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ACC has had strongest showing of any conference in NCAA Tournament

The ACC got everyone’s attention by defeating the Big Ten 10-4 on Dec. 2 and has now sent four teams to the Sweet Sixteen, the NC State Wolfpack to the Elite Eight and the Louisville Cardinals to the Final Four.

Louisville v NC State
ACC stars Elissa Cunane, Jakia Brown-Turner and Hailey Van Lith (left to right).
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Here’s a list of the 12 conferences who sent teams to at least the second round in order of how successful they were in this year’s NCAA Tournament:

FF - 8 points, EE - 4 points, SS - 2 points, 2R - 1 point

  • ACC - FF, EE, SS, SS, 2R (17 points)
  • Big East - FF, EE, 2R (13)
  • SEC - FF, SS, 2R, 2R (12)
  • Big Ten - EE, SS, SS, SS, 2R (11)
  • Pac-12 - FF, 2R, 2R (10)
  • Big 12 - EE, SS, 2R, 2R, 2R, 2R (10)
  • Summit - SS (2)
  • WCC - 2R (1)
  • OVC - 2R (1)
  • AAC - 2R (1)
  • Ivy - 2R (1)
  • ASUN - 2R (1)

The Big Ten has been on the rise in recent years and was expected to be near the top of the Power 5 this year, but the ACC simply crushed it in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, 10-4. The ACC was not expected to be that good this year outside of preseason No. 5 NC State and No. 6 Louisville. It proved everyone wrong in December and again in March, sending not only NC State and Louisville to the Sweet Sixteen, but also Notre Dame and UNC, neither of whom were ranked in the preseason poll. It also sent the Miami Hurricanes to the second round after their Cinderella run through the ACC Tournament.

The No. 1 seed Wolfpack advanced to the Elite Eight, barely beating out ACC opponent Notre Dame after a clutch Raina Perez steal. They then gave No. 2 seed UConn all it could handle before falling in double overtime. Had NC State and Notre Dame not met each other in the Sweet Sixteen, the ACC might have had three Elite Eight teams. And the conference came very close to having two Final Four teams.

The ACC team that did make the Final Four is of course Louisville, the disrespected No. 1 seed whose defense was just too much for No. 3 seed Michigan in the Elite Eight. Cardinal sophomore guard Hailey Van Lith has ascended to a level where she is now capable of leading that program to a national championship, evoking the names Angel McCoughtry and Asia Durr with what she has accomplished in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

Louisville did not return as much talent as NC State entering this season as it lost ACC player of the year Dana Evans to the WNBA. But transfers Emily Engstler (Syracuse) and Chelsie Hall (Vanderbilt) have been the X factors who have now helped guide the Cards further than the Wolfpack. Louisville also ended up in an easier bracket, whereas NC State had to face a UConn team that was really better that a No. 2 seed but because of Paige Bueckers’ injury did not put together a No. 1 seed resume.

The ACC also sent Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Florida State to the tournament. The Hokies were unfairly matched up with the under-seeded FGCU Eagles in the first round and barely lost.

The conference with the second-best showing in this year’s Big Dance has been a non-Power conference: the Big East! UConn is the only program from the conference that is a perennial national contender and is the last Big East team standing again this year. But the Creighton Bluejays also made the Elite Eight after a Cinderella run as a No. 10 seed. Creighton had some great moments this regular season and deservedly earned an at-large bid to the tourney.

South Carolina v Creighton
Lauren Jensen (with ball) was one of the heroes for Creighton in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The team that finished just ahead of third-place Creighton in the Big East standings, Villanova, also secured a first-round upset before falling in the second round. The Wildcats, who defeated a Paige Bueckers-less UConn in the regular season, were led by Big East player of the year Maddy Siegrist’s 25 points in the first round.

The Big East sending three teams to the second round seems even more impressive when you consider that the trio did not include either DePaul or Marquette. Those two programs met in the Big East Tournament championship game every year from 2017 to 2020, so they’ve been the class of the league in recent years. They finished fourth (DePaul) and fifth (Marquette) in the conference this year, with the Blue Demons making a play-in game and the Golden Eagles missing out on the tournament. The future is bright for DePaul and the Big East as a whole because of WBCA freshman of the year Aneesah Morrow.

The SEC, which finished third in the standings, has been considered by many to be the best conference in women’s basketball in recent years. The team at the top, South Carolina, is a big reason for that and the Gamecocks are back in the Final Four for the fourth time in seven tournaments. Tennessee joined South Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen and LSU and Georgia both made the second round, but it was a disappointing opening round for the SEC. Their tournament champion, Kentucky, fell to No. 11 seed Princeton and an Ole Miss team that some thought could challenge Baylor in the second round fell to No. 10 seed South Dakota. SEC No. 10 seeds Florida and Arkansas also lost in the first round.

The Big Ten again sent a team to the Elite Eight; this year it was Michigan, last year it was Indiana. The Hoosiers fell in the Sweet Sixteen because they faced the best No. 2 seed in UConn. Things could have been different if they had landed a more favorable matchup. Meanwhile, Big Ten powerhouse Maryland also could have made an Elite Eight or Final Four run if it had lived up to expectations in the regular season and gotten a better seed. The No. 4 seed Terrapins fell to No. 1 seed Stanford in the Sweet Sixteen, but as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed they likely would have advanced further. Of the three Big Ten teams that fell in the Sweet Sixteen, No. 6 seed Ohio State was actually the closest to winning, losing to Texas by just three.

The biggest disappointment for the Big Ten in the tournament came when No. 2 seed Iowa lost in the second round to Creighton right when it seemed the Hawkeyes had finally found a way to live up to the hype that surrounds them because of Caitlin Clark’s greatness. Iowa blew out Michigan in its regular-season final with the Big Ten regular-season title on the line and went on to win the Big Ten Tournament.

Last year, we saw an all-Pac-12 national championship game. This year, no Power 5 team dominated a conference better than Stanford and it seems that may have been because the Pac-12 wasn’t as strong as the rest of the Power 5. That’s with access to the results of the NCAA Tournament, which has sent the Cardinal to the Final Four, but no other Pac-12 teams to the Sweet Sixteen. Both Arizona and Utah were defeated handily in the second round and No. 5 seed Oregon disappointed by losing to No. 12 seed Belmont in the first round.

The Big 12 sent more teams (six) to the second round than any other conference but four of them lost at that stage. Iowa State’s season can be considered a success because it gave its players a first taste of the Sweet Sixteen and Texas continues to look more and more like a national championship contender under Vic Schaefer. The Longhorns are now 2-for-2 making the national quarterfinals with Schaefer as their head coach and this year performed much better in their Elite Eight contest.