Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Curry, Wildcats happy together

I get asked two questions all the time about Stephen Curry.
1. Just how good is he? (He’d start for almost every team in the country.)
2. Will he ever transfer from Davidson?
That second one is considered taboo around some folks at the school. The school’s message board ( won’t even discuss the idea, because the thought of losing the nation’s second-leading freshman scorer makes members shudder.
So, Stephen, what has your first year at the school been like?
"It has been better than I expected," he said.
Teammate Thomas Sander gave him a puzzled look after that statement. The school’s fans would be stunned. Was he unhappy?
Curry quickly restated his thoughts.
"No wait, wait, that’s not what I meant," he said. "Things were just up in the air when I got here. No one knew how good we would be."
No one knew how good Curry would be, either. He’s surprised even his father, Dell, who expected his son to slow down late in his freshman season. But the younger Curry has averaged 25 points in his past 10 games and was voted Southern Conference Freshman of the Year by league coaches Wednesday. And, Dad is happy with how things have worked out at Davidson.
"You can really see him progress ever since the summer. He really likes the school and his teammates," Dell Curry said.
Stephen Curry also has a lot of freedom in the Davidson offense. The Wildcats average 82 points, seventh in the nation, and Curry has the green light to shoot when he wants.
"If you look at the history since I have been here, there haven’t been a lot of guys who score points in such bushels like Stephen has," coach Bob McKillop said. "He is really capitalizing on a system that is built for him to get opportunities."
McKillop added another important factor in that – Curry has the respect of his teammates, who don’t mind deferring to him.
"We have so much chemistry on this team," Sander said. "It’s like we are just playing in the back yard with our friends."
Curry gets along with his teammates, and he’ll have all of them back next season. All 11 scholarship players return, making Davidson a strong contender for an NCAA berth again. He’d have to sit out a year if he transferred, and he’s already getting national attention at Davidson.
So let’s ask him again. Is he happy there? Curry answered without hesitation.
"Of course."
-- Kevin Cary

There's a basketball surge in Virginia

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg hasn’t been bashful about giving credit to his rivals this week.

Greenberg said officials at Virginia made this week’s high-profile, in-state rival basketball game possible. The Virginia schools are tied with North Carolina atop the ACC standings and meet Thursday in Charlottesville.
In June of 2003, Virginia president John Casteen’s suggestion that the ACC reconsider the Hokies after they had been rejected led to Virginia Tech’s inclusion as the ACC expanded from nine to 12 schools.

"This would never have happened if we didn’t have their support, because we wouldn’t be in the conference for a game of this stature," Greenberg said.

At that time, Virginia and Virginia Tech seemed no threat whatsoever to reach the top of the ACC basketball standings. The Hokies had just hired Greenberg after three consecutive losing seasons under Ricky Stokes.
The Cavaliers hadn’t won more than nine ACC games since 1994-95. They also have changed coaches, replacing Pete Gillen with Dave Leitao, and have moved from aging University Hall into the gorgeous, new John Paul Jones Arena.

But the foundation of basketball success in the Commonwealth had already been laid by the time Casteen lobbied for Virginia during that teleconference call in 2003. Guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon, now Virginia Tech’s leaders as seniors, were enrolling and would start as freshmen.

Virginia guard J.R. Reynolds was about to embark on a season that would land him on the ACC’s all-freshman team. And Gillen had just received a commitment from point guard Sean Singletary, who became the Cavaliers’ first first-team All-ACC player in 14 years last season.

Since 2003, Duke and Georgia Tech have reached the Final Four and North Carolina has won an NCAA title. Meanwhile, Dowdell, Gordon, Reynolds and Singletary were maturing into the kind of guards that can lead a team to the top of its conference.

No one with an ounce of college basketball knowledge will dispute that North Carolina is the most talented team in the ACC, and the Tar Heels’ No. 8 national ranking reflects that talent.

But North Carolina coach Roy Williams often says that he prefers having experienced talent, and many of the Tar Heels’ gifted players happen to be mistake-prone freshmen. Greenberg and Leitao give the ball to their veteran guards and are almost certain something good is going to happen.
Those guards have propelled Virginia and Virginia Tech to heights that seemed impossible four years ago. Their schools might have difficulty sustaining success after Dowdell, Gordon and Reynolds complete this senior season.

But for now, they are the standard bearers of a basketball surge in Virginia. George Mason reached last year’s Final Four, and Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion are top mid-major contenders for this year’s NCAA tournament.

"This late in the year, when you’re playing for essentially first place, it hopefully means that we have done a lot to change the perception that people may have had a few years ago, and Virginia Tech (is) doing the same thing," Leitao said.

– Ken Tysiac

Tradition-rich Guilford returns to spotlight

A school with one of the Carolinas’ richest basketball traditions has found the national spotlight again.

Guilford - a small-college power in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s - makes its first NCAA Division III postseason appearance when it faces Manhattanville (N.Y.) Friday in Baltimore in the opening round of the national tournament.

The Quakers won the NAIA championship in 1973 - one of seven national tournament appearances the school made - and finished fourth in 1970. The ’73 team included players such as World B. Free (then known as Lloyd Free) and M.L. Carr. Free became a prolific scorer in the NBA and Carr played on two championship teams with the Boston Celtics.

Guilford - located in Greensboro - left the NAIA for Division III in 1991. It had been a member of the Carolinas Conference, one of the country’s most powerful small-college leagues that has since disbanded. Conference members Elon and High Point are Division I programs now, while Atlantic Christian (now Barton), Pfeiffer, Catawba, Lenoir-Rhyne and Mars Hill moved up to Division II and compete in the South Atlantic and Carolinas-Virginia Athletic conferences.

The Quakers went the other direction. Playing in Division III - with no athletic scholarships - they don’t get much attention around these parts any more and are the lone Carolinas school in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

But under fourth-year coach Tom Palombo, Guilford (21-4) won the ODAC regular-season championship before being upset in the league tournament by Bridgewater (Va.).

The Quakers, led by center Ben Strong, the ODAC Player of the Year who averages 23.6 points and 11.1 rebounds, still received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The winner of today’s Guilford-Manhattanville will face the winner of the Johns Hopkins (Md.)-Villa Julie (Md.) game in a second-round game Saturday.

- David Scott

What has caused balance in ACC?

There still is a week remaining in the regular season, but it’s already certain that 2007 will be the first time since 1997 that no ACC team had fewer than four conference losses.

North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech are tied atop the standings with 10-4 ACC records. And nobody has an ACC record worse than 4-10.
It would be easy to blame the gravitation toward the middle of the standings on early departures for the NBA from traditional powers Duke and North Carolina. If Marvin Williams and JR Smith were juniors now, Virginia Tech forward Deron Washington wouldn’t have so easily dominated the Tar Heels on the boards.

If Duke had Luol Deng and Shaun Livingston, the Blue Devils also could be running away from the rest of the ACC. But that explanation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Duke has been losing players early to the NBA draft since 1999 – when four guys left early – but still has won seven of the past eight ACC tournaments. North Carolina also has a long history of early departures that includes James Worthy and Michael Jordan.

North Carolina and Duke also benefit from the new NBA collective bargaining agreement rule that requires players to be at least 19 years old by draft night and one year beyond the graduation of their high school class to enter the draft.

That gets top high school players to college, usually to the tradition-rich programs – at least for their freshmen year – whereas Livingston and Smith went straight to the pros in the recent past.

More likely, the greater balance in the ACC is due to increased opportunities for high-level competition before college. High school showcase events and AAU tournaments during the summer are the norm now for young players.

"Kids today, they’re playing on national TV (in high school) a lot of them," said All-Star Sports recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons. "They’re playing more games outside their high school season. They play almost an NBA schedule with their travel teams."

Gibbons said that makes freshmen better prepared to contribute immediately. It also increases the depth of the college basketball talent pool.

Virginia and Virginia Tech are tied for first place in the ACC standings for the same reason that George Mason reached last season’s Final Four. Because so many young players meet great competition early and often, the players at North Carolina and Duke are no longer so much better that the opponents don’t have a chance.

That creates a more interesting conference race and could indicate that the ACC and NCAA tournaments will be full of upsets. There has never been an upset of a No. 1 regional seed by a No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament, but Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said that’s coming.

"I thought that was going to happen last year," Hewitt said. "I felt like last year was a year that. . .a team like George Mason could make the Final Four, and they did. It’s eventually going to happen."

– Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Go to school against Davidson

Davidson has won 22 of its past 23 games, and 10 straight Southern Conference games. Those 10 wins have come by an average of 18 points. Yet, these Wildcats aren’t invincible entering the conference tournament. Appalachian State showed that in an 81-74 January victory. Davidson’s conference opponents can learn from that game, which showed how to slow the Wildcats.
1. Play Davidson point guard Jason Richards physical. Richards is the Davidson engine, but the Mountaineers found ways to nudge him off-track. He never had clear lanes, and that helped force him in to nine turnovers. Furman applied the same tactic Thursday, and Richards shot 1 for 9. An added bonus for opponents would be getting Richards in foul trouble. When he’s out of the game, the offense bogs down.
2. Shadow Stephen Curry. Appalachian State held Curry to 1-of-11 on 3-pointers by keeping him a few feet out of his comfort zones. Furman also did it Thursday, and the Davidson freshman only had seven points during the first half. Defenders can’t stray from Curry even when he’s 30 feet from the basket. It would help to have a stopper who isn’t concerned with offense, because guarding the Davidson guard is a full-time job.
3. Make your outside shots. Appalachian State made 47 percent of its 3-point attempts against the Wildcats, and Wofford, which lost twice to Davidson by a combined 12 points, also found success from outside. The Terriers made at least 42 percent of their 3-point attempts in both games.
4. Have a quick point guard. That’s the one position that gives Davidson trouble. The Wildcats tried three players to stop Appalachian State’s D.J. Thompson, but none slowed him. Wofford’s Shane Nichols also sliced through Davidson’s defense, averaging 21 points in the two games, and the Wildcats could see him again in the quarterfinals.
5. Get ahead, and stay ahead. Appalachian State maintained a lead throughout most of its game with Davidson, and that’s critical. One of the best attributes the Wildcats have is their ability to take care of the ball and make free throws. Davidson has not lost a game all season that it led in the final three minutes. One thing that will help opponents: if the Wildcats trail at any point this weekend, fans throughout the North Charleston Coliseum will pull against them since they are the tournament favorite.
– Kevin Cary

Monday, February 26, 2007

Lowe better, but not fully recovered

N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe sounded tired Monday, five days after he was hospitalized for dehydration resulting from a flu-like ailment during the Wolfpack’s loss at North Carolina.
"I’m a little better," said Lowe, who returned to the bench Saturday at Florida State. "I’m still just trying to get through this process of the hot flashes and things of that nature. But other than that, I’m OK."
Lowe said a hospital visit from North Carolina coach Roy Williams made him realize that he has to take better care of himself. Williams routinely has taken a midday break for years to walk or jog.
He told Lowe that scheduling such a daily break would benefit him. Lowe said it’s easy for coaches to get into a rut and spend every waking hour working.
"It put things in perspective, and just made me take a look at things," Lowe said. "I’m certainly going to have to make some changes in how I’m doing things."
Other coaches, including the Charlotte Bobcats’ Bernie Bickerstaff and Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt, also called to check up on Lowe. But Williams – who has known Lowe since he watched Lowe play in high school while recruiting for North Carolina – was especially kind.
Williams visited Lowe in the hospital after last week’s game and again the following morning, and called Lowe’s office to check on him.
"I really just appreciate his concern and his effort," Lowe said.
WRIGHT MOVE: Williams has removed freshman forward Brandan Wright from the lineup when North Carolina has had the lead in the closing minutes in some games because of Wright’s poor free throw shooting. But Williams kept Wright in the game for the Tar Heels’ final possession when they trailed by two Sunday at Maryland.
"We wanted his rebounding in there," Williams said Monday.
Wright is one of North Carolina’s best rebounders, and Williams wanted him crashing the boards if the play he called for another player resulted in a missed shot. But the play didn’t work, and the ball came to Wright, who was fouled in the act of shooting.
He missed the first free throw, then had to miss the second intentionally in hopes that North Carolina could rebound. When the Tar Heels couldn’t secure the rebound, the clock expired and Maryland won 89-87.
"He is a youngster who’s got to improve on that part of the game," Williams said of Wright, who is shooting 54.3 percent from the foul line.
Wright, who was 0-for-4 Sunday, isn’t the only player who needs to shoot free throws better. Alex Stepheson was 0-for-2, Ty Lawson 0-for-1 and Tyler Hansbrough 2-for-4 as North Carolina finished 8-for-17.
The Tar Heels’ free throw percentage of .702 ranks sixth in the ACC. But in each of their past two losses – against Maryland and Virginia Tech – their opponent has performed better in the closing minutes from the foul line.
That can’t happen if North Carolina is going to win close games.
"It wasn’t just Brandan," Williams said. "It’s just, that’s the one you always think about because it happens that late in the game."
-- Ken Tysiac

ACC week in review: If it's close, it's trouble for Heels

As long as the game is a blowout, North Carolina is fine. But the Tar Heels are 0-3 in games decided by four points or fewer. They still belong at the top of the ACC rankings because they’re tied for the ACC lead and have the best overall record. But if they don’t play better in the closing minutes of tight games, they might not be the last ACC team standing in the conference tournament or the NCAA tournament.
1.North Carolina (24-5, 10-4)
2.Virginia Tech (20-8, 10-4)
3.Virginia (19-8, 10-4)
4.Maryland (22-7, 8-6)
5.Duke (22-7, 8-6)
6.Boston College (19-9, 10-5)
7.Georgia Tech (18-10, 6-8)
8.Florida State (18-11, 6-9)
9.Clemson (19-9, 5-9)
10.N.C. State (14-13, 4-10)
11.Wake Forest (13-14, 4-10)
12.Miami (11-17, 4-10)
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Senior D.J. Strawberry scored a career-high 27 points Sunday as Maryland defeated North Carolina 89-87. That win assured the Terrapins a spot in the NCAA tournament regardless of what they do the rest of the season.
COACH OF THE WEEK: Gary Williams has Maryland on a five-game winning streak after the Terrapins appeared in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight season. The late surge has been especially impressive because the Terrapins rely heavily on freshmen – Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes – at guard.
PLAY OF THE WEEK: Center Josh McRoberts broke Clemson’s suffocating press and drove the length of the floor at 6-foot-10 to help Duke take the steam out of the Tigers’ second-half rally as the Blue Devils won 71-66.
DUNK OF THE WEEK: Clemson freshman center Trevor Booker hustled down the floor for a two-handed power dunk early in the first half against Duke, energizing the crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum.
ON DECK: Duke at North Carolina on Sunday will be a dandy, of course. Maryland at Duke – which features the ACC’s two hottest teams – also is a big rivalry game that will take place in an electric atmosphere Wednesday. But the best game this week could be one of the biggest games in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. On Thursday, Virginia and Virginia Tech – which share the ACC lead with North Carolina – meet in Charlottesville.
-- Ken Tysiac

Cary's ballot for All-Southern Conference honors

The Southern Conference media will announce its all-conference teams as well as Coach, Player and Freshman of the Year this week. If my ballot is any indication, Davidson - picked to finish fourth in the South Division this season - will get a lot of recognition for its strong season.
Here’s my choices, with comments on award winners and first-team selections:

Freshman of the Year: Stephen Curry, Davidson. The easiest choice to make. Curry has a shot to make the Freshman All-America team, not just the conference list.

Coach of the Year: Bob McKillop, Davidson. McKillop’s team wasn’t expected to contend, yet Davidson dominated the league. The Wildcats went 17-1, and won 11 of those games by at least 10 points. All with the second-most inexperienced lineup in the NCAA this season. If McKillop doesn’t win, Appalachian State coach Houston Fancher might, but most of the Mountaineers' core players started last season.

Player of the Year: Curry. Curry and UNC Greensboro’s Kyle Hines appear to be the front-runners for this award, but the Davidson freshman earned it over the last month of the season. In Davidson's last 10 games - all wins - he averaged almost 25 points and became the conference’s leading scorer.
But Curry can do more than score - he’s become one of Davidson’s best perimeter defenders and averages almost five rebounds and two steals. Hines would have been an obvious choice a month ago, and he still might win, but he’s tailed off in recent weeks.

First team all-conference
Curry: Just nine 3-pointers away from a national record for freshman.

Hines: Undersized forward faced constant double-teams but still averaged 20 points.

D.J. Thompson, Appalachian State: The 5-foot-8 point guard averaged 16 points and gave Davidson and others fits trying to stop him.

Dontaye Draper, College of Charleston: Guard led team in scoring (15 ppg), assists and steals, and was the engine behind the Cougars' third-place finish.

Jason Richards, Davidson: Point guard was contender for player of the year in January, but has slipped recently. Still the most indispensable Wildcat, and ranks second in the nation in assists.

Second team
Nick Aldridge, Western Carolina; Donte Gennie, Georgia Southern; Thomas Sander, Davidson; Shane Nichols, Wofford; Keddric Mays, Chattanooga.

Third team
Louis Graham, Georgia Southern; Ricky Hickman, UNC Greensboro; Boris Meno, Davidson; Moussa Diagne, Furman; Donte Minter, Appalachian State.

All-freshman team
Curry, Aldridge, Kellen Brand, Appalachian State, Kendall Toney, UNC Greensboro, Will Archambault, Davidson.
- Kevin Cary

Saturday, February 24, 2007

10 questions on ACC basketball

Now that we know where Anna Nicole will be buried and where Britney plans to spend the next four to six weeks, serious journalists can get to the 10 most important questions facing our society:

1. Will Comcast Center be as raucous for North Carolina on Sunday as it was for Duke on Feb. 11? Maryland fans were eager for the chance to kick Duke in the teeth when it was struggling, and don’t seem to despise North Carolina as much.
2. Is Greg Paulus the most unpredictable player in college basketball? Duke’s point guard can be brilliant and abysmal in the very same game. He scored 14 with six assists - and nine turnovers - against Clemson.
3. Will Sidney Lowe ever wear his red blazer again? Lowe admits to being superstitious, and the good luck charm from his first game with North Carolina failed miserably when he was hospitalized for dehydration Wednesday night.
4. What happened to Boston College? Ten days ago, the Eagles led the ACC. Now they’re in danger of falling lower than fourth place. Could it be because the team only has three capable scorers in Jared Dudley, Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall?
5. Have you ever seen an ACC men’s team miss as many lay-ups as Clemson did Thursday night against Duke? Easy shots missed from the field - and the foul line - will be the reason the Tigers won’t be the NCAA tournament.
6. Has there ever been a more charismatic ACC player than senior point guard Ivory Latta of the North Carolina women’s team? It’s difficult to imagine anybody with more class and energy.
7. What is today’s most intriguing game? Georgia Tech needs a win at Virginia Tech to get to .500 in ACC play. But the Cavaliers have veteran guards in Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds who won’t easily be subdued.
8. Why are Duke’s women 28-0 heading into Sunday’s regular season finale against North Carolina? While past teams have relied heavily on one player such as Alana Beard and Monique Currie, this team is difficult to defend because of its great balance. All five starters average at least nine points, but none averages as much as 15.
9. Who’s the ACC Coach of the Year? If Virginia stays in the top three in the ACC standings, Dave Leitao deserves the award. His team was picked to finish eighth in the preseason by the media who cover the ACC and is tied for second with Virginia Tech.
10. How many ACC teams will reach the NCAA tournament? Six - North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Duke and Maryland. Clemson and Florida State are finished. Georgia Tech still could get in, but needs to win more against a difficult schedule that includes Virginia, North Carolina and Boston College to conclude the regular season.
- Ken Tysiac

Thursday, February 22, 2007

ACC's freakiest athletes moving teams forward

The crowd at the Smith Center exhaled in horror as Brandon Costner’s shot swished through the basket for N.C. State after traveling an impossibly high trajectory from far beyond the 3-point arc.

