The ACC didn't appear to be going to March Madness with a large presence this year. It's here now, after the dust has settled from the men's tournament. Three ACC teams have made it to the Sweet 16 while four others came from the conference that won two Big Dance games.
This is more Sweet 16 teams than either the Big Ten (2) or the SEC (1), and almost as many as the Big 12. While the NCAA tournament is not the only factor that determines conference strength, it's evident that the ACC criticism was too harsh.
The ACC's nonconference schedule left much to be desired, except for Duke. Miami, which was one of three conference teams still dancing, lost at home to UCF and was blown out on neutral courts by Dayton and Alabama in November. The conference narratives were formed during the early-season tournaments that month, but the ACC wasn't there.
Perhaps there is something to be said about not counting out conferences based upon what happens during the first few weeks of a season, especially during the era of the transfer portal and increased turnover in rosters. When the Hurricanes were struggling in November, they were integrating two key transfers, Charlie Moore and Jordan Miller.
North Carolina, another ACC team representative, was in the Sweet 16 and spent much of the season trying to find a rhythm under Hubert Davis who was eager for his own stamp on the Carolina program. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish were still trying to figure out how to unleash the unlimited potential of freshman Blake Wesley, who helped ND win two tournaments before finally losing to Texas Tech.
Again, there are limitations to how March Madness success can be used to create narratives about which leagues perform well. Matchups are a major factor in this single-elimination tournament. Miami picked up Auburn, who had not played well down the stretch of the tournament. North Carolina, however, was the most vulnerable, but it took down number-one Baylor.
It is hard to ignore the impact the ACC has made with this event's success, considering the opinions that prevailed about it a few months back. March Madness is on break until Thursday, when the Sweet 16 games begin. Gonzaga will meet Arkansas as the favorite and Villanova, ranked second, takes on Michigan. The fight between Duke and Texas Tech is going to be a fierce one, while Arizona shouldn't have too much difficulty against Houston.