About 30 minutes after their basketball teams had finished a draining, taut ACC championship game today, Mike Krzyzewski and Bobby Cremins passed one another in the catacombs of Greensboro Coliseum.
There was a pause, a handshake and, finally, a heartfelt hug. One year ago Cremins and Georgia Tech cut down the nets to celebrate victory in this tournament. Today, it was Krzyzewski and Duke.
What passed between them was not only respect but a feeling for the meaning of this game, this tournament.
With 64 teams in the NCAA tournament, the ACC festival isn't supposed to mean anything anymore. After all, Duke entered today's game with a No. 1 regional seed locked up. Georgia Tech was no worse than a No. 2. And, after all, logic says the regular season title should mean more. But after 33 years, logic doesn't matter.
"I thought both teams were tight at the start," Krzyzewski said. "When you play in this league, you want to be the best. This tournament is a special thing to all the kids who play in it. It's part of the reason they come to an ACC school. This is tradition. This is something you dream about."
With the proliferation of conference tournaments in recent years, many have been quickly rendered meaningless. The Big East has managed a different kind of emotion because of the quality of its teams.
But consider this: In the last three years the same four teams have played the Big East semifinals. Clearly, it is a two-division league. In that same time period, only one team (Clemson) has failed to make the ACC semifinals at least once. Only one team (Duke) has reached the semifinals all three years.
In short, everyone (Clemson is the only ACC school that never has won the tournament) comes here with a chance.
And, after a 68-67 final, the two coaches can hug one another when it is over.
"I think all the coaches in this league understand how hard it is to be good in this league and they respect each other," Krzyzewski said. "I really like Bobby Cremins. This is as good a moment as I've ever had in coaching and yet I feel empathy for him. That's just the way this league is."
Some comments on the NCAA pairings:
The coach with the right to complain most is Purdue's Gene Keady, who gets stuck playing a first-round game at Louisiana State. It hardly seems fair that a higher-seeded team should have to play what is in reality a road game.
Also, one has to question the pairing of Duke and Kansas, the top two teams in the country, in the same semifinal (East-Midwest) bracket. This clearly was done as an accommodation to all-powerful Kentucky, which was kept in the Southeast.
It's interesting to note that Maryland is a No. 5 seed. Proves yet again how important strength of schedule is to the committee.
The announcement at halftime today that Walter Berry of St. John's had beaten out Duke's Johnny Dawkins and Maryland's Len Bias for the John Wooden Award drew major boos from the pro-ACC crowd. What won the award for Berry was the fact that the ACC vote was split four ways among Dawkins (second); Bias (third); Brad Daugherty (fifth) and Price (eighth) . . .
Nice scene: Saturday, as his players jumped all over one another following their last-second victory over Maryland, Cremins walked over to Keith Gatlin, thrower of the ill-fated last pass, put his arm around the disconsolate Terrapin and said, "I'm really sorry it had to end that way."
Today was the last telecast of the season for NBC. This is the fifth season that the network has been without any NCAA tournament rights, having lost them to CBS in 1982. Next year is the last of the current CBS contract and NBC is hoping the NCAA will at least consider a split contract beginning in 1988.
CBS will have the first chance to bid next fall. Considering that CBS Sports executive Neal Pilson has been extremely vocal in saying rights fees must come down, it will be interesting to see whether the network makes the kind of bid the NCAA will accept without giving NBC a shot.
Count on this: if CBS leaves the door open a crack, NBC will charge in. The network enjoys its association with college basketball and badly wants back into the games that matter most.
Flowers are being sent on behalf of The Upset Pick to Lefty Driesell. Because Lefty did it again Friday, The Pick is up to 7-9 and fired up for the NCAA tournament.
This week Xavier, with one of the best unheralded players in the country, Byron Larkin, will prove definitively how weak the Southeastern Conference is by beating Alabama on Friday.