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Jim Gober Previews the ACC!

Jim Gober is a 1972 graduate of Duke University, who married Lasley Fick, of the Class of '73. He's written an extensive preview of the ACC that first appeared on our Bulletin Board. Since he did so much work getting it ready, we thought we'd copy it here (with Jim's permission) for all our readers to enjoy!

If you want to write Jim, click here

When the expansion discussions were ongoing, I previewed Syracuse,
Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech to see how they would fit in
the ACC. That led me to preview all of the pre-expansion ACC teams.
Note that there is much discussion about other teams within the
each preview. If you believe that, maybe I can get someone to
read my preview of Clemson, my favorite to occupy the ACCellar.


(Last Updated July 31, 2003)

Florida State

(2002 Finish - 9th) (Predicted 2003 Finish - 5th):

The team that occupied the ACCellar last season will be the most
improved team in the ACC in 2003-04 as the result of Coach Leonard
Hamilton's phenomenal recruiting class that is ranked #1 in the
country by some recruiting experts. It will be exciting to see how
much better FSU can become with one top quality group of recruits
added to a few key returning standouts. The only significant player
to be replaced for the coming season is 6-11 Trevor Harvey (8.4 ppg),
who was, at most, a passable ACC post player. It will be no surprise
to see FSU competing for a spot in the upper half of the conference
standings, and only Duke and UNC appear to be beyond FSU's reach in
the standings. The keys to success for FSU will be finding the right
blend of its returning and incoming talent, utilizing the amazing
depth it has at several positions, and getting adequate, or better,
contributions from its two weakest positions, point guard and center.
At the other positions, Chief Osceola's tribe is loaded with talent
and depth.

Returning talent for FSU includes 6-4
Tim Pickett (Sr/TR, 17.1 ppg), who was Second Team All-ACC last
season and on the First Team All-ACC Defensive Team (as voted by
the ACC head coaches), and 6-7 Anthony Richardson (Jr, 12.4 ppg), a
McDonald's All-American who emerged as an offensive threat during his
sophomore season. Pickett and Richardson are very solid ACC starters
at the shooting guard and small forward positions, respectively.
6-7 Michael Joiner (Sr, 8.5 ppg) is adequate as a starting ACC
forward, though he has been forced to play out of position at power
forward most of his career. Joiner and Richardson make FSU deep
at small forward now that the Seminoles have filled their need
for a true power forward through next season's incoming recruits.
5-11 Todd Galloway (So, 6.9 ppg) and 6-3 Nate Johnson (Sr/TR, 4.8
ppg) shared the point guard position last season, with Johnson,
who is more experienced and better defensively, getting most of the
playing time. Though Galloway shows good potential to be a solid
ACC starter, point guard is definitely not the strength of FSU.
Weaker still is the returning talent at the center position, where
6-8 power forward Adam Waleskowski (Jr, 4.1 ppg) and 6-10 Mike
Mathews (Sr/PQ, 2.7 ppg) are the only returning options. With the
superior talent coming in, they and 6-6 Andrew Wilson (Jr/RS,
7.8 ppg) and 6-6 Benson Callier (So, 1.7 ppg), who is a superb
athlete, should expect to spend most of their time watching the
games from the bench and providing good quality depth.

Among the fabulous newcomers for FSU will be 6-10 top-10 JUCO Diego
Romero (Jr/TR), who is from Brazil, and 6-5 McDonald's All-American
Vakeaton 'Von' Wafer (Fr, Prep Stars #12). Romero, together with
the other additions, immediately makes the power forward position
a team strength. Wafer makes FSU as strong as anyone in the NCAA
at the shooting guard spot already occupied by Pickett. Wafer, a
tremendous scorer, is one of the most highly regarded recruits ever
to attend FSU, and Romero has great skills, size and athleticism.
Those two players could start for anyone. 6-6 Antonio Griffin
(Jr/TR), an outstanding JUCO wing player, joins Richardson and
Joiner at the small forward position, making that position even more
solid than it already was. Two Georgia products, 6-8 Alex Johnson
(Fr, Prep Stars #28) and 6-7 Al Thornton (Fr/RS, Prep Stars #78),
make up the remainder of FSU's outstanding 2003 recruiting class.
Both will contribute down low, with Johnson possibly starting
at center and Thornton backing up the power forward position.
Thornton and Johnson were both members of the high school class
of 2002, but neither was strong in the classroom. Thornton had
to work on his academic standing and enter FSU during the 2002-03
second semester to avoid becoming a 2002 partial qualifier and
losing a year of eligibility. By redshirting last year, Thornton
will enter this season as a freshman with four years of eligibility.
Thornton is the least heralded incoming player for FSU, but he would
be the top recruit for a number of other ACC schools if he were going
elsewhere. He was the MVP of both the 2002 Georgia North-South High
School All-Star game and the 2002 GA-TN High School All-Star game
following his senior year, averaging about 30 points and 15 rebounds
each outing. Johnson, the 2002 Georgia Basketball Player of the
Year, did not play in the All-Star games with Thornton in 2002.
He is more likely than Thornton to get immediate playing time at
center or power forward, since he has significantly more bulk and
is probably a better player. Johnson had to attend a PREP school
after his first graduation in 2002 to meet freshman eligibility
requirements in 2003.

A word of caution about
FSU's prospects for next season and beyond is in order. Although FSU
clearly has upgraded its talent to true pre-expansion ACC caliber,
only Clemson and Georgia Tech (the latter due to unexpected key
player losses) are unable to match FSU's talent level. Every other
ACC team can compete well against FSU, and Coach Leonard Hamilton
appears to be facing a very difficult task in deciding which of
his talented players to put on the floor. Pickett, Richardson,
Romero and Wafer certainly appear to be top quality starters and
strong All-ACC candidates, but Hamilton has to make certain that
he has a true point guard and someone to rebound and play post
defense on the floor much of the time. There are simply too many
good player combinations for anyone to make a meaningful guess as to
who will start and who will get the major minutes for the Seminoles,
with the noted exception of Coach Hamilton. Expect the starting
team on the floor at the end of the season to be different from
the team that takes to the court at the beginning of the season.
Regardless of who plays, FSU has enough talent to compete for one
of the ACC's NCAA Tournament entries. Do not expect FSU's success
to continue over the long term, however, regardless of how well they
do this coming season and regardless of Coach Hamilton's prowess as
a recruiter and coach. There is a difference between a football
school that plays basketball as an off-season diversion and a
basketball school that plays basketball with religious fervor.
Hamilton learned at another ACC football school where he coached
before coming to FSU, i.e. Miami, that basketball success at a
football school that plays in a conference filled with basketball
schools will be rare and fleeting. After winning the Big East
regular season championship in 2000, Miami went into decline and
sunk back down to the bottom of the fish tank by the end of the
2002-03 campaign. Of course, the fans of gridiron schools appear
not to mind being on the bottom of the fish tank where they are
always looking up at the basketball schools in hopes of occasionally
feeding like catfish on the tidbits that plop down to their lowly
level (e.g. the Noles consecutive home wins over Duke last season
and the season before). Only if Coach Hamilton can sustain his
masterful recruiting at Florida State over a long period of time
will there be much chance that the fans of the Seminoles will take
notice that there is another sport on campus besides oblong ball
worth their time and interest.


(2002 Finish
- 8th) (Predicted 2003 Finish - 9th):

managed to avoid the ACCellar last season under lame duck coach
Larry Shyatt because the other football school at the bottom of
the ACC, FSU, was breaking in a new coach, Leonard Hamilton. Now,
Clemson will be breaking in a new coach of its own, Oliver Purnell.
Coach Purnell came to Clemson from Dayton so late in the recruiting
process that he did not have the opportunity to land a few good
prospects late like Coach Hamilton did before his first season
(i.e. Pickett, Johnson and Callier). And just the opposite of
what has been going on at FSU since last season, Clemson has
suffered personnel losses that far outweigh its recruiting gains.
Most devastating for Clemson is the loss of 6-0 First Team All-ACC
point guard Edward Scott (17.7 ppg). Without Scott, Clemson has only
one solid ACC starter returning next season, and the only team that
appears to be within the Tigers reach is Georgia Tech.

