Playing in the first ACC tournament game of his career, Coron Williams had a lot in common with everyone else at the Greensboro Coliseum on Wednesday. He didn’t know quite what to expect and no one else did, either.
The supplemented and expanded ACC tournament now stretches over five days, necessitating a midweek start. Wednesday required some adjustment from just about everyone, not just Williams.
The Wake Forest guard, a graduate transfer from Robert Morris, has played in Northeast Conference tournaments, but it was his first taste of an ACC tournament.
“The atmosphere, it’s a lot different,” Williams said. “It’s lot of people. Usually, in an NEC game, there’s not this many fans. I would say definitely the atmosphere is different, a much different vibe.”
Williams wouldn’t know any better, but he’s right. It was a much different vibe. There was something jarring about the stage set up behind one basket, awaiting a Scotty McCreery concert between the day’s second and third games, not to mention the curtain blocking out most of the upper-deck seats.
The Black Curtain of Doom was notably associated with the grim nights when the vagabond Carolina Hurricanes played before crowds of teeming hundreds while awaiting their forever home in Raleigh. It has not to date had anything to do with the ACC tournament, at least the men’s version.
And yet fans filled most of the available seats, making for a better atmosphere than some Thursdays in recent years. Some wore the colors of schools that won’t make an appearance here until Friday, all sharing a common sentiment: It’s Wednesday, so what the heck am I doing at the ACC tournament already?
Such are the consequences of expansion. With each batch of teams that join the league, it takes a little while longer to whittle down the tournament field, and the opening days of the tournament get a bit odder, a little more detached.
It isn’t the first time the ACC tournament has taken place on a Wednesday – in 1978, the first two rounds of the tournament were held Wednesday and Thursday, with the two finalists taking Friday off before playing Saturday – but it is the first time the tournament has lasted five days, a marathon by anyone’s standards.
For many recent years, at least since Florida State came aboard, the tournament kicked off with the eighth and ninth seeds playing a lone game on Thursday night, the so-called Les Robinson Invitational. (Robinson’s teams appeared in that game in each of his final four seasons at N.C. State.)
The modern Les Robinson Invitational now spans seven games covering two days. It’s practically a tournament in itself: By the time Friday rolls around, seven of the league’s 15 teams are on their way home before Virginia and Syracuse and Duke and North Carolina have even taken the court in Greensboro.
The ACC, aware that three new Wednesday games featuring the conference’s six worst teams might not be a particularly attractive addition to the tournament ticket book, threw open the doors with general-admission seating (the side visible to television cameras was filled first) and a mid-day concert by Bojangles’ spokesman McCreery.
After Miami and Virginia Tech narrowly avoided overtime that might have significantly delayed or abridged McCreery’s show, he bounced onto stage and shouted: “What’s going on, ACC tournament?”
McCreery wore an Elvis T-shirt during his 11-song, 44-minute set. Earlier in the day, the N.C. State fan from Garner arrived at the arena in Wolfpack gear from head to toe. His team will be here Thursday night, when the ACC tournament as we know it begins.