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January 28, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Preparing for the Final Stretch

As the calendar flips from January to February, the ACC teams prepare for the final run at an NCAA Tournament berth. The primary setting will be conference games, meaning that for every winner, there also is a loser. Here is how the conference would break down if the season ended today:

No. 2 Duke would have the best chance at a number one seed in the tournament. The Blue Devils sit at or near the top of the polls and have won 13 straight games since losing to Purdue in Alaska. The Blue Devils have earned the claim to a top seed by beating teams like Michigan State and Texas in non-conference play and Wake Forest in conference play.

After Duke, there are no solid candidates for a top seed, and likely not a No. 2 seed, either. No. 13 Georgia Tech, No. 8 Wake Forest and No. 9 North Carolina all have the potential to finish strong and grab either a two-seed or perhaps even a top-seed, but they must streak through several games, probably even a win against Duke. To be the best, you have to beat the best. And this year, as many years recently, the ACC’s best lives in Durham, N.C.

These four teams are the ACC’s strongest NCAA Tournament candidates. But there are three other strong candidates in NC State, Florida State and Maryland. These schools have their weaknesses, however, and must win several more key games, especially on the road.

The Seminoles are a perfect example of the dilemma that the selection committee will face. Should the Seminoles claim a spot from another conference, especially a strong mind-major program? Florida State’s best non-conference victory is probably in-state rival Miami in the Hurricanes’ house. But that is a rather weak quality win. The Seminoles have struggled away from Tallahassee, Fla., with a 2-4 record. But within the last week Florida State has wins over North Carolina and Wake Forest. The Seminoles have a 3-3 conference record. To make the NCAA Tournament, they probably need to win at least 10 in the conference or nine conference wins and at least one ACC tournament game.

NC State is in the same boat as Florida State, with a serious need for a quality win on the road. In non-conference play, the Wolfpack could have made a statement at Michigan, South Carolina or Boston College, but NC State lost all three road games. The best non-conference win is against BYU, which is a fantastic win, especially considering the Wolfpack annihilated the Cougars. But NC State is 1-4 away from home and need to beat a couple of the ACC’s elite on the road to have a stronger case for a tournament bid. NC State has four conference victories right now but might need to get to 11 conference wins to have a comfortable shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Of these three bubble teams, Maryland may have the strongest bubble. Despite being a young team prone to bad losses, the Terrapins have claimed some fantastic quality wins against the likes of Wisconsin, Florida and North Carolina. The Florida victory is especially good because it was at Gainesville, Fla. The committee will note that Maryland has played inconsistently, but if the Terps finish strong, winning seven or eight of their last 10 games, it’d be hard to leave Maryland out of the tournament. Maryland’s weakest mark is its conference record, which is only 2-3. The Terrapins must get to at least eight wins and probably nine to feel more confident about that bid.

Virginia and Clemson are on the outside looking at the moment. Neither team has a great non-conference win to brag about, although Virginia has good wins over Minnesota and Iowa State. The Cavaliers are in a position to make a run for the tournament, but they must win nearly every remaining game and probably one or two ACC tournament games. Not likely, but stranger things have happened.

So keep that in mind when watching the games this week. No team is guaranteed a spot, but the best way to earn it is to simply win.

Player of the Week:

Tim Pickett, Florida State

Senior guard Tim Pickett had a great week when Florida State really needed him to step forward as the team leader. Florida State was in the midst of a four-game losing streak before the Seminoles beat North Carolina and Wake Forest in Tallahassee, Fla., as Pickett averaged 24 points and six rebounds.

Rookie of the Week:

Luol Deng, Duke

Forward Luol Deng had a solid week for the Blue Devils, averaging 10.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two wins against Maryland and Georgetown.

ACC Coach Watch:

Herb Sendek, NC State

The Wolfpack need to build some momentum after beating Georgia Tech at home. NC State could use a pair of road victories at North Carolina and Maryland to strengthen its case for NCAA Tournament consideration.

Clemson Tigers (8-8, 1-4) Last week: 0-1

Clemson had a rough week, starting with a 61-50 loss at Virginia. The Tigers are struggling to find any offensive rhythm, which clearly remained MIA in Charlottesville, Va. Clemson shot under 32 percent from the field. Senior forward Chris Hobbs led all scores with 13 points, but no other Tiger reached double-figures. Clemson claimed 10 more rebounds than Virginia but also committed four more turnovers.

Against Maryland at home, Clemson continued to struggle offensively, especially in the second half. The Tigers lost 65-52 as they shot under 40 percent from the field in the game. Sophomore guard Shawan Robinson was the lone Tiger to reach double-figures, scoring 15 points. Clemson struggled from three-point range to make any shots in an attempt to come back late in the game. The Tigers made only 3-of-18 attempts from beyond the arc.

