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Tech and Hoo?

It has happened often through the rich history of ACC basketball. In fact, more often than not. Two bitter in-state rivals get together on the hardwood late in the season with first place in the standings on the line. The game is nationally-televised and interest is high; tickets are very difficult to obtain. It is the heady stuff that has enabled ACC basketball to establish and build upon its deserved reputation of an outstanding basketball conference. There is a bit of a difference this time, however.

Thursday night when the ACC presents another marquee game, it will not be another continuation of the storied Carolina-Duke rivalry. They will play a few days later and the stakes, at least for one team, won’t be quite as high. No, this game for in-state bragging rights and a more favorable seed in the upcoming ACC and NCAA tournaments will be between in-state rivals Virginia Tech and the Hoos. Imagine that. I bet this wasn’t what Little Johnny and that Denver consultant had in mind.

The Hokies and Hoos will get it on. At least a share of first place in the ACC will be on the line, maybe more if Carolina is unable to blow out Georgia Tech Wednesday night and gets involved in another close game. There have been no basketball games played in the long rivalry with as much on the line. Actually, there have been few contests in anything between the two that carried the implications other than that 1995 football game. That was for a berth in the Sugar Bowl and is known, at least among Tech fans, for The Comeback, the late-game heroics that gave Tech the win and among other things, rocketed Frank’s football program into the national consciousness and began the period of gridiron domination that Tech continues to enjoy over the Jeffersons .

This game will not have quite that much riding on it. No regular season basketball game has that much riding on it. Still, it is for first place and that makes it a pretty big deal. It is also a huge event for the ACC. Never before in ACC history have two ACC schools not from the state of North Carolina played a basketball game of such importance. It was a little tricky when the Old North State was the only one for years that had more than one ACC school. I doubt very seriously that Clemson and South Carolina ever duked it out with the league’s top basketball spot on the line [although if they did, I am sure it will be quickly brought to my attention, probably heralded by a message header reading ‘You Don’t Know What You Are Talking About.’ They will get no argument from me]. Bill Brill is no doubt in the Duke University Medical Center being treated for Anaphylactic shock.

Having in-state rivals not named Carolina , State, Duke and Wake battling it out for ACC regular-season basketball supremacy does not seem to have guys named Barry, John, Frank, Lenox or Caulton celebrating the brave new world of the ACC, either. These were the people perfectly willing to sacrifice ACC football to preserve their chummy and clannish little basketball conference. Who needs the scholarships paid for by a hefty football television contract when you have a basketball round-robin?

They are still at it, too. There was the Dascenzo column a while back joyfully proclaiming that Carolina basketball was the best in all the land and would not lose another game, certainly not this season and perhaps never again. This was posted the day before the Tar Heels were knocked off by Tech, again, this time in Dean’s Dome. Perhaps the Neurogenic shock suffered by Dascenzo has him bunking in the DUMC with Brill.

Tudor is still going strong. He recently took to the bully pulpit provided by the good old N&O to proclaim that expansion has so wrecked ACC basketball that the only thing left to do is to provide an illusion of the ‘good old days’ by limiting the ACC tournament to eight teams. That is a suggestion that would go over very well, this year, to those Wolfpackers and Deacons who lay out big bucks for Tournament tickets. Well, few have accused Tudor of having an excess of knowledge about which he is braying and he had little use for what he considers the little people of the Big Four even before expansion.

Despite the howling coming from the luddites, ACC basketball still seems to be faring fairly well. The conference RPI is where it almost always is and 75% of conference teams will at least be considered when the NCAA tournament Committee deliberates in a few days. They won’t all make it, although all can make a pretty good case. The league seems to be surviving Carolina not playing Maryland twice in a season, probably a good thing for the Heels this year. The standings would seem to indicate that expansion has not watered down ACC basketball.

Tech and the Hoos going at it for first place is also not likely to become an annual event in ACC basketball, either. Both have spent this year demonstrating how important senior experienced guards are. Even if Sean Singletary returns next year, Fallback Dave has no ready replacement for the points, leadership and court savvy provided by JR Reynolds. When Seth has to replace Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon in 08, he is likely to find ACC wins very tough to come by. Provided all of those outstanding freshmen and sophomores at Carolina and Duke resist the lure of NBA riches for another year, both should be back in their accustomed spots next basketball season.

That is next year, however and this is now. Now is Tech and the Hoos going to the John Thursday night for the top spot in the ACC standings. In-state rivals, a full house, national television- it will be ACC basketball at its best. No, it will not be Carolina and Duke. For those typing this while wearing a maroon sweatshirt, it will be even better.

As an aside, the Alderson boys were able to attend last Saturday’s Tech-Miami game due to the generosity of reader John Mitchell, who was unable to attend. We not only saw some good basketball, we were able to once again benefit from the wit and wisdom of our favorite Russian.

If anybody finds themselves with a surfeit of tickets for Sunday’s game with Clemson, I know where they can be unloaded.

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