Now You Can Be Ready to Talk ACC Tournament History

Mar 12, 2014

It's conference tournament week, when so many eyes in Central New York focus on Syracuse's success against the rest of the ...

NC State's Tom Burleson scores against Maryland in the 1974 ACC Tournament
Credit YouTube

Atlantic Coast Conference.

Hello, Greensboro, N.C.

Goodbye, Madison Square Garden.

Orange fans can reel off big moments from the decades spent battling Georgetown and Connecticut, and relative newcomer Louisville, too, in the the Big East Tournament. Pearl vs. Patrick. McNamara's heroic run. Six overtimes against UConn.

Now it's time to start a new collection of memories in the ACC Tournament, which kicks off today, Wednesday, with three games among the six lowest finishers of 15, down there in the arena that's hosted the most ACC Tournaments of any.

SU fans in the Eastwood neighborhood ready for the ACC tournament
Credit Mark Bialczak

Syracuse, seeded No. 2 after its 14-4 run in this initial ACC season, gets one of four double byes. Its first tournament game will be 7 p.m. Friday, against either seventh-seeded North Carolina State, 10th-seed Miami or bottom-dweller Virginia Tech.

Talk around town is about to get even more ACC-centric.

Fortunately for you, I've been following that swaggering league from the south since I attended charter ACC school Maryland three-and-a-half decades ago.

I'm here today to provide some ACC Tournament nuggets to fuel the water cooler conversation.

The Greensboro Coliseum seats 23,500. It's not the home arena for any ACC school, but the North Carolina schools sometimes scheduled a few regular season games there, thus earning a tad more familiarity than the outliers.

Located in the Piedmont region in the north-central part of the state, Greensboro is North Carolina's third-largest city, with a population of about 280,000. Those folks love hosting this sold-out tournament. After the first 13 ACC Tournaments were held in Reynolds Coliseum, the on-site arena on the campus of North Carolina State, it moved to Greensboro in 1967. Since then, the Coliseum has been the site for 24 ACC Tournaments.

Greensboro hosted what might be considered still the most famous final game in ACC Tournament history, in 1974, when No. 1 North Carolina State beat No. 5 Maryland 103-100 in overtime for the championship. 

There was plenty of drama.

The teams did not commit a turnover in the 40 minutes of regulation. Back then, only the league champion earned a bit to the NCAA Tournament, and the ACC had determined in 1961 that it would be the tournament winner, not the regular season champ.

The Wolfpack was hungry because its 27-0 team from the season prior was on NCAA probation, and Maryland was the team that took its place in the NCAA Tournament.

Maryland coach Lefty Driesell was so disappointed by the loss that he turned down the invitation to play in the NIT Tournament. North Carolina State, led by David Thompson, won the national championship. Soon after, the NCAA changed its rules to allow more than one team from any conference to receive a bit.

One more Maryland ACC Tournament memory from me, one that I witnessed live in 1981, at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. In the semifinals, the fourth-seeded Terps wore special gold uniforms and ran past top-seed Virginia, 85-62. The electric atmosphere drove home a point that still holds true no matter where the ACC Tournament is played. The tickets are distributed evenly among the league teams, theoretically creating even cheering sections. But every game, it seems, the fans for all the schools not on the court at the time band together and root for the underdog. As Albert King and mates beat up on Ralph Sampson and crew, it seemed that everybody except those in the Virginia seats were pulling for the Terps. Alas, in the final, second-seed North Carolina edged the Terps 61-60.

By the way, this season marked the first time since 1981 that Virginia won the ACC regular season title.

Some other facts I've pulled together from online sources so you don't have to.

Duke has won the most ACC Tournament titles, with 19. In 1999, the Blue Devils went 19-0 against ACC competition, sweeping the regular season and tournament titles without a loss.

Miami won the crown last year, beating North Carolina. Florida State won in 2012, beating North Carolina. Duke won in 2011, beating North Carolina.

Don't feel too badly for the Tar Heels. They're second on the title list with 17, the last two coming in 2007 and 2008. Coach Dean Smith also led North Carolina to a 82-73 victory over Duke in the first championship game in the Greensboro Coliseum.

The lowest seed to win the ACC Tournament is No. 6. It's happened five times. North Carolina State holds two lowest-seed honors for runner-up. When the league had nine teams in 1997, the Wolfpack was the eighth seed. When the league had 12 teams in 2007, the Wolfpack was the 10th seed.

Miami freshman guard Shane Larkin was the tournament MVP last season, his only one as a Hurricane before leaving for the NBA.

Duke guard J.J. Redick is the last player to earn the MVP honor two years in a row, in 2005 and 2006. Before that, the only two-time MVP winners were Len Chappell of Wake Forest in 1961 and 1962, Larry Miller of North Carolina in 1967 and 1968, and Tom Burleson of North Carolina State in 1973 and 1974.

Obviously, league officials are into the newcomers quickly becoming part of ACC tradition.

Syracuse legend Dave Bing is among the 15 individuals that will be celebrated as ACC Basketball Tournament Legends with a ceremony this week in Greensboro. Bing, of course, was the prolific Orange scorer from 1962 to 1966. Jim Boeheim's roommate went on to a hall of fame career with the NBA's Detroit Pistons, too.

Included is one legend from each school, including Pittsburgh's 1950s-era guard Don Hennon and Notre Dame's 1990s forward Pat Garrity.

Did you ever attend the Big East Tournament? Do you plan to attend the ACC Tournament? Will you watch all the games on TV? What do you expect to be the biggest differences in the two league tournaments?  Share your thoughts by clicking comment.