After Decades Of Massive March Madness Presence,
ACC Again Scrambling For NCAA Bids, High Seeds

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network
(Updated March 15, 2024)

From 1991-2019, the Atlantic Coast Conference produced at least one #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament 26 times over 29 seasons. Each of the three exceptions (1996, 2003, 2013) to that stunningly successful theme saw the ACC produce two teams that became #2 or #3 seeds in those years.

As the 2024 ACC Tournament nears its conclusion, the ACC — after three straight years of falling well short of that stunning, three-decades-long historical snapshot — may finally be returning to that lofty perch, although the league clearly still lacks the quality depth it’s had for most of the last half-century.

North Carolina and Duke, #7 and #9 in the most recent Associated Press poll, respectively, both have a great shot at very high seeds this year, even with the Blue Devils (still projected as a #3 NCAA seed) falling to NC State in the ACC quarterfinals Thursday.

The regular-season champion Tar Heels (who swept the Blue Devils head-to-head), meanwhile, have a realistic chance to earn one of the four #1 slots.

Purdue, Connecticut and Houston likely have locked up #1 March Madness seeds. Tennessee (playing Mississippi State today in the SEC quarterfinals), UNC (playing Pittsburgh tonight in the ACC semifinals) and Arizona (playing Oregon tonight in the Pac-12 semifinals) are battling for the fourth and final spot at the top of the Big Bracket.

UNC coach Hubert Davis, asked to peek ahead after the Tar Heels’ ACC quarterfinal victory over Florida State on Thursday, deflected the question.

“That’s something we don’t think about, and that’s something that we don’t talk about,” Davis said. “One of the things that we do talk about is focusing on what is real. … All year we have focused on the preparation and the process. If we continue to do that, the results will take care of itself.

“That’s been our focus all season and will continue the rest of the season.”

No other ACC team (beyond UNC and Duke) is even close to a Top 25 national ranking, especially with Clemson, Virginia and Wake Forest suffering so many recent losses.

Nevertheless, the ACC still has a chance to match the five NCAA bids it received in both 2022 and 2023.

UNC, Duke and Clemson are NCAA Tournament locks. Virginia and Pitt remain on the bubble. Wake Forest likely fell into NIT territory with its quarterfinal loss to the Panthers on Thursday.

There’s also an automatic NCAA Tournament bid available for this week’s ACC Tournament champion, of course. Heading into Friday night’s semifinals, #10 seed NC State remains a part of that conversation, along with the top-seeded Tar Heels, #3 Cavaliers and #4 Panthers.

Just two years ago, as the #7 seed at the ACC Tournament, Virginia Tech went from the wrong side of the Selection Sunday bubble to automatic-qualifier status. The Hokies were the lowest seed ever to capture the ACC Tournament, though, and that event has been won by a top-four seed (typically a team that would’ve received an at-large NCAA bid anyway) roughly 90 percent of the time in its 70-year history.

If the ACC ends up with only five NCAA bids (or fewer) again, it would reinforce an alarming trend. The league averaged roughly five bids per season in the 1980s and 1990s, but back then it was only an eight- or nine-team league. Now it’s a 15-team league, and this would mark its third year in a row with only five bids.

The last time the ACC received only three NCAA Tournament invitations was 24 years ago, in 2000, when it was still a nine-team league.

Year — ACC Bids (With Seeds) To NCAA Tournament
2024 — ?
2023 — 5 (UVa-4, Miami-5, Duke-5, NCSU-11, Pitt-11)
2022 — 5 (Duke-2, UNC-8, Miami-10, ND-11, VT-11)
2021 — 7 (FSU-4, UVa-4, Clemson-7, UNC-8, GT-9, VT-10, SU-11)
2020 — no NCAA Tournament (COVID)
2019 — 7 (UVa!!-1, Duke-1, UNC-1, FSU-4, VT-4, Louisville-7, SU-8)
2018 — 9 (UVa-1, Duke-2, UNC-2, Clemson-5, Miami-6, VT-8, FSU-9, NCSU-9, SU-11)
2017 — 9 (UNC!!-1, Duke-2, Louisville-2, FSU-3, ND-5, UVa-5, Miami-8, VT-9, WF-11)
2016 — 7 (UNC-1, UVa-1, Miami-3, Duke-4, ND-6, Pitt-10, SU-10)
2015 — 6 (Duke!!-1, UVa-2, ND-3, Louisville-4, UNC-4, NCSU-8)
2014 — 6 (UVa-1, Duke-3, SU-3, UNC-6, Pitt-9, NCSU-12)

NOTE: Bolded team = made Final Four; !! = NCAA champion.

Below are our revised ACC power rankings, limited for now to the six schools with the best shots at the 2024 Big Dance, along with a familiar reminder. These are NOT predictions of future results/standings but rather a reflection of the teams’ “body of work” in games already played (through March 14).

