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ACC Conference Preview

November 6, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Preview

by Michael Protos

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest and N.C. State prepared to dazzle the ACC with lineups full of talented veterans of the battle for top spot in one of America’s toughest conferences. This year Georgia Tech, Clemson and N.C. State are the only squads with more than two returning starters.

The ACC will be different this year, as a flood of talented youngsters must develop quickly for their teams to compete. Duke and Maryland will likely lead the pack with a strong returning nucleus ready to step in to the starting roles. Florida State will have to adjust to the new coaching style of Leonard Hamilton, who last worked his magic in the college game eight hours south of Tallahassee, at the University of Miami. The ‘Noles hope Hamilton will create an established program in a few years that will thrust them at least into the middle of a frequently top-heavy ACC.

Meanwhile Wake Forest and UNC will only go as far as their youngsters will carry them. Wake returns Josh Howard, who is perhaps the ACC’s best player, but also injured. An injury similar to shin splints will limit his contributions until he fully recovers. UNC seems to only be able to go up from an abysmal 8-20 season. But their hopes rest on the shoulders of an inexperienced group of oft-praised freshmen and a bunch of sophomores who played well at times last year.

Virginia loses four starters but has two solid transfer players prepared to step onto the floor with a talented recruiting class. Again Virginia will have a high preseason ranking. Will they again fold as the season progresses, ending up in the less than satisfactory NIT?
N.C. State needs one of the youngsters to step forward to replace the leadership of Anthony Grundy and Archie Miller, who led the Wolfpack to their first NCAA appearance in 11 years.

The surprises of the ACC could come from Clemson and Georgia Tech. Each squad loses its leading scorer, but returns a solid core of starters plus major contributors and good recruiting classes. Clemson tapped the European resources. Will they become imports of the year or be cast aside with a Return-to-Sender stamp? Meanwhile Georgia Tech started to surprise teams toward the end of last season and, unless the top tier teams do their homework, Georgia Tech will continue to slide past formerly dominant powerhouses en route to top of the class.

And so, let’s take a look at the new ACC, in projected order of finish. Keep in mind this conference fielded the national championship the previous two seasons.

Duke Blue Devils – (2001-02: 29-3, 13-3, 2nd)

Major players departing: G Jason Williams (drafted 2nd by Chicago Bulls; first in scoring), C Carlos Boozer (drafted 35th by Cleveland; first in rebounds, second in scoring), F Mike Dunleavy (drafted 3rd by Golden State; second in rebounds, third in scoring)

Major players arriving: Freshmen G Sean Dockery, 6’2, Chicago, IL; J Lee Melchionni, 6’6, Lancaster, PA; F Shavlik Randolph, 6’10, Raleigh, NC; G J.J. Redick, 6’4, Roanoke, VA; C/F Michael Thompson, 6’10, New Lenox, IL; F/C Shelden Williams, 6’9, Midwest City, OK

Duke loses Jason Williams (a.k.a. Jay Williams), Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, representing three NBA draft picks counting for over half of both Duke’s rebounding and scoring last season. Chris Duhon, Daniel Ewing, Dahntay Jones and a handful of seniors will teach the most celebrated freshman class in America. And with Coach K at the helm, Williams, Dunleavy and Boozer will quickly be replaced by a new dominant trio. The scary part is Duke has a host of players on this roster that could form that trio by season’s end.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Junior Chris Duhon (9 ppg, 6 apg, 81 steals), sophomore Daniel Ewing (7 ppg, 32 steals)
Frontcourt: Senior Dahntay Jones (11 ppg, 4 rpg), freshman Shavlik Randolph, freshman Shelden Williams

Maryland Terrapins – (2001-01: 26-4, 15-1, 1st)

Major players departing: G Juan Dixon (drafted 17th by Washington; first in scoring and steals), F Lonny Baxter (drafted 44th by Chicago; first in rebounds and blocks, second in scoring), F Chris Wilcox (drafted 8th by L.A. Clippers; second in rebounds and blocks, third in scoring), F Byron Mouton (graduated; third in rebounds and fourth in scoring)

Major players arriving: Freshmen: F Nik Caner-Medley, 6’6, Portland, ME; F Travis Garrison, 6’9, Hyattsville, MD; G John Gilchrist, 6’1, Virginia Beach, VA; G Chris McCray, 6’4, Capitol Heights, MD; JUCO transfer: F Jamar Smith, 6’9, Sicklerville, NJ

