Monday, October 22, 2001

The CourtMaster Predicts the ACC

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session, and it's time to rule on the upcoming ACC season. For each team, I'll name their MIP (Most Irreplaceable Player), who might not be their best player, but would be the toughest one for them to replace in case of foul trouble or injury. I'll also identify the one key question which, when answered, will have the greatest impact on that team's success this season.

Let's start the countdown at #9 with--

Clemson (3-13)
MIP: Edward Scott
Key Question: Who will score?

The Tigers could more closely resemble Rick Barnes' old teams; offensive linemen types down low with questionable outside shooting.

Chris Hobbs and Ray Henderson could be tough inside, but Tony Stockman is their only reliable outside shooter. That is why their point guard, Edward Scott, is so important. It will be largely up to him to get the ball to his teammates where they have the best opportunity to take advantage of limited offensive skills.

A soft out of conference schedule could give Clemson enough wins to get into the NIT and possibly save Coach Larry Shyatt's job.

#8-Florida State (4-12)
MIP: Delvon Arrington
Key Question: Will experience losing help them win this year?

When a team is trying to rebound from a 9-21 season, having most of the same players back can be at best a mixed blessing.

Someone who draws no mixed feelings is point guard Delvon Arrington. His play in the second half of last season moved him up near the top tier at his position in the nation.

Newcomers Anthony Richardson and J. D. Bracy combine with returning starters Michael Joiner and Nigel Dixon (80 pounds less of him) to give the Seminoles a talented lineup.

Coach Steve Robinson will also have a solid bench to work with, but can he now teach them to win? If not, there will probably be a moving van pulling up in front of his house next spring. #7-

NC State (5-11)
MIP: Anthony Grundy
Key Question: Who will rebound?

There was a segment of Wolfpack fans who thought their team would be better off without last year's front court players, Kenny Inge and Damon Thornton.

It could well be true that the team will have better chemistry, but they won't have better rebounding. Their leading returning rebounder is guard Anthony Grundy.

They will need greater contributions from freshmen Jordan Collins, Levi Watkins, and Kristian Jensen than it is reasonable to expect. Grundy's experience on the floor will be critical, and freshman Julius Hodge should be an explosive running mate.

It is hard to see Coach Herb Sendek's team gaining control of a game against any quality opponents. This will make the ACC schedule an uphill struggle for the Pack, and it could be another long season in Raliegh.

#6-Georgia Tech (6-10)
MIP: Tony Akins
Key question: How well with youth replace experience?

Last seaon, Coach Paul Hewitt entered his first season at Georgia Tech needing to turn around a program populated with a group of disspirited upperclassmen. This season, he has a much different group to work with.

Of those players likely to receive serious playing time this season, only point guard Tony Akins is a senior. There are no juniors on the team, making Akins' expeience and leadership indispensable to the Yellow Jackets'.

There is plenty of young talent on this team, particularly sophomores Marvin Lewis and Halston Lane and freshmen Ed Nelson and Isma'il Muhammad. It remains to be seen if Hewitt's magic can compensate for his team's inexperpience.

#5-Wake Forest (8-8)
MIP: Darius Songalia
Key Question: Can they run?

The Skip Prosser era is underway at Wake Forest, and the Demon Deacons will look and act differently than they did during Dave Odom's reign.

Prosser was known for coaching a pressing, up-tempo style of play at Xavier, and he is seeking
to bring that with him to Winston-Salem. This will be a radical change from the half court style practiced by Odom's teams, but the timing could be right for that change.

With the loss of last year's seniors Josh Shoemaker and Rafael Vidauretta, Darius Songalia will be Wake's only experienced low-post player this season. This new style could elevate the production of Josh Howard and Craig Dawson.

The threat of newcomer Steve Lepore (transfer from Northwestern) and more consistent play from point guard Ervin Murray will also be important in transforming this team into the Runnin' Deacons.

If Coach Prosser is successful this season, it will go a long way toward cleansing the bad taste last year's late season collapse left in Wake Forest fans' mouths.

#4-North Carolina (9-7)
MIP: Jason Capel
Key Question: Will the football guys play hoops?

The worst thing to happen to Coach Matt Doherty's Tar Heels this year could be the success of the school's footbal team. Last season, the Heels did not hit their stride until quarterback Ronald Curry became entrenched as the main point guard. Defensive end Julius Peppers was also a valuable big man off the bench for the second season in a row.

If the Tar Heels continue their winning ways on the football field, Curry would not join the basketball team until early Jaunary. Until then, the point guard position could resemble a black hole.

