Aside from Duke, ACC is in decline

UNC had a nice win over Kentucky this season, but Roy Williams' squad still projects as an 8-seed. Getty Images

Last week's bracket was noteworthy for a number of reasons. The Butler Bulldogs were absent, nine Big East teams were present and we did our best to recognize better-than-expected play by the likes of Central Florida, Washington State and Cleveland State.

For me, though, the most potentially lasting storyline is that of the sagging Atlantic Coast Conference. Admittedly, the league had seven teams in the above Bracketology link, but aside from the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils, name a team that scares you.

For every Boston College or Virginia success story, there have been multiple occasions when a North Carolina, Florida State, Virginia Tech or NC State has fallen flat.

Instead, the Big Ten, Big East and Big 12 have taken center stage by supplying the next 11 teams (Nos. 2-12) in the Dec. 6 ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll. Another ACC squad (North Carolina) wasn't to be found until the "also receiving votes" category.

Even in its so-called "down" years -- three NCAA tournament bids in 1999 and 2000 -- the ACC featured a few elite teams. Since 1985, the conference has sent at least three teams to March Madness every year -- 1999 and 2000, as noted above, were the three-bid years -- and seven times during that span, they've sent four teams to the Sweet 16, meaning a quarter of the regional semis round was composed of ACC squads.

The ACC's pattern is one of both quantity and quality, of course, but "quality" is the overriding characteristic in good times and in bad. No conference has more national champions, No. 1 seeds, Final Fours and Sweet 16s in the modern era.

But the true measure of ACC dominance is that the league is never a one-trick pony. But last season only Duke cracked the Sweet 16. Could we be headed for a repeat?