Sunday, November 25, 2001

The CourtMaster Previews the ACC-Big 10 Challenge

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session, and it's time to rule on the annual clash of the titans, the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. I'll preview each match-up in the order the games will be played so you can easily follow along for your amusement as events unfold.

Tuesday 7 PM (all times Eastern), Illinois at Maryland, ESPN
The marquee match-up of the Challenge, with the #3 and #6 teams in the nation squaring off, occurs in the opening game. This will be the third consecutive year these teams have played in an early-season tournament. The Terps pulled out a win two years ago in the BB&T Classic in Washington, DC, and the Illini won in Maui last year. Illinois is the highest ranked non-conference team to visit Cole Field House since #1 Notre Dame lost to Maryland in January 1979.

This year's contest should resemble the game in Maui. Illinois controlled the boards in that game and are likely to do that again Tuesday night. Bill Self's team starts a front line of Robert Archibald (6'11", 250 lbs.), Brian Cook (6'10", 240), and Lucas Johnson (6'8", 23).

On paper, Maryland has the size to match up with them, but neither Chris Wilcox nor Tahj Holden has established themselves as a consistent force underneath to go along with All-American candidate Lonny Baxter. Until that happens, the Terps will have to rely on their perimeter game to beat a team like Illinois.

Maryland's backcourt of Juan Dixon and Steve Blake do not have a significant advantage, if any at all, over the Illini's Cory Bradford and Frank Williams. Bradford suffered through an off-season last year coming off of knee surgery, but coach Self says, "He is more explosive this year; his health and confidence have improved." I assume Williams will awaken from his early season slumber and that his team was sufficiently scared by their close win over Southern Illinois to be ready to play Tuesday night.

This promises to be an outstanding game, fiercely contested and down to the wire. In the end, I think Illinois' advantage inside will enable them to break Maryland's 79 game non-conference home winning streak, which dates back to 1989.

PICK: Illinois--Big Ten leads 1-0

Tuesday 7:30 PM, NC State at Ohio State, ESPN2
The Wolfpack will face an Ohio State team in transition. The Buckeyes must replace center Ken Johnson, the Big Ten's all-time leader in blocked shots. Without the imposing presence on both ends of the court, Ohio State coach Jim O'Brien says, "We have a chance to be better defensively. We can do some things we couldn't do last year. We weren't able to extend the defense in al five spots like we can this year. On offense, we're trying to push it a bit more."

This change in the Buckeye's style will somewhat mirror the way NC State plays. Both teams are perimeter oriented and have big question marks in their frontcourt.

Where the similarity ends is behind the 3-point stripe. Ohio State guards Brian Brown, Boban Savovic, Brent Darby, and Sean Connolly are all deadly from behind the arc, and Coach O'Brien could often put three of them on the floor together. I don't see where the Wolfpack has an answer for this, particularly with such a young team traveling to a hostile environment.

PICK: Ohio State--Big Ten leads 2-0

Tuesday 9:00 PM, Duke vs. Iowa in Chicago, ESPN
Iowa Coach Steve Alford has put together his best team so far, one that is well built for the rough and tumble inside play of the Big Ten. However, it was NOT built to take on a team with the quickness and explosiveness of Duke.

The best individual match in the game should be Iowa's Reggie Evans vs. Duke's Carlos boozer. Evans is one of the toughest low post players around and was the second leading rebounder in the nation last season. He should control the boards unless Boozer gets him in foul trouble.
The Hawkeye's other star, Luke Recker, is finally healthy and should knock down his usual 15-18 points in this game, but who will he guard? Whoever it is will have a huge advantage in quickness and should run Recker ragged.

As if Duke was not deep enough, freshman guard Daniel Ewing saw some extra playing time in Maui while Chris Duhon was dealing with severe leg cramps. Ewing took advantage of the opportunity and showed Coach K that he could give the Devils some quality minutes off the bench.

