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Our ACC Picks

Every year after we do our previews, we make our predictions for the
conference race. Usually it works for about a week, then ACC craziness
takes hold. But here goes nothing. If last year was any indication,
our e-mail is going to take awhile to sort through, because no one is going to
agree with us this time.

  1. Duke
  2. Maryland
  3. Wake Forest
  4. Florida State
  5. UNC
  6. NCSU
  7. Georgia Tech
  8. Virginia
  9. Clemson

The first thing that will jump out at everyone is UNC at fifth. It's no
knock on Roy Williams or the talented players he has; it's a knock on the ones
he doesn't have. David Noel is a potent weapon, but he's out for maybe
couple of months. Jackie Manuel is a good defender but has shown little
else. Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants make a superb backcourt, but when
you look around, Duke, Wake, Tech, FSU, and Maryland can all go much
deeper. UNC has Melvin Scott, and Noel when he returns. It may not
matter much in December, but it will in February. Moreover, there's no one
to back up Sean May or, for a while, Jawad Williams. Rayshawn Terry, who Ol' Roy
has slighted by calling him a "second team-all stater," may help. Then
again, he may not. Depth is a critical issue, and any more injuries will
be fatal.

The second thing that will likely jump out is FSU at fourth. Well, why
not? They will be well-schooled in defense, they'll have a deep backcourt, deep
at the wing, and several big men who have a lot of potential. They've
upgraded their talent in a damn big hurry. Depth+good defense equals a
satisfying season anywhere except maybe Raleigh.

Maryland is young but talented. They'll miss Steve Blake enormously,
but like FSU, there is a lot of talent. We aren't big fans of Gary
Williams - though we do enjoy the pleasure he seems to be taking in baiting Ol'
Roy - but he's a fair coach. He's not the best coach in the country no
matter what Gregg Doyel says, but he's up there, and he is about the best at
finding overlooked players. Still, guys we'd take ahead of Gary:

  • Coach K
  • Ol' Roy Williams
  • Rick Pitino
  • Tubby Smith
  • Lute Olson
  • Mike Brey
  • Eddie Sutton
  • Mark Few
  • Rick Barnes
  • Bob Knight

With the possible exception of Knight, who seems to be doing a much better
job of controlling his emotions lately, all of the afore-mentioned are better
floor coaches than Williams, all have less trouble attracting elite talent, and
none are as subject to emotional demons as Gary is. With the recent luxury
of Juan Dixon and Steve Blake, Gary could relax. Look for the dry-cleaning
bill to shoot back up this year, though. A DBR prediction: Ol' Roy will
beat Gary at least once this season, probably on the road. It'll be a
close game, but Maryland will falter and make critical mistakes at the end, and
UNC will mop up.

We're waiting to see how thoroughly Chris Paul affects Wake's season.
We think it could be dramatic, because the kid seems to have both charisma and
intelligence. Wake will be good again as soon as they fit the pieces
together. Eric Williams should be much improved, a

State would be much higher if they still had Josh Powell, but no point in
going there. They do have the very resourceful Ilian Evtimov back, and he
and Julius Hodge have some fun chemistry. David Thompson, no less, thinks
the program is heading in the right direction, and a third straight trip to the
dance would cement things. State fans, though, won't be happy unless it's
a monster season.

With a new coach, Clemson gets a pass, but Tech and Virginia are kind of the
current problem kids of the conference. Everyone at UVa seems determined
to avoid a repeat of last year's meltdown, and with a markedly different makeup,
maybe the bad chemistry is gone.

While Tech continues to build, tangible progress is slow. Their
frontcourt is decimated, so Paul Hewitt will have to juggle a lot of people out
of position. A great season by Luke Schenscher, who like some UVa players
was dissatisfied with his performance last year and swears to improve, could
make a really big difference.

We're intrigued by Clemson. They have some talent, though not as much
as the other conference schools, and Oliver Purnell is a highly regarded guy by
just about everyone. Okay, we'll go out on a limb here:
Clemson will finally win at UNC. Consider: after a very rugged
January schedule (Kentucky at Kentucky, Miami, then a running Tech team at home
n the 11th, Maryland on the road on the 14th - we predict a win there, remember
- UConn in Chapel Hill on the 17th, a rugged and defensive-minded FSU on the
road on the 22nd, then a running UVa team at home on the 24th, State, with their
hard-ass defensive mindset at home on the 28th, and Clemson at Clemson on
the 31st..

For the thin Heels, if there are no injuries, February sees Duke at home, a
rugged Wake on the road, Tech on the road, Maryland and FSU at home, UVa and
State on the road, and then Clemson for senior day.

But hold the phone - there are no seniors! So senior day is a
non-factor. Plus the Duke game is four days later.

So factor in the brutal schedule for such a thin team, the travel, and the
allure of the Duke game a mere four days away, and season that with the fact
that Oliver Purnell is an excellent teacher and very tough-minded, well, we can
see a case for it. Can you?