Maryland loses four starters but returns senior point guard Steve Blake to lead the team that will still start four seniors from last year’s championship team. These experienced Terrapins must school the inexperienced freshmen and sophomores to provide the necessary depth to return to the top of the ACC.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Senior Steve Blake (8 ppg, 8 apg, 56 steals), senior Drew Nicholas (7 ppg, 2 apg, 2 rpg)
Frontcourt: Senior Tahj Holden (6 ppg, 3 rpg), senior Ryan Randle (4 ppg, 3 rpg), freshman Nik Caner-Medley

Virginia Cavaliers – (2001-02: 17-11, 7-9, 5th)

Major players departing: G Roger Mason Jr. (drafted 31st by Chicago; first in scoring and assists), F Chris Williams (graduated; first in steals, second in rebounds, third in scoring and assists), F/G Adam Hall (graduated; third in rebounds, fourth in scoring), F J.C. Mathis (transferred to Michigan; fourth in rebounds)

Major players arriving: Freshmen: F Derrick Byars, 6’6, Memphis, TN; G Billy Campbell, 6’0, Atlanta, GA; G Robert Lodge, 6’4, Raleigh, NC; JUCO transfer: G/F Devin Smith, 6’5, New Castle, DE; Walk-ons: F Rob Williams, 6’7, Martinsville, VA; F Greg Harrell-Edge, 6’8, Vienna, VA

Virginia loses four starters from last year. Rutgers transfer Todd Billet, a junior three point specialist, and Cal transfer Nick Vander Laan, a 6’10 senior who was second two seasons ago in rebounding for Cal, will add to the team’s talent. All-Name First-teamer Majestic Mapp returns to the team from a knee injury that forced him to miss the last two seasons. These additions will support team leader Travis Watson and a cast of solid recruits. Virginia must establish a new team identity that should carry them to a successful season.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Sophomore Keith Jenifer (4 ppg, 2 apg), junior Todd Billet (Rutgers 00-01: 17 ppg, 4 apg)
Frontcourt: Senior Travis Watson (14 ppg, 10 rpg), junior Nick Vander Laan (Cal 00-01: 6 ppg, 5 rpg), sophomore Elton Brown (8 ppg, 3 rpg)

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets – (2001-02: 15-16, 7-9, 5th)

Major players departing: G Tony Akins (graduated; first in scoring, assists and steals), F Clarence Moore (left for personal reasons; second in rebounding on team)

Major players arriving: Freshmen: F/C Chris Bosh, 6’10, Dallas, TX; G Jarrett Jack, 6’3, Fort Washington, MD; F Theodis Tarver, 6’9, Monroe, LA; G Mario West, 6’3, Douglasville, GA; F/G Jim Nystrom, 6’4, Sweden

Tech returns three starters and several key members of the bench, but will miss G Tony Akins and his team-leading 176 assists and 17 points per game. The team has a wealth of sophomores and juniors and if just a handful step up to replace Akins’ intensity, Tech will surprise a few people in the ACC.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Sophomore B.J. Elder (10 ppg), freshman Jarret Jack
Frontcourt: Junior Marvin Lewis (11 ppg), sophomore Ed Nelson (9 ppg, 7 rpg and ACC rookie of year), freshman Chris Bosh

North Carolina State Wolfpack – (2001-02: 22-10, 9-7, 3rd)

Major players departing: G Anthony Grundy (graduated; first in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals), G Archie Miller (graduated; second in steals and assists, fourth in scoring)

Major players arriving: Freshmen: G/F Cameron Bennerman, 6’4, Greensboro, NC; G Justin Flatt, 6’4, Savannah, TN; G Dominick Mejia, 6’4, Voorhees, NJ; C Adam Simons, 7’0, Burlington, NC

N.C. State has three returning starters and loads of youth, but who will be leader with Grundy and Miller gone? The freshmen’s talent will dictate this team’s depth and ability to close out games. The best players on this team are in the athletic frontcourt, but note: 6’3 guard Anthony Grundy led last season’s inside attack.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Senior Clifford Crawford (4 ppg, 2 apg), junior Scooter Sherrill (6 ppg, 1 apg)
Frontcourt: Sophomore Julius Hodge (11 ppg, 5 rpg), junior Marcus Melvin (10 ppg, 5 rpg), sophomore Josh Powell (7 ppg, 4 rpg)