Both Adam Boone and Brian Morrison failed to handle the position last season and, barring a significant improvement by either player, freshman Melvin Scott could be pressed into playing major minutes before he is ready.

This situation makes Jason Capel's role even larger. He could wind up playing some version of a "point forward," taking some playmaking responsibility away from the point guard. His leadership will be critical to the Tar Heel's success this season.

Kris Lang is the only returning low-post player (assuming Peppers does not return), meaning the Tar Heels could be a very perimeter oriented team. This will require freshmen Jawad Williams and Jackie Manuel to contribute immediately, but there is a good chance that will happen.

A young, small, and talented team will make this a very interesting season for Coach Doherty, one which could end Carolina's streak of 37 consecutive top-three ACC finishes.

#3-Virginia (10-6)
MIP: Roger Mason
Key Question: Who will play point guard?

For the second consecutive season, Virginia lost the services of point guard Majestic Mapp before practice started. Unlike last season, however, the Cavaliers do not have an experienced natural point guard to fill the position.

Fortunately for Coach Pete Gillen, he has a strong, experienced nucleus to work with. Roger Mason, Chris Williams, and Travis Watson are among the best players in the conference at their positions, and Adam Hall could have a breakout season.

Virginia's bench is young but talented. One of those youngsters, freshman Keith Jennifer, could be pressed into action at point guard. The other primary option is Mason, but, although he played the point well at times last season, it would inhibit his ability to take over a game with his scoring.

How effectively Coach Gillen is able to cover the point guard slot will probably determine if the Cavaliers can build on their success from last season.

#2-Maryland (13-3)
MIP: Byron Mouton
Key Question: Will they be hungry?

Fresh off the first Final Four trip in school history, Gary Williams' Terrapins return a talented and experienced squad this season. Sounds a lot like last year's team, doesn't it?

Last season, the Terps were sluggish at the start of the season and suffered through a near-disasterous stretch during the middle of the ACC schedule. Will this year's team, led by Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter, be able to avoid those pitfalls and stay near the top of the polls the entire season?

They will have plenty of help. They are deep up front with Tahj Holden, Chris Wilcox, and freshman Ryan Randle. The backcourt, with Dixon and Steve Blake backed by Drew Nicholas, is among the best in the nation.

They are thin at small forward, however. Byron Mouton is well entrenched as the starter, but there is no Danny Miller to back him up this season (Miller transferred to Notre Dame). Freshman Micahel Grinnon is the only other natural small forward on the roster.

Any extended absence by Mouton would require some juggling by Williams, either playing three guards or going with Baxter, Wilcox, and Holden. Either option is a big drop off from Mouton.

If Maryland stays healthy and focused, they could make life difficult for Duke in the ACC and possibly run across them again at the Final Four.

#1-Duke (14-2)
MIP: Carlos Boozer
Key Question: Who will be the defensive stopper?

The Blud Devils are LOADED with talent. Jason Williams and Chris Duhon are one of the great backcourts in recent memory. Mike Dunleavy could be one of the more versatile power forwards I have seen. Dahntay Jones could come close to replacing Shane Battier's offense, and Carlos Boozer appears ready to add defense to his imposing low-post offensive game.

The return of Nick Horvath, cobined with Casey Sanders, Matt Christensen, and Reggie Love gives Coach K a lot of fouls to use in the front court. Freshman Daniel Ewing could contribute in the backcourt.

Coach K does have one problem to deal with this season. Battier was one of the most versatlie defensive players I have ever seen. If Duke needed a rebound, a blocked shot, or a steal, it was usually Battier who got it for them. Without his presence, the Blue Devils never would have gotten away with the small lineup they often played after Boozer was injured last season.

Duke will still be a strong defensive team, but they do not appear to have a stopper like Battier. They probably have enough offense to make up for it and punch their ticket for another trip to the Final Four.

Let me say this right now: Duke will NOT go undefeated. It is annoying that they are even talking about it. The last team to do that was Indiana in 1976, when they had no conference tournament and a smaller NCAA tournament. It won't happen this year.

I am so sure of it (this is the part where I hang myself, so pay attention) that if Duke does win the national championship with a perfect record, I will spend an afternoon on the Maryland campus (my alma matter, remember) dressed in Duke gear proclaiming what a great team they are. There it is, Coach K, your team's motivation for the year.

That's what I think. Let me know how you feel on your favorite message board, or by sending e-mail to

Next week, I'll be reporting from the ACC's annual media event, "Operation Basketball."

Until then, court is adjourned.


Post a Comment

<< Home