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March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Watch Out

The regular season has ended and we have entered the realm of March Madness. The unexpected becomes expected. Miracles happen. A hot team or hot player can make the difference between meeting expectations and rising above everyone’s hopes and dreams.

For the ACC, there is no shortage of good teams or great players this year. Duke is the favorite to win the conference tournament and will likely claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils have a host of great players, but sophomore sharpshooter J.J. Redick may be the linchpin to the team’s success. Redick is the type of shooter who must play well in the tournament. Redick has scored more than 20 points in five of his last 10 games.

Two teams that ended strongly are Maryland and Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are one of the most dangerous teams in the ACC because they have athletes and shooters to keep up with any team in the country. But coach Paul Hewitt has Georgia Tech playing some of the best defense in the nation. The Yellow Jackets will likely draw a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament unless they win the ACC tournament. But Georgia Tech could easily beat a lower seed in the Sweet 16.

Maryland, on the other hand, will be doing good to make the NCAA Tournament. But the Terrapins should get in after two huge wins last week against NC State and Virginia. The Terrapins will draw a higher seed than usual, maybe something along the lines of No. 8 or No. 9. But the Terrapins could easily upset the first round opponent and an ill-prepared No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the second round. The team is young and you never know if they will play great or play soft. But I wouldn’t bet against a team coached by Gary Williams.

For Georgia Tech, sophomore point guard Jarrett Jack is one of the best floor generals in the conference and is playing his best basketball of the season now. Jack is a big point guard who can bang with larger players. With the game on the line, Jack has the talent and skills to drive coast to coast and win a game on an off-balance layup or find one the Yellow Jackets’ many sharpshooters on the wing for a three pointer.

Two of the hottest guards in the conference are both sophomores. North Carolina’s Rashad McCants and Wake Forest’s Justin Gray are torching the nets recently. Both are more than comfortable taking the critical shots when their teams need points. Both have ranges that easily extend five feet behind the arc. Both can make shots with a hand in his face. They are the types of players capable of pulling off miracles in the NCAA Tournament. If either team is down by two or three in the closing seconds, look for Gray or McCants to get the ball for a final shot. If defenses can deny these two sensational shooters, the opposing team deserves to win. But more often, McCants and Gray will provide the winning margin for their respective teams.

Anything can happen in March and certainly the most exciting four weeks in college basketball can produce any number of new heroes. But keep an eye on these players and these teams because they have the makings of greatness. And March is the month to crown the kings of clutch.

Third by a Flip

Georgia Tech and Wake Forest ended the season tied for third. But ties complicate match ups in conference tournaments, so the ACC devised a tiebreaker. The first tiebreaker compares the team’s head-to-head results. The teams split. The winner of the second tiebreaker has the better record against the top ACC team. Both teams beat Duke once. Because that method does not break the tie, the same comparison goes for each team in order of their finish. Wouldn’t you know it, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have the exact same record against every team in the conference.

So with no more tiebreakers to employ, the ACC falls back to a coin toss. A flip of luck to determine which team will play North Carolina in the first round and which team will play Maryland. Wake Forest won the toss, claiming third place and a date with Maryland. The Yellow Jackets fall to fourth and will play North Carolina.

Conference Tournament Match Ups

The following games represent the opening and first rebounds of the ACC conference tournament. A more thorough ACC conference preview will appear later this week.

Thursday: No. 8 Virginia vs. No. 9 Clemson
Friday: No. 1 Duke vs. the winner of Virginia and Clemson
Friday: No. 2 NC State vs. No. 7 Florida State
Friday: No. 3 Wake Forest vs. No. 6 Maryland
Friday: No. 4 Georgia Tech vs. No. 5 North Carolina

ACC Player of the Week:

Jarrett Jack, Georgia Tech

Jack had a phenomenal week last week, averaging 16.5 points, 10 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2 steals per game. More importantly, he led the Yellow Jackets to a huge road win at Duke and helped the team rally to beat Florida State in the regular season finale.

ACC Rookie of the Week:

Luol Deng, Duke

Deng had a great week with 14 points, five rebounds and two assists per game. He struggled against Georgia Tech but bounced back to take the lead as Duke beat rival North Carolina. Deng scored 25 points in that game and killed the Tar Heels with his drives to the basket.

ACC Coach Watch:

Leonard Hamilton, Florida State

Hamilton has the Seminoles in an unfamiliar position – an opportunity to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. But to do so, Florida State must knock off NC State in the first round of the ACC tournament and win the semifinal game against Wake Forest or Maryland. The best way to ensure a bid is to win the ACC tournament. Hamilton’s team plays great defense, which is critical in the rapid fire format of the ACC tournament, which does not allow teams to have any rest before playing another talented opponent.

Duke Blue Devils (25-4, 13-3) Last week: 1-1

The streak is over. Georgia Tech upset Duke 76-68 to end the Blue Devils’ 41-game winning streak. The Yellow Jackets entered Cameron Indoor Stadium with the intensity needed to win, despite the frequently deafening noise created by Duke’s fans. Duke never seemed able to match Georgia Tech’s intensity. Nor could the Blue Devils find a shooting rhythm as they finished with 34 percent shooting. Sophomore guard J.J. Redick scored 24 points for Duke, but he made only 4-of-12 three-point shots. Duke’s poor shooting masked 23 turnovers forced by Duke. Usually the Blue Devils took advantage of such opportunities, but against Georgia Tech, the shots hit off the iron.

