More than a cocktail party

It's still one of the coolest tickets in college sports, where you know to predict the unpredictable, and a sure bet to stir up controversy.

There is something about the men’s ACC basketball tournament that's pretty unique.

A North Carolina native, I have seen up close how this state comes to a virtual stop for the tradition-filled half week each year in March. Growing up in Raleigh, I lived for the ACC tournament each spring. My brother and I would get to switch off attending each year, as my dad would buy two books and one of us would get to go with him to Greensboro for the four-day event.

If it wasn’t my year to go, you can bet I was in school with the rest of my class huddled around the TV watching the games the same way you'd gather around for a shuttle launch or white smoke in Vatican City. It was part of the curriculum in North Carolina.

Today though, people argue the tournament isn’t what it used to be in the 90’s.

And let’s not forgot Roy Williams’ famous line uttered in 2008.

“It’s a great cocktail party, a big party for all of the fans.”

There may be a few good ‘ole boys present talking politics and argyle sweaters all while loving the networking of the four-day affair more than the basketball being played, but don’t downplay the legendary event as if it were playing East Carolina in December.

Here's why:

The ACC Tournament is where experience still matters and senior leadership shines in a game often dominated by one-and-done.

It's how "Survive and Advance" was created. Without the ACC Tournament, Jimmy V might never have gotten a National Championship ring.

It’s the five, six, seven and eight seeds that made it to Saturday, are running on empty, but still giving it all they've got, determined to prove they’re not NIT material.

It’s that one player getting so possessed that he goes 12-of-15 from the field, grabs 11 boards, and plays all 40 minutes... for three games straight, fighting to get his team a NCAA berth.

It’s Tobacco Road rivalry at its best, meaning terrific upsets, epic heartbreaks, and survival of the fittest mentality in full force. It's what's left of the magic of the Dixie Classic, and it's a tournament that remembers how Everett Case brought big time basketball to the Atlantic Coast.

Sure, the ACC Tournament doesn't (yet) have the glam of Madison Square Garden, and it will never outweigh the importance of the regular season. But it still matters. Just don’t ask Roy Williams.

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