Plamondon: ACC proves to be basketball’s best conference
Brian Plamondon | Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Bracket busted? Yup, mine too.
But we’re not alone. Out of 11.57 million brackets filled out on ESPN’s Bracket Challenge, not one was perfect after the first weekend of play in this year’s NCAA men’s tournament. In fact, only 14 people picked all the Sweet 16 teams correctly.
I could write about how this team will shock everyone and make the Final Four or how that team is a lock to win it all. But after more than 20 hours of basketball frying my brain last weekend, I still don’t know what’s going to happen — and that’s the beauty of it.
So I won’t waste my time on what amounts to a guessing game. I’d rather write about something I’m certain of: the Atlantic Coast Conference is the premier men’s basketball conference in the country, and it’s not even close.
After a season in which pundits across the country praised the likes of the Big Ten and Big 12, it’s the ACC once again proving otherwise.
The ACC boasts a Duke team that is as good as ever this year with three of its four losses coming to fellow Sweet 16 teams — not to mention it has a Player of the Year candidate in freshman forward Jahlil Okafor. Oh, and they just so happened to dismantle their first two opponents by an average of 24 points. Not bad.
Notre Dame and Louisville both are relative newcomers from the Big East but have wasted no time asserting themselves in the ACC. Notre Dame seems to do more with less every single year, this time showing their penchant for winning close games isn’t limited to just the regular season. Louisville went toe-to-toe with Kentucky in December, eventually losing 58-50: a lot more respectable than Big 12 champ Kansas’s 32-point loss to the undefeated Wildcats. They also moved on to the Sweet 16 even though Chris Jones, one of the Cardinals’ best playmakers, was dismissed from the team in February.
North Carolina only had one loss to a team not in the tournament, falling to Pittsburgh. On their way to the Sweet 16, the Tar Heels handled an Arkansas team that was supposed to be second-best in the SEC.
North Carolina State boasts one of the best backcourts in the country, a group which powered the Wolfpack past No. 1 seed Villanova, the best the Big East had to offer.
This is all without mentioning Virginia, the ACC regular-season champion that inexplicably fell in the round of 32.
Just look at the numbers — the ACC is 11-1 in the tournament through the first weekend, an unprecedented feat that will result in the NCAA distributing more than $28 million to the conference over the next six years. If the success continues, the ACC would be the first conference to earn more than $30 million off of one tournament. But sure, the ACC had a down year.
When you look at the competition, the gap is wide. The Big Ten fielded seven tournament teams, led by No. 1 seed Wisconsin. The Badgers, however, looked lackluster in a 14-point victory over Coastal Carolina. They followed that up by eking out a seven-point win over an Oregon team that suffered back-to-back losses to two dreadful teams, Washington and Washington State, in January.
The only other Big Ten team to make the Sweet 16 is Michigan State, a squad that was vastly underseeded at No. 7. The conference’s other seven seed, Iowa, was dismantled by Gonzaga 87-68. In short, it’s hard to make a case for the Big Ten.
How about the Big 12? The conference was praised as having the highest number of quality teams, with depth across the board. Seven teams made the Big Dance, but only two remain.
Two of their strongest teams, No. 3 seeds Baylor and Iowa State, lost to Georgia State and UAB, respectively. That doesn’t need much of an explanation.
Two other teams had no business being in the tournament at all: Texas and Oklahoma State, which both finished with 14 losses and sporting sub-.500 records in conference play.
And then there’s the crown jewel, Kansas, who went down without a fight against Wichita State.
The Big 12, and the Big Ten for that matter, have depth. But to be the best conference in basketball, it takes more than a bunch of quality teams beating up on one another. You need more than one elite team, teams that manhandle inferior opponents. You need teams that lurk in the periphery all season but have the ability to shock a top-10 team. The ACC has those teams — don’t be surprised if more than one ends up in Indianapolis.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.