This is my favorite week of the year. It has been since I was in fourth grade, and my dad took me to the ACC Tournament for the first time. It was in Greensboro, North Carolina, and we stayed at a two-level drive-in motel with red brick and paint fading off the second-floor guardrails. There was a breakfast place in the parking lot, and I had waffles every day for breakfast, and I sat at the counter with my dad. I was reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal, and the waitress was telling my dad how remarkable it was that a kid was reading a paper as massive as that, and then we went to the games — two the afternoon, then a break, then two more at night, the best eight teams in the ACC and eight of the best in the country playing for a crowd that had given everything to come to Greensboro(1) on a Friday in March, some of them winning lotteries from their schools just to earn the right to pay a few hundred dollars to sit in their seats — and then coming back to our room on the second floor of the motel, and my dad was asking me if I wanted to watch a WAC league game out west, something between Nevada and Hawaii, or maybe Utah, and of course I did, until it was 1 o’clock in the morning and my dad was asleep, and I was still up watching basketball between these two teams, and I couldn’t even tell you which was which, but I knew that I didn’t want to stop watching. Couldn’t stop watching.
I was in fourth grade, a kid at this giant tournament in this tiny town, and it was impossible not to feel like it was all happening, and I was right there for it. I felt very, very big.
I’m lucky enough to have been to three ACC tournaments since then — plus two Missouri Valley Conference tournaments when I was out in school in Columbia, Mo. — but when I’m not at the games in person, I’m watching on TV. And I’m watching all of them: the CAA, the SoCon, the MWC, the WCC. It’s the only week of the year where I can be caught screaming during a Sun Belt game, and any decent fan (or roommate) will understand why. There’s great basketball on all day, every day, for an entire week leading up to Selection Sunday. There’s not a more fun week of the entire year.
Now, there’s nothing quite like the in-person spectacle of the ACC Tournament when the teams are great, but no tournament quite translates to on-the-couch viewing like the Big East Tournament. The games are always played up at Madison Square Garden, for one. The history of tournament is excellent. The crowds — especially for big rivalries, like UConn-Syracuse — are loud, and the Garden just seems to amplify whatever the crowd throws into the game.
But for me, the Big East Tournament is all about two guys: Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery.
They’re two of the color guys on ESPN, and they’re always assigned to the Big East Tournament. Always. The Big East Tournament now goes five days, during which they’ll call nine games. (ESPN, in a sign of mercy, doesn’t make them work all four games on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.) And when a game is good — and Big East Tournament games always are, especially as the weekend draws near — there aren’t many better than Bilas and Raftery.
You don’t listen to a game Bilas and Raftery are calling. You watch it with them.
So this is my way of giving back for all those years of watching Championship Week. Here’s a little audio ditty I put together this morning, full of some of my favorite moments from Raftery, the announcer with enthusiasm that television speakers can’t contain. Thanks for being part of my favorite week of the year, Bill.
- Greensboro! ↩