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November 10, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

A lot has happened in the ACC since the final games of last season when Maryland and Duke bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 in March. Now, the ACC’s teams embark on the conference’s final season as we know it.

After the dust settled from the tempestuous ACC expansion, Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College had become members of the ACC, increasing the number of schools to twelve. With the new teams, ACC teams will no longer be able to play each opponent twice, once at home and once on the road, during the basketball season. Some teams will only play an opponent once a year. The exact scheduling details remain unsettled because it is unclear when Boston College will officially abandon the Big East conference for the ACC. Virginia Tech and Miami will bolt the Big East for the ACC starting next season.

So as the new season starts, enjoy the final home-and-away series because the ACC is a conference moving into the 21st century of NCAA athletics – a century of superconferences and football championship games.

On the hardwood court, the ACC promises to regain its position atop the world of NCAA basketball. Duke and North Carolina have strong teams with plenty of sensational sophomores, many of whom already have an entire year of game experience. NC State features one of the nation’s best players in junior guard Julius Hodge. Wake Forest, Maryland and Florida State promise to compete for the middle three positions. Virginia, Clemson and Georgia Tech most likely will round out the bottom third of the conference as they rebuild after losing several key contributors.

With the season less than a month away, check out what you can expect to see this season.

Preseason ACC Most Valuable Player:
Julius Hodge, NC State

Hodge is one of the ACC’s most talented and most exciting players. NC State will ask him to lead the ‘Pack back to the top of the ACC standings and to the NCAA Tournament. Hodge has the ability to shut down the best opponents on defense while finding ways to score despite harassing pressure from opponents.

Preseason ACC Rookie of the Year:
Luol Deng, Duke

Duke likes to apply intense defensive pressure and to attack opponents on the offensive end, and Deng will offer the Blue Devils even greater flexibility. A 6’8 forward with the skills of a point guard, Deng can essentially play any position on the court. Deng may give up a few pounds to thicker forwards, but his tenacity to chase rebounds will produce solid numbers. Deng will be an instant contributor and could be the difference for Duke to reclaim the ACC regular season title.

Preseason ACC Most Improved Player:
Jamar Smith, Maryland

The Terrapins lost all five starters after last season, but forward Jamar Smith flashed moments of brilliance last season. Look for Smith to become the athletic runner that will frequently start and finish Maryland’s transition offense. Smith should put up big numbers in points and rebounds as he becomes a fixture in the starting lineup.

Preseason First Team All-ACC:
Julius Hodge, guard, NC State
Tim Pickett, guard, Florida State
Raymond Felton, guard, North Carolina
Vytas Danelius, forward, Wake Forest
J.J. Redick, guard, Duke

Preseason Second Team All-ACC:
Rashad McCants, guard, North Carolina
Chris Duhon, guard, Duke
Daniel Ewing, guard, Duke
Marcus Melvin, forward, NC State
Jamar Smith, forward, Maryland

1. Duke Blue Devils

Overall record: 27-6, Conference record: 11-5, 3rd place

Projected starting five:
Guard Chris Duhon, senior
Guard J.J. Redick, sophomre
Guard Daniel Ewing, junior
Forward Shelden Williams, sophomore
Forward Luol Deng, freshman

Key players lost:
Guard Dahntay Jones (17.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
Center Casey Sanders (4.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

Key additions:
Guard Patrick Davidson
Forward Luol Deng

Sophomore forward Shavlik Randolph had surgery in May for a labral tear and a bone spur on his left hip. Randolph spent the summer recovering from the surgery and should be good to go for this coming season. In 26 games as a freshman, Randolph averaged 7.4 points per game and 3.9 rebounds per game.

Non-conference schedule highlights:
Great Alaska Shootout, 11/27/03-11/29/03
At Michigan State, 12/3/03
St. John’s, 12/6/03
Texas, 12/20/03
Valparaiso, 2/26/04

Duke should return to the top of the ACC standings this season. The Blue Devils are the deepest team in the ACC with a lineup balanced by experienced leadership and energetic youth. Duhon will be the steadfast leader of this group while the youngsters Redick, Williams, Deng and company will provide the electrifying plays that inspire the Duke fans to make Cameron Indoor Stadium the most intimidating court in the nation.

