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ACC Notebook

February 3, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Idolizing Duke

In the national fervor for talent searches like American Idol, the best and worst singers entertain all of America, and the people seemingly can’t get enough. In the world of college basketball, the nationwide search for a squad talented enough to call champion should audition the Duke Blue Devils.

With conference play nearly half over, Duke remains the only undefeated team in conference competition. For that matter, Duke is the only ACC team without two conference losses. Although there are plenty of games left, including two against rival North Carolina, Duke seems the clear favorite to win the conference. Talk of a perfect season is way too early, but they only need one win in Chapel Hill on Thursday to claim victories over every single ACC opponent so far this season – in the first attempt, too.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski is a mastermind who knows how to make due with what he has. This version of the Duke winning machine lacks significant depth, but offers greater flexibility for Coach K than nearly any team he has coached at Duke. The Blue Devils boast seven players who could start for any program in this country. If Duke needs to go big, they can play three forwards for significant minutes. If they play guard-dominated opponents that like to run, Duke can go blow-for-blow for 40 minutes with the best of them.

The linchpin to Duke’s survival of the fittest may be freshman forward Luol Deng. Deng possesses the rare combination of natural post talent with a natural shooters’ touch. Like Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony last season, Deng creates match up problems against nearly anybody Duke faces. And he has proven to be willing to be the man to go to when Duke’s other scorers are taken out of the game by an opponents’ defense. But few opponents can disarm all of Duke’s weapons.

The maestro of Duke’s success is senior point guard Chris Duhon. Although Duhon does not put up fantastic scoring statistics, he does exactly what he is supposed to do as a point guard – run the offense. And as the lone senior playing significant minutes, Duhon is the team leader to motivate everyone to play their best basketball. Defensively, Duhon can frustrate the best guards in the ACC, and there is no shortage of talent to try to get past him.

On top of Duke’s top-notch coaching and players, the home-court advantage is the most significant one in the entire ACC. Duke has a great opportunity to finish the season undefeated at home. Again. The Cameron Crazies seem to intimidate most opponents days before the game even starts.

Saying Duke is the best team in the ACC right now is about as shocking as concluding that sun rises in the morning. The bottom line for the rest of the ACC is that any hope to win the ACC championship, either regular season or conference tournament, requires a win over Duke. To be the best you must beat the best.

National MVP from the ACC?

The NCAA announced its midseason John Wooden Award list of candidates, which includes 30 of the nation’s best players. The ACC has five players on that list: Duke senior guard Chris Duhon, Georgia Tech junior guard B.J. Elder, NC State junior guard Julius Hodge, North Carolina sophomore forward Sean May and Wake Forest freshman guard Chris Paul. The committee picked four of the ACC’s best, but I question their process. How can these four make the list but not Maryland senior forward Jamar Smith, North Carolina sophomore guard Raymond Felton, Duke guard J.J. Redick, Florida State senior guard Tim Pickett? Clearly it’s a tough choice, but the four chosen do not necessarily represent the ACC’s best. Is it a coincidence that four of those five chosen as midseason candidates are players on ranked teams? I think not.

ACC Player of the Week

Tim Pickett, Florida State

Pickett delivered two great performances in Florida State’s tough loss at Duke and an easy win against Savannah State. Pickett averaged 20 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals in two games in which he totaled 49 minutes. Imagine his line if he’d played his average of 29 minutes per game. In 10 more minutes against Savannah State, those numbers could easily be higher.

ACC Rookie of the Week

Luol Deng, Duke

Deng won the award by a slight margin over Wake Forest’s Chris Paul as each player sparked his team to an important conference victory, but Deng led the Blue Devils’ victory on the road against a ranked opponent, Georgia Tech, while Paul’s performance was at home against unranked Maryland. Deng averaged 14 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in two Blue Devils over Georgia Tech and Florida State.

ACC Coach Watch

Roy Williams, North Carolina

The Tar Heels are at a crossroads in the season. After rising to No. 2 in the Hoopville poll, the Tar Heels are dropping like a rock and poor performances on the road against teams like Clemson have put North Carolina near the bottom of the conference standings. Williams must find a way to get his players to shut down opponents on defense, and this week he has the difficult task of shutting down Duke in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Team Reports:

With the conference season approaching the midseason turn, the team reports will reflect each team’s conference standing.

No. 2 Duke Blue Devils (18-1, 7-0) Last week: 2-0

Duke’s game against Florida State wasn’t pretty, but the Blue Devils did what championship teams must do – find a way to win. Despite shooting just 39 percent in the game, Duke squashed the Seminoles’ rally in the final minute. The Blue Devils allowed a 34-22 halftime lead to slip away, giving Florida State a chance to win in the final minute. Leading by just two points, senior guard Chris Duhon proved he is more than willing to be the team’s leader, draining a clutch three pointer that was the catalyst for Duke’s 56-49 win. Sophomore guard J.J. Redick led all scores with 24 points. Duke held Florida State under 30 percent shooting in the game.

