Let the Madness begin

Published 8:40 am Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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.”

Coach Case would be amazed to see how this “banquet” has grown with more seats at the main table. What began in 1953 as a seven-team conference has more than doubled in size with a current membership of 15 universities.

The 61st rendition of this annual post-season classic begins Wednesday, March 12 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 win 49 of the 60 ACC tournaments through the 2012-13 season. Duke (19), UNC (17), NC State (10) and Wake (4) have collected the most ACC titles.

While the “Big Four” success is well known, the last two tournament titles have been won by teams from the Sunshine State – Florida State (2012) and Miami (2013). Both beat UNC in the championship game.

The 2014 version of this storied tournament will make history as, for the first time, it includes a record 15 teams. That fact presents a unique format – three opening round games on Wednesday where the bottom six will square off (seeds 10-15). Those winners advance to play seeds 5-7 on Thursday, as well as the #8 vs. #9 matchup….the victor moving on to face top-seeded Virginia in Friday’s first quarterfinal game at 12 noon.

Virginia, #2 Syracuse, #3 Duke, and #4 UNC all gained “double byes” to automatically reach the quarterfinals, giving them an added advantage.

No matter the pecking order, the tournament is always full of surprises. There will be an upset or two, but I believe the eventual winner will come from among the top six seeds (and I say that with a heavy heart since my NC State team is seeded 7th).

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be reached 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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