The 2016 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament marks just the fifth time the event will be held in the Washington, D.C., area. The parity of the league throughout the regular season has many predicting an upset-laden week, and it wouldn’t be the first time an ACC Tournament in DC produced surprising results. Take a look at the brief history of ACC hoops in the nation’s capital, from Cinderella stories to unlikely tournament MVPs.
The ACC Tournament first branched out of the state of North Carolina in 1976, when seven teams convened in the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland to compete for conference bragging rights. Perennial power UNC earned a first-round bye and an automatic spot in the semifinals, but it was sixth-seeded Virginia, led by tournament MVP Wally Walker, who ultimately won out.
The Cavaliers ousted 3-seed NC State and 2-seed Maryland on consecutive days before edging the Tar Heels 67-62 in the final game to earn the school’s first ever spot in the NCAA tournament. All three programs that the Cavaliers defeated in the ’76 ACC tournament were nationally ranked.
The ‘Hoos success in the Capital Centre was largely due to the outstanding play of Walker, who emerged as one of the nation’s best forwards during his senior season at UVA, a campaign during which the 6-foot-7 Pennsylvania-native averaged just over 22 points per game. Portland drafted Walker with the fifth overall pick in the NBA draft. His number 41 is one of seven numbers retired by Virginia.
Despite its success in the ACC tournament, UVA didn’t fare as well in the NCAAs. The Cavaliers lost 69-60 to DePaul in the opening round, while conference counterpart UNC also lost in the first round, dropping a 79-64 decision to Alabama.
1981 ACC Tournament
(Capital Centre: Landover, Maryland | Champion: North Carolina | MVP: Sam Perkins)
After a five-year hiatus, the ACC returned to the Capital Centre in Landover for the 1981 conference tournament. Eight teams made up the field, headlined by top-seeded Virginia and No. 2 seed North Carolina. The higher seeded team won every game until the semifinal round, when No. 4 Maryland ousted UVA to earn a spot in the title game.
The Terrapins ultimately ran into a stronger UNC team, and a young Sam Perkins led the Tar Heels to a 61-60 win in the championship game. Perkins, a freshman, won Tournament MVP that season and also captured ACC Rookie of the Year honors to kick off his storied career.
Perkins would go on to become a three-time first-team All-American at UNC. He was drafted fourth overall by the Dallas Mavericks in the 1984 NBA Draft, a draft widely regarded as one of the best of all time. The 6-foot-9 forward is still second in rebounding and third in scoring in UNC history.
Both UNC and Virginia made runs to the 1981 Final Four. The Tar Heels knocked UVA out of the tournament with a 78-65 win in the semifinals, but Perkins and company fell to Indiana in the National Title game.
1987 ACC Tournament
(Capital Centre: Landover, Maryland | Champion: NC State | MVP: Vinny Del Negro)
The third and final ACC Tournament played in the Capital Centre was arguably the most exciting ever played in the venue, as the eight-team field produced two notable upsets and two double overtime games. No. 6 North Carolina State knocked off No. 3 Duke in the first round, while No. 7 Wake Forest also pulled an upset by upending No. 2 Clemson on opening day.
Both semifinal matchups went to double OT, one between North Carolina and Virginia and another between North Carolina State and Wake Forest, but it was rivals UNC and NC State who earned spots in the championship game. For the first time in the tournament the Wolfpack wouldn’t need overtime, but instead the Jim Valvano-lead team clipped a heavily-favored UNC 68-67 in regulation to win an unexpected ACC crown. NC State entered the tournament 17-14 overall and just 6-8 in the ACC, but captured the championship by winning three games in three days by an average of four points. The average margin of victory for winning teams during the entire tournament was less than six points per game.
Junior Vinny Del Negro was named Tournament MVP after converting the go-ahead free throws with 14 seconds left versus UNC. The Wolfpack guard was the reason State earned an appearance in the championship round in the first place, as he scored 15 points and grabbed a career-high 12 boards to help the ‘Pack survive Wake Forest. Del Negro was selected in the second round of the 1988 NBA Draft by Sacramento, but is better known for stints as head coach of the Bulls and Clippers.
Del Negro’s ’87 Wolfpack lost 82-70 to Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Eleven teams met in the MCI Center for the ACC Tournament in March 2005, the first time the conference tournament was officially held within the limits of DC. Three of the nation’s top five teams in North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest headlined the field, but upsets kept both the Tar Heels and Demon Deacons from reaching the final round.
Just one season after an appearance in the National Title game, fifth-seeded Georgia Tech blew out Virginia Tech before upsetting North Carolina in the semifinals to clinch a spot in the championship. The Yellow Jackets earned a date with Duke in the final round, a team ranked third in the country after posting 22 wins in the regular season. Led by timely shots and clutch free throws from J.J. Redick, the Blue Devils ultimately won out, as the sharpshooting guard poured in 26 points to lead Coach K and company to a 69-64 win.
Redick, who had already been named ACC Player of the Year, garnered Tournament MVP honors thanks to some eye-popping numbers during the Devils’ final two games. He scored 35 points on 7-of-12 shooting from distance vs. NC State before going a perfect 10-of-10 from the line to help Duke hold off a late-charging GT for the ACC crown.
After averaging 26.8 points per game his senior season and earning National Player of the Year honors, Redick was selected 11th overall by the Orlando Magic in the NBA Draft. Currently in his ninth professional season, the Duke product seems to be getting better with time. He has improved his scoring average in every season since 2008-2009 and is currently averaging just below 17 points per game for the LA Clippers.
The ACC performed well in the NCAA Tournament in 2005, as the league posted a 12-4 record, the best of any conference, and produced National Champion North Carolina. The Tar Heels defeated Deron Williams and Illinois 75-70 in the title game that season.
See history unfold in the Verizon Center beginning Tuesday at noon, as 14 teams will compete over a five-day span for the right to be called ACC Champion.