2. North Carolina Tar Heels

Overall record: 19-16, Conference record: 6-10, 7th place

Projected starting five:
Guard Raymond Felton, sophomore
Guard Rashad McCants, sophomore
Guard Jackie Manuel, junior
Forward Jawad Williams, junior
Forward Sean May, sophomore

Key additions: Two
Forward Reyshawn Terry
Forward Justin Bohlander

Sophomore forward Sean May injured his foot last season and only returned for a cameo appearance in the ACC Tournament. He averaged 11.4 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game before going down with the injury.

Non-conference schedule highlights:
Illinois, 12/2/03
Akron, 12/14/03
At UNC-Wilmington, 12/28/03
At Kentucky, 1/3/04
Connecticut, 1/17/03

Coaching change:
Matt Doherty resigned as North Carolina’s coach after pressure from the athletic department. He had a record of 53-43 in three seasons, but the department and other powerful North Carolina figures supposedly generally disagreed with Doherty’s coaching style. Roy Williams left Kansas to return to his alma mater to become the head coach. Williams brings a 418-101 record to Chapel Hill where he started his coaching career as an assistant under Dean Smith.

Roy Williams returns to Chapel Hill at a time of impending prosperity. Although Doherty was apparently not the right coach for the team, he built a solid team that should return to the top third of the ACC standings. Because North Carolina depended on their freshmen to contribute last year, they have invaluable experience in pressure situations. Expect Felton, McCants and May to play far better than the average college sophomore. North Carolina should have no troubles returning to the NCAA Tournament after an uncharacteristic two-year absence. Predicted finish: Second

3. NC State Wolfpack

Ovrall record: 18-13, Conference record: 9-7, 4th place

Projected starting five:
Guard Julius Hodge, junior
Guard Scooter Sherrill, senior
Forward Ilian Evtimov, sophomore
Forward Marcus Melvin, senior
Forward Levi Watkins, junior

Key players lost: Two
Guard Clifford Crawford (9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.2 apg) (Graduated)
Forward Josh Powell (12.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.3 blocks per game) (NBA Draft)

Key additions: Four
Guard Engin Atsur
Guard Tony Bethel
Guard Chris McCoy
Guard Mike O’Donnell

Sophomore forward Ilian Evtimov returns to the Wolfpack’s lineup after tearing an ACL during NC State’s first exhibition game last year. Evtimov received a medical redshirt classification and therefore did not lose a year of eligibility.

Non-conference schedule highlights:
At Michigan, 12/2/03
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 12/7/03
UNC-Wilmington, 1/3/04
BTU, 1/7/04
At Boston College, 1/20/04

Under the stewardship of Herb Sendek, the Wolfpack have reemerged as a force to be reckoned with in the ACC. Sendek likes to play a positionless offense that features many athletic guard/forward combo players. Hodge is the perfect player for the system as he can lead a break, hit the jumper and attack the rim. Hodge also plays shutdown defense and can carry this team to the top of the standings, much like Josh Howard did for Wake Forest last season. But is the Wolfpack’s supporting cast strong enough to complement Hodge’s talent and deliver a conference championship? Predicted finish: Third

4. Florida State Seminoles

Overall record: 14-15, Conference record: 4-12, 9th place

Projected starting five:
Guard Tim Pickett, senior
Guard Andrew Wilson, sophomore
Guard Nate Johnson, senior
Forward Anthony Richardson, junior
Forward Michael Joiner, senior

Key players lost: One
Center Trevor Harvery (8.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg)

Key additions: Four
Guard Von Wafer
Forward Alexander Johnson
Forward Diego Romero (JUCO transfer)
Forward Al Thornton

Oft-injured junior guard Andrew Wilson returns to the Seminoles lineup after playing only five games last season. He injured his wrist against Miami and missed the remainder of the season. The previous season he played in only one game before tearing his MCL and missing the rest of that season.

