Posted: 12:08 a.m. Thursday, March 14, 2013
GREENSBORO – ACC officials aren’t quite sure what tournament format they will use next season when Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame turn the ACC into a 15-team league.
For much of its history, the ACC was able to use a perfect eight-team model – everybody played on the first day (originally Thursday, but later Friday). There was a almost a decade in the ’70s – after South Carolina’s departure and before Georgia Tech’s arrival — when the ACC was a seven-team league and the regular season champion got a first-round bye. The addition of Florida State in 1992 created a nine-team model and forced the ACC to adopt the 8-9 play-in game – the so-called Les Robinson Invitational – but there was so much stigma attached to that early game that the league fiddled with a crazy 1 vs. 9 format that could have offered the league’s worst team a buy into the semifinals.
The addition of Virginia Tech and Miami in 2005 and Boston College in 2006 created the current model – four first-round games involving the league’s eight worst teams, leading into the traditional eight-team quarterfinal round. That’s what we’ll see – for the last time – this week.
Next year will require a major revision.
The most likely model to be adopted is something like the current Big East. The league’s worst teams will play on the first day with the middle-echelon teams taking on the winners on the second day and the top teams getting double byes into the quarterfinal round.
There’s a better option-simpler and fairer — out there that I’ve been advocating. Give just one team a bye. Seed the regular season champion into the quarterfinals. Have the other 14 teams play seven first-round games – the winners joining the regular season champ in the quarterfinal round.
That would be a major reward for the regular season champion – something the coaches would like. But it wouldn’t be unfair to the rest of the teams. Nobody would have to win five games to win the title. There wouldn’t be a confusing echelon of byes and double byes.
Instead, the tournament would open Wednesday with three games – No. 2 vs. No. 15; No. 3 vs. No. 14, No. 4 vs. No. 13. The top seeds would get to play on the first day so they would have a day of rest before the quarterfinals.
On Thursday, there would be four games – No. 5 vs. No. 12, No. 6 vs. No. 11, No. 7 vs. No. 10 and No. 8 vs. No. 9. That’s actually the same lineup we have on Thursday now.
Friday would be the traditional quarterfinals – 1 vs. 8/9; 2/15 vs. 7/10; 3/14 vs. 6/11; 4/13 vs. 5/12. Two games on Saturday and one on Sunday.
It actually offers TV a few less games, but how valuable are the first-round games under the current Big East model? How many of you watched Rutgers-DePaul or South Florida-Seton Hall earlier this week?
Anyway, I’ve been pushing my plan with any ACC official I can corner at the tournament this year. Keep your fingers crossed.
SURVEYING THE 2013 FIELD
I’m no good at predictions, so I’m not going to handicap the field. But allow me to make a few observations about what’s at stake this weekend.
– The myth is that the tournament offers a second chance to teams that didn’t do enough in the regular season to earn an NCAA at-large bid.
Well, it’s not really a myth. Virginia Tech COULD win four games in Greensboro and earn an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Indeed, thanks to the ACC Tournament, the ACC’s worst teams are just a 10-game winning streak away from the national title.
But the hard truth is that in the modern era, no non-at large team has won at automatic bid. N.C. State came close twice – in 1997 and 2007 – but couldn’t close the deal. Georgia Tech is the only other lower echelon team to reach the finals, but the 2010 Yellow Jackets got an at large bid after losing to Duke in the finals.
Now, that Georgia Tech team probably got over the at-large hump with a strong showing in the ACC Tournament. That’s happened a lot. Some fans try to cite N.C. State’s 1983 Cardiac Pack as a team that wouldn’t have gotten into the tournament without winning the title, but the truth is that the ’83 Pack is an example of a team that merely needed a strong showing to clinch its bid. Author Tim Peeler has talked to former ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, who was chairman of the NCAA Selection Committee in 1983. Corrigan has said that Jim Valvano’s bubble team put itself in the conversation with a quarterfinal round victory over Wake Forest (which had almost identical regular season credentials ) and clinched the bid with a semifinal victory over No. 5 North Carolina. The title game victory over No. 2 Virginia was icing on the cake.
