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March 11, 2004

by Mac McDonald

Former Virginia assistant basketball coach Dave Odom, who took over the reigns of the Wake forest basketball program in the nineties, hated the “play in game.” He disliked the name, the stigma that surrounded it, the label…it was a game that said your regular season wasn’t very good. When Florida State entered the ACC for the ’91-’92 campaign and the brethren went to nine teams it was important to keep the ACC tournament healthy. League officials wanted the opening night of their basketball spectacle to be special and to make sure fans showed up. The ACC tried the #1 seed versus the #9 seed for a while…as a matter of fact Virginia lost to Duke twice in that game by lopsided margins. The Thursday night match-up was even called “the opening round”. For six straight years North Carolina State competed in the Thursday night affair, and the name “Les Robinson Invitational” surfaced since the Wolfpack played in the game from 1993 to 1998…and it was affectionately tagged for the former NC State coach.

Odom used to say there was too much pressure by the fans to stay out of that Thursday game, and the whole idea of being in the opening round carried a negative connotation.

Well, say good-bye to the play-in game after tonight. Next year when the ACC expands to 11 teams there will be three games on Thursday, one in the afternoon and two at night. Quarterfinal Friday…or “Bloody Friday” as Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski likes to refer to it…. will stay the same. Three winners will advance to the second day as is life in the Big Ten…which is really the Big Eleven.

According to ACC Commissioner John Swofford, who appeared on our special talk show on Wednesday night, when Boston College finally slips into ACC country the tournament format will take on the look of the current one used by the Big East-four games Thursday, called the First Round, four games Friday termed the Quarterfinals, and so on and so forth. One topic that was thrown out last night with Swofford was the number of games during the regular season. Now comes another debate. Some coaches are in favor of a complete round robin format, “home and home” with everyone which means 20 league games instead of just 16 which is currently on the docket. When BC begins play, each team would play 22 league games.


I like the 22 league games personally, and I think the fans would be all for that. Yes, it cuts down on non-conference games and possible TV positioning in December, but I don’t think it would have much effect on RPI, Sagarin, and all the things that are used to determine your application into the NCAA Tournament. The ACC is going to hold it’s own anyway and stay in the forefront of the college basketball landscape. Stay tuned.

We do know this. After tonight the stigma of the play-in game will turn into a three game Thursday with the #6 seed playing #11, #8 versus #9, and #7 meeting #10. The top five teams will be bracketed on Friday in the quarters, with #4 versus #5, and the other seeds waiting to see who wins on Thursday. As an example, yesterday Virginia Tech was in the #8-#9 game in the Big East. They won, and will face #1 seed Pittsburgh today.

With all of that said, Virginia meets Clemson tonight in the lone Thursday play-in game…. or the opening round…. or whatever you want to call it, in the 51st annual ACC Tournament. For UVA, the players, the coaches, and the fans, it is one of the biggest games of the year. Virginia has not won an ACC game since 1995.

For us radio guys, it gets pretty old folding the tent early with the only thing to look forward to is warm beer in the hospitality room.

Have a great tournament!!

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