Back in ancient days when I was a young man, the ACC Tournament was a three-day affair.
It always started Thursday with four quarterfinal games. The semifinals would be Friday night and the championship game Saturday night. It was that way from the inception of the league in 1954 through the 1977 finals.
In 1978, the format changed for a year. The finals were broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports on Sunday afternoon. It went back to the old Thursday-Saturday format the next year.
Expansion finally changed the format. When Florida State joined the ACC as a ninth member in 1992, that introduced the play-in game – soon to be known as the Les Robinson Invitational – as a one night starter for tournament play, first on Wednesday, then on Thursday as the ACC moved its title game to Sunday and shifted the quarterfinals to Friday.
The play-in day expanded to three games in 2005 when Virginia Tech and Miami joined the league in 2005, then to four games in 2006 when Boston College became the 12th member.
The addition of three more ex-Big East teams (Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame) pushed the league to 15 games and extended the ACC Tournament another day.
Hence, the current five-day marathon.
We just finished Day One with three games Tuesday. Today, it gets more interesting as eight teams play four games. Of course, the four top-seeded teams won’t take the court until Thursday.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be drama today.
The first game of the day matches two NCAA bubble teams. Florida State is probably in the tournament, even with a loss today. Louisville probably needs at least one tournament win to make the field.
Notre Dame is also fighting for its tournament life tonight in the 7 p.m. game. The Irish didn’t do anything to help themselves with a narrow victory over hapless Pitt on Tuesday. It’s not clear whether a victory over Virginia Tech will be enough, but a loss would almost certainly eliminate the Irish.
The same is true for Syracuse in the nightcap. A victory over UNC will almost certainly punch their ticket … a loss to the Heels will leave the Orange sweating out Sunday’s selection show.
Let’s check the schedule:
Noon – No. 8 Florida State (20-10) vs. No. 9 Louisville (19-12)
The two teams met twice during the regular season with both teams losing at home. The margin was four points on each occasion. Who has the edge on a neutral court?
Louisville has underachieved all season, but should have the potential to play much better. Maybe the end of a disastrous season – marred by off-court issues and the preseason loss of Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino – will spur the Cards to a strong postseason effort.
Florida State is a deep, talented team – without a single player who was close to All-ACC caliber (Terrance Mann missed the last third team All-ACC spot by 44 points. He was the 24th vote-getter).
One key point to remember: Louisville has not won an ACC Tournament game since joining the league.
Pomeroy gives Florida State a 51 percent chance of winning the game.
2 p.m. – No. 5 N.C. State (21-10) vs. No, 12 Boston College (18-14)
Boston College enhanced its NIT resume with a solid 87-77 victory over Georgia Tech in the first round. The Eagles can’t really aspire to more than that – unless they win the tournament and the ACC’s automatic bid.
N.C. State is playing for NCAA Tournament seeding. Success in the ACC Tournament could boost the Pack to a 4-5-6 spot (depending on how far State can go),
BC won in Raleigh a year ago, but this is a very different Wolfpack team. N.C. State scored a decisive 82-66 victory at home against BC late this season.
Pomeroy gives N.C. State a 63 percent chance of winning.
For BC to pull the upset, the Eagles will have to shoot better from 3-point range than they did Tuesday – 2-for-14.
BTW: BC’s Jerome Robinson, locked in a tight race with Marvin Bagley for the ACC scoring lead, didn’t help himself Tuesday with a 19-point effort – 1.7 below his average.
7 p.m. – No. 7 Virginia Tech (21-10) vs. No. 10 Notre Dame (19-13)
Notre Dame’s predicament reminds me of a famous ACC team – N.C. State’s 1983 Cardiac Pack.
Both teams were early season top 25, but both had to struggle through the bulk of the ACC season without its best player – Dereck Whittenburg for State and Bonzie Colson for the Irish. Both got their top players back right at the end of the regular season.
N.C. State famously won the ACC, then miraculously won the NCAA title.
Can Notre Dame do the same?
