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The Courtmaster on the Season to Date

Hear ye, hear ye!
Court is back in session and college basketball season is in full
swing. Here are some early impressions I have of the ACC teams based
on their action so far.

Duke: The Blue
Devils (5-0), as expected, won the NIT Tip-Off tournament, but it was
not easy. Duke could have their best inside combination in quite a
while with All-American Shelden Williams and freshman Josh McRoberts.
Williams was unstoppable in the low post in the NIT championship
game against Memphis, and McRoberts made 11 of his 15 shots in the
two games in New York.

Memphis couldn’t
guard the Devils down inside, but they did neutralize Duke’s
other major weapon, J. J. Redick. Tigers’ coach John Calapari
made an adjustment at halftime and assigned long, athletic wing
Rodney Carney to shadow Redick. Carney held him to only three shots
and no points in the second half, and the Blue Devils’ offense
came to a screeching halt. There aren’t too many players in
the ACC like Carney, but look for opposing coaches to try to
duplicate Memphis’ success against Redick.

Duke needs to come up
with a third scoring option besides Williams and Redick. McRoberts
is the only player who has shown any promise of that so far, but his
game is primarily in the paint. They need one of the wings,
preferably Dockery or Melchionni, to put some points on the board if
this team is to reach its potential.

Maryland: The
Terps (4-1) shook off a tough loss to Gonzaga and a sleepy first half
vs. host Chaminade to take fifth place in the Maui tournament.
Turnovers are a problem so far for Maryland. The Terps committed 23
vs. Gonzaga and 21 in their win over Arkansas.

Chris McCray is showing
some leadership, averaging 17 points and 2.5 steals per game, and
Mike Jones has developed into an effective sharpshooter coming off
the bench. The Terps have also rebounded well and are shooting free
throws at a blazing 81.3% clip. Coach Gary Williams has to hope that
D. J. Strawberry’s 12 assists vs. Nicholls State is a sign of
things to come.

North Carolina: Tar
Heel fans will not soon forget the big three-pointer David Noel hit
that won Carolina’s (3-0) season opener at home against
Gardner-Webb. Boy, there’s a sentence I never thought
I’d write. Quick, name one player on Gardner-Webb’s
roster. I didn’t think so.

So far, Noel has been
solid as a rock, and freshman Tyler Hansbrough has lived up to the
hype, leading the Tar Heels in both scoring and rebounding. Reyshawn
Terry has also played well for Carolina, but they need one of the
guards to establish themselves as a serious three-point threat. If
that doesn’t happen, Noel and Hansbrough will see a lot of zone
defenses to work against, and the paint is going to get awfully

North Carolina
The Wolfpack (5-0) have yet to be challenged, winning all
of their games by at least 12 points. For the most part, State’s
offense has worked just the way it should with balanced scoring and
few turnovers (less then 12 per game). Ilian Evtimov has been deadly
from three-point range, and, with the exception of one 2-10 game, so
has Engin Atsur.

Woflpack forwards
Cedric Simmons and Andrew Brackman have also played well, combining
to shoot 60% from the floor. State is giving up an awful lot of
offensive rebounds (15 per game), but that’s to be expected
with the style they play. I haven’t seen anything here so far
that would concern me if I were a
Wolfpack fan.

Virginia: The
Cavaliers (2-1) can be dangerous when both Sean Singletary and J. R.
Reynolds and knocking down shots, as demonstrated when Virginia
defeated Richmond. When Singletary doesn’t get much help,
things can get ugly, as demonstrated in the Arizona game. There is
no strong prospect for anyone else stepping up to help with the
scoring load, giving the Cavaliers very little margin for error this

Boston College: The
Eagles (5-0) struggled over the holiday but still brought home the
Las Vegas Invitational title with wins over Drake and Oklahoma State.
BC trailed an extremely young Cowboy team by 13 points in the second
half before pulling out a win. All-American candidate Craig Smith
took only six shots in that game, but Jared Dudley picked up the
slack with 24 points. Dudley carried the Eagles down the stretch,
scoring 11 points in the last 4:24 of the game.

Besides a surprising
5-8 night from three-point range by Tyrese Rice, no threat has
emerged for BC from beyond the arc. It also appears that, without
suspended forward Sean Williams, Coach Al Skinner is working with a
short bench. During a part of the season where subs usually get
extra playing time, the Eagles are only using a seven-man rotation.
If Skinner can’t extend that later in the season, he’ll
have some worn down players on his hands come February.