Brandan Wright struck back for North Carolina, knifing through the lane to grab offensive rebounds and dropping the ball in the basket with his incredibly long arms. Perhaps the leading candidates for ACC rookie of the year, Wright (24 points) and Costner (18) both led their teams in scoring in the Tar Heels’ 83-64 victory Wednesday night.

They also exhibited just part of the ACC’s substantial depth among “big forwards” – players 6-foot-7 to 6-9 who score a lot in the post but aren’t centers. It’s customary at this time of year for college basketball commentators to rave about the importance of good guards. But in the ACC, the number of excellent forwards is what stands out. The ACC’s top scorers, Jared Dudley of Boston College and Al Thornton of Florida State, both play that position.

So do Costner and Wright. Freakishly athletic defender James Mays might be Clemson’s best player, and Maryland’s James Gist has expanded his shooting range out to the 3-point arc.
The players just named account for six of the ACC’s top 23 scorers, and they all play the same position. And that list doesn’t even include Virginia Tech’s Deron Washington, who is so athletic and versatile that North Carolina coach Roy Williams had fits trying to find a player to guard him despite having the deepest roster in the nation.

Point guards and centers get the most attention because they’re often the smallest and biggest players on the floor, respectively. But in the ACC this season, the forwards set the pace, and it will be fascinating to watch them match up in the conference tournament next month in Tampa.

– Ken Tysiac

Pirates have sinking feeling this season

Nothing’s going right at East Carolina this season.

The Pirates (5-21) are in the throes of a 13-game losing streak and are winless in as many Conference USA games.

Here’s how bad it’s gotten:

The Pirates had a chance Wednesday at home against Marshall. With the Thundering Herd leading 53-51 and less than 30 seconds to play, East Carolina point guard Darrell Jenkins drove the lane and found himself wide open.

But Jenkins missed the uncontested layup and Marshall went on to win 54-51.

“Everybody wants to take the last shot,” Jenkins told reporters afterward. “I got to the basket and as soon as the ball left my hand, I knew it was off. I just knew it. I took my eye off the basket.”

It was a particularly inglorious loss for the Pirates. It tied a CUSA record for most defeats in a row, set by DePaul in 1995-96 and ’96-97.

The Pirates have also lost 14 of 15 and haven’t beaten an NCAA Division I team since Nov. 18, a 72-64 triumph against UNC Greensboro. An 80-42 loss against Southern Mississippi on Feb. 14 was East Carolina’s worst loss in Minges Coliseum, which opened in 1965.

-- David Scott

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Davidson could join rankings soon

Davidson received votes in the AP and ESPN/USA Today coaches’ polls this week, but the Wildcats might do more than that next season.
For the first time since 1970, Davidson could be nationally ranked.
Consider this: All 11 of Davidson’s scholarship players return next season from a team that is expected to have at least 28 wins this season.
Davidson (24-4) wasn’t expected to be this good this soon. The Wildcats were picked to finish fourth in the South Division of the Southern Conference after graduating seven seniors from last season’s NCAA tournament team. The Wildcats roster had started the second-fewest games (30) of any Division I program.
But that youth has adapted quickly, and now Davidson could even sneak into the preseason poll next year. For that to happen, the Wildcats would probably have to win at least one game in the NCAA tournament this season, but Davidson should be among those getting votes in the preseason next year.
-- Kevin Cary

Timing error at Duke a life lesson for Tigers?

Clemson coach Oliver Purnell didn’t protest loudly over the clock problem when the Tigers lost 68-66 on Jan. 25 at Duke.

The ACC later acknowledged that a timing mistake occurred before Duke’s court-length play led to Dave McClure’s winning basket as time expired. Replays showed that the Blue Devils should have been given about 2.4 seconds rather than 4.4 seconds to complete a winning play after a Vernon Hamilton 3-pointer tied it for Clemson.

Purnell said ACC officials informed him that a mistake had occurred, but that he didn’t complain about the error.

“I wanted it to be a lesson to our players,” he said. “Sometimes you’re dealt a disadvantage or setback in life, but you’ve got to move on and take care of what was currently in front of you and take care of your business.”

The forward-thinking lesson didn’t help the Tigers win as they moved forward. Heading into Thursday’s rematch with Duke at Littlejohn Coliseum, Clemson has lost five of six – a streak that started with the controversial finish at Duke.

Purnell said he didn’t want to get into a “woe is me” mentality after that finish, and he continues to reject that frame of mind entering a game with a resurgent Duke team that has won two in a row and has won 20 in a row in the series with Clemson.

“They’re playing pretty well, playing inspired basketball,” Purnell said. “We simply have got to match that inspiration.”

Inspiration is something the Tigers probably won’t lack Thursday. Whether Purnell dwells on it or not, the timing error will be on virtually everybody’s mind at Littlejohn.

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, February 19, 2007

Frontrunner for ACC's top seed? Virginia

Picked to finish eighth in the ACC by the media that cover the league, Virginia has thrilled coach Dave Leitao by getting into position to finish first and gain the No. 1 seed for the ACC tournament.

“It’s always belonged to, traditionally, one of two teams, and we’re in a unique position to be able to take a shot at it,” Leitao said Monday.

North Carolina has owned or shared first place in the ACC 24 times and Duke 17 times in 53 previous seasons of ACC basketball. With two games remaining in the regular season, the Tar Heels remain Virginia’s strongest competition for the No. 1 seed, but Boston College and Virginia Tech have a shot as well.

Here’s a breakdown of the four-team chase for the top spot in the ACC standings:

Favorite: Virginia (18-7, 9-3 ACC). The Cavaliers have the easiest schedule remaining with games against three teams (Miami, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest) in the bottom half of the standings. Virginia’s toughest opponent will be Virginia Tech, and the Cavaliers play that game at home.

Contender: North Carolina (23-4, 9-3). This team has more talent and depth than anybody else in the ACC and is the conference’s only serious Final Four contender. But North Carolina still has to play on the road against a hot Maryland team, visit Georgia Tech and play Duke in the regular season finale.

Darkhorse: Virginia Tech (18-8, 8-4). Three of the Hokies’ final four games are at home. If senior guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon can engineer a win at Virginia, the Hokies could sweep their last four and move up in the standings despite being a game behind the leaders.

Pretender: Boston College (18-8, 9-4). A week ago, the Eagles stood poised to put a stranglehold on the ACC’s top spot. But they lost at home to Duke and North Carolina, and they still must visit Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in the next two weeks.

- Ken Tysiac

BracketBusted? Davidson might be ...

The BracketBusters games over the weekend helped boost the profiles of Appalachian State and Winthrop, but Davidson athletic director Jim Murphy said his school doesn’t regret its decision to not play.

“It comes at a difficult time in the season for us,” he said. “If we were sent across the country, that would be a rigorous schedule for us.”

Davidson is already scheduled to play three games this week - Monday night’s game with Wofford, a home game with Furman Thursday and a game at The Citadel Saturday. Appalachian State beat Wichita State Saturday, then flew to Atlanta early Sunday morning. The team then rode a bus to Boone later that day before heading to Western Carolina Monday night.

More than 100 teams participated in the BracketBusters this season, but aren’t guaranteed a marquee matchup. ESPN dictates which teams play each other, and that can create a game with little excitement. Southern Conference teams UNC Greensboro and Chattanooga hosted teams with 19 losses (UNC Wilmington and Jacksonville St.) and now must schedule a return visit to those schools next season.

Murphy said he didn’t expect Davidson to enter the BracketBusters next season either, because the school already has a difficult nonconference schedule lined up including games with Duke and North Carolina.

But the school might rue passing it up again. Davidson’s nonconference opponents this season did not meet expectations, and the Wildcats could use the BracketBusters game as an extra opportunity next year. Appalachian State’s win Saturday gives the Mountaineers a much better chance of getting an at-large berth this season than Davidson if either team fails to win the Southern Conference tournament. Appalachian State now is 5-2 against teams in the RPI top 100. Davidson is 1-4.

-- Kevin Cary

Sunday, February 18, 2007

ACC week in review: Blue Devils, Terrapins straighten up

You knew Mike Krzyzewski would find a way to shake Duke out of its slump.
He got the Blue Devils to ratchet up their defense another notch as Greg Paulus and DeMarcus Nelson shot the team to wins against Boston College and Georgia Tech.
Meanwhile, another national championship coach, Gary Williams, was getting Maryland’s NCAA tournament hopes back on firm footing.
1.North Carolina (23-4, 9-3)
2.Virginia (18-7, 9-3)
3.Boston College (18-8, 9-4)
4.Virginia Tech (18-8, 8-4)
5.Duke (20-7, 7-6)
6.Maryland (20-7, 6-6)
7.Georgia Tech (17-9, 5-7)
8.Clemson (19-7, 5-7)
9.Florida State (17-10, 5-8)
10.N.C. State (14-11, 4-8)
11.Wake Forest (13-13, 4-9)
12.Miami (11-15, 3-9)
Player of the week: Senior guard D.J. Strawberry scored 18 points at N.C. State and 22 at Clemson as Maryland won twice on the road to get back to .500 in the ACC and moved into position to secure an NCAA tournament bid.
Coach of the week: Krzyzewski won his 700th game as Duke’s coach on Sunday. He engineered wins at Boston College and against Georgia Tech to straighten out a team that entered the week on a four-game losing streak.
Play of the week: With precious seconds ticking away, Deron Washington and Zabian Dowdell double-teamed North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson on his furious dash toward a possible winning basket. Lawson lost the handle, Washington knocked the ball away, and the Hokies completed a sweep of North Carolina with an 81-80 overtime win at the Smith Center.
Dunk of the week: N.C. State’s Gavin Grant beat the defense to the rim for a two-handed slam in the second half that was the best of many highlights in an 81-56 defeat of Virginia Tech.
-- Ken Tysiac

Tar Heels respond with another road victory

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. - When North Carolina has needed a big victory this season, the fourth-ranked Tar Heels have gone on the road to get it.

