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December 15, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Looking for buried treasure in Florida

With only eight games last week, the ACC glided through the calm before the storm. After much success during the first month of the season, the ACC teams wrap up the non-conference schedule during the next couple of weeks and prepare for conference play.

Of the ACC’s nine teams, five remain undefeated – No. 2 North Carolina, No. 11 Georgia Tech, No. 15 Wake Forest, Florida State and Virginia. In addition to the Tar Heels, Yellow Jackets and Demon Deacons, Duke is ranked at No. 6. NC State and Maryland have been ranked at some point this season, and both clubs are building their cases to reenter the Top 25.

Of the three teams that receive little attention – Virginia, Florida State and Clemson – Florida State may be the biggest surprise in a matter of only a few weeks. The Seminoles won their first road test of the season at Miami Dec. 14. In the next three weeks, Florida State will have tests against No. 22 Pittsburgh, No. 1 (for the next few hours) Florida and Maryland.

For Florida State to earn national recognition and become a legitimate contender for the ACC title, the Seminoles must win at least two of those three games. Senior guard Tim Pickett is the catalyst for all of Florida State’s success, averaging 15.6 points per game and, more importantly, 2.4 steals per game.

With Pickett leading the way, Florida State plays sensational defense. The key to the Seminoles’ intense pressure is a strong rotation. With 11 players seeing significant action in at least seven games so far this season, Florida State can afford to harass opponents without worrying about foul trouble. Florida State also can be patient on offense and wait for one of their many weapons to deliver. So far, Pickett and junior forward Anthony Richardson are the only consistent scoring weapons game in and game out.

Florida State must continue to shoot well, averaging just over 50 percent on the season, including 41 percent from three-point range. Coach Leonard Hamilton deserves consideration for coach of the year honors if the Seminoles win 10 or more conference games this season, which would almost certainly mean an NCAA bid. And if Florida State makes the tournament, they may benefit from the current lack of attention and surprise some unsuspecting higher-seeded teams in the second or third rounds.

Death in the Family

The NC State Wolfpack extended family lost its venerable former coach Norm Sloan, who died of pulmonary fibrosis Dec. 9 at Duke Hospital. Sloan coached NC State to a 266-147 record over 14 seasons, including the Wolfpack’s 1974 basketball title.

Sloan also coached at Florida for two separate stints. His career record was 627-395. In addition to his success at NC State, Sloan helped put Florida basketball on the map. NC State faithful may best remember Sloan for bringing David Thompson to Raleigh. Thompson is one of the best college basketball players to ever play the game. Sloan and Thompson guided NC State to an undefeated season in 1973 and only failed to claim a title because the Wolfpack were under sanctions for recruiting violations.

Transfer News

A week after Duke sophomore forward Michael Thompson announced his intentions to leave the Blue Devils, Maryland junior point guard Andre Collins also decided to leave his team. Collins is seeking more playing time and was not getting it as a backup to sophomore guard John Gilchrist, who has emerged as Maryland’s point guard of the future.

But freshman guard D.J. Strawberry may have been the real catalyst for Collins’ decision. Strawberry has played well in his appearances this season, which created even fewer opportunities for Collins to get in the game. Collins averaged less than 10 minutes and three points per game this season. He has not announced where he intends to go, but Collins will be eligible to play for a new team beginning January 2005. He must sit out two semesters, according to NCAA rules, and will count the second semester of this season as his first one of the two he must sit out.

Like Collins, Thompson will be eligible to play in January 2005. Although Collins has more experience, Thompson may be the hotter commodity because he is a former McDonald’s All-American. Thompson could not find a spot in Duke’s rotation that now includes super freshman Luol Deng in addition to sophomores Shavlik Randolph and Shelden Williams. Those three will dominate the playing time for Duke’s big men.

Player of the Week

Jamar Smith, Maryland

This week’s honors go to Maryland senior forward Jamar Smith, who continued to dominate competition this week with two more double-doubles against Florida and Pepperdine. Smith averaged 13 points and 11 rebounds. Teammates sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley and junior guard John Gilchrist deserve honorable mention.

