ATLANTA -- I always knew the ACC Tournament was a big deal, but I didn't understand the effect it could have on a city until I walked into the lobby of the Marriott Marquis, where ACC teams, media and so-called VIPs are staying this week. The hotel did everything to advertise the fact that it was the host hotel for the Tournament, which seems to have taken over the city, at least for a weekend. Each team has a decal in the lobby, the logos floating like pennants in any ACC arena, and similar stickers touting the ACC Tournament dot the lobby's windows. The concierges adorn ACC pins (they're here to ACC-ommodate me!), and my room key has the ACC Tournament logo and a "Welcome ACC Fans!" text box.
It doesn't matter that the Tournament sold only 27,000 books instead of the maximum capacity of 36,000, or that there seem to be just as many empty black and red seats as there are assorted fans for the first day's nightcap right now. It's hard to go anywhere in this city--or at least the airport, hotel, highway and Georgia Dome, the only places I've been so far--without knowing you're in ACC country for the next few days, because anyone who's anyone is here.
Take, for instance, the latest pseudo-celebrity sighting: Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons' quarterback who played for Boston College, just walked by as I typed that sentence. He's sitting in the third row at mid-court, directly across from the benches. The Boston College band just called him out, just as the Cameron Crazies do with their idols, and Ryan was reluctant to draw attention to himself.
Despite the Tournament's dominating presence here, the Dome is scattered, although I hear it's usually like that for first-round games, especially 9 p.m. contests when there isn't a marquee draw. As per usual, half of the Dome is reserved for basketball, with the other half cordoned off for media workspace. There are a few brave souls in the upper deck, with everyone else concentrated in the lower bowel and the in-between section. There is also a semi-circle of VIP boxes between the second and third sections, with high-rising bleachers brought in behind press row(s) to provide for more fans in front of the black backdrop separating the court from the vast media room. The only thing that's not impressive about this place is the Jumbotron, or lack thereof. Instead, there is a small suspended scoreboard with players' statistics and, hanging from that, a beige, blow-up ACC Tournament logo.
The Duke contingent is noticeable, and the Blue Devils aren't even playing today. I've seen plenty of Duke hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts and jerseys, plus the answer to the Georgia Dome's trivia game (who has the only triple-double in ACC Tournament history?) was Art Heyman, one of the best in Blue Devil history. And even without playing, the day has already been good to Duke. After Oklahoma and Pittsburgh lost, the Blue Devils could put themselves in a position to snag a No. 1 seed if they win the ACC Tournament--a tall task, but given what happens in tournament play, far from an impossible one.
In the meantime, though, we still have lots of time until Duke tips off. The Blue Devils are the last team to play, as they're in the last game Friday, which means that your far-flung correspondents have plenty of time on their hands. What should we do? Anyone have any suggestions for Atlanta?