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ACC Notebook

February 19, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Leaving ACC Opponents in Their Wake

I owe an apology to No. 17 Wake Forest – the team, the fans and coach Skip Prosser. Before the season started, I picked the Demon Deacons to finish eighth in the ACC. As of Sunday, Feb. 16, they occupy the top spot in the conference with a 7-2 conference record and 17-3 overall record.

So how did I miss my prediction so badly? What was I thinking to so severely underestimate Wake Forest? Quite simply, I doubted senior forward Josh Howard could hold up for an entire season. My bad.

Before the season, Howard suffered from a condition similar to shin splints that limited his practice time. The Demon Deacons lost their leaders in every major statistical category from last season, so they could ill afford to have Howard’s game time hindered by injury.

So far, so good. Howard averages 18.8 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game and, most importantly, 31.1 minutes per game. He leads the ACC in scoring and is near the top in rebounding. He gets my vote for ACC most valuable player at this point in the season. And barring a late-season meltdown coupled with a meteoric rise from another player, Howard will walk away with the award next month.

Howard accounts for about 75 percent of my prediction for Wake to finish near the bottom. Doubting the Demon Deacons’ youth accounts for the other 25 percent. Freshmen center Eric Williams and guard Justin Gray came to campus without the hype of fellow rookies Chris Bosh of Georgia Tech, J.J. Redick of Duke or the trio of Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Sean May over in Chapel Hill.

Gray is co-leader of the team in assists and a source of motivation as he plays with a Phantom-of-the-Opera like mask to protect a broken jaw. Williams averages nearly ten points and five rebounds to contribute to the conference’s best rebounding team. Joining the freshmen, sophomores forward Vytas Danelius and guard Taron Downey have emerged as leaders on a very young Demon Deacon squad. Danelius averages 13 rebounds and eight assists while Downey shares the lead in assists with Gray. And he adds nearly 11 points per game.

The Demon Deacons use an eight-man rotation with only one senior – Howard. The youngsters are doing just fine in Winston-Salem. And this is the part when the coach earns his props. Skip Prosser has taught these freshmen and sophomores to play together within his game. He knows the team’s strengths and weaknesses. He has built a rebounding machine that simply decimates opponents.

The culmination of Prosser’s success this season came last week with a three-hour, double-overtime, 94-80 thriller over No. 9 Duke. It was the Deacons’ first win over Duke in 15 games. That’s a long drought. It avenges an earlier shellacking in Durham and legitimizes Wake’s position as the best team in the ACC.

That’s right I said it. Forget about preseason ratings and predictions. Wake Forest is the legitimate number one team in the ACC.

Now they must shoulder burden that accompanies being the best – finish what they started by closing out the season on top.

Blizzard Puts a Freeze on ACC’s Best

A blizzard that hit the Mid-Atlantic region forced officials to postpone the contest for first place between No. 17 Wake Forest and No. 17 Maryland in College Park. Each team earned 184 votes in last week’s Hoopville poll. The game will be made up Monday, Feb. 17. League officials insist on a makeup, even if it means playing the game the week before the ACC tournament in March. Understandable – this game could easily determine who wins the ACC regular season title.

Bubble Grows Bigger in ACC

Entering last week, Georgia Tech, Virginia and NC State were all above .500 in conference play and sitting in great position to make a run toward the top. Now, only NC State remains on pace to finish 8-8 or better, which may be the cutoff line for making the NCAA Tournament. Georgia Tech dropped games on the road at NC State and Florida State. Virginia fell at North Carolina then lost its first game at home this season to Duke, which had not won many games on the road.

NC State defeated Georgia Tech at home, but turned around and shot itself in the foot by losing badly to Temple in Philadelphia. Yes, it was a road game and it is Temple. But this is not the Temple team of recent years. The Owls are 8-13 and not going anywhere. NC State cannot afford to lose games like this one because the selection committee will be looking at road records and how teams fare toward the end of the season.

By the same token, North Carolina hurt its case for a bid by losing at Clemson. Yes, the Tar Heels beat Virginia, but they still need to collect a few more road victories and get to 8-8 in conference play to make a better case for a bid. Time is running short for these teams. The ACC can easily get five bids, but two of these four teams essentially have to catch fire and run the table. If not, even four bids may be too optimistic.

No Road Warriors This Week

For the first time in a few weeks, an ACC team didn’t claim the title of being the only team to win a road game. Maryland and Duke each won a game last week on the road. But Maryland escaped from Tallahassee with a two-point win over Florida State and Duke split its two games at Wake Forest and Virginia. Given its performances, Duke was more impressive than Maryland, but needed to win both to earn the road warrior title.

ACC Player of the Week:

Wake Forest sophomore forward Vytas Danelius led the Demon Deacons to victory over Duke Thursday night, scoring 20 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in 45 minutes. That’s more minutes than most NBA players get paid to play. In a game in which eight players from both teams fouled out, including Wake Forest’s senior superstar Josh Howard, Danelius provided the extra push to victory.

Rookie of the Week:

North Carolina guard Raymond Felton delivered a pair of solid performances last week, averaging 20 points and six rebounds. Felton helped the Heels defeat Virginia and nearly single-handedly overcame a lackluster Tar Heel performance at Clemson.

Coaches’ Clipboard:

Virginia’s Pete Gillen, North Carolina’s Matt Doherty and Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt all need to do a lot of work to push their teams off of the bubble and in to the NCAA tournament. Not everyone, unfortunately, will have success in doing so.

ACC games of the week:

Since the ACC is a tight race this year, each week for the rest of the year will feature games that could shift the team on top. On Wednesday, No. 17 Maryland travels to No. 9 Duke for the second installment of the most important ACC matchup of the past few seasons. The Terps took down Duke at Maryland earlier this season, 87-72. Duke will be hungry for revenge and a shot to get back on top of the ACC.

Other Great ACC games This Week:

Thursday: Georgia Tech vs. No. 17 Wake Forest
Saturday: No. 9 Duke vs. NC State
Sunday: No. 17 Wake Forest vs. Virginia


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