The Atlantic Coast Conference has won 13 NCAA championships in men’s basketball. Duke, North Carolina, and NC State account for 12 of them (the other one was some other school who is now in the Big Ten, so we won’t give them any love here). Certainly that imbalance will eventually change with traditional basketball royalty like Syracuse and Louisville now in the league, but it’s simply amazing that a conference that’s widely considered to be the premier men’s basketball league has been carried entirely by three schools.
Side note … Syracuse’s tip the Final Four marks the first nationally relevant run by a newcomer to the ACC, so congrats guys. You’re one of us now.
Yes, UNC and Duke fans, we’re aware that your schools are responsible for 10 of those 13 titles, so just relax. But think about this … 24 years ago, the three schools each had two national championships. Dennis Clifford was 13 months old when North Carolina broke the tie in 1993 with Dean Smith’s second championship. That’s not that long ago.
Since then, Duke and North Carolina have combined for six national titles and 14 Final Four appearances, effectively leaving the Wolfpack in the dust. Still, with those two national championships, NC State is on the ACC basketball Mt. Rushmore, joining their neighbors Duke and North Carolina, along with a giant rockslide where the other face used to be.
The competition between the three programs has spawned some remarkable runs of success, as defined by Final Four appearances. North Carolina had 6 appearances in the Final Four before NC State won their first title in 1974, and then surged to reach 3 in the next 8 seasons alone. Duke responded in kind with a jump from four pre-Krzyzewski Final Fours to reach 7 out of the next 9 Final Fours between 1986 and 1994. Dean Smith hadn’t won a regional final since 1982, but then rounded out his legendary career with four trips to the Final Four in his last 7 years as an active coach. Nearly 40% of his Final Four trips occurred in the last 20% of his career.
Since 1997, Duke and UNC had been neck and neck with five Final Four berths apiece, with North Carolina breaking that tie with this year’s run to Houston. The Tar Heels will look to break the overall tie in National Championships with their 6th compared to Duke’s 5th tonight against Villanova.
A graphical look at the progression of UNC’s, Duke’s, and NC State’s success as measured by Final Fours and National Championships (click to enlarge).