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ACC Tourney: Championship Chat

#1 UVA vs. #3 Duke

This matchup was a tantalizing one. The Blue Devils staved off a game Cavalier attack earlier on in the season, but it was in the cozy confines of Cameron Indoor. This time, the venue was Greensboro Coliseum with an ACC title and a potential one seed in the NCAA Tournament on the line.

Additionally, a win would give Virginia its first ACC Tournament championship since 1976. That’s a really, really long time ago. As for Duke, a victory would mean a 20th championship. Ho hum.

But man. The atmosphere was electric. The Cavalier fans came out in force. It was impressive. And they had a lot to get excited about early. Malcolm Brogdon was connecting early and the Cavaliers jumped out to a 9-2 lead. The Cavalier defense was a treat to watch.

The Blue Devils started to settle in a bit, but SHOCKINGLY, with 11:57 to play in the first half, Duke had yet to attempt a three-pointer. Something is just flat out wrong with that statement, but it’s truth.

But Duke’s defense had arrived. They held Virginia without a field goal for eight minutes. Granted, UVA couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean from the beach, to steal a Roy Williams saying.

Coach K was called for a technical foul that rallied the crowd into a frenzy. K was pleading his case to the refs, unsure why he received the foul.

At the half, it was Virginia holding the 28-25 advantage over Duke. The Blue Devils were shooting 30 percent from the floor while the Cavaliers were firing at 35 percent as a team.

Brogdon was leading the scoring charge for UVA with nine points. Jabari Parker scored a team-leading eight points for Duke.

The second half was underway and with it, more monstrous defensive plays by Akill Mitchell. The guy is an absolute terror to try to shoot around.

Another thing I noticed was that Duke was going to the rim A LOT more in the second half. The aggression was certainly paying off. The Blue Devils tied the game with 12 minutes to play in the contest.

And the Duke team started to turn into a one-man band. The ‘Jabari Show’ had taken over. The man is a beast – tomahawk jams and athletic steals and blocks. And if this was to be the freshman’s final ACC game, wow, he put on a display to remember.

One of the troubling aspects of the game for the Cavaliers was at the free throw line. Virginia had already missed 11 foul shots at the 5:49 mark to go.

But all in all, it was a TEAM effort from the Cavaliers. And it carried them to the finish line and the championship trophy to the delight of the Wahoos in attendance. Now, that’s both an ACC regular season and tournament title for UVA. Think they’re deserving of a NCAA one seed now? Respect.

FINAL: UVA 72 – Duke 63

No. 15 Tar Heels Embark on ACC Title Quest in Greensboro

The No. 15 North Carolina basketball team will begin its quest for an 18th ACC Tournament title Friday afternoon at approximately 2:30 p.m. at the Greensboro Coliseum.

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Head Coach Roy Williams speaks on his March Madness mentality.

“I’m one of those guys that operate on dreams and goals. That’s what I do. I don’t operate on sorrow. I do have big-time dreams and goals all the time. At tournament time, that’s where you can reach those dreams. Be led by your dreams, not pushed by your problems. We’ve all got problems, but this time of year I think you should be really enthused about your hope – what you might be able to do,” Coach Williams says.

Before Carolina gets to the Big Dance, the ACC party beckons.

Coach Williams says there’s really no tried and true predictor when it comes to equating ACC tournament success with NCAA runs. But he does believe good preparation always helps.

“My teams have taken me to seven Final Fours, and we’ve run the conference tournament one time out of those seven. I don’t think there’s a great correlation between winning, but I do think there’s a great correlation between playing well – that you gained some confidence. I think playing well does help,” Coach Williams says.

Sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto says he thinks this nearly week-long break since the regular season finale at Duke, has allowed his teammates to get healthy and regain the winning mindset back.

“Our guys will be back healthy. Our mindset should be set back to where we want it to be,” Tokoto says.

The Tar Heels will certainly be gunning for a fast start in the quarterfinal round. UNC is a perfect 17-0 when leading at halftime this season.

Tokoto soars (Todd Melet)

Tokoto soars (Todd Melet)

Brice Johnson has been playing well of late on both sides of the floor. He hopes to continue his upward trajectory this weekend in Greensboro.

