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ACC Basketball

 


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/ Dec. 9, 2004

Editor's Note: This is through Monday afternoon. We were a bit late in posting this. But it's still up to date, and a fantastic feature.

The ACC scored many landmark victories in the first three weeks of the college basketball season. None of them was more shocking than Virginia’s upset of then 11th-ranked Arizona, 78-60. Virginia, a team picked by many pundits to finish near the bottom of the conference, has remained undefeated through its first six games, and is playing an excellent brand of basketball. Freshman guard Sean Singletary has keyed the surprise start, averaging 12.2 points, 4.2 assists, and 2.5 steals per game. Elton Brown (16.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG) and Devin Smith (15.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG) are playing up to their potential, using their senior leadership to guide the team. Because of this stellar start, the Cavaliers have shot up in the minds of the pollsters, going from unranked, to cracking the Top 25. Heading into the next stretch of their schedule, which includes playing at Iowa State, coach Pete Gillen has his boys playing with the utmost confidence.

Wake Forest, via their two convincing victories in the first week, grabbed the top spot in the polls for the first time in school history, leapfrogging over Kansas to do so. After becoming #1 in the nation, Wake Forest won the Preseason NIT, beating Arizona in a hard fought final game at Madison Square Garden. Justin Gray scored 21 points in the 79-67 semifinal win over Providence and in the finals against Arizona to earn tournament MVP honors. The Demon Deacons looked like they were on cruise control through the early part of their schedule until they hit a speed bump in Champagne-Urbana, Ill. The Illinois Fighting Illini took apart the Deacs, 91-73, in their match-up as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Wake trailed by as much as 30 points, and played lackluster defense the entire second half, allowing Illinois to shoot an astounding 56 percent from the floor. Wake rebounded in their next game, though, beating Richmond 90-73, to rebuild confidence heading into a tough stretch after their break for final exams, as they play at Temple and at home against Texas in two of their next three games. Chris Paul has played as advertised in the early going (12.3 PPG, 5 APG, 1.7 SPG), and has gotten help from his backcourt mate Gray (16.6 PPG, 2.1 SPG), and his frontcourt, led by Eric Williams (15.4 PPG, 6 RPG) and Jamaal Levy (9.1 RPG).

North Carolina’s early 77-67 slip up against Santa Clara had many scratching their heads. After all the preseason hype, this is the Carolina we’re going to see this year? Point guard Raymond Felton, suspended for that first game against Santa Clara, made sure the opener was an anomaly, coming back to lead the Tar Heels to the championship of the Maui Invitational tournament. Carolina dispatched BYU, Tennessee, and upset-minded Iowa (who had already knocked off ranked teams Louisville and Texas to reach the final game) en route to capturing the title. Felton was named MVP of the tournament, and has been the glue holding this team together ever since. He averages 7.8 assists per contest, good for fourth best in the country. UNC has notched impressive victories at Indiana, and at home over 8th ranked Kentucky to get back on the winning track. Rashad McCants has been a star, scoring 28 points in the win over UK, and averaging 20.3 points a game. Sean May has been a beast on the boards, averaging 9.9 rebounds a game and senior Jawad Williams has supplied an inspired scoring punch, as he is second on the team with 16.6 points a game. The juniors Felton, May, and McCants have emerged as perhaps the top trio in the whole country, but if one goes down, fouls out, or cannot play, as we saw in the opener, Carolina is vulnerable.

