Brooklyn or bust…..let the games begin!
Published 4:48 pm Tuesday, March 8, 2022
Before diving into this week’s column topic – the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament – let me first give props to the women of the league….one team in particular.
Congratulations to Coach Wes Moore and the NC State University women’s basketball team. This past Sunday afternoon in Greensboro, the Wolfpack collected its third consecutive ACC Tournament title after defeating the University of Miami, 60-47.
NC State (27-3 overall and ranked #3 in the nation) adds the tournament title to their regular season ACC championship, the program’s first since the 1990 season.
The Wolfpack will be among the four, #1 seeds for the NCAA Women’s National Tournament, which gets underway at sites across the country on March 16. I’m hopeful they will make it all the way to the national championship game on April 3 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.
And now for one of the grandest spectacles in all of sports: the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament.
This event, played annually since 1954, moves north this year as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY will host the 2022 tournament on March 8-12. With COVID numbers on the decline, basketball fans will be in the seats this year, unlike last year’s event played in front of thousands of empty seats at the Greensboro Coliseum.
This marks the third time that the Barclays Center has served as the home to the ACC tourney. It also hosted the event in 2017 and 2018.
It’s rare that the tournament is held outside the state of North Carolina. In its early days, the event was held at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh…then the largest arena….from 1954-1966.
The Greensboro Coliseum has hosted the tournament the most (28 times). It has been held in Charlotte on 11 occasions.
For those of us who grew up along Tobacco Road, life simply stopped when the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament was underway. We’d all find a way – schoolchildren and businessmen alike – to invent a reason to stay at home so we could 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.
If you were born and raised in North Carolina, chances are you bleed Tarheel Blue, Wolfpack Red, Duke Blue, or Wake Forest Black & Gold. No matter the color, we all experienced a down year in 2021 when, for the first time ever, none of our “Big Four” teams were among the top seeds for the tournament.
At three tournaments (1956, 1962, and 1991), the Big Four claimed all four of the top seeds. On numerous occasions there were at least three members of the Big Four as the top seeds.
Even when the league expanded in the early 2000’s (first to 11 schools, then to 12), the streak of Big Four teams among the top seeds continued, led by UNC and Duke.
To make matters even worse, there wasn’t a Big Four representative in the 2021 ACC Tournament championship game. Georgia Tech won that title, 80-75, over Florida State. It’s my guess there weren’t a lot of Big Four fans watching that game on the tube.
With the exception of 2020 (when the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19), one would have to go all the way back to 1990 to find a tournament championship game without a team from a Big Four school. Ironically, Georgia Tech won that year as well, defeating Virginia, 70-61, in the finals.
NOTE: That Georgia Tech team featured Johnny McNeil, a 6’-9” power forward. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he played basketball at Chowan College (now University) where the then Braves, under the legendary head coach Bob Burke, posted a 52-11 record from 1986-88 and competed in the 1988 NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Big Four fans will not have to suffer any humiliation for the 2022 tournament, at least from a standpoint of having a few of the top seeds. Duke, the regular season champ, is the top seed, while UNC – thanks to a strong push late in the season – grabbed the #3 overall seed.
Wake Forest also had a good year and is the fifth-seeded team for the tournament.
As for my beloved Wolfpack, the men’s team stumbled to a last place finish in the conference’s regular season standings. They are seeded 15th and will face #10 Clemson in Tuesday’s opening round.
The top four seeds – Duke, Notre Dame, UNC, and Miami – have double byes, meaning they advance straight to Thursday’s quarterfinals.
The Blue Devils and the Tar Heels will be seeking to add to their respective number of tournament championships. Duke is #1 on that list with 21 titles, including a conference record five straight during the 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003 seasons. Then, after losing to Maryland in overtime in the 2004 championship game, Duke won the next two titles.
‘Carolina has an impressive 18 ACC Tournament titles to its credit, the last coming in 2016….meaning the ‘Heels are way overdue. It appears that UNC plays its best in championship games vs. other Big Four schools. Of its 18 titles, 10 have come with either Duke (six occasions) or NC State (four times) as its opponent in the finals. Unless NC State pulls off a miracle, as they did in 1983, I don’t see a ‘Pack vs. ‘Heels finale.
What we will see during the 2022 ACC Tournament is the end of the legendary coaching career of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K is calling it quits at the close of this season and what a career it has been. His record at Duke over a 42-year span is an eye-popping 1,123-307 (which equates to a .785 winning percentage). His teams have played in 12 Final Fours – with national titles coming in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010, and 2015. Of Duke’s 21 ACC Tournament titles, he’s been the head coach for 15 of those. Additionally, he coached the United States Men’s National Team to Olympic Gold medals in 2008, 2012, and 2016.
No matter what Big Four color you bleed, you tip your cap to Coach K’s amazing career. Thanks, Coach, for all the great memories!
Now….let the games begin in Brooklyn and may the best team win!!
Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at email@example.com or 252-332-7207.