ACC Year in Review: Virginia’s Disappointment Stains Otherwise Strong ACC Season

Posted by Matt Auerbach on April 13th, 2018

For the first time since the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas, the ACC was without representation during the season’s final weekend. Despite that disappointment, the ACC still finished the year rated as the second strongest conference via KenPom, with two of its nine NCAA Tournament entrants — Florida State and Duke — falling just a game short of a trip to San Antonio. That said, ACC regular season and tournament champion Virginia dominated the conference in stupendous fashion, winning the regular season by four games over runner-up Duke in large part thanks to the stingiest defense since the 38-1 Kentucky team in 2015. A convincing three-day run in Brooklyn left little doubt that Virginia was a worthy #1 overall seed heading into the Big Dance. We all know what happened next.

Virginia Became the First #1 Seed to Lose to a #16 Seed (USA Today Images)

  • Biggest Surprise: What happened in Charlotte several weeks ago defied all the laws of common sense and conventional basketball wisdom. The ignominious distinction of becoming the first #1 seed to fall to a #16 will sting the Virginia program for years — perhaps decades — but given the passage of time we can also start to begin to appreciate a tremendous season submarined by an inexplicable 40-minute sample size. And while that upset alone is the exact definition of a surprise, a Cavaliers team that was picked to finish sixth in the preseason laying waste to the entire ACC for three months qualifies as a legitimate surprise on its own right.

  • Best Performance: Given the way Virginia’s campaign came to a close, the door is open in this category for Clemson. After six straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament bid, Brad Brownell‘s seat was scalding heading into this season. His Tigers finally turned the corner, however, utilizing dynamite chemistry and stifling defense to produce a 25-10 season that included a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. After losing star senior Donte Grantham to an ACL tear in late January, many gave up on Clemson having a promising year but the Tigers persevered and ultimately finished tied for third at 11-7 in a rugged ACC. A four-point loss to eventual Midwest Region champion Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen is nothing to be ashamed of in a season with a win total last exceeded by the program nearly three decades ago (1990).
  • Worst Performance: Sure, there are some schools that endured systemic tumult — we’re looking at you, Louisville — or schools that grossly underachieved — hello, Wake Forest — or teams beset by injuries — apologies to Notre Dame — or even the unanimous preseason #1, Duke, which dropped eight games and failed to advance to the Final Four. But that would be doing a disservice to Pittsburgh, losers of all 19 of its ACC contests this season. The Panthers were so non-competitive that they lost only four of those games by less than 10 points. One of the youngest teams in the country, at least the program could hang its hat on giving its young talent valuable experience that would ultimately pay itself forward — that plan, however, was sacked (along with head coach Kevin Stallings) after the season ended, with NINE returning players asking for their release from the program. The hire of Duke assistant coach Jeff Capel seems like a veritable coup, given the state of the program, and he has already paid major dividends with the majority of those released players recommitting to the program. There’s a long way to go from the bottom of the barrel, but that’s the only direction Pittsburgh basketball can move after one of the worst campaigns in ACC basketball history.
Matthew Auerbach (42 Posts)


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