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February 11, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

The Extended Forecast

Mark your calendars for March 16. That’s selection Sunday. And based on what the NCAA had to say last week about this year’s tournament, there could be some surprises that will affect the ACC.

Back at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, our hero Bill Hancock of the NCAA shared several lessons learned from last year. First, watch out for mid-majors, aka the “Butler Rule.” A dominant team from a mid-major conference has a better chance of making the tournament this year, even if it loses in the conference’s tournament and fails to receive an automatic bid. Last year, Butler failed to reach the tournament despite a 25-5 record to end the regular season. The change could mean a team from a major conference that finishes with less than 20 wins and few marquis victories may not make the cut. In the ACC, teams like NC State, Georgia Tech and Virginia come to mind.

Second, another consideration for NCAA selection will be a team’s conference record. A team from a major conference must finish .500 or better to make it. It’s plain and simple: Finish 8-8 or forget about it. This rule instantly magnifies North Carolina’s recent struggles. Despite early-season success against the likes of Kansas and Stanford and a mid-season upset of Connecticut, the Tar Heels stand at 3-6 in conference play and must finish strong or else they can prepare for the NIT.

Hand in hand with a solid conference record, the committee will look at teams’ road performance in the latter portion of the season. To succeed in conference play, teams must pull off a few road victories. In the ACC, home teams have been dominant. Every team could use one or more two good road wins before the season ends. Even Duke, Maryland and Wake Forest, which all appear NCAA-bound, need to win some quality road games to bolster their seedings.

The last point applicable to the ACC is that the committee does not care how many bids a given conference receives. This attitude works both ways. There is no rule that the ACC will get three or four bids just because it is a historically powerful conference. So if Maryland, Duke or Wake Forest limps into the ACC tournament, the ACC could receive only two bids. On the other hand, if NC State, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech all finish strongly, the ACC could receive six or seven bids.

With barely a month left in the season, the ACC remains up for grabs. Anything can happen. No team is guaranteed an NCAA spot. But each has spent the last three months building a resume that will hopefully carry it to the promised land. Let’s inspect what the teams have to offer at this point in the season. Predictions are made based on the team’s performance to date.

No. 15 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (16-3, 6-2)

RPI: 25 Strength of Schedule: 102
Last ten games: 7-3
Record vs. AP Top 25: 1-2
Marquis wins: vs. No. 15 Maryland 81-72
Road/neutral record: 4-3 (Wins at Wisconsin, Richmond, Clemson, North Carolina)
Key losses: at No. 1 Duke 74-55, at Virginia 85-75, at Marquette 68-61
Remaining schedule: Duke, at Maryland, at Georgia Tech, Virginia, at Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, at NC State

Outlook: The Demon Deacons have a strong resume and sit atop the ACC standings. But their road record is not fantastic and their strength of schedule is rather weak. A trip to Duke could have established the Deacons’ legitimacy, but instead Duke blew out Wake Forest 74-55. Wake Forest has a balanced schedule to finish the season with four home games and four road games. Prediction: Wake Forest makes the tournament. A win over Duke at home and two or three road wins will give Wake a good shot at a No. 2 or 3 seed.

No. 8 Maryland Terrapins (14-6, 6-3)

RPI: 12 Strength of Schedule: 14
Last ten games: 7-3
Record vs. AP Top 25: 1-3
Marquis wins: vs. No. 1 Duke 87-72
Road/neutral record: 3-4 (Wins at George Washington, North Carolina, Clemson)
Key losses: Notre Dame 79-67, No. 17 Florida 69-64, Virginia 86-78
Remaining schedule: at Florida State, Wake Forest, at Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, at NC State, at Virginia

Outlook: Maryland had inside position in the race for the ACC championship entering last week, but lost two games including a home game to Virginia. Maryland has a fantastic strength of schedule rating at 14 and earned a great win by dominating Duke, but lost at home to Florida and to Notre Dame at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C., which is the next best thing to being in the Comcast Center. The Terps have three home games and four road games with a chance to improve on a below-average road record.

Prediction: Maryland makes the tournament. To earn a No. 2 or 3 seed, the Terps need to hold down their home court and win two games out of three at Duke, NC State and Virginia.

No. 11 Duke Blue Devils (16-3, 6-3)

RPI: 7 Strength of Schedule: 25
Last ten games: 7-3
Record vs. AP Top 25: 1-1
Marquis wins: vs. No. 18 Wake Forest 74-55
Road/ neutral record: 4-3 (Wins at North Carolina A&T, No. 14 UCLA, Ohio State, Clemson)
Key losses: at Florida State 75-70, at NC State 80-71
Remaining schedule: at Wake Forest, at Virginia, Maryland, NC State, at Georgia Tech, at St. John’s, Florida State, at North Carolina

Outlook: Duke dominated non-conference play, but did not play a single team that remains ranked in this week’s polls. In conference play, Duke has fared well, but has not been as dominating as in recent years, including a bad loss at Florida State. But winning on the road is difficult for every team this season. Duke’s remaining schedule features three home games and five road games, so Duke will get the opportunity to prove its worth.