Rookie of the Week

D.J. Strawberry, Maryland

Guard D.J. Strawberry proved that he can fill the shoes of junior guard Andre Collins as backup to Gilchrist by scoring a career-high 17 points against Pepperdine. Strawberry showed poise against Florida when the crowd taunted him and his father, former baseball player and convicted drug user Darryl Strawberry, by chanting “Darryl” every time D.J. touched the ball. Despite the taunting, Strawberry played well.

Coach Watch

Roy Williams, North Carolina

With the loss by several top teams, North Carolina will move closer to No. 1 in every poll. The Tar Heels open ACC play at home against Wake Forest but need a better performance than the ho-hum victory over Akron Dec. 14. Williams must not only find a way to slow down Wake Forest’s running game but also limit the Demon Deacons’ inside attack, which is superior to North Carolina’s interior defense.

Team Reports

Clemson Tigers (3-3) Last week: 0-1

Maybe there is some truth to the adage that three is a magic number. The Tigers started the season with three wins over Gardner Webb, High Point and Wofford. Now Clemson is in the midst of a three-game losing streak to No. 17 Purdue, South Carolina and Georgia. The Tigers lost 61-56 at Georgia Dec. 13.

Speaking of three, Clemson struggles to hit any three’s. The Tigers are shooting only 29 percent from behind the arc and have made only 25 three-pointers all season. Seven of those three-pointers came in the loss to Georgia as Clemson tried to overcome 19 turnovers. Junior guard Chey Christie led Clemson with 24 points, but Georgia neutralized Clemson’s inside attack, which allowed the Bulldogs to win the game.

And what better number of games for Clemson to play this week than three. The Tigers host East Tennessee State Dec. 15, travel to Cincinnati Dec. 17 and then return home to play South Carolina State Dec. 20.

Duke Blue Devils (6-1) Last week: 1-0

Duke had an easy week last week with only one game. The Blue Devils manhandled Portland 84-43 Dec. 14. Duke limited Portland to just 12 points in the first half and built a 28-point lead. The Blue Devils then cruised to an 84-43 victory behind freshman forward Luol Deng’s team-high 15 points and nine rebounds.

Duke had seven players score at least seven points while only allowing two Portland players to score more than six points. Duke held Portland under 25 percent shooting and won the battle of the boards by eight. Although Portland may not be a fearsome opponent for Duke, the Blue Devils’ defensive effort and balanced offensive attack resemble the type of dominating play that has been lacking from Duke in several games this season.

Duke tunes up at home against Princeton Dec. 17 before traveling to New York to play No. 9 Texas at Madison Square Garden Dec. 20.

Florida State Seminoles (8-0) Last week: 1-0

Florida State just keeps winning, running its season-opening streak to eight games with a win at Miami Dec. 14. The Seminoles won a hard-fought battle 67-58 and held the Hurricanes under 36 percent shooting for the game. Anthony Richardson led Florida State with 15 points and senior star Tim Pickett added 12. Miami superstar Darius Rice led all scores with 20.

Florida State continues the soft underbelly of its schedule this week with games against Wagner Dec. 18 and Chicago State Dec. 20. But Pittsburgh and Maryland loom on the horizon.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-0) Last week: 1-0

The Yellow Jackets improved to 8-0 last week with a 75-62 win over St. Louis in Atlanta. Junior guard B.J. Elder led Georgia Tech with 17 points and junior forward Isma’il Muhammad continued his hot start with 16 points.

The Yellow Jackets buried St. Louis with a barrage of three-pointers, making nine of 17 attempts. The one disconcerting statistic for coach Paul Hewitt and company is that St. Louis outrebounded the Yellow Jackets by five. Although center Luke Schenscher is a smidge over seven-feet tall, he plays smaller and rarely dominates inside.

Arizona transfer Will Bynum played his first game for Georgia Tech against St. Louis. He logged 18 points and scored six points.