"It's been a weird season," said coach Roy Williams.

Williams wasn't just talking about his team, which beat 21st-ranked Boston College 77-72 Saturday at the Conte Forum to move into a first-place tie in the ACC with Virginia. He was talking about the entire league. Williams pointed out that earlier this week, five teams won ACC games on opposing floors.

But North Carolina has gotten its road victories under perhaps the most difficult circumstances. After three of the Tar Heels' four losses, they played ranked teams on the road. And North Carolina has responded with victories at Clemson, Duke and, finally, Boston College.

Overall, the Tar Heels are 6-2 away from home.

"Maybe everybody makes such a big deal of winning on the road that it gets to be bigger than it really is," said Williams. "But we've got good players and when the other crowd is going crazy, they've got to focus and concentrate more. I love it, going on the road and playing well."

Boston College's Jared Dudley, the league's top scorer and rebounder, had 22 points against North Carolina, but just three rebounds against the Tar Heels' sizeable front line. North Carolina outrebounded the Eagles 33-25, with Tyler Hansbrough grabbing seven and Reyshawn Terry and point guard Ty Lawson each getting six.

Williams defended the play this season of Terry, a senior who hit an important 3-pointer with 3:47 left to give the Tar Heels a seven-point lead. Terry, who was scoreless at halftime, finished with 10 points.

"The ball hasn't been going in the basket for him this season," Williams said. "But he's played good defense all year long. He needs some positive things to happen to him."

The Tar Heels got another important basket after the Eagles cut the lead to 64-63 on a basket by point guard Tyrese Rice with 9 minutes, 26 seconds left. North Carolina inbounded the ball quickly and point guard Ty Lawson beat everybody down the court for a layup six seconds later.

"We practice that," said Williams. "We have contests in practice for that. We look at the play-by-play sheets and see how quickly we've scored after the other teams and try to improve on that."


Friday, February 16, 2007

Ginyard: Tar Heels need to rediscover their team-first attitude

Sophomore guard Marcus Ginyard sounded the alarm for North Carolina on Friday before the Tar Heels left Chapel Hill for Saturday’s game at Boston College.
“We kind of got away from that team-first thing,” Ginyard said, describing the Tar Heels’ problems. “I think we really got away from that. It’s definitely a big thing that has to be changed.”
North Carolina (22-4, 8-3 ACC) has lost two of its past four games heading into a meeting that will decide first place atop the crowded ACC standings. Boston College (18-7, 9-3) holds a slim lead, and Virginia and Virginia Tech are tied for second with North Carolina with 8-3 conference records.
Ginyard said his team-first comment means players have to take their responsibilities seriously so they won’t let down the rest of the team. Of primary concern after an 81-80 overtime loss to Virginia Tech on Tuesday were missed box-outs after Deron Washington and Coleman Collins combined for several key Hokie offensive rebounds.
The idea that Washington and other quick power forwards are exploiting a North Carolina weakness because the Tar Heels play with two traditional post players upsets Ginyard.
“It’s just another excuse for us to get out of our defensive intensity,” Ginyard said.
Coach Roy Williams tried to get his players to refocus on their team goals after Tuesday’s game. He explained that players get rings and banners for winning ACC championships, and that they need to play well now to get themselves good seeds for the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
He said the increased attention basketball players receive at an early age makes it more difficult to get players to put the team first.
“Kids that are really, really good players nowadays, when they’re eighth- or ninth-graders, they’re in Sports Illustrated,” Williams said. “So it’s such an individual outlet.”

North Carolina point guard Bobby Frasor has just five points in 40 minutes over five games since returning from an injured right foot. Williams said Frasor is a long way from healthy.
“He just doesn’t have the speed and quickness right now,” Williams said. “Doesn’t have the stamina.”

The 78-70 victory Duke posted Wednesday at Boston College appears to have injected confidence into a young team that entered the game with a four-game losing streak.
“We dominated them for a lot of the game and played really well,” said Duke freshman guard Jon Scheyer. “If we can do that against them, we can do it against a lot of teams.”
On Sunday, Duke gets another shot at Georgia Tech, which defeated the Blue Devils 74-63 on Jan.10 in Atlanta.
Against Boston College, Duke dominated the lane with center Josh McRoberts scoring 18 points and other players getting loose for transition baskets after turnovers.
Duke sophomore point guard Greg Paulus said the post will be a point of emphasis again when Georgia Tech visits.
“They did a good job of establishing the paint early in the game (in Atlanta), and when we went to help out, they’ve got shooters,” Paulus said. “They’ve got some really good players that can shoot the ball.”
Ken Tysiac

Durant No. 1? Lawson says it's possible

This cover story in this week’s Sports Illustrated (the edition separate from the swimsuit issue) proclaims Texas forward Kevin Durant one of the nation’s top player of the year candidates even though he’s just a freshman.

Ty Lawson, the North Carolina freshman point guard and former teammate of Durant’s at Oak Hill Academy, said he’s not surprised by his best friend’s success.
“I knew it was coming,” Lawson said. “I used to tell everybody last year that he was the best player in the country.”

Durant, who is averaging 24.9 points and 11.4 rebounds, communicates with Lawson almost every day. Earlier this week, they each put two new photographs of themselves up on their Facebook sites and joked about how ugly the old ones were.

Lawson said Durant developed outstanding guard skills in his early teens, when he was only about 6-foot-2. When Durant suddenly grew seven inches, he still had those guard skills and became nearly impossible to guard away from the basket at 6-foot-9.

Throughout high school, 7-foot center Greg Oden of Indianapolis, who’s now a freshman at Ohio State, was rated the top player in their class. Oden was considered a virtual lock to be the No. 1 pick if he enters the NBA draft after this season.

But Durant has been so impressive that he is being talked about as a possible alternative to Oden at No. 1.

“Everybody said Oden was the No. 1 player,” Lawson said, “and (Durant) has been working to get No. 1. He’s always been working toward it.”

Lawson also could be a high NBA draft pick some day, but said he plans to return to college for next season. He said he would have to be projected as a top-five pick in order to consider leaving North Carolina after this season.

“Once you go to the NBA, that’s all the stuff you’re going to be worried about,” Lawson said. “Traveling and all that stuff. Eight-two games. It’s crazy. I’m a little too young.”

-- Ken Tysiac

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tri-captains reach deep for Duke

Before the season started, coach Mike Krzyzewski said Duke was going to have to count on junior DeMarcus Nelson and sophomores Josh McRoberts and Greg Paulus for leadership.
Krzyzewski acknowledged that wouldn’t be easy. Nelson had suffered through two injury-plagued seasons. McRoberts and Paulus had deferred as freshmen to 2005-06 seniors Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick.
But Duke doesn’t have any seniors now, and Nelson, McRoberts and Paulus were the only players on the team with significant experience. They all have struggled at times this season.
Nelson and McRoberts were benched for the start of the North Carolina game last week because they weren’t performing up to Krzyzewski’s expectations. Paulus had zero points, one assist and six turnovers in an overtime loss to Virginia Tech and couldn’t stop freshman Greivis Vasquez from penetrating in Sunday’s defeat at Maryland.
In an urgent situation Wednesday, though, Duke’s tri-captains delivered their best combined effort. Duke was playing on the road, unranked for the first time in 381 games, thanks to a four-game losing streak.
McRoberts, Nelson and Paulus combined for 48 points, leading the Blue Devils to a 78-70 win against No. 21 Boston College, the ACC standings leader that trailed Duke by as many as 24 points in the game. McRoberts scored 18 and had 11 rebounds. Nelson scored 15, and his defense helped hold ACC player of the year candidate Jared Dudley to 11 points.
Paulus handed out seven assists to go with his 15 points. Combined, the three shot 21-for-33 from the field.
Winning one game doesn’t make Duke a Final Four contender and doesn’t even guarantee that the Blue Devils will get back into the top 25 next week. Nor does the play of the tri-captains Wednesday prove they will provide great leadership the rest of the way.
But on a night when Duke needed them most, McRoberts, Nelson and Paulus delivered. They can be proud of that after all that’s happened the past few weeks.
-- Ken Tysiac

Davidson out of NCAA's? Blame Sendek

If Davidson doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament this season, Herb Sendek might be partially to blame.

That might seem like a stretch – the much-maligned former N.C. State coach is now 2,000 miles away at Arizona State – but consider this:

Since Davidson won at Arizona State 75-70 Dec. 22, the Sun Devils have lost 13 straight games entering Thursday night’s game with UCLA. So, even though Davidson beat a major conference opponent on the road – typically a big boost for a mid-major team’s NCAA resume – Arizona State (5-18 this season) has turned it into just another win.

Arizona State’s RPI, according to, is now 246. That’s lower than all but three Southern Conference teams.

Davidson’s other nonconference opponents also haven’t helped. Duke, Missouri, Michigan, and Charlotte have all underachieved this season. That’s pushed Davidson’s strength of schedule down to No.187 this season, and its RPI down to 61.

