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This banquet features multiple feasts

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.”

While the number seated at the ACC Tournament table has nearly doubled from the seven founding member schools back in 1953 (the University of Virginia joined later that same year), that only increases the “feasts” Coach Case was referencing.

And the ACC now numbering 15 members – stretched from the cold landscape of Notre Dame and Syracuse up north to the sunny shores of Miami down south – the opportunity for the league’s annual post-season “banquet” to visit venues outside the state of North Carolina increases the conference’s national visibility.

The 65th rendition of the ACC Tournament gets underway today (Tuesday, March 6) at the Barclays Center located in Brooklyn, NY. That’s more, a lot more, than a stone’s throw away from the most hallowed site 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.

Will one of the “Big Four” (Duke, NC State, UNC, Wake Forest, who have combined to win 52 of the previous 64 championships) add to their trophy collection on Saturday, March 10, the date of the tourney’s title game? Or will Virginia, the regular season champion and the nation’s top-ranked team, pull off a season sweep of the ACC’s first-place hardware? After the miracle in Louisville last week, where the Cavaliers magically erased a four-point deficit with less than two seconds to play and beat the Cardinals by one point – Virginia is the odds-on favorite to win the league’s overall title.

But before you rush out and bet the house on the Cavs, keep in mind that they may face a quick return match vs. Louisville. The Cardinals are seeded ninth and face #8 Florida State in the 12 noon tip-off to Wednesday’s schedule (both teams received a first-round bye). The winner faces UVA at noon on Thursday.

No matter the pecking order, the tournament is always full of surprises. Will this be the year that my beloved Wolfpack wins its first ACC tourney title since 1987? The Pack’s first game (after an opening round bye) is at 2 p.m. on Wednesday vs. the Boston College-Georgia Tech winner from Tuesday. We didn’t play very well against either this season, and a win pits us against #4 Clemson on Thursday. Then, if UVA survives, we’re in the same bracket and a Friday match-up in the semifinals.

What about ‘Carolina? The Heels are a six-seed (yikes) and, like State, will have to face some stiff competition if they want to survive to play in Saturday’s title game.

I’m picking the second-seeded Dookies to win it all. It’s tough to bet against Coach K and his bunch. Plus they gained a big boost in confidence with their 20-point turnaround and a win vs. UNC this past Saturday.

I’ll be tuned in once again this week to the annual “banquet.” Will you?

 

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him 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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