Clemson travels to Georgia Tech Jan. 27 and hosts North Carolina Jan. 31.

No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (16-1, 5-0) Last week: 2-0

The Blue Devils avoided falling victim to the Maryland Terrapins in College Park, Md., for a third straight year. Duke won 68-60 behind sophomore guard J.J. Redick’s 26 points. Redick drained all nine free-throw attempts. But as if Redick’s free throws were not potent enough, Redick shot 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. Duke dominated the boards against Maryland, winning the rebound war 44-30. Duke protected the ball well, committing only 10 turnovers. It helps to have a capable floor general in senior guard Chris Duhon, who finished with eight points, seven rebounds and eight assists.

Duke jumped out to a huge 48-24 point lead against Georgetown and never looked back in the second half, winning 85-66. Sophomore forward Shelden Williams continued to dominate opponents, scoring 26 points and blocking five shots. Duhon added 17 points, and Redick scored 15 points, but he missed a free throw to end his latest streak. Time to start anew, again. Defensively, Duke forced 19 turnovers and held the Hoyas to 43 percent.

Duke looks for consecutive wins number 14 and 15 against Florida State Jan. 29 and at Georgia Tech Jan. 31.

Florida State Seminoles (14-5, 3-3) Last week: 2-0

Despite falling behind by 24 points to North Carolina, the Seminoles never gave up against the Seminoles, relying on their defense to slow down the hot-shooting Tar Heels. Once the Tar Heels started missing, the Seminoles started heating up, and the Tallahassee, Fla., crowd started going nuts. Senior guard Tim Pickett led the furious second-half rally, scoring 30 points in the game. Trailing for nearly the entire game, Florida State found itself down by three points with under 10 seconds remaining in the game. Sophomore guard Todd Galloway ran the court and retreated to the three-point line when his defender fell down. Galloway drained the shot, forcing overtime with the Seminoles having all the momentum in the world on their side. And that momentum carried Florida State to a 90-81 thrilling overtime victory.

Florida State continued to beat up the big boys in a home game against Wake Forest, winning 75-70. Despite trailing during most of the second half, the Seminoles hit the free throws down the stretch to capture the lead, then the game. Sophomore guard Todd Galloway scored his only points on two free throws that gave the Seminoles a 71-70 lead. Senior guard Nate Johnson led the way with 19 points and seven assists. Johnson could be a critical element to this team’s success in the final month of regular-season play as Florida State continues to look for a reliable compliment to Pickett.

The Seminoles visit Duke Jan. 29 then hosts creampuff Savannah State Feb. 1.

No. 13 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (15-3, 3-2) Last week: 1-1

The Yellow Jackets started last week by travelling to Winston-Salem, N.C., to play a tough road game at Wake Forest. Georgia Tech won a tight contest, 73-66, with the difference being junior guard Will Bynum’s 20 points. Bynum continues to play excellent basketball and appears to have fully adjusted to coach Paul Hewitt’s system. In addition to Bynum, senior guard Marvin Lewis and junior guard Isma’il Muhammad each scored 14 points. Lewis was perfect from beyond the arc, where the Yellow Jackets shot better than 50 percent for the game.

Georgia Tech could not finish the sweep of its two road games in North Carolina last week, as the NC State Wolfpack beat the Yellow Jackets 76-72. Despite falling behind by 10 at halftime, Georgia Tech rallied to make the close at the finish. Bynum again led the Yellow Jackets, scoring 17 points and quickly becoming one of the most dangerous players on the court for Georgia Tech. Sophomore guard Jarrett Jack scored 15 points, and junior guard B.J. Elder scored 14 points.

Georgia Tech looks to warm up at home against Clemson Jan. 27 before a battle in Atlanta against Duke Jan. 31.

Maryland Terrapins (10-5, 1-3) Last week: 0-1

The Terrapins entered the home game against Duke looking to knock off another one of the ACC’s frontrunners in College Park, Md. The previous week, the Terps brought North Carolina off the pedestal. The Terps could not repeat the magic last week, however, losing to Duke 68-60. Maryland played a great defensive game, holding Duke under 34 percent shooting. Sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley led the offensive attack with 21 points and added eight rebounds. But his effort could not lift Maryland to victory. Maryland lost the battle of the boards 44-30 and allowed 21 second chances for Duke. With that many opportunities, it’s hard to stop a team from scoring, even if they’re only hitting 33 percent of their shots.

Maryland improved its rebounding prowess against Clemson, winning the battle of the boards 34-27 and then winning the game 65-52. Sophomore guard John Gilchrist had a solid game with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists. Senior forward Jamar Smith led the rebounding war by grabbing 10 rebounds. He averages 10.4 rebounds per game and is a force for any team to reckon with in the paint.