But Johnson says the key for the Tar Heels to regain their ‘mojo’ begins and ends with defense.

“Just remember how we started it at the beginning of that winning streak. We were clicking on all cylinders. We have to remember how we did that. […] It starts on defense – everybody getting to the right spots and doing the right things,” Johnson says.

Carolina has been to the ACC Championship game a record 32 times. Number 33 on Sunday would definitely do wonders for UNC’s seeding on the NCAA Selection Show later that evening.

But it all starts with Friday’s quarterfinal round. The Tar Heels own a 41-12 overall record in that stage of the Tournament.

Recharged Tar Heels Hoping To Save The Best For Last

The No. 15 Tar Heels have been busy recharging and refocusing for the stretch run that is March, full of tournament action that begins this week with the battle for the conference title.

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Sophomore forward J.P. Tokoto, who was named to All-ACC Defensive Team earlier this week, says the Tar Heels need to get back to the form they displayed in their 12-game winning streak.

“Ending out the regular season at Duke is pretty tough. No one wants to lose that game. But we did go on a 12-game winning streak before that. Leading into the ACC Tournament, we kind of look at those 12 wins and get back to what we were doing in those 12 wins and not so much in the Duke game,” Tokoto says.

Head Coach Roy Williams says he hopes his team isn’t satisfied with its recent regular season success and is instead, saving its best for last.

“Generally speaking, kids do get more enthused at tournament time. I’m pretty straightforward with them. I say, ‘Hey, we turned it around, but let’s not look back and say the highlight of our season is a three to four-week period in February,” Coach Williams says.

Coach Williams addressing the crowd (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams addressing the crowd (Todd Melet)

The offensive firepower of this year’s Carolina squad hasn’t been nearly as potent as in year’s past. Tokoto says that’s why the defensive side of things has become such a high priority.

“We don’t have as many offensive weapons as last year, but we still have guys that can put the ball in the basket when needed. Our defense has been way better than it was last year. We did lose some firepower, but I feel like we gained a lot of defensive intensity,” Tokoto says.

Tokoto says he’s hoping Carolina’s double bye into the quarterfinals will give the Tar Heels the fresher legs against a possibly fatigued opponent on Friday.

“I think it’s nice not to play as many games. Whoever we’re playing probably has played a game or two. They probably have some banged up guys or some fatigue. It will be interesting to see how that plays out,” Tokoto says.

Carolina sports a 90-42 all-time record in the ACC Tournament, but has only a 4-5 record as a No. 4 seed. UNC will be aiming to improve that record as a No. 4 seed this year and hoist up its first ACC championship trophy since 2008.

Washington, D.C. To Host 2016 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament

GREENSBORO – The 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference Basketball Tournament will be held at Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center, ACC commissioner John Swofford announced Wednesday.

“We are excited to bring the ACC Tournament back to the nation’s capital in 2016,” Swofford said. “Verizon Center is a tremendous showcase for our event, and the Washington, D.C. area is an appealing tourist destination for our member institutions, as well as the alumni and fans of our teams. We received a lot of positive feedback after our 2005 Tournament in Washington, and we look forward to duplicating that success in 2016.”

The 20,000-seat Verizon Center previously hosted the 2005 ACC Tournament. The Washington metropolitan area also welcomed the ACC in 1976, 1981 and 1987, when the tournament was held at the Capital Centre in Landover, Md. The 14-game 2016 tournament will open Wednesday, March 9 and continue through Sunday, March 13.

“Verizon Center is thrilled to once again host the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament in Washington D.C.,” said David Touhey, Verizon Center SVP & General Manager. “The nation’s capital serves as the perfect site for the championship tournament of such a prestigious conference. We thank the ACC for selecting us and look forward to hosting another successful tournament in March 2016.”

Located in the heart of downtown Washington, D.C., Verizon Center serves as home to the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the NHL’s Washington Capitals, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the NCAA’s Georgetown Hoyas men’s basketball team.

The arena has hosted a multitude of high-profile events in its history, ranging from the 1998 Stanley Cup Final to the NBA (2001) and WNBA (2002, 2007) All-Star games to the 2003 World Figure Skating Championship, the 2005 ACC Tournament, the first and second rounds of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament (1998, 2002, 2008) as well as the second and third rounds (2011), the Washington Regional Round (2006, 2013) and the 2009 NCAA Frozen Four men’s hockey championship.

