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ACC Notebook

March 3, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

King Terrapin

With the suspense of a Stephen King thriller, No. 15 Maryland’s coach Gary Williams earned his 500th career coaching victory Sunday. The Terps rallied from 11 points down in the final nine minutes of play to win 68-65 over NC State.

Williams celebrated the career milestone by keeping pace with No. 13 Wake Forest near the top of the ACC standings. The Terps trail the Demon Deacons by a half game at the top of the standings. Maryland plays their season finale at Virginia next Sunday night. Williams and company will know when they play the game if it will matter in the standings. Wake Forest plays North Carolina in Winston-Salem Wednesday and travels to Raleigh to play NC State Saturday.

Wake Forest has won eight of its last ten games, but one of those losses was an embarrassing 90-67 shellacking at College Park, Md. In the aftermath of one of the winter’s most severe storms, Williams kept his team focused on one single vision – victory.

And Williams’ success this season is a testament to his coaching brilliance. Last season, he guided the Terps to their first NCAA championship in the history of the program. Led by three NBA-bound players and a strong supporting cast, the Terps finally broke into the euphoric land of the national championship. This season, the Terps assumed the role of championship defenders, but no one seriously thought they could contend again based on the amount of talent lost after last year.

Doubters beware – the Terps are for real. Williams depends on his seniors for leadership and production. He starts four seniors regularly: guard Steve Blake, guard Drew Nicholas, forward Tahj Holden and forward Ryan Randle. These four account for the team’s leaders in every major statistical category. Nicholas leads the team in scoring, averaging 17.3 points per game, Randle leads the team in rebounding, averaging 7.6 boards per game and Blake leads the team in assists, averaging 7.0 assists per game.

Blake’s senior leadership will be invaluable in the post-season. For example, Blake saved his best play for last against NC State. He scored only two points in the entire game. But that bucket knotted the game at 63. He took two steps toward the hoop, then backed up and shot a jumper about a foot inside of the arc. Nothing but net. Ignore the previous five missed shots, this basket is the only attempt that fans of Maryland – and NC State – will remember.

But four seniors do not make a team. Recruiting is a huge factor in determining a coach’s success in college basketball. Think about all the great recruiting classes that No. 6 Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and former North Carolina coach Dean Smith brought to their programs. Those classes guaranteed the future success of the programs. Williams has now earned a position with Krzyzewski and Smith as a recruiting legend.

If the Terps hope to fare well in the NCAA Tournament, their depth must continue to push opponents to the brink of exhaustion. Freshman forward Nik Caner-Medley is one of four first-year Terrapins who average more than 13 minutes each game. Lately, JuCo transfer forward Jamar Smith has elevated his game to become a dependable, productive reserve.

But Williams does not sit back and let his players develop in games. He yells at them for making an ill-advised pass. Miss two free throws, spend time on the bench. In most games, Williams looks to be moments away from a full-fledged seizure. But his spastic, courtside coaching shenanigans get the message through to his players. The Terps are peaking at the right time of the year.

The true measure of this season’s coaching success will not come in numbers. 500 is great and Williams deserves all the props the media can give him. But a better indication of Williams’ coaching skills will come first in the ACC tournament and then in the NCAA Tournament. Teams will be gunning to take down the defending champion. Defeating Maryland in the ACC tournament will produce the same joy for opponents as when teams upset Duke or North Carolina in the NCAA Tournaments of the 1990s.

Achilles’ Heels

Through their recent struggles, the North Carolina Tar Heels have sorely missed freshman forward Sean May’s dominance in the post. May had been averaging 12.1 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game. He could have been a candidate for ACC rookie of the year. But his season is officially over.

May broke his foot Dec. 27 during a loss to Iona. The Tar Heels had hoped that May could return by the end of the season to guide the Heels into the post-season. After discussions with the coaching staff and family, May and the Heels’ staff decided a return this season would be unwise as it could jeopardize his career. May’s loss hurts the Tar Heels, who could use a stronger presence on the boards and in the low post. But he is a freshman, and on this team filled with youth, the future is quite likely worth waiting for.

Cavs Shoot Themselves in the Foot

A prolonged losing streak is just about the worst way to prove to the selection committee that your team deserves an invitation to the Big Dance. Virginia’s dancing chances grow dimmer with each game it loses during its current six-game losing streak. Last week, the Cavs dropped games at Ohio and Florida State. That qualifies as a terrible week. The Cavs also fell to 3-11 away from home, with one of those victories coming against Division II’s Chaminade. Huge victories over Kentucky and Maryland away from home are meaningless in comparison to the team’s recent struggles.

