It took, quite literally, the final seconds for Notre Dame to knock out one of this NCAA tournament’s Cinderellas, the Lumberjacks of Stephen F. Austin, to earn a Sweet 16 berth.
And though the Irish needed a little luck in the form of a Rex Pflueger tip-in, not all of their Atlantic Coast Conference brethren needed much help getting to the same place. Notre Dame became the fifth ACC team to reach the Sweet 16, tying an NCAA record, and Syracuse, about three hours later, became the record sixth, part of a banner tournament for the conference — one that comes with offseason bragging rights.
“This is unprecedented, what’s going on,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “I thought, at this year’s media day in Charlotte, that this league would show it’s the deepest and the best. It’s evolved into that. It really has. Delivering in the NCAA tournament is the ultimate.
“I’m very proud when I look back and go, ‘Wow, we were 11-7 in that league.’ ”
The six, in addition to Notre Dame and Syracuse: North Carolina and Virginia, both No. 1 seeds, Duke and Miami (Fla.)
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim echoed Brey.
“Well, we knew it was a hard conference. We were in it all year,” he said. “And when we played outside the conference in the tournament (in the Bahamas) we had some success. We struggled in the conference for the most part because we were playing good teams, really good teams, and it’s hard to judge a conference during the year. I mean, it is hard. And you can’t just go by the NCAA tournament. But I think you have to go a little bit by what conferences do in the tournament. That’s the only thing we have to judge on because during the regular season, they’re just playing within your conference. It’s hard to tell. You’re just proving that you’re good within your conference. I think the tournament is a good measuring stick. It’s not everything.”
On whether it’s tougher than the Big East at its peak, Boeheim said: “You know I’m never going to say that. It’s a very good conference, there’s no question about it. And as I’ve said many, many times we came from a great conference before and we’re in a great conference now. And I think it’s going to get better in the future from what I’ve seen.”
Seven ACC teams earned bids, only one, Pittsburgh is out of the tournament after two rounds.
The conference records:
ACC (7 bids): 12-1
Pac-12 (7): 3-6
Big Ten (7): 8-4
Big 12 (7): 6-4
Big East (5): 5-4
SEC (3): 3-2