That proven quality starter is 6-4 Chey Christie (Jr, 11.5 ppg).
Christie can be expected to score big for Clemson, since he has
no one on the roster to back him up at shooting guard. Similarly,
6-9 Sharrod Ford (Jr, 7.5 ppg) has no backup at center. Ford could
emerge as an adequate ACC starter this season, but he needs to add
strength and bulk to reach his potential and become more than merely
adequate. Strength and bulk are not the problem for 6-7 Chris Hobbs
(Sr, 6.3 ppg) and 6-6 Olu Babalola (Jr, 7.6 ppg). The problem
for them is that neither has played consistently well enough to
be rated as more than passable at the power forward position.
Though both Hobbs and Babalola are power forwards, Babalola got
almost all of his minutes last season at small forward because 6-5
Julian Betko (So, 1.9 ppg), Clemson's only true small forward last
season, needs to improve a lot just to become a passable backup in
the ACC. The only returning guard for Clemson besides Christie
is 6-2 Shawan Robinson (So, 4.9 ppg), who will compete for the
starting point guard position. Robinson has the potential to be
adequate, if not solid.

Competing with Robinson
(Prep Stars #129) for time at point guard will be 5-11 recruit Vern
Hamilton (Fr, Prep Stars #121). At least the competition for the
position will be evenly matched according to Prep Stars rankings,
even if the competitors will be overmatched against the top caliber
ACC point guards they will face. Perhaps the best Coach Shyatt
recruit Coach Purnell will inherit is 6-7 JUCO Lamar Rice (Jr/TR).
Rice appears likely to step into the small forward starting position
by default unless the Babalola experiment at that position continues.
Unlikely to play significant minutes are 6-3 recruit Jimmy Hudson
(Fr, Prep Stars #187), 6-10 Steve Allen (So/RS, 1.2 ppg), and 6-9
Akin Akingbala (So, 1.1 ppg). They will provide backup at the
shooting guard and center positions, but they are not likely to
play significant minutes.

Just as with FSU, a word
of caution about Clemson's prospects for next season and beyond
is in order. Although it is very easy to predict that Clemson
will finish last in the ACC, Clemson could also finish last in a
number of much weaker conferences if it suffers any key injuries or
personnel losses. In previewing Clemson, one notices that there
is no pre-expansion ACC quality player at any position other than
shooting guard and perhaps center. Moreover, there is no quality
depth at any position. Perhaps the silver lining for Clemson is
that Coach Purnell, who is an excellent coach and recruiter, will
have the opportunity to recruit based upon the offer of immediate
playing time and starting opportunities. With the possible exception
of Seth Greenberg, the new Virginia Tech coach, no ACC coach will
have as big an advantage in that area of recruiting. Most true
fans would prefer that their teams not have that particular
recruiting advantage, since it rarely exists unless a team is
awful. Another positive for Clemson is that Miami and Virginia
Tech join Clemson and FSU at the bottom of the ACC for the 2004-05
season, and they too are genuine football schools, i.e. football
completely overshadows basketball at those schools so that there is
no significant fan interest or support for their basketball teams.
Only occasionally will these four pigskin playmates stray from the
bottom of the ACC standings during basketball season. For Clemson,
the day may come in a few years when Coach Purnell leads the Tigers
into contention for the upper division of the ACC. That achievement
will help a little, but if he wants to catch the attention of the
basketball world, including perhaps a few Clemson fans, he should
try beating North Carolina in Chapel Hill for the first time after
fifty failed attempts.


(2002 Finish - 7th)
(Predicted 2003 Finish - 7th):

The belief that
FSU, Clemson, Miami, or Virginia Tech could ever become a solid
ACC basketball school could only arise from delusion. Those four
schools are strictly football schools, pure and simple. By contrast,
Mr. Jefferson's University has the potential to succeed in both
ACC football and basketball without either sport overshadowing
the other. Unfortunately for Virginia, at least five members
of the pre-expansion ACC appear likely to focus greater attention
annually on ACC basketball than Virginia for the foreseeable future.
For that reason and others, Virginia is picked to finish behind the
true basketball schools and be the 7th place ACC team in 2003-04.
Virginia does have good potential, however, and the Wahoos could
finish several notches higher in the standings if the cliché
bounces in their direction. To compete for the upper division
of the ACC, the key for Virginia will be whether the Wahoos
can get a solid contribution and leadership from the point guard

Achieving better than a 7th place finish
this coming season will be made more difficult by the departure of
6-8 Second Team All-ACC power forward Travis Watson (14.3 ppg).
Watson is definitely Virginia's key loss, and his toughness
and rebounding will be missed for sure. Replacing him will be
five solid, if not spectacular, freshman recruits. They join
a returning group led by 6-0 Todd Billet (Sr/TR, 13.5 ppg), an
Honorable Mention All-ACC performer. Billet is a deadly accurate
shooting guard, though Coach Pete Gillen experimented on occasion
with Billet at point guard and got mixed results. The next best
returning player for Virginia is 6-5 Devin Smith (Jr/TR, 11.6 ppg),
who also plays shooting guard. Smith could move to small forward
in a three-guard lineup. Add the Cavaliers' top recruit, 6-5
Gary Forbes (Fr, Prep Stars #52), and another of its top recruits,
6-2 JR Reynolds (Fr, Prep Stars #96), to the mix, and it cannot be
denied that the Wahoos are loaded at the shooting guard position.
If one of those shooting guards could just play point guard,
Virginia would be very strong at both guard positions. If not,
which appears to be the case, Virginia will have to hope and pray
that Scientific Mapp's little brother, 6-2 Majestic Mapp (Sr/RS,
2.4 ppg), can recover from the severe knee injuries that kept him
out of college basketball for the two seasons before his return last
season and stripped him of the athletic abilities that made him a
McDonald's All-American coming out of high school. Alternatively,
Virginia could rely on its only other recruited point guard, 5-11
TJ Bannister (Fr, Prep Stars #116), or 6-0 walk-on Billy Campbell
(So, 1.7 ppg) out of Paideia High School in Atlanta, the son of
infamous fugitive former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell. Bannister is
reputedly very quick and fast. Even so, he cannot be expected to
lead the team in his first season and compete well against those
more experienced and talented ACC point guards that will be running
the teams at North Carolina State and FSU, much less the far more
talented point guards that he would encounter against UNC, Duke,
Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Maryland. Only Clemson provides
an even match for Virginia at point guard, unless Mapp makes
miraculous progress in recovering from his injuries and returns
to form.

Just as Virginia is imbalanced in
the backcourt, it has an uneven mix of players at the frontcourt
positions. 6-7 Derrick Byars (So, 6.5 ppg) will be a solid ACC
small forward if he can avoid the shoulder injuries that plagued
him last season. He is the only genuine small forward on the team,
so he should get plenty of minutes on the floor and increase his
scoring output unless Coach Gillen opts for lineups that utilize
three of his talented shooting guards on the floor together.
The other likely starter at forward in a traditional lineup will
be 6-9 Elton Brown (Jr, 9.6 ppg), a power forward who reportedly
has improved his conditioning during the off-season in apparent
recognition that he is not close to fulfilling his potential to be
yet another solid ACC forward at Virginia. Unlike Byars, Brown has
lots of support at his position from 6-8 Jason Clark (Jr, 4.7 ppg)
and incoming recruits, 6-8 Donte Minter (Fr, Prep Stars #92) and 6-9
Jason Cain (Fr, Prep Stars #139). Clark has flashed the potential
to be an adequate ACC starting power forward, and Minter also has
promise to contribute at a high level. The final frontcourt player
for Virginia is 6-10 center Nick Vander Laan (Sr/TR, 5.3 ppg), who
can be expected to become an adequate ACC starter at center with
the departure of Watson and more significant minutes likely to be
coming his way during the approaching season. There is no guaranty,
however, that Coach Gillen will use three frontcourt players when he
has three shooting guards, Billet, Smith, and Forbes, who may possess
more talent than any of Virginia's frontcourt options.