Quite a few ACC teams have come into the tournament needing a win or two to clinch a bid. This year, that applies to Virginia, which put itself firmly on the bubble by losing two straight games after an impressive victory over Duke.
Virginia probably needs to beat N.C. State in Friday’s semifinals to get into the field. In a way, that’s ironic because a year ago, N.C. State and Virginia net in the ACC quarterfinals – but their situations were reversed. The ’12 Cavs were safely in the field, while the ’12 Pack was widely perceived as a bubble team. N.C. State won that matchup 67-64 and even after losing a heartbreaker to UNC in the semifinals, the Pack earned a No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland , which lost its last two regular season games and three of four down the stretch, is in more desperate shape. Nobody knows what it will take for the Terps, but it would take a deep run to put Mark Turgeon’s team in the conversation. It’s possible that Maryland would have to win the title to get a bid.
And, as noted, that’s something that hasn’t happened in the modern era.
– Anyone who grew up in the ACC’s early years has to view the ACC Tournament as a magical event.
For decades, the weekend of the tournament was almost a holiday on Tobacco Road. Generations of school kids either played hooky on the first day of the tournament or listened to the afternoon games on radios in their classrooms.
The explosion of interest in the tournament dates back to 1947.
Before that season, the Southern Conference played its tournament at Raleigh Memorial Coliseum. Its capacity of 4,700 was plenty for the interest level at that time.
But the coming of Everett Case changed things. He sold basketball to the fans on Tobacco Road – almost overnight. Late in the 1946-47 season, North Carolina was scheduled to play N.C. State at the Walter Thompson Gym in Raleigh. The old facility would accommodate just over 4,000 fans. So many tried to get in that night – even breaking windows to climb in after the doors were barred – that the fire marshal cancelled the game.
The next day, Case was on the phone with Duke’s Eddie Cameron, the chairman of the Southern Conference basketball committee. He urged Cameron to move the tournament from Memorial Auditorium to Duke’s Indoor Stadium – with its capacity of almost 9,000.
When N.C. State and North Carolina met in the Southern Conference title game, the Indoor Stadium (which would be renamed for Cameron a quarter century later) was packed. From that point on, the tournament was a huge draw – a situation that only increased when the best seven athletic schools in the Southern Conference broke off to form the ACC.
By then, the tournament had moved to Reynolds Coliseum with a capacity of 12,400. Even from the beginning, the stadium was full for the championship game and usually for the semifinals . The crowds for the first day started small, but gradually increased until 1965, when every ticket for every session was sold.
For the next 40-plus years, the ACC Tournament was sold out. In fact, there was no public sale of tickets – they could only be obtained through the schools, which rationed their tickets out to contributors. The price was so steep at basketball-crazy schools like North Carolina and Duke, that many fans from those schools would join IPTAY, the Clemson booster club, to get their tickets that way.
In 1985, the Atlanta Journal Constitution did an in-depth survey that determined that the ACC Tournament was the toughest ticket in sports – just ahead of the Masters and well ahead of the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Kentucky Derby or even the NCAA Final Four.
The draw of the ACC Tournament was never more in evidence that in 2001, when the event moved to the GeorgiaDome in Atlanta. The turnout was unbelievable – 182,525 for the five sessions, including 40,083 for the Duke-UNC title game. No conference tournament in history could match that turnout. The SEC, which has played in the GeorgiaDome more than a dozen times, has never come close to the ACC’s 2001 numbers.
But it was a different story in 2009, when the ACC Tournament returned to the GeorgiaDome. Interest was still strong, but not overwhelming. The ACC listed attendance at 158,112 – which worked out to a healthy 26,352 per session, but there is some question about the validity of that figure. And while the conference contended that there was no public sale of tickets that year, plenty of tickets went unclaimed at each of the 12 ACC schools.
