Let the games begin!

Published 10:37 am Tuesday, March 6, 2012

There’ll be no foreign race car drivers slamming into jet dryers, thus resulting in a need to use a leading laundry detergent to clean up the resulting mess.

You will not see a steam of legal eagles offering advice for the latest casualty of Major League Baseball’s ever growing list of players accused of using performance enhancing drugs.

Instead, what you will see is one of the longest-standing spectacles in all of sports.

Starting at 12 noon on Thursday, March 8, Philips Arena in Atlanta, Ga., will host the 2012 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament. This stretch of 11 games over four days concludes with the 1 p.m. championship contest on Sunday. Two hours later, one team will emerge with perhaps the most prestigious title in all of collegiate sports – that of Atlantic Coast Conference champion.

Unlike its national brethren, the ACC Tournament victor serves as the league’s true winner, not the regular season champion. Following the 1961 season, the ACC brass declared the tournament winner the sole champion of the conference from henceforth.

The widespread distribution of basketball talent throughout the nation may have forced the ACC to share some of its basketball glory. However, in this man’s humble opinion, the league remains the nation’s premier basketball conference.

Since the very first NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament held in 1939 in Evanston, Illinois, the ACC has won 12 national titles – five by UNC, four by Duke, a pair by NC State and one by Maryland. Over the past 12 years, nearly one half of the national championships have been won by a team hailing from the ACC.

Since the first ACC tourney in 1954 – won by NC State over Wake Forest (82-80 in overtime) – to now, this annual post-season event has witnessed some of the best players in the history of this widely popular sport.

I fondly recall some of those standout players – Len Chappell of Wake Forest, UNC’s Larry Miller, NC State’s dynamic duo of David Thompson and Tommy Burleson, Wally Walker of UVA, State’s Derrick Whittenburg, Maryland’s Len Bias, Christian Laettner of Duke, the one-two punch of Randolph Childress and Tim Duncan of Wake Forest, Carolina’s Antawn Jamison, J.J. Redick of Duke, UNC’s Tyler Hansbrough and Kyle Singler of Duke.

What name will be added to that list when the nets are cut down on Sunday in “Hotlanta?” If past history holds true, it’s a fairly safe bet that player will wear either baby blue or dark blue as UNC and Duke have combined to win all but one ACC Tournament since 1997. Only Maryland’s win over Duke in 2004 has interrupted that string of “blue” victories.

Will this be the year that someone breaks through the Duke-Carolina stranglehold on championship Sunday and have their team’s name etched on the league’s most coveted prize? And who will win the Everett Case Trophy – named after the legendary NC State coach who basically came up with the idea of having a post-season league tournament – as the MVP?

We’ll find out the answer to both questions next weekend. Let the games begin!


Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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