ATLANTA — Welcome to the Blue Devil-Tar Heel Invitational.
Sure, the official name is the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, but Duke and North Carolina have turned college basketball’s hallowed postseason shindig into nothing more than an exclusive showcase for the Big Two.
The ACC’s powerhouse programs have divvied up 14 of the past 15 tournament titles, with Duke winning 10 of them.
From all indications, it will be more of the same when this year’s tournament begins today.
No. 4 North Carolina (27-4, 14-2 ACC) captured the regular-season title, routing sixth-ranked Duke (26-5, 13-3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium last weekend to clinch the championship. But the Blue Devils have been the king of the tournament, winning three in a row and 19 times overall – two more than the Tar Heels.
“It does get a little repetitive,” said Boston College’s Ryan Anderson, only a freshman but not so young he doesn’t know how things usually work in the ACC.
Maryland is the lone team outside of Tobacco Road’s power couple to win the tournament since 1997, knocking off the Blue Devils in the championship game eight long years ago.
“Everybody is trying to win,” North Carolina State forward Scott Wood said. “I don’t think we just gave it to them 14 of the last 15 years. But those are really good teams and they play really well this time of year.”
In some ways, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is greater than ever, with numerous ACC schools in a state of transition.
Only one school, No. 17 Florida State (21-9, 12-4), stayed anywhere close to the pace set by the front-runners.
No one else had more than nine conference wins, and the bottom half of the league was especially dreadful.
Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech are headed for losing seasons, while Clemson and Maryland are barely above the .500 mark.
Beyond the top three, Virginia (22-8, 9-7) is the only other ACC school that seems assured of an NCAA bid. North Carolina State (20-11, 9-7) and Miami (18-11, 9-7) are most definitely on the bubble, needing at least another win and maybe two to nudge their way into the field of 68.
The Wolfpack will open against Boston College (9-21, 4-12), while the Hurricanes are paired with hometown Georgia Tech (11-19, 4-12), which struggled mightily in Brian Gregory’s first season as coach.
but should at least be familiar with the surroundings. The Yellow Jackets used Philips Arena as a temporary home while their campus arena underwent a massive renovation.