Welcome to Greensboro, Alaska.
It’s still strange to think this is an ACC game in an ACC city, with N.C. State and Louisville playing a NCAA tournament regional semifinal in the Carrier Dome, the frigid streets still lined with piles of snow in late March.
But that’s what it is. This is the ACC in 2015. It takes a handful of ACC teams advancing for this kind of collision to happen at all, even if two of the five weren’t in the conference three years ago, nor the host institution.
“That’s just a reflection on the conference and the greatness of the conference,” N.C. State forward Kyle Washington said. “I’m not surprised Rick Pitino made it to his whatever number Sweet 16 it is. It’s just going to be exciting.”
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N.C. State started the NCAA tournament in Pittsburgh, newly an ACC town, and continues Friday in Syracuse, newly an ACC town, albeit one as cold and dreary as even its defenders would admit.
“I left 37 years ago,” said Pitino, a former Syracuse assistant. “It’s still raining.”
This is now officially ACC Country, one of the toes of the footprint, which makes it a suitable venue for an unusual bit of ACC history.
Friday will be only the fourth meeting of ACC teams in the NCAA tournament, and the earliest ever thanks to a bracketing adjustment in the wake of conference expansion that allowed teams from the same league to potentially meet at this point if they only played once in the regular season. This quadrant of the bracket, with three ACC teams, was set up for a collision.
“We knew at some point we would play an ACC team,” N.C. State’s Trevor Lacey said. “We’re ready for it. Our league prepares us for this moment.”
The other all-ACC games were played for slightly higher stakes: North Carolina and Virginia in the 1981 Final Four, N.C. State and Virginia in the 1983 Elite Eight and Maryland and Duke in the 2001 Final Four.
Those were new installments of old grudges, honed over many years. N.C. State and Louisville have played once since 1988.
“It’s not like we’ve seen them every year, twice a year, for the last 10 years,” N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried said. “They’re new to the league. But we have played them, and we kind of know what they do, and I’m sure they feel that way about us.”
For Louisville, it’s less about the new than the old. The Cardinals have played countless games in the Carrier Dome. Pitino worked under Jim Boeheim at Syracuse and had dinner plans with him Thursday night. This is comfortable territory for them, Big East country only recently left behind.
And anyway, the Cardinals are thinking about revenge, not happy returns. N.C. State’s win in Louisville in February may have jump-started the Wolfpack’s season, but it put a big dent in the Cardinals’ campaign.
Cat Barber was the difference that day, as he has been so often since, and he’s already the focal point of this one. Battle lines were drawn.
“Louisville, they like to trap, and it’s kind of hard to trap me,” Barber said.
“If he doesn’t feel like he should be pressed, that’s not our problem,” Louisville’s Terry Rozier said.
Spoken like familiar foes from the same conference, meeting on common ground. There may not be a lot of history here at the moment, not ACC history anyway, but some will be made Friday.
DeCock: firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947