1. North Carolina (26-6, 17-3 ACC)

Head Coach: Hubert Davis (53, third season, 1 NCAA Tournament)
Best Wins: 100-92 vs. Tennessee, 84-79 at Duke, 93-84 vs. Duke, 65-55 at Clemson, 81-69 over Oklahoma (n), 54-44 at UVa, 70-57 at Pitt, 85-64 vs. Wake Forest
Losses: 87-76 to UConn (n), 87-83 to Kentucky (n), 80-76 vs. Clemson, 83-81 to Villanova in OT (n), 86-79 at Syracuse, 74-73 at Georgia Tech
ACC Tournament seed/matchup: #1; Pitt (7 pm Friday)
BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 10/7/5/7
Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 22/5
Most Starts: PG Elliot Cadeau, G RJ Davis, G Cormac Ryan, F Harrison Ingram, C Armando Bacot
Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament (1 or 2 seed)

If UNC can follow its first-place conference finish with an ACC Tournament title, the team could grab a #1 NCAA seed. Interestingly, as the program with the third-most national championships (behind only UCLA-11 and Kentucky-eight), the Tar Heels have captured all six of their NCAA titles as one of the four favorites. Their 1957 squad entered the Big Dance undefeated (27-0), before the NCAA field was seeded, and each of their other five title teams (1982, 1993, 2005, 2009, 2017) carried a #1 seed into the event.

2. Duke (24-8, 15-5 ACC)

Head Coach
: Jon Scheyer (36, second season, 1 NCAA Tournament)
Best Wins: 78-70 over Baylor (n), 72-71 vs. Clemson, 74-65 over Michigan State (n), 73-48 over UVa, 75-53 at Pitt, 77-69 vs. Wake Forest, 77-67 at Virginia Tech
Losses: 78-73 vs Arizona, 93-84 at UNC, 84-79 vs. UNC, 83-79 at Wake Forest, 80-76 vs. Pitt, 80-75 at Arkansas, 74-69 to NC State (n), 72-68 at Georgia Tech
ACC Tournament seed/matchup: #2; lost to NC State in quarterfinals
BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 8/8/19/10
Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 8/24
Most Starts: PG Tyrese Proctor, G Jeremy Roach, G Jared McCain, F Mark Mitchell, F Kyle Filipowski
Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament (3 seed)

The Blue Devils’ home loss at the hands of rival UNC and subsequent defeat against NC State in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals likely will prevent them from surging any further up the NCAA seed ladder, after several weeks of impressive progress in that regard. Four of Duke’s five NCAA titles — all under Mike Krzyzewski — came as a #1 seed; the other (1991) came as a #2 seed. Right now, the Devils have only three victories this season over NCAA Tournament “locks” (Baylor, Clemson, Michigan State), although that number would surge to at least five if both UVa and Pitt manage to make the field.

3. Clemson (21-11, 11-9 ACC)

Head Coach: Brad Brownell (55, 14th season, 3 NCAA Tournaments)
Best Wins: 80-76 at UNC, 85-77 at Alabama, 74-66 over TCU (n), 72-67 vs. South Carolina, 85-68 vs. Boise State, 79-70 at Pitt, 69-62 vs. Pitt, 77-68 at Syracuse, 90-75 vs. Syracuse
Losses: 72-71 at Duke, 65-55 vs. UNC, 81-76 at Wake Forest, 66-65 vs. UVa, 87-72 at Virginia Tech, 95-82 at Miami, 79-77 at Memphis, 78-77 vs. NC State, 69-62 at Notre Dame, 93-90 vs. Georgia Tech in OT, 76-55 to BC (n)
ACC Tournament seed/matchup: #6; lost to BC in second round
BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 28/35/18/36
Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 28/69
Most Starts: PG Chase Hunter, G Joe Girard, F Chauncey Wiggins, F Ian Schieffelin, F PJ Hall
Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament (7 seed)

The Tigers were only the #6 seed at the ACC Tournament, but don’t let that fool you. First, they already have five victories over surefire NCAA Tournament teams (UNC, Alabama, TCU, South Carolina, Boise State); the wins over the #7 Tar Heels and the #16 Crimson Tide were on the road(!), and those are extremely powerful data points in the eyes of the Selection Committee. Second, always remember that committee members absolutely, positively do NOT care about any team’s placement in the conference standings; they look at each team’s entire body of work. If you look back just at ACC history, you’ll see many examples of teams lower in the standings being invited (e.g., sixth-place NC State last year) and teams higher in the standings (e.g., third-place Clemson last year) being left out.

