ACC regular season vs. ACC Tournament: Which is better to win

One league title is a better indicator of NCAA success

Anthony Gruppuso—USA Today Sports
Mar 11

After much speculation and debate, North Carolina received a one seed in the NCAA Tournament, while Duke ended up getting a two seed.The NCAA Selection Committee appeared to value the ACC regular-season title, which North Carolina won by a two-game margin, over Duke’s ACC Tournament title.But should it have? In general, which is the better measure of a team’s quality entering the NCAAs—the regular season or the conference tournament? Which is a better indicator of tournament success?It should come as no surprise that, by far, the teams that do best in the NCAA Tournament are the ones that win both the ACC regular season and ACC Tournament titles. North Carolina swept both last year, and the Tar Heels went on to advance to the NCAA Championship Game.Of the 13 NCAA titles won by teams in the ACC, six of them went to teams that swept the regular season and ACC Tournament. Dual champions are also responsible for 19 of the ACC’s 44 Final Four appearances.Those numbers are even more impressive, considering that only 30 ACC teams have won both league titles—and 19 went on to the Final Four. In other words, a team that wins both has a 63 percent chance of making the Final Four and a 20 percent chance of winning the National Championship.On the flip side are teams that won neither league crown. There have been 119 at-large teams from the ACC—including Wake Forest this year, who is already eliminated. Those teams have combined for just eight Final Four berths (a 6.7 percent success rate) and one title (0.8%).That leaves the ACC teams that took one of the two league crowns—either the regular season or the tournament. If a team can only have one, which is the better option?It turns out that the regular season is the better measure of a team’s tournament success.Teams that lost the regular season but won the ACC Tournament only won one national title, while regular season champions that lost in the ACC Tournament have cut down the nets five times. Regular season champions also have advantages—though slimmer than in the NCAA title count—in Final Fours and tournament won-loss percentage.So, North Carolina fans can rest assured that this year’s team has better odds of NCAA success than Duke. On the other hand, since they only took one of the two league titles, their odds are significantly lower than last year.