As mentioned above, it is logical to conclude from Virginia's unique
middle position in the ACC that The Cavaliers could be a perennial
candidate to fall somewhere between the five definite basketball
schools at the top of the conference standings and the four definite
and ½ other football schools at the bottom, i.e. squarely on the NCAA
Tournament 'bubble'. The fact that Virginia consistently recruits
well enough to compare favorably in terms of talent with any ACC
basketball school not located within nine miles of another ACC
basketball school, however, makes it more likely that Virginia will
swing between third and seventh place in the standings both before
and after ACC expansion. Considering that the #1 recruiting class
in the nation will be entering FSU this fall, eighth place can be
added to that range on a temporary basis for the coming season.
Perhaps the construction project that is underway to replace
University Hall will give the Wahoos a recruiting edge over the
tightly packed group of teams competing for top quality recruits at
a nationally high level that falls below only the plane on which
Duke and UNC recruit. A much more significant edge in recruiting
top national talent could be achieved, however, in the manner
that Maryland has created some measurable distance between itself
and the rest of the pre-expansion ACC middle pack and closed the
gap between itself and the two basketball school rivals connected
by US 15-501. In the case of Maryland, its unprecedented recent
success on the court has led to recruiting classes the past two
seasons that exceed anything the Terps have achieved in that
regard since the departure of Coach Charles 'Lefty' Driesell.
Though Virginia is not quite the basketball school that Maryland
has become, it certainly could be with better and more consistent
results on the court.

North Carolina

(2002 Finish -
6th) (Predicted 2003 Finish - 2nd):

The belief has
developed in College Park, Maryland, in recent years that Duke's
main rival in the battle for ACC hoops supremacy is the Turtle and
no longer the Tar Heel. Most definitely, that is not the case.
The traditional battle cry of the Duke faithful remains, 'Go to
Hell, Carolina, Go to Hell!' Perhaps the confusion among the
Terrapins was caused by the fact that North Carolina obliged the
Devils for the past couple of seasons at a time when Maryland was
having unprecedented basketball success. Regardless, Chapel Hill
is likely to become Blue Heaven again for North Carolina fans this
coming season, in large part because UNC now has a Coach Williams of
its own. Though he certainly does not compare in terms of ability
to gush sweat stains onto a suit during games, Coach Roy Williams
unquestionably has as much ability as Coach Gary Williams to lead
his team on the court. Further, Carolina's Williams has shown
greater ability than Maryland's Williams to recruit top high school
talent even though the Terp Coach has achieved dramatic success in
recent recruiting battles following the 2001 Final Four and 2002
NCAA Championship seasons. When its player and fan revolt led
to the ouster of Coach Madd Matt Doherty and the return of Coach
Roy Williams, North Carolina achieved addition by subtraction.
Even if the surrounding events developed in bizarre fashion and the
propriety of the manner in which Coach D'oh was removed from office
may be in doubt, Carolina just got a whole lot better overnight.
With the exception of FSU, Carolina is poised to make the most
substantial advance in the ACC standings in 2003-04.

Despite a 6th place finish last season, North Carolina has the talent
on its roster to win the ACC championship and compete for the NCAA
championship this season. Every other team in the ACC, with the
arguable exception of FSU, suffered significant personnel losses.
Carolina had no losses. Last season, UNC's talent was mainly in
its freshman class, and a key injury to 6-8 freshman center Sean May
(So, 11.4 ppg) left the thin team vulnerable in the paint. Also, the
leadership style of Coach Doherty was frequently counterproductive.
With the possible exception of Duke though, no college team can
put a starting lineup on the court with players who were as highly
regarded coming into college as the players Madd Matt brought to
Chapel Hill. Thankfully for Tar Heel fans, Coach Williams will know
what to do with the tremendous talent he inherits from Coach D'oh,
as evidenced by his work and player relations at Kansas. 6-0 Raymond
Felton (So, 12.9 ppg), Third Team All-ACC, and 6-4 Rashad McCants
(So, 17.0 ppg), Honorable Mention All-ACC, are as talented at their
respective point guard and shooting guard positions as any tandem or
individuals in NCAA basketball. Inspired by the addition of Coach
Williams and subtraction of Coach Doherty, they should combine
to make UNC extremely difficult to defend. If Carolina has a
weakness, it is a lack of depth at certain positions. 6-1 Melvin
Scott (Jr, 6.3 ppg), a backup shooting guard, can be a reliable
scorer off the bench. The backup point guard role will clearly
fall to Scott by default, since Carolina must find some relief
for Felton at point guard. 6-5 defensive specialist Jackie Manuel
(Jr, 7.3 ppg), who has been the starter for UNC at small forward,
could also fill in at shooting guard, but only if the position is
redefined as two guard or wing, since he cannot shoot like a major
college shooting guard should.

In the frontcourt,
North Carolina is led by May and 6-8 Jawad Williams (Jr, 14.9 ppg),
Honorable Mention All-ACC. Both are power forwards, though May
can be expected to play center and Williams may play some at small
forward, the position he reportedly prefers. If the lynching of
Coach Doherty had any adverse effect, it is that Carolina landed only
one top recruit, 6-7 Reyshawn Terry (Fr, Prep Stars #43), who plays
the small forward position where UNC was not in need of more help.
In addition to Manuel, who has been only an adequate ACC starting
small forward with the potential to become a solid small forward,
North Carolina has 6-6 David Noel (So, 5.9 ppg), a superb athlete
who outplayed McCants defensively and started at times last season.
Williams and McCants could also play small forward, and either of
them could improve UNC at that position if Manuel were moved to a
defensive two guard position or put in a backup role. If Williams
remains at power forward, as appears likely, Noel, McCants and
Manuel are likely to see more minutes at small forward than Terry,
who may be asked to give UNC some minutes at shooting guard in
a deeper guard rotation designed to give Felton some occasional
rest. Besides the lack of depth at point guard, North Carolina is
arguably weak at center and power forward behind May and Williams.
6-9 Byron Sanders (So, 1.9 ppg) and 6-11 Damion Grant (So, 1.6 ppg)
provide Carolina's backup at strong forward and center, and each
has some potential to develop eventually. Both lack offensive
polish and the talent to be more than complimentary players given
the talent level of Carolina's starters. Sanders' lack of bulk and
Grant's sore knees also limited their contributions last season,
and those conditions could emerge as issues again in 2003-04.
Either could emerge as an adequate backup this coming season, though
neither can be expected to be a quality ACC starter at this stage
of his college career.

With two legitimate
All-American candidates in Felton and McCants and two more very
strong All-ACC candidates in May and Williams, North Carolina
is truly loaded with top quality talent in its starting lineup.
Indeed, these four players are probably among the top dozen best
players on all of the ACC teams combined for the 2003-04 season.
An injury to any of its four McDonald's All-Americans, however,
would seriously damage UNC's chances of making a run at first place
in the ACC standings and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, since
the talent level drops off behind those four players. Even so,
the second level of talent at UNC is as good as the top talent on
most teams in the ACC, so, with the exception of point guard, the
problems with depth at every position are likely to be manageable
now that Coach Williams is in charge. Duke is a slight favorite
over Carolina in 2003-04 simply because of the better quality of its
depth and its greater ability to absorb and recover from injuries
during the season. Based upon its rising talent and recent results,
the Terrapins might legitimately claim that they have emerged as
Rival 1B for Duke, even if they can never replace Carolina as Duke's
top rival. Rival 1A will be back with a vengeance this season, and
the youthful Terps and other challengers to the ACC throne occupied
more often than not in the fifty year history of the ACC by Duke and
Carolina (28 of the 50 ACC Tournament Championships have been won by
Duke and UNC) are likely to learn once again to 'Fear the Ram' and
not just the Devil.

