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 two-year run in New York City as the ACC tries to claim some ownership in the country’s largest media market. It will be the 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 — especially at the University of North Carolina.
Tar Heels greats such as Billy Cunningham, Kenny Smith and Charlie Scott, the first black scholarship player at North Carolina, 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 lured star point guard Kenny Anderson from Queens to the ACC and later pulled Stephon Marbury from Brooklyn.
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. Of course, this ACC looks a lot different from the one Smith coached in for 36 years.
The conference 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 five 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 tournament 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.
Things to watch for when the ACC comes to the Big Apple:
BACK-TO-BACK: No. 5 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 Florida State, third-seeded Notre Dame and No. 4 seed Louisville, get a double-bye into the quarterfinals and don’t play until Thursday. The Tar Heels will face the winner of a Wednesday second-round game between Syracuse and Miami.
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.
This will be Syracuse’s second trip to Barclays this season.
“It really helped us a lot against South Carolina,” Boeheim said sarcastically about the Orange’s 64-50 loss to South Carolina in November. “Fans haven’t scored any points in any games I’ve ever been to. We need to go down and play well. That’s what will help.”
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.
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