-- Kevin Cary

Wake's Drum gets shining moment

Michael Drum was one of those kids who grew up on Tobacco Road with the dream of playing ACC basketball. After taking a circuitous route to Wake Forest, his shining moment finally came Wednesday.

Drum, a 6-foot-6 senior forward from Rural Hall, a small community near Winston-Salem, tipped in a missed shot Wednesday with three seconds left, giving the Deacons a 67-65 victory against Clemson.

When Drum left North Forsyth High in 2002, he wasn’t a sure-fire Division I prospect. So he went to then-Division II Presbyterian in Clinton, S.C., where he became one of the South Atlantic Conference’s top players.

His game progressed to such an extent that he was welcomed as a junior to the Deacons by coach Skip Prosser. But only to an extent: Drum is a nonscholarship player who gets a tuition break because his mother, Matella, works at Wake Forest’s hospital.

His steadying, experienced presence is crucial to the young Deacons and he makes do with limited skills, averaging 8.1 points and 2.6 rebounds.

He’s also got a self-deprecating sense of humor. He says wears No..34 because it’s the same as the inches of his vertical leap (unlikely).

And as he knifed to the basket Wednesday, angling for Kyle Visser’s missed shot and a game winner against the Tigers, he did so without being bumped by a Clemson defender.

“I need that to get up to the rim,” he told reporters.

- David Scott

Is this ths same old Clemson?

When Clemson was running up a 17-0 record to start this basketball season, plenty of people who’ve seen the Tigers pile up quick starts against unimpressive competition rolled their eyes and said, “Wait until February.”

Well, we’re halfway through February and the Tigers are going nowhere – but perhaps the NIT – fast.

By losing 67-65 at Wake Forest Wednesday night, the Tigers had plenty to keep them awake on the trip home.

The Tigers missed several chances to win the game at the end, including point-blank misses from James Mays and Trevor Booker. But the Tigers failed to score a basket in the final 6:02 and it killed them.

Empty trips to Wake Forest are nothing new to the Tigers, who haven’t won there since 1990.
Then there’s the increasingly urgent question as to whether Clemson can play its way back into the NCAA tournament committee’s good graces.

On the surface, the Tigers’ case looks fairly solid – they’re 19-6 overall and 5-6 in the league. However, they’ve lost six of their past eight games and a bad finish will doom a team as fast as 59 percent foul shooting, something else working against the Tigers.

“On the road in the ACC, I don’t consider this a bad loss,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said after losing to the Deacons.

“We’re 19-6 and in position to accomplish all the things we’ve talked about. We have three of our next four at home. We started the season with three of our first four on the road. I’d much rather be where we are now.”

The Tigers need to win two of their three remaining home games – against Maryland Saturday, Duke and Miami. That’s not an unreasonable expectation but it’s doubly important because their remaining road games are at Boston College and Virginia Tech.

“We just need to win some games,” Purnell said.

No doubt about it.

– Ron Green Jr.

N.C. State-Maryland notebook: Missed gimmes haunt Pack

RALEIGH – It was difficult to tell Wednesday night where N.C. State’s problems on offense ended and its defensive failures began during an 85-70 loss to Maryland at the RBC Center.
N.C. State center Ben McCauley said missed layups allowed the Terrapins to get their fast break started for easy baskets before the defense could even get set.
“We should have converted on the offensive end,” coach Sidney Lowe said. “Our guys missed layups and free throws that really cost us. Our defensive end was worse, though.”
Maryland blocked seven shots in the second half, and N.C. State shot just 61.5 percent from the foul line after halftime.
STRAWBERRY BOUNCES BACK: Maryland senior D.J. Strawberry recovered to score a team-high 18 points after he was called for a technical foul in the first half for jawing at N.C. State guard Courtney Fells.
Strawberry apologized afterward, and Maryland coach Gary Williams said he wasn’t the only one talking a lot. Fells was jawing right back at Strawberry when the technical was called, and N.C. State’s Gavin Grant had to keep Fells from continuing the discussion.
“That happened a lot tonight, both sides,” Williams said.
TERPS TOURNEY BOUND? If the season were to end today, you might have to pencil in Maryland in your NCAA tournament bracket.
Clemson, which lost Wednesday at Wake Forest, and Florida State are falling out of NCAA contention. Maryland and Georgia Tech might be playing their way in.
The Terrapins (19-7, 5-6 ACC) followed up an emotional win against Duke on Sunday with an important road victory.
“This was a big win for us,” Williams said. “We’d had some big wins earlier in the year and not come back and played well the next game.”
SYMPATHY FOR THE PACK: Williams had a long, friendly conversation with N.C. State point guard Engin Atsur after the game and complimented first-year coach Lowe.
“State has a lot of pride,” Williams said. “They play hard, and their coaches have done a great job. It’s tough coming in late like they did and having a thin team, and their coaches have prepared them well.”

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

UNC-Virginia Tech notebook

CHAPEL HILL - The difficult thing about Tuesday night’s loss for North Carolina’s players is that they couldn’t blame it on overlooking Virginia Tech, which won 81-80 in overtime at the Smith Center.
Exactly one month earlier, Virginia Tech had defeated the Tar Heels 94-88 in Blacksburg, Va. So the fourth-ranked Tar Heels were motivated, rather than casual toward the opponent.
And they still lost.
"It was a home game, it was against a team that beat us at their place, and it just felt like before the game that this would be our chance to come back out here and prove that we could be a better team," said North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough.
Judging by talent alone, the Tar Heels should be better than Virginia Tech. North Carolina has six McDonald’s All-Americans on its roster.
The Hokies have none.
But as North Carolina is finding out, experience can trump talent in college basketball.
Virginia Tech guards Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon are seniors who have played in dozens of close games in their careers and have led the Hokies to a 3-0 record in overtime games this season.
The Tar Heels start freshmen Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington at guard. Tuesday was the first opportunity either of them had to decide a close game in the closing seconds of regulation or overtime in college basketball. And they couldn’t get the Tar Heels a win.
"When we ran the play at the end (of regulation), we tried to come off a screen, but we weren’t in the right positions, so if we had a little more experience, everyone would have been set and ready to go to run the play," Lawson said.
Coach Roy Williams would prefer that North Carolina not attempt so many perimeter shots. The Tar Heels were 3-for-17 from 3-point range, including 0-for-10 combined in the second half and overtime.
It appears the Tar Heels are having difficulty deciding when to be persistent at trying to get the ball inside to Hansbrough and Brandan Wright and when to take open jump shots.
Dowdell, who scored 33 points, might have summed it up best.
"You wouldn’t know they were freshmen if you didn’t look at the roster," Dowdell said. "I think their inexperience kind of kicks in at times, but man, they are a really good group of young guys."
SPECIAL MOMENT FOR COLLINS: Williams paused for a moment as he talked about congratulating Virginia Tech center Coleman Collins after the game.
One year earlier, Collins’ father, Jackson Collins Sr., died of cancer.
"I told him congratulations and I was awful sorry, that team went through a lot last year," Williams said, his eyes red with emotion.
Collins said he was happy his brother, Jackson Jr., was able to attend the game.
"It was a big day, especially, it was the first time we’ve ever made the trip down here," Collins said. "There’s a lot of history here, and we wanted to come out of here with a good win."
TIP-INS: Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said Lawson and former Wake Forest guard Chris Paul are the two toughest players the Hokies have had to guard in the open court. ... Dowdell was 17-for-19 from the foul line Tuesday and 28-for-34 in the two wins against the Tar Heels. His 33 points were a season high for a North Carolina opponent. ... North Carolina has lost six consecutive overtime games. Its last overtime win was on March 1, 2000 against Georgia Tech.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

ACC tournament key to NCAA's

If current trends continue in the middle of the standings, the ACC tournament’s first appearance in Florida could have a huge impact on which teams receive at-large selections for the NCAA tournament.
Gary Walters, Princeton’s athletics director who chairs the Division I men’s basketball committee, said Tuesday that he is observing a "lack of differentiation" among teams competing for at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.
Although Walters didn’t mention the ACC by name, it clearly fits his description. As of early Tuesday evening, eight ACC teams were in the RPI ratings’ top 35, according to
Virginia Tech (No. 33), Virginia (34) and Maryland (35) were bunched together. Before Tuesday’s games, seven ACC teams were within one win of a .500 conference record, and nine had at least 16 wins.
Walters is hoping for some teams throughout the nation to separate themselves by the end of the regular season.
"If there isn’t much of that, then we’ll also have the conference tournaments to help us decide what to do," he said during a teleconference with reporters.
Walters predicted that conference tournaments will have increased significance this season. If so, fans in Tampa are in for a treat.
A few years ago, North Carolina coach Roy Williams referred to the ACC tournament as a big cocktail party. His description is accurate in many seasons in which teams’ NCAA hopes don’t appear to hinge on their ACC tournament performance.
But this season, Duke, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Maryland could have their fates decided that weekend. For Carolinas fans hesitant to travel a long distance, the trip might be worthwhile.
UNBALANCED SCHEDULING: Walters said unbalanced scheduling in many conferences is causing headaches for committee members as they try to compare teams within those conferences.
The ACC, for example, played each conference opponent home and away before expanding to included Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
Now, ACC teams play some conference opponents twice and others once during the regular season. That means one team’s road to an 8-8 ACC record might be far more different than that of another team.
This is one area where crunching the numbers should favor Duke’s strength of schedule in the ACC. Duke meets ACC leaders Boston College and North Carolina twice and also plays twice against Clemson, Maryland, Georgia Tech.
Duke plays ACC bottom dwellers Miami, Wake Forest and N.C. State once each. Clemson also plays those three schools once, but meets North Carolina once.
Virginia, which meets Miami, Wake Forest and N.C. State twice each and plays once against Boston College and North Carolina, might have the easiest conference schedule.
-- Ken Tysiac

Davidson's Curry player of year?

