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The Courtmaster Sorts It Out

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session, and it’s time to sort things out in the ACC. You don’t have to worry where your favorite team is going to wind up in the postseason because I already know. Don’t worry, I’m happy to share that knowledge with you. Sit back and enjoy while I sort it all out.

NCAA Bid Locked Up

Duke (25-1, 13-0) The only questions left for the Blue Devils are 1) will they finish the ACC schedule undefeated and 2) will they lock up a #1 seed in the NCAA’s. The answers are yes and yes. Duke has two challenging games in the final week of the season with a trip to Florida State (think they want some payback?) and a visit from North Carolina (think they’d like to spoil J. J. Redick’s final home game?), but they will be up to the task and surge into the ACC Tournament still on their season-long roll.

NC State (21-5, 10-3) The Wolfpack is one of the most balanced teams in the country. They showed that by toughing out a win at Virginia Tech on Saturday without Ilian Evtimov. Any one of the seven players in their rotation can step up and have a big game. When they hit their threes, they are one of the best teams in the nation. Even more importantly, though, is that even when they are not shooting well, they can still figure out ways to win.

Boston College (21-5, 8-4) The Eagles are gradually morphing into a very dangerous team. They were good when the focus was on forwards Craig Smith and Jared Dudley, but the development of guard Tyrese Rice and center Sean Williams takes BC to another level. They will be a tough out in March.

North Carolina (17-6, 8-4) There has been some great coaching in the ACC this season, and some of the best has been down at Chapel Hill. I noticed early on this season that Roy Williams was not cutting his team any slack when they made a mistake. They’ve made plenty of them, but they got the message that this was no rebuilding season—they were still expected to win this year. It helps to have the best freshman in the nation, Tyler Hansbrough.

NCAA Bid Still Possible, But the NIT Beckons

Florida State (16-7, 6-6) The Seminoles are still seeking a marquee win. Their two victories over Virginia are the closest FSU has to quality wins this season, and that won’t fly very far with the NCAA selection committee. The ‘Noles have won three of their last four, and they need to duplicate that closing out their schedule. That would give Florida State a 9-7 conference record, and I can’t imagine a team with a winning ACC record and 19-8 overall not being invited to the dance this season. They have Maryland and Duke at home, Virginia Tech and Miami on the road, so 3-1 is doable but certainly not easy.

Maryland (16-9, 6-6) The good news for the Terps is that they passed a gut-check with their win over Georgia Tech last Saturday. The bad news is they needed a gut-check to beat one of the worst teams in the ACC at home. Like Florida State, Maryland lacks a signature win and has to go 9-7 in the conference to make the NCAA’s. They have trips to Florida State, North Carolina, and Virginia ahead along with a home game vs. Miami remaining. I have not seen anything to make me think the Terps are capable of a hot streak against strong opposition, so I expect Maryland will again be NIT-bound.

Virginia (13-10, 6-6) The fact that the Cavaliers are even in this discussion puts Coach Dave Leitao in the discussion for Coach of the Year. They do have a big win over North Carolina on their resume, but I’m sure they will also need to win three of their last four. They host Boston College and Maryland and travel to Clemson and North Carolina. That’s a tall order for Virginia, and I don’t think they’re quite up to that task. An NIT bid, however, would still be an accomplishment in Leitao’s first season.

Upside-NIT Downside-Spare Time in March

Miami (14-12, 6-7) Once upon a time (actually two weeks ago), Miami was 6-3 in the conference and charging. After a four-game losing streak, they are now in full retreat. Rather than chasing an NCAA bid, they could be in danger of missing the NIT. Their three final games are winnable (Virginia Tech and Florida State at home, Maryland on the road), and they should only need one of them to get into the NIT. Even three straight wins wouldn’t be enough to get in the NCAA’s with 12 losses heading into the ACC Tournament. This will feel like a season of running in place for Coach Frank Haith.

Clemson (15-10, 4-8) The Tigers could very well win out in the regular season, with Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Virginia Tech remaining on their schedule. They’re not likely to win out anyway with the health of their leading scorer, Vernon Hamilton, still a question. Despite 19 victories, they would still lack a big-time win, but they’re getting closer to the NCAA’s.

Virginia Tech (13-12, 3-9) An NIT berth would have been a disappointment for Hokies fans at the start of the season, but at this point it is a testimony to the toughness of the players and coaches to persevere during some difficult times. Tech’s season headed south when Sean Dockery made his buzzer beater at Cameron in December, but over their last six games they are 3-3 and pushed Boston College to the wire before losing. Wins in upcoming home games vs. Florida State and Clemson would wrap up a spot in the NIT for the Hokies, something their fans should be proud of.

Please, Let This Season Be Over

Georgia Tech (10-14, 3-10) The Yellow Jackets have been a bad second-half team this season. Their losses to Michigan State, at Boston College, at Virginia Tech, at North Carolina, and at Maryland have all been painful; games that Tech let slip away. Wait until next year. Coach Paul Hewitt has reinforcements coming in, and the Jackets will be back in the ACC mix.

Wake Forest (13-13, 1-11) No one saw this coming. Wake loses their two best players, Justin Gray and Eric Williams, for next season. Get used to it.

My final predictions:

  • NCAA’s: Duke, NC State, Boston College, North Carolina, Florida State
  • NIT: Maryland, Virginia, Clemson, Miami

The CourtMaster’s Briefs

Congratulations to J. J. Redick on his ascension to the top of Duke’s all-time scoring list, passing current assistant coach Johnny Dawkins. He will soon pass Wake Forest’s Dickie Hemric to become the ACC’s all-time scorer. Redick is enjoying one of the more remarkable seasons I have ever witnessed by an ACC player. He was scoring well during the non-conference schedule, but those numbers always go down when the conference games start, right? Not with Redick, who seems to be getting better as the season goes along despite the heavy load of minutes he plays. Love him or despise him, any educated basketball fan should respect him and appreciate his remarkable accomplishments.

While watching Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt delivering a profanity laced tirade to one of the referees in Saturday’s loss at Maryland, I couldn’t help but think how tired I am of seeing that from so many coaches at major programs. I think the answer is very simple--instruct officials not to tolerate it. If a coach wants to act out like he’s having a seizure or start stringing obscenities, T him up. If he does it again, send him to the showers.

It bothers me, whether it’s the coach of Maryland, Duke, or any other school, when they do not exercise the self control and discipline that they expect from their players. Until that happens, would it be too much to ask for the TV cameras to quit fixating so much on the coaches. The crew at the Maryland-Georgia Tech game missed some action because they thought Hewitt’s complaints were more entertaining. I strongly disagree—I watch the games for what happens within the lines of the court, not on the sidelines.

I hope you will join me in offering condolences to Virginia Tech’s Coleman Collins, whose father lost his battle with cancer and passed away last week. Losing a parent at that young age is a challenge, but you have to be impressed with the way his teammates and coaches have supported him through this difficult time. They may have lost games this year, but they are big winners in other, more important areas of life.

That’s what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at thecourtmaster@aol.com. Don’t forget to check out my blog at www.thecourtmaster.net.

Until next week, court is adjourned!