Clemson: The
Tigers (4-0) have cruised through their traditionally easy
early-season schedule so far. This is a step in the right
directions, because over the last few years Clemson has invariably
stumbled once or twice in these games. For example, the Tigers had
only beaten South Carolina State by a combined three points the last
two times the teams played, but Clemson won last week 79-38.

Unlike his Boston
College counterpart, Tigers’ Coach Oliver Purnell has gone very
deep into his bench, with ten players frequently receiving at least
ten minutes of playing time each game. This has made it difficult to
see trends developing in how well each player’s game is coming
along, but they have posted an amazing stat of forcing 94 turnovers
and allowing opponents only 33 assists, nearly a 3:1 ratio of
turnovers to assists.

Florida State:
The Seminoles (2-1) were well on their way to a strong 3-0 start
Friday night at Florida, but then the second half started. With
forwards Al Thornton and Alexander Johnson in foul trouble, FSU had
nowhere to go for points and the Gators took control of the game and
won going away.

Thornton has played
well so far, but no one else has emerged as a consistent scoring
threat. The Seminoles are still not running their offense
effectively, committing nearly 20 turnovers per game. So far,
Florida State looks a lot like they did last season, a team still
searching for an identity.

Miami: The
Hurricanes (4-2) have dismantled four inferior teams, lost to one
decent team (Temple) and lost to one team they probably shouldn’t
have (Air Force). Coach Frank Haith’s team is hardly building
much momentum as they prepare for the conference schedule coming up
in January. The Temple loss was a real spanking. Miami shot only
36.7% with Guillermo Diaz (1-10) the main culprit.

Air Force took a
different path to its 56-53 win over the ‘Canes, controlling
the tempo and clawing their way back from a six-point halftime
deficit. The Falcons wanted a slow pace and succeeded—there
was only one fast break basket scored in the entire game.
Interestingly, opponents are making over 40% of their threes against
Miami, a trend worth watching as the season develops.

Wake Forest:
The Demon Deacons (5-1) have already won two overtime games and
played plenty of close games. The only problem with that is some of
them, like the George Mason and Mississippi Valley State games,
didn’t figure to be particularly close. Not surprisingly,
Wake’s assist-to-turnover ratio has been horrible with 86
assists vs. 111 turnovers committed.

There have been bright
spots, however. Trent Strickland is on fire, leading the Deacons in
scoring, shooting over 60%, and showing three-point range (9-16 for
the season). Wake’s big men Eric Williams, Kyle Visser, and
Chris Ellis, have been effective inside, but Justin Gray needs help
in the backcourt. Coach Skip Prosser has not had ample opportunity
to develop his bench with all the close games, using only a seven-man
rotation so far.

Virginia Tech: The
Hokies (5-1) have put up some impressive defensive numbers so far.
They have held opponents to 54 points per game, 37.6% shooting, and
have come up with 7 blocked shots and 9.5 steals per game. How much
of that is tough defense, and how much is attributable to playing
lesser opponents in the comforts of Cassell Coliseum? Perhaps equal
parts of both.

Tech has already lost
one game they probably shouldn’t have, a 72-71 decision to
Bowling Green, and that is the type of loss that could come back and
bite them on Selection Sunday. Jamon Gordon in running the point
well and has a favorable 3:1 ratio of assists to turnovers (yes, that
is one of my favorite stats). Zabian Dowdell, Deron Washington, and
Coleman Collins are all averaging over 14 points per game, a balance
that Coach Seth Greenberg would love to see continue.

Georgia Tech:
If you had any doubt this was a rebuilding season in Atlanta, check
out this score; Illinois-Chicago 73, Yellow Jackets 51. Did I
mention that was a home game for Tech (2-1)? It was also the first
time UIC had ever defeated an ACC opponent. The Jackets shot only 33%
against the Flames, and Zam Frederick was the only player who scored
more than 10 points for them. He offset that positive by posting
only one assist and four turnovers from the point guard position.

Georgia Tech played
solid defense, forcing 20 turnovers and blocking 10 shots, but they
were unable to effectively attack the basket and made only 13 trips
to the foul line, making only 4 free throws. The Yellow Jackets also
got pounded on the boards, 50-34, against a team that is not
particularly big. Sure, it is possible to overreact to one bad
night, if that’s what it turns out to be. I suspect there will
be others to follow for Coach Paul Hewitt and his team this season.

