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InsideHoops [ACC Basketball]

College: ACC Report





/ Jan. 27, 2005

Through games of January 25, 2005.

For starters, Virginia Tech and Miami are currently running fourth and fifth, respectively, in the ACC. Don’t think this is a down year for the two schools in football— the newcomers are playing fantastic basketball. The Hokies have gotten out to their hot start behind the play of senior Carlos Dixon. He had a last second dunk to push the Hokies past Clemson, 59-57, for Virginia Tech’s first ever ACC victory. In their last game at Georgia Tech, he scored 21 points and hit a jumper with 36.8 seconds remaining to put the Hokies up 70-69, and the team held on to win by that margin. Dixon averages 14.8 points on the season to lead the team.

Sandwiched in between those wins was a great home performance against North Carolina State. Sophomore Coleman Collins hit a shot with 12.9 seconds remaining to put the team up 72-71, and sophomore Jamon Gordon blocked Julius Hodge’s game-winning attempt to seal the victory. Collins and Zabian Dowdell each scored 20 points to lead the team in the win. The Hokies haven’t been getting the job done in dominating fashion, but the young, inexperienced players on this team definitely have not been getting rattled in the final minutes and seconds of games like some might suspect they would. The schedule does not get any easier for the Hokies, as battles at Duke and against Wake Forest loom in the upcoming weeks, but kudos to head coach Seth Greenberg and his squad for their incredible start in their inaugural ACC season.

Miami’s fast start has been fueled by the play of Guillermo Diaz. The energetic sophomore guard has averaged 25.5 points in ACC play, and has been the spark that makes his Hurricanes go. He hit a shot with eight seconds remaining against Florida State to give the Canes a one- point edge and scored 19 points in all to propel them to their third consecutive conference victory, 64-63. He has been the lone standout in the last two games, both losses, as the Hurricanes have run into national powers Duke and North Carolina. He scored 25 in the 92-83 home loss to Duke, a game in which Miami sold out its home arena, not a common occurrence for a school known for its football. Anthony King added 10 points and 10 rebounds in the loss. Diaz went on to score 30 in a road loss to the Tar Heels, but he was the only scorer in double figures, and the Canes lost 87-67. Nevertheless, Miami has been a huge surprise along with the Hokies, and Diaz is a star in the making. Something to keep an eye on is the play of Robert Hite. He emerged at the beginning of the season as the conference’s leading scorer, but he scored six points apiece in the games against Duke and North Carolina. If he can regain his early-season form, Miami will continue to surprise in the ACC.

Let me be the first to apologize to Wake Forest and Taron Downey for completely jinxing the senior guard and his free- throw shooting ability before Wake’s game at Florida State. After Downey made a ridiculous three-pointer as he was fouled in the waning seconds of a great Wake comeback to tie the game, he had the chance to end the game by making a free throw, something he does 85 percent of the time. On top of all of this, his Wake Forest team had just set an NCAA record by making 50 free throws in a row. A throat-slashing gesture and in-and-out toilet bowl shot from Downey, and an overtime later, and Wake, fresh off their incredible performance at home against white-hot North Carolina, suffered a demoralizing 91-83 loss at the hands of the ever- inconsistent Seminoles. Wake spent most of the game coming back from a 19-point first-half deficit, and almost pulled off the win before Downey’s mishap. Perhaps Downey got what he deserved, as he—very out of character—made the throat- slashing gesture while mouthing “It’s over” to the hostile Seminole crowd before clanking his game-winning attempt. Chris Paul had 29 points and Downey had 21 in the loss. This loss was a minor setback for the Demon Deacons, who have established themselves as the team to beat in the ACC. Wake toyed with Maryland, beating the Terps 81-66 behind the torrid shooting of Justin Gray, who went 6-9 from three- point range and scored 25 points in all. The much- anticipated match-up against North Carolina turned into a one-sided battle, as the Deacs cruised by the Tar Heels, 95- 82. Paul scored 26 points, dished out eight assists, grabbed six rebounds, and notched five steals, winning his personal battle with Carolina point guard Raymond Felton. Four other Wake players scored in double figures, including Downey who added 18 points. Wake bounced back from the Florida State loss with a great road win at Cincinnati in a non-conference tilt. Eric Williams put forth his best game of the year scoring 29 points, and Paul maintained his top-level play with a 21 point, seven assist, six-rebound performance. It looks like the road to the top of the ACC will go through Winston-Salem.

Georgia Tech is in some major trouble. With B.J. Elder being sidelined because of a gimpy hamstring, the defending national finalists have stumbled through the beginning of conference play, starting out 2-3. The team hit a new low with their home loss to Virginia Tech. The team had multiple chances to win at the end. Isma’il Muhammad missed two free throws with the team down by one with 5.5 seconds left in the game, and Mario West and Ra’Sean Dickey missed putbacks off the last missed free throw to seal the loss. This all comes after consecutive losses to North Carolina, 91-69, and to North Carolina State, 76-68. The Yellow Jackets, who were ranked nationally as high as third, are on a three game losing streak, and find themselves in sixth place in the ACC and in a whirlpool heading down the drain. The problem is that nobody has picked up the scoring void left behind by Elder. Will Bynum did his best by throwing down 28 against the Hokies, but Jarrett Jack’s play has stagnated, Luke Schenscher has yet to pick up from where he left off last year, and experienced players Anthony McHenry and Theodis Tarver have not produced much at all, combining for a mere 6.7 points a game. Until Elder comes back, the Ramblin’ Wreck will continue to be a wreck, and they will struggle through the tough conference schedule. Their next two games are at home against Wake Forest and on the road against Maryland.

