Thursday, March 10, 2011

5 things to watch in ACC tournament today

GREENSBORO - Because the four top seeds get byes, the opening day of the ACC tournament often gets a lukewarm reception from the media and fans.

Beginning at noon today, there will be four games at the Greensboro Coliseum that don’t showcase the best the ACC has to offer.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons to tune in today as Wake Forest’s Jeff Bzdelik coaches in his first ACC tournament and Sidney Lowe may coach N.C. State for the last time.

Here are five things to watch today:

1. Sidney Lowe’s last hurrah? Lowe said Wednesday that the team he coached to three wins before losing in the 2007 ACC finals had a team leader in senior guard Engin Atsur controlling the game and making all the right plays.

Lowe conceded that he doesn’t have a player like Atsur this season. Freshmen Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown have the ball in their hands most of the time. Center Tracy Smith has some senior leadership ability and savvy, but Lowe is concerned about how Smith’s tender knee will hold up if the Wolfpack has a lengthy stay in the tournament.

Nonetheless, Lowe does know how to capture the magic of this tournament. He’s done it as a player, winning the 1983 tournament on the way to the NCAA title, and as a coach.

He talked to his players at length Wednesday about the past and how to repeat it. It’s worth tuning in to see if his players, who are talented but largely inexperienced, finally listen to him as the No. 10 seed Wolfpack meets No. 7 seed Maryland at 7 p.m.

2. Wake Forest’s last gasp. Sometimes watching a bad team can be compelling in a macabre sort of way.

In the 16 years I’ve covered the ACC, I have never seen a worse basketball team than the Demon Deacons in coach Jeff Bzdelik’s first season.

Wake Forest has a lineup that’s devoid of leadership from its upperclassmen and is completely lacking in low post size and strength. There are some young players – C.J. Harris, Travis McKie – with potential, but they’re forced to do far too much.

There are times when a No. 12 seed has the ability to rise up and knock off some good teams. A year ago, a Miami team that relied on talented guards Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant downed No. 5 seed Wake Forest and No. 4 seed Virginia Tech before giving No. 1 seed Duke serious trouble in the semifinals.

That’s not likely to happen this season. The 12th-seeded Deacons have lost 10 in a row, most recently over the weekend to today’s opponent, No. 5 seed Boston College (2 p.m.).

But the bigger concern for Wake Forest should be that next season’s team doesn’t appear likely to be much better.

3. Hokie high? Virginia Tech and coach Seth Greenberg always are entertaining at this time of the year.

The Hokies seem to always find a way to get as close to the NCAA tournament as possible without getting in. This season seems to be no exception, as Virginia Tech (19-10) followed up on a breakthrough win over Duke with losses to Boston College and Clemson.

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg admits that he doesn’t sleep much at this time of year and has spent some time watching teams from other conferences late at night. He has concluded that there are a lot of teams like his – more than usual – that are desperate for wins to cement their bids to the NCAA tournament.

Shortly after 9 p.m. today, the sixth-seeded Hokies take the court against No. 11 seed Georgia Tech in a game that can only hurt Virginia Tech’s chances. A win won’t impress the committee that selects the NCAA tournament field, and a loss would be devastating.

The Hokies need to win today and again Friday against No. 3 seed Florida State to help their chances. And one of their best players, senior forward Jeff Allen, is playing on a sore ankle. If you sense disaster unfolding for Virginia Tech, history shows that you’re probably right.

4. Farewell to Paul Hewitt? Since a 2004 loss to Connecticut in the NCAA championship game, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt’s teams have rarely performed up to the level of their talent.

Hewitt has been a successful recruiter who has been hurt by early departures for the NBA and an inability to structure an offense that suits his players’ skills. But Hewitt also has made lots of contributions to college basketball in general in leadership positions with the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Over the years Hewitt often has spoken out on the importance of putting players’ education first and not allowing pursuit of television revenue to create a schedule that impedes athletes in the classroom.

But his coaching results haven’t been as lofty as his principles, so this could be his last game with Georgia Tech tonight.

5. Resurgent Virginia. The tournament tips off today with No. 8 seed Virginia playing its best basketball of the season and meeting No. 9 seed Miami.

The Cavaliers have won four of their last five by playing virtually error-free basketball under second-year coach Tony Bennett. Virginia has committed just 8.6 turnovers per game over those five games.

Three-point shooting standout Joe Harris has emerged as the most unlikely freshman to make a big impact on an ACC team this season. His athletic ability is limited, but Bennett has helped him get the most out of his skill set.

There are a lot of people around the ACC who expect Virginia to make a big jump next season after Bennett gets a bit more talent on his roster. If you watch Bennett coach today, you’ll probably understand why.

Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

The ACC Tourney is doomed

Anonymous said...

I think you mean the Duke Invitational. Duke: 30-3 in this thing since 1999. No wonder every other team in the ACC whines and hates on this tourney.