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Atlantic Coast Preview

December 6, 2001 Columns No Comments

2001-02 ACC Conference Preview

by Bill Thayer

I’m watching too much television recently, this ticker thing is starting to
bug me … Williams back, Devils team to beat … Terrapins return to
prominance, can they knock off Duke? … New Skip in Wake … Doom and gloom
in Chapel Hill … Long year ahead for Tigers, Seminoles … Williams
preseason player of year, Jones newcomer of year, Hodge freshman of year …
Point situation not so Majestic in Virginia … Year two of Hewitt regime in
Atlanta, optimism high …

1. Duke Blue Devils: What more can be said about Duke? They have the best clutch player in the game in Jason Williams, one of the most versatile players in Mike Dunleavy,
one of the toughest in Carlos Boozer and they add Rutgers transfer Dahntay
Jones, an explosive player on the perimeter. This team isn’t as good as
last year’s squad, but still is the best in the nation.

Mike Krzyzewski’s biggest challenge will keep this team from burning out in March. Don’t
expect this team to go any deeper than seven in big games (Casey Sanders and
Daniel Ewing will see time off the bench) but will run with anybody. Last
year it wasn’t a problem, as they actually turned up the tempo late in the
season. They will have to deal with getting the best shot from every
opponent, so if they let their guard down at all, they will get upset.

2. Maryland Terrapins: If anybody is going to take out the Devils, it may be Maryland. It was a magical year in College Park in 2001, beginning with a Final Four run,
capped off by a 10-1 football season. Gary Williams will look to continue
the magic, and he has plenty of talent to work with.

Steve Blake and Juan Dixon form one of the best backcourts in the nation. They are as good defensively as any and are both explosive on offense. Lonny Baxter has
developed into one of the toughest big men in the game. Chris Wilcox and
Tahj Holden are both athletic power forwards who love to hit the offensive
glass. The Terrapins pose a challenge due to their defensive pressure and
athleticism. Mark February 17 on your calendar, that’s the date Duke visits
Cole Field House.

3. Virginia Cavaliers: While Duke and Maryland are known for their ability to push the ball, Virginia has quietly become one of the top offenses in the country. The
Cavs were dealt a blow in the offseason, when it was announced that point
guard Majestic Mapp would miss his second straight season due to a knee
injury. Roger Mason will slide over and handle the point. Mason made a name
for himself nationally when he poured in 30 in the Cavs first round NCAA
Tournament loss to Gonzaga.

Chris Williams can play either forward position
and is a nice complement to Mason. Big man Travis Watson controls the boards
seemingly by himself. Watson somehow gets double digits every game, with
many of his points coming on second chances. Look for Virginia to give
Maryland a run for second in the ACC and give fans some entertaining games
against the Blue Devils and Terrapins.

4. Wake Forest Demon Deacons: Dave Odom is out and Skip Prosser is in at Wake Forest. Odom left to take the South Carolina job, allowing Xavier’s Prosser to get the Deacons job. I think Prosser is a better fit for this team, as Odom left him plenty of
talent to work with. Josh Howard is emerging as a star. The junior has the
quickest first step in the conference. Prosser’s offense allows Howard to
use his abilities off the dribble to beat defenders one on one.

Darius Songaila faded late last season but should rebound and have a big year for
the Deacons. Songaila spent the summer playing for Lithuania in the
Olympics, which may have been a big reason for his late season slide. Look
for Songaila to step up this year as the new up-tempo offense will free him
up as well. Brodrick Hicks has to step up at the point for this all to
work. I expect he will, leading Wake back into the field of 65.

5. North Carolina Tar Heels: Things have gotten ugly in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels started the season with losses to Hampton and Davidson at home. That doesn’t look right and it felt strange typing it. Matt Doherty will right the ship, however. Kris
Lang has stepped up his play. The 6’11” big man has become the focal point
of the Tar Heel offense. He needs help from Jason Capel.

Capel is one of my favorite players in the conference. He can pose matchup problems by
posting up small fowards or taking big men outside. As a senior, its up to
him to get more vocal and want the ball. When the Tar Heels were behind,
they seemed lost offensively. Capel needs to get more aggressive for UNC to
make it to the big dance. Jackie Manual is apparently the answer at the
point. I expect Ronald Curry to return after football season ends,
providing another experienced player on a young ballclub.

6. Georgia Tech Yellowjackets: Paul Hewitt led Tech on an unexpected journey to the NCAA Tournament last season in his first year in Atlanta. After losing Alvin Jones, Hewitt
will have to do some of his best work to get the Jackets back there. Tony
Akins emerged as the team’s leader last year, maturing in the process. With
Jones gone, Akins will look to a pair of sophomores, Halston Lane and Marvin
Lewis, for help offensively. Hewitt brought in a great recruiting class and
needs those freshmen to step up if they expect to be dancing in March.

7. North Carolina State Wolfpack: NC State finds themselves in the bottom third of the conference. Herb Sendek created such high expectations back in 1996 when he led the
Wolfpack to the finals of the conference tournament as the eighth seed.
Things have not developed since then. In fact, if not for signing star
guard Julius Hodge, Sendek may not have returned this season. This is a
team full of talent at the two, with Scooter Sherrill, Archie Miller and
Clifford Crawford joining Hodge. None are true point guards and none are
real small forwards.

In a wide open offense, like Duke’s or Maryland’s,
putting three or four of those player on the court and letting them fly may
work. However, in Sendek’s half-court offense, it doesn’t work. There are
plenty of questions inside also. Sendek will look to freshmen Levi Watkins
and Jordan Collins, but neither are ready for ACC play.

8. Clemson Tigers: While Chris Duhon got much of the publicity, Clemson’s Tony Stockman may have had the best freshman season last year. Stockman, who was the point
guard along side Will Solomon, will slide over to the two and get the chance
to freelance a bit more on offense this year. Edward Scott will take over
point guard duties.

Undersized big man Chris Hobbs is a force inside. For
Larry Shyatt’s club to be successful, Stockman will have to play like
Superman. Watch freshman Chey Christie, he’s an athletic wing who could be
a nice complement to Stockman. This team may be a sleeper next season and
will pull off an upset or two at home.

9. Florida State Seminoles: Steve Robinson has been on the hot seat for some time.
Since taking over for Pat Kennedy, Robinson has yet to break out of the
bottom third of the ACC. This season does not look like it will be the year
that will happen. Small forward Michael Joiner is talented but Robinson has
little else to work with.

Big man Nigel Dixon needs to shed weight, as many
of the quicker conference opponents will run circles around him. Point
guard Delvon Arrington will be hard pressed to stop the likes of Williams,
Blake and Mason. I’ve been told by a few Florida State alums that they want
Robinson out and a big name in his place. Tallahassee is not a basketball
city, if they bring in somebody new, he will have to be an excellent

All ACC Team
Jason Williams, Duke
Carlos Boozer, Duke
Juan Dixon, Maryland
Lonny Baxter, Maryland
Josh Howard, Wake Forest

2nd Team
Roger Mason, Virginia
Mike Dunleavy, Duke
Steve Blake, Maryland
Kris Lang, North Carolina
Tony Akins, Georgia Tech

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