Georgia Tech

(2002 Finish - 5th)
(Predicted 2003 Finish - 8th):

As last season
came to an end, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, which finished 5th
and 6th respectively, were the only two ACC teams that could have
been coming into the 2003-04 season with no key personnel losses.
Both schools, which added one solid new player each, were poised
to leap over most of the teams that finished ahead of them in the
standings, do battle with Duke for the conference title and go far in
the NCAA Tournament. Those accomplishments remain within the reach
of the Tar Heels for the coming season. Unfortunately for the Yellow
Jackets though, the loss of underclassmen it suffered was so severe
that Tech is on the verge of leaping far in the other direction
and doing battle with Clemson for the ACCellar. Had he returned to
Tech for his sophomore year, the most talented and dominant player
in the ACC in 2003-04 would have been 6-10 Jacket center Chris Bosh
(15.7 ppg), Second Team All-ACC, First Team All-ACC Defensive Team,
ACC Freshman Player of the Year, 4th Selection in 2003 NBA Draft
- Toronto Raptors. In the case of Bosh, the Jackets might have
expected to lose their only McDonald's High School All-American,
since his NBA stock began and remained extremely high throughout
his only college season. But Tech did not expect to lose its
second best post player, 6-8 sophomore power forward Ed Nelson
(8.1 ppg), who transferred to Connecticut. With those blows to its
frontcourt, Georgia Tech is as imbalanced as any team in the ACC.
At both guard positions, Tech is in fabulous shape. At the other
three positions, the Jackets either have questions or bad answers.
Following the frontcourt defections, the Yellow Jackets best hope
for the coming season is that opponents will forget to pound the
ball down low throughout their games against Tech and make the
mistake of letting the outcomes be decided by the matchups in the

The best of Georgia Tech's outstanding
guards is 6-4 shooting guard BJ Elder (Jr, 14.9 ppg), Third Team
All-ACC, Honorable Mention All-ACC Defensive Team (as voted by the
ACC head coaches). Unfortunately yet again, Bosh (First Team) and
Nelson (Honorable Mention) were Tech's only other All-ACC Defensive
Team players. Given Tech's guard talent, Elder is likely to play
big guard (a/k/a small forward) in a three-guard lineup. The other
shooting guard is 6-4 Marvin Lewis (Sr, 12.1 ppg). Lewis is a solid
ACC starter, even if he is not the All-ACC talent that Elder is.
At point guard, the Jackets may be even stronger than they are at
shooting guard. 6-3 Jarrett Jack (So, 9.5 ppg) returns as the
starter. Thrown to the wolves during his freshman season, Jack
acquitted himself well and showed that he has the talent to be an
All-ACC performer. Georgia Tech's other point guard and only highly
regarded recruit is 5-11 Will Bynum (Jr/TR, 7.8 ppg), a transfer
from Arizona. With Jack and Bynum on the court, the Jackets will be
able to handle the ball against the most intense pressure defenses,
which was something Tech occasionally had trouble with last season.
6-7 Anthony McHenry (Jr, 2.0 ppg), Tech's other returning guard
who played quality minutes, would have been used occasionally as a
defensive stopper at the guard position in 2003-04. His services
are needed far more at power forward though, so he has moved to that
position. 6-4 Swedish shooting guard Jim Nyström (So, 1.2 ppg) and
6-3 redshirt freshman Mario West (Fr/RS, Not Ranked by Prep Stars)
will provide end of the bench support for Tech given the talent in
front of them, unless one or the other becomes the surprise story
of the season.

It would help Georgia Tech some
if its best returning frontcourt player were very tall. Instead,
6-6 small forward Isma'il Muhammad (Jr, 5.9 ppg) is that player.
Muhammad has great athletic ability, but he is more of an athlete
than a polished basketball player. He can play solid defense, but
he is only a passable to adequate ACC starting small forward due
to his inability to shoot and display developed basketball skills.
Highly skilled at his position, but lacking athleticism and strength,
is 7-1 Australian center Luke Schenscher (Jr, 3.7 ppg). Given the
departures of Bosh and Nelson, there is certainly more opportunity
for Schenscher to get minutes for Tech. That might not happen
if Coach Paul Hewitt decides to pair three of his talented guards
with two of his more athletic big men in a lineup based upon speed
and quickness. As last season progressed, the athletic option at
center emerged in the person of 6-9 freshman Theodis Tarver (So,
2.9 ppg), a run-jump athlete who could keep pace with Tech's guards.
McHenry, the power forward who played guard his first two seasons
at Tech, and 6-8 power forward Robert Brooks (Sr, 0.7 ppg) are the
other frontcourt options for Coach Hewitt. Both are athletic and
can play solid defense and rebound. Neither, however, can shoot
the ball or provide the bulk needed to play defense against large
and heavy low post players. Tarver and McHenry, or Muhammad, may
be the best choices to join Elder, Lewis and Jack in a small, but
very athletic, starting lineup.

One positive note
for Georgia Tech during the 2003-04 season will be its ability to
sell frontcourt recruits on the idea that Tech offers the immediate
opportunity to start, or at least play major minutes, at any of the
three frontcourt positions. The negative for the coming season,
however, is that the basketball limitations of the five frontcourt
players at Tech put the Jackets at a considerable frontcourt scoring,
rebounding and post defense disadvantage against every other ACC
team, and it is not remotely close. As good as the Georgia Tech
guards are, the Yellow Jackets will not match up well with any
ACC team. Tech will have to depend on its guards to dominate
the backcourt and hope that it can win consistently from behind
the three-point line. By the way, the '1/2 other football school'
mentioned in the discussion of Virginia is, of course, Georgia Tech.
Georgia Tech is not one of the 'five definite basketball schools' or
'four definite football schools' in the ACC, but football is more
important to most Jacket fans than basketball by a narrow margin.
In part, that fact is due to Tech's great football history and its
late entry into the pre-expansion ACC that was, once upon a time,
the premier basketball conference in the NCAA. As Yellow Jacket fans
develop an increasing interest in basketball, Georgia Tech might
soon join Virginia as the only two schools in the ACC that compete
reasonably well in both sports without either sport overshadowing
the other. Though Tech will never be an ACC basketball school,
its high level of recruiting puts it in the position of Virginia,
where a finish from 3rd to 7th in the ACC, both pre-expansion and
post-expansion, will be the norm. For the coming season, Tech
is picked to finish 8th. 8th place becomes part of the range for
Tech and Virginia in 2003-04 because FSU garnered the #1 recruiting
class in the nation and is poised to make one of the rare ventures
by a football school into the basketball fray.

Carolina State

(2002 Finish - 4th) (Predicted 2003 Finish -

After a 4th place finish in the ACC standings
last season, North Carolina State appeared likely to be even better
entering the 2003-04 season. The returning players would have
one more year of experience, and the incoming talent would likely
offset one key personnel loss. Then, the unexpected happened.
6-9 sophomore power forward Josh Powell (12.4 ppg) from Riverdale
High School in Georgia believed the 2003 NBA Draft predictors who
said he would be a late first round selection. Surely, he would
be selected in the second round, even if they were slightly wrong.
Sadly for NC State and Powell, the self-professed experts were
way wrong, and he was not drafted at all after declaring for the
NBA Draft and rendering himself ineligible to continue playing
for the Wolfpack. Losing Powell and 6-3 senior shooting guard
Clifford Crawford (9.2 ppg), First Team All-ACC Defensive Team,
who also played point guard for State, makes the Wolfpack's task
of just maintaining its position in the tightly contested ACCpack
far more difficult, especially since none of the newcomers can
replace Powell in the paint. Even with the losses, State has the
potential to be very good and competitive not only in the ACC but
also on a national level. There is, however, a lot of uncertainty
surrounding the Pack's prospects for the coming season.

Leading the Pack, with or without Powell, will be 6-6 small forward
Julius Hodge (Jr, 17.7 ppg), First Team All-ACC, who was second only
to Wake Forest's All-American Josh Howard in voting for ACC Player
of the Year. Of the top eight players selected to the 2003 All-ACC
First and Second Teams, Hodge is the only player returning for the
upcoming season. A McDonald's High School All-American, Hodge can
also play either of the guard positions, giving the Wolfpack matchup
advantage options in terms of size at those positions. Most of all,
Hodge creates the competitive team demeanor that has characterized
State during its resurgence under embattled Coach Herb Sendek.
North Carolina State's other top performer last season was 6-8
power forward Marcus Melvin (Sr, 12.9 ppg), Honorable Mention
All-ACC. The loss of Powell will affect Melvin by forcing him
to play closer to the basket unless one of several taller players
shows significant improvement. The other returning starter, 6-3
shooting guard Scooter Sherrill (Sr, 10.5 ppg), a McDonald's High
School All-American, had a breakthrough season in 2002-03 after a
slow start to his Wolfpack career. Sherrill has now shown that he
is a solid ACC starter. Versatile 6-7 small forward Levi Watkins
(Jr, 5.6 ppg) is the next best returning player who suited up for
the Pack last season. Watkins has provided NC State with quality
minutes off the bench, but he could become a starter in 2003-04.
If so, he would rate as just an adequate starter by ACC standards
unless his game improves with more quality minutes on the floor.
If Powell, a potential All-ACC performer, had returned for his junior
season and NC State had added no players, the starting lineup for
the Wolfpack would be set with the five players mentioned in this
paragraph in the lineup. Following the loss of Powell, the good news
for State is that there are at least two incoming players who could
become quality ACC starters in 2003-04 and several others that can
provide the depth State might lack if they do not show reasonably
expected development.