I wonder if the Blue Devils shouldn't take on the Chicago Bulls while they are in town. The Bulls might be able to give them a good workout.

PICK: Duke--Big Ten leads 2-1

Tuesday 9:30 PM, Minnesota at Wake Forest, ESPN2
There's not a lot of nationwide interest in this contest, but it could be one of the best games of the Challenge. The Gophers are one of the up and coming teams in the Big Ten. Coach Don Monson, who built up Gonzaga's program a few years ago, has quickly moved past the academic scandals under former Coach Clem Haskins to rebuild the Minnesota basketball program.

The Gophers have a potentially outstanding frontcourt led by Dusty Rychart and McDonald's All American freshman Rich Richert. Along with shot blocking center Jerry Holman, Minnesota is talented and tall (but not wide) up front.

Point guard is an entirely different kettle of fish for Coach Monson. Of the three players likely to see actions there, one has recovered from blowing out an ACL, one is a natural shooting guard, and the other is only 5'8" (finally, someone Archie Miller might be able to post up). Monson is not concerned about the talent he has at the point, but says, "last year they shot a lot; we're asking them to change that role this year."

The Deacons blew double digit leads in each of their four Preseason NIT contests, totally falling apart in the second half of the championship game against Syracuse. Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser still has some work to do to get his team to handle defensive pressure and close games.
Despite that, I like Wake in this game. I don't think the Gophers are strong enough to slow down Darius Songaila or athletic enough to stay with Josh Howard, Craig Dawson, or Antwan Scott.

PICK: Wake Forest--Challenge tied 2-2

Wednesday 7 PM, Wisconsin at Georgia Tech, ESPN
This might have been an interesting game last season. It should not be this year. New Badger Coach Bo Ryan, dominant at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville and successful at Division I Wisconsin-Milwaukee, arrived at Madison to find the cupboard nearly bare. Guard Kyle Penney is the only returning player who averaged more than five points per game last season.

The Badgers' offense won't quite resemble paint drying this year, but they will still be a defensive oriented team. In 1997, Ryan's Platteville team held opponents to an amazingly low 47.5 points per game.

Despite that, the Yellow Jackets should roll over Wisconsin. The Badgers don't match up well with either Tony Akins or Marvin Lewis, Tech's two main offensive threats.

It is critical that Coach Paul Hewitt gets his team to bounce back after they were bludgeoned by Illinois in Las Vegas. Working in their favor is Wisconsin's travel schedule. The Badgers return home from a tournament in Hawaii Tuesday morning only to turn around and head to Atlanta Tuesday night. That will be a tough task for a team very short on quality depth.

PICK: Georgia Tech--ACC leads 3-2

Wednesday 7:30 PM, Michigan State vs. Virginia at Richmond, ESPN2
This games pairs up two teams dealing with role reversals. Virginia Coach Pete Gillen, recently the underdog with a young, undersized team, now has a veteran squad with some size up front. Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo, who has led strong, experienced teams to the last three Final Fours, now has a group of untested youngsters to try and mold into a championship team.

So far in this young season, Izzo's squad has only vaguely resembled those Final Four teams. The Spartans still rebound and play a tenacious defense, but scoring points has been a challenge.
Point guard Marcus Taylor is the Spartans leading returning scorer. He will share the offensive load with Izzo's latest blue-chip recruit from Flint, Michigan, Kevin Torbert.

Big men Aloysius Anagonye (doesn't he just sound like a Spartan) and Adam Ballinger will control the boards for Michigan State. Ball handling is a major problem for Izzo to work with, particularly against a pressure defense.

The quickness of the Cavaliers' Roger Mason, Adam Hall, and Chris Williams should lead to enough easy hoops off turnovers to lead Virginia to victory, possibly be a wide margin.

