Tuesday, October 16, 2001

The CourtMaster Ranks the Coaches

Originally posted on DukeBasketballReport.com

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session, and it's time to rule on head coaches in the ACC.

This week, I'll share my views on the big cheeses in the ACC and rank them from bottom to top.

I'll start with Herb Sendek at NC State. First, let me say that for Sendek to be the worst coach in the conference says a lot about the high quality of coaching in the ACC. It does not say much for Sendek's chancs of coaching in Raliegh next season, however.

In each of the last three seasons, Sendek has landed a highly touted recruit and solid overall recruiting classes. Two years ago, the stud was Damien Wilkins. Last season, it was Scooter Sherrill, and this season he signed Julius Hodge.

Unfortunately for the Wolfpack, Wilkins never lived up to his potential and transferred to Georgia this summer. Sherrill did not make much of an impact as a freshman, so the jury is still out on him. Hodge should be the best of the bunch. He will need to be since much of State's hopes for a good season rest squarely on his young shoulders.

Recently, Sendek lost recruit John Gilchrist to Maryland. Gilchrist was on the verge of committing to State but backed off, noting the tension within the program. If that tension filters down to the Wolfpack on the court, this could be a long final season for Sendek in Raleigh.
Two other coaches facing a make-or-break season are Florida State's Steve Robinson and Clemson's Larry Shyatt, who are tied for seventh in my ranking.

Robinson presided over a disastrous 9-21 season last year, but his team never quit. They pulled off a late season upset of Georgia Tech that almost cost them an NCAA berth, and they nearly ruined Maryland's season with a stunning win at Cole Field House.

The main criticism of Robinson has been his recruiting, but that seems to have improved recently. He landed Michael Joiner last season, and incoming freshman Anthony Richardson could be his best recruit to date.

If enthusiasm alone could guarantee success, Shyatt's Tigers would be a fixture at the Final Four. A problem has been his inability to establish an identity for his team. Two years ago, they were big, strong bruisers. Last season he tried a more up-tempo approach until injuries left him with a short bench.

Shyatt's ability to establish how the Tigers will play and have them execute it effectively will most likely determine if he will be invited back to coach the team next season.

I place Skip Prosser, the new head man at Wake Forest, sixth on my list. That is primarily because he is the only rookie coach in the ACC this season.

Prosser had a good run at Xavier, where he was an assistant to Pete Gillen, then succeeded him when Gillen moved to Providence. His Xavier teams played an up-tempo, full-court pressing style, and he also enjoyed success against cross-town rival Cincinnati.

Prosser will attempt to change Wake's style, a plodding, half-court game under coach Dave Odom, to something closely resembling what he ran at Xavier. His ability to accomplish that with players not recruited to play that type of game should determine the Deacons' success this season.

The least experienced head coach in the ACC is Matt Doherty, and that fact lands the North Carolina coach fifth in my ranking.

Doherty came into a somewhat chaotic situation last season after North Carolina's coaching search became a fiasco. He was quickly able to get his team focussed, and led them to a number one ranking in February.

Unfortunately for Carolina, national championships are decided in March. By that time, there was both emotional and physical fatigue dragging the Tar Heels down. Carolina stumbled toward the finish line, and their season ended prematurely with a second round NCAA loss to Penn State.

If Carolina can overcome the loss of Haywood and Forte (was tension with Doherty part of the reason for his early departure?) and a questionable situation at point guard, Doherty moves up my list. If not, despite all of the talent he has recruited to Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels' streaks of top-three ACC finishes and NCAA Tournament appearances could be in jeopardy.

Tying for third here are two coaches who have recently taken on rebuiding projects at their respective schools; Pete Gillen of Virginia and Paul Hewitt at Georgia Tech.

Gillen took over a program with only six healthy scholarship players in 1998-99, and led them to the NCAA Tournament two seasons later. The Cavaliers play fast and furious, last season showing that they were one of the few teams in the nation that could run with Duke.

Gillen has enjoyed post-season success at Xavier and Providence, and that is the next step he needs to take at Virginia. The ability to beat quality teams away from home would cement their status as an upper-echelon ACC team, and Gillen's as one of the top coaches in the conference.

Hewitt took over the helm at Georgia Tech last season, inheriting a program that had run out of steam under former coach Bobby Cremins. The enthusiasm he brought to the team energized his players, particularly center Alvin Jones. His revitalized Yellow Jackets returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years.

Hewitt has his work cut out for him this season after losing three starters from last year's team. He will have a very young squad this season, and their success will either validate his #3 ranking or lower it.

My second ranked coach in the ACC is Gary Williams. He was my conference coach of the year in 1999-2000, and is now second in the ACC in seniority.

Williams would not have faired so well if I had prepared this ranking in mid-February of last season. At that point, his Terps were still reeling from their crushing loss to Duke (the one where they lost a ten-point lead in the final 54 seconds). They had just lost at home to Florida State, and were in jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight seasons.

Williams was able to pull his team together following the loss to the Seminoles and lead them to the first Final Four in the school's history. The Terps lost only to Duke (twice) the rest of the season.

Williams has developed the Maryland program to where they do not rebuild, they reload. They are firmly entrenched as one of the top programs in the nation, and should stay there for a while with an outstanding recruiting class coming in and a new arena opening next season.

Of course, I rank Coach K as the best in the ACC. Duh! How many other coaches in the conference are in the Hall of Fame? None.

I agree with many experts who consider him the best coach in the nation. Carolina fans like to bash Coach K because his players do not have a successful track record in the NBA, while Carolina alumni do. I submit that this makes Coach K even more responsible for his team's success, since he has won championships without the depth of raw talent Carolina and some other programs have had.

The scariest fact about his run is that there is no end in sight. He indicated during the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies that he has no intention of retiring any time soon. He is bringing in a recruiting class next year that may rank with the best of all time.

I don't see him challenging John Wooden's record of ten national championships, but he could be in a very solid second place at whatever point he walks away. In a few more years, any discussion of the greatest coaches in the ACC will have to start with Coach K.

SIDEBARS:
Juan Dixon is talking about playing some pont guard at Maryland this season. Gary Williams does not mention him as an option. Could this be a problem for the Terps?

There are several reports that Florida State's Nigel Dixon (known around the ACC as "Big Jelly") has lost at least 80 pounds, or roughly the equivalent of a cheerleader. One report actually had him throwing down a two-handed dunk in the Seminoles' first practice. If he can stay on the court and become a low-post presence, Florida State could surprise some people this season.

Duke's Mike Dunleavy has reportedly gone the other way, putting on 20 pounds of muscle. He could add low-post play to his already dangerous perimeter game.

NC State's Juius Hodge has already wowed some observers at the Wolfpack's early practices. He could be the standout freshman Herb Sendek has been looking for.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail to thecourtmaster@aol.com .

Next week, I'll share my predictions for the upcoming ACC season.

Until then, court is adjourned.

1 Comments:

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