Why Washington? ACC flexes muscles in big basketball market
Mar. 08, 2016
WASHINGTON (AP) — Down the street from teams that play in the Big Ten and Atlantic 10, and inside the arena that hosts Big East basketball for several months a year, the Atlantic Coast Conference is flexing its muscles.
The ACC doesn't have a so-called home team for its tournament this week at Verizon Center. In Maryland's backyard, with Virginia and Virginia Tech the closest teams, the conference is ready to put on a show away from its usual home site in North Carolina.
The ACC Tournament has been held in North Carolina 51 of the past 62 years. A return to Washington this year before two stops in Brooklyn is a signal that the conference is confident it can succeed on its own merits, without needing a particular host school to drive interest.
"I think you could take this tournament a lot of places and it would be successful because people recognize the history and tradition, the great players, the coaches, the name-brand basketball programs that we're fortunate enough to have in the ACC," commissioner John Swofford said. "In a lot of ways (Washington is) more centric to our geographic footprint than it was the previous times when we were a smaller league."
Washington is hosting the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2005, when Maryland was a focal point. The Terrapins lost in the first round, which Swofford said "didn't negatively impact the tournament at all from an attendance standpoint or obviously a competitive standpoint."
Maryland decided to leave the ACC for the Big Ten well before the decision was made to hold the 2016 tournament in Washington. Virginia Tech guard Seth Allen, a Maryland transfer who grew up in Northern Virginia, is glad he can play close to home but finds the timing strange.
"Growing up watching Maryland always being in the ACC and it finally comes (back) to the city, to the heart and soul of it and then they leave," Allen said. "I'm glad it's not in Greensboro. That's for sure. Every time I played in Greensboro, we played North Carolina teams and it felt like a road game."
Greensboro Coliseum has hosted 26 ACC Tournaments, and its proximity to North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest makes it popular. Coaches of those teams would love for the ACC tournament to be there every year.
Roy Williams of the top-seeded Tar Heels made it clear Monday he doesn't care. But if he had to choose, he likes the setup in Greensboro.
"Greensboro people, everybody in town knows the ACC tournament's there," Williams said. "There's going to be people in Washington, they're going to be watching the debates. And that's good, they should be. But no, I don't care."
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried prefers the closeness of so many schools to Greensboro and worried about what it'll be like so far away at Barclays Center in a year.
"I think D.C. and Brooklyn are going to be a little harder for a lot of our fans," Gottfried said. "I kind of always liked Greensboro, having done it now for a number of years."
But Washington is an attractive market because it's a basketball hotbed — even if the local teams don't play in the ACC. League and arena officials pointed out that the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday sessions never had tickets offered to the public because everything was sold out.
"With no local team — Virginia is the closest — I think you are looking at the different alumni bases and fan bases that exist here, and they're strong," Verizon Center senior vice president and general manager Dave Touhey said. "There's a strong Duke alumni base, there's a strong UNC alumni base, there's a strong Syracuse alumni base. Most, if not all, of the colleges have strong alumni bases here in the area."
Verizon Center will be the first arena to host three different conference tournaments in as many years with the Big Ten in town next year and the Atlantic 10 in 2017.
Right now, it's show time for the ACC. Miami coach Jim Larranaga said home-court advantage was strong in the ACC this season, something that won't be as much of a factor this week at a truly neutral site.
"Despite the fact that the ACC tournament is in Washington, D.C., the tickets are basically distributed pretty equally, so although I think the Virginia teams do have the advantage, it won't be like playing them on their home court," Larranaga said.
Swofford expects balanced but passionate crowds through the title game Saturday. Carolina is always on players, coaches and officials' minds, but Virginia Tech's Buzz Williams said he'll go wherever the conference has the tournament.
"When it is in Greensboro, I kind of know what that's about because I grew up in that environment," Wake Forest coach Danny Manning said. "But this is something a little bit different for us. But it's still the ACC tournament, still going to garner a lot of attention and generate a lot of energy."
AP Basketball Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, contributed to this report.