ACC-Big Ten
Challenge Preview

Here are some things
I’ll be looking for during this three day event that begins
Monday night. The ACC has won all five previous Challenges and
posted a 7-2 margin last season. This year should be much closer.
Here is the schedule with my picks and thoughts (all times Eastern).

Monday: Virginia Tech
at Ohio State, ESPN2, 7:30.

Tuesday: Wisconsin at
Wake Forest, ESPN, 7:00

Purdue at Florida
State, ESPN2, 7:30

Clemson at Penn
State, ESPNU, 8:00

Illinois at North
Carolina, ESPN, 9:00

Miami at Michigan,
ESPN2, 9:30

Wednesday: Georgia
Tech at Michigan State, ESPN, 7:00

Minnesota at
Maryland, ESPN2, 7:30

Northwestern at
Virginia, ESPNU, 8:00

Duke at Indiana,
ESPN, 9:00

NC State at Iowa,
ESPN2, 9:30

What to look for:

Is Virginia Tech ready
to go into a hostile arena and beat a solid team? They will have
trouble with Ohio State’s strong front line. Pick: Ohio State

Can Wake Forest stop
Wisconsin’s potent offense? That’s right, Badger Coach
Bo Ryan has put together a team that can score, which they
demonstrated against North Carolina in the NCAA Regional Finals last
season. Wisconsin wings Kammron Taylor and Alando Tucker will give
the Deacons fits and lead the Badgers to a win at Winston Salem.
Pick: Wisconsin

Is there any way we can
get the Purdue-Florida State game banished to ESPNU? This could be a
really ugly game which the Seminoles should win easily. If they
don’t, it’s time to worry in Tallahassee. Pick: Florida

Penn State continues
its perpetual rebuilding, but Clemson is further along this route. I
like the Tigers to wear down the Nittany Lions with their superior
depth and win going away. Pick: Clemson

Illinois has Dee Brown
at point guard, one of the leaders of their team that lost to the Tar
Heels in the national championship game last season. North Carolina
starts Bobby Frasor, who was in high school when that game was
played. That tips the pick to Illinois

Michigan has a 6’11”
big man, Courtney Sims, who could get Miami’s Anthony King in
foul trouble. I’m not a big believer in Tommy Ammaker or his
Wolverines, but I think they’re good enough to squeak out a win
at home. Pick: Michigan

If Michigan State has
their legs back under them after their Hawaii trip, this could be one
of the worst beatings Georgia Tech has taken since before Bobby
Cremmins arrived in Atlanta. Pick: Michigan State

Minnesota travels to
Maryland without leading scorer Vincent Grier, out with a broken
finger. They do have guard Adam Boone, who fans may remember began
the exodus out of Chapel Hill during the reign of Matt Doherty. The
Terps should roll over the Gophers at home. Pick: Maryland

Northwestern in
threatening to become a legitimate Big Ten program. Like NC State,
the Wildcats employ a Princeton-type offense under former Princeton
coach Bill Carmody. Forward Vedran Vukusic and guard Tim Doyle, both
upperclassmen, will give the Cavaliers matchup problems. Pick:

I’ve heard a lot
of positive buzz about Indiana this year, much of it regarding
transfer forward Marco Killingsworth. He is averaging 20 points and
nearly 10 rebounds per game, and it will be interesting to watch his
strength, at 268 pounds, up against Shelden Williams’
quickness. Marshall Strickland, who like UConn’s Josh Boone
attended my high school, South Carroll in Winfield, Maryland, is
thriving after moving from point guard to the wing. This could be
the best game of the Challenge, but the coaching matchup of Coach K
vs. Mike Davis is a mismatch in Duke’s favor. Pick: Duke

NC State’s visit
to Iowa could become the best game of the challenge if Duke-Indiana
isn’t. These are two veteran teams with balanced scoring and
lacking an abundance of athleticism. The Hawkeyes have already
defeated Kentucky and hung with Texas. Pick: Iowa

The tally adds up to a
Big Ten victory, 7-4. If that holds true, look for a flood of “down
year for the ACC” pieces to appear in newspapers and Internet
sites. The bad part is, there could be some truth to it, but there
is a lot of basketball to be played before that statement can be
definitively made.

That’s what I
think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail
With bowl season coming, you can read my commentary on ACC football
on my blog at

Until next week, court
is adjourned.