memory.
“They very nearly – and maybe even should have – lost to Arkansas,” Brando said. “If the Razorbacks had scored a bucket in the last three minutes, maybe they could have won. There was a no-call that I think was highly debatable that turned out to be a huge impact in the outcome of that game – or we’d be sitting here without any ACC team.
“So I think there’s something to be said for sometimes the conference tournaments take a lot out of teams, particularly when it’s as competitive as the ACC is at the top,” Brando continued. “Trust me when I tell you a third meeting between North Carolina and Duke in the ACC Tournament – one week removed from the second game played on the final weekend of the regular season – takes a lot out of both of those teams.”
The Tar Heels (29-7) will face No. 4 Butler (25-8) this Friday at 7:09 p.m. ET.