2016-17 ACC Year In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 21st, 2017

As with any college basketball season, the ACC experienced its ups and downs during the 2016-17 campaign. The obvious highlight was North Carolina capturing its sixth National Championship — the 14th time an ACC school has won the grand prize. Despite Duke’s late push in the ACC Tournament, the Tar Heels were the league’s best and most consistent team for nearly the entire season, winning the regular season conference race by two games in a historically competitive year. The league as a whole put a conference-record nine teams in the NCAA Tournament this season, but spoiled that accomplishment by laying a giant first weekend egg in the Big Dance. After placing 11 teams in the Sweet Sixteen over the previous two years, the Tar Heels were the only ACC representative this time around. Here’s a final look at some of the highs and lows of ACC basketball this season.

Roy Williams became the sixth head coach in NCAA history with three or more National Championships.
(Getty Images)

Best Performance: By capturing this year’s National Championship, North Carolina earned some redemption after losing one year ago on a Villanova buzzer-beater for the ages. The Heels did so with a potent combination of talent and experience, featuring three seniors and three juniors among their top six players. On the talent side, consider that five of the 15 remaining McDonald’s All-Americans from the 2013 and 2014 classes were in North Carolina’s starting lineup this season. This North Carolina team is not one of the greatest teams in school history, but its NCAA Tournament run proved Roy Williams’ club will be regarded as one of the toughest. The Tar Heels twice came back from late five-point deficits during the first two weekends (Arkansas and Kentucky), and both Final Four games against Oregon and Gonzaga were tight until the last few possessions. In keeping with its core strengths, North Carolina used its abilities in offensive rebounding and ball security to to beat the Ducks and Zags. John Gasaway calls the concept shot volume, as the Tar Heels were able to get 10 more shot attempts than Oregon and 14 more than Gonzaga. Williams, with his ninth Final Four appearance (fourth-best ever) and third National Championship, must now be considered one of greatest college coaches of all-time. His critics can no longer claim that he’s just been fortunate to have so much talent on his rosters. If talent is all that is required, then why aren’t Arizona and Kansas making more Final Fours? Why doesn’t John Calipari have three titles? It’s just not that easy.

Most Disappointing: Duke was the clear preseason favorite in both the ACC and nationally this season, but the wheels came off the wagon early with a rash of injuries and robust team chemistry never really developed. The injury bug struck early and often; Grayson Allen was suspended for tripping somebody AGAIN; and Mike Krzyzewski missed several weeks during conference play with back surgery. The Blue Devils put together an impressive ACC Tournament performance in Brooklyn, but it was a fleeting mirage of promise as a physical South Carolina squad took it to them in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. Adding to the pain of a presumed dream season in shambles, Duke then had to watch its bitter rival cut down the nets in Phoenix – claiming the title that Krzyzewski’s squad looked primed to win back in October.

Biggest Surprise: Many knowledgeable college basketball people had pegged Josh Pastner’s first season at Georgia Tech to be a disaster. With a roster viewed as mostly devoid of high-major talent, Pastner pushed the Yellow Jackets to a surprising 8-10 ACC mark, finishing well ahead of NCAA Tournament hopefuls Clemson, Pittsburgh and N.C. State. Suddenly, a long term rebuild in Atlanta is no longer the expectation. With Pastner’s proven recruiting prowess still intact, look for Georgia Tech to quickly bring in some outstanding talent to join emerging stars Ben Lammers and Josh Okogie.

Brad Jenkins (326 Posts)

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