Duke finished the regular season with the rematch against North Carolina. The last game was one of the best games in this rivalry as the Blue Devils won 83-81 in overtime as senior guard Chris Duhon went coast to coast to drain a layup for the lead and the win. The rematch was another great game, although significantly more defensive. Duke trailed by three at halftime, but freshman forward Luol Deng was unstoppable, especially in the second half, and the Blue Devils rallied for a 70-65 win. Coach Mike Krzyzewski devised a great game plan that featured high screens and drives to the basket. Redick scored 15 points, despite shooting only 33 percent in the game. He was 8-of-8 from the line with all those opportunities coming off drives to the hoop. The team’s greatest weakness was rebounding as North Carolina outrebounded Duke 40-27.

NC State Wolfpack (19-8, 11-5) Last week: 1-1

For only the second time this season, NC State dropped a home game last week as Maryland came to Raleigh, N.C, and won 70-69. Junior guard Julius Hodge carried the team with 27 points, seven rebounds and three steals to lead a rally. The Wolfpack trailed by 10 at halftime but pulled to within two in the final minute. Senior forward Marcus Melvin missed a pair of three-point attempts that could have either taken the lead or tied the game for NC State. Melvin finished with 22 points and eight rebounds.

The Wolfpack played much better in the regular season finale against Wake Forest. NC State won 81-71 as the team shot an efficient 54 percent, led by Hodge and freshman guard Engin Atsur with 17 points apiece. The Wolfpack frustrated the Demon Deacons in the second half by slowing down the game and draining shots right before the shot clock expired. Hodge and Atsur both logged 37 minutes for NC State, which played essentially a six-man rotation. Coach Herb Sendek will have to manage his players’ fatigue during the ACC and NCAA tournaments, which feature intense games with little down time between them.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (19-8, 9-7) Last week: 0-2

Wake Forest entered the week with an opportunity to move into second place with a series of events that needed to start with a win at Virginia. But the Cavaliers were not accommodating, winning 84-82 on yet another final-minute winning basket. The loss spoiled great games by freshman guard Chris Paul and sophomore guard Justin Gray, who continues to be one of the hottest players in the ACC. Paul finished with a game-high 21 points while Gray had 20 points and five rebounds. Wake Forest can look at the free-throwing shooting statistic to understand how this game slipped away. The Demon Deacons made only 12-of-24 free throws in the game. The team is usually a solid free-throw shooting squad, making 72 percent on the year. Just not that night, and it cost the Demon Deacons.

Despite the loss, a win against NC State to end the regular season would have given Wake Forest a tie for second with the Wolfpack. But NC State stormed Winston-Salem, N.C., intent on holding on to second place. The Wolfpack succeeded with an 81-70 win. Sophomore guard Justin Gray led Wake Forest with 23 points, his fifth consecutive game of 20-plus points. Gray has emerged as Wake Forest’s most reliable shooter. Paul is the team leader in terms of emotion and ball handling, but Gray is the team leader in clutch shooting. Junior forward Vytas Danelius, after two sensational games, had a quiet night with only two points on 1-of-3 shooting. Sophomore center Eric Williams had a strong game with 18 points and seven rebounds.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (22-8, 9-7) Last week: 2-0

The Yellow Jackets started the week with the mission impossible – beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the Blue Devils hadn’t lost in 41 games. But all good things must come to an end. Georgia Tech played from start to finish with the type of energy necessary to compete with Duke. It paid off as the Yellow Jackets won 76-68. Sophomore guard Jarrett Jack led the team with 15 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. But it was a team effort. Junior center Luke Schenscher appeared unstoppable at times in the second half as he outplayed Duke sophomore forward Shelden Williams, despite posting slightly worse statistics. Georgia Tech’s defense harried Duke’s sharpshooters, holding the Blue Devils under 35 percent shooting.

Georgia Tech continued the momentum from the win at Duke with a come-from-behind win at home against Florida State, 63-60. Senior guard Marvin Lewis saved one of his best performances for last as he led the Yellow Jackets with 21 points on senior day. Lewis made 5-of-10 three pointers. Jack played another spectacular game with 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. Georgia Tech collected seven more rebounds than Florida State and held the Seminoles under 32 percent shooting in the game. The Yellow Jackets end the game on a hot streak that they will look to carry into the ACC tournament.

North Carolina Tar Heels (18-9, 8-8) Last week: 1-1

The story is really getting old. The Tar Heels beat Clemson in Chapel Hill, N.C. Again. For the 50th consecutive time, North Carolina unceremoniously crushed Clemson. The Tar Heels won 69-53 in a rather forgettable game. North Carolina played great defense, holding Clemson to 53 points, mainly because of 22 Tiger turnovers. Sophomore guard Rashad McCants was one of only two Tar Heels in double figures, scoring 30 points. He drained eight three pointers. Sophomore forward Sean May also had a strong game with 17 points and seven rebounds. Rumors that sophomore point guard Raymond Felton would miss the game proved false as Felton had a strong game as the offense’s maestro with nine assists.