Non-conference schedule highlights:
Mississippi, 12/3/03
Pittsburgh Invitational, 12/16/03-12/22/03
At Florida, 1/3/04

Watch out for Florida State. The Seminoles feature an experienced lineup with gifted athletes and wise leaders. Leonard Hamilton is a great coach and is in his second year at Florida State. So his players should have a better grasp of his style. Look for Pickett to contest Hodge for conference MVP. Perhaps the only knock on Florida State is a relatively weak non-conference schedule that may leave them susceptible to hardened conference opponents that play more challenging schedules. But that shouldn’t matter for a truly talented and well-coached team. Predicted finish: Fourth

5. Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Overall record: 25-6, Conference record: 13-3, 1st place

Projected starting five:
Guard Justin Gray, sophomore
Guard Taron Downey, junior
Forward Vytas Danelius, junior
Forward Jamaal Levy, junior
Center Eric Williams, sophomore

Key players lost: One
Forward Josh Howard (19.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.5 blocks per game)

Key additions: Four
Guard Jeremy Ingram
Guard Chris Paul
Forward Todd Hendley
Center Kyle Visser

Sophomore forward Chris Ellis broke his right foot during Wake Forest’s first practice on Saturday. He had surgery Oct. 20, and the timing of his return remains unclear. Ellis was a reliable bench player last season, averaging 2.8 points per game and 2.5 rebounds per game. He would likely have seen more playing time this year as the Demon Deacons attempt to replace Howard.

Non-conference schedule highlights:
Memphis, 11/13/03
Indiana, 12/2/03
Richmond, 12/6/03
At Texas, 1/13/04
Cincinnati, 2/15/03

Wake Forest is a difficult team to predict. The Demon Deacons certainly have a talented roster. Danelius might be one of the best post players in the conference. The question is how effective will this team be without the presence of Josh Howard. If opponents can stymie Danelius and pressure Wake Forest’s young backcourt, the Demon Deacons may struggle. But if Danelius has a breakout season, Wake Forest could easily be a serious threat in the NCAA Tournament come March. Predicted finish: Fifth

6. Maryland Terrapins

Overall record: 21-10, Conference record: 11-5, 2nd place

Projected starting five:
Guard John Gilchrist, sophomore
Guard Mike Jones, freshman
Forward Nik Caner-Medley, sophomore
Forward Travis Garrison, sophomore
Forward Jamar Smith, senior

Key players lost: Five
Guard Steve Blake (11.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 7.1 apg)
Guard Drew Nicholas (17.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
Forward Tahj Holden (8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Forward Ryan Randle (12.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
Forward Calvin McCall (4.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg)

Key additions: Five
Guard Mike Jones
Guard D.J. Strawberry
Forward Hassan Fofana
Forward Ekene Ibekwe
Center Wil Bowers

Non-conference schedule highlights:
Wisconsin, 12/2/03
BB&T Classic, 12/6/03-12/7/03
At Florida, 12/10/03
Pepperdine, 12/14/03

The Terrapins have enjoyed experienced teams for the previous two seasons in a conference in which most other schools had very young lineups. Experience led Maryland to great conference finishes and a national championship two years ago. But now Maryland must deal with its own youth movement, having lost all five of its starters from last year. Despite the lack of experience, Maryland has many talented players and a fantastic recruiting class. Much like North Carolina did last year, Maryland will rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores to carry the team. That means the Terrapins will have an always exciting but sometimes inconsistent squad. Predicted finish: Sixth

7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Overall record: 16-15, Conference record: 7-9, 5th place

Projected starting five:
Guard B.J. Elder, junior
Guard Marvin Lewis, senior
Guard Jarrett Jack, freshman
Forward Isma’il Muhammad, junior
Center Luke Schenscher, junior

Key players lost: Two

Forward Chris Bosh (15.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.1 blocks per game) (NBA Draft)
Forward Ed Nelson to Connecticut (8.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) (Transferred)

Key additions: Two
Forward Will Bynum (Transfer from Arizona, eligible after fall semester)
Forward Clarence Moore (Returns to team as a senior)