PICK: Virginia--ACC leads 4-2

Wednesday 8:00 PM, Clemson at Penn State, ESPN Regional
The less said about the 2001-02 Penn State squad the better. ACC fans surely remember the Nittany Lions knocking North Carolina out of the NCAA Tournament last season on their way to the Sweet 16, but that team is a distant memory in (un)Happy Valley. The heart and soul of that squad either graduated or transferred, leaving Coach Jerry Dunn with a five-year contract extension but little short-term hope of success.

Forward Tyler Smith is the only returning player who scored more than two points per game for Penn State last season, and he is only suited to be a role player.

Even with the injury to Tony Stockman, Clemson should have enough to beat the Nittany Lions. Ray Henderson and Chris Hobbs should control the boards and score in the paint, and the potential is there for either guard Jamar McKnight or Ed Scott to have a big game.

PICK: Clemson--ACC leads 5-2

Wednesday 9:00 PM, Indiana at North Carolina, ESPN
This contest is far and away the most interesting of the night. Carolina has lost their first two home games for the first time in school history, while Indiana is off to a 3-1 start without playing a single home game.

Indiana Coach Mike Davis spent much of his time on the Challenge conference call whining about his team's road schedule, but he should be more concerned about his team's erratic offense.
Last year, in Davis' first year at the helm of Indiana, he preached a commitment to defense and actually saw the Hoosiers post better defensive numbers than they did under Coach Bob Knight. That trend needs to continue for them to be successful this season, as they demonstrated with a dismal 50-49 loss to Marquette at the Great Alaska Shootout.

Davis' main offensive weapon is sophomore Jared Jeffries, the most talented player to play at Indiana in several years. Other key players for the Hoosiers are point guard Tom Coverdale (second in the Big Ten in assists last season) and defender par excellence Dane Fife.

It is unlikely Indiana will play much zone defense against the Tar Heels, but it might be tempting since Carolina has been totally baffled by zones in their losses to Hampton and Davidson. Given the Tar Heels' difficulties on the offensive end, a strong man-to-man defense should be enough to get the job done for the Hoosiers.

The Dean Dome crowd could get ugly if the Heels get off to a bad start. Carolina Coach Matt Doherty might wish HE could take his team up to Alaska.

PICK: Indiana--ACC leads 5-3

Wednesday 9:30 PM, Florida State at Northwestern, ESPN2
Talk about ending an event with a thud. This does not figure to be a very entertaining game unless you are a Seminole fan.

Northwestern is coached by former Princeton head man Bill Carmody, so it should be no surprise that the Wildcats will play more like the Mildcats, slow and methodical. They don't have much choice. They are not very tall or athletic, so they have to hope to bore a team to death to steal a win. They are a veteran team and, with Carmody's success coaching this style, can do just that, particularly against undisciplined teams.

Florida State, on the other hand, is tall and athletic, and would love to play an up-tempo game. They are not the most disciplined team around, but their huge advantages in size and talent should overwhelm Northwestern.

Pick: Florida State--ACC Wins the Challenge 6-3

Those are my picks for what should be two evenings of entertaining and interesting basketball. One benefit of this compressed schedule for fans is that Dickie V can only be at one game per night.

Let me know what you think, either before or after the challenge, on the message boards or by e-mail at Until next time, court is adjourned.

Monday, November 19, 2001

The CourtMaster on Elite Programs

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session, and it's time to rule on the issue of elite basketball programs.

If you have listened to enough game coverage or read enough stories about college basketball, you will have seen numerous references to elite programs. The schools most often referred to in that manner are Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky. I have also heard Kansas, UCLA, and Indiana referred to as elite.

So what really makes a college basketball program elite? There are no standard objective measures to determine that, but I will offer some for your consideration: In a decade, a team must (1) win at least one national championship, (2) make at least four Final Fours, and (3) miss the NCAA Tournament no more than once.

I don't think you can truly be considered an elite team in any sport unless you occasionally win a championship. In addition, a team should consistently be good with regular flashes of greatness. There should be very, very few bad seasons; no peaks and valleys.

