If you’re a college football fan, you know which conference is king. The one that dominates the conversation among pundits before, during, and even after the season is over. The one that has produced 7 of the last 10 national champions. You even know the chant – SEC! SEC! SEC! To SEC fans, this is probably exciting, but to everyone else it’s mostly just annoying. Many commentators, particularly on ESPN, treat the SEC as God’s conference. They can do no wrong.
This media exaltation of one conference was primarily relegated to football, but lately we’ve seen a similar pattern take place with the conference the media considers king in college basketball, the ACC.
The ACC was awarded seven at-large bids in this year’s NCAA tournament. Their total of eight tournament teams is more than any other conference. Pundits increasingly blathered about how strong the ACC is from top to bottom. In fact, several experts picked Duke and UNC to meet for a fourth time this season in the National championship game.
The ACC doesn’t really have an Alabama, a team that dominates the conference year in and year out, but they do have two teams that are at least similar: Duke and North Carolina.
They meet all the required prerequisites to begin the media hype parade. Required Basketball pedigree? Check. Multiple championships? Check. Legendary coach? Check. Always among the preseason favorites? Check. Mostly despised by all outside their own fan base? Check. These two programs are consistently regarded as the “blue bloods” of college basketball. Not to diminish their fine accomplishments, but to hear the pundits talk about them it feels like they’ve been granted an automatic bid to the Final Four every year. Sound familiar?
Despite the constant hype surrounding the SEC, it’s become obvious to all but SEC fans and commentators in the past few years that outside of Alabama, the conference really hasn’t been all that good.
Last season, Alabama finished the regular season undefeated, but no one else in the conference had less than four losses. The second highest ranked SEC team, Auburn, was soundly beaten by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. The SEC championship game between Alabama and Florida looked more like one of the SEC’s trademark mid-season FCS beat-downs than a conference championship game.
Of the eight ACC teams in the tournament, only one (yes one), will play in the Sweet Sixteen. Most ACC teams that lost, lost decisively. Virginia was embarrassed by Florida. Florida State was destroyed by 11-seeded Xavier. Notre Dame, who reached the conference championship game, lost by double digits to West Virginia. Miami and Virginia Tech were bounced out in the first round. And Duke, everyone’s “sexy” Final Four pick, was upset by South Carolina.
Like the SEC in football, ACC basketball seems to have been granted exalted status that is undeserved. People love to talk about how strong these conferences are top to bottom, but further analysis reveals they are much more top-heavy than a lot of people would like to admit. In the case of SEC football, it’s Alabama and everyone else. While ACC basketball isn’t quite the one-team show that is SEC football, it isn’t all that strong other than a few teams at the top.
Conclusion? Both conferences are overrated. Let’s hope for an end to the ACC hype before it gets out of control. Perhaps this year’s NCAA Tourney is a start.