The first act begins in Chicago on Sunday with the second act coming about 700 miles away in Philadelphia.
The ACC Invitational.
After a rough day Thursday in which both Duke and Miami bowed out, the remaining four teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference did their jobs -- setting up a pair of Elite Eight matchups that will automatically provide us with a pair of ACC teams in Houston.
It also means that one team from the league will vie for the national championship on April 4.
We've heard about the Big 12 ad nauseam all season long, how it's the premier league in America. Seventy percent of the conference going dancing. There were those singing the praises of the Big East -- until Butler and then Providence displayed their warts. Sure, Oklahoma and Kansas still have an opportunity to make sure the Big 12 is repped with a pair next weekend.
But it has been the ACC that has proved its dominance when it has mattered most in March. It buried the final two Big Ten teams Friday night, and while it's more often a player or even a team that becomes the tourney's primary storyline, this year, it's headlined by the success of an entire league.
This evening belonged to the ACC. It began and ended with snoozefests, but fortunately for the viewers, a pair of nail-biters were sandwiched in between.
Virginia started it off with a virtual walk in the park. The boys from Charlottesville received an off game from standout guard Malcolm Brogdon, but the Cavaliers rode the inside duo of Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey for a combined total of 41 points and 15 boards. Tony Bennett's team watched Georges Niang score 30 points, but the Cavs held everyone else on Iowa State in check -- especially long and athletic big man Jameel McKay.
Then came the stunner -- when a normally high-powered Notre Dame offense was held to only 19 points in the first half. Luckily, Notre Dame's defense gave up only 23 points -- and Mike Brey's team remained within striking distance. However, it looked bleak after Wisconsin's Vitto Brown drilled a 3-pointer with 28 seconds left to give the Badgers a 56-53 advantage. Then Demetrius Jackson, who was 6-of-18 from the field in the game, had two huge defensive plays that helped give Notre Dame the shocking victory.
Just as Notre Dame appeared to be on the verge of going home, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse also needed last-second heroics. There was a huge steal by Trevor Cooney and a potential saving block by Tyler Lydon that wound up giving the Orange the Elite Eight berth. Now a Syracuse team that two weeks ago was wondering whether it would play in the NCAA tourney or the NIT will play Sunday with a Final Four berth on the line.
North Carolina's nightcap allowed viewers to go to bed a little earlier, as the outcome was determined by halftime. Tar Heels senior Marcus Paige, who was 6-of-9 from 3, appeared to have rediscovered his confidence and shooting stroke en route to a 101-86 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers that wasn't as close as the final score might indicate.
So, now we're left with the ACC doubleheader in the Elite Eight.
Virginia vs. Syracuse at 6:09 p.m. ET in Chicago.
Notre Dame vs. North Carolina around 8:49 p.m. ET in Philly.
Maybe we should just move both games to Greensboro for old times' sake.
The Cavaliers knocked off the Orange 73-65 in Charlottesville on Jan. 24 in a game that was dominated by Virginia's backcourt tandem of Brogdon and London Perrantes. Bennett's team will be the heavy favorite, not only as the No. 1 seed but also with the recent track record over Boeheim & Co.
North Carolina and Notre Dame have split a pair of games this season, but it's the recent one a few weeks ago in Washington D.C. at the ACC tournament that will be difficult for Brey's Irish to forget. Notre Dame committed an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers and was completely dominated on the glass. The final score: 78-47.
Few are surprised North Carolina and Virginia will have an opportunity to advance to the Final Four on Sunday, but the shock is that Notre Dame and Syracuse will join them for the same chance this weekend.
And no one is happier than John Swofford, the ACC commissioner.