4. Virginia (23-9, 13-7 ACC)

Head Coach: Tony Bennett (54, 15th season, 9^ NCAA Tournaments)
Best Wins: 66-65 at Clemson, 73-70 over Florida (n), 59-47 vs. Texas A&M, 49-47 vs. Wake Forest, 65-57 vs. Virginia Tech
Losses: 73-48 at Duke, 54-44 vs. UNC, 65-41 to Wisconsin (n), 66-47 at Wake Forest, 74-63 vs. Pitt, 75-41 at Virginia Tech, 76-60 at NC State, 77-54 at Memphis, 76-54 at Notre Dame
ACC Tournament seed/matchup: #3; NC State (9:30 pm Friday)
BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 52/63/36/50
Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 192/6
Most Starts: PG Reece Beekman, G Isaac McKneely, G Andrew Rohde, F Ryan Dunn, F Jordan Minor
Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament bubble (“Last Four In”)

It’s a good thing the Cavaliers posted a nonconference win over Florida way back in November, because they’ve ended up with a truly unusual resume that’s well short of a “sure thing,” especially because their other high-profile nonconference victim, Texas A&M, since has struggled to a 19-13 mark and its own “bubble” status. UVa’s only other victory this season over a surefire NCAA Tournament team was its 66-65 road win over Clemson. Meanwhile, although nine losses at this point isn’t a troubling number itself, the Cavs’ enormous margins of defeat in almost all of those setbacks (mainly because of anemic offensive performances) have been truly bizarre.

5. Pittsburgh (22-10, 12-8 ACC)

Head Coach: Jeff Capel (49, sixth season, 1 NCAA Tournament)
Best Wins: 80-76 at Duke, 74-63 at UVa, 81-69 over Wake Forest (n), 77-72 vs. Wake Forest, 67-64 at NC State, 79-64 vs. Virginia Tech, 81-73 vs. NC State
Losses: 70-57 at UNC, 75-53 at Duke, 69-62 at Clemson, 79-70 vs. Clemson, 86-71 to Florida (n), 91-58 at Wake Forest, 81-73 at Syracuse, 72-68 at Miami, 69-58 vs. Syracuse,  71-64 vs. Missouri
ACC Tournament seed/matchup: #4; UNC (7 pm Friday)
BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 32/40/51/40
Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 31/50
Most Starts: G Carlton Carrington, G Jaland Lowe, F Zack Austin, F Blake Hinson, C Federiko Federiko
Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament bubble (“Last Four In” OR “First Four Out”)

The Panthers are still in this picture mainly because they have two absolutely brilliant victories (at Duke, at UVa), the latter of which ended the nation’s longest home winning streak at 23 games. They took another significant step forward at the ACC Tournament, beating Wake Forest in a battle of obvious bubble teams in a Thursday quarterfinal matchup, although their two victories over the Demon Deacons this season may not mean quite as much given the Deacs’ recent slide. Weighing down Pitt’s resume are a pair of losses to middling Syracuse and a home defeat to lowly Missouri (8-24, 0-18 SEC).

6. Wake Forest (19-13, 11-9 ACC)

Head Coach: Steve Forbes (58, fourth season, 0 NCAA Tournaments)
Best Wins: 83-79 vs. Duke, 81-76 vs. Clemson, 82-71 vs. Florida, 66-47 vs. UVa, 91-58 vs. Pitt, 86-63 vs. Virginia Tech, 99-70 vs. Syracuse
Losses: 85-64 at UNC, 77-69 at Duke, 49-47 at UVa, 77-70 to Utah (n), 77-72 at Pitt, 81-69 to Pitt (n), 86-80 to LSU in OT (n), 80-77 at Georgia, 87-76 at Virginia Tech, 83-76 at NC State, 87-82 at FSU, 70-65 at Notre Dame, 70-69 vs. Georgia Tech
ACC Tournament seed/matchup: #5; lost to Pitt in quarterfinals
BPI/KenPom/KPI/NET Team Rankings (of 362): 31/28/54/44
Offensive/Defensive Efficiency Rankings (of 362): 26/57
Most Starts: PG Boopie Miller, G Hunter Sallis, G Cameron Hildreth, F Andrew Carr, C Efton Reid
Current Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament bubble (“Next Four Out”)

The conspiracy theories ran wild for a while over the Demon Deacons’ NCAA Tournament bubble status — the bracketologists and/or the Selection Committee are biased against the ACC, etc. — but there was a much simpler, more intelligent explanation: for a LONG time, and even now, Wake Forest simply didn’t have enough quality wins. No data point is more important to the Selection Committee or the bracketologists than quality wins, and before their triumphs over Duke and Clemson in Winston-Salem, the Deacons had at most only two: against Florida and Virginia (both also at home). The Deacs’ next-best victories just don’t move the needle much, and they did virtually nothing of significance away from home this season. The Wake-Pitt quarterfinal matchup at the ACC Tournament on Thursday likely was a de facto elimination game for both ACC and NCAA purposes, and the Deacs came up short once again.

^ – also would have coached in 2020 NCAA Tournament (cancelled/COVID)

NOTE: (n) = neutral court; vs. = home game; efficiency rankings from