Four teams from the ACC have won the NCAA tournament – Duke, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and The University of Maryland at College Park – and several others, such as the University of Virginia, Wake Forest University and Georgia Institute of Technology have all made the Final Four. It’s a murderer’s row of schools with tradition and passion for the game, and they’ve produced some of the most outstanding professionals in addition to their success in college.
ACC basketball was where Michael Jordan, for one, cut his teeth as an undergrad. He played for the University of North Carolina for three seasons, winning the national championship as a freshman and being in consideration for NCAA player of the year as a junior. He didn’t win the award – fellow ACC basketball player Ralph Sampson of the University of Virginia did. Sampson obviously didn’t have the impact in the National Basketball Association that Jordan did, but he was arguably a better college player, leading the Cavaliers to three straight Final Four appearances and dominating in a way no big man had since Bill Walton of the University of California at Los Angeles.
In recent years the ACC basketball landscape has been much the same as it was thirty years ago. The “Haves” are the likes of University of North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest. Other programs such as the University of Maryland and Georgia Institute of Technology have had two to five year spurts where they compete with the big boys, but they haven’t put together dominant programs that compete year-in, year-out for decades. Maryland may eventually get there – they have one of the most progressive athletic departments in the country and a rabid fanbase – but you can only say “might,” not “definitely will.” ACC basketball is so competitive that there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
So while the landscape hasn’t changed much at the top, it’s been rearranged and expanded a bit in the middle and bottom. ACC basketball added three programs this decade: Boston College, the Virginia Institute of Technology and the University of Miami. The decision was made in order to expand the conference’s regional footprint, and all three programs joined the ACC at the expense of the ACC’s biggest rival – the Big East Conference. As a result there is significant bad blood between the two.
Of course, that bad blood makes for exciting games. Whenever and ACC basketball team meets a Big East team, you can rest assured both sides will be giving their all for the full 40 minutes.