Scenes From The 2019 ACC Basketball Tournament
The Atlantic Coast Conference has held a men’s basketball tournament at the end of the regular season since the year 1954. After 13 years of playing the tourney at NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum, the conference decided a more neutral venue would fairer to the remainder of the conference. Over the next nine years, the tournament was held in either Greensboro or Charlotte; both located in central North Carolina. From March 12th-16th, 2019, the Spectrum Center in Charlotte played host to the 2019 New York Life ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament. ACC basketball contests in the Tar Heel State never disappoint, so 14 of them in five days was unsurprisingly a memorable experience for both the teams and their fans.
The tournament kicked off on Tuesday, March 12th. Fans exited their respective trains, buses and cabs to pass through the doors of the Spectrum Center for the latest installment of this famed tournament. Seating was all general admission, due to the low turnout always expected on opening day. As tip-off approached, fans were greeted on the colossal center-hung scoreboard by “Fly Ty and Jacinda”- the in-arena hosts and hype people that were not accused of lacking energy. Despite the games consisting of the lowest-finishing six teams in ACC play, each team brought a worthy contingent of supporters to North Carolina’s flagship city. Although Wake Forest had just finished a forgettable regular season of historic proportions, the fans still came out in solid numbers and cheered on their Demon Deacons. Miami also had a surprisingly positive turnout for the game, which Miami won as they survived a furious comeback by Wake. Notre Dame and Georgia Tech fans also created an intense atmosphere for their game that equally went down to the wire. Even the nightcap of last-place Pittsburgh and 800-miles-away Boston College resulted in a respectable crowd.
As the calendar flipped to Wednesday, NC the matchups became more intense and the games more meaningful. Clemson and NC State began the day with the noon tip. These were two bona fide bubble teams that needed a win in the worst kind of way. The arena was close to full, and it quickly became very, very loud. As Clemson built up an 18-point lead, the Tiger fans roared. Clemson has always been looked at by some as the football school in a basketball conference, but don’t tell that to their fans- the Tigers quietly have one of the more underrated fanbases of any school in the country. However, it was a tale of two halves- NC State erased that very deficit on their way to a one-point win. When the Wolfpack went on their run, you might have thought you were back at the old Reynolds Coliseum based off noise level in the Spectrum Center.
The rest of the day’s games were not the nail-biters that the first one was. The Virginia Tech faithful cheered their Hokies- after a historically successful season for the program- to a convincing win over Miami. Louisville and Syracuse fought past Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, respectively. In Syracuse’s first game of the tournament, the fans traveled especially well from upstate New York as the infamous 2-3 zone gave the Panthers fits.
Thursday morning came, and with it so did the quarterfinals of the 2019 ACC Tournament. The matchups became better and the games became more meaningful. Despite NC State carrying their stellar shooting of the previous game over for the first half, the defending champion and number one seed Virginia Cavaliers stormed back to advance to the semifinals. With Charlottesville only 4 ½ hours away, the Wahoo faithful showed up in great numbers despite the unfortunate noon tip on a weekday. In the ensuing game, Florida State knocked off the Virginia Tech Hokies in overtime. Teams traded tough buckets in the final seconds of regulation and overtime, which captivated the entire building in which Tech had the supporter advantage. It sure is incredible how a fantastic game can create such thunderous roars even in a building that is only half-full.
Speaking of thunderous roars, the nightcap featured plenty of those- mainly when Zion Williamson caught the ball and had even the slightest chance of dunking. Duke and North Carolina fans dominated the night session, as their teams would both win to set up a matchup between the blue bloods in the semifinals. Despite Louisville losing to the Tar Heels in the late game, the Lady Birds- the Louisville dance team- shined throughout their two nights of performances. Even if you’re not into dance teams, the Lady Birds were tough to miss, simply because they are that good at what they do. In terms of bands, the Georgia Tech band might very well have been the best in Charlotte. Virginia, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Duke all also have top-tier bands that were very enjoyable for folks inside the arena to listen to during breaks. Bands are truly one of the unique touches that make college basketball so special.
In the semifinals, Florida State shocked top-seeded Virginia behind a red-hot shooting performance. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was less than spectacular, simply because of the second semifinal matchup that night. Duke and North Carolina were slated for the late game, and due to the proximity of the schools and magnitude of the rivalry, almost all tickets were scooped up by fans of both teams. Although it resulted in a madhouse for game two, it begs the question of whether ticketing multiple games together as one session is a great thing to do. Although conferences do it to make life easier on the arena’s cleanup crew and rest of staff- who already have their work cut out for them- it can create sterile atmospheres for the “lesser” of the two games in that session.
The third installment of the Heels and Devils did not disappoint one bit. Behind Zion Williamson, Duke survived several UNC chances in order to win by a single point. If you’ve never been to a Duke-North Carolina game, you are truly missing out on an unforgettable experience. Each fanbase takes these games so seriously that it might seem as if it were a life-or-death scenario based on the reactions of the diehard fans sitting beside you.
This set up a championship game between Florida State and Duke. The game was played in front of a neutral crowd that seemed to get especially excited whenever Duke scored. That is because it wasn’t much of a neutral crowd at all- Duke’s proximity to Charlotte and national brand resulted in an overwhelming surplus of Blue Devil fans, who watched their team win the ACC Tournament on Saturday, March 16th. This tournament run set up the Dukies to get the number one overall seed in the next week’s NCAA Tournament.
As confetti rained down from the rafters, it symbolized more than Duke winning the ACC Tournament… again. It culminated a weeklong celebration of basketball in the Queen City of Charlotte, NC. Let’s face it- the tournament the week after is the one that really matters. After all, that tournament- March Madness- is what a lot of Americans associate with March more than any other annual tradition. And still somehow, the ACC fans still find a way to cheer their hearts out at this tournament. Why? Well for starters, the ACC Tournament trophy is still a nice one to have. This is both due to the history of the tournament and the quality of teams that participate. When you have every team from the greatest conference coming together at one place, it’s tough not to catch the basketball fever.
The Atlantic Coast Conference has changed, and with it so has its postseason tournament. Instead of being a weekend event, it’s now an almost weeklong event. Instead of a field of eight local teams, it’s now a field of 15 teams across 10 different states. Instead of an annual event in Greensboro, it moves along the eastern seaboard year-by-year. As they say, it’s not your daddy’s ACC anymore. ACC Tournaments in North Carolina are no longer a given. The event has recently been held in Brooklyn, Washington and Atlanta to name a few. However, what this does create is a certain unmistakable joy from North Carolinians fueled by both basketball fandom and nostalgia when they see their beloved tournament come home. Although Greensboro is what many purists consider to be the “real” home of the ACC Tournament, having it 90 minutes down the road is close enough for most. Having this tournament in Charlotte may very well be a look into the future. The beautiful Spectrum Center allows it to be held at a world-class venue in a world-class city. Let’s face it- Greensboro is not the financial jackpot for the league that Charlotte is. It allows fans to stay in gorgeous uptown Charlotte and experience all the nightlife and attractions the Queen City has to offer. It’s a 21st century lo type of location for the business-oriented landscape of today’s college basketball. Holding the ACC Tournament in Charlotte is most definitely the best way for the ACC to make a smart financial decision to set up the league’s future economic success while staying true to its Tobacco Road roots.
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