Clemson Tigers – (2001-02: 13-17, 4-12, 7th)

Major players departing:
G Tony Stockman (transfer to Ohio State; second leading scorer), F Dwon Clifton (transfer to the University of North Carolina – Greensboro; bench player), G Jamar McKnight (graduated; first in scoring)

Major players arriving: Freshmen G/F Julian Betko, 6’5, Slovakia; F Akin Akingbala, 6’7, Greenwich, CT; F Ori Ichaki, 6’5 Israel; G Shawan Robinson, 6’2, Raleigh, NC

Three returning starters will lead this team that has young talent in the backcourt with experienced big men to punish opponents in the paint. Clemson’s lineup is well-balanced with a solid bench to support every major position. Clemson’s development will close the gap between former ACC powerhouses and create some thrilling games. Don’t be surprised to see Clemson work its way into the middle of the pack.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Sophomore Edward Scott (12 ppg, 8 apg), sophomore Chey Christie (5 ppg),
Frontcourt: Senior Ray Henderson (8 ppg, 9 rpg), junior Chris Hobbs (12 ppg, 6 rpg), senior Tomas Nagys

North Carolina Tar Heels – (2001-02: 8-20, 4-12, 9th)

Major players departing: G Jason Capel (graduated; first in scoring, rebounds and steals, second in rebounding) F Kris Lang (graduated; first in blocks, second in rebounds and scoring), G Adam Boone (transferred to Minnesota; first in assists and fourth in scoring), G Brian Morrison (transferred, currently not enrolled anywhere; third in assists, fifth in scoring)

Major players arriving: Freshmen: G Raymond Felton, 6’1, Latta, SC; C Damion Grant, 6’11, Jamaica; F Sean May, 6’8, Bloomington, IN; G/F Rashad McCants, 6’4, Asheville, NC: F David Noel, 6’6, Durham, NC; F Byron Sanders, 6’8, Gulfport, MS

North Carolina loses Jason Capel, Kris Lang, Adam Boone and Brian Morrison, the last two as transfers. Those four represent the top Tar Heels in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. North Carolina has a plethora of freshmen and sophomores but will need more than a few to play like juniors and seniors for the team to have a shot at returning to the top of the ACC. The lineup will be athletic and exciting but prone to mistakes common of inexperienced youngsters.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Freshman Raymond Felton, sophomore Melvin Scott (6 ppg, 2 apg)
Frontcourt: Senior Will Johnson (4 ppg, 3 rpg), sophomore Jawad Williams (10 ppg, 4 rpg), freshman Sean May

Wake Forest Demon Deacons – (2001-02: 20-12, 9-7, 4th)

Major players departing: F Darius Songalia (drafted 50th by Boston Celtics; first in scoring and rebounds), G Craig Dawson (graduated; second in assists and third in scoring), F Antwan Scott (graduated; first in blocks, third in rebounds and fourth in scoring), G Broderick Hicks (graduated; first in assists and fifth in points)

Major players arriving: Freshmen: F Chris Ellis, 6’8, Marietta, GA; G Justin Gray, 6’2, Mouth of Wilson, VA; G/F Richard Joyce, 6’5, Mount Airy, NC; G Trent Strickland, 6’5, East Flat Rock, NC; C/F Eric Williams, 6’9, Wake Forest, NC

Wake must replace four of five starters and Howard’s nagging leg injury may reduce his time. The team’s only other senior, G Steve Lepore likely will sit out until December because of a knee injury. Wake will hope its first and second year players mature faster than the rest of the ACC’s underclassmen. The conference’s youth movement finds Wake suiting up nine freshmen and sophomores and four juniors and seniors, of which only Josh Howard qualifies as a seasoned floor general. The Demon Deacons must overcome injuries and inexperience to compete this season.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Sophomore Taron Downey (5 ppg, 2 apg), freshman Justin Gray
Frontcourt: Senior Josh Howard (14 ppg, 8 rpg, 49 steals), sophomore Vytas Danelius (7 ppg, 4 rpg), freshman Eric Williams

Florida State Seminoles – (2001-02: 12-17, 4-12, 8th)

