Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Domination by UNC? Well, no.

The 2006-07 basketball season began with a presumption among experts that one team would run away with first place in the ACC standings.

North Carolina seemed to have superior talent and depth at every position, and Roy Williams was coming off consecutive brilliant seasons as the Tar Heels’ coach. If Ol’ Roy could coach last season’s inexperienced bunch to second place, it seemed, there was no reason this team shouldn’t dominate.

But it hasn’t, and there is no runaway. With 11 of its 16 ACC games completed, North Carolina (22-4, 8-3 ACC) isn’t even in first place. The Tar Heels are tied for second with Virginia (17-7, 8-3) and Virginia Tech (18-7, 8-3), behind Boston College (18-6, 9-2 heading into Wednesday night’s game at Duke).

That position could jeopardize North Carolina’s status as a possible No. 1 regional seed for the NCAA tournament, which hasn’t seemed in doubt until recently. The Tar Heels remain in a strong position in the RPI with a ranking of No. 3 as of Wednesday afternoon according to

But if North Carolina can’t finish first in a conference with no other teams in the RPI’s top 15 as of Wednesday afternoon, that could give the Division I men’s basketball committee pause in awarding the Tar Heels a No. 1 regional seed. North Carolina can’t blame the unbalanced ACC schedule, either.

The Tar Heels play Boston College and Virginia once each, and play twice each against N.C. State and Wake Forest, which along with Miami account for the bottom of the ACC standings.

North Carolina could still finish first in the ACC and win the ACC tournament. But the Tar Heels are just 3-2 in ACC road games and must travel to Boston College, Maryland and Georgia Tech, so it’s foolish to presume they won’t lose again in conference play.

Fortunately for North Carolina, getting a No. 1 seed isn’t as important now that the trend of underclassmen jumping to the NBA has weakened elite teams that used to stockpile tremendous veteran talent. In the last four years, there have been a total of four No. 1 seeds, four No. 2 seeds and four No. 3 seeds in the Final Four. ...

The significance of Virginia Tech’s road accomplishment might have been overlooked locally because of the shock over North Carolina’s 81-80 loss Tuesday night.

Virginia Tech won in overtime at North Carolina and Duke. The Hokies are the first team to win at the Smith Center and Cameron Indoor Stadium since the Stephon Marbury-led Georgia Tech team in 1995-96.

“It’s been a crazy ride my senior year,” said Virginia Tech guard Zabian Dowdell.
No kidding. Dowdell led the Hokies in scoring in both games, with 20 points at Duke and a career-high 33 at North Carolina.

– Ken Tysiac