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On To Tampa

The ACC Tournament has long been one of the toughest tickets in sports. For decades, the league’s postseason extravaganza, whether held in Raleigh at the area’s original big-time basketball arena, Reynolds Coliseum, Charlotte or its long-time home in the Greensboro Coliseum, interest in the event was such that there were never enough tickets to go around. The ACC seems to have finally figured out how to solve that problem.

College basketball’s biggest and best conference tournament heads to Tampa , Florida . Plenty of good seats still remain. Supply-side economics is not exactly in effect here. Instead, the league chose to attack the demand side of the equation by moving the tournament to a place where there was little. Go figure.

Actually, there is some basketball interest in Tampa and the football-centric state of Florida . Unfortunately, it is centered around Billy Donovan’s Florida squad. The Crocs are nowhere to be found in the tournament pairings. Among the participants, however, are the ACC’s two Florida schools. Florida State will tip-off the Tournament in the 8-9 game, in pre-expansion days known as the Les Robinson Invitational, determining who got served up to the regular-season winner. Miami adds excitement to the event by having secured the coveted #12 seed, awarded to the league’s last-place team. This certainly does wonders to generate local excitement.

Miami , that crown jewel of ACC expansion, has spent the year demonstrating that while they have precious little in the way of a football fan following, they have practically none when it comes to basketball. Crowds at their home games have been dwarfed by the numbers of people watching high school games, junior high school games, middle school games, pre-school games, pick-up games at various YMCAs, a couple of guys playing HORSE, the numbers of people hanging around outside Cassell during halftime of Tech games and those watching paint dry around the mid-Atlantic. As for Florida State , well, it’s Spring football season.

Ah, yes, Spring football. Some will recall that a few years ago when Little Johnny Swofford announced that the ACC would be moving its Tournament from where the critical mass of conference fans reside in North Carolina to where they do not in Florida, Visor Boy joked that on Championship Sunday he would hold a football scrimmage in Tampa to see which would generate the most interest.

He might have been wrong about that. While ACC basketball is really not that big of a deal in Tampa , Sunday’s final will probably have more local interest than would a South Carolina football scrimmage.

North Carolina will enter the Tournament as the #1 seed. The Tar Heels accomplished this through the novel method of actually winning their way in, unique last weekend among the top four seeds. Carolina had lost their previous two games prior to Sunday’s hand-to-nose combat win over Duke. This had generated mass panic in Blue Heaven; newspaper stories teemed across the Carolinas pondering, ‘What’s Wrong With The Heels?,’ all focusing on some rather uncomplimentary comments made by Marcus Ginyard about the intensity level of freshman point guard Ty Lawson.

This perceived lack of intensity on the part of Lawson didn’t seem to escape the eagle eye of Ol’ Roy, either. Lawson rode the bench during a significant chunk of Carolina ’s loss to Georgia Tech. Ol’ Roy’s message of ‘I’ve got a long-term contract worth a gazillion bucks and will be here after you’re gone and if you don’t want to play I’ll sit your ass down and find somebody who does’ seems to have been effective.

The Heels are the top seed and with all of that depth, so critical during three-games in as many days tournament runs, should be expected to capture the hardware unless they do not.

Carolina will enter the Tournament led by all-ACC selection Tyler the Bloodied. The levels of bile excreted by Carolina message board loons denouncing the Dirtiest Play In The History Of Basketball did not seem to be shared by Tyler the Bloodied, who was laughing about the whole thing after the game. Perhaps he will continue to display a sense of humor at noon Friday and protect his broken nose by wearing the mask of a hockey goalie. It would certainly liven things up.

Duke stumbles into the ACC tournament with an 8-8 record, the worst for Coach K since those pre-Grecian days of 1983. Well, actually the worst when he was actually on the bench and not flat on his back in the DUMC. Duke will play Thursday night against NC State without Gerald ‘Sluggo’ Henderson , meaning a depth-shy team will be even thinner and one lacking in athleticism has lost its most athletic player. There will certainly be an opportunity for El Sid to beat a ranked team not named Virginia Tech or North Carolina .

The Hoos were thought to have sealed the regular-season championship after their emotional Thursday night win over Tech. That was before they laid their non-emotional egg at Wake Forest . Fallback Dave’s early time-out during the Wake game and his inspirational speech of ‘You’re all worthless and weak’ did not seem to have its desired effect as the Hoos lost to the Deacs anyway.

The hottest ACC team heading into the Tournament is Maryland . The Terps have now won seven straight. This correspondent might be tempted to tab them the favorite were it not for the difficulties of winning four games in four days. They are, however, an outfit nobody wants to get anywhere near on Thursday and very likely Friday.

While Maryland enters the Tournament as the hottest ACC team, the coldest would be Virginia Tech. The Hokies had two opportunities to make history by hanging an ACC basketball championship banner from the Cassell rafters, but blew it both times. The second and last chance came at home against Clemson. Inexplicably, in the most important game of the year, the Tech team came out ready for something other than playing high-intensity basketball. Well, maybe not so inexplicably.

The history of Seth Greenberg teaches us that the most consistent part of his teams has been their maddening inconsistency. During his time at that Directional Florida, Seth produced teams perfectly capable of knocking off Louisville one day then turning right around and somehow managing to lose to the likes of East Carolina the next.

The former happened enough times to generate basketball enthusiasm at a place that had experienced none and create high expectations of success while the latter occurred with sufficient frequency to ensure those high expectations could not be met, eventually causing the fan base and most everyone to turn on Seth. His time in Tampa did not end well. Seth’s USF history, which seems to be continuing at Tech, leads at least a few to ponder how much substance there actually is behind the relentless self-promotion.

Tech fans also wonder exactly which team will show up for the ACC Tournament. The Hokies seem perfectly capable of winning the whole shebang or getting hammered in their first game. The same can be said for the upcoming NCAA Tournament, provided Tech doesn’t manage what seemed impossible and lose their way back onto the bubble.

Tech’s body of work during the season should still enable them to sneak into the NCAA’s field of sixty-five, although their seeding has been dropping like a rock. When attempting to determine how far Tech will advance in one’s pool [school loyalty will compel me to pick them to win the whole thing], it should be noted that no one on the Tech team has any NCAA experience whatsoever, as there are no 11th-year seniors left over from the 1996 team. Precious little will exist among the coaches, either. In seventeen years of coaching, this will be only the third team Seth has led to the Big Dance, not exactly the stuff of legends.

No matter how far Tech advances this weekend, there will still be wall-to-wall ACC basketball. Eleven games in four days cause this to be one of my favorite times of the year. Unlike Caulton Tudor, I relish not one, but two four-game days. For the ACC basketball junkie I considered myself to be even before Tech entered the league, these are high times indeed.

It is unfortunate that the event is held in Tampa , football country. Little Johnny might cling to this notion of spreading it around, but playing it in Florida makes about as much sense as Georgia Tech and Wake Forest playing in Jacksonville for the football championship. The Thursday game between the Jackets and Deacons will generate about as much excitement in Tampa as did the football game in Jax, very little. It needs to be in Greensboro , the spiritual home of ACC basketball.

But it is not, meaning that my opportunity to drive to the Tournament and sneak in by buying a ticket off of a Clemson fan is non-existent. Instead, I will pitch camp Thursday at noon in my recliner in front of my television. Let the games begin.

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