Basketball season no longer creeps up on us. It arrives like a fast break now, and it starts earlier every year.
Is it too early for basketball? Never.
The games begin Tuesday night and will run basically non-stop from now until April.
And finally, after enduring a long wait for the ACC to come to its senses, Greensboro is back in the game.
Like old times.
The 67th ACC Tournament returns the Coliseum for the 27th time, coming one week after the ACC Women’s Tournament and one week before the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, all in Greensboro.
And kicking off the entire season will be N.C. A&T playing UNCG in a local rollout of college basketball in the best basketball coliseum in the country.
What was once a rite of spring is now a rarity as the ACC has grown beyond its roots and Greensboro has become part of a rotation that includes Brooklyn and D.C. and Charlotte. So this will be a season to remember, one to remind the league that the best basketball town is the one it’s already in.
By the time we all meet at the end of the regular season, we’ll have seen a transformation of sorts as the ACC goes to a 20-game conference schedule that begins with league games on the first night. Before we even get to the new year, we’ll have a pretty good idea which teams are April contenders and which teams are November pretenders.
If you listen to the coaches, you get the impression that they’re as curious as the rest of us about who will ultimately be the teams to beat in the ACC. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski believes the new schedule will be a truer test.
“College athletics should always evolve,” he said. “Our conference, with the network, 20 games comes at a good time, more content. I think you're coming closer to having a true champion, still like when we had a round-robin where you played everyone twice.
“But in order to fit it in you have to do the whole year, and I think that that's going to be good overall. And we're going to make it good. This is my 40th year, so I've seen the league change quite a bit, and it's exciting for the league to take this step forward with the network and with the 20 games.”
Krzyzewski thinks his deep roster will an advantage over the long season. But the end seems a long ways off.
Roy Williams is already mad at his team, and it hasn’t played a real game.
“They know I can get mad now,” he said after an exhibition against Winston-Salem State over the weekend. “It’s been in the back of their minds, and they didn’t know for sure, but I’ve removed any doubt.”
Carolina plays Notre Dame in Chapel Hill on Wednesday in a game that was actually played in Greensboro three seasons ago. That made Williams mad, too.
Duke and Carolina will be good again, early in the season and late in the season. State and Wake are a little harder to predict.
The Pack could surprise a lot of people, and Coach Kevin Keatts plans to have the fastest offense in the country. State opens against Georgia Tech on Tuesday.
Wake will likely surprise no one unless Danny Manning’s teams has improved greatly from last season. Despite a starting lineup of upperclassmen, a group of incoming freshmen could be the key. That seems to be a trend in Winston-Salem.
The national trend is harder to predict with programs in the final days of the one-and-done era, a new NBA grassroots program in the works and the NCAA lining up schools such as Kansas, Arizona and N.C. State for possible sanctions.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that some of the best teams in the country might be in a lot of trouble by the time we all meet again in Greensboro.
And with states and Congress and Vegas swirling around, you get the feeling that college basketball as we know it is about to change forever.
That’s why, again, it’s so important to know your roots. Greensboro is one of the original basketball capitals and one of the few places that understands that the games are the attractions.
It’s about basketball here, not tourist destinations.
We open a long season in the Coliseum with our local schools the opening act. And then comes the long wait as we play out an entire schedule on our way back home.
All roads lead to Greensboro this season. And it’s never too early to start.
In fact, it’s about time.