Mystery surrounds State's
top two incoming players. 6-7 Bulgarian small forward Ilian Evtimov,
(So/RS, 7.1 ppg), will be returning from a severe ligament injury to
his knee. During his freshman season, Evtimov showed that he has
superior passing and shooting skills and can become an outstanding
ACC player. With Evtimov and Hodge in the game together, State
could afford to operate without a true point guard because both
act as point forwards, especially Evtimov. If Evtimov is healthy
and back to his old form, he should be a solid starter, if not even
better than that. The other incoming player, 6-4 guard Engin Atsur,
is even more of a mystery. Atsur is the starting point guard for the
Turkish Junior National Team, and there have been reports that he has
faired quite well in international competition (e.g. Atsur scored 37
points against Australia in the World Championships in July 2003).
Since Prep Stars does not rank foreign players like Atsur who did
not attend high school in the United States, it is unclear just how
good he is. Some reports are that he is simply capable of playing in
the ACC, while other reports claim that he is a sensational recruit.
In any event, State has two very good to excellent prospects from
Bulgaria and Turkey to help replace Crawford and Powell in 2003-04.
With the departure of Powell, 6-10 center Jordan Collins (Jr,
1.4 ppg) could really help State if he improves his game to the
point where he gives quality big man minutes. So far, Collins has
not shown the ability to contribute consistently, though he has
shown flashes of ACC caliber talent. If Collins does not improve
significantly, incoming 7-0 redshirt freshman Adam Simons (Fr/RS,
Prep Stars #152) will have the chance to help out down low given
the absence of other big men on State's roster. More likely than
these two tall men to give quality minutes off the bench is 6-4
small forward Cameron Bennerman (So, 2.3 ppg), who can also play
shooting guard. Bennerman provides a lot of athleticism that fits
well with State's starters, and he proved to be a key bench player
for State during his freshman season. Depth at shooting guard will
be provided by 6-4 Dominick Mejia (So, 1.9 ppg) and 6-5 Will Roach
(Jr/RS, 0.9 ppg), players who contributed relatively few minutes off
the bench last season. Neither player has proven to be a quality
backup. 6-1 point guard recruit Mike O'Donnell (Fr, Prep Stars #160)
is likely to provide depth at that position unless he performs at an
unexpectedly high level and State's other options at the position,
Atsur, Hodge and Sherrill, do not perform as expected.

With All-ACC talents in Hodge and Melvin and another solid performer
in Sherrill, North Carolina State can expect to be a good ACC team
competing for a place in the middle of the conference standings.
For State to be a very good ACC team and a national contender,
however, the Pack must get solid play from Evtimov, Watkins, and
at least one other player, preferably Atsur. If some of the other
players can just contribute quality minutes, State might be able to
disguise the fact that its bench is lacking in depth and quality.
With Coach Sendek under fire by demanding Wolfpack fans for several
years now, it has been difficult for him to recruit players not
from Transylvania who can provide top talent and quality depth
for the Pack. Despite the obstacles, Coach Sendek has done an
outstanding job of returning the third most successful ACC genuine
basketball school to the level it occupied for most of its fifty
years in the conference. Among ACC teams that have been in the
conference for more than 15 years, only Duke and North Carolina have
winning records against NC State. No other ACC schools besides these
three neighbors located in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill Triangle
have won more than one NCAA Tournament Championship, and Maryland,
with its 2002 Championship, is the only other ACC school to have
won one NCAA Championship. In the fifty year existence of the ACC,
UNC (15), Duke (13), and the Wolfpack (10) have dominated the ACC
Tournament Championship, winning 76% of the time. With State off to
an outstanding start in recruiting for the 2004-05 season and having
moved into the $158 million and 19,000+ seat RBC Center last season,
Wolfpack fans hopefully will recognize that Coach Sendek has led
the Wolfpack back from a decade of troubles that followed the end
of Coach Jimmy Valvano's career and life. If NC State can remain
stable for a few more seasons and complete a full recovery to its
former stature, Maryland and Wake Forest will not be the only ACC
genuine basketball schools regularly nipping at the Tar Heels and
raising Hell against the Devils.


(2002 Finish
- 3rd) (Predicted 2003 Finish - 4th):

Since its
NCAA Tournament Final Four appearance in 2001 and NCAA Championship
in 2002, Maryland has given Coach Gary Williams never before held
ability to recruit a higher level of high school basketball talent.
Incoming for the 2003-04 season will be a collection of five
recruits ranked by some experts #2 nationally behind FSU's #1 class.
Combined with the four top quality recruits Coach Williams landed
the year before, the Terrapins have in their freshman and sophomore
classes two McDonald's High School All-Americans, two additional
recruits ranked in the top fifty nationally, and three more top
one hundred recruits. The other two recruits from those classes
were ranked just outside the top hundred. If these players stay at
Maryland for their full four years of college eligibility instead
of bolting to the NBA prematurely, Coach Williams may have found the
secret formula for matching up against Duke and North Carolina every
year rather than just occasionally. With the extremely high level of
talent the Terps have been recruiting lately and their magnificent
new facility, the Comcast Center, Maryland appears destined to move
ahead of the pack and into an annual battle with Duke and UNC for ACC
basketball supremacy. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels, who recruit
an even higher level of talent than Maryland does, have enjoyed
a substantial recruiting advantage over the Terps for many years.
As Maryland raises the level of its talent and Duke and UNC players
continue to enter the NBA Draft routinely after only one to three
seasons of college basketball, the advantage may swing in favor of
Maryland as a product of player continuity and greater experience.
Of course, Maryland will have to avoid NBA defections too, but the
Devils (5) and Heels (4) have nine players on their current rosters
who were rated higher than the Terps' top-rated recruit and may be
more likely not to complete four years of college.

It is fortunate for the Terps that they have such a plethora
of young talent, since no ACC team was hit harder by graduation
losses than Maryland. Gone are the Terps' leader on the court, 6-3
point guard Steve Blake (11.6 ppg), First Team All-ACC, Honorable
Mention All-American, First Team All-ACC Defensive Team, and its
best offensive weapon, 6-3 shooting guard Drew Nicholas (17.8
ppg), Second Team All-ACC. Besides losing its talented starting
backcourt, the Terrapins suffered major losses in the frontcourt,
6-9 center Ryan Randle (12.7 ppg), Third Team All-ACC, and 6-10
power forward Tahj Holden (8.7 ppg). Certainly, these players
deserve credit for taking Maryland to its first two Final Fours
and its 2002 National Championship, and they also deserve much
credit for helping to develop the kind of program that could be
successful in recruiting their talented replacements. At point
guard, the Terps are likely to make 6-1 sophomore John Gilchrist
(So, 4.6 ppg) the successor to Blake. As with many of Maryland's
young players, Gilchrist has a scoring average that belies his true
talent because he was sharing a position occupied by an established
First Team All-ACC senior. Given more minutes of his own, Gilchrist
is likely to become an All-ACC candidate. Gilchrist is likely to
be backed up by 5-9 Andre Collins (Jr, 2.2 ppg), who is an adequate
backup but not an ACC starter caliber talent. Perhaps the leading
candidate to replace Nicholas at shooting guard is 6-4 Michael Jones
(Fr, Prep Stars #17), a McDonald's All-American and the most highly
regarded recruit Coach Gary Williams has landed in recent years or
perhaps ever. Jones has great athletic ability, as does Gilchrist,
and they can match up well against the best backcourts in the
ACC once they gain experience. Unlike the point guard position,
the Terps have lots of quality depth at shooting guard with 6-4
Chris McCray (So, 3.1 ppg) and 6-4 DJ Strawberry (Fr, Prep Stars
#94), the son of Darryl Strawberry, the famous baseball player
and infamous and incorrigible drug addict.