Stephen Curry’s hot streak – and another player’s hot temper – might help the Davidson freshman win the Southern Conference Player of the Year award.
Curry, named the conference’s player of the week Tuesday, has averaged 25 points in his past six games – all Davidson wins. Curry, a virtual lock for freshman of the year, wasn’t considered a player of the year candidate until a few weeks ago. Leading candidate Kyle Hines of UNC Greensboro hurt his chances this week.
Hines leads the conference in scoring (21 ppg) and rebounding (9 rpg), but was ejected from Monday’s game against Elon after receiving two technical fouls for disputing a call in the second half, then received a third technical while walking off the court. That ejection also will force him to miss Wednesday’s game against Western Carolina.
Curry trails Hines in scoring by less than a point per game and ranks in the top 20 in the nation in scoring and 10th in 3-pointers made.
UNC Greensboro coach Mike Dement said this month that Curry might be the player of the year, but Davidson coach Bob McKillop hasn’t lobbied for the award. It might be hard for voters to pass on Curry, especially because the Wildcats (22-4, 13-1 Southern) could finish their conference schedule 17-1. UNC Greensboro (13-12, 10-5) probably won’t finish among the top three in the conference, and voters might not want to award player of the year to someone who has been suspended.
-- Kevin Cary

Bonner: Don't count Duke out just yet ...

Duke’s four-game losing streak and fall from The Associated Press’ top 25 can be attributed to two problems, veteran TV analyst Dan Bonner said Tuesday.

Bonner said the Blue Devils are defending well enough to win, with a .403 opponents’ field goal percentage that’s third-lowest in the ACC. But because Duke has trouble scoring, opposing coaches know they could have a chance to win at the end if they don’t allow Duke’s defense to frustrate them.

The two problems Bonner cites both are short-circuiting Duke’s offense. The Blue Devils don’t have a reliable low-post scorer or a player capable of penetrating and creating his own shot.
“Those are exactly the two things they do not have,” Bonner said. “If they just had one of them, they’d be OK.”

Bonner said Virginia and Virginia Tech, which are contending for first place in the ACC, are examples of teams that have just one of those qualities – guards who can penetrate – and have been successful.

Duke (18-7, 5-6 ACC) does have one of the better perimeter shooting teams in the ACC, with a 3-point percentage of .373 that’s third-best in the conference. But without a post scorer or penetrating guard to collapse the defense, Duke doesn’t get many open 3-point attempts.
Among ACC teams, only Virginia Tech has attempted fewer 3-pointers than the Blue Devils.
But Bonner said Duke is just a few plays away from having a much better record, as evidenced by an overtime loss at Virginia and a one-point defeat against Florida State.

“I don’t think it’s a disaster for Duke,” Bonner said. “I don’t think we’ve heard the last of them.”

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, February 12, 2007

Samford addition likely wouldn't affect Davidson

The Southern Conference might be adding a 12th member by the 2008-09 season, but that isn’t expected to shift Davidson into a new division.

Conference officials have been in negotiations with Samford of the Ohio Valley Conference about joining the league, and could vote on that as early as the conference tournament in two weeks.

If Samford, which is located in Birmingham, Ala., does join the league, it is expected to be placed in the North Division. Davidson would have seemed a logical school to switch -- the Wildcats are the northernmost school in the South Division, and played in the North Division before switching with Chattanooga in 2003. A switch would have also moved Davidson back in the same division with rival Appalachian State.

But Davidson athletic director Jim Murphy said Samford wants to be in the same division as Chattanooga -- Chattanooga is a two-hour drive from Samford -- and said the Wildcats are happy to be in the South, where they are guaranteed two games with College of Charleston.

-- Kevin Cary

The ACC week in review

Duke is in a free fall, having lost four in a row heading into a road game at ACC leader Boston College on Wednesday. N.C. State’s short-lived resurgence is over after an embarrassingly inept performance at Miami. And Florida State couldn’t sustain its momentum, losing to Clemson and Boston College after a huge win at Duke.

1. North Carolina (22-3, 8-2 ACC)
2. Boston College (18-6, 9-2)
3. Virginia Tech (17-7, 7-3)
4. Virginia (16-7, 8-3)
5. Clemson (19-5, 5-5)
6. Florida State (17-8, 5-6)
7. Maryland (18-7, 4-6)
8. Duke (18-7, 5-6)
9. Georgia Tech (16-8, 4-6)
10. N.C. State (13-10, 3-7)
11. Miami (10-15, 3-8)
12. Wake Forest (11-13, 2-9)

Player of the week: Boston College forward Jared Dudley could win this honor just about every week. He averaged 24.5 points and 9.5 rebounds as the Eagles held onto first place with road victories over Miami and Florida State.

Coach of the week: Winning at Duke for the second year in a row puts Roy Williams and North Carolina in control of the nation’s most celebrated rivalry.

Play of the week: Center Tyrelle Blair, who probably wouldn’t have even been on the floor if not for Sean Williams’ dismissal, sank a 15-footer with 3.3 seconds left to defeat Florida State 68-67 on Sunday and keep Boston College atop the ACC.

Dunk of the week: D.J. Strawberry’s breakaway, left-to-right, one-handed jam in transition ignited Maryland and the crowd in a win over Duke.

On deck: Nobody has dominated North Carolina this season the way Virginia Tech did in Blacksburg. Tuesday, the Tar Heels get another shot at the Hokies and senior guard tandem Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon.

- Ken Tysiac

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Visser's return to Chapel Hill not as memorable this time

There haven’t been many games at the Smith Center to rival the one Wake Forest center Kyle Visser experienced as a freshman on Dec. 20, 2003.

Visser was a virtual unknown in the area at the time, recruited from distant Grand Rapids, Mich., and overshadowed by fellow freshman Chris Paul. But in 20 minutes off the bench that day, he scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds as Wake Forest won an incredible, 119-114, triple-overtime decision over host North Carolina.

"It was probably a game I’ll never forget, ever, in my life," Visser said.

Because of quirks in the expanded ACC’s scheduling, Saturday was the first time Wake Forest played at North Carolina since that remarkable 2003 game, when the teams combined for the second-highest point total (233) ever in an ACC game.

Wake Forest’s return in Visser’s senior season was something he would just as soon forget. The Deacons suffered their largest margin of defeat in coach Skip Prosser’s tenure, losing 104-67.
It was merely the latest disappointment for a program that fell apart after Paul departed for the NBA following his sophomore season. The Deacons (11-13, 2-9 ACC) appear destined to miss the postseason for the first time since 1990.

They weren’t a good defensive team even when Paul, Justin Gray and Taron Downey were scoring at such a ridiculously fast pace that only the best opponents could match them.
Now Wake Forest can’t score, either. North Carolina held the Deacons to 36.9 percent from the field.

"It’s tough," Visser said. "We lost some good players and we’ve got a bunch of young guys."
Visser didn’t have his best game Saturday. North Carolina double-teamed him and concentrated on taking lob passes away from him, and his teammates didn’t help him because they were clanging 3-point attempts.

After scoring 11 points, six below his season average, he sat slumped in his chair in a silent Wake Forest locker room. Three years earlier, in the same locker room, teammate Eric Williams had been giddily explaining to reporters how he took control of the game after North Carolina center Sean May fouled out.

"I remember triple overtime and getting my first ACC win and having a good Christmas," Visser said.

With the way this season is going, it seemed like a long time ago.

- Ken Tysiac

Whittenburg has all the right answers

Hey U.S. Department of State, looking for a diplomat? Fordham coach and N.C. State alumnus Dereck Whittenburg might just be your man.
Whittenburg was asked Saturday (after his Rams lost to Charlotte 72-68 at Halton Arena) if he ever heard from the Wolfpack last spring about its then-vacant coaching position.
Whittenburg just smiled.
"I'm happy for Sidney," he said of Sidney Lowe, his former Wolfpack teammate and now N.C. State's coach. "It was the right opportunity for him and I'm very happy where I am now."
The Wolfpack coaching search lasted several weeks. Whittenburg said during that time that he hoped to hear from athletics director Lee Fowler, but never did. He said he's not bitter.
"Not at all," he said. "I'm just wishing my teammate well and a lot of success. I'm very proud of him.
"And I knew they would beat (North) Carolina!" -- David Scott

Friday, February 9, 2007

NCAA tournament Sweet 16: Observer projections

Early NCAA projections:

East Rutherford regional
1. North Carolina (21-3): Duke victory keeps Tar Heels a No. 1.
2. Pittsburgh (21-3): Best of Big East, which is having a down year.
3. Butler (23-2): At always-tough Wright State today for Horizon supremacy.
4. Vanderbilt (16-7): Let Gators off the hook (blew double-digit lead).

San Antonio regional
1. Florida (22-2): Big test Saturday at Kentucky.
2. Memphis (20-3): Tigers haven’t lost since Dec. 20.
3. Washington State (20-4): First 20-win season since ’93-94.
4. Nevada (22-2): G Marcelus Kemp strong No..2 to star Nick Fazekas.

St. Louis regional
1. Wisconsin (23-2): Easy schedule until Feb. 25 game at Ohio State.
2. Texas A&M (20-3): Biggest court logo on earth (map of Texas).
3. Oregon (20-4): Rebounded from UCLA, USC losses to beat Arizona State.
4. Kentucky (18-5): Wildcats recovered from two-loss blip (Vandy, Georgia).

San Jose regional
1. UCLA (21-2): Gov. Schwarzenegger watched Bruins beat USC.
2. Ohio State (21-3): High school teammates Oden, Conley getting it done in college.
3. Kansas (20-4): Done in last week by Texas A&M’s Acie Law.
4. Marquette (21-4): Tough one Saturday at Georgetown.