North Carolina scored consecutive blowout victories over Maryland and Georgia Tech, proving that beating them at the Dean Dome, let alone at all, will be no easy task for the remainder of the year. The 109-75 blowout of the Terps was fueled by seven players scoring in double figures. Rashad McCants led the way with 19 points. Jawad Williams added 13 points and seven rebounds, and Raymond Felton added 12 points and six assists. The Tar Heels broke open the contest in the last three minutes of the first half, and then they just out hustled the Terps and used a furious fast break to make the Terps look like a junior varsity team. The Tar Heels used another balanced attack to defeat Georgia Tech, 91-69. Five players scored in double figures this time, led by Williams’ 18 points. Sean May threw down a 12- point 13-rebound performance, and freshman Marvin Williams scored 14 points in the win. The Tar Heels can win playing so many different ways. They have perhaps the best inside- outside combination in the conference, if not in the nation, with Sean May and then the quintet of the two Williamses, McCants, Felton, and Jackie Manuel. The team runs the fast break to perfection. Felton is an incredible playmaker and McCants can score from anywhere on the floor. All that being said, the Tar Heels ran into a wall on their one-way street to cutting down the nets in the form of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. All of a sudden the ghosts of the Carolina teams of the past two years came back to haunt the Tar Heels. McCants reverted back to his immature ways, staring down referees and taking bad shots. Felton was outplayed by his point guard counterpart Chris Paul. For every run Carolina had, Wake had an answer. Unfortunately this is the only time the two powers are scheduled to meet all season, but if Carolina has its way, the two will be locking horns again at the MCI Center in the ACC tournament. Carolina bounced back with wins over Clemson and Miami, and looks to roll through the upcoming ACC battles they have with Virginia and North Carolina State.

The good news for Florida State is that Von Wafer has finally emerged as the scoring threat that most thought he would be this year. The bad news is the Seminoles have lost three of their last four conference games, and they sit in ninth place in the conference with a 2-4 record. Wafer’s finest game in his young career came in FSU’s great home upset over Wake Forest. He scored a ridiculous 25 points in the first half, helping the Noles to build up a 14- point halftime lead. He shot 10-18 from the field for the game, including 7-12 from three-point land. Al Thornton poured in 26 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to put forth his finest effort in a Florida State jersey, as well. The third Seminole hero of the night was guard Todd Galloway, who scored nine straight points in overtime, and 21 in all, to cap off the upset victory.

Prior to the great upset, Florida State suffered two heartbreaking losses, a two-point home loss at the hands of the Clemson Tigers, and a one-point loss at Miami. The bright spot in the Miami loss was the 25 points scored by Wafer, but the Noles would easily trade in a great personal performance for another W. Making matters worse, Duke came into Tallahassee just four days after the Wake win, and torched the Seminoles, 88-56. The Blue Devils jumped out to an 18-8 lead, and the hosts never had a shot at getting back in the game after that as they allowed Duke to shoot 55.4 percent from the field. Wafer’s past two weeks of play has boosted his points per game average up to 13.5, but he must build on his play and carry his team if Florida State wants to get out of the bottom tier of the conference.

Somehow, Coach K always finds a way to get it done. With this year’s squad being one of his lesser-talented teams he’s had in his tenure at Duke, his Blue Devils remain one of the last three undefeated teams in the country, winning their first 15 games of the season. Not only is Coach K getting everything he can out of stars Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick, and Daniel Ewing, but with injuries taking its toll on Duke’s already depleted depth, seldom used Lee Melchionni has stepped into a starting role and has not just filled holes, but contributed important points and minutes. In Duke’s 86-74 win at North Carolina State, Melchionni scored 16 points on 6-9 shooting. In Duke’s 92-83 win at Miami, he scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds. In his six starts he’s averaging just over nine points a game and has been a pleasant surprise for the Blue Devils.

Of course Melchionni hasn’t taken the team on his back, as that responsibility has been relegated to the trio of Redick (21.7 PPG), Ewing (16.6 PPG), and Williams (15.6 PPG, 11.3 RPG). Williams was this past week’s ACC Player of the Week, for his 30-point, seven rebound performance in the win over Miami and his 11-point, 13 rebound performance in Duke’s blowout 88-56 win over Florida State. In the FSU game J.J. Redick was beyond on fire, scoring 31 points shooting 8-11 from behind the three-point line. Duke has games against Maryland and Virginia Tech before tipping off in Winston- Salem against Wake Forest on Feb. 2. Duke should roll through those two teams, but should be wary of looking ahead to the Demon Deacons.