Duke’s shooting and tempers heated up in Atlanta against Georgia Tech, as the Blue Devils won 82-74. The game was stopped twice for referees to review replays before making official calls. Redick and Georgia Tech’s junior guard B.J. Elder fought for a loose ball and had some choice words for each other after the play ended. Georgia Tech senior forward Robert Brooks had a choice shove for Redick, who had landed right in front of the Yellow Jackets’ bench. Duke’s junior guard Daniel Ewing politely – or not – inquired if Brooks would like a piece of him. Brooks’ response remains unknown, but officials and teammates broke up the powder keg and reviewed tape before expelling Brooks for leaving the bench and giving every other player involved a technical foul.

The second incident was a call against Georgia Tech’s Clarence Moore for retaliating against sophomore guard Sean Dockery’s out-of-control drive through the lane. In my humble opinion, the refs missed the call because Moore did not actually touch Dockery, who tackled Moore after colliding with him during his romp toward the rim. As for the actual game, Duke survived a slow start, winning 82-74. Freshman forward Luol Deng and sophomore forward Shelden Williams each registered double-doubles to lead the Blue Devils to a hard-fought win in Atlanta. Williams finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out, while Deng had 22 points and 10 rebounds, his second double-double in four games. Deng is beginning to show the flashes of brilliance that could propel Duke into the Final Four much like Carmelo Anthony did for Syracuse last season.

Duke looks to complete a perfect first half of the conference season by beating hated-rival North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C, Feb. 5. Duke starts the home stretch of conference play Feb. 8 at home against Clemson.

North Carolina State Wolfpack (12-5, 5-2) Last week: 1-1

NC State entered this week with two opportunities to pick up a huge road win. The first shot was at North Carolina. The Wolfpack jumped out to a four-point halftime lead, but the Tar Heels protected home court in the second half to win 68-66. Senior forward Marcus Melvin was the most effective player for NC State, scoring 15 points, grabbing nine rebounds but also committing six turnovers. Junior guard Julius Hodge also reached double-figures with 12 points but also committed six turnovers. As a team, the Wolfpack turned the ball over 20 times, which nullified a strong 52 percent shooting performance.

The Wolfpack bounced back in their second opportunity for a road win. NC State beat Maryland, 81-69, in College Park, Md., for the first time since 1989. Hodge went off for 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists to single-handedly guide the Wolfpack over the Terrapins. The win gives NC State an important road victory. The Wolfpack probably need to pick up a road win against one of the other top ACC teams to solidify an NCAA bid.

NC State hosts Wake Forest Feb. 4 then travels to Virginia Feb. 7. Two Wolfpack victories could create some separation for the Wolfpack in the ACC’s upper echelon.

No. 15 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (16-4, 4-3) Last week: 1-1

Junior guard B.J. Elder ensured Georgia Tech’s losing streak would not reach two games against Clemson. Elder scored a career-high 36 points in the Yellow Jackets’ 76-69 win. Elder shot 60 percent in the game, including 6-of-10 from three-point land. As a team, the Yellow Jackets drained more than half of their three pointers, which helped make up for a terrible rebounding performance. Featuring a frontcourt-heavy lineup, Clemson dominated the glass, 40-23. But Georgia Tech’s defense stepped up the pressure to hold Clemson under 36 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers. Although Elder’s individual effort is amazing, coach Paul Hewitt cannot be happy with his team’s unbalanced attack and rebounding inferiority.

Duke apparently also noticed Elder’s offensive explosion and worked to keep his impact to a minimum. The Blue Devils succeeded, muzzling Elder with seven points before he fouled out, finishing with only two fields goals in 11 attempts. Duke won the game 82-74, which featured some previously mentioned extracurricular activities. Sophomore guard Jarrett Jack was the team’s best performer, scoring 19 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing five assists. Despite Jack’s efforts and leadership, Georgia Tech missed many opportunities to capture the momentum during several second-half rally attempts. The Yellow Jackets missed several point-blank tip-ins, which in sum produced a 38 percent shooting performance. Duke demonstrated more dedication to rebounding, winning the battle of the boards 40-33.

Georgia Tech travels to Florida State Feb. 3, hoping to avoid becoming the third ACC powerhouse to fall in Tallahassee. The Yellow Jackets then travel west to play Tennessee Feb. 7 for the final non-conference game of the season.

No. 16 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (13-4, 4-3) Last week: 2-0

The Demon Deacons desperately needed a win against Maryland to end Wake Forest’s four-game losing streak. The team responded at home with a strong second half against the Terps to win 93-85. Despite trailing by 10 at halftime, Wake Forest stormed back to outscore Maryland 50-32 in the second half. Although freshman guard Chris Paul lacks years of ACC experience, he seemed like a seasoned veteran, leading the Demon Deacons with 25 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Wake Forest picked up the intensity on the glass, outrebounding Maryland 37-26. These hustle statistics are a good measure of a team’s desire to win the physical battles, which more often than not translate into desire to win the game.

Wake Forest built a small streak with a second victory last week. The Demon Deacons beat Virginia 91-78 in a game that wasn’t really that close. Sophomore guard Justin Gray dumped 26 points on Virginia in just 22 minutes. With the game in hand, 16 different Demon Deacons got some PT. Wake Forest needs to build some momentum from this two-game streak to regain a spot at the top of the standings.

