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Grading The Courtmaster

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session, and it’s time to give myself a grade for the season. A lot of writers don’t like to look back at their pre-season predictions when a season is over (and with good reason), but not the CourtMaster. I am brave/stupid enough to do just that. Let’s see how I fared.

STANDINGS: I had three big misses here, Virginia, Wake Forest, and Maryland. Like most of the “experts,” I had Virginia penciled in for last. I wrote “the Cavaliers will be fortunate to win more than two conference games.” They wound up 7-9, so I suppose they were extremely fortunate. More accurately, they bought into Coach Dave Leitao’s style of play. Leitao got just about all he could out of the talent on hand.

I don’t know of anyone who thought Wake Forest would contend for the ACC championship, but I'm confident no one picked them anywhere near last, either. I picked them fourth, saying “this is still a very talented team that should again post double-digit victories in the ACC.” Point guard figured to be an issue for Coach Skip Prosser this year, and it was a serious problem. Despite that, though, they had more than enough talent to win at least seven or eight conference games instead of the three they actually did win. The Deacons clearly underachieved this season, and there is plenty of blame to go around between the players and coaching staff.

The same can be said for Maryland, my unfortunate choice for second in the ACC. My justification for this was “the Terps’ rotation is loaded with juniors and seniors and one sophomore, James Gist, who is ready to break out.” The seniors, particularly Travis Garrison and Chris McCray, made more news off the court than on, and McCray finished the season on the sidelines due to academics. Gist came nowhere close to having a breakout season. I was drawn in by Coach Gary Williams’ comments before the season about how much he liked this team. I’m not sure how he felt when it was over, but I know I wound up not caring much for them at all.

I underestimated Florida State, predicting “another ten-loss ACC record.” They became a contender in the ACC a year ahead of when I thought they would. I was also a bit low on my prediction for North Carolina, but I will take credit for saying “I see the Tar Heels returning to the NCAA tournament this season” when that was not mainstream thought. I also correctly predicted Miami’s middle-of-the-pack finish, NC State and Boston College’s NCAA bids, and Duke’s dominance. I also predicted that the Blue Devils would win the NCAA Championship, and that remains a real possibility.

Grade: C

MOST INDISPENSABLE PLAYERS: I nailed North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough for this caterogy, and players like Guilermo Diaz of Miami, Craig Smith of Boston College, Wake Forest’s Justin Gray, and Virginia’s Sean Singletary were also solid calls.

I chose Shelden Williams instead of J. J. Redick, not a bad pick, but obviously not the best. Akin Akingbala of Clemson never developed into that role, nor did Florida State’s Todd Galloway. NC State’s Ilian Evtimov and Virginia Tech’s Zabian Dowdell were key players, but probably not the most important on their respective teams. Georgia Tech had young players like Jeremis Smith and Anthony Morrow develop this season, but I don’t know if either could be called indispensable.

Grade: B

CLUES TO SUCCESS: I did pretty well here. Boston College’s perimeter game was a good indicator of their success. Clemson’s inside game was sporadic and held them back from an NCAA bid. Duke’s chemistry was obviously excellent with Greg Paulis stepping into the point guard role very smoothly. Georgia Tech never got consistent point guard play and, as a result, had lots of trouble closing out games. Maryland’s scoring defense was again last in the ACC, dooming them to another NIT trip. Miami’s lack of inside scoring also left them short of an NCAA bid. North Carolina’s veterans moved into their new roles very well. David Noel and Reyshawn Terry in particular stepped up big time. NC State had plenty of leadership to replace the departed Julius Hodge, and Virginia bought into Dave Leitao’s program big-time.

On the other side of the ledger, the chip on Virginia Tech’s shoulders never became a factor. After Dockery’s buzzer-beater at Cameron and the personal tragedies the team had to deal with, they spent most of the season just trying to survive. Wake Forest still couldn’t play defense very well, but that was secondary to the problems holding onto the basketball and getting good shots.

Grade: A-

RANKING THE COACHES: I ranked Virginia’s Dave Leitao 12th in the
conference; that was obviously too low. Maryland’s Gary Williams and Wake Forest’s Skip Prosser clearly did not live to up their respective #3 and #4 rankings. At #7, I ranked Boston College’s Al Skinner too low after he pulled his team together following an 0-3 start to the conference schedule.

Grade: B-

Overall grade: B. In the areas I stuck my neck out a bit, I got some right and got some wrong. I wish my NCAA brackets had gone that well.