In the past decade, eight schools have won national championships, but only three would meet the stated criteria to be considered elite. Of those eight champions, Michigan State (2000) and Connecticut (1999) each missed the NCAA Tournament three times. UCLA (1995) only appeared in one Final Four, and Arkansas (1994) only made two Final Fours. Arizona (1997) was the school just missing the cut. They made all ten NCAA Tournaments in the decade, but made only three Final Fours.

The three elite programs in the past decade using these standards are Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Duke (1992 and 2001 champions) made four Final Fours and only missed one NCAA Tournament (1995). North Carolina (1993 champs) appeared in all ten NCAA Tournaments and advanced to five Final Fours. Kentucky won two titles (1996 and 1998), earned NCAA Tournament berths every season, and made four Final Fours.

For those of you who think a decade is not long enough to make a team elite, let's apply the single standard of averaging one championship every ten years. Going back to the inception of the NCAA Tournament in 1939, only two schools have won enough titles to qualify as elite; UCLA (12) and Kentucky (7). Since UCLA has won only one championship in 26 years, I feel that they have lost the right to be called an elite program.

I am most comfortable using the ten-year timeframe in judging which schools have elite basketball programs. Take Kansas for example, a school often given that tag. They have not won a championship since 1988 and, therefore, I feel that they have fallen from the elite status.

North Carolina has not won a national title since 1993, and if they fail to do so in the next two seasons, I would feel that they too would forfeit the right to be thought of as an elite basketball school. They would still have a great history, but they would not deserve that title on a current basis using objective measures.

However, this type of issue cannot be limited to statistics. In this regard, I solicited the opinions of two nationally known and well-respected college basketball writers, Mike DeCourcy from the Sporting News, and John Feinstein, noted author and syndicated columnist.

DeCourcy told me "The notion of "elite" can shift with time. Right now, I would say that Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Florida are "elite" because they've had enormous recent success. But if you'd asked the same question in 1995, then Arkansas, North Carolina and Kansas would have joined Duke and Kentucky."

He added "If you're talking about the elite programs, the places where you practically have to try to screw up the situation and beg the fans not to come, I think there are but a few: North Carolina, Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky for certain, and possibly UCLA and Duke. The difference with the latter two is the lack of statewide support"

Feinstein took a different approach. He said, "To me, an elite basketball program is one with a winning tradition--multiple Final Fours; conference titles etc; a great coach; at least one or two superstar players through history and perhaps, a great moment or two that people remember? Maryland isn't there yet. One Final Four; zero conference titles doesn't make you an elite program although you can be on your way if you keep winning. Virginia in the 80s was on that track--two Final Fours in four years--but didn't get there either."

He continued, "I wonder if you have to win a national title to be considered elite--probably. Duke was as close as you can be without a national title pre-'91; same with Carolina pre-'82 since the '57 championship was ancient history by then. One place where I may differ from most: I factor in things like graduation rate and cheating. To me, Kentucky is NOT an elite program because of their lurid history? Same thing for Vegas when Tark was there. Arizona is borderline but falls short because of graduation rate. On the other hand, Knight's Indiana run was absolutely elite because he won titles and graduated most everyone; same thing for Duke and Carolina the last 15 years."

As I look ahead, Arizona and Michigan State could soon join the ranks of the elite programs. Lute Olson's Wildcats need only one more Final Four appearance in next two seasons to join the elite. If Tom Izzo's Spartans make the next five NCAA Tournaments and reach one Final Four during that period, they would qualify under my objective criteria.

Mike Decourcy adds this about the future; "It will be interesting to see what Duke becomes after Krzyzewski, and whether or not it will justify inclusion on that list. I'm not eager for that day to come, however. Krzyzewski is too good for the game." Judging by his new lifetime contract, we won't have to worry about that any time soon.

