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Despite horrible weekend, ACC still basketball’s best league

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ACC fans, or supporters of schools outside of the SEC, often grumble about the “best conference by far” tag often given to the SEC by football pundits. Each time an SEC team loses a bowl game or a head-to-head matchup with one of the outsiders, the derision often follows.

Conversely, SEC basketball fans, or supporters of other power conferences outside of the ACC, are equally uncertain that conference is that much better than the others.

The ACC put eight teams into the NCAA Tournament field this year, including Florida State as a third seed in the West region. Of those eight, Duke and Louisville were seeded second, while Virginia and Notre Dame each earned five seeds.

North Carolina was one of the tournament’s four top seeds. Clearly, the selection committee was high on the ACC.

Despite this, only North Carolina was able to survive the first weekend. FSU was sent home in embarrassing fashion by 11th seeded Xavier, but the Seminoles and their fans were far from alone in their despair.

Duke’s upset at the hands of South Carolina of the SEC was clearly unexpected. The ACC’s other huge casualty was Michigan’s upset of Louisville.

The Florida Gators became the second SEC team to take down one of the ACC’s elite. After completely throttling Virginia, Florida expected to face the tournament’s top seed, Villanova, Friday in New York. That will now be Wisconsin after the Badgers bounced the Wildcats from the tournament.

With only North Carolina left to carry the ACC banner, the SEC, Big 10, Big 12 and Pac 12 all have three teams playing this weekend. The Big East has two and the West Coast has one.

Having said all of that, it is not accurate to say the ACC is anything but college basketball’s strongest conference. Despite going 7-8 in the first weekend of the tournament, the top-to-bottom strength of the league is there for all to see.

The eight teams making it into the NCAA tournament can be favorably matched against the top eight teams of any other league. There can be little argument there. Don’t forget that six ACC teams reached the Sweet 16 just a year ago and two (North Carolina and Syracuse) made it to the Final Four.

By comparison, look at SEC football. This year, they placed 12 teams in bowl games, including the College Football Playoffs.

Yes, they had a losing record of 6-7 during the post season, which includes Alabama’s loss to Clemson in the championship game. With all due respect to Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney, that does not mean there are 10 or 12 teams from any conference that line up better than the top 10 or 12 teams from the SEC. The league was 9-2 in the post season last year.

Despite the ACC bloodbath this past weekend, it would shock no one if the Tar Heels were the ones to cut down the nets in Glendale Ariz. on April 3.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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