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Friday, March 15, 2013

We do the math: The 14 greatest ACC Tournaments ever

Posted by on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 10:52 AM

2013 ACC Tournament
Today is quarterfinal Friday of the ACC Tournament in Greensboro. The wheat has been sorted from the chaff and only the top eight teams remain, thanks to a no-upset first round on Thursday.

It's a good time to indulge in some nostalgia, because this is the last iteration of the ACC Tournament in which the league's remaining seven original members constitute a majority of participants. After Maryland departs, only six of the original schools (the Big Four plus Virginia and Clemson) will remain, and there are expected to be three and perhaps four new members on board next year.

But it's been a pretty good run the last 59 years, even if the tournament has lost prestige and interest in the past generation. Here's a look at your top 14 most exciting tournaments (the top 10, plus ties) from 1954 to 2012, presented in chronological order.

The criteria used here are simple: how many games in the tournament were decided in overtime or by three points or less in regulation, as a percentage of total tournament games?

Note this interesting pattern: if you think the tournament has gotten duller over the years, it has. The proportion of nailbiting tournament games has fallen since the late 1980s, with occasional exception.

1954: Four of seven. State topped Wake in overtime 82-80 to get the ball rolling on this event.
1957: Three of seven. Highlight: Carolina's still-controversial win over Wake in the semifinal, 61-59.
1959: Four of seven. Eventual champion NCSU had to survive a double-overtime game vs. South Carolina in the first round.
1967: Four of seven. Eventual champion UNC survived State by three in the quarterfinal; Wake and Clemson played a double-OT quarterfinal.
1968: Three of seven. State 12, Duke 10 in a semifinal pre-shot clock "classic." North Carolina topped South Carolina in OT in the other semifinal.
1970: Four of seven. NCSU beat South Carolina 42-39 in double overtime in the final.
1975: Four of six. Total cumulative margin of victory for the six games: 20 points. UNC won overtime games against both Wake and Clemson before topping State by four in the final, with freshman Phil Ford claiming MVP honors.
1981: Three of seven. Carolina squeaked out one point wins over Wake in the semifinal and Maryland in the final.
1982: Three of seven. All three close games involved Ralph Sampson and Virginia, who nipped Clemson by two in the first round, topped Wake in OT by two in the semifinal, then lost by two to UNC in the final.
1983: Three of seven. This time all three close games involved champions NCSU. The Pack beat Wake by one, UNC in OT, and then Virginia by three in the final.
1984: Three of seven. Coach K now owns the event, but it was in 1984 he got his first two wins, by two apiece over Georgia Tech and UNC, before losing to Maryland in the final.
1986: Three of seven. Duke wins the title for the first time under Coach K, by one over Georgia Tech in the final.
1987: Five of seven. An incredible tournament in Landover, Md. including two double-overtime games in the semifinals. State beat Duke and then Wake in OT, before topping Carolina by one to win Jim Valvano's second league title.
2004: Five of eight. After a long hiatus, a truly exciting tournament capped by Maryland's surprise overtime win over Duke in the final.

Since then several tournaments have had four of 11 games meet the closeness criteria. The 2012 edition probably merits an honorable mention, as both semifinals and the final were decided by three points or less, with FSU holding off UNC for its first conference title.

Your all-time most exciting ACC Tournament? 1987. The close runner-up is 1975. Both events featured Carolina-State finals, and both finals were upsets.

Will anything exciting happen in 2013? Maybe even yet another Carolina-State final? We shall see.

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If you think the ACC Tournament has gotten duller over the years, it has. The proportion of nailbiting tournament games has fallen since the late 1980s, with occasional exception.

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