There was an interesting quote in Friday's USA Today attributed to Duke Athletic Director Joe Alleva. When defending the school's commitment to football, he was quoted as saying, "Most of the ACC has a head start on us, but we can offer something nobody else can: a great school."

I contacted Duke Sports Information Director Jon Jackson asking if Alleva would care to clarify or add to that comment, but after two days I still have not received a reply from Jackson. This type of quote represents the air of arrogance surrounding the Duke athletic program and basketball team that makes many ACC fans loathe the Blue Devils.

ACC schools cruised through their early season schedules last week with two notable exceptions.
If Florida State's basketball season were instead a Broadway show, the curtain would have dropped for good after Friday night's loss at Florida.

The 68-47 score was not particularly surprising, but the Seminoles' 26% shooting was an embarrassment. Turning the ball over 29 times did not help the 'Noles' cause either. Especially disappointing was the performance of Nigel Dixon. Despite being in better shape than last season, he only grabbed two rebounds and did not score a point in 18 ineffective minutes.

The shocker of the week was Hampton's win at North Carolina. The 77-69 loss was only the Tar Heel's second in their last 73 home openers. Very few teams win when they attempt 34 3-pointers, as Carolina did on Friday night, and even fewer prevail when they only make 6 of them. Perhaps they need to figure out how to get good shots against a zone defense (like Hampton played Friday), and then make them.

I have been very hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of people who think this could be a bad season for Carolina. I'm not going to change my mind after one game, but I am going to find out where that bandwagon is.

That's what I think. Please let me know how you feel on the message boards or by e-mail at

Next week, I'll preview the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. Here's a hint-it looks good for the ACC.

Until then, court is adjourned.

Monday, November 12, 2001

The CourtMaster on Home Court and Coaches vs. Cancer

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session! This week, I'm going to rule on home court advantage in the ACC and the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.

Conventional wisdom tells us that Cameron Indoor Stadium is the toughest place to play in the ACC. I'm not a conventional kind of guy, so I beg to differ.

The biggest home court advantage in the ACC is enjoyed by?the Clemson Tigers at LittleJohn Coliseum. No, I'm not smoking the wacky weed or indulging in mushrooms. I actually have a sound basis for this statement.

First, let's define home court advantage. If it were stated in simple terms of overall won-lost record, Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium and North Carolina's Dean Dome would be the top two venues in recent years.

I think that definition is too narrow. To determine how much of an advantage a team gains from playing on their home court, the difference between their road and home record would be a truer test.

To analyze this, I went back 10 seasons and compiled each school's home and road record. I limited this to conference games to eliminate scheduling as a factor. For example, Maryland has won 77 straight non-conference home games dating back to 1989, but has only played 2 ranked teams during that streak. Clemson is also notorious for scheduling (but not always beating) low rated teams at home early in the season.

Here are the results of my analysis, showing each school's home conference record, road conference record, and difference in total wins.
Clemson 41-39, 13-67, +28
Virginia 51-29, 24-56, +27
NC State 36-44, 10-70, +26
Georgia Tech 49-31, 23-57, +26
Wake Forest 56-24, 34-46, +22
North Carolina 65-15, 47-33, +18
Maryland 53-27, 35-45, +18
Florida State 40-40, 26-54, +14
Duke 64-16, 53-27, +11

This approach obviously skews towards teams at the lower end of the standings. The top three schools have three of the four worst overall records in ACC play during the past decade. Only Florida State does not show a drastic improvement in their horrendous road record, no surprise for the school considered to have the worst fan support in the conference.

I was surprised to find that North Carolina had a better home record than Duke. After all, Carolina has often been accused of having "wine and cheese" crowds. Duke's "Cameron Crazies", on the other hand, are nationally known as an example of rabid fans. Even taking away 1994-95, the season Coach K was out (Carolina was 7-1 at home while Duke was 2-6) the Blue Devils have a very small advantage.

