Thursday, January 31, 2008

Strategy against Wake Forest guard? How about 'Squish an Ish'

When Wake Forest point guard Ish Smith hit two recent shots at the buzzer to beat Virginia Tech and Miami, you might have wondered what Hokies coach Seth Greenberg and the Hurricanes' Frank Haith were thinking.
You might want to ask them: "Why - since Smith is a 37 percent free-throw shooter - didn't you make him beat you from the foul line instead of allowing him to shoot?"

Haith addressed that in his post-game interview Tuesday at Joel Coliseum.

"You could foul, particularly with his numbers," Haith said. "But he stepped up and made (two of four) from the free-throw line. You've just got to stand in there and try to guard him. He's so good that if you give help he can find open people. You've just got to stand in there and try to guard him. He's so good that if you give help he can find open people. And they were making their shots."

That might have been the case, but there's precedent for purposefully fouling players who are poor free throw shooters at key moments. Remember Hack A Shaq? How about Squish An Ish?

As much as Smith drives to the basket, he's only been to the line 35 times this season in 19 games. That's fewer than two free throws a game.
"I"m not as bad a free throw shooter as the percentages say," said Smith, who said he changed his free-throw shooting motion earlier this season. "I'm getting more confident at the line."

- David Scott

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Costner doesn't have to score to contribute

Over four days during last year’s ACC tournament, N.C. State forward Brandon Costner was the best player in the conference.

He led the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game last season, but is averaging just 5.8 points over five ACC games this season. He didn’t score and attempted just one field goal in Saturday’s win at Florida State.

With freshman center J.J. Hickson the new focus of the offense in the post and guard Courtney Fells now the top option from 3-point range, coach Sidney Lowe was asked Wednesday how Costner can get back on track.

“It’s going to be tough,” Lowe said. “But it’s not so much the number of points that he scores. It’s what else he’s doing to help the team. Is it double-digit rebounds? If he only gets four shots, can he make two? Can he make three? He doesn’t have to get 15 points.”

N.C. State (13-6, 2-3 ACC) needs Costner to be more productive if it’s going to make a serious run at an NCAA tournament bid. In the past, Costner has demonstrated the inside-out ability to match talented Duke freshman Kyle Singler, who will be one of the key players in Thursday night’s game at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But Lowe is making it sound as though Costner needs to make his mark on defense and the boards before he gets a lot of shots.“There’s so much more that he can do to help the team,” Lowe said, “and I think he understands that, and he’s capable of doing that.” – Ken Tysiac

Ginyard wants top NCAA seed in East

The NCAA tournament still is more than a month away, but North Carolina forward Marcus Ginyard can’t help looking ahead to who will get the No. 1 seed for the East Regional.

At dinner Tuesday night, Ginyard was discussing the topic with injured teammate Bobby Frasor. North Carolina (ranked No. 4 in the current Associated Press poll) and Duke (No. 3) are leading contenders for that coveted No. 1 seed along with Memphis and Tennessee.

The East Regional will be held in Charlotte at Bobcats Arena. Ginyard wants North Carolina to play there and in Raleigh at the RBC Center for first- and second-round games.

“I think it’s going to come down to Duke and North Carolina, and I’d hate more than anything for them to have it if we don’t,” Ginyard said Wednesday.

Ginyard said he ought to mention that to the team. Playing close to home in front of friendly crowds would be a huge advantage if the Tar Heels are going to meet their goal of advancing to the Final Four.

So it’s not too early to start talking about it. – Ken Tysiac

Friday, January 25, 2008

Improved foul shooting, inside play take Davidson to another level

Davidson takes an eight-game winning streak into the College of Charleston Saturday, and the Wildcats have raised their level of play since the New Year. Davidson has won those games by an average of 20 points, but that margin isn't what excites coach Bob McKillop.

"Did you see our inside-out play," he said after Thursday's 87-70 win against The Citadel. "And our free throw shooting is coming around too."

Davidson's four inside players - Andrew Lovedale, Boris Meno, Thomas Sander, and Stