By 1981, the second time Landover hosted the event, concerns were being raised over whether league tournaments were having a negative effect on the NCAA tournament. Between 1976 and 1980, only four schools that made the Final Four -- North Carolina, Duke, Louisville and Arkansas -- had done so after playing in conference tournaments.
And by 1987, the last time the Capital Centre played host to the event, more and more leagues had their own tournament, and some dared suggest that the newly formed Big East Conference was a deeper league than the ACC.
Maryland, led by Buck Williams, right, denies Virginia and Ralph Sampson, left, an ACC title in 1981.
That sentiment has been voiced again this season, in some circles particularly vociferously in response to the overwhelming plaudits heaped upon this edition of the ACC before the season began. In fact, there is a good chance the Big East will receive more NCAA tournament bids than the ACC on Sunday.
But the strength of this year's ACC lies in its top teams -- North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke are each ranked among the nation's top 10 and harbor hopes of landing No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament -- and also in its familiar faces. Twenty of the league's top 25 scorers from last season were back this year, and with a few exceptions, they delivered a regular season worth remembering.
"It's the best. It's a celebration of our conference," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "And since our conference has had the best basketball over the past four decades year in and year out, to get it under one roof, every game is intense, nothing is a gimme."
Stars and Star-Crossed
Coaches such as Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg say the ACC might feature the best assemblage of guards in any conference since underclassmen started leaving for the NBA more frequently in the mid-1990s, but that's nothing new to this event.
Throughout recent history, the ACC tournament has been a showcase for exceptional back-court play. Consider Randolph Childress's indomitable performance in 1995, when he scored 107 points in three games; or J.J. Redick's shooting for Duke in the 2003 final, when the freshman scored 23 of his 30 points in the final 10 minutes; or John Gilchrist's effort in carrying Maryland to an unexpected championship last season.
Such intense competition has also humbled some of the game's elite. Virginia reached two Final Fours with Ralph Sampson but never won the ACC tournament title. North Carolina's Michael Jordan, after the top-seeded Tar Heels were upset by North Carolina State in 1983, was described by one sportswriter as not being "even all-city." Jordan earned first-team all-tournament honors only once -- as a freshman -- in his three-year college career.
After the 1980 final, Maryland's Albert King sobbed in the locker room despite scoring a team-high 27 points and being named tournament MVP. The Terps lost, 73-72, after King's last-second jumper rolled out.
Conversely, some players have elevated their profiles with standout performances on the largest of stages. In 1976, Virginia beat three nationally ranked schools en route to its only title. Wally Walker was a unanimous choice for tournament MVP after scoring 73 points combined. Previously considered a borderline first-round NBA draft pick, Walker was selected fifth overall that spring, ahead of Alex English, Adrian Dantley and Robert Parish.
Last season, Maryland's seldom-used Mike Grinnon sank two crucial free throws in overtime of the title game against Duke to help the Terps claim their first title in 20 years. Grinnon, the only player in Maryland history to have won an ACC tournament title and NCAA championship, most covets the ACC crown.
"It kind of showed everyone in the whole Maryland area that I can play, I am good enough," Grinnon said. "The ACC championship to me is a little bit extra special."
And consider former Clemson player Stan Rome, who earned second-team all-tournament honors as a freshman in 1976. Rome helped Clemson reach the semifinals. Because Clemson was on probation, Rome never played in the NCAA tournament; the 1976 tournament in Landover was the highlight of his career. The Tigers did receive a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, but they lost early, uninspired after the excitement of the ACC event.
"They [his teammates] didn't throw the game, but mentally some people didn't want to be there," he said.