Oddly enough, Duke has a better ACC road record over the past three seasons than they do at home. They posted a 23-1 mark away from home during this time, including most of their ACC record 24 game road-winning streak while going 21-3 at home. Only two other schools had one season with more conference wins on the road than at home. Florida State in 1991-92 (their first season in the ACC) and Wake Forest in 1996-97 with both finishing 6-2 on the road and 5-3 at home.

The largest single season gap between home and away victories in the last decade is five. This has happened four times Clemson in 1995-96 (6-2 vs. 7-1) and 1998-99 (5-3 vs. 0-8), NC State in 1993-94 (5-3 vs. 0-8), and Virginia last season (7-1 vs. 2-6).

NC State is the only team to change home courts during this time. They moved into the ESA in 1999-2000, and have enjoyed a 7-game home court advantage in only two seasons (9-7 vs. 2-14), improving on their mark at Reynolds Coliseum.

In summary, I'm not tying to say that a team stands less chance of winning at Clemson then they do at Duke. Although Clemson is #1 in this analysis, their overall conference record at home is only 7th best.

What I will say, however, is that this supports the conventional wisdom that road wins are a precious commodity in the ACC, even against teams at the bottom of the standings.

I guess I'm a conventional kind of guy after all.


I was quite annoyed at some of the media coverage Maryland received during the Coaches for Cancer Tournament this week. A column from's Andy Katz was particularly aggravating. He wrote about how critical he felt Maryland's win over Temple Friday night was, indicating his doubts about the team's ability to bounce back from a 0-2 start.

Was he actually saying that the #2/3 ranked team in the nation could have had their season ruined before Thanksgiving? How ridiculous!

I've NEVER in over 30 years of following college basketball seen a team's season tarnished by anything that happened during the first two games unless there was a catastrophic injury. Part of Katz's point was to indicate how upset Coach Gary Williams was after the Terps' loss to Arizona. He should have been upset with that lackluster effort, and I find yelling and screaming as an appropriate action to wake his team up.

Second, where was Katz last February, when I joined the masses in burying Maryland after they lost at home to Florida State? Let's see, how did that wind up? Oh, that's right, all they did was make it to the FINAL FOUR! Too bad they could not handle adversity. With their inability to bounce back then, no wonder Katz was ready to write them off with a 0-2 record in November. Give me a break!

Thirdly, he wrote about how much better Temple's Coach John Cheney would handle adversity. Isn't he the coach who, despite the early morning practices Dick Vitale went on and on about, has a starting center, Ron Rollerson, who looks like he works out at the buffet table?

Isn't he a coach who, despite his election to the Hall of Fame this season, has NEVER
participated in a Final Four? If his credentials emphasize how much he has done with the talent at hand, why hasn't he been able to recruit players good enough to get over that hump? Wasn't that one of the main criticisms of Gary Williams prior to last season? Where is the respect for Williams?

Granted, there are serious issues Williams needs to address if the Terps are going to live up to the pre-season hype. In the past, he has shown the ability to do just that, both through actual crisis or ones the media attempts to manufacture.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message boards or by e-mail at

Next week, I'll talk about what gives a program "elite" status, and which ones in the ACC qualify.
Until then, court is adjourned!

Sunday, November 04, 2001

The CourtMaster on Early Season Tournaments

Originally posted on

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is now in session. When teams' schedules first come out, they often don't have the detail of who they are playing at whatever early season tournament they are participating in. As a public service to ACC fans, I am providing a capsule preview of each tournament ACC teams are part of.

I'm excluding the ACC-Big 10 Challenge because I will do a separate preview of that later this month.

For each team, I will provide their national rank according to the Sporting News, one of the few publications which included each team in Division I. Yes, I know they did not select Duke #1; but let's not get picky.

Duke(2) will take part in the Maui Invitational in lovely Lahaina, Hawaii beginning November 19. The field there includes Ball State(77), Chaminade (the host from Division II), Houston (202), Kansas (7), Seton Hall(79), South Carolina(38), UCLA(6), Oklahoma State(17), Providence(28), TCU(88), and UTEP(48).

