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Tournament Breaks

In the end, it was one blue too many. Boston College came south with the attitude of Yankee carpetbaggers in 1866. They traveled into the belly of the ACC’s basketball beast in Greensboro looking to match Tech’s feat of winning a major championship their first year in the league. They came awfully close, too.

Fredo took the best Tobacco Road could throw at them and went toe to toe with first Carolina, then Duke, before finally falling just short against the Blue Devils. It took all the ACC’s North Carolina basketball power structure to keep the cherished ACC basketball championship at home.

Although the Tournament was a scant forty-five miles from my driveway, I was unable to attend. A Thursday morning phone call informed me that the Teacher, after thirty years of successfully negotiating stairs at her school, had suddenly sailed down them like a drunken Hoo. The resulting fractured tibia kept her propped up on her couch screeching for more pain-killers and tequila and me hopping like Cleopatra’s court to attend to her every whim.

She wryly noted during a less-addled interlude of her drug and alcohol-induced haze [if any of her students are reading this: Remember kids, Just Say No, most of the time] that there apparently were ways to keep me from running all over the countryside to sporting events. I consider her method a little extreme. It is going to be a fun twelve weeks. Her impeccable sense of timing left me to watch the Tournament taking place less than an hour from my house on television. Everything happens to me.

Back to the Tournament. I certainly hope we have read the last of those columns in North Carolina papers whining about how ACC expansion has diluted their precious basketball. We do have an idea of why Carolina kept voting No. Fredo has brought to the conference some of that Big East attitude that treats every game not as merely an athletic contest, but a test of their manhood.

It wasn’t quite what was seen in the Biggie East championship Saturday night, more closely resembling an Ultimate Fighting Championship brawl than basketball, but it was not the overall gentility associated with the ACC’s season-ending extravaganza, either. They certainly screwed up the anticipated Duke-Carolina Round Three championship as well as Ol’ Roy’s ascension to the ACC basketball throne room. That will have to wait a while.

As was no doubt noted a time or two in the great light to royal blue ticket transfer taking place Saturday night from the Triad to the Triangle, it has now been eight years since the Tar Heels snipped the ACC nets. During the long dry spell, Coach K has flat taken over the ACC Tournament. This was Duke’s ninth straight appearance in the championship game, quite the accomplishment when you consider that Wake and NC State are tied for second with five straight.

They have won seven of them. Coach K now has ten Tournament titles, still less than Dean’s fourteen, but give him time. A guy who likely will be coaching until he passes what by then will be Bobby Knight’s record for victories should be able to win a few more. Even when the Duke team looks as vulnerable as this one did coming in [at least to me], the ACC Tournament remains Coach K’s playground.

The win over Fredo enabled Duke to take the lead in most ACC basketball championships. The Devils now have sixteen, one more than Carolina . Throw in the ten won by NC State and the four grabbed by Wake Forest and forty-five of the ACC’s fifty-three basketball championships have been won by the NC Big Four. This is what Fredo [and seven other teams] was up against.

To win an ACC football championship is going to require going through both Miami and Florida State . For four teams in the Coastal Division, it will also require getting through Tech and Miami before even getting to Bobby. That will be a formidable chore.

It is equally-tough in basketball. Having to beat Carolina and Duke on consecutive days is a daunting challenge, one that was just beyond Fredo’s grasp. As the bluebloods continue to put miles between their recruiting and that of everybody else, it will continue. The Heels are past Matt’s Bad Times and things are about back to normal in Blue Heaven and Coach K isn’t leaving Methodist Flats anytime soon.

Al Skinner’s guys did give it their best shot. Tackling both the Heels and Devils in their backyard was just a little too Herculean a task. He has a solid program developed on the Heights, however, and is going to be a factor in ACC basketball. The Eagles are going to be a threat to crack North State basketball hegemony.

Surprisingly enough, Fredo, the twelfth and last expansion team, has brought the best football-basketball combination to the ACC of the three. Skinner’s guys played for the basketball title and Tom O’Brien’s football gang came within a head-scratching late-season loss to Carolina from playing for the football crown, too. He might be a bit lacking in the ethics department, but Fredo has a pretty good sports program.

Once again it seems that expansion has worked. When Little Johnny Swofford was told by those holding ACC television football rights to expand or else, he probably didn’t have in mind that one of the new teams would be knocking off his alma mater in the Tournament semifinals, or, for that matter, that a basketball coach from Virginia Tech, of all places, would win last year’s basketball Coach of the Year award, either. Expansion has provided a little basketball spice, too.

It certainly has not ‘diluted’ the basketball side of things. Existing ACC teams seem to have managed that quite nicely on their own. It certainly was not the fault of Tech, Miami or BC that Skip Prosser’s guys decided to take the league’s regular season off or that Paul Hewitt didn’t seem to be nearly as good a coach when Jarrett Jack was not running his offense.

While Lefty Drissell likely broke into fits of hysterical laughter at the idea of a Maryland basketball player flunking out of school, Chris McCray managed the trick and took Gary Williams’ backcourt with him. Herb Sendek’s late-season swoon would have happened whether there was ACC expansion or not. An expanded league has nothing to do with Herb getting run out of Raleigh on a rail.

There was yapping about the lack of crowds during the first two days in Greensboro . Naturally, the North Carolina newspaper whiners blamed it on the ‘football schools’ having no interest in the iconic Tournament. Well, I didn’t notice many fans of Carolina or Duke in Jacksonville last December, either.

Certainly there would have been more Tech fans had jimmy not adopted the curious decision to not attempt to sell Tech’s allotment or the Teacher not taken a shin-cracking header. I imagine he must have been too busy determining how much of a price increase will be slapped on this year’s football tickets to pay much attention to selling the Tournament ones. Reducing the number of Tech fans at the Tournament was probably not what she was thinking about as she bounced down those stairs.

College basketball now moves from the ACC Tournament to that ‘other’ one involving the rest of the country. We have a few days to contemplate brackets for pools before CBS kicks off its marathon coverage Thursday. Hopefully no brackets or bones are broken.

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