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The Courtmaster On How To Beat The ACC!

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back from its holiday session and is now in session! As we get ready to begin the conference portion of the schedule, I want to play the role of an opposing coach scouting each of the ACC teams. I’m not enough of an expert regarding X’s and O’s to develop a detailed game strategy, but I do have a general idea about how to attack and defend each conference team.

Duke—Until the Blue Devils prove they have a consistent third weapon beyond J. J. Redick and Shelden Williams, I would focus my effort on taking one of those players out of the offensive flow. I would pick who I had the best matchup against. If I had a long, quick athlete like Memphis’ Rodney Carney, I would concentrate on neutralizing Redick. There aren’t too many of those around, so I would probably work out how to deny Williams the ball and hope Redick has a bad shooting game. Sean Dockery has stepped up and had a couple of good games recently, but I’m not yet sold on him as being dangerous enough to worry about in a game plan.

Offensively, I try to get physical with Williams and get him in foul trouble, even if it does mean getting some shots blocked. Until DeMarcus Nelson comes back from his injury, I should be able to get some good looks if I have a power forward that can step out and knock down a 15-foot shot.

Maryland-The Terps are going to turn the ball over a lot and have not yet shown they can handle a team that plays the ball very aggressively on defense. If I have the horses, I press Maryland 94 feet and count on getting some transition hoops. Once the Terps clear midcourt, I would have my guards get in the faces of their Maryland counterparts and not give them any room to maneuver. This worked very effectively for George Washington when they beat Maryland in early December.

On the offensive end, I would be very patient and slow the tempo down. If I have a strong low post player, I work it into him since Ekene Ibekwe in not very thick—hopefully my guy could wear him down. I also look carefully at whoever Nik Caner-Medley is guarding and get the ball to him. Caner-Medley gets rebounds and steals, but he can’t guard a quick player man-to-man. If that forces the Terps into a zone, good—that will take away some of their aggressiveness on defense.

Boston College-Defensively, I come out in a zone against the Eagles. Their main weapons are forwards Craig Smith and and Jared Dudley and both players are more effective close to the hoop. If I could make it difficult for BC to get the ball to their two big guns, they would have to rely on an erratic perimeter order to score since they won’t get many points in transition.

Offensively, I push the tempo. If I can draw the Eagles into an up-and-down game, that’s another way I can put their fate in the hands of their guards and take it away from their big men. I also like the idea of getting Smith and Dudley running the court and wearing them out since there is a big drop off in talent when Coach Skinner has to go deep into his bench.

NC State-Normally I would want to press a team that runs a deliberate offense like the Wolfpack, but they have too many good passers and dangerous three-point shooters. If State clears the initial pressure, there is a good chance they will find one of their long-range marksman for an open three. Once they get the ball across halfcourt, though, I would put a lot of pressure on the ball. I think the passing lanes also need to be taken away from them and force them to beat a defense one-on-one, something they are not well equipped to do.

When my team has the ball, I’m trying to force the tempo. The Wolfpack are not the most athletic team, and if I have players than can run, my guys have a good chance of beating them down the court and getting easy shots.

North Carolina-Playing a Roy Williams team, the first emphasis on defense is getting back in transition and trying to slow the Tar Heels down. Once my team has done that, I get them to set up in a zone defense and force Carolina to beat me from outside. Besides Wes Miller, who is a defensive liability, and David Noel, the Heels are not good from the perimeter. If my defense allows them to get the ball inside to Noel and Tyler Hansbrough, I’ve got serious problems.

When my team gets the ball, I run a deliberate half-court offense and try to pound the ball inside. I would love to get Noel and Hansbrough in foul trouble. Carolina has some bangers to bring in off the bench, but no inside scoring threats. If my team can control the tempo, I can get the Heels out of their comfort zone.

Wake Forest-The Deacs are probably the best balanced offensive team in the ACC. They have an effective perimeter scorer (Justin Gray), low post scorer (Eric Williams) and slasher (Trent Strickland). Their weakness is at point guard, and I want to exploit this with my defense. My team would pressure the Wake point, whether it’s Harvey Hale or Gray, 94 feet and make it difficult for him to initiate the offense. My goal would be to create turnovers and force the Deacons to go deep into the shot clock and take bad shots.

