Duke vs. NC State in Elite Eight means an ACC team will make Final Four in a great NCAA Tournament for league


DALLAS — The best basketball conference during the 2023-24 college basketball regular season was objectively not the Atlantic Coast Conference. But the best showing by any conference during the 2023-24 NCAA Tournament, by virtually any measure, belongs to the ACC.
The beleaguered league — which had four teams with below .500 records in the regular season and seven teams that finished outside the top-80 of the NET, most among all major conferences — has three of the final eight teams remaining in this year’s March Madness leading into Saturday night’s action. It is guaranteed at least one of the spots in the Final Four with NC State and Duke facing each other Sunday in the South Regional final. And it could punch a ticket as early as Saturday night as No. 6 seed Clemson looks to make its first Final Four when it faces No. 4 seed Alabama.
Despite getting just five bids to the NCAA Tournament, which was fifth-most among major conferences despite having the most teams among major conferences, the ACC so far has gone a combined 11-2 overall. Every ACC team won its first-round game. Every ACC team won its second-round game. And come Monday, we very well might have a Final Four comprising two ACC teams.
“I think the ACC prepares you with the amount of different opponents you see,” said Duke coach Jon Scheyer on Friday, before the Blue Devils upset No. 1 seed Houston in Dallas to earn an Elite Eight berth. “Like, that’s a big thing.”
NC State, the only double-digit seed still standing in this year’s tournament which got into the field as a No. 11 seed only by virtue of winning the ACC Tournament, is the best example of the league’s underrated depth and firepower that’s made March mad this year. No, the league did not rate well compared to the likes of the Big 12, Big East and SEC. No question. And NC State was by no stretch worthy of an at-large. But the Wolfpack, who finished 9-11 in ACC regular season play, are now 40 minutes away from the Final Four. Any argument that the league was top heavy — whether fair or not — is invalidated by what two middle-of-the-pack teams (Clemson and NC State, which finished six and eight games out of first place in the league, respectively) have made of themselves this March.
“I think that the ACC is one of the best conferences, if not the best conference,” said NC State’s D.J. Burns Jr., who has been one of the breakout stars of the tournament. “I feel like we’re not the only team that took it with a level of disrespect, and that’s why we’re all fighting now.”
“I agree,” said NC State’s Casey Morsell. “It 100% prepared you, even from a physicality standpoint. We were prepared just for a lot of different things that teams throw at us, whether it be super fast, super slow. That’s kind of what has been a major key for us to adapt with different things that the game presents.”
2024 NCAA Tournament records by conference
Through the Sweet 16
Multi-bid conferences Record Bids ACC 11-2 5 Big East 7-2 3 Big Ten 8-4 6 Pac-12 6-4 4 SEC 7-6 8 WCC 2-2 2 A-10 2-2 2 Big 12 7-8 8 Mountain West 4-6 6 American Athletic 0-2 2
So what gives? The league is top-heavy? That doesn’t quite hold water with UNC getting bounced and two underdogs — NC State and Clemson — making the Elite Eight. But respectable bracketologists don’t feel the league was slighted more than any other league, either. Maybe you could make a case Pitt should have been included in the 68-team field, but no other team was floating close to the bubble by Selection Sunday. So was it top-heavy? Deep? Both? Neither?
How did we misread the ACC? Or did we at all?
Theories are wide-ranging but may come down to scheduling and metrics that ultimately hurt the league’s standing in the broader ecosystem of the sport. Scheyer summed it up nicely Saturday by hitting on the obvious notes bubbling beneath the surface about how each team is set up for success before ACC play.
“I don’t think as a league right now we’ve figured out how to do our nonconference schedule,” Scheyer said. “If you look at a couple different leagues, they’ve been better with that. And ultimately you can say it’s not fair or whatever. But you have to do what is going to qualify you for the tournament. That’s something we need to get organized with and on the same page with: the position we put ourselves in once we start playing each other.”
There may be something to that. TeamRankings.com has Duke, North Carolina and Clemson inside the top 15 of its nonconference schedule ratings, which seemingly helped anchor the top half of the league and might have contributed to the league’s perception of being top heavy. Because the rest? It’s not too pretty, particularly at the bottom. Florida State rated 104th. Georgia Tech rated 128th. Notre Dame rated 205th. Louisville rated 218th.
RPI rankings show the ACC was the No. 4 conference behind the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten.
There is nuance required to explain the layers of why the ACC was not viewed highly among those with analytical views and there are cases for and against why it is overrated and why it is underrated. Everyone has an opinion, and no one is necessarily wrong. It’s complicated. What’s not complicated is that the league for a second time in three years has three teams in the Elite Eight and is positioned to claim its 16th NCAA championship as a league — which would be the most among all conferences. It didn’t have a great regular season, but it is performing right now as the best in the postseason with three three teams still in the hunt to hang a banner.


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