Major players departing: G Monte Cummings (graduated; first in scoring), G Delvon Arrington (graduated; first in assists and second in scoring), F Antwuan Dixon (graduated; third in rebounds and scoring), F Nigel Dixon (transferred to W. Kentucky; first in rebounds and fourth in points)

Major players arriving: Freshmen: G Benson Callier, 6’5, St. Petersburg, FL; G Todd Galloway, 5’10, Baltimore, MD; JUCO transfer: G Nate Johnson, 6’3, Kansas City, MO

Florida State gains a new coach and four new starters who must make up for the loss of the Seminoles’ leaders in every statistical category. The strength is clearly in the frontcourt with Michael Joiner poised to have a big season as team leader. But the rest of the team has very little experience and must learn a new coaching style in one of America’s toughest conferences. Give Hamilton a few years and Florida State will become a force to reckon with in the ACC – just don’t expect miracles this year.

Likely starters:
Backcourt: Junior Andrew Wilson (missed most of last season with a knee injury), junior Nate Johnson (JuCo transfer)
Froncourt: Junior Michael Joiner (8 ppg, 5 rpg), senior Mike Mathews (4 ppg, 2 rpg), senior Trevor Harvey (4 ppg, 4 rpg)

Pre-season All-stars:

First team:
Steve Blake, Maryland guard, senior 8 ppg, 8 apg
Chris Duhon, Duke guard, junior 9 ppg, 6 apg, led team in steals (81)
Josh Howard, Wake Forest forward, senior 14 ppg, 8 rpg, led team in steals (49)
Travis Waston, Virginia forward, senior 14 ppg, 10 rpg
Ray Henderson, Clemson forward, senior 8 ppg, 9 rpg

Second team:
Edward Scott, Clemson guard, sophomore 12 ppg, 8 apg
Dahntay Jones, Duke guard/forward, senior 11 ppg, 4 rpg
Jawad Williams, North Carolina forward, sophomore 10 ppg, 4 rpg
Julius Hodge, N.C. State forward, sophomore 11 ppg, 5 rpg
Ed Nelson, Georgia Tech forward, sophomore 9 ppg, 7 rpg


Most valuable player: G Chris Duhon, Duke
Rookie of the year: G Raymond Felton North Carolina
Coach of the year: Paul Hewitt, Georgia Tech

Big Games this Season:

Monday 11/18/02: Penn State at North Carolina
This game opens is the first for any ACC team and the first of North Carolina’s season following last year’s monstrosity.

Sunday 11/24/02: Miami (OH) at Maryland
The national champions open their new arena for the first regular season game and unveil their hard-earned banner.

Wednesday 11/27/02: Georgia at Georgia Tech
The nation will find out just how good each of these teams will be this season. The Bulldogs may run into an unpleasant surprise in Atlanta.

Tuesday 12/3/02: Maryland vs. Indiana
A rematch of last year’s championship game highlights this season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Saturday 12/7/02: Kentucky at North Carolina and Michigan at Duke
Four of the most successful programs in basketball history play on one day in two games that will offer a glimpse into each team’s immediate future.

Sunday 12/8/02: Miami FL at Florida State
Leonard Hamilton and the ‘Noles host his former college team – the Hurricanes.

Sunday 12/22/02: Cincinnati at Clemson
Probably Clemson’s toughest non-conference game should be a good measure of the team’s growth.

Saturday 1/18/03: Duke at Maryland
Round one of one of the ACC’s best games.

Wednesday 2/5/03: North Carolina at Duke
Round one of one of the ACC’s best rivalries.

Thursday 2/6/03: NC State at Wake Forest
North Carolina’s other two schools battle for respect.

Wednesday 2/19/03: Maryland at Duke
Possible battle for first place down the stretch.

Saturday 2/22/03: NC State at Duke
Last year’s best two schools in the Triangle meet again.

Saturday 3/8/03: Duke at North Carolina and Maryland at Virginia
Rivalry battles end the ACC’s regular season as teams jostle for the best position going into the ACC tournament.

And so the games approach. Exhibition games will prepare these teams for the upcoming preseason tournaments and the dramatic return of the regular season at the end of November. The ACC promises to produce a wild year with several teams changing places during the season before settling into the final standings come March. Expect the unexpected this year. And remember that the previous two national champions have emerged from this conference.


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