Wolfpack's exhaustion cost them at Georgia Tech

N.C. State’s resurgence flamed out Tuesday night in Atlanta because of exhaustion, coach Sidney Lowe said Friday.

The Wolfpack had won at 16th-ranked Virginia Tech and over third-ranked North Carolina and held a double-digit lead at Georgia Tech before faltering late in the game.

“We came out of the gates pretty good, with great energy,” Lowe said, “and I think it finally hit us in that second half at a point when we were tired, and a lot of the mistakes we made were mental mistakes.”

Going on the road for the third time in four games Saturday at Miami isn’t a cure for N.C. State’s fatigue, but playing early in the week gave the Wolfpack a much needed three straight days without a game.

Senior point guard Engin Atsur, who missed 12 games earlier in the season with a hamstring injury, is among those who needed the rest. The Wolfpack can’t afford to have him on the bench much during games because that forces Gavin Grant or Courtney Fells to move to the point from the wing.

That’s a double blow to N.C. State, which loses its best point guard and the production Grant or Fells would on the wing in those situations.

“He (Atsur) is really trying to get back into that shape again,” Lowe said, “and at the same time playing minutes against guys that are bumping him, and we have to be concerned about the injury itself.”

Freshman forward Dennis Horner also will be playing hurt Saturday. He suffered a severely bruised nose Tuesday, and N.C. State trainer Charlie Rozanski wants him to wear a protective mask when he plays.

Horner tried wearing the mask Thursday during practice. He didn’t like wearing it, according to Lowe.
I’m not going to promise you that if he gets in a game he isn’t going to throw it off,” Lowe said.

N.C. State is fortunate to play a team with similar depth problems. Miami dressed seven scholarship players for Boston College earlier in the week. The Wolfpack also has seven healthy scholarship players, counting Atsur and Horner.

-- Ken Tysiac

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Clemson can make NCAA field, but has work to do

Before the season began, Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said the Tigers’ advancing to the NCAA tournament was the next logical step for the program.
Clemson is closer to that goal today, but there is still a ways to go.
When the Tigers beat Florida State 71-58 Wednesday, it raised their record to 19-5, 5-5 in the ACC. That overall mark looks tremendous until it’s remembered that Clemson started 17-0.
But it also moved the Tigers’ RPI to a more-than respectable 21 - better than teams like Oklahoma State and Boston College, both of whom are assumed to have solid shots at making the tournament.
Before beating the Seminoles, Clemson had lost five of six. The Tigers have been to two straight National Invitation Tournaments under Purnell - who is in his fourth season at Clemson - and haven’t won an NCAA tournament game since 1997.
Purnell called the Florida State victory "a table-setter, a streak-ender, a confidence-builder and a resume-stuffer."
He’d better hope so. The schedule doesn’t set up too badly for the Tigers, who are at last-place Wake Forest next Wednesday then play home games against the suddenly struggling twosome of Maryland and Duke. -- David Scott

UNC-Duke notebook: Coach K, as in kindhearted?

DURHAM -- Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s words were contrary to his demanding reputation Wednesday night.
Krzyzewski is known for the militaristic discipline he learned under fiery coach Bob Knight as a player at West Point. Because of that, you would expect him to lose his temper after North Carolina’s 79-73 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
The Blue Devils (18-6, 5-5) have lost three games in a row for the first time since 1996.
Duke is tied with Clemson and Florida State for fifth place in the ACC, behind Boston College, Virginia, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
But Krzyzewski was gentle with his players because they are inexperienced. Duke has no seniors and just one junior, DeMarcus Nelson, in the rotation. At one point during the second half Wednesday, the Blue Devils had four freshmen on the floor along with sophomore point guard Greg Paulus.
"It’s different if you have a team that is not playing hard," Krzyzewski said. "That’s never been the case for these kids."
Krzyzewski said Paulus and freshmen Jon Scheyer and Gerald Henderson showed amazing heart against North Carolina. He said some missed free throws in the second half were critical.
And Duke’s three losses have come by two points in overtime, by one point and by six. After losing ACC scoring leader J.J. Redick and school career rebounding and blocked-shots leader Shelden Williams to the NBA, Duke’s struggles aren’t entirely unexpected.
"It’s not where we want to be," said sophomore center Josh McRoberts, "but it’s not shocking, because obviously we know what we lost."
-- TERRY SHINES: North Carolina coach Roy Williams was hard on Reyshawn Terry because he and backup Danny Green combined for one rebound during Saturday’s loss at N.C. State.
But Wednesday night, Terry was strong on the boards, with a team-high 10 rebounds. On one remarkable play in the first half, he chased a missed shot out of bounds and saved it to Brandan Wright for a layup. Terry also scored 10 points.
"I loved Reyshawn Terry, his effort, his defensive effort, his work on the backboards," Williams said.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

20-game conference schedule shackles Davidson

Southern Conference teams will be seeing more of each other next season.

Davidson athletic director Jim Murphy said Tuesday night that the conference has approved a 20-game conference schedule for next season, up from 18 games this season. Murphy said the move will be done on a one-year basis, and will be revisited after the 2007-08 season.

Davidson opposed the increase. The move will mean Davidson will have only nine nonconference games next season. The Wildcats are already scheduled to play Duke and North Carolina at Charlotte Bobcats Arena, along with games at Charlotte and Western Michigan. That leaves Davidson with five other spots, and Murphy said the school will schedule at least two, and possibly three, Division III opponents.

A 20-game conference schedule is unusual, but not unheard of. The SEC, ACC and Big 10 all play 16-game conference schedules, but the Ohio Valley and Atlantic Sun currently have 20-game schedules.

The move will guarantee two games against every other conference opponent in the 11-team Southern Conference. That will create a balanced schedule, instead of the current format where teams rotate from one to two games against teams outside their division. Davidson and Appalachian State lead their respective divisions, but only played once this season because of the rotation.

-- Kevin Cary

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

N.C. State-Georgia Tech notebook: Jackets embarrassed by start

ATLANTA As poorly as things went for N.C. State in the second half of its 74-65 ACC loss to Georgia Tech on Tuesday, things were nearly as bad in the first half for the Yellow Jackets.
“We saw coach (Paul Hewitt) was getting ready to walk away from the coliseum before the first half was over,” said Georgia Tech forward Jeremis Smith, who scored 10 points. “It was kind of embarrassing to experience that kind of half.”
N.C. State began the game with a 17-2 run before Georgia Tech started its comeback.
-- Although N.C. State has been the ACC’s worst rebounding team, the Wolfpack has improved in that area recently. N.C. State outrebounded Virginia Tech and North Carolina by a combined 73-54 in recent upset victories. The Wolfpack held its own against Georgia Tech – the ACC’s third-best rebounding team – with the Yellow Jackets holding a 26-25 edge.
The Yellow Jackets’ rally brought the team closer together.
“We’re definitely becoming a team now,” Smith said. “There were a couple of times during the game where we turned to one another and said, ‘Man, I love you.’ Honestly, I looked at Javaris (Crittenton) and A’Mo (Anthony Morrow) one time and said, ‘Man, I just love you all.’ We were still down, but we were fighting back. We knew that we had each other’s back and we were going to fight to the end."
-- N.C. State’s second-half problems showed up in its shooting percentage (33.3) and turnovers (11). On its way to a 43-35 first-half lead, the Wolfpack shot 58.6 percent and had just seven turnovers.
“Obviously the game changed in the second half,” said coach Sidney Lowe.
-- David Scott

Duke-UNC notebook: Sticker shock for Hansbrough

Imagine Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina’s beefy, high-scoring center, driving around the Research Triangle with a Duke sticker on his bumper.
Believe it or not, it happened. He was at the movies one day when somebody put a small sticker of the Duke logo on his black Dodge truck.
He didn’t realize what had happened until he got back home.
"It made me mad," he said. "I peeled it off. Immediately."
Divided loyalties will rule Wednesday at the Paulus residence near Syracuse, N.Y.
-- During the afternoon, Mike Paulus will hold a news conference at Christian Brothers Academy to announce he will play quarterback at North Carolina. At 9 p.m., sophomore guard Greg Paulus will be on the court in Durham for tip-off as Duke plays host to the Tar Heels in basketball.
"Maybe an afternoon North Carolina celebration," Greg Paulus said, describing what will happen at his parents’ house, "and a night time Duke celebration. Who knows?"
Mike Paulus text messaged Greg on Tuesday for advice on what to say during his news conference. Greg said he plans to attend Mike’s football games and hopes Mike will come to Duke basketball games.
"I’m probably the most excited to have him down here," Greg said. "Not even from a rivalry standpoint, but from a brother standpoint."
-- Freshman guards Wayne Ellington of North Carolina and Gerald Henderson of Duke are friendly rivals who aren’t quite as closely related as Greg and Mike Paulus.
Ellington and Henderson were best friends and teammates for The Episcopal Academy near Philadelphia. Henderson said they’ve been trading a little trash talk this week.
"He told me to watch my eye for his jumper," Henderson said.
In other words, Ellington plans to make shots right in Henderson’s face.
"It’s going to be intense," Ellington said.
-- Ken Tysiac

Monday, February 5, 2007

Crazies get taste of taunting

It’s interesting to see how opposing teams who have been losing for years at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium - all the while being heckled mercilessly by Blue Devils fans - are reacting to winning there now. Florida State and Virginia Tech players have celebrated in front of the Cameron Crazies, then been booed by the students, or criticized by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, for doing so. The Seminoles and Hokies should probably rise above that kind of thing, but..are the Crazies just getting a dose of their own medicine? -- David Scott

Davidson's Curry a pro prospect?

Could Davidson freshman Stephen Curry be a future NBA prospect? UNC Greensboro coach Mike Dement thinks so.

“We were talking about it at halftime (Saturday) – if he can put on some more weight, he’s got a shot,” Dement said.