The Blue Devils benefitted from the draw at Maui, where they will open with Seton Hall, then play the winner of Chaminade vs. South Carolina if they advance. The other half of the bracket could produce a showdown between two top ten teams, Kansas and UCLA.

It is hard to imagine Duke being challenged until a championship game match with either of those two teams. UCLA is breaking in a new point guard, highly touted freshman Cedric Bozeman, who would more than likely have serious problems against either Chris Duhon or Jason Williams. Kansas would be a tougher early season opponent for Duke, with returning starters Nick Collison and Drew Gooden in the frontcourt and Jeff Boschee and Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt. Kansas has a bigger frontcourt, Duke a quicker backcourt. Duke vs. Kansas could be an outstanding early-season game.

Maryland(3) opens next Thursday in the Coaches for Cancer IKON Classic at Madison Square Garden. They will face Arizona(32) in the opener, and the winner takes on the Florida(4) vs. Temple(24) victor.

The Terps are catching Arizona at the right time. Jason Gardner is the only returning starter, and Luke Walton (Bill's son) is the only other experienced player on the roster. The Wildcats are talented and could be tough later in the season, but not right out of the chute.

Florida should be motivated by vengence against Temple, since the Owls blew them out in the second round of the NCAA's last season. A Florida vs. Maryland game could be a true marquee matchup. Florida has a very young bench which should be quite strong later this season, but is at a disadvantage against Maryland's experienced depth.

The Terps also play in the BB&T Classic December 2-3 at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. They face Princeton(117) in the first round, and will likely play the winner of George Washington(108) vs. Connecticut(31) for the championship. This is probably the weakest field this tournament has ever had. UConn's Caron Butler could give Maryland problems, but the Terps should be too strong up front and too deep for the Huskies to handle.

North Carolina(21) plays in the Tournament of Champions in Charlotte December 21-22. They will face the College of Charleston(145) and Georgia State(45) will take on St. Joseph's(8).
This should come down to a championship game between the Tar Heels and St. Joseph's. North Carolina will have their hands full trying to contain the exceptional backcourt of Marvin O'Connor and Jameer Nelson. That contest should have a tempo which will probably be too fast for the Heels to keep up with.

Wake Forest(29) is the ACC Representative in the Preseason NIT Tournament. The Deacons host UNC-Wilmington(119) on November 12th, and then should play the winner of Maine(151) vs. Arkansas(55) on November 16. A win in the second round earns them a trip to New York to play either Southern Cal(13), Wyoming(34), Montana State(142), and Fresno State(25) on November 21. The championship game would be on November 23 against the survivor of the other half of the bracket, which includes Manhattan(168), Syracuse(30), Fordham(93), Depaul(111), Central Connecticut(217), Oklahoma(36), Detroit(75), and Michigan State(14).

The Deacons should have little trouble with UNC-Wilmington; star Brett Blizzard could cause problems but does not have enough help. Their likely opponent in the second round, Arkansas, has a small, quick team with an experienced backcourt. The Razorbacks are probably not up to the task of beating Wake, but it should be a very entertaining game played at a frantic pace.

In the next round, Southern Cal and Fresno State would both be tough matchups for the Deacons. The Trojans have a big, experienced front line led by Sam Clancy, and the Bulldogs, with Melvin Ely, have one of the best inside players in the nation. These are the type of players who have historically drawn Deacon center Darius Songaila into foul trouble, so they should present a good test of how much Songaila has improved in that area.

Georgia Tech(59) will take part in the Las Vegas Invitational from November 19-24. The field there includes Eastern Illinois(158), Hartford(293), Illinois(1), Iowa State(46), Pennsylvania(176), Saint Louis(96),and Southern Illinois(136). This was one of the tournaments originally scheduled to be played at a casino before a public uproar caused the venue to be changed.