It is
somewhat less clear who will start for Maryland in the frontcourt,
and there is some question as to whether Coach Williams will have
a true center in his starting lineup. In terms of minutes played
and scoring, the top returning frontcourt player is 6-8 small
forward Nik Caner-Medley (So, 5.9 ppg), an outstanding athlete
who was usually the fifth starter for the Terps last season.
As is true for everyone who will play significant minutes for
Maryland in 2003-04, Caner-Medley faces the challenge of greater
attention from the defenses he will face. Gone are Blake, Nicholas,
Randle and Holden, the four players who drew the most attention from
defenses last season. It is not certain that Caner-Medley will be a
starter for the coming season, since 6-8 small forward Ikene Ebekwe
(Fr, Prep Stars #36), the second best 2003 recruit behind Jones,
may have even greater talent and potential. Ebekwe is yet another
typical fast and athlete Maryland player. 6-6 Mike Grinnon (Jr,
1.6 ppg) is likely to get limited minutes in a reserve role behind
Caner-Medley and Ebekwe. At power forward, the Terps are quite
strong with returning players 6-9 Jamar Smith (Sr/TR, 5.9 ppg) and
6-8 Travis Garrison (So, 4.0 ppg), the Terps other McDonald's High
School All-American. Smith provides more experience and athleticism,
but Garrison has the potential to be the better player eventually, if
not in 2003-04. Given the excellent level of talent at the forward
positions, it is unclear where Maryland's two freshmen centers
fit in the rotation for starting positions and quality minutes.
6-10 Hassan Fofana (Fr, Prep Stars #107) and 6-11 Will Bowers (Fr,
Prep Stars #117) have excellent potential to contribute when bulk and
size is needed. Having the option to match up with teams that have
size makes Maryland a better team, but it would be surprising not
to see Coach Williams go with a three forward lineup against most

The 2003-04 season will be a coming
out party for the deep and talented young Maryland team. Although
other ACC teams certainly have more established ACC players, only
Duke and North Carolina have more talented players on their rosters.
In recent history, Coach Gary Williams has shown a consistent ability
to finish in the upper half of the ACC standings even when he has had
to replace a significant number of departing players. Never before
though has he had such a collection of talented replacements from
which to choose. Further, Maryland has developed over the past
several decades into a 'genuine basketball school' that places
as much emphasis on college basketball as the four Tobacco Road
genuine basketball schools that have dominated ACC basketball.
Consequently, the young Terps will have plenty of fan interest and
support to help them make the transition to roles as starters and
quality bench players getting significant college level minutes.
When Maryland fans began expressing the opinion over the past several
years that the Terps had replaced the Tar Heels as the Blue Devils'
main rival and competition, they must have assumed that Coach Madd
Matt Doherty would be at the helm of the sinking UNC basketball
ship for several more years until UNC ultimately decided to drop its
basketball program to avoid further embarrassment. Now that Coach
Roy Williams has the helm and it is apparent that the Tar Heels will
continue to field a team, Maryland fans should know that UNC will
always be Duke's main rival regardless of how many objects Terp fans
throw at Blue Devil parents and players during home games. Also,
Maryland should understand that Duke and UNC will be recognized as
the teams to beat to win the ACC crown for years to come. Even so,
Maryland is very close to establishing itself as the third team
that other ACC teams consider to be their annual challenge in the
competition for ACC basketball top honors. Wake Forest, and perhaps
a few other ACC teams that voted in favor of ACC expansion, will
not allow the Terrapins to seize that distinction without a tussle.
In any event, Maryland will be one of the top teams in the ACC for
the foreseeable future under the leadership of Coach Gary Williams,
regardless of whether the Terps can ever justifiably claim to have
reached the highest level of ACC basketball standing traditionally
reserved for the Heels and the Devils.


(2002 Finish
- 2nd) (Predicted 2003 Finish - 1st):

The Duke
Blue Devils have dominated the ACC over the past five years like no
other school in ACC history ever has over a similar period of time.
During its run of five straight ACC Tournament Championships,
Duke captured the 2001 NCAA Championship and accumulated an 82-12
won-lost record against its ACC opponents and 158-22 record overall.
In individual series matchups against other ACC teams during this
run, Duke has been completely dominant (MD 8-4) (NC 13-2) (WF 11-1)
(GT 10-0) (FS 8-2) (CU 11-0) (NS 14-1) (VA 10-2). Maryland, the
2002 National Champion, has been the Devils' toughest competition
in recent years, but it has won games against Duke and Coach
Mike Krzyzewski under Coach Gary Williams less frequently than
it would like to admit (MK-26, GW-8). It is also no coincidence
that the greatest ACC prosperity in the history of Duke basketball
has come during a period of the most unprecedented mediocrity in
the history of North Carolina basketball. UNC's gradual decline
from Baby Blue Heaven into Royal Blue Hell followed the sudden
and unexpected retirement of legendary Coach Dean Smith in 1997.
The poor decisions that ensued in the bumbling efforts of the
Tar Heel 'family' to find a suitable replacement to coach the Tar
Heels led to bad and destructive consequences on and off the court.
Ultimately, Coach Madd Matt Doherty had to be publicly humiliated
and expelled from the Carolina 'family' to correct the situation.
Now that former Kansas Coach Roy Williams has decided that his
loyalty and devotion to his Kansas players that led him to reject UNC
when the Heels first approached him about replacing Coach Smith was
actually an affection for guys named Gooden, Hinrich and Collison,
North Carolina has the combination of coaching ability and player
talent in place to return to its historical position at the very top
of the ACC and college basketball. The problem for UNC is that Duke
now occupies that position, and the days of North Carolina being
the unchallenged dominant force in the ACC universe are a thing of
the past. There can be no question that the one school that has
fared best in the 50-year existence of the ACC is North Carolina.
UNC holds a favorable series won-lost record against every single
ACC school, and the Tar Heels lead every conference series by a wide
margin (123-92 in their closest competition - Duke). UNC also has
the most ACC Championships (15 to Duke's 13) despite Duke's recent
string of five consecutive ACC Championships and has as many Final
Four appearances as Duke (13) despite Duke's many recent ventures
to the Final Four under Coach K. What has changed is that the Blue
Devils have had sustained basketball excellence over a period of
almost two decades under Coach K. Combining that high level of
performance with Carolina's troubles in finding a successor to
Coach Smith, the Blue Devils had plenty of time and opportunity
to establish themselves as the equal of the Tar Heels in every
respect, including especially recruitment of the very highest level
of national basketball talent. When UNC was dominant in the ACC,
it was due primarily to its dominance in recruiting. At most, UNC
can hope that its return to prosperity will involve sharing ACC top
billing with Duke. Being the established ACC leader has made Duke
a perennial favorite to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament,
and both Duke and UNC will have similar high national expectations
in 2003-04. Although the Blue Devils will still be young this
coming season, they are loaded at every position with enough talent
not only to win some NCAA Tournament games but to win Duke's fourth
NCAA Tournament title. For Duke to make yet another trip to the
Final Four though, the Devils must replace one key departed player
and get improved play and greater contributions from a number of
other players.

Duke is exceptionally strong at both
guard positions. UNC's starting guards may be more talented than
Duke's starting guards, and Wake Forest, Maryland and Georgia Tech,
like Carolina, have outstanding guards at both guard positions,
but Duke has the best combination of starting and backup guards in
the ACC for the coming season. Point guard is manned by 6-1 Chris
Duhon (Sr, 9.2 ppg), Third Team All-ACC, Honorable Mention All-ACC
Defensive Team, a McDonald's All-American who was a key player on
Duke's 2001 National Championship team. Although Duhon struggled
with his shot and, at times, his floor leadership last season, he
should be able to lead Duke defensively in 2003-04 and improve in
those areas where he did not excel, especially now that the burden of
playing on a team completely dominated by freshmen has been lifted.
Likely to get increased quality minutes as the point guard backup is
6-2 Sean Dockery (So, 3.3 ppg), another McDonald's All-American who
could be a solid ACC starter if he were not playing behind Duhon.
Dockery needs to improve his shot and play more under control
this coming season, but he is a major talent who provides solid
depth at his position. Duke does not need for its McDonald's
All-American shooting guards to improve their shooting or play.
The players at that position are among the best shooters and
players in the country. The Devils only need to find a way to get
more quality minutes from two All-ACC caliber players who play the
same position. 6-4 JJ Redick (So, 15.0 ppg), Third Team All-ACC,
is the better pure shooter of the two, and 6-3 Daniel Ewing (Jr,
12.0 ppg) is the better athlete. Either one of them can dominate
a game when he gets hot from the perimeter, as both showed last
season. With its four outstanding guards returning with an added
year of experience, Duke will be the equal of any team in the NCAA
at both guard positions.