With my offense, I would first look to get breakouts when Wake misses threes and get some cheap hoops since they don’t get back particularly well in transition. The Deacons don’t switch and help all that well on defense either, so I would run a lot of screens to get some open threes and work the ball inside when the opportunity presented itself. I would want to keep Wake’s defense off balance and try to get Williams on the bench in foul trouble.

Clemson-I would play the Tigers with a straight-up man-to-man defense. They don’t have a serious low-post scoring threat, and the team only shoots 31.7% from three-point range. I need to make sure my team blocks out on missed shots, because Clemson has lived off of offensive rebounds, averaging over 15 per game.

Offensively, I first make sure my squad hangs onto the basketball. Along with putbacks, the Tigers have relied on turnovers to fuel their offense, forcing 20 per game. I would want to turn a game into a physical, knock-down drag-out rumble. Ironically, that’s just the type of style Clemson used to thrive on.

Florida State-I would not press the Seminoles, because I think they would thrive in a franticly paced game, especially with their athleticism and depth (11 players average over 11 minutes per game). I would extend my half-court defense and put a lot of pressure on the ball, hoping to keep FSU out of any offensive flow. This is not a well-oiled machine, and I think enough defensive pressure can break the Seminoles down and get them to play too much one-on-one basketball. It will also help to keep them from getting the ball inside to their effective big men, Al Thornton and Alexander Johnson.

Florida State does not have any outstanding shot-blockers, so I would attack the rim when my team had the ball. They are a very aggressive defensive team, so I would look for opportunities to turn that against them with back-door cuts and setting screen for my best shooters.

Miami-The Hurricanes have yet to score 70 points against a good team this season, so I’m not too worried about my defensive approach (assuming I have a good team). You can’t afford to give outside shooters Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite much room beyond the arc, but I can overplay them because Miami doesn’t pose much of threat inside. Unless Diaz or Hite is really shooting the lights out, I’m in good shape defensively.

When my team has the ball, I need to get my perimeter game going. It’s going to be tough to get much of an inside game going with Anthony King lurking in the middle. My players need to be aware of where Hite is since he averages nearly two steals per game.

Georgia Tech-I would be tempted to roll out the old box-and-one defense against the Yellow Jackets. I would have my best wing defender follow Anthony Morrow all over the court and the rest of the team play zone. Morrow is Tech’s leading scorer and shoots 46.7% from three-point range. The rest of the team combined is hovering around 20% from beyond the arc. I can give up some fouls because, other than Morrow, the Jackets’ don’t shoot free throws very well either.

Tech’s big men, Jeremis Smith, Ra’ Sean Dickey, and Theodis Tarver, are all good defenders, so I’ll probably want my team to focus on the perimeter game. If I can draw the Yellow Jackets into a three-point shooting contest, I win. They haven’t shown they can put much defensive pressure on guards yet, so I should be able to move the ball around outside however I need to.

Virginia Tech-I come out with a lot of pressure against the Hokies on defense. They have four players averaging over 31 minutes per game, so I’ve got a good chance of wearing them down. I don’t have to worry so much about fouls since Tech shoots only 65.6% from the line. I also make sure I double their big man Coleman Collins and limit his touches and put my best perimeter defender on Zabian Dowdell.

I want to force a fast tempo on offense, again trying to wear down the Hokie starters. They’re not a great rebounding team, so I make sure my players crash the boards after a miss and try for some putbacks.

Virginia-If my team stops Cavalier point guard Sean Singletary, we win. For example, he made only 3-23 shots in a 63-54 loss at Georgia Tech. J. R. Reynolds is Virginia’s second leading scorer, but he has only averaged 7.5 points in their four losses. Singletary has the ball in hands a lot because the Cavaliers have so few weapons, and he averages nearly five turnovers per game. I just need to make him work hard for his shots and force mistakes to keep Virginia’s offense in check.

On offense, I would concentrate on attacking Singletary and wearing him down. He does make over two steals per game, but he also plays over 32 minutes a contest. He is very good about staying out of foul trouble, but he’s the only player on the Cavaliers’ roster who can beat me. Anything I can do to neutralize him gives my team an edge.

That’s what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at If your team loses a conference game and didn’t apply my strategy, well, I tried to help.

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and New Year’s and is ready to go for the conference competition. Don’t forget to keep up with my coverage of the national basketball scene and ACC football on my blog at

Until next week, court is adjourned!
By Jim Johnson, The CourtMaster