For the first time since 1959-61, ACC basketball has gone three consecutive years without a Final Four representative. Only four league teams made the tournament, fewer than the Mountain West, Pacific 12 and Atlantic 10, and the conference’s lone regional finalist was no match for Louisville.
Hardly what you would call a vintage season.
Realignment and returning talent should cure most of those ills.
And consider the personnel that Duke, North Carolina and Virginia expect back and have committed for 2013-14. Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood and Jabari Parker for the Blue Devils; Marcus Paige, P.J. Hairston (if he doesn’t turn pro) and Isaiah Hicks for the Tar Heels; Joe Harris, Akil Mitchell, Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill for the Cavaliers.
Barring the unforeseen, each will be capable of extended March runs.
Duke’s 85-63 loss to Louisville in Sunday’s Midwest regional final ended the ACC’s NCAA tournament, and while the margin surprised, the result did not.
For starters, Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are the nation’s best team. This guarantees nothing, but when Louisville shoots 50-plus percent, as it did Sunday, and defends with its usual vengeance, case closed.
Then there’s the Seth Curry factor. His enduring a season-long leg injury is testament to him and Duke’s medical staff, but on short rest — 48 hours or less between games — his limitations were painfully obvious.
In six such games this season, including Sunday, Curry shot 30.6 percent overall (19-of-62) and 23.5 percent from beyond the 3-point arc (8-of-34). In all other games, Curry’s percentages were 49.2 overall and 47.5 from three, befitting his All-ACC status.
That said, put the Blue Devils in any other region, especially the West, where ninth-seeded Wichita State emerged, and there’s a good chance Mike Krzyzewski is preparing for his 12th Final Four.
Instead, Louisville advanced to its second consecutive Final Four, again placing Pitino on the brink of history. No coach has won Division I men’s basketball championships at different schools, but Pitino (Kentucky 1996) is two victories away.
Sunday confirmed the ACC’s wisdom in selecting Louisville last November to replace Big Ten-bound Maryland. Mere hours after the victory over Duke, the Cardinals’ women upset reigning national champion Baylor and Brittney Griner to reach the Elite Eight.
Also since the ACC invitation, Louisville defeated Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and the men’s soccer team advanced to the national quarterfinals.
In short, the school appears well-positioned to back up athletic director Tom Jurich’s vow to ACC commissioner John Swofford: “I will make you a promise. I’m a man of my word. We will make you proud here at the University of Louisville.”
The Cardinals are the fourth consecutive Big East tournament champion to reach the Final Four, following West Virginia, Connecticut and themselves. And how fitting that in the old Big East’s final season, the conference that gave us players such as Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin and Pearl Washington advanced two teams to Atlanta.
In 34 seasons from 1980-2013, the creation of the late Providence coach Dave Gavitt has produced 20 Final Four teams. That lags behind the ACC’s 29 and Big Ten’s 23 during the same span, but for a start-up, it’s nothing short of remarkable.
Most famously and preposterously, three Big East squads reached the 1985 Final Four in Lexington, Ky., Georgetown, St. John’s and eventual champion Villanova. No league before or since has enjoyed such a windfall.
Villanova is among six Big East national champs, joining Georgetown, Syracuse and Connecticut (three). Perhaps most impressive: nine different Big East schools advanced to the Final Four.
Three Big East men’s coaches — Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Georgetown’s John Thompson and Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun, the latter two retired — reside in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and Pitino could make it a foursome. He’s a finalist for the 2013 class, set to be announced Monday, the same day his Cardinals could be playing for the national championship.
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