In the frontcourt, an
interesting transition at the small forward position will occur for
Duke in 2003-04. The Blue Devils must replace 6-6 Dahntay Jones
(17.7 ppg), First Team All-ACC, First Team All-ACC Defensive Team,
Honorable Mention All-American. Although Jones frequently infuriated
opponents, and some Duke fans, with his more than occasional dirty
play and lack of sportsmanship, he was unquestionably a tough
defender who developed into an outstanding scorer his senior year.
Consistent with its recent recruiting habit, Duke made a trip to the
Golden Arches to order yet another Big Mac (McDonald's High School
All-American) to fill its needs at small forward. Consequently,
it is not certain that Duke will be weaker at small forward this
coming season than it was last season, especially since Jones was
not always an effective team player and his successor is reputedly
the consummate team player. Jones' replacement, who is the highest
rated recruit on any ACC roster in any class, is 6-7 Luol Deng (Fr,
Prep Stars #2), who is originally from Sudan, but who lived in Egypt
and England until moving to New Jersey during his high school years.
Since Deng has no strong competition for the starting small forward
position and is an enormous talent, he should get plenty of minutes
to show just how good he is. At the small forward position, 6-6 Lee
Melchionni (So, 1.0 ppg) is a very adequate backup who just needs
to improve his athleticism to get more quality minutes for Duke.
When Deng is not on the court, Duke may go with a lineup with three
guards, but the Devils certainly have talented big men if Coach K
chooses to go with a taller and more physical lineup. Duke has two
more McDonald's All-Americans in 6-10 power forward Shavlik Randolph
(So, 7.4 ppg) and 6-10 center Michael Thompson (So, 1.2 ppg), but
neither is the Devils' most accomplished returning frontcourt player.
That player is muscular 6-9 power forward Shelden Williams (So, 8.2
ppg), who would have been a Big Mac but for some criminal justice
issues that were ultimately resolved favorably before he could
be admitted to Duke. 6-10 redshirt senior center Nick Horvath
(Sr/RS, 3.9 ppg) rounds out the frontcourt options for Coach K.
Williams is likely to start, whether at center or power forward,
since Duke needs his rebounding and defensive strength in the
lane. In his freshman season, Williams showed that he could be
an All-ACC caliber player, but he needs to polish his offensive
moves and footwork to gain the consistency to reach that level.
Randolph was slowed by an assortment of injuries and the lack of
a developed torso needed to make the adjustment to the physical
college game. In the off-season, he had hip surgery and, hopefully,
allowed his weak ankles to heal completely. At full strength, he is
a tremendous basketball talent who flashed his offensive skills and
shot-blocking abilities during his first season. On the perimeter,
Randolph was much less effective defensively in matchups against
quicker players, but offensively he presents serious problems for low
post defenders when he takes them outside. Like Williams, Randolph
has All-ACC potential, and he should get many more quality minutes
with the departure of Jones and 6-11 defensive specialist center
Casey Sanders (4.7 ppg), Honorable Mention All-ACC Defensive Team.
In his fifth season at Duke, Horvath has the ability to supply Duke
with smart minutes off the bench backing up both the center and power
forward starters. Thompson, who could be a pleasant surprise for
Duke this coming season, showed in the limited minutes he got as a
freshman that he could contribute in the low post at a high level.
With increased playing time and quality coaching to develop his
game, Thompson could become a solid ACC center and strong rebounder
for Duke. Thompson has more talent and ability than many starters
on other ACC teams, but he has not had the opportunity to break into
Duke's rather shallow player rotation. For 2003-04, the Devils have
ten quality players who should all get significant quality minutes.
Regardless of what player rotation options Coach K chooses, he will
have the deepest team in the ACC in terms of starter and bench
talent combined.

Perhaps the only negative
to Duke having won over 87% of its conference and overall games
during the past five seasons is that the Cameron Crazies have become
more spoiled and demanding of their team than ever. Consequently,
Coach K made it an off-season priority to meet with Duke students
and fans to discuss their role in the Blue Devils' amazing success
during his tenure. Coach K wants to make certain that the Crazies
sustain a higher and more consistent level of intensity and fan
support in 2003-04, since fan support is what makes Duke as genuine
and successful a basketball school as can be found in the NCAA.
Clearly, Duke will be better this coming season than the 26-7 team
last season that, astonishingly, had the worst record for a Duke team
since the 1996-97 squad finished 24-9. In this coming season, Duke
will battle North Carolina for the ACC title with the usual strong
challenges from several teams, including especially Wake Forest
and Maryland. Florida State, North Carolina State, and Virginia are
the other teams with enough talent to compete for a high finish in
the ACC in 2003-04. Though it will be a very young team, Maryland
has separated itself from the tightly bunched group of schools that
recruit well enough to compete for the upper division of the ACC
on an annual basis. Duke and UNC have maintained their recruiting
advantage over Maryland, but the talent gap is narrowing. Further,
Maryland has been quite successful in retaining its talented players
for four full seasons of college basketball and has not suffered the
extent of player loss to early entry into the NBA Draft that Duke
and UNC have experienced recently and can expect to experience in
the future. If the recent recruiting and NBA Draft trends continue,
Maryland, and perhaps Wake Forest and several other ACC schools,
could advance closer to Duke and UNC by taking the approach of
recruiting the best available talent not likely to jump to the
NBA early. By doing so, they may be able to do consistently what
Maryland has done for the past three seasons and Wake Forest did
last season, which is to compete at the highest level with Duke for
ACC and national championship honors. Regardless of whether other
ACC teams succeed in closing the gap between themselves and Duke and
Carolina, they will benefit from having to take aim at targets like
the Blue Devils and Tar Heels in order to win an ACC championship.
Duke and UNC make every other ACC school that has a true interest
in competing in ACC basketball much better by setting the standard
of ACC basketball excellence. Most of the ACC schools have a true
interest in meeting that standard, though there is serious doubt
as to whether any of the four ACC post-expansion genuine football
schools, FSU, Clemson, Miami, and Virginia Tech, will ever make a
consistent effort to compete with the ACC's best in basketball.
Though Coach Leonard Hamilton has put together excellent talent
at FSU for the coming season and beyond, it is highly unlikely
that FSU will ever join the ranks of schools like Maryland, Wake
Forest and NC State that have a genuine obsession with basketball.
Only those genuine basketball schools can hold out legitimate
hope of ever becoming the equal of Duke.

Wake Forest

(2002 Finish - 1st) (Predicted 2003 Finish - 3rd):

Wake Forest, the defending regular season ACC Champion, is one of
three teams in the conference that has a roster filled with highly
recruited talent and no seniors. The other two are Maryland and
North Carolina. Among these three similarly situated schools, Wake
and the Terps are far more likely to keep their current players
around for four seasons without the worry of NBA Draft early entry
defections. Indeed, the Demon Deacons and Terps may have found the
secret formula for dethroning the Blue Devils and, if they join
the Devils at the top of the ACC again this season as expected,
the Tar Heels. That formula involves recruiting high level talent
that will stay in school four full years. In any event, Coach Skip
Prosser has done nothing short of a sensational job of recruiting
and coaching during his first two seasons at Wake Forest. Already,
he has landed three top 20 rated recruits, though one of those
players is just a rising high school junior who will not be around
for a couple of seasons. When Coach Prosser arrived at Wake Forest,
he knew that, in the history of the Big Four ACC Tobacco Road teams,
the Deacs have trailed Duke, Carolina and State by a great distance.
In a brilliant strategic move to close the gap, Coach Prosser has
made Wake Forest The University of North Carolina in basketball
recruiting by landing far more highly regarded tar heel basketball
players to lead Wake (8) than can be found playing for the Tar Heels
(2), Devils (1) or Pack (4). For the first time ever, the Deacs
have been landing recruits who grew up dreaming of playing at UNC.
Whether Coach Roy Williams will make a difference in some of the
recruiting battles for the best in-state talent remains to be seen,
but the Demon Deacons obviously have connected with a number of
coaches and players around the state and can get their help in
continuing the trend. Having lost the ACC Player of the Year, 6-6
Josh Howard (19.5 ppg), First Team All-ACC, First Team All-American,
First Team All-ACC Defensive Team, it will be difficult for Wake to
repeat its feat of capturing the regular season crown no matter how
well it has recruited the State of North Carolina. The good news for
Wake is that the addition of several outstanding recruits and the
return of everyone else on Wake's championship team will keep the
Deacs near the top of the ACC standings.