NCAA Thoughts:

Duke and J. J. Redick have shaken off their late-season struggles and appear poised to return to the Final Four. The Blue Devils have wisely gone to Shelden Williams to exploit physical mismatches, and that has opened things up nicely for J. J. Redick.

The matchup between Williams and LSU’s Glenn Davis (whose nickname is “Big Baby”) should be fun to watch, but I don’t think Duke will have a problem with the Tigers in the Sweet 16. They would then face the winner of Texas-West Virginia. The Blue Devils hammered the Longhorns in December and the Mountaineers don’t have anyone to guard either Williams or Redick, so I think Duke fans can make their plans for Indianapolis in two weeks.

Boston College still has hopes of joining them. The Eagles were fortunate to survive their first-round game vs. Pacific and bounced back from a slow start to roll over Montana and became the second ACC team to advance to the Sweet 16. They rode the broad shoulders of forward Craig Smith, who is playing his best basketball of the season in March.

They’ll need to keep hitched up to Smith’s wagon if they are going to knock off #1 seed Villanova. This is a fascinating matchup with the Eagles’ inside game vs. the Wildcats’ four-guard offense. I like Villanova here, but BC certainly has a chance if they can force their will upon the Wildcats. If they survive, they’ll have an opportunity to reach the Final Four by defeating the winner of the Florida-Georgetown game.

The big story of the weekend for the ACC was the elimination of the 2005 national champions, North Carolina. They looked like the young, inexperienced team they were during both NCAA tournament games. They ran into two veteran mid-major teams in Murray State and George Mason. The Tar Heels snuck by the Racers but couldn’t figure out the Patriots. Carolina shot 10-30 from three-point range against George Mason.

This year’s Tar Heels had no business taking 30 three-point shots but had no other options when they could not get the ball to Tyler Hansbrough on a consistent basis. This was certainly a disappointing loss by a team that I thought could get a lot further, but I believe the disappointment will be short lived. They lose only David Noel from this year’s squad and bring in a recruiting class with the top ranked players at three different positions. Don’t expect any more early exits from the NCAA’s by North Carolina anytime soon.

NC State surprised many by advancing past their first round game vs. a good California team, but they simply could not make shots in their second round thumping by Texas. The Wolfpack finished the year by losing five of their last six games, and the heat on State coach Herb Sendek has been turned back up to broiling, as least among the fan base. Last week, the student newspaper even editorialized that Sendek should be replaced.

I don’t get it. Years ago, I used to joke about the moving van I expected to see circling Sendek’s home, but that was before he led State to five straight NCAA tournament appearances. Let me be very blunt here, Wolfpack fans—who do you think the school could hire that would do a better job while coaching in the shadow of Coach K and Roy Williams? It’s got to be tough being the third best team in the Triangle, but that’s life until there is a coaching change in Durham or Chapel Hill. If the Wolfpack are competitive in the ACC and earn regular NCAA bids, take it, don’t get greedy. Things could be a lot worse in Raleigh, but I’m not sure how much better that could get under the current circumstances.

NIT Thoughts:

I completely understand if you skip this section, but since six ACC teams were in the field, I feel obligated to at least keep an eye on things there.

First off, I like the way the NCAA put this field together. It was nice seeing the brackets set up in advance and the teams seeded to make better matchups. I still don’t know if this tournament is really necessary, but if they’re going to do it, they ought to put the event together in the best manner possible.

Three conference schools lost their first game. Virginia got whipped at Stanford 65-49 and Wake Forest got spanked at Minnesota 73-58. Maryland suffered the embarrassment of losing it’s first game to Manhattan, 85-82 before an underflow crowd of only 4,761. The Terps didn’t want to be there and the Jaspers took advantage of the opportunity to knock off an ACC team.

Florida State, Clemson, and Miami have all advanced to the second round. The Seminoles held off Butler 67-63 and host South Carolina Tuesday night. Clemson defeated Louisiana Tech 69-53 when the Tigers’ Akin Akingbala outplayed Bulldogs’ star Paul Millsap. Clemson travels to Louisville for an interesting (work with me here, will you) second round matchup Monday night. Miami held off Oklahoma State 62-59 and will now head to Creighton Monday night. Cincinnati is my pick to win the tournament, just in case you care.

That’s what I think. Let me know what you think by e-mail at thecourtmaster@aol.com. Don’t’ forget to check out my daily blogging through March Madness at www.thecourtmaster.net

Until next week, court is adjourned!