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ACC Notebook

February 3, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Dissecting a rivalry

Round one of the ACC’s most historic rivalry kicks off Wednesday night in Durham as the North Carolina Tar Heels (2-5, 11-9) attempt to upset the No. 7 Duke Blue Devils (4-3, 14-3). But with recent dominance by Duke, how important is this game, anyway?

Well, Duke is a full two games ahead of the Tar Heels in the ACC standings. Both teams are coming off emotional losses. Duke lost at Florida State for the second straight season. North Carolina is in the midst of a four-game losing streak. If North Carolina hopes to compete for the conference crown, this game is a must-win.

Duke has won the previous five meetings of these two teams, including two wins in the last two ACC tournaments. The last Tar Heel victory came in 2001 when current-Seattle Sonic bench warmer, Joseph Forte (32 minutes played all season), delivered a thrilling 85-83 victory that propelled the Tar Heels to a No. 1 ranking. Since that single shining moment, UNC entered a tailspin that included a second-round loss to Penn State in the 2001 NCAA Tournament and culminated in last season’s embarrassing 8-20 finish. It’s hard to maintain a rivalry when one team gets consistently steam-rolled.

But the final meeting between UNC and Duke last year offered hope for the Tar Heel faithful. After two thrashings during the regular season, coach Matt Doherty tried a different strategy. The Heels milked every second of the shot clock on nearly every possession, creating an amazingly boring game, but closer than any contest against Duke that season. The Heels actually led by six at one point before losing 60-48. Defensively, that’s a noticeable improvement from losses in which Duke scored 87 and 93 points.

Doherty’s strategy actually had a precedent in this rivalry. In 1979, under the direction of former coach Dean Smith, North Carolina enacted the Four Corners offense to minimize scoring. This offense essentially was a collegiate version of keep away. At the end of one half, Duke led North Carolina 7-0. And then God said “Let there be a shot clock.” And it was good.

In that half, North Carolina’s Rich Yonakor heaved two air balls, which, legend has it, began the first ever chant of “aaaaiiiiirrr baaaallllll.” The Cameron Crazies making up a mocking chant at an opponent’s expense? Never.

So, this rivalry features the good, the bad and the ugly. Right now, Duke and Maryland have the best ACC rivalry in terms of games that influence the outcome of the conference title. This rivalry, however, does not carry a tradition of great games between two programs with decades of success. Applied to the 15-minute trek from the Dean Dome to Cameron Indoor Stadium, the adage “familiarity breeds contempt” ensures that the UNC/Duke rivalry will continue to capture national attention as two traditional powerhouses clash at least twice a year.

Lightning Strikes Twice

Last year, Duke entered Tallahassee ranked No. 1 with a team full of All-Americans fresh off a national championship. The Seminoles shocked Duke last year with a 77-76 victory marked by Duke’s missed free throws. The Blue Devils do not boast a reputation of invincibility this season (that description best fits recently-defeated Arizona). A second straight loss at Florida State re-emphasized Duke’s mortality. Apparently no one notified the Seminoles that they were supposed to lose Sunday as Florida State stunned the Blue Devils again in a 75-70 victory.

Yet again, missed free throws haunted Duke in a close loss. The Blue Devils shot 8 of 14 from the line. With a chance to tie the game, junior guard Chris Duhon turned the ball over when he slipped, which led to an exclamation point dunk by FSU sophomore forward Adam Waleskowski. With the loss, Duke drops to the middle of the pack in the ACC, which means that the Blue Devils will be hungry to tear apart their next opponent. Next up: the hated Heels come to Cameron in the midst of a four-game losing skid.

Wake Forest Earns Road Warrior Status

Last week, Maryland was the only ACC team to taste victory on the road. This week No. 20 Wake Forest claims that distinction. The Demon Deacons thumped Clemson 81-60, then escaped Chapel Hill with a 79-75 win over North Carolina. Senior forward Josh Howard starred in the victories with a pair of double-doubles. Amidst a career-high 32 points, Howard saved his most notable heroics for the end of the game Sunday against the Tar Heels. Howard broke a 75-75 tie with under a minute remaining by scoring in traffic and getting fouled. Howard made 8 of 9 free throws in a game in which he played all but one minute. Wake Forest out-rebounded its opponents by 19 in two games last week.

Doherty Practices What He Preaches

Against Wake Forest, North Carolina coach Matt Doherty opted not to start freshman forward Rashad McCants, who leads the team in scoring, because McCants failed to play good defense in an ugly 20-point loss to Georgia Tech last Wednesday. McCants did not play the first five minutes of each half, but finished with thirteen points against Wake Forest. Doherty said he emphasizes defense to his players and must punish players who do not perform at the level needed to win. Wake Forest scored 79 points, but the Heels had given up more than 80 points in each of the previous three losses. McCants’ next opportunity to prove his defensive worth comes Wednesday at Duke.

ACC Outlook:

As of Monday, No. 9 Maryland (14-4, 6-1) has a firm hold atop the standings, especially with No. 7 Duke losing to Florida State Sunday. No. 20 Wake Forest(15-2, 5-2) and NC State (12-5, 5-2) are Maryland’s closest competitors. Duke (14-3, 4-3), Georgia Tech (11-7, 4-3) and Virginia (12-7, 4-3) compose the middle of the pack while North Carolina (11-9, 2-5), Florida State (11-8, 2-6) and Clemson (11-6, 1-6) bring up the rear.

ACC Player of the Week:

This is an easy one. Wake Forest won two road games last week and the biggest key to the Demon Deacons’ success was senior forward Josh Howard. He averaged 25 points, 10.5 rebounds and amassed 5 blocks. Howard poured in a career-high 32 points in a 79-75 win at North Carolina.

ACC Rookie of the Week:

For the fifth time this season, Georgia Tech forward Chris Bosh earns the honors after leading the Yellow Jackets to victories over North Carolina and Virginia. Bosh averaged 22 points, 7.5 rebounds and rejected a total of 7 shots.

ACC Coaches’ Clipboard:

Two ACC teams carry four-game losing streaks into this week’s action. Clemson’s Larry Shyatt and North Carolina’s Matt Doherty need to find the path back to victory in a hurry if their teams hope to compete in post-season play. North Carolina has a stronger non-conference resume and a slightly better conference record than Clemson, so Shyatt probably has more work to do than Doherty.

Game of the Week:

The main article gives this one away: No. 7 Duke hosts North Carolina Wednesday at 9 p.m. Turn it to ESPN and enjoy the next installment of the rivalry.

Other Great Action:

Thursday: No. 20 Wake Forest vs. NC State
Thursday: No. 9 Maryland vs. Virginia
Sunday: No. 20 Wake Forest at No. 17 Marquette
Sunday: Georgia Tech vs. No. 9 Maryland
Sunday: Virginia vs. NC State


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