The worst news for Virginia is that right now they occupy a four-way tie for fifth in the ACC. The Cavs, unfortunately, are the loser of the tiebreaker and would have to play Florida State in the ACC’s first round contest between the eighth and ninth seeds. Virginia looks like they must win the ACC tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament and playing an extra game will make the road that much tougher. The Cavs can change their predicament this week by defeating Georgia Tech and Maryland at home this week.

The rest of that four-way tie

Clemson and Georgia Tech also entered last week with an opportunity to move up in the ACC standings. And both spurned the opportunity. Clemson’s two losses are forgivable. The Tigers lost at Maryland at its senior night, during which the Terps honored senior guard Steve Blake. Then this past weekend the Tigers had to play at Wake Forest. They fought hard, but lost 80-68.

The Yellow Jackets were more fortunate to have a home game. But the game was against Duke. The Blue Devils crushed Georgia Tech 77-58 to remain in the hunt for the ACC title. Georgia Tech then traveled to North Carolina to play a critical game that could propel Georgia Tech to a higher seed. But the late heroics of freshman guard Raymond Felton dashed the Yellow Jackets’ hopes, dropping Georgia Tech to 5-9 in conference play and tied with Virginia, Clemson and North Carolina.

North Carolina jumped into the middle of the pack by defeating Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels could have slipped past the other three teams by defeating NC State in Chapel Hill, but the Wolfpack overcame a late deficit to defeat the Tar Heels in overtime 75-67.

To end the season, Clemson hosts NC State Wednesday and travels to Georgia Tech Saturday. Georgia Tech travels to Virginia Wednesday. Virginia hosts Maryland Sunday. North Carolina meanwhile must play the cream of the ACC’s crop – at Wake forest Wednesday and home for the traditional season finale Sunday against Duke.

If the season ended today, the order of fifth through eighth would be: Clemson, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia.

We’re in store for a wild finish with multiple shifts in the standings.

Meanwhile at the top of the division…

Entering the final week of play, the regular season championship remains a three-team competition. One game separates conference leader Wake Forest from third-place Duke. Wake Forest finishes at home against North Carolina and at NC State. Maryland only has one game remaining, at Virginia. Duke hosts Florida State Thursday and travels to Chapel Hill Sunday. Anything can happen at the top.

And then there’s Florida State

The Seminoles have one game left in their regular season – at Duke on Thursday. But the Seminioles can join the mess of teams with five wins. More importantly, Florida State can become the only ACC team to sweep Duke this season with an upset of the Blue Devils in Cameron Indoor Stadium and would become eligible for the NIT with a winning overall record.

Bubble Report

Last week proved that the ACC can only count on three at-large bids. NC State sits firmly on the bubble with 15-10 overall and 8-6 conference records. But several factors work against the Wolfpack. NC State is 2-7 on road with a weak RPI. The Wolfpack need to finish strong with wins at Clemson and home against Wake Forest. Those victories coupled with a win or two in the ACC tournament should propel the Wolfpack off the bubble and into the dance.

ACC Player of the Week

Florida State junior guard Tim Pickett dropped 32 points on Virginia Saturday and finished the week averaging 24 points and nine rebounds in two games. Florida State defeated Virginia 73-59 behind Pickett’s monstrous contribution.

ACC Rookie of the Week

North Carolina freshman guard Raymond Felton kept the Tar Heels’ post-season hopes alive by delivering in the clutch. Felton averaged 17.5 points, four rebounds and four assists in two games last week, but he nailed two free throws in the final seconds to give North Carolina a one-point 67-66 victory over Georgia Tech.

ACC Coaches’Clipboard

Virginia coach Pete Gillen must be feeling the pressure to win after the Cavaliers lost their sixth consecutive game at Florida State. Virginia is living up to its reputation as a team that starts strong but flops in February. That kind of reputation won’t keep the natives happy.

ACC Game of the Week

It’s the final week of the regular season and there is no single game that is more important than others. Wake Forest’s trip to NC State marks the match-up of the highest teams within the division. But the North Carolina/Duke clash next Sunday is always an exciting conclusion to the regular season for each team.

The moral of the story: watch all these games!

ACC Schedule

Wednesday: Clemson vs. NC State
Wednesday: No. 13 Wake Forest vs. North Carolina
Wednesday: Virginia vs. Georgia Tech
Thursday: No. 6 Duke vs. Florida State
Saturday: NC State vs. No. 13 Wake Forest
Saturday: Georgia Tech vs. Clemson
Sunday: Virginia vs. No. 15 Maryland
Sunday: North Carolina vs. No. 6 Duke

     

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