Howard was the top offensive and defensive player in the ACC last
season, he did not win the ACC crown by himself. 6-8 Lithuanian
power forward Vytas Danelius (Jr, 12.3 ppg), Second Team All-ACC,
Honorable Mention All-ACC Defensive Team, gave Wake a physical
toughness on the boards and an offensive presence around the basket.
Danelius showed polished moves in the low post and was effective in
all respects when he avoided foul trouble. Joining Danelius in the
frontcourt are 6-9 power forward Jamal Levy (Jr, 7.2 ppg), Honorable
Mention All-ACC Defensive Team, and 6-9 center Eric Williams (So,
8.7 ppg), a McDonald's All-American. Levy is a quick and long player
who provides shot-blocking and solid defense. Offensively, Levy
has played a supporting role, but he may be part of the answer to
the question of who will provide the points that Howard put on the
scoreboard in 2002-03. Though he has some offensive limitations,
Levy can be a solid ACC starter, whether he plays at his true
position or small forward, where he played much of last season.
Williams probably has the greatest potential of any of these three
frontcourt players who started for Wake at various times last season.
As a freshman, Williams fought the battle of the bulge to get himself
into condition to play lengthy minutes at the major college level.
To a large degree, he won that battle. Now that someone has to fill
the minutes vacated by Howard, Williams needs to play even more
quality minutes for Wake and blossom into the All-ACC performer
he can become. With size, bulk and strength, Williams allows
the Deacs to match up well with any team that plays a physical
brand of basketball. The three backup frontcourt players at power
forward and center forWake Forest, 6-8 power forward Chris Ellis
(So, 2.8 ppg) from Marietta High School and the son of former NBA
player Dale Ellis, 6-8 power forward Todd Hendley (Fr, Prep Stars
#129), and 6-11 Kyle Visser (Fr, Prep Stars #163), are not at the
same talent level as Wake's three potential starter prospects at
these positions. Ellis though can be expected to provide adequate
backup for the starter candidates this coming season, and Hendley
may provide quality depth off the bench. The weakest position for
the Deacs is small forward, the position occupied by Howard, and
occasionally Levy, last season. Only 6-5 Trent Strickland (So, 4.3
ppg) and 6-5 Richard Joyce (So, 1.8 ppg) could be labeled as small
forwards, and both are more suited to the shooting guard position
in terms of size and abilities. Strickland flashed outstanding
offensive skills last season in providing quality depth off the
bench, but Joyce played only limited minutes. It may not matter than
Wake does not have a true small forward candidate.

It is probable that Coach Prosser will go with a starting lineup
that does not include a true small forward, even if he could find
one on the Deacs' roster. Besides the option of using their three
returning starter prospects who play center or power forward in
a big lineup, Coach Prosser might choose what could be a better
option of utilizing Wake's tremendous talent at the guard position.
Despite losing several weeks to a broken jaw supplied by cheap-shot
artist Dahntay Jones of Duke, 6-2 point guard Justin Gray (So,
12.7 ppg), First Team All-ACC Freshman Team, showed ACC observers
that he is an All-ACC caliber talent from the Tar Heel State who
was overlooked or underrated by other ACC schools. Gray provided
the offensive firepower the Deacs needed when teams collapsed on
Howard or Howard was out of the game. Joining Gray as a backcourt
returning starter is 6-2 Taron Downey (10.2 ppg), a shooting guard
who shared the point guard position with Gray at various times
last season. Downey, who has developed into a solid ACC starter,
is another of the in-state recruits who have put Wake Forest near
the top of the ACC for the present. The top two recruits joining
Wake Forest for the 2003-04 season also play guard. 6-3 shooting
guard Jeremy Ingram (Fr, Prep Stars #55) should be a very solid
player who gives quality minutes off the bench if he cannot break
into the starting lineup. The other recruit for the Deacs at the
guard position is the real story for Wake Forest fans. 6-0 point
guard Chris Paul (Fr, Prep Stars #9), a McDonald's All-American,
chose Wake Forest over North Carolina, NC State and other suitors,
providing Wake with not only a great head-to-head recruiting victory
but an exceptional team leader who will keep the Deacs near the top
of the ACC for years to come. Although Gray and Downey have shown
that they can provide solid point guard play, Paul is the superior
point guard in all respects. Consequently, Wake Forest is likely
to have Paul and one or two other point guards on the floor at
the same time, giving the Demon Deacons outstanding ballhandling.
With players like Paul and Williams coming into the Wake Forest
basketball program from the State of North Carolina, the Deacs
might finally be on the verge of attaining the level of success
that UNC, Duke and NC State have achieved in winning 38 of the
50 ACC Tournament Championships and making the ACC the exclusive
property of Tobacco Road.

Although Paul is one of
the most highly regarded recruits ever to attend Wake Forest, the
Deacs are not likely to succeed in defending their regular season
ACC Championship in 2003-04. Indeed, the more relevant question is
whether the Demon Deacons can maintain a position near the top of
the ACC standings, since the competition for the ACC upper division
will be rugged. Both Duke and North Carolina are absolutely loaded
with talent in their starting lineups. Each of those teams has four
players, all of whom are McDonald's All-Americans, among the top
fifteen players that will take to the courts in the ACC in 2003-04
(Duke - Redick, Deng, Duhon, Ewing; UNC - Felton, McCants, May,
Williams). Though Wake has two McDonald's All-Americans of its
own and a returning All-ACC player, so do North Carolina State
and Florida State, the latter team predicted to make enormous
strides from the bottom of the ACC last season to a place among
the teams fighting for an upper division finish this coming season.
Maryland also has two McDonald's All-Americans on its roster, and
its talent level overall appears to be slightly higher than Wake,
FSU and NC State. The four departed senior starters for Maryland
last season disguised the true extent of Maryland's young talent by
taking most of the playing time, and now Maryland has landed the #2
national recruiting class behing FSU's #1 class to join its talented
sophomores. Finally, Virginia, though it has but one wounded Big
Mac, is a legitimate contender for a place in the upper division of
the ACC. Only Georgia Tech, which will be weak in the frontcourt
but very strong at guard, and Clemson, which will match up well only
with Georgia Tech, have no hope of finishing in the upper division
of the ACC. Though Maryland has been the team that appears more
likely than others to challenge Duke and, now that Coach D'oh is
a bad memory, UNC, both Wake Forest and North Carolina State are
very close to Maryland in recruiting top caliber talent. Either or
both could mount serious challenges to Duke, as Wake successfully
did last season. Surprisingly, Coach Leonard Hamilton of FSU,
known as a super recruiter, has put the Noles very close to the
group that Wake is in as a result of his #1 rated recruiting class
coming in this season. These four teams with the best chance of
catching Duke and UNC in 2003-04 will also be involved in a fierce
competition among themselves for the ACC upper division, since
only two of them can achieve that goal before expansion generates
a fifth spot in the upper division. With the notable exception of
Florida State, it is not surprising in the least to find that Wake
and the other teams competing for ACC basketball honors are the five
ACC genuine basketball schools where basketball, and not football,
is king. Regardless of how difficult the challenge of consistently
finishing in the top division of the ACC and moving closer to the
top of the conference may be, Wake Forest has made great strides in
that direction by retaining Coach Prosser after Pittsburgh made a
strong play for his services and landing outstanding recruits who
are mostly home grown talent from North Carolina.