The Yellow Jackets open the tournament at home against Pennsylvania on the 19th, then travel to Valley High School in Las Vegas to play Eastern Illinois on the 22nd and Illinois on the 23rd. They will play their final game on the 24th against the team in the opposite bracket in the same standings position.

Tech's first two games should be good tune ups, but they should be overmatched against an experienced and very strong Illini squad. They should match up well with any of the teams in the other bracket, so a 3-1 record for this tournament is a realistic goal.

NC State(67) hosts the Black Coaches Association Invitational from November 14-16 at the ESA in Raleigh. They open against Praire View A&M(282), and then should face the winner of San Jose State(166) and Fairleigh Dickinson(261). The Pack should then face the survivor of the other bracket, which includes Rutgers(132), East Carolina(161), Northwestern(125), and Virginia Commonwealth(177).

It's okay to schedule early season wins, but the downside to that is a team HAS to win those games. Put very simply, NC State MUST win this tournament to think of themselves as a contender for a postseason birth. Losing to any of these teams would be considered a bad, bad loss at selection time and severely damage their RPI, not to mention deflate their fan base. No pressure guys.

Clemson(73) will be venturing to the Virgin Islands to participate in the Paradise Jam in St. Thomas from November 17-20. Joining them will be Eastern Michigan(302), La Salle(124), Miami (FL)(41), Morris Brown(321), and UAB(71). This in an unusual six-team tournament, where the schools are split into two three-team pools. The winner of the round-robin competition in each pool will play for the championship, while the second and third ranked team in each pool will face each other in consolation games.

Clemson is in the pool with Morris Brown and LaSalle (with new head coach Billy Hahn, formerly Gary Williams' top assistant at Maryland). The Tigers should make it into the championship game, likely against Miami. The Hurricanes, led by sophomore Darius Rice, return four starters and would be a formidable opponent for Clemson in the final round. This tournament could be a good confidence builder for the Tigers.

Neither Virginia or Florida State will be participating in any of the early season tournaments.

Some nerves were soothed last week in Chapel Hill when North Carolina obtained a verbal committment from high school senior Sean May. May is one of the highest ranked big men in the nation and fills a critical need for the Tar Heels. Sean is the son of former Indiana star Scott May, who was national player of the year in 1976 when the Hoosiers were the last undefeated national champion. May's older brother, Scott Jr., is a walk-on at Indiana this year. Rumors persist that a key factor in May choosing North Carolina over Indiana was some serious bad mouthing of the Indiana program by Texas Tech coach Bob Knight (that still doesn't sound right) during a visit by May to the Lubbock campus. That is not difficult to believe since Knight couldn't find the high road with an atlas.

Highlights from early season scrimages and exhibition games: North Carolina suffered an astonishing 107-76 loss to the ES All Stars desipte 34 points from Chris Lang. Former Virginia Star led EA with 31 points (9 3-pointers)...Chris Duhon knocked down 7 three-pointers in Duke's Blue-White scrimage...Florida State squeaked out a 62-61 win over the Nike Elite All-Stars on Antwuan Dixon's late three pointer...Prior to beating North Carolina, the EA All-Stars lost in consecutive nights at Maryland and NC State. Lonny Baxter's 22 points and 10 rebounds led the Terps to a 98-80 triumph, and Marcus Melvin's 26 points keyed the Wolfpack's 98-75 victory...Clemson defeated Nike Elite 98-85 with Tony Stockman scoring 19 points and Jamar McKnight chipping in 18 points...Virginia opened with a win over the Nantucket Nectars (yes, that is a real team) led by Travis Watson's 24 points and 10 rebounds...Wake Forest began the Skip Prosser era by blowing out Nike Elite 108-65. Antuan Scott fired in 22 points to lead the Deacons' attack.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message boards or by e-mail at

Next week, I'll take a look at which ACC school has the strongest home court advantage.

Until then, court is adjourned.