Semifinal Saturday is always big at the ACC tournament, which served as the template for all such conference convocations. But the 60th edition of this grand old event has had a transitory vibe to it. Next year will be different, and also the year after that.
Three imports – Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse – will be involved in the 2014 ACC tournament, and in 2015 Louisville will take the place of Maryland, which is leaving for the Big Ten. Two years hence, more Big East expatriates (seven) will be playing ACC basketball than will holdovers from the inaugural ACC tournament of 1954 (six.)
With that infusion comes pressure — the fine whiner Jim Boeheim, who coaches Syracuse, already is lobbying — to move the ACC tournament up East. This week Pete Thamel, formerly of the New York Times and now of SI.com, wrote that the ACC needs to move its showcase event to Madison Square Garden on a permanent basis. “If you can stay in the Ritz-Carlton,” Thamel asked, “why settle for a Super 8?”
This prompted Ed Hardin, writing in Saturday’s Greensboro News & Record, to refer to the likes of Boeheim and Thamel as “loudmouths” and “people who aren’t from around here.” Also this: “The decision to come back to Greensboro on a regular basis has nothing to do with hotels or airports or widening the footprint and everything to do with the fact that it’s what the majority of ACC fans prefer.”
But will ACC fans of 2023 be the same as the ACC fans of 2013? This was once the best basketball league in the land and it’s about to become that again, but a 15-team league that stretches from Chestnut Hill to Coral Gables, from Atlanta to Louisville to South Bend … well, that will bear little resemblance to the conference that began as a compact four-state entity.
“It’s going to be different, especially for people of my generation and older,” said Trajan Langdon, who led Duke to the 1999 NCAA title game. “There’ll be a lot of new teams, mostly from the Big East. I preferred it when there were nine teams … I don’t like the super-conferences.”
Like them or not, they’re the new way of the collegiate world. Tradition and rivalries yield to cash money. Asked how it will be not to see his Blue Devils play Maryland on an annual basis, Langdon said: “Or for nobody (from the ACC) to play Maryland. There are so many teams — you’re talking about going to one (league) arena twice in your (four-year) career.”
Said Mark Price, who led Georgia Tech to the 1985 ACC Championship and who was honored Saturday as an ACC Legend: “It’s probably going to be a little strange. … I’m sure the ACC (tournament) is going to go (to New York) at some time.”
The fear along Tobacco Road isn’t so much that the ACC tournament will wander on occasion. (It has, after all, been staged six times in three different Atlanta arenas.) The fear is that, er, loudmouths from up East will shout down genteel Southerners and steal the whole thing for the rest of time. Which is, not to put too fine a point on it, hysteria talking.
The conference slogan is: “The ACC – then, now and always.” This league was a big deal when the Big East was only a gleam in Dave Gavitt’s eye. This is one place where history means a little something.
Yes, there will be seven ex-Big Easters in the new ACC, but those seven don’t form the voting bloc that the four North Carolina schools do. (Pitt and Syracuse have much in common, but Louisville hasn’t been in the Big East all that long. And Notre Dame always stands alone.) So long as the Carolina Four remain intact, the ACC tournament won’t find a permanent home in the Big Apple.
That’s not to say it will stay the same. With 15 teams, it won’t and can’t. The new format hasn’t been announced, but most expect a day to be front-loaded onto the event. And the level of play should be fierce: Five of the ACC 15 — Carolina, Duke, Louisville, N.C. State and Syracuse — have won NCAA titles, and the first four of those have claimed more than one.
Even Langdon, the admitted skeptic, conceded the point. “It’ll be good basketball,” he said.
On the final Semifinal Saturday of the ACC as a 12-team operation, the comings and goings were apparent. Miami, which played its first game in this event in 2005, beat N.C. State, which won the first three ACC tournaments. Then North Carolina, an ACC pillar since Day 1 of Year 1, eliminated Maryland, a charter member that’s leaving soon. The granddaddy of all conference tournaments didn’t feel hidebound and hoary, and it’s about to get newer still.