ACC Conference Notebook
by Michael Protos
The ACC wastes no time creating early ruckus in the world of college basketball
UNC lives. Coach K hurts a hip. State and Virginia lose two players before a single minute of regular season play. So many stories already and only one ACC team has played regular season ball.
For the second straight game, UNC’s freshmen came to play. After an energetic thrashing of Penn State in the opening round of the Pre-season NIT on Monday, UNC’s encore was a thrilling 71-67 comeback win against a persistent Rutgers team. The freshmen trio of Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants produced 42 of UNC’s 71 points. Sean May led all UNC scorers with nineteen to accompany his ten rebounds, his second double-double in as many games.
But the real story from the game is the chutzpah of the young’uns to overcome an eleven point deficit with just under seven and a half minutes to play in the game. Trailing 59-48, the Tar Heels whittled away the lead with full court pressure defense and solid offensive execution. They attacked the rim, forcing Rutgers into foul trouble. Although both teams struggled from the free throw line (UNC 63%, Rutgers 36%), the Tar Heels made crucial free throws down the stretch.
Next stop for the Tar Heels’ youth spectacle: Madison Square Garden. Next Wednesday night, UNC will play the winner of Friday night’s showdown between UNC-Greensboro and 2nd-ranked Kansas. If Kansas takes care of business, the young Tar Heels will face their most difficult opponent yet in a game that would pit one of UNC’s top candidates to replace coach Bill Guthridge in 2000 (Roy Williams) against the actual choice (Matt Doherty). A win in New York would work wonders to bolster popular support for Doherty and legitimize the recent chatter of the return of UNC basketball excellence. Regardless of the results, UNC will have a chance to gain big-game experience in two contests in New York next week in the semifinals and in either the championship or consolation game.
While UNC has been the only team to start its regular season, the rest of the ACC is preparing for tip-off in a few days. Coming up:
Virginia versus Long Island University – Brooklyn
25th-ranked NC State versus Mount Saint Mary’s
7th-ranked Duke versus Army
Georgia Tech versus Arkansas – Pine Bluff
Florida State versus Savannah State
Clemson versus Wofford
15th-ranked Maryland versus Miami (OH)
North Carolina (2-0) at Old Dominion
Until then, here is recent ACC news you need to know:
Too hyped: Coach K’s hips can’t keep up with his hops
High profile coaches are starting a disturbing trend. Cincinnati’s master strategist Bobby Huggins suffered a heart attack in September. Now Duke’s cherished coach Mike Krzyzewski must refrain from agile leaps from the bench like the one last week that strained his hip flexor muscle in an exhibition game against the EA Sports All-Stars. Coach K did not return for the second half of that game but was back at practice Monday, preparing the Blue Devils for Saturday’s season opener against Army.
Also on the Duke injury list is pre-season MVP guard Chris Duhon, who sprained his left wrist in the aforementioned EA Sports exhibition game. He missed two practices, but the Devils’ floor general can still lead his team into battle against Army Saturday. Someone tell the EA Sports squad to play nice.
NC State snake bitten, again
Last year NC State lost Levi Watkins to a torn ACL in the first ACC game. What are the odds State would lose another player to a knee injury early this season? Coach Herb Sendek should steer clear of Las Vegas and Atlantic City because his luck is atrocious. Sophomore starting forward Ilian Evtimov injured his left knee hauling in an offensive rebound in a Friday night exhibition game and a subsequent MRI revealed a torn ACL. Averaging seven points and three rebounds per game last season, Evtimov was to be a fixture of State’s starting lineup with the a realistic expectation of 10 and 5 averages for this season.
Driving to a suspension
Virginia’s athletic department suspended sophomore guard Jermaine Harper indefinitely for violation of team rules last week. Albemarle County police arrested Harper on a charge of driving under the influence. Harper contributed six points a game last year and figured to be a key contributor in the starting lineup or off the bench this year. The length of his suspension remains uncertain, but he will not be found in the gym practicing or playing with the team.
Honoring King Turtle
After guiding his team to its first national championship in school history, Maryland coach Gary Williams earned a one year extension, guaranteeing he’ll lead the Terrapins through 2009. And with a higher salary than last year’s $190,000. It’s good to be the king.
Since UNC has been the only ACC team to play thus far, the awards are a clean sweep by default. And to simplify the matter further, the two awards to be given out at this early stage are rookie of the week and player of the week, both of which Rashad McCants captures as leading UNC to two victories in the Pre-season NIT averaging 23 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.