Let the madness begin

Published 8:44 am Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Legendary NC State basketball coach Everett Case perhaps summed-up the ACC tournament the best by once saying, “the tournament is a banquet and every game is a feast.”

The 57th rendition of this annual post-season classic begins March 11 at one of the most hallowed sites in the history of this storied conference – the Greensboro Coliseum.

For those of us who grew up here on Tobacco Road, life simply stopped when the ACC tourney was underway. We’d all find a way – schoolchildren and businessmen alike – to invent a reason to stay at home so we catch all the action on the radio or TV. Even if we grudgingly made our way to work or school, someone had a radio tuned into the tournament and updates made their way from classroom to classroom or around the office.

Now we can catch all the action on the tube, at home or, for those lucky enough to be under the employ of a kind boss, at work. We can either catch the game live on TV or via the Internet.

The old days of this tournament are what made college athletics fun to watch. We all came to expect the unexpected at the tournament. Case-in-point was the 1968 tourney. Powerful Duke (yes, they were even good back then) faced NC State. The Dookies had swept the ‘Pack during the regular season. However, crafty NCSU coach “Storming” Norman Sloan employed a stalling strategy. Over one stretch of the first half, NC State guard Bill Kretzer held the ball, without advancing it, for 14 minutes.

Duke led 4-2 at halftime, but the ‘Pack had a “huge” second half, rallying for 10 whole points to claim a 12-10 win.

In 1973, Wake Forest became the first low seed to knock off a highly regarded club when the ‘Deacs used a length-of-the-court pass and lay-up in the final seconds of regulation to forge a tie with UNC and then knocked-off the second-seeded ‘Heels, 54-52, in a first round game.

And what about the 1974 ACC tourney title game. Still, to this very day, that contest – NC State’s 103-100 overtime victory vs. Maryland – remains as the greatest college basketball game ever played. The Terps, crushed by the loss, refused a bid to play in the NIT. Meanwhile, the David Thompson led Wolfpack went on to win the 1974 National Championship.

For the record, the “Big Four” (Duke, NC State, UNC, Wake Forest) have combined to play in 55 of 56 championship games. UNC (17), Duke (17), NC State (10) and Wake (4) have collected the most ACC titles.

Will one of the “Big Four” add to their collection on March 14, the date of the championship game? As of this writing on Feb. 28, it appears the Duke at Maryland game on March 3 will help determine which of those teams will finish 1-2 in the regular season standings while Miami, NC State and UNC (say it ain’t so) are locked in a battle to see who will finish dead last.

No matter the pecking order, the tournament is always full of surprises, but I’m picking the Dookies to win it all. In what has to be considered as a down year overall in the ACC, Duke and Coach K are the cream of the crop. Plus, the last time the tourney was played in Greensboro (2006), the Dookies edged Boston College, 78-76, for the title.

As usual, the tournament is sold out in advance – just like it has been since 1966. For average “Joes” like you and me, we can catch all the action on TV (Raycom and ESPN will carry the event).

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.