With apologies to the Christmas season and its fans, this is the most wonderful time of the year - if you're a college basketball fan. The ACC basketball tournament starts today, and work productivity, not to mention book learnin' in the public schools, will nosedive for a couple of days. Talk about tidings of jump shots and joy.
Yeah, yeah, we know the ACC Tournament isn't what it used to be. UNC Coach Roy Williams blasphemously called it the world's biggest cocktail party because it lacks the season-ending implications it had before the NCAA expanded its number of tournament entrants.
Raymond Chevalier Waters disagrees, but only slightly. "It's more than a cocktail party, but the whole thing has been watered down," he said. "Winning the regular-season championship is not a big deal anymore. Losing in the tournament is not the end of the world because nobody is going to have to go home" if they deserve to get into the NCAA.
"The magic of the ACC Tournament was that only one team would advance," he said when I spoke with him Wednesday. "You want to talk about pressure. We'd have three or four teams in the Top 10 but only one could go on. The jeopardy isn't there anymore."
Waters, better known as Bucky, is a septuagenarian who still looks better in a turtleneck than you or I ever will. He was a player at N.C. State and an assistant and head coach at Duke, back when the jeopardy was seemingly felt with each possession and one bad shot could end a team's dream season. He was an assistant coach at eighth-ranked Duke in 1965 when it was upset in the tournament by N.C. State and went home.
No one under age 40 can imagine the nation's No. 8 team not making the NCAA Tournament, but Waters, surprisingly, thinks it was better that way.
"Duke and North Carolina were against the expansion," he said. "I still am. I don't see anything positive in it."
Anthony Myles does, but he still prefers the tournament the way it used to be. Myles, a Durham librarian who starred at Arkansas State University in the late 1970s and missed the NCAA Tournament when his team lost in the Southland Conference finals, said, "From a fan's standpoint, I like the way it is now because you have a better chance of seeing your favorite team play. From a player's standpoint, I like the one-and-done because it makes the tournament games more competitive."
One good thing about that big cocktail party beginning today in Greensboro, though: Even the worst teams in the ACC can dream about going on a magical run and making the NCAA Tournament. At least, that is, until the final buzzer sounds and wakes them up.
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