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As The ACC Turns...

People who don't live with the ACC can't possibly understand the glee and
intensity with which we greet each twist and turn of the season - unless it's
our turn for despair, that is. Already we see some wonderful story lines
developing - Wake Forest, an early favorite, struggling to find itself again.
Virginia, restocked with talent, discovering the joys of a fast athletic team,
which they've only had rarely over the years, and it's never been encouraged
really, except for when Dave Odom stood in for Terry Holland while his
intestines were twisted in knots. Duke, a young team and everyone's target after
last season's tour de force, being forced to fight every night, battling both
the other team and expectations - and steadily forming a new identity behind
Carrawell, Battier, James, and several freshmen.  Clemson trying to stave
off disaster on a daily basis.  Maryland, having been upset in the first
game, facing their biggest nemesis, Duke, in the second one -and a Duke team
which matches up extremely well position for position.  Bobby Cremins,
watching his job likely slip away with every loss.  And N.C. State
suddenly, almost shockingly, with a very powerful front line and a suffocating
defense. At least until they ran into UNC, a team which had struggled in
December, but which seems to have awoken in a major way in January. And so it
goes in the ACC.

Today's games were no exceptions.  Virginia
jumped all over Georgia Tech,
and no matter what Cremins does, it doesn't
seem to work.  Virginia rises while Tech fades, the glory years further and
further back.  Virginia is the team now filled with super athletes, running
all over the floor, daring in ways Price, Dalrymple, various Barrys and Ferrell
used to be.  Tech has two big men, one erratic, one gifted but not
complete. 

In the marquee game, State, a team very much on the rise, tried to kick the
door in against UNC. For a while it looked as if they would, but their defense,
so far stalwart, buckled, and UNC
shot the lights out in the second half
.

In one of the most compelling stories this year, Brendan Haywood, who has
taken a lot of criticism from a lot of places, here included, has become a
dominant big man lately.  Against State, he shot 7-7 and grabbed 7 boards.
Since State has one big, rough front line, that's very impressive.  Brendan
is making  a solid argument now for All ACC and possibly Player of the Year
and a high draft pick as well. Combined with a solid backcourt and now Lang,
Capel, and Peppers, UNC has remade itself in a very short period of time, and
very impressively.  Gut, who has taken terrible criticism as UNC struggled,
deserves the praise for their resurrection as well, but he probably won't get
it.  Regardless, it's one of the big stories of the season so far.

Tomorrow is the next chapter, and in this one we get to see how Duke responds
to another road challenge, and if Maryland will back themselves in a corner or
fight their way out of one.  And then the drama in Death Valley, as both
teams are fighting off disaster and only one can survive that.

All in all it's a great season so far.  We just wish it could last
longer than it will, and since almost everyone will fall short, probably
everyone's season will end in disappointment. But so far, it's just more fun
than anyone should have a right to expect.