A year later, it was impossible to hide the sudden deflation in interest. The tournament returned to its home in Greensboro and played before shockingly sparse crowds. The Duke-Georgia Tech championship game was played before thousands of empty seats (maybe one third of the coliseum).
The turnout was a little better in 2011, but there was still a clear dropoff from the league’s halcyon days. Tickets were sold publically for the first time. Last year’s tournament in Atlanta was much the same situation – good (but not capacity) crowds for the semifinals and finals.
It will be interesting to what kind of crowds show up for the 2013 tournament.
There are some bad early signs – North Carolina, which has long been the largest, most passionate fan base in the league, was advertising the sale of upper deck tickets on its website. Miami, the regular season champion, has one of the two smallest fan bases in the league – will the excitement their success generated on South Beach translate into a large road following for the ACC Tournament?
Most – if not all – of the tickets for the tournament will be sold. And crowds will probably be pretty good.
But the sad fact is that the ACC Tournament is no longer the toughest ticket in sports.
– I’ve been covering ACC basketball for close to half a century and I can’t remember a season when the location of games has been so important. Statistically, there have been a few years where home teams have won a higher percentage of game, but it’s not just wins and losses.
Several teams are very different teams at home and on the road. I mentioned Virginia’s dichotomy in an earlier column – at home they are a 9-0 monster, usually winning by a wide margin; on the road, they are 2-7 in the league, playing like patsies. But it’s not just the Cavs – take Wake Forest, a solid 6-3 at home in the ACC (with wins over Miami, Virginia and N.C. State) and 0-9 on the road.
Duke saw both sides of the Deacs, coasting to an easy 18-point victory in Cameron, but fighting to escape with a thrilling 75-70 victory in Winston-Salem.
“Wake Forest was a different team at home,” Mason Plumlee said. “I don’t know why, but teams are different at home. But no one wins big at home at the end of the season.”
That’s what makes the ACC so tough to forecast this week.
When you are looking at N.C. State-Virginia in the quarterfinals, are we going to see the Virginia team that was invincible at home or the one that was so inept on the road? Will the Pack be the team that was 8-1 at home (losing only to Miami on a late tip-in in a game Lorenzo Brown missed with an injury) or the team that was 3-6 on the road?
And if Duke and Miami meet in the finals, which game should we look at – the 27-point Hurricane win in Miami (without Ryan Kelly) or the three-point Duke win in Durham (with Kelly)?
Duke has been better at home (9-0) than on the road. A year after going 8-0 in the ACC on the road, the Devils were a fortunate 5-4 – beating Boston College by one, barely beating Wake, while routing Florida State, Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
Of course, the 13-game absence of Ryan Kelly had something to do with Duke’s home/road split. The Devils were 5-0 at home and 4-4 on the road without Kelly. It’s significant that the Blue Devils scored their first significant road win of the season in the finale at UNC WITH Kelly in the lineup.
Then again, as Plumlee noted, nobody gets to play at home in postseason … or is forced to play on the road.
So who do you like on neutral courts? Well, nobody in the ACC has played a neutral court game since Duke beat Davidson in the Time-Warner Cable Coliseum in Charlotte on Jan. 2.
For the record, here are ACC records in neutral court games:
What’s interesting is that Duke has played so many more neutral court games than most ACC teams. Mike Krzyzewski catches a lot of flak from media and opposing fans for avoiding non-conference road games, but he has essentially replaced road games with neutral court games. Duke played 16 home games this season – seven ACC teams have played more home games and one (UNC) has also played 16. Virginia, by contrast, has played 19 home games!
Krzyzewski’s argument has been that the NCAA Tournament is played on neutral courts – hence his desire to schedule neutral court games. Does that pay off? Well, he does have the best NCAA winning percentage of any active coach in college basketball. He might have a bit of a clue about what he’s doing.
We’ll have to see how the neutral court experience turns out this weekend in Greensboro.