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.


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