ACC in Action
With Selection Sunday just three weeks away, it is quite evident that the Atlantic Coast Conference will send five teams to the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Here is a breakdown of the five teams that, unless something extraordinary happens, will be among the field of 65 in March.
Maryland (21-3, 11-1 in ACC, 2 RPI)
After crushing Duke 87-73 on Sunday, Maryland controls its own ACC destiny. If the Terps win the rest of their conference games, they will win the league and be the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament (played March 7-10 in Charlotte). Gary Williams’ team has played great in the last season of the historic Cole Field House, winning all 13 games at home. In addition to stellar play by seniors Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter, junior guard Steve Blake has done a great job captaining the offense. The Oak Hill graduate has led the team in assists in 22 games this year and is second in the conference with 7.7 apg. If Maryland can keep up its dominating play, then the team from College Park should receive a No. 1 seed in either the South or the East region of the NCAA Tournament.
Duke (23-2, 11-2 in ACC, 3 RPI)
This team is an absolute scoring machine. Three juniors – Jason Williams (1st with 21.3 ppg), Carlos Boozer (3rd with 18.3 ppg) and Mike Dunleavy (5th with 17.8) – rank in the top 5 in scoring in the ACC. Also, the Blue Devils score the most points per conference game (91) and allow the least points per league contest (72). The talent on this team is scary, and after spending much of the season as the top-ranked team in the country, it is almost a lock that Coach K’s team will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s South or East region.
Wake Forest (18-8, 8-4 in ACC, 21 RPI)
This team is the unheralded squad of this group. Duke and Maryland are elite national teams, NC State and its fabulous freshmen have been the talk of the league, and Virginia has been ranked in the top 10 for most of the year. So where are the Demon Deacons in all of this ACC chatter? They should be mentioned right after, if not in the same breath, as the Blue Devils and the Terrapins. That is how deep and balanced this team is.
Five different players have led Skip Prosser’s team in scoring, with Josh Howard and Darius Songaila leading the team in eight games apiece. Six different players have led the Deacons in rebounding, with Songaila collecting the most boards in 15 games. Seven different players have led Wake Forest in assists, with Broderick Hicks dishing most often in 11 games. Deep teams like this one are very dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. Also, the veteran players in Winston-Salem are getting more and more comfortable with their new coach’s offensive and defensive systems. If the Demon Deacons get worse than a No. 5 seed, then the committee is making a big mistake.
NC State (19-7, 8-5 in ACC, 27 RPI)
In the last notebook, we focused on the Wolfpack seniors. On the other end of the spectrum, the NC State freshmen – particularly Julius Hodge, Josh Powell and Ilian Evtimov – have really turned around a once-struggling ACC bottom feeder. “We have gotten invaluable contributions from our entire freshmen class,” said NC State coach Herb Sendek. “We knew we would have to rely on them heavily before the season began and they were thrust into important roles and have responded very well.”
The team from Raleigh has started more freshmen than any other school in the conference, with rookies starting 58 games. Freshmen have also accounted for more than 41 percent of the team’s total minutes played. The youth, along with the fact that none of the players on the roster has ever played in the Tournament, may hurt the team once the calendar turns to March. NC State’s consistent play all year long should earn the team a No. 4 or 5 seed in the Big Dance.
Virginia (16-7, 6-6 in ACC, 33 RPI)
Even though the Cavaliers have spent all season in the upper echelon of both top 25 polls, their recent play is jeopardizing their once-guaranteed NCAA Tournament slot. Pete Gillen’s squad has only defeated two ranked teams this year (No. 16 Georgetown and No. 14 Wake Forest) and quite frankly has not warranted being ranked anywhere close to the top 10 at any point during the 2001-2002 season. The team has four remaining conference games – including contests against Duke and at Maryland – and it must improve on its .500 ACC record in order to avoid sweating when the brackets are released on March 10. If Virginia is able to hold on and make the field of 65, it probably will not be seeded better than 6th in a region.
ACC Quote of the Year
“I’m thinking about going to buy a dog so when I go home I can kick it.”
– UNC coach Matt Doherty on how he is handling his team’s consistent losing. This was said during the weekly ACC teleconference on 2/5/02. After getting criticized for his tongue-in-cheek comment, Doherty apologized later in the week.