Prediction: Duke makes the tournament. But Duke must earn a top 3 seed this year during the final stretch. Duke probably needs to win all three home games and steal three of five road games to realistically claim one of those seeds.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (12-8, 5-4)

RPI: 71 Strength of Schedule: 55
Last ten games: 7-3
Record vs. AP Top 25: 2-4
Marquis wins: vs. No. 18 Georgia 83-77, vs. No. 8 Maryland 90-84
Road/neutral record: 1-7 (Win at Marist)
Key losses: at Syracuse 92-65, at Tulane 80-66, at Clemson 69-67
Remaining schedule: at NC State, at Florida State, Wake Forest, Duke, at North Carolina, at Virginia, Clemson

Outlook: Georgia Tech earns the two-faced team award. The Yellow Jackets are dominant at home with great wins over Georgia and Maryland, but are awful on the road. The lone win comes against Marist on a neutral court in New York. Georgia Tech has a good strength of schedule and will have the opportunity to rectify the road woes with four of the final seven games in hostile territory.

Prediction: Georgia Tech makes the tournament. Over the last ten games, Georgia Tech has played solid basketball and defeated the former ACC leader, Maryland. But Georgia Tech would be one of the last few teams to make the field with such an atrocious road record. The Yellow Jackets must win at least two of their final four road games to solidify their bid.

Virginia Cavaliers (14-7, 5-4)

RPI: 42 Strength of Schedule: 27
Last ten games: 5-5
Record vs. AP Top 25: 3-1
Marquis wins: at No. 16 Kentucky 75-61, vs. No. 18 Wake Forest 85-75, at No. 8 Maryland
Road/neutral record: 4-7 (Wins vs. Chaminade, No. 16 Kentucky, Rutgers, Virginia)
Key losses: at Clemson 78-77, at Virginia Tech 73-55
Remaining schedule: at North Carolina, Duke, Clemson, at Wake Forest, at Ohio, at Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland

Outlook: Virginia sits in the middle of the ACC pack. But the Cavaliers have an advantage over Georgia Tech and NC State because they have a better road record and great marquis wins. The road victory at Maryland may be the best road victory by any team in conference play to date. Virginia has a good schedule remaining, with four home games and four road games, but host both Duke and Maryland.

Prediction: Virginia makes the tournament. Despite a 5-5 record in the last ten games, Virginia has great non-conference wins plus solid conference wins, especially that victory at Maryland. A couple road victories and protecting home court will give Virginia a berth in the NCAA tournament and possibly a No. 5 or 6 seed.

NC State Wolfpack (12-7, 5-4)

RPI: 63 Strength of Schedule: 146
Last ten games: 5-5
Record vs. AP Top 25: 1-2
Marquis wins: vs. No. 3 Duke 80-71
Road/neutral record: 1-6 (Win at Florida State)
Key losses: Gonzaga 69-60, at Massachusetts 68-56, Boston College 93-81
Remaining schedule: Georgia Tech, at Temple, Florida State, at Duke, at North Carolina, Maryland, at Clemson, Wake Forest

Outlook: North Carolina State must be considered a bubble team right now because it lacks many good wins, has had a weak schedule and has a poor road record. The Wolfpack have four home games and four road games, but play tough teams like Maryland and Wake Forest in Raleigh and must travel to Virginia, Duke and North Carolina.

Prediction: North Carolina State does not make the tournament. The Wolfpack simply have too many strikes against them. Losses to Boston College and Gonzaga leave NC State without a solid non-conference win to justify an NCAA berth. Fortunately, the season is not over. NC State can improve its resume by sweeping either road or home games.

North Carolina Tar Heels (12-10, 3-6)

RPI: 27 Strength of Schedule: 4
Last ten games: 4-6
Record vs. AP Top 25: 3-5
Marquis wins: at No. 2 Kansas 67-56, vs. No. 6 Connecticut 68-68
Road/neutral record: 5-7 (Wins at Old Dominion, No. 2 Kansas, Stanford, Florida State, St. John’s)
Key losses: at No. 20 Illinois 92-65, at Iona 65-56, at No. 9 Duke 83-74
Remaining schedule: Virginia, at Clemson, North Carolina A&T, at Maryland, NC State, Georgia Tech, at Wake Forest, Duke

Outlook: The bottom line for North Carolina is it needs more conference wins. Non-conference wins over Kansas and Connecticut will not be enough without at least eight conference wins. The team with the fourth hardest schedule in the country could fall short if it does not win five of its final seven conference games.

Prediction: North Carolina does not make the tournament. By virtue of a 3-6 conference record, no committee can take the Heels to the Dance. But North Carolina has a favorable schedule down the stretch by hosting Virginia, NC State, Georgia Tech and Duke. The Tar Heels must win every one of those and steal a game on the road to be tourney worthy.