The Tar Heels sought revenge at Duke to end the regular season. North Carolina lost a classic game in this rivalry in Chapel Hill earlier this year as Duke won 83-81 in overtime. Duke handed the Tar Heels another bitter loss as the Blue Devils won 70-65. North Carolina led for most of the first half, but Duke clamped down on defense and held North Carolina under 37 percent. McCants had 20 points for North Carolina, and May had 14 points and 15 rebounds. May has killed Duke on the glass in both games, sucking up every loose ball like a vacuum cleaner. But winning the rebound battle doesn’t win the game. North Carolina could not stop Duke’s drives to the hoop, giving up far too many easy layups, which provided the difference in the game.

Maryland Terrapins (15-11, 6-9) Last week: 2-0

One of the best ways for NCAA teams to get off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament is to win road games against the best teams in the conference. Maryland did exactly that when the Terrapins stole a huge road victory at NC State to open last week. Sophomore guard John Gilchrist scored 21 points as Maryland outlasted the Wolfpack 70-69. Not a good free-throw shooting, Maryland hit several important free throws down the stretch to kill the Wolfpack’s rally. Maryland led by ten at halftime but watched the Wolfpack chip away the lead. Maryland ripped 15 steals, however, to force turnovers to squash NC State’s momentum.

Maryland was a little more than 19 minutes away from dropping the regular season finale to Virginia at home and likely dropping any chance to make the Big Dance. Coach Gary Williams called a timeout with the Terrapins down 38-27 and did not draw up a plan. In fact, he told his team to just play. And the Terrapins just played better than Virginia for the remainder of the game and rallied for a 70-61 win that likely punched Maryland’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore guard Chris McCray led the Terrapins with 20 points, including a reverse dunk off a steal that tied the game for Maryland. Neither team shot well as both teams shot 34 percent. But Maryland forced four more turnovers and collected eight more rebounds, including 22 offensive rebounds. The win takes a vast deal of pressure off the Terrapins entering the ACC tournament later this week.

Florida State Seminoles (18-12, 6-10) Last week: 0-1

The Seminoles had all week to prepare for the season finale at Georgia Tech, a game the Seminoles had to win to take a step closer toward the NCAA Tournament. But they lost 63-60. Despite leading by four at halftime and forcing 22 turnovers, Florida State could not hold on for the win. The team shot 32 percent from the field and no player scored more than 12 points. Senior guard Tim Pickett fouled out with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game. Pickett played in pain for much of the game and finished with 10 points. Freshman forward Alexander Johnson and junior forward Adam Waleskowski scored 12 points to lead the Semioles. The loss damages Florida State’s NCAA dreams because the Seminoles finish conference play winless on the road.

Virginia Cavaliers (16-10, 6-9) Last week: 1-1

All of a sudden, the world is looking brighter for the Cavaliers. Virginia upset Wake Forest 84-82 as junior forward Devin Smith orchestrated a late three-point play to give the Cavaliers the victory. Despite an injured back that makes him a game-time decision for nearly every contest, Smith had a huge game to lead the team with 15 points. The final points were the most important ones, but nearly every one of Smith’s baskets seemed to provide energy to the team. Sophomore forward Derrick Byars also scored 15 points for the Cavaliers, and freshman guard T.J. Bannister demonstrated that he is the point guard of the future for Virginia with 12 assists. He also added nine points. The win instantly put Virginia in the discussion for at-large bid.

To prove Virginia’s at-large case, compare the Cavaliers to Florida State. Both teams lack a marquis non-conference win. Their best wins are home games against North Carolina, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. The two split their regular season meetings. Virginia’s best non-conference wins are against Iowa State and Minnesota while Florida State’s best are against Northwestern and at Miami.

A win at Maryland would have likely given the Cavaliers a better shot at an at-large bid. But a loss would mean that Virginia would finish eighth in the conference and force the Cavaliers to play Clemson in the opening round. If they beat the Tigers, they’d have to play Duke almost 12 hours later. Not an enviable task. And unfortunately, they must do just that after losing 70-61 at Maryland. The Cavaliers played great defense, holding Maryland to 34 percent shooting and built an 11-point lead coming out of halftime. But the Terrapins shut down Virginia, which also finished with 34 percent shooting. Junior forward Elton Brown led the team with 16 points.

Clemson Tigers (10-17, 3-13) Last week: 0-1

Guess what? Clemson lost at North Carolina. That’s almost as predictable as saying the sky is blue. The Tigers have visited the Tar Heels’ home 50 times now, and every game has resulted in a loss. The latest chapter in the not-exactly storied match up ended with a 69-53 loss. Clemson struggled to hold on to the ball, committing 22 turnovers. When they had the ball, the Tigers were not exactly productive, scoring only 53 points in the game. Junior guard Sharrod Ford led the Tigers with 14 points and five rebounds. The best statistic for Clemson came on the glass, as the Tigers outrebounded North Carolina 33-24.

     

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