Tobacco Road intersects Flatbush Avenue as ACC comes to NYC
By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Tobacco Road intersects with Flatbush Avenue this week when the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament comes to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
College basketball’s most storied conference begins a five-day run in New York city Tuesday as the 15-team ACC tries to claim some ownership of the country’s largest media market.
“With the footprint we now have it’s natural for us to come here in terms of the great basketball history and tradition that is here in Brooklyn and throughout New York City and the number of coaches and players that have come into our league, long before this was a part of our actual geographic footprint,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said Monday.
The games start Tuesday with a tripleheader of the league’s low-tier teams. On a chilly Monday at the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue, the ACC schools’ costumed mascots danced to hip-hop in front of Barclays and posed for pictures with passers-by before taking a subway ride. The Brooklyn Borough President’s office proclaimed this ACC Tournament Week.
This is first time the ACC Tournament has been played north of the Mason-Dixon Line, though the conference’s ties to New York city run deep. As Swofford pointed out, Brooklyn was the birthplace of Michael Jordan.
Other North Carolina greats such as Billy Cunningham, Kenny Smith and Charlie Scott, the first black scholarship player for the Tar Heels, were native New Yorkers, as was Hall of Famer Frank McGuire, the coach who preceded Dean Smith in Chapel Hill.
In the 1990s, Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, born in the Bronx, lured star point guard Kenny Anderson from Queens to the ACC and later pulled Stephon Marbury from Brooklyn to Atlanta.
Since the ACC Tournament started in 1954, it has only been held outside of the state of North Carolina 12 times, with Washington the northernmost site. Greensboro, North Carolina, has been by far the most frequent ACC host and the tournament is scheduled to be back there in 2020 after one more visit to Brooklyn next year.
“I think that I love Greensboro and what they do, the whole town knows what’s going on,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “In New York, the whole town won’t know what’s going on with the ACC Tournament but still I think it’s a wonderful venue and one that the kids will really be happy about if they play well. If they play poorly, they won’t care.”
The ACC began its northern expansion in 2005 when it added Boston College, the third of three schools it lured away from the Big East, along with Miami and Virginia Tech.
Then in 2013 and ’14, the ACC raided the Big East again, adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville. For years, those schools would come to New York to play their conference tournament in Madison Square Garden. The seven former Big East schools in the ACC claim 11 tournament championships from their old conference, including four by Syracuse and coach Jim Boeheim.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino grew up in New York and coached in the Big East twice, first with Providence.
“I’m used to Madison Square Garden, I’m not sure how it will be in Brooklyn,” Pitino said. “The Big East was always pretty much a home crowd for Syracuse, Connecticut and when St. John’s was good, certainly. Georgetown and Villanova would bring their contingent of fans.”
Defending national champion Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s and the rest of the new-look Big East is still holding court at the Garden, which is several subway stops away from Barclays.
So the ACC brokered a deal with Barclays and the Atlantic-10, which has been holding its tournament at the home of the NBA’s Nets, to bring its showcase event to Brooklyn.
A little like last year’s NCAA final, when Villanova beat North Carolina, the ACC and Big East will go head to head this week in New York.
“I think New York’s big enough for both of us,” Swofford said.
Things to watch for when the ACC comes to the Big Apple:
BACK-TO-BACK: No. 6 North Carolina will try to become the first repeat ACC Tournament champion since Duke in 2011. The Tar Heels come to Brooklyn as the top-seed and a successful weekend at Barclays could make them a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
North Carolina, along with second-seeded and No. 16 Florida State, third-seeded and No. 22 Notre Dame and fourth-seeded and No. 10 Louisville, get a double-bye into the quarterfinals and don’t play until Thursday.
NCAA OUTLOOK: The ACC figures to have plenty of representation in the NCAA field of 68, with an outside shot of matching the record of 11 bids by the Big East in in 2011.
At least eight ACC teams seem like locks. No. 14 Duke, Virginia Tech, Miami and No. 21 Virginia all look safely in the field, along with the top four ACC seeds. Among those on the bubble are Syracuse, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
Tenth-seeded Wake Forest plays the second of three games on Tuesday against No. 15 Boston College. No. 11 Georgia Tech plays Tuesday night against Pitt, the 14 seed.
ACC AWARDS: North Carolina forward Justin Jackson was named The Associated Press ACC player of the year on Monday. Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner was voted coach of the year. North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith was newcomer of the year. Jackson was also one of three unanimous selections to the AP’s All-ACC team.
AP sports writers Joedy McCreary in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Gary Graves in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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