The Demon Deacons will attempt to stretch a two-game winning streak to four with games at NC State Feb. 4 and home against North Carolina Feb. 7.

No. 17 North Carolina Tar Heels (13-5, 3-4) Last week: 1-1

North Carolina started the week with a must-win home game against NC State, and the Tar Heels elevated their play to win 68-66. North Carolina typically wins by merely outscoring its opponent, but NC State forced the Tar Heels to win with defense. North Carolina’s super sophomores led the charge. Forward Sean May scored 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to help the Tar Heels win the rebounding battle by four. Guard Raymond Felton had an all-around solid game with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists, while guard Rashad McCants added 13 points. North Carolina had a strong performance from the line, shooting 80 percent, nearly 13 percent better than the Tar Heels’ season average.

But North Carolina continued to struggle on the road, even against the ACC’s bottom feeders like Clemson. The Tigers upset the Tar Heels, 81-72, behind sick shooting from beyond the arc. Clemson drained 11 three pointers, making all but two attempts. North Carolina’s defense wilted yet again on the road, allowing the Tiger to shoot better than 50 percent for the game. North Carolina’s starting five have received much national attention for their talent, but they must start to shut down opponents on the defensive end if this team hopes to make a deep run in March. McCants continued to play well on offense against Clemson, leading all scores with 26 points.

The Tar Heels have the unenviable task of playing two must-win games at home against Duke Feb. 5 then at Wake Forest two days later. If the Tar Heels drop either of these games, they can kiss any ACC regular season championships good bye.

Florida State Seminoles (15-6, 3-4) Last week: 1-1

The Seminoles started the week with a tough game at Duke and nearly completed a second-half rally by cutting the lead to two points before clutch shooting lifted Duke to victory, 56-49. Florida State’s offensive woes continued as only senior guard Tim Pickett reached double-figures, scoring 16 points in addition to grabbing 10 rebounds. As a team, the Seminoles outrebounded Duke 35-26, but the rebounding advantage could not counter a dismal 29.5 percent shooting performance.

The Seminoles finished the week with an easy win against Savannah State, which has won just two games in 23 tries. Florida State led the subs carry the team to an 88-73 win. Pickett led the team with 24 points in only 16 minutes. Just imagine if he’d played longer.…Florida State’s trademark defense held Savannah State to 38 percent shooting.

Florida State will finish the first half of the conference season at .500 if the Seminoles beat Georgia Tech Feb. 3. The Seminoles then visit Maryland Feb. 8.

Maryland Terrapins (11-7, 2-5) Last week: 0-2

Maryland visited Winston-Salem, N.C., to start the week against the struggling Wake Forest Demon Deacons. But the Terrapins ran into a team desperate to win, and despite a large first-half Maryland lead, Wake Forest won 93-85. Sophomore forward Nik Caner-Medley led a balanced Terrapin attack with 15 points. The game turned into a foulfest as the teams combined for 52 fouls and 76 free-throw attempts.

Maryland returned home for a crucial game against NC State that would allow the Terrapins to get back in the logjam in the middle of the conference standings. But the Terrapins squandered the opportunity, falling 81-69 to NC State. Senior forward Jamar Smith led the Terrapins with 21 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots. NC State foiled Maryland’s comeback attempts with dead-eye free-throwing shooting. The Wolfpack shot 92 percent in the game, missing just two attempts.

The Terrapins play at Virginia Feb. 4 then host the Seminoles Feb. 8.

Virginia Cavaliers (12-6, 2-5) Last week: 0-1

Virginia had all week to prepare for a road game at Wake Forest, but the Cavaliers ran into a Wake Forest team determined to slaughter anybody invading their house. The Demon Deacons coasted to a 91-78 victory. Junior guard Elton Brown led Virginia with 24 points and five rebounds. Freshman forward Jason Cain showed some promise for Virginia in garbage time, scoring 11 points in 15 minutes.

The Cavaliers desperately need to start a winning streak this week with home games against Maryland Feb. 4 and NC State Feb. 7.

Clemson Tigers (9-10, 2-6) Last week: 0-2

Clemson started the week with another tough road game at Georgia Tech that produced another conference loss, 76-69. Clemson could not contain B.J. Elder, who went off for 36 points against the Tigers. Sophomore guard Shawan Robinson continues to be Clemson’s most reliable scoring option, leading the team with 21 points. Junior forward Sharrod Ford also had a monster game for Clemson with a double-double, scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. The Tigers collectively destroyed Georgia Tech in rebounds, 40-23. But Clemson could not convert all those opportunities into points.

Robinson continued his prolific scoring at home against North Carolina, as Clemson upset the Tar Heels, 81-72. Clemson, the ACC’s worst long-range shooting team, found the stroke from three-point territory, hitting 11-of-13 three pointers. The Tigers drained every big shot in the second half to prevent the Tar Heels from building any momentum for a comeback run. The Tigers shot better than 55 percent for the game and again won the battle of the boards, 30-24.

Clemson will need the entire week’s rest to prepare for a battle at Duke Feb. 8. The Tigers may need more like a month to end Duke’s home winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

     

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