Tobacco Road shut out of Sweet 16

Mar. 25, 2014 @ 12:23 AM

One week of the NCAA Tournament is in the books and the ACC and basketball in the Old North State have been left as part of the maddening carnage.

The ACC, with only East top seed Virginia remaining, doesn’t have at least two Sweet 16 teams for only the fourth time in the last 35 years. And there isn’t a single team from Manteo to Murphy, regardless of league membership, in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1979.

“You watch the teams in the conference throughout the year, and you think more will make it through,” said Virginia’s Joe Harris after leading the Cavaliers past Memphis 78-60 Sunday evening in PNC Arena. “If Mercer played Duke 10 times, Duke probably wins nine. It’s March Madness.”

Clamoring for more bids wasn’t unique to the ACC. Turns out more chances to reach the Sweet 16 wouldn’t have hurt. And possibly, might not have mattered.

Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski, talking about the bid process about 24 hours before the ACC got six teams included, said of the Atlantic 10, “I mean, they’re good, but put them in our conference and go through the meat grinder that our conference has to go through.

“That’s the thing. I don’t know if there’s a quantitative way of measuring the degree of difficulty that there is in playing in this conference or like a Big 12. You’ve got to be on all the time.”

And, once in, advancement in the Big Dance might not be the ultimate measuring stick for leagues.

• The Southeastern Conference is considered down this year, and only three teams made the NCAA Tournament. At 7-0, the SEC easily has the best league record and a trio in the Sweet 16.

• The Pac-12 and Big Ten also have three teams each in the Sweet 16. The Pac-12 is 7-3, the Big Ten 6-3.

• The American, with breakaway schools from the old Big East, was considered overlooked when it only got four teams. Half the quartet remains.

• And the Big 12, with a national best seven teams, is 6-5 with two remaining — 11-loss Baylor and third-seeded Iowa State. The ACC is also 6-5.

• Winning streaks of Wichita State (35) and Stephen F. Austin (30) ended this past week. And that tough Midwest Region bracket? The survivors are seeded 2, 4, 8 and 11 — second-highest sum only to the South Region’s 26.

If nothing else, the three weeks in March and early April expose teams not “on.”

Duke already knew. Two years ago, Lehigh ousted the Blue Devils in Greensboro. That was No. 15 beating a No. 2, a slot worse than Friday’s upset from Mercer.

While the ACC’s 2014 league tournament is hailed as one of the best ever, the sequel in the NCAA is anything but.

North Carolina’s season terminated on Sunday, a day after Pittsburgh and Syracuse exited. Duke and N.C. State didn’t make it past the round of 64. The Orange and Blue Devils were No. 3 seeds; the Wolfpack painfully blew a 16-point lead in the closing eight minutes.

“I hate there is only one team left,” said Virginia’s Anthony Gill, a High Point native. “But, we’ll have to be the one to fight for the ACC.”

Most troubling for the ACC may be the trend. Once with a Final Four berth almost reserved, the league has gone to the outside looking in.

Since the 1985 expansion to 64 teams, the ACC has won eight titles, been runner-up five times and gained 24 Final Fours. They’re the class of the country.

But if Virginia doesn’t make it to Dallas, it’ll be four straight years without an ACC team in the Final Four — first time since 1958-61, which Triangle teams have already accomplished.

The ACC’s 76 appearances in the Sweet 16 since 1985 equates to 2.5 per year. Having just one?

“It’s kind of upsetting,” said Virginia’s Akil Mitchell. “We’re happy to be the one team. You’d like to see more strength in the conference.”

Contact the writer at awooten@hendersondispatch.com.