Duke has remained impressive even without the depth they’ve had in past years. The backcourt of J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing has led the Blue Devils thus far, and has not been able to be contained. The biggest victory so far was the 81-74 win over visiting Michigan State as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Redick and Ewing scored 29 points apiece in the win over the Spartans, as Duke out-muscled and out-hustled the 9th ranked visitors to victory. Outside of Michigan State, only the feisty Davidson Wildcats provided a tough opposition for the Dukies, but their second half run was quelled by a clutch Ewing three-pointer, and Duke went on to win by 10. A smothering defense forced 21 turnovers in their easy 93-61 win over Valparaiso. Redick scored 26 points, freshman DeMarcus Nelson scored 17 points, and the team shot a blistering 65 percent from the field as Duke ran their record to 5-0. Redick leads the conference in scoring (21.8 PPG) and Shelden Williams is second in the ACC in rebounding (10.2 RPG). Coach Krzyzewski has his men playing excellent ball, and Duke should continue to win as five of their next six games are at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Georgia Tech has looked phenomenal save for a tough road game against Mid-American power Illinois-Chicago. The Yellow Jackets escaped that game with a 1-point 60-59 win, but have cruised through the rest of their schedule. As part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Georgia Tech absolutely dominated a solid Michigan team that won last season’s NIT, winning 99-68. B.J. Elder tied a career high with seven three-pointers, scoring 27 points in all. Jarrett Jack had 16 points and 11 assists, as he ran the offense to near perfection. Tech used a 20-0 first-half run to propel themselves to the win. Jack, Elder, and Will Bynum have been a three-headed backcourt monster so far, and can excel in so many different ways. Jack is third in the conference in assists (6.8 APG), Elder is third in the ACC in scoring (20.5 PPG), and Bynum has contributed 11 points and 3 assists off the bench. Their team defense has been sensational, as they’ve yielded only 54.5 points a game thus far, and have forced 70 turnovers in just four games. Georgia Tech cannot rest easy, though, as non-conference tilts with Gonzaga and Kansas away from Alexander Memorial Coliseum loom down the line for the 4-0 Yellow Jackets.

North Carolina State breezed through their early non-conference opponents, yielding a microscopic 53.2 points per game, and allowing the opposition to shoot only 35.9 percent from the field. Julius Hodge has played like the reigning ACC Player of the Year, leading the team by averaging 18.4 points, 6.4 boards, and 5.4 assists each contest. Tony Bethel’s transition to the Wolfpack from Georgetown has been a solid one, as he led the team with 22 points in their 100-66 win over East Carolina. Cameron Bennerman and Jordan Collins are second on the team in points, each averaging 10 points a game. While the Wolfpack have played enlightened defense and have spread out the scoring, their opposition has not been difficult. Their toughest challenge was a mediocre Purdue team at home in their ACC/Big Ten Challenge game, as they outlasted the Boilermakers 60-53. A road game at Washington on December 19th will be their first test, to see if this exceptional start is because of talent, or an easy schedule.

Maryland dominated its first three games, the most impressive win being over Memphis at the Tip Off Classic in Springfield, Mass. over Thanksgiving weekend. The Terps used an extremely aggressive defensive attack to score on many fast break lay-ups, crushing the formidable Tigers 89-64. John Gilchrist was the MVP of the game, scoring 16 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, dishing out 7 assists, and notching 5 steals—his most complete game of the young season. The following game was a letdown, as the Terrapins dropped their all time record in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge to 3-3 after a 69-64 loss at Wisconsin. Ekene Ibekwe’s 12 rebounds and career-high 21 points were not enough to carry the Terps, as Gilchrist and Nik Caner-Medley struggled mightily against the Badgers’ intense defensive pressure. The Terrapins bounced back against George Mason in the first round of the BB&T Classic, crushing the Patriots 78-54 behind 20-point efforts by Caner-Medley and co-captain Chris McCray, only to be upset the following day in the championship game by George Washington, 101-92, despite a 23 point effort by Gilchrist. The Terps shot 14-28 from the free throw line, and for the season they are shooting a pathetic 68.5 percent from the charity stripe. Maryland’s big surprise has been the emergence of freshman forward James Gist, who has wowed crowds with his high-flying ability, and has been a jolt of intensity and energy off the bench.

