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ACC Tournament manages to deliver an inherent history lesson

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 10:21 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon reacts in the second half of the Panthers' 80-65 victory over Wake Forest on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, at Petersen Events Center.

Pitt spent three decades playing in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, so going to the ACC tourney in Greensboro, N.C., will be an eye-opening experience.

Jamie Dixon said Monday that he has “made it very clear how important this tournament is” to the Panthers, one of three ACC newcomers.

“When you talk about tournaments, as far as college basketball, the Big East and the ACC have always been the standard bearers,” Dixon said, adding that the ACC tourney “history is unmatched.”

This will be a history-making ACC Tournament, as the conference expanded to 15 teams by adding Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse.

At 61 years, the ACC has the second-oldest continuous conference tournament in the country, behind only the Southern, which has played every year since 1922.

“When you're speaking of tournaments, the ACC is the granddaddy of all of them,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “Every year, the competition is unbelievable. How competitive the games are is off the charts.”

By earning the fifth seed, Pitt (23-8) receives a first-round bye and will play the winner of No. 12 seed Wake Forest (16-15) and No. 13 Notre Dame (15-16) at 2 p.m. Thursday.

If the Panthers win, they will play North Carolina (23-8) in the quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Friday. The championship game is 1 p.m. Sunday.

One thing that makes the ACC tourney special, like the Big East, is that its champion is the only one recognized by the conference, which passed a by-law in 1961 with the phrase “and the winner shall be conference champion.”

This also will be the 26th time it has been played at Greensboro Coliseum, which has a greater capacity (23,500) than Madison Square Garden (19,812).

“There's nothing like playing in Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of basketball, but I haven't been in Greensboro yet, and I'm excited to get down there and see their arena,” Pitt junior shooting guard Cameron Wright said. “It's our first year being in the ACC, so you've definitely got to be excited about this. I don't know about the extreme history of it, but I know some great players have come through the ACC, so to be able to play in this conference tournament means a lot.”

Not everyone is as thrilled about playing in Greensboro. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he's “looking forward to the challenge of the tournament,” but wasn't as enthused about the location of the venue or sharing the ACC tourney's storied history with his team.

“The only thing important when you're playing in a tournament is that they have a basketball court and an arena, and they've got that in Greensboro,” Boeheim said.

“The players know it's a big-time tournament, a really good tournament. That's really all the education I think they need.”

Pitt is hoping to make history by winning the ACC in its inaugural season and earning the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“We all pretty much follow basketball, regardless of conference, and know the great tradition the ACC has,” Pitt sophomore point guard James Robinson said. “We know we're happy to be a part of it and looking to leave to our mark on the tournament this year.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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