It certainly didn’t look like it Tuesday as the Irish struggled to knock out Pitt – winless in the ACC. The Panthers had a 3-point shot to tie with a minute left and ended up losing just 67-64.
That was the closest of Pitt’s 19 ACC losses.
The poor performance will be forgotten if Notre Dame can knock off Virginia Tech – a team that upset Virginia, Duke and UNC this season – in the second round. The two teams met once in the regular season with the Hokies winning by five at home. But Notre Dame didn’t have Colson or point guard Matt Farrell for that game.
Pomeroy rates this matchup as an absolute tossup – 50 percent either way.
BTW: The outcome of this game will decide whether Duke and Notre Dame will meet in the fourth straight ACC Tournament.
9 p.m. – No. 6 North Carolina (22-9) vs. No. 11 Syracuse (20-12).
Syracuse earned its first ever ACC Tournament victory Tuesday night, knocking off Wake Forest with relative ease.
That sets up a tougher test against UNC in tonight’s late game. The two teams met late in the season in the Carrier Dome with Syracuse making a late charge to lose by four.
The Syracuse win on Feb. 21 represented the high-point for the UNC basketball team. It was the last of six straight victories for the Heels. UNC has not won since – losing at home to Miami on a buzzer-beater and losing to Duke in Cameron.
The tournament offers UNC a chance to build its NCAA resume – a No. 2 seed is possible with a strong showing.
For Syracuse, it’s even more vital – probably in the NCAA with a win and out with a loss.
Pomeroy rates UNC as a 72 percent favorite.
No. 13 Georgia Tech (13-19) – The Jackets’ season ended Tuesday afternoon – and so did the careers of Ben Lammers and Tadric Jackson, two of the team’s three best players.
The prospects for the Jackets without those two is not very bright. Josh Pastner does expect to return wing Josh Okogie, whose sophomore season was blighted by an early season suspension and an early season broken hand. In addition, point guard Jose Alvarado showed a lot of promise in his first season before it ended prematurely with an injury.
Beyond those two players, most of the hope for improvement will come with the development of Abdoulaye Gueye and Moses Wright – both promising, but very, very raw.
Beyond that, Pastner has some work to do, either on the recruiting trail or college basketball’s free agent market (i.e., the transfer line). He has three signed recruits, but only one – four-star point guard Mike Devoe of Orlando, Fla. -- is in the ESPN top 100.
Unless something changes dramatically, Georgia Tech is likely to be playing on the first day of next year’s ACC Tournament.
No. 15 Pitt (8-24) – The Panthers endured one of the worst seasons in ACC history, losing 19 times without a win. Their current ACC losing streak is now at 23 games.
The prospects for next year are only a little better on paper.
For one thing, veteran power forward Ryan Luther, who would have clearly been the team’s best player this season, should be back for a hardship year. Kevin Stallings adds two recruits, including four-star PF Bryce Golden of Hagerstown, Md.
Of course, the best chance for improvement will be the development of this year’s freshmen. Guys like Marcus Carr and Parker Stewart have potential.
Probably not enough to make the Panthers into contenders, but with Luther back, enough to end the ACC losing streak.
No. 14 Wake Forest (11-19) – A dismal season comes to a dismal end for Danny Manny’s Demon Deacons. A year after sneaking into the NCAA Tournament, Wake can’t even flirt with the NIT.
On paper, there is a chance for a strong bounce-back next season. Bryant Crawford is a talented guard who should return for his fourth year as a starter. Center Doral Moore developed into a quality big man. Wing Keyshawn Woods is a solid player who is scheduled to be back.
Brandon Childress and Chaundee Brown will also be back.
Wake loses just Mitchell Wilbekin and grad transfer Terrence Thompson to graduation.
Manning has a solid recruiting class lined up, headed by slender 6-8 forward Jalen Hoard – a five-star prospect from France.
So there is a chance for Manning to regain some of the ground he lost this season. However, there are whispers around the program that several key players will be leaving in the off-season.
Manning’s ability to hold onto his talent will be the key to the Deacs turning things around.