Final Four Represents Recent Record, Not-So-Distant ACC Future

If MIami had reached the Final Four, they would have been the first ACC team other than Duke or North Carolina to do so since 2004.
If MIami had reached the Final Four, they would have been the first ACC team other than Duke or North Carolina to do so since 2004.

This weekend’s NCAA Tournament action served as a synopsis of the last ten years in the Atlantic Coast Conference in the postseason, and perhaps the next ten.

For better or worse, a season that runs for five months is often remembered by what happens in a three-week span, beginning in March and ending with the first week of April. In the past nine seasons, only two ACC teams have participated in that final weekend: Duke and North Carolina.

However, postseason success of that level has eluded the conference bluebloods in recent seasons. Duke’s only trip to the Final Four since 2005 came during their National Championship run in 2010. The Tar Heels have made three trips to the Final Four during that span, winning two National Championships, but have not returned to the big stage since 2009.

Miami was attempting to become the first ACC team other than the Blue Devils and Tar Heels to reach the Final Four since Georgia Tech was a semifinalist in 2004. That opportunity was derailed on Friday night, as the Hurricanes had a poor shooting night against the Marquette Golden Eagles, losing 71-61. Marquette had shot 38 percent during its first two NCAA Tournament games, but made 54 percent of its attempts against Miami in a game that was never as close as the final score suggests.

It was a disappointing end to an otherwise sensational season for the Hurricanes, who won the ACC Regular Season and Tournament championships. Yet, that ending could make Miami forgettable in a matter of years. Virginia tied for the ACC regular season title in 2007, but lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament to Tennessee. Those Cavaliers were projected to finish eighth in the ACC, and Dave Leitao won ACC Coach of the Year.

The 2010 Maryland team had a similar fate: Share of the ACC regular season championship, second round NCAA Tournament loss as a four seed (theirs to Michigan State). Like Miami, they were predicted to finish fifth in the ACC during the preseason. Like Miami and Virginia in 2007, Gary Williams was rewarded with ACC Coach of the Year for exceeding those expectations. Yet there were few comparisons between Miami and either of those fairly recent teams, likely because they had been forgotten due to early March exits.

Duke’s season also ended this weekend, as the Blue Devils fell 85-63 to the Louisville Cardinals after trailing by only three points at halftime. Louisville, the number one overall seed entering the NCAA Tournament, rallied around a gruesome injury to sophomore Kevin Ware to upend Duke. Outside of a double-double from Mason Plumlee, Duke struggled against Louisville’s aggression, both in attacking the paint on offense and swarming the Blue Devils on defense.

Because of these exits, the notion that the ACC has fallen on hard times will continue, as its streak without a Final Four participant extends to three seasons. However, hope of a stronger conference is on the horizon. After all, the Louisville Cardinals that beat Duke will be joining the conference in a couple of seasons. This is the second consecutive season the Cardinals have reached the Final Four.

Joining them in Atlanta will be another future ACC member, the Syracuse Orange. Syracuse was just a fourth seed in the East regional. However, they defeated one seed Indiana before shutting down the Marquette team that defeated Miami. The Golden Eagles offense that exploded against Miami was contained to 39 points on 22.6 percent shooting against Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone. Those two teams add four trips to the Final Four since the last time a non-UNC-or-Duke ACC team did so.

Those two teams, along with Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, will bring new blood to the conference. They should also provide stiffer competition in an ACC that has largely been determined by the exploits on Tobacco Road of late. While there have been other good teams in the ACC over the past ten years, they haven’t succeeded in March, which is all most people care to remember. Even then, none of those teams have shown the consistent ability to contend at the ACC level annually.

If recent history is any indication, Louisville and Syracuse will do both. And the conference will be much better for it.

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