Florida State’s start has had many wondering which side of this Jekyl and Hyde team will show up. On the one hand there is the Seminole squad that dropped a game to a team that didn’t exist until 1999 (Texas A&M- Corpus Christi). Games like this will most certainly not wow the selection committee come March. However, their opener was a different story. Diego Romero definitely didn’t look like he hadn’t played a college basketball game in two years in the season opening win over Texas Southern. The JUCO transfer, who sat out last year amidst NCAA investigations about his eligibility, led the Seminoles with 18 points and 9 rebounds. Not to be overlooked was the performance by freshman Ralph Mims, who contributed 17 points and 7 boards to the 71-62 win. The Seminoles then went on the road, erased a second half 14-point deficit with a 16-0 run, and beat Minnesota to chalk up a win for the ACC in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Von Wafer came to life in the win, scoring 19 points. Freshman guard Jason Rich made his biggest impact of the year, scoring 12 points and stealing a pass and taking it for a game-sealing lay-up in the team’s 69-64 victory over Mississippi. While inconsistency might be the theme of the year for Florida State, tough road wins like the one over Minnesota go a long way in building confidence. Coach Leonard Hamilton has his team on track (for the meantime anyway), as they head into a stretch of their schedule where they should win four of their next five games.

Clemson has played well, losing only at future ACC foe Boston College, 79-70. The Tigers have fared well, otherwise, getting inspired play from Shawan Robinson (17.5 PPG) and Sharrod Ford (13.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG). In their season opener they overwhelmed Hampton 98-54. Robinson led the way with 26 points, and the Tigers set a school record with 25 steals, causing Hampton to commit 37 turnovers in all. Their match-up against Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge featured the return of transfer Tony Stockman to Clemson to take on his old teammates. Stockman dropped 22 points on his former school, but late clutch three-point and free throw shooting, especially by Olu Babalola (17 points, 2-3 3PT, 7-9 FT), allowed for the Tigers to win 80-73. In their following game, a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds to go in overtime from freshman Cheyenne Moore put the Tigers in the W column again, beating South Carolina 63-62. Another bright spot of the young season has come off the court, as head coach Oliver Purnell signed a 2-year contract extension that will have him lead the Tigers through the 2010-11 season.

Miami notched a great win for head coach Frank Haith, beating 19th ranked Florida 72-65. Anthony Harris scored a career-high 23 points, and fellow guards Robert Hite and Guillermo Diaz scored 16 points each to lead the Hurricanes to the upset. Hite, Anthony King, and Diaz have turned in other great Hurricane performances, as all three had career nights in an 84-68 win over Florida Atlantic. Hite scored a career-high 38 points, King added his and Miami’s first-ever triple-double (11 points, 10 rebounds, 13 blocks), and Diaz poured in a career-high 27 points to key the win. Hite, King, and Diaz have the look of a promising young trio. Hite leads the team and is second in the conference with 20.6 points per game, King leads the ‘Canes and the ACC with 10.6 rebounds and 5 blocks a game, and Diaz is second on the team with 14.4 points and 3.8 assists per game.

The Cavaliers aren’t the only big surprise in Virginia. The Hokies down in Blacksburg started out 4-0, before slipping up in a 72-68 loss to VMI. Senior Carlos Dixon’s first game back after redshirting last year with a broken foot was a success, as he led the Hokies with 21 points in their season opening 81-58 win over Loyola (Md.). Freshman Deron Washington took the route of the high-percentage shot, throwing down six dunks on his way to 20 points. Washington has been most impressive for the Hokies, leading the team with 16 points and 6 rebounds per game. Jamon Gordon has averaged 10.4 points and 5.2 assists each contest and leads the league with 3.6 steals per game. Zabian Dowdell and Dixon have poured in 13.6 and 13.0 points per game, respectively.

Not a bad way to start the season, huh? Between the two invitational tournament titles, the 7-2 victory in the 6th annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge (won by the ACC for the 6th straight year), and tying a record by having seven of the top 25 teams in the country (Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina State, Virginia), Thanksgiving for the ACC has overflowed from the end of November and into December.

STANDINGS (Overall, Conference)

1. Virginia (6-0, 0-0)
2t. Duke (5-0, 0-0)
2t. North Carolina State (5-0, 0-0)
4. Georgia Tech (4-0, 0-0)
5t. North Carolina (6-1, 0-0)
5t. Wake Forest (6-1, 0-0)
7t. Clemson (4-1, 0-0)
7t. Virginia Tech (4-1, 0-0)
9. Maryland (4-2, 0-0)
10. Miami (3-2, 0-0)
11. Florida State (4-3, 0-0)







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