ACC Tourney Time: Have Patience, Tar Heel Fans

As the 59th annual ACC tournament—the granddaddy of them all!—takes place in Atlanta this weekend, Carolina basketball fans can feel confident about their team’s prospects for winning the program’s 18th conference tournament championship. Last Saturday night’s drubbing of archrival Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium provided plenty of proof that the Tar Heels are prepared for March.

But, as Adam Lucas, columnist for and author of Carolina Basketball: A Century of Excellence, reminded us after the recent Duke game, in college basketball circumstances can change quickly.

As always, Adam will be offering dispatches from this year’s tournament for As he does so, it’s important for Heels fans to remember what he tells us in Carolina Basketball: while the ACC tournament is important to fans and programs for many reasons, winning on Sunday doesn’t necessarily lead to ultimate success at end of season. Of the last three Tar Heels’ NCAA championship runs, none started by winning the ACC tournament:

  • In 1993, the year of Dean Smith’s second national championship, Carolina lost by two points to Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament final. As Heels diehards will remember, point guard Derrick Phelps was injured the day before and didn’t play on Sunday. Carolina would beat the Fab Five in New Orleans.
  • In 2005, the year of Roy Williams’s first national championship, the Heels lost in the semifinals to Georgia Tech in Washington, D.C. After the loss, many worried that the team might not be ready to win a national championship. Carolina went on to beat Illinois in St. Louis.
  • In 2009, the year of Roy Williams’s second national championship, Ty Lawson’s big toe kept him from playing in the ACC tournament. Tyler Hansbrough and co. would lose to Florida State but go on to thrash each opponent they faced in the NCAA tournament, defeating Michigan State in Detroit in the championship game.

So while Carolina fans everywhere should certainly enjoy this weekend—remembering moments from tournaments past, enjoying moments as they develop this year, and reflecting on classes skipped or long lunches taken to watch Friday afternoon games—they should also ponder the paths that Carolina basketball has taken to its national championships, and not get too swept up in the end result in Atlanta. Because, as we all know, it’s just a big cocktail party, isn’t it?

To follow Adam’s reporting from the ACC tournament visit