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Tournaments ACC and Other

Well, it was almost a magical tournament. The ACC Tournament almost turned into a Cinderella story. The NC State Wolfpack almost woke up the echoes of their 1983 improbable national championship run that began in that year’s ACC. The plucky Pack charged from the Number 10 seed fighting fatigue, injury and a lack of depth. Led by their red-coated maestro and coach El Sid, State made one final push in the finals and almost turned Tampa , the ACC tournament and the NCAA Selection Committee on its ear. The key word here is ‘almost.’

In the end, the mighty North Carolina Tar Heels prevailed. Think Goliath shrugging off the shot from David and then squashing him like a flea. Carolina , which the Heels-centric North Carolina media had assured us all season was the Greatest Basketball Team Ever, won in the end. Led by Tyler the Masked, the Tar Heels were able to beat back the final spirited challenge of the undermanned State squad and prove that while heart can take you a long way, in the end, it helps to have the better players.

Carolina most definitely had the better players. In fact, they had them all season. Many will recall that back in October guys named Caulton and Frank had proclaimed the Tar Heels the best in all the land and there really was little point in playing the season. Time could be saved by simply awarding Carolina all available hardware.

It hadn’t exactly worked out that way. Carolina was pretty good, but hardly dominant. A few of the Best Recruiting Class In The History Of Organized Collegiate Sports seemed to take to heart the sage words uttered a few years ago by Carolina legend Rashad McCants, who equated playing in Blue Heaven to serving time in jail. At times guys named Brandan and Ty appeared bored to tears, merely biding their time until the NBA draft rolled around.

In the ACC tournament, Ol’ Roy seemed to finally discover their ‘On’ button, perhaps by pointing out the number of NBA scouts in attendance. That certainly got their attention. With thoughts of giant SUVs and gold bling dancing in their heads, the Heels easily dispatched Florida State and Fredo and appeared poised to smash to smithereens whoever stood between them and NBA early entry.

Enter NC State. The Pack had mostly struggled during El Sid’s first year. Sweeps of Virginia Tech and Wake Forest sandwiched around an improbable win over Carolina had provided the highlights. They were not expected to last long in Tampa .

A funny thing happened on what was expected to be a quick trip back to the Tampa airport. That wild Thursday of ACC tournament basketball included the Wolfpack knocking out punchless Duke. Next up were the Hoos, who reacted to Fallback Dave’s motivational techniques of berating and ridiculing his players by blowing a double-digit halftime lead to State.

State then beat a bumbling Virginia Tech team, whose reaction all season to the word ‘State’ on an opposing uniform has been to fall completely apart. This game was no exception; the only reason Tech kept the final margin under the usual twenty was the thin State team was obviously wearing down.

State then went up against the mighty Tar Heels. It was another classic finals showdown between the two ancient rivals, proving that while you can take the ACC tournament out of North Carolina , you can’t take that state out of the ACC tournament. State finally succumbed to Carolina ’s superior talent and numbers, but it was a fun ride.

For the Tar Heels, it was a return to the ACC prominence that many Tar Heels, both of the Wal-Mart variety and the minority who actually attended the school, consider their birthright. It was Carolina ’s first ACC title since 1998, a very disagreeable stretch from the Carolina perspective, as this encompassed the time that Duke had absolutely dominated the event, winning seven of eight. Not anymore.

With the ACC tournament’s not quite Cinderella story behind us, most turn their attention to that ‘other’ tournament, the one run by the NCAA. Both the ACC and the state of Virginia did pretty well for themselves in the brackets.

The ACC is sending seven teams to the Big Dance, the most of any conference. That’s what having the best RPI of any league during the season will do for you. Take that, Biggie East. It’s certainly a good thing that conference no longer has Virginia Tech dragging down its RPI, eh? While guys named Boeheim and Calhoun are on the outside of the bubble looking in, Tech prepares for its first NCAA appearance since 1996. Imagine that.

Actually, the Selection Committee could have shown a much greater sense of humor. Tech’s first round opponent, Illinois , looks very much like the last at-large team chosen. The first team left out looks to be the Cousins from the hills. A game between Tech and the Cousins would certainly have been an interesting one. Every Neer and his sister would have lusted for a shot at what they regard as the traitorous scum. Beckley tattoo parlors would have flourished etching ‘I Hate Tech’ across thousands of foreheads. Tough luck, Cousins. Put those satellite dishes on top of the trailers to good use and watch the Hokies this weekend.

Actually, Tech has spent the last couple of weeks not looking much like a team preparing to enjoy and extended NCAA run. There is another coach out there who will likely figure out what works so well for State, controlling tempo, spreading Tech out, maintaining spacing, then finding the man guarded by AD Vassallo. It works for El Sid, over and over and over again. It would be surprising to see any state team standing after the first weekend, much less repeating last year’s miracle run by George Mason. Tech does have my permission to prove me wrong.

Among the ACC contenders, both Maryland and Georgia Tech looked to be developing quite nicely, at least until the first day of the ACC tournament. Maryland turned in an embarrassing effort in losing to Miami , while the Yellow Jackets got swatted by Wake in the wee hours of Friday morning. Gary Williams and Paul Hewitt got a few extra days to attempt to get their teams back to winning ways.

Duke has the excellent NCAA pedigree, but none of the players who bred all of that tournament success. If the Devils show up no better than they have the last couple of weeks, Coach K will quickly be back to shooting more commercials and lecturing his class at Duke’s Fuqua Business School . A good inside game will whack Fredo and they should see one by the weekend.

That leaves Carolina . When the Heels are on, they are very, very good. Ol’ Roy does have extensive knowledge of what it takes to motivate a team to the Final Four. Things might get a little tricky in Atlanta , but Carolina definitely has the horses to win it all. They sure smashed State’s glass slipper.

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