ACC In NCAA Tournament/Sweet 16:
Clemson, Nine Other Teams Still Dancing
Represent Programs Seeking First NCAA Title

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

The 2022 Final Four in New Orleans consisted entirely of blue-blood programs, each of which had already captured multiple NCAA titles: North Carolina (six), Duke (five), Kansas (three) and Villanova (three).

The Jayhawks, of course, now have four national championships, after beating the Tar Heels in the 2022 title game and cutting down the nets that April.

The 2023 Final Four in Houston offered quite the contrast, with three of the four semifinalists seeking their first NCAA crown: Florida Atlantic, Miami and San Diego State. Only Connecticut, a modern superpower but only a #4 seed in last year’s tournament, stood in the way of the underdogs.

UConn, the only semifinalist that had previously been to the top of the March Madness mountain, dominated the Hurricanes in the semis and the Aztecs in the championship game to win the 2023 NCAA title. That marked the Huskies’ fifth national championship, all in the last 25 years.

The 2024 Final Four near Phoenix is guaranteed to have at least one school seeking its first NCAA title. None of the four teams still standing in the Midwest Region of this year’s bracket — #1 seed Purdue, #2 seed Tennessee, #3 seed Creighton and #5 seed Gonzaga — has ever won the national championship.

Depending on the results of this week’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight matchups, this year’s national semifinals even could include four schools that fit the first-time description. That doesn’t happen often anymore.

Upon the creation of the NCAA Tournament, of course, almost every champion was a first-time winner, simply because it was a brand-new event. Indeed, from 1939-48, nine of those 10 victors were making such history for the first time. That sort of trend clearly is a thing of the past, for obvious reasons.

Over time, naturally, there are fewer candidates for that sort of maiden voyage, especially when you consider that the last 32 national champions have come from the same six conferences: the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12. That means the other 26 leagues combined, whose current memberships add up to more than 280 schools, haven’t won any NCAA titles since UNLV (then in the Big West, now in the Mountain West) cut down the nets in 1990.

While even today only 15 of the 362 Division I programs (including the Triangle trio of UNC-six, Duke-five and NC State-two) can claim multiple NCAA titles, the total number of schools with at least one national championship has grown to 37. That’s almost half the number of teams (80) that currently comprise the “Big Six” of the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12.

Among the four ACC schools in this year’s Sweet 16, only Clemson has never won the national championship.

In stark contrast to their fellow league members UNC, Duke and NC State, the Tigers have been to only five Sweet 16s (two under current coach Brad Brownell) and only one Elite Eight (under Bill Foster in 1980) in NCAA Tournament history, which dates to 1939.

“Just super happy for my players,” Brownell said. “These guys have been battling all year. And (I) couldn’t ask for a better group of guys to coach. They’ve been just fantastic.”

The Tigers are a seven-point underdog to #2 Arizona in Thursday night’s Sweet 16 matchup (please see our video preview of that game at the bottom of this article), but they were underdogs against #3 seed Baylor before their 72-64 victory over the Bears, too.

Here are the 2024 Sweet 16 participants, by region, with each program’s number of NCAA titles.

2024 Sweet 16 (With All-Time NCAA Titles)

East — UConn-5/Iowa State-0/Illinois-0/San Diego State-0

South — Duke-5/NC State-2/Marquette-1/Houston-0

Midwest — Purdue-0/Tennessee-0/Creighton-0/Gonzaga-0

West — UNC-6/Arizona-1/Alabama-0/Clemson-0

This means that only the Midwest Region definitely will be represented by a potential first-time champion, although three of the four survivors in the East Region (all but #1 overall seed UConn) also fit the description.

At the 1990 Final Four, Arkansas, Duke, Georgia Tech and UNLV all were seeking their first NCAA title.

The Runnin’ Rebels captured the crown that year, and two others from that quartet weren’t far behind. The Blue Devils claimed their first national championship the very next year, in 1991, then repeated in 1992. The Razorbacks won their first (and still only) title in 1994. The Yellow Jackets are still seeking their first crown, 34 years after that Final Four trip.

The NCAA Tournament recently went 12 straight years (2007-2018) without a first-time winner, but two of the last four national champs fit the description: Virginia in 2019 and Baylor in 2021.