All of the optimism that greeted the Maryland Terrapins at midnight madness has turned into sheer concern, as the Terps have done anything but improve on last year’s improbable success with a young team. For starters, John Gilchrist has struggled to find his identity, as head coach Gary Williams wants him to be more of a team leader and floor general rather than a scorer. Compounding this issue is the lack of a low post presence, as Travis Garrison and Ekene Ibekwe have struggled playing down low, and more playing time is being relocated to reserve Will Bowers. Making matters worse, D.J. Strawberry, the team’s best on-ball defender, tore his ACL in practice and will have to miss the rest of the season. Maryland fans have found the positives from this, in that Mike Jones will likely see more playing time. Jones showed flashes of his potential, scoring 21 points while tearing apart the Temple zone defense from beyond the arc. If he can play like that on a consistent basis, he will provide an outside scoring punch that Maryland has yearned for ever since Drew Nicholas and Juan Dixon left the program. Nik Caner-Medley scored a career-high 35 points in the win to lead the Terps. Caner-Medley now leads the team in scoring at 16.9 points per game.

This win was much needed as the Terps were coming off two very lopsided back-to-back losses on the road against North Carolina and Wake Forest. Carolina ripped away and dignity and pride Maryland had, torching the Terps by 34, 104-75. Just three days later in Winston-Salem, the Terps lost by 15 to Wake Forest, 81-66. In the two losses Maryland shot a combined 3-36 from three-point range. Yikes. In any event, the Terps built on their performance against Temple with an 82-68 home win over Virginia only to lose at home to North Carolina State, 85-69. Down by 26 at halftime, the Terps used full-court pressure the entire second half to whittle the lead down to 10 before falling apart. The Terps have yet another chance to notch a quality win over a top ranked opponent as they go head-to-head with rival Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 26. What better way to salvage the shaky start to the season then to give the Dukies their first loss?

North Carolina State finds themselves in a precarious position. They are eighth in the ACC with a 2-3 conference record, have lost five of their last seven games, and Cameron Bennerman, the team’s second leading scorer at 10.3 points per game, is “out for an indefinite period of time” in the words of coach Herb Sendek. The Wolfpack did notch two big wins in the past week, though, at home against Georgia Tech, and on the road against Maryland.

Against Georgia Tech in the 76-68 victory, Ilian Evtimov led five players in double figures with 17 points. The team held the Yellow Jackets to 13.3 percent shooting from three-point range. Bennerman added 16 points and Julius Hodge notched a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds) even though he only shot 1-7 from the field. In the win over Maryland the team hit 10 three-pointers in the first half. Hodge went for 20 points and 11 boards, Engin Atsur scored 17 points, and Evtimov added 16 points and nine rebounds. The Wolfpack built a 26-point halftime lead, and then saw the lead dwindle down to 10, something that brought back memories of last year’s ACC tournament collapse to the NCST faithful. The Wolfpack prevailed this time, though, 85-69, and have two more winnable games against Florida State and Clemson before a battle with in state rival North Carolina.

Virginia might have peaked in the first month of the season. Since starting out 5-0 in November, the Cavaliers have gone 6-6. Two of those wins came down to the very end against inferior competition; a 79-77 overtime victory at home over Loyola Marymount, and a 80-79 double overtime victory at home over Western Kentucky. In terms of conference play, Virginia opened up losing their first five ACC games before beating Clemson, 81-79, behind 22 points from Devin Smith, and 16 points from Elton Brown. The backcourt duo of Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds combined for 26 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists to key the victory. In the five ACC contests prior to the Clemson win, Virginia was not competitive, and barely had a chance to win against Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Miami, Duke, and Maryland. If head coach Pete Gillen is in fact on the hot seat, the schedule does not favor his return to Charlottesville. The Cavs head to Blacksburg to take on in-state foe, and suddenly sound, Virginia Tech, they host North Carolina, and play at a tough non-conference opponent, Providence, all within the span of the upcoming week.

The silver lining in Clemson’s 1-5 conference start is the continuing stellar play by their freshmen. Cheyenne Moore won ACC Rookie of the Week honors for his play against North Carolina and Virginia. He averaged 14.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in the two games, and he along with freshman Cliff Hammonds have combined to win the award three times this season. Hammonds scored 12 points to lead the Tigers in their lone conference victory to date, a 56-54 win over Florida State. Sharrod Ford added 11 points and Shawan Robinson pitched in 10 in the win.

The bottom line, though, for Clemson is that they could easily be 0-6, and it looks as if it will be an uphill battle for the remainder of the season for the Tigers and head coach Oliver Purnell. The Tigers do luck out though, in that they do not have to play Duke or Wake Forest again, as with the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech, each team does not play every team in the conference twice.

STANDINGS (Overall, Conference)

Duke				15-0	5-0
North Carolina		        16-2	5-1
Wake Forest			16-2	4-1
Virginia Tech			10-6	3-2
Miami				12-5	3-3
Georgia Tech			11-5	2-3
Maryland 			11-5	2-3
North Carolina State		12-6	2-3
Florida State			10-9	2-4
Virginia			10-6	1-5
Clemson			        10-8	1-5

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