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January 3, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

North Carolina’s New Year resolution: Win Without Sean May

No. 21 North Carolina prepared to take on Iona Friday night without starting sophomore forward Jawad Williams, who missed the game with a stomach virus, and sophomore sixth-man Melvin Scott, who sat out the game for violating team rules. The Tar Heels hoped they would not miss either one against the Gaels in the ECAC Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden. After all, was not this the same arena that barely a month earlier witnessed the resurrection of Tar Heel pride?

But since that magical Friday night after Thanksgiving when the Tar Heels defeated Stanford to win the Preseason NIT, No. 12 Kentucky and No. 8 Illinois exposed a few weaknesses. Primarily, the Heels are not deep enough to compete without their superstar freshman trio of point man Raymond Felton, swing man Rashad McCants and big man Sean May. And May is perhaps the most critical piece in a team that doesn’t have much developed interior talent. And May is the one the Heels must now play without until the end of February. May started the second half of the game by promptly breaking his left foot, which will prevent him from playing for eight to ten weeks. Without fellow big man Jawad Williams, the Tar Heels dropped the game 65-56, becoming the first ranked team Iona defeated since a 1980 upset over then-No. 2 Louisville. Remarkably, UNC still out-rebounded Iona 38-25. But May had nine of those boards – in one half. Remarkable.

In May’s absence, coach Matt Doherty must experiment with lineup shifts. Senior forward Will Johnson stands 6’8 and freshman Byron Sanders is 6’9, but both players are lean and weigh in at 225 lbs. or less. Freshman Damion Grant is 6’11, 262 lbs. and he better resembles May’s body size, but must learn on the job. Outside these options, Doherty faces a small lineup with Jawad Williams becoming the tallest player on the court, and only player taller than 6’6.

Doherty gets my vote for coach of the year if he can prevent teams from exploiting a glaring weakness in the paint. The silver lining in this injury report is that UNC plays several significant games toward the end of February and in early March. A possible timetable for May’s return would be before the final stretch run against No. 23 Maryland, NC State, Georgia Tech, No. 25 Wake Forest and No. 2 Duke.

Virginia Defeats an Unproven, Undefeated Georgetown Squad

The Cavaliers hosted the Hoyas Saturday, which was Georgetown’s first road game of the season. Virginia won the tight battle 79-75 behind senior forward Travis Watson’s 16 points. Virginia’s tough games against No. 12 Kentucky, No. 11 Indiana and No. 16 Michigan State were good preparation for the Cavaliers. Georgetown meanwhile had not played any ranked teams. Its toughest test before visiting Charlottesville was a home game against South Carolina.

Maryland Begins Defense of ACC Title with Victory Over Georgia Tech

Senior guard Drew Nicholas raised his personal high score in a single game to 29 points in Maryland’s 84-77 victory against Georgia Tech to open its conference schedule. Nicholas added seven rebounds and three assists, while fellow senior guard Steven Blake distributed eight more assists as one of the ACC’s best delivery men this season.

North Carolina Reports Minor Recruiting Violation

Tar Heel coach Matt Doherty reported Dec. 24 that assistant coach Fred Quartlebaum had a short conversation with a high school recruit. Quartlebaum visited Winston-Salem Reynolds to watch Justin Bohlander, who UNC hopes will come to Chapel Hill as a walk-on. After the game, Quartlebaum spoke with the school’s coach and Bohlander approached the two. The assistant coach spoke to the recruit, breaking a secondary NCAA rule. Compared to this year’s investigative dramas, this incident is trivial.

ACC Player of the Week:

Maryland guard Drew Nicholas brought his A-game this week, dropping a career-best 29 points on Georgia Tech. He averaged 22 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5 assists in a pair of victories for the Terrapins against Maryland – Baltimore County and Georgia Tech.

ACC Rookie of the Week:

Duke dominant rookie du jour was guard J.J. Redick, who posted 26 points on 80 percent shooting, including five of seven 3-pointers. He led Duke to an 85-74 victory over the pesky Dayton Flyers Sunday.

ACC Coach Watch:

North Carolina coach Matt Doherty will be in the main ring in this week’s ACC circus. His performance is a juggling act that seeks to somehow result in continued success for the upstart Tar Heels. Freshman forward Sean May will be missed and Doherty has several options to choose from but none include proven inside talent.

Games to Watch:

If Clemson can dispatch Coastal Carolina Tuesday night and No. 2 Duke avoids a shocker against Fairfield Thursday, then Sunday’s game between Duke and Clemson will be a clash of two unbeaten teams.

Other Good Games:

Saturday: No. 25 Wake Forest at Richmond
Saturday: No. 21 North Carolina at Miami
Sunday: Virginia at NC State


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