Curry is already on the NBA radar, albeit faintly. NBA analyst Chad Ford lists Curry as the No.110 current NBA prospect, but has said Curry could be a future NBA first-round pick.
Curry scored 29 points in Davidson’s 75-65 win against UNC Greensboro Saturday, and is second in the nation among freshman in scoring (19.9 ppg). Texas star Kevin Durant is first, but Curry has a long way to go to become that kind of prospect. He’s too lean to take pro pounding (Curry weighs less than 170 pounds), and he’s not a good enough ballhandler to play point guard in the NBA. Curry has already had two games with at least 10 turnovers this season.

But he can still grow into the role – literally. Curry stands 6-foot-2 now, but has grown six inches in the past three years. His father Dell, a standout with the Charlotte Hornets, also grew two inches in college, so Curry might inch up to 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4.

-- Kevin Cary

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Tar Heels still best in ACC

Here’s a look at the week in the ACC.
Virginia and N.C. State are up. Virginia Tech and Clemson are down. And Duke and North Carolina are both coming off losses as they prepare for Wednesday’s edition of the nation’s most beloved college basketball rivalry in Durham:
1.North Carolina (20-3, 6-2 ACC)
2.Virginia (15-6, 7-2)
3.Florida State (17-6, 5-4)
4.Duke (18-5, 5-4)
5.Boston College (16-6, 7-2)
6.Virginia Tech (16-7, 6-3)
7.Clemson (18-5, 4-5)
8.N.C. State (13-8, 3-5)
9.Maryland (17-6, 3-5)
10.Georgia Tech (14-8, 3-6)
11.Wake Forest (10-12, 2-8)
12.Miami (9-14, 2-7)
Player of the week: N.C. State center Ben McCauley scored 20 points at Virginia Tech and shot 6-for-6 from the field for 17 points in an upset of North Carolina as the Wolfpack stunned two ranked teams.
Coach of the week: Gastonia native Leonard Hamilton directed Florida State to its first win in 16 tries at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Florida State has won five of its past six, owns wins against Florida and Duke and appears on track for its first NCAA tournament bid since 1998.
Play of the week: Guard Sean Singletary’s one-handed, off-balance 5-footer over Josh McRoberts and DeMarcus Nelson gave Virginia a 68-66 overtime victory against Duke.
Dunk of the week: Freshman L.D. Williams got Wake Forest some rare attention and mention on ESPN’s plays of the day with a pair of sensational jams against Georgia Tech.
On deck: After back-to-back heartbreaking losses, coach Mike Krzyzewski will lead Duke against rival North Carolina on Wednesday in Durham. North Carolina’s top-rated freshman class will get its first taste of the intimidating atmosphere at Cameron Indoor Stadium, which hasn’t been electric enough to stop Virginia Tech or Florida State from winning there this season.
-- Ken Tysiac

Friday, February 2, 2007

Williams: N.C. State 34 points better than UNC

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said he isn’t trying to sound like Lou Holtz.

“(N.C.) State’s proved to me that they’re 34 points better than us,” Williams said.

His justification for that was based on the Wolfpack’s 70-59 victory Wednesday at Virginia Tech. North Carolina also visited Virginia Tech and trailed by 23 before losing 94-88.

N.C. State defeated Virginia Tech by 11. Virginia Tech led North Carolina by 23. So N.C. State is 34 points better than North Carolina, according to Williams.

Whether Williams admits it or not, that sure sounds like a bit of logic from Holtz, the former Notre Dame and South Carolina football coach who was famous for exaggerating his concern about opponents.

Another common opponent and common site favors North Carolina. Virginia lost 79-69 at North Carolina but won 71-58 at N.C. State. But those results don’t serve Williams’ motivational purposes.

“There’s nobody in the country that has more respect for N.C. State than I do right now, because I know what Virginia Tech did to us,” Williams said.

Pack sticks to plan: N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said he won’t prevent his players from running on open fast break opportunities even though the Tar Heels possess superior depth and the Wolfpack needs to control the clock.

Formidable North Carolina post players Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright won’t prevent the Wolfpack from going inside to Ben McCauley and Brandon Costner.

“We still have to stick to our game plan,” Lowe said. “We’re an inside-outside team, and that’s how we’ve got to start.”

Tip-ins: North Carolina guard Danny Green talked some trash Friday afternoon about last season’s 95-71 win at the RBC Center. “Last year it was their coach’s birthday,” Green said. “We gave him a little present.” Herb Sendek, who turned 43 that day, soon left N.C. State to coach Arizona State. ... North Carolina will be patient working backup point guard Bobby Frasor back into the rotation. Frasor played nine minutes Wednesday against Miami after returning from a foot injury. “I’m going to be very cautious with him, because he has an injury that says you should,” Williams said.

– Ken Tysiac

Can't sleep? Catch exciting basketball!

Some of the most exciting games of the season have been played on the West Coast - but you have to be an insomniac to have seen them because of those late starting times. Stanford was involved in two of them. First, the Cardinal came from 12 points behind in the second half to beat UCLA. Then Stanford lost in double overtime to Gonzaga, although Cardinal guard Anthony Goods kept hitting unconscious 3-pointers to keep his team in the game. Thursday, UCLA beat Oregon (maybe the country’s best kept secret with one of the country’s best unknown players in guard Aaron Brooks) 69-57. -- David Scott

Questions to ponder on Super Bowl weekend

With six games scattered across two wintry weekend days, the ACC schedule offers plenty to consider before the Super Bowl engulfs the world. Among the questions to be answered:
Just how good is Virginia Tech?

A trip to Boston College on Saturday should help clarify the Hokies’ place in the ACC universe. The sense is the Hokies’ are NCAA tournament good but then they went belly-up at home against N.C. State. It makes you wonder.

Does the Wolfpack have any chance of beating North Carolina?

Not much. But that doesn’t make the Pack any different from most other teams.

Can Duke find a way to contain Florida State’s Al Thornton?

It better.

Thornton (left) ripped the Dukies for 31.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in two games last year, including an upset of the then-No. 1 Blue Devils. He’s a tough match-up for Duke and you can believe he’ll be force-fed opportunities to take at the Blue Devils Sunday in Cameron.

What’s the good news for Georgia Tech?

The Jackets don’t have to hit to the road this weekend, instead hosting Clemson.

It’s possible Georgia Tech could go winless on the road this year. They’ve lost 17 straight away from home and their remaining games away from the Thrillerdome include an Atlanta match-up with Connecticut followed by ACC games at Florida State, Duke and Virginia.

And to think, three years ago Georgia Tech played for the national championship.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Clemson may get extra time from NCAA committee

The timing error from Clemson’s 68-66 loss on Jan. 25 at Duke will be taken into consideration by the Division I men’s basketball committee during the NCAA tournament selection process.

“It becomes one of many factors that would be discussed at that point in time that Clemson is brought up for discussion,” Craig Littlepage, the committee chair, said Wednesday.

Replays of the game showed that officials failed to promptly start the clock when Clemson’s Vernon Hamilton stole a Josh McRoberts pass. ESPN’s video analysis estimated that 2.4 seconds should have been put on the clock after Hamilton’s tying 3-pointers.

Instead, Duke had 4.4 seconds - just enough time for Jon Scheyer to set up Dave McClure for a winning lay-in at the buzzer. ACC officiating coordinator John Clougherty later acknowledged that a timing error had occurred.

Littlepage, the Virginia athletics director, said there’s no way to tell whether Duke could have set up a play to win in 2.4 seconds, or whether Clemson would have won if the game went to overtime.

“We just don’t know what would have happened,” he said.

But when Clemson is discussed by the selection committee, the circumstances of what could have been a win over a top-10 team on the road will be brought to everyone’s attention. -- Ken Tysiac

Greenberg praises thin Pack

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg wasn’t being unkind Wednesday night when he talked about N.C. State.
He was just telling the truth.

"They’re a good team that’s got good players," he said. "Not a lot of them. They’ve got six or seven good players."

The statistics from N.C. State’s 70-59 victory against 16th-ranked Virginia Tech at Cassell Coliseum illustrate the thinness of the Wolfpack’s roster. All five starters played at least 33 minutes.
Guard Bryan Nieman, with 14 minutes off the bench, was the only reserve to play more than five minutes. But point guard Engin Atsur’s return after missing 12 of 13 games with a hamstring injury better equips N.C. State to win despite its limited numbers.
Atsur can control the tempo to keep opponents from running the Wolfpack into the ground.

"My job is to calm them down," he said. "I’ve got the ball in my hands to control the game. We don’t have much experience, and I try to lead them."

N.C. State can be effective in a half-court game because its players are skilled on offense. Center Ben McCauley, who scored 20 against Virginia Tech, also hits cutters for easy baskets with passes from the block and high post. Forward Brandon Costner has good shooting range and made the biggest shot of Wednesday’s game with a 3-pointer to kill a Hokies rally.

"They’re a hard matchup because they’re very skilled up front," Greenberg said.

And they had just enough depth to get a road win against a ranked team.

Hokies’ swoon: Guard Jamon Gordon was so ill with the flu that Greenberg was surprised he played Wednesday night.

But Greenberg didn’t use that as an excuse. Virginia Tech (16-6, 6-2 ACC) had won six of its first seven conference games with tremendous effort and attention to detail.

The Hokies got none of that Wednesday. N.C. State’s 42-29 rebounding advantage demonstrated its superior effort.

"We’re not playing with McDonald’s All-Americans," Greenberg said. "We did not play with a sense of urgency offensively. We did not play with a sense of urgency defensively."

Big shot: Costner shot 2-for-8 from the field, but grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and made his only 3-pointer in the closing minutes after Virginia Tech cut an eight-point deficit to two.

"When he came down and hit that 3, you could hear the crowd calm down a little bit," N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said.
-- Ken Tysiac