This week, Georgia Tech looks to get to 10-0 by winning home games against Alabama A&M Dec. 17 and St. John’s Dec. 21.

Maryland Terrapins (6-2) Last week: 2-0

Maryland was by far the most successful ACC team last week, if for no other reason than the Terrapins were the only team to play and win two games. With one of those wins being over No. 1 Florida, it’s hard to argue that the Terrapins are the hot team to watch in the ACC.

As a young team trying to recover from losing its senior leaders, Maryland had lacked a true go-to guy at the end of games. But sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley seems prepared to embrace that role. In a thrilling 69-68 overtime win at Florida, Caner-Medley hit several tough and critical shots to help Florida overcome an overtime deficit for the win. He finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds.

Senior forward Jamar Smith is Maryland’s reliable workhorse who seems determined to average a double-double every game. Smith scored 14 against Florida and grabbed 12 rebounds. Smith, Caner-Medley and sophomore guard John Gilchrist helped Maryland can hang on after the Terps saw a double-digit lead disintegrate when the Gators caught fire late in the second half.

Maryland avoided an emotional letdown at home against Pepperdine Dec. 14, winning 96-72. The Terrapins had career performances by Gilchrist and freshman guard D.J. Strawberry. With the transfer of junior guard Andre Collins, Strawberry figures to play more minutes this season than coach Gary Williams may have originally planned.

But Strawberry’s 17-point performance may be a sign of good times ahead in College Park, Md. With 24 points, five rebounds and seven assists, Gilchrist may be Maryland’s most lethal weapon. Gilchrist and Strawberry needed career performances to counter Pepperdine’s junior forward Glen McGowan, who scored at will against Maryland for a game-high 36 points. Despite McGowan’s dominating performance, Pepperdine managed to shoot just 39 percent, and Maryland outrebounded Pepperdine 40-31.

Maryland has this week off for finals. If the Terrapins perform in class as well as they did on the court last week, the professors should be ready to hand out a lot of A-pluses.

NC State Wolfpack (5-1) Last week: 1-0

Senior forward Marcus Melvin led the Wolfpack to a 78-49 win over Hartford Dec. 13 in Reynolds Coliseum, the former home for NC State before moving to the RBC Center. Hartford had no answer for Melvin, who finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. Freshman guard Mike O’Donnell continues to play well, adding 16 points. NC State’s one weakness in the game was shot selection. Known for jacking up three’s all game, the Wolfpack attempted 32 three-pointers and only made eight.

The Wolfpack continues to flow through the slow part of the schedule with only one game this week, at South Carolina Dec. 20.

North Carolina Tar Heels (6-0) Last week: 1-0

The Tar Heels entered the game against Akron Dec. 14 No. 2 in the Hoopville poll and figure to possibly step into the cursed No. 1 spot with the two losses by Florida last week. But the Tar Heels played uninspired basketball in a 64-53 win. Coach Roy Williams called the effort pathetic, which is also the technical term for the Tar Heels’ 24 percent shooting in the second half.

Sophomore forward Sean May was the highlight of the game for North Carolina because he grabbed 21 rebounds, which is a record for North Carolina’s Dean E. Smith Center. The Tar Heels remain a shallow team with all five starters logging at least 30 minutes. Williams is rightfully uncomfortable with North Carolina’s lack of offensive production because teams better than Akron will be able to muster more offense and steal a win over the Tar Heels.

North Carolina and Wake Forest open conference play Dec. 20 in Chapel Hill in what looks to be a battle between two of the ACC’s heavyweights.

Virginia Cavaliers (5-0) Last week: 0-0

With no games last week, the Cavaliers had an opportunity to study for final exams. This week, Virginia returns to action with a home game against James Madison Dec. 16 and a game at Loyola Marymount Dec. 19. Virginia should continue its hot start to the season with two more victories.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (5-0) Last week: 0-0

Like Virginia, the Demon Deacons took a week off for final exams. Wake Forest hits the road Dec. 15 to play SMU before traveling down Interstate 40 to Chapel Hill to play the Tar Heels Dec. 20.


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