Non-conference schedule highlights:
Preseason NIT, 11/18/03-11/28/03
St. John’s, 12/21/03
At Georgia, 1/3/04
At Tennessee, 2/7/04

I admit it – I was wrong about Chris Bosh. He left Georgia Tech for fortune and glory in the NBA when I thought he’d stay one more year. I bet the Yellow Jackets wish I was right. Rather than becoming a legitimate threat to win the ACC, Georgia Tech will struggle to avoid the bottom of the ACC’s standings. In addition to Bosh, Nelson left the Yellow Jackets’ program. Georgia Tech’s greatest addition is Will Bynum, a transfer from Arizona, but he will not be eligible until December. Someone for Georgia Tech must become the dominant post player to replace Bosh and Nelson. The Yellow Jackets have a strong backcourt but, without a serious threat in the paint, opponents can shift their defense to minimize their ability to take over games. Predicted finish: Seventh

8. Clemson Tigers

Overall record: 15-13, Conference record: 5-11, 8th place

Projected starting five:
Guard Chey Christe, junior
Guard Shawan Robinson, sophomore
Forward Olu Babalola, junior
Forward Chris Hobbs, senior
Forward Sharrod Ford, junior

Key players lost: Three
Guard Ed Scott (17.7 ppg, 5.8 apg)
Forward Ray Henderson (5.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Forward Tomas Nagys (6.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

Key additions: Three
Guard Vernon Hamilton
Guard Jimmy Hudson
Forward Lamar Rice (JUCO transfer)

Non-conference schedule highlights:
At Purdue, 12/3/03
South Carolina, 12/6/03
At Georgia, 12/13/03
At Cincinnati, 12/17/03
Boston College, 12/30/03

Coaching change:
Clemson let Larry Shyatt resign as head coach. Oliver Purnell replaces Shyatt as coach. Purnell was last seen guiding the Dayton Fliers to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. He has a career record of 256-191 and looks to establish a winning tradition at Clemson.

Clemson will probably struggle this season. Purnell has to find a way to replace Scott and Henderson who were the backcourt and frontcourt team leaders, respectively. Clemson still has a strong frontcourt but a suspect backcourt. If Purnell can get Clemson out of the bottom third of the ACC standings, he should be considered a candidate for coach of the year. Predicted finish: Eighth

9. Virginia Cavaliers

Overall record: 16-16, Conference record: 6-10, 6th place

Projected starting five:
Guard Majestic Mapp, senior
Guard Todd Billet, senior
Forward Derrick Byars, sophomore
Forward Devin Smith, junior
Forward Elton Brown, junior

Key players lost: Four
Forward Travis Watson (14.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg)
Guard Jermaine Harper to California State – Fullerton (3.9 ppg)
Forward Nick Vander Laan to Concordia University (5.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Left the team:
Guard Keith Jenifer (5.6 ppg, 5.5 apg)

Key additions: Five
Guard T.J. Bannister
Guard Gary Forbes
Guard J.R. Reynolds
Forward Jason Cain
Forward Donte Minter

Although senior guard Majestic Mapp rejoined the Cavaliers last season, this season will be his first full season since blowing out his right knee – twice. Mapp’s charisma provides instant energy for the Cavaliers and their home-court crowd.

Non-conference schedule highlights:
Minnesota, 12/3/03
Iowa State, 12/31/03
Providence, 1/3/03

Virginia must find a way to replace Watson’s ability to dominate in the post. Expect the Cavaliers to struggle early as they try to integrate last season’s players with their talented recruiting class. Several of the freshmen must have monstrous seasons for Virginia to have a shot at a good finish in the ACC. Most likely, Virginia will undergo a rebuilding year and give the freshmen an opportunity to learn through experience. Predicted finish: Ninth


The ACC should get five teams into the NCAA Tournament this year. It would not shock me if Maryland finishes strong and receives serious consideration for a bid if one or two other major conferences have only a few teams dominate.

With the ACC adding more teams after this season, enjoy the home-and-away series because this season will mark the final time the conference schedule features the equal matchups. And if you get a chance, check out Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College to see how the ACC’s future competition fares.


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