ATLANTA — Welcome to the Blue Devil-Tar Heel Invitational.
Sure, the official name is the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but Duke and North Carolina have turned college basketball's hallowed postseason shindig into nothing more than an exclusive showcase for the Big Two.
The ACC's powerhouse programs have divvied up 14 of the last 15 tournament titles, with Duke winning 10 of them.
From all indications, it will be more of the same when this year's tournament begins today in Atlanta.
No. 4 North Carolina (27-4, 14-2 ACC) captured the regular-season title, routing sixth-ranked Duke (26-5, 13-3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium last weekend to clinch the championship. But the Blue Devils have been the king of the tournament, winning three in a row and 19 times overall — two more than the Tar Heels.
"It does get a little repetitive," said Boston College's Ryan Anderson, only a freshman but not so young he doesn't know how things usually work in the ACC.
Maryland is the lone team outside of Tobacco Road's power couple to win the tournament since 1997, knocking off the Blue Devils in the championship game eight long years ago.
"Everybody is trying to win," North Carolina State forward Scott Wood said. "I don't think we just gave it to them 14 of the last 15 years. But those are really good teams and they play really well this time of year."
In some ways, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is greater than ever, with numerous ACC schools in a state of transition. Four coaches are finishing up their debut seasons. Three others are in Year 2 of their regimes.
Only one school, No. 17 Florida State (21-9, 12-4), stayed anywhere close to the pace set by the two perennial front-runners. No one else had more than nine conference wins, and the bottom half of the league was especially dreadful, with major rebuilding jobs everywhere you look. Boston College, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech are headed for losing seasons, while Clemson and Maryland are barely above .500.
The disparity is starting to hurt at the box office. Average attendance dipped to 9,632 per game, the first time it's been less than 10,000 since the 1988-89 season. In a sign that even the ACC tournament isn't the must-have ticket it once was, this year's event will be played at 19,445-seat Philips Arena rather than the cavernous Georgia Dome right next door, where it was held the last two times Atlanta served as host.