North Carolina is the only team from the mighty Atlantic Coast Conference left in this NCAA Tournament, but a meh March showing hasn’t made Tar Heels Coach Roy Williams think any less of his league.
“I think the ACC is still the best league,” Williams told reporters here Thursday. “Anything that happens in the tournament, I don’t think that — last year I didn’t think that (performance) made us the best league. I thought we were the best, but again, some pretty knowledgeable people had our league ranked as third or fourth, I think, last year, and they’re pretty knowledgeable people.”
This time last year, the ACC, which had seven NCAA Tournament teams, put a record six teams in the Sweet Sixteen, and the conference would eventually send four teams to the Elite Eight. Two of those teams — UNC and Syracuse — made the Final Four, the Heels eventually losing in the title game.
This tournament has been a different story.
Nine ACC teams had their names called on Selection Sunday. Only UNC remains, and the Heels will play Butler on Friday night.
The fallen include five teams that lost games to worse seeds: No. 2 seeds Duke and Louisville, No. 3 seed Florida State, No. 6 seed Maryland and No. 8 seed Miami.
“I firmly believe last year we were a really big-time conference, but we didn’t show it during the regular season and we did show it during the tournament,” Williams said. “This year I was convinced we were by far the best league, but we haven’t shown it in the tournament. I don’t know if either one of them are the only way to gauge, but it’s a very, very strenuous schedule. It’s exhausting trying to play in the ACC with 15 — playing those 18 games is a marathon, but you have to sprint through it.”
The conference breakdown of Sweet 16 teams, going into Thursday’s games: SEC (3), Big Ten (3), Big 12 (3), Pac 12 (3), Big East (2), WCC (1) and ACC (1).
“We haven’t proven it in this tournament, and that’s the bottom line,” Williams said.
North Carolina guard Joel Berry also said Thursday that he still believes the ACC is the best league in college basketball. He chalked up the early exits to the “madness” aspect of March.
“That’s why they call it March Madness. Anything can happen,” he said. “It’s one game. Just some teams just didn’t have their best games on the day that they played, and they don’t get another chance. Winner stays and loser goes home. It’s hard to say, you know, that the other teams are better, but it just so happened that the other teams came to play that day, and they just had a good day.
“But I still think that we have the best teams in the nation. But they just didn’t — it didn’t go their way.”