Florida State Seminoles (11-9, 2-7)

RPI: 55 Strength of Schedule: 26
Last ten games: 4-6
Record vs. AP Top 25: 1-3
Marquis wins: vs. No. 5 Duke 75-70
Road/neutral record: 2-6 (Wins at Davidson, Virginia Tech)
Key losses: Boston University 84-69, at North Carolina 61-60
Remaining schedule: Maryland, Georgia Tech, at NC State, at Clemson, Wake Forest, Virginia, at Duke

Outlook: Florida State is a long-shot for the tournament. They must either win six of seven games or win the ACC tournament to earn a bid. Florida State has a great strength of schedule and a good win over Duke, but few strong road wins. Florida State has four home games and three road games to end the season, including home games against Maryland, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia.

Prediction: Florida State does not make the tournament. Besides a poor conference record, Florida State just doesn’t have the big wins necessary to attract an NCAA berth. But the Seminoles are future stars, who can foreshadow success next season by playing spoiler the rest of this one.

Clemson Tigers (12-7, 2-7)

RPI: 66 Strength of Schedule: 148
Last ten games: 3-7
Record vs. AP Top 25: 0-4
Marquis wins: vs. Cincinnati 58-51
Road/neutral record: 1-4 (Win at High Point)
Key losses: at Florida State 60-59, vs. No. 18 Wake Forest 81-62
Remaining schedule: at South Carolina, North Carolina, at Virginia, Florida State, at Maryland, at Wake Forest, NC State, at Georgia Tech

Outlook: The Tigers have a difficult task ahead of them to get to the tournament. Their strength of schedule is not great and a lone quality win over Cincinnati will not cut it. Clemson’s remaining schedule features road games against Virginia, Maryland, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Ouch.

Prediction: Clemson does not make the tournament. Clemson does, however, have a good shot at the NIT as long as it maintains an overall record above .500.

Recap: Wake Forest, Maryland, Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia are in. NC State, North Carolina, Clemson and Florida State are out. Anything can happen down the stretch. In addition to the final conference games, the ACC tournament should be wide open this year, so one of the teams on the outside can steal a spot in the tournament with a hot weekend in early March.

Other ACC Notes This Week:

Virginia Dismisses Guard Keith Jenifer

Virginia coach Pete Gillen handed sophomore guard Keith Jenifer the basketball version of a pink slip last week. Gillen suspended Jenifer indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team. A starter in fourteen of the Cavs’ first sixteen games, Jenifer will no longer play or practice with the team. He had been averaging 5.6 points per game and 5.5 assists per game, which led the team. So far Virginia has fared well without him – two games against Maryland and NC State last week, two victories.

Rashad McCants’ Pain Is David Noel’s Gain

North Carolina freshman guard Rashad McCants only played 37 total minutes in two games last week because he has a sore back. The injury report fits in with Doherty’s comment that McCants has not started recently because of his poor defensive play. His offensive play was no better last week, shooting just 1-15 from the field for a total of two points. That snaps McCants’ previous streak of 20 consecutive games with double-digit scoring.

But McCants’ limited playing time has allowed freshman guard David Noel to step in as a starter and a major contributor. Against Duke, Noel scored a career-high 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Noel added 11 points and four rebounds against Florida State to prove that he deserves more playing time, at least until McCants gets to feeling better.

Two streaks Are Over

Speaking of the Tar Heels, both North Carolina and Clemson ended losing streaks last week. Clemson defeated Georgia Tech 69-67 while North Carolina beat Florida State 61-60. Clemson had lost four straight games while the Tar Heels had lost five consecutive games.

Another New Road Warrior

Since road wins occur so infrequently in the ACC, teams who succeed on the road deserve their props. Last week, only one team won a road game. Déjà vu – I think I said that the previous two weeks as well. Last week, Virginia stormed College Park to defeat Maryland 86-78. In an equally rare accomplishment, the Cavaliers out-rebounded the Terps 36-32, following the lead of senior forward Travis Watson, who grabbed ten rebounds and added 15 points.

ACC Player of the Week:

Virginia senior forward Travis Watson led the Cavaliers to two great victories last week over No. 8 Maryland and NC State. Watson averaged 15 points, 12 rebounds and three assists and he stole the ball eight times. The victories propelled Virginia toward the top of the ACC standings.

ACC Rookie of the Week:

Georgia Tech split its game last week, defeating No. 8 Maryland at home but losing to Clemson on the road. In those games, guard Jarrett Jack matured tremendously. Jack averaged 17.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists, and his energy sparked the Yellow Jackets to a critical win over Maryland.

ACC Coaches’ Clipboard:

Maryland coach Gary Williams sits on a two game losing streak after dropping games at home to Virginia and at Georgia Tech. The Terps fall a half game behind Wake Forest for the conference lead. More importantly, Maryland treads perilously close to being caught in the logjam in the middle of the conference.

Games To Keep An Eye On:

A pair of games are worthy of top billing this week. No. 11 Duke travels to Winston-Salem Thursday to play No. 15 Wake Forest. Sunday, No. 15 Wake Forest goes to College Park to play No. 8 Maryland. A Wake Forest sweep would give it a strangehold on the ACC. Mixed results would increase the turmoil at the top.

Other Good Games:

Wednesday: North Carolina vs. Virginia
Wednesday: NC State vs. Georgia Tech
Saturday: Virginia vs. No. 11 Duke

     

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