The center of the ACC universe?

Long revolving around its four North Carolina teams, ACC basketball is branching out with expansion and a stop in D.C.

Acc Tournament

College Basketball

March 09, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. - Forget?


Just as the rebel flag serves as a totem for descendants of men who fought for the Confederacy, there are people who wear their resentment of Tobacco Road's stamp on the Atlantic Coast Conference and its signature event, the men's basketball tournament that begins tomorrow at MCI Center.

That banner has often been carried by the Maryland coach.

This is the 19th ACC tournament for Gary Williams, but his first north of Greensboro, home to 20 of the previous 51 and the conference headquarters. Not wanting to appear rude to guests in his back yard, Williams was hesitant earlier this week to open old wounds, but his laundry list of slights is familiar.

Williams' first two tournaments, as a Terps guard in 1965 and '66, were held on the campus of N.C. State. The event that began in 1954 has been conducted in North Carolina 44 times. Is it any wonder, Williams has asked, that 43 of the championships remained in that state?

"Our fans," Williams has said, "shouldn't have to go down there every year."

He has pointed to the geography that keeps the four North Carolina schools fresh in February, and the state's influence on All-ACC balloting. In January, his complaints about scheduling, where TV networks demand dates featuring Duke, were validated.

Fairness and tradition are balanced by ACC commissioner John Swofford. He disagrees that the deck is stacked in favor of the North Carolina schools, but acknowledges that it might have been at one time.

This marks the beginning of an unprecedented six-year cycle that will annually rotate the ACC tournament out and then back into North Carolina. It will be the first with Miami and Virginia Tech. Next year will bring in Boston College as the 12th member, completing expansion that has reshaped the conference. For most of the 1970s, a majority of its seven members were in the state of North Carolina.

"Four of 12 is a whole lot different than four of seven," said Swofford, who scoffs at the notion of a monolithic approach in the state. "You can make the point if those four schools look at the world the same way, but I'm not sure they ever did."

Duke, as outsiders

Swofford has a degree from North Carolina, and a brother who went to Duke. That wasn't a love tap from Wake Forest's Chris Paul that found N.C. State's Julius Hodge Sunday night. As Blue Devils assistant Steve Wojciechowski explains, they don't march in step in the Research Triangle.

"The people in this area support Carolina and State, and the Duke people are in the minority," said Wojciechowski, who prepped at Cardinal Gibbons. "On a national level, we're on a par with anyone as far as fans and interest, but on a local level, it's much different. We're kind of the outsiders, the Yankees."

Wake Forest has four ACC titles, one more than Georgia Tech and Maryland. N.C. State has 10, but the last came in 1987. Duke has won 14 tournaments, with Mike Krzyzewski calling the shots in eight. North Carolina has a record 15 titles, 13 under Dean Smith.

It can be argued that all of college basketball, not just the ACC, rotates on the eight-mile axis of 15/501 that separates Coach K court in Durham from the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Are Duke and North Carolina supposed to be sorry for possessing power that took generations to accrue? Do Harvard and Yale apologize to the rest of the Ivy League for the alums they've sent to the White House?

Texas coach Rick Barnes grew up in Hickory, 75 miles west of Winston-Salem, and coached at Clemson from 1994 to 1998. Did he find that the Tobacco Road schools received more breaks than outsiders?

"I don't know if you could say four, but two, for certain," Barnes said. "Everyone always felt there was a double standard. There was a feeling that the league felt that if it was going to be good, Duke and North Carolina had to be good. ...

"As coaches, we get paranoid. There's a feeling that the deck is stacked against you. I felt that there wasn't respect for Clemson. Gene told me, `Maybe you're right, but Clemson has to respect basketball.'"

Baltimore native Gene Corrigan preceded Swofford as ACC commissioner, from 1987 to 1997. En route from Govans to Greensboro, Corrigan was the freshman basketball coach at Virginia from 1959 to 1962, when the Cavaliers, Clemson and Maryland weren't pumping many resources into the sport.

"After the guy running the varsity, I was the only other basketball coach at Virginia," Corrigan said. "I didn't think about getting screwed, because we weren't going to win anyway. The North Carolina schools put more money into it. They made an early commitment, and the rest played catch-up."

Bobby Cremins had a unique view of that evolution.

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