Okay, now I understand.

When they said that the ACC was only a 4-bid conference, they were actually talking about bids into the Sweet 16. Not the original 68-team NCAA Tournament field.

And here we are.

Duke’s overwhelming beatdown of James Madison in Brooklyn and Clemson’s upset of Baylor in Memphis on Sunday, combined with wins by North Carolina and NC State a day earlier, give the poor downtrodden ACC exactly one-quarter of the teams still alive and kicking heading into the tournament’s 2nd week.

That’s one more than the Big 12 and national media darling Mountain West combined for those of you keeping score at home.

Even more impressive is the fact that 3 of those ACC teams are located within a 30-mile radius of one other in the Research Triangle region of North Carolina.

It just goes to show you that while advanced metrics can be a valuable asset in determining the relative strengths of teams and leagues, the numbers only tell part of the story.

They can and have been easily manipulated.

At a certain point, you have to look beyond the numbers, tune out the narratives and let the results on the court speak for themselves. Had the “bracketologists,” national columnists and network talking heads done that, they might have seen ACC’s opening week performance coming.

Part of the problem is that they have little to no respect for anyone not named UNC or Duke. It’s why there’s so much overreaction anytime someone toward the middle or bottom of the league standings beats the Tar Heels or Blue Devils.

When Georgia Tech takes down UNC or Pittsburgh wins at Cameron, it’s a sign of the ACC’s weakness. But let Central Florida beat Kansas or West Virginia knock off Clemson and it’s hailed as proof of the Big 12’s depth and strength.

Never mind that ACC teams compiled a 9-3 record against the Big 12 in head-to-head matchups during the regular season. With 2 more victories in the tournament. Or that the league also had winning regular season marks against the Big Ten and Mountain West.

All that was conveniently forgotten.

Until the past week.

After Virginia’s no-show in the First Four got the tournament off to an ominous start, the rest of the ACC’s teams have gone a perfect 8-0. That includes NC State, the No. 11 seed in the West Region, beating Texas Tech by 13 and Clemson scoring an even more lopsided win against New Mexico

A game in which the 6th-seeded Tigers were the underdog, according to ESPN Bet sportsbook, despite being 4 lines higher than the Lobos.

The most impressive victories, however, came on Sunday.

Coming off 2 straight losses and looking vulnerable, Duke was a popular pick to become an early upset victim even before it took the better part of 30 minutes to dispose of 13th-seeded Vermont in the opening round.

But that result, combined with James Madison’s impressive performance in beating Wisconsin on Friday, made the Blue Devils’ demise almost a foregone conclusion.

Instead, it seemed to light a fire under a Duke team that showed just how good it can be – and has been for most of the season – when it defends with aggression and its talented guards make shots. Jon Scheyer’s 4th-seeded team in the South didn’t just beat the Dukes, they ran them off the court in a surgical 93-55 rout.

Clemson’s upset of Baylor wasn’t as decisive. But it made just as loud of a statement.

Brad Brownell’s Tigers imposed their will on the 3rd-seeded Bears, building as much as a 14-point lead before showing plenty of grit to hold on for a 74-62 victory.

The effort was reminiscent of Clemson’s 11-1 start that saw it rise as high as No. 16 in the national polls before hitting a rough patch at the start of the conference schedule. A league slate that, as it turned out, hardened the Tigers and prepared them for the challenges of March.

It might “mean more” in the SEC, which had 5 single-digit seeds eliminated in the opening round.

It’s just better in the ACC.

This marks the 45th straight year in which the conference has sent at least 1 team to the regional semifinal round. The next longest active streak is the Big 12 with 26.

And this isn’t the 1st time the ACC has done more with less.

In 2022, also with only 5 teams in the field, it put 3 through to the Sweet 16. Two of them, UNC and Duke, advanced all the way to the Final Four.

The bottom line is that while the ACC isn’t what it once was before expansion watered down its product and the national talent pool began to spread to other areas of the country, the conference isn’t nearly as “down” as its detractors would like you to believe.

Some of the disparity between the league’s perception and its postseason results comes from the backlash of its raid on the old Big East and fatigue from years of having to listen to ACC coaches, fans and broadcasters proclaim it to be the be-all and end-all of college basketball.

That agenda is why we’re likely to hear the same tired criticism of the conference next year, no matter how many of its remaining teams advance past the Sweet 16. Or even win the national title.

Why let facts get in the way of a good narrative?