GREENSBORO, NC – It’s been less than a week since the celebratory confetti was swept from the floor at Greensboro Coliseum, the signage was changed and the transformation from the ACC Tournament to the first 2 rounds of the NCAA’s big dance was completed.

The place looked and felt familiar.

And then the only ACC team among the 8 seeded to play here this week was introduced for its public pre-tournament practice session. In an instant, the atmosphere became as foreign as a sharpshooting stretch-4 from Eastern Europe.

In all 9 of the previous opening-round NCAA events held here in the ACC’s home city (at least for a few more months), a large contingent of fans would have been on hand to cheer for their favorite North Carolina-based team.

Not this time.

Duke is in Orlando as an under-seeded No. 5. NC State is in Denver, just happy to be playing anywhere. Wake Forest finished on the wrong side of the bubble. And the dumpster fire that was North Carolina’s season is still smoldering about 45 minutes to the East in Chapel Hill.

About the only hint of representation for the Old North State were the Capel brothers – Pittsburgh coach and former Blue Devil Jeff and his younger brother Jason, an assistant who played his college ball at UNC.

When the Capels and their Panthers jogged onto court in preparation for Friday’s Midwest Region game against Iowa State, there was only a smattering of applause from the 30 or so fans scattered around the nearly empty 20,000-seat arena.

The logos at midcourt and on the overhead scoreboard may have read “March Madness.” Spring Serenity would have been a more accurate description.

The atmosphere only figures to improve slightly once the games begin Friday.

Tickets for the afternoon session, the one involving Pitt, are going for as little as $4 on, meaning that the service charges are actually more than the price of admission. And that there’s plenty of good seats available. 

While it’s understood that the NCAA’s job is to build as balanced and fair a bracket as possible, not necessarily to help sell tickets, what’s the incentive for venues around the country to host these events if they’re going to be played in half-empty houses?

The selection committee could easily have put Duke in Greensboro without altering its seedings or matchups. Even Virginia, which is only about a 2 1/2-hour drive and easily accessible to its fans, would have made for a better turnout.  

Instead, Kentucky is the biggest draw in the Greensboro pods. And its presence only appears to have created a ripple, rather than a tsunami. Tickets for Friday’s evening session, including the Wildcats’ game against Providence, are also readily available and going for as cheap as $31.

One can only wonder how much more desirable those seats might have been had Duke fans also been in the market for them.

Considering the history between Kentucky and the 2 blue-blood schools located in close proximity to the venue – not to mention the intense dislike the respective fan bases have for one another – it would have been worth the price of admission just to see and hear them hate-watch each other’s games in the same arena. 

It wouldn’t be quite as wild as 1998, when the Blue Devils were sent into enemy territory to play their 1st- and 2nd-round games at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

But it would have been close.

Even without Duke or UNC, Wildcats coach John Calipari is expecting at least a certain level of fan hostility aimed at his 6th-seeded team.

“Well, if they bought tickets prior to this thing thinking they would have 1 of their teams down there, they’re not going to be happy with us,” Calipari said. 

“As a coach, you walk in knowing you better be on your toes. This thing right now, you talk about pressure. It’s kind of like boiling water. Every team will start the game so excited that they’re jumping. As the game goes on, the water gets hotter and you want it to bring out your best. That’s what makes this (tournament) great.”

There is no better event in sports, especially during these first 2 days when anything can and usually does happen.

Just think of how much better it would be if these games in Greensboro were played with an arena full of fans – as they were at the ACC Tournament last week – than one with a large number of those fans disguised as empty seats.