Maryland plays at Wake Forest Jan. 29 before hosting NC State Feb. 1 as a better pregame show than anything CBS can offer before the Super Bowl.

NC State Wolfpack (11-4, 4-1) Last week: 2-0

The Wolfpack visited soon-to-be conference foe Boston College for a critical non-conference game. With few quality wins in non-conference play, NC State could use a few more marquis victories to build a stronger case for making the NCAA Tournament. But the Wolfpack lost a tough game on the road in overtime, 66-65. Junior guard Julius Hodge did all he could to lift the Wolfpack, playing 40 minutes and leading the team with 25 points and 11 rebounds. The Wolfpack did not get much support from other members, as only one other NC State player reached double-figures.

The Wolfpack bounced back at home against Georgia Tech to pick up their fourth ACC victory, which places them just behind Duke at the top of the conference standings. And the Wolfpack probably need to remain there to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament after losing to Boston College. NC State overcame a terrible afternoon from Hodge, who managed only two points on free throws as he went 0-of-6 from the field. The Wolfpack made 12 three pointers but needed to jack up 41 to get there. Senior forward Marcus Melvin and senior guard Scooter Sherrill each made three three pointers, en route to 18 points apiece to lead the Wolfpack.

The Wolfpack visit Chapel Hill, N.C., to play North Carolina Jan. 28. NC State visits Maryland on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1.

No. 9 North Carolina Tar Heels (12-4, 2-3) Last week: 1-1

North Carolina started the first half of the Tar Heels’ first game this week at Florida State by making nearly every shot against a good defense. The Tar Heels built a 24-point lead and appeared poised to cruise to victory. But that was the end of Carolina’s comfort as Florida State whittled the lead away, forced overtime and shocked the Tar Heels. The loss spoiled another great performance by sophomore guard Rashad McCants, who scored 26 points. North Carolina’s depth hurt the Heels, as junior guard Jackie Manuel was the only bench player to score any points, and he only scored two points.

The Tar Heels continued to struggle early against Virginia. North Carolina squandered another double-digit lead, allowing the Cavaliers to slip ahead by a point early in the second half. But North Carolina refused to drop another ACC game, especially not in Chapel Hill, N.C. Another loss would all but doom the Tar Heels’ hopes of winning the ACC. So they responded behind sophomore guard Raymond Felton’s crisp passes and another fantastic performance by McCants. McCants finished with 26 points, again, and Felton finished with 11 points and eight assists. The Tar Heels shot better than 50 percent for the game and forced eight more turnovers to feed their fast break.

The Tar Heels host rival NC State Jan. 28 before travelling to Clemson Jan. 31.

Virginia Cavaliers (12-5, 2-4) Last week: 1-1

Virginia opened the week with an ugly win over Clemson, 61-50. The Tigers outrebounded Virginia by eight, but the Cavaliers held Clemson under 32 percent shooting. Freshman guard J.R. Reynolds led the team with 11 points, and the Cavaliers allowed only one Clemson player to reach double-figures. The two teams combined for 42 turnovers and 43 fouls while making only 39 field goals.

The Cavaliers could not continue its momentum at North Carolina. Virginia committed 19 turnovers, emphasizing the need for experience and/or talent at the point guard position. Senior guard Todd Billet struggled as the Cavaliers’ point guard and best sharp-shooter. Billet committed three turnovers and made only two of six shots. North Carolina outrebounded Virginia 36-26, which hints that the Cavaliers could not match the Tar Heels’ intensity. The Cavaliers appeared to be in a position to beat the Tar Heels after taking a one-point lead in the second half. The Tar Heels bounced back, though, and won 96-77.

Virginia plays just one game this week at Wake Forest Jan. 31.

No. 8 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (11-4, 2-3) Last week: 0-2

Home-court advantage was not enough for Wake Forest against Georgia Tech, as the Demon Deacons lost 73-66. Wake Forest’s playmakers struggled against the Yellow Jackets’ defense, as sophomore center Eric Williams was held to nine points and freshman guard Chris Paul scored only six points, four of which were from the line. Junior guard Vytas Danelius was Wake Forest’s most reliable weapon, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. Danelius must be the team leader to help Wake Forest fight through this four-game losing streak.

And the fourth game of that losing streak came at Florida State. Danelius all but disappeared in the game, finishing with five points and two rebounds as the Seminoles beat the Demon Deacons 75-70. Wake Forest let the lead slip away in the final minutes as Florida State hit clutch free throws to steal the victory. Paul and Williams played well in the losing effort; Paul scored 17 points and had four assists while Williams scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Wake Forest returns home with a couple of must-win games to end the Demon Deacons’ four-game skid. The Demon Deacons play Maryland Jan. 29 and Virginia Jan. 31.


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