Verizon Center also hosts a variety of concerts and family shows ranging from all-time greats to current-day chart-topping artists. In the 15 year history of the arena some of the artists who have mastered the stage include: U2, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Coldplay, The Three Tenors, Barbra Streisand, Bon Jovi, Prince, Beyonce, the Dalai Lama, Tina Turner, Keith Urban, Disney on Ice and WWE.

Amenities within the arena include 106 luxury suites, a high-definition center-hung scoreboard, an indoor basketball practice facility and 10 dressing rooms. The arena offers a variety of concession stands and restaurants, including kosher, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

The ACC Tournament has been held in seven different cities and 11 venues since the inaugural event in March of 1954. The Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum is set to serve as host in 2014 and 2015.

ACC Excitement Runs High On Franklin Street

CHAPEL HILL- Downtown Partnership Executive Director Meg McGurk says the energy level is high on Franklin Street during the ACC tournament.

“I think that the biggest thing that happens is that people want to be out and celebrating when the Heels are playing in the Tournament,” says McGurk. “In the evening people want to go out and eat and drink downtown before and they want to get a good spot for watching on TV, and that’s a great boost for our downtown businesses.”

And she says that enthusiasm extends beyond restaurants and bars.

“People also like to get new Carolina gear, a new t-shirt, a sweat shirt or a hat. That’s a boost for our Carolina fan gear shops as well.”

McGurk says fans come downtown seeking more than just a spot in front of the many flat-screened TV’s broadcasting the game. They come for camaraderie.

“I think when it is a tournament like this, there’s a little more excitement. People want to be on Franklin Street when the Heels win, because that’s where the celebration is that’s where the camaraderie is, and that’s where you find the stranger who becomes a friend because they’re also a Carolina fan.”

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Men’s Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. Semi-final games tip off Saturday at 1 p.m and 3 p.m. Sunday’s championship game gets underway at 1 p.m. You can catch the Learfield Sports pre-game coverage on WHCL starting at noon.

In Chapel Hill, March Madness Is Big Business

CHAPEL HILL – March Madness is officially under way in Chapel Hill, with the Tar Heels set to begin ACC Tournament play Friday night—and across town, local restaurants and sports bars are preparing for a big weekend.

“We’re definitely looking for a crowd,” says Patrick Cowden, the executive chef at the new Tobacco Road Sports Café at East 54. “We’re adding a few extra seats, definitely having a nice full staff ready to take on anybody who wants to come and spend the day watching ACC basketball…

“We’ve got over 50 TVs, (so) any kind of tournament, any kind of game you want to see, we’ll definitely have it on.”

Tobacco Road has other locations in the Triangle, but this is the first ACC tourney for its new home in Chapel Hill.

And while the staff at Tobacco Road gets ready for its first ACC tournament experience, longtime institutions like Top of the Hill on Franklin Street are gearing up as well.

“What’s interesting about the ACC tourney is, you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” says Top of the Hill proprietor Scott Maitland. “Because it’s spring break, it gets a little bit of a different crowd than we normally would for a game–but it’s something that we definitely have to stay flexible on and prepare for big crowds.”

The ACC tourney provides a sizable economic boost for local businesses like Topo and Tobacco Road, though the NCAA tournament tends to be an even bigger moneymaker. Still, it’s going to be an exciting weekend—especially with St. Patrick’s Day falling on Sunday.

“We’ll definitely have our Irish on for the weekend–plenty of corned beef and cabbage and reubens and Guinness in the house as well,” says Cowden. (So if you happen to have any Carolina green gear, now’s the time to pull it out.)

The Tar Heels begin their run through the ACC Friday night at 9:00 pm. It’s ACC quarterfinal day: WCHL will broadcast all four games from the Greensboro Coliseum, beginning with pregame coverage at 11:00 a.m. before Miami takes on Boston College at noon. At 5:00 Ron Stutts and Art Chansky will be live from Bailey’s Sports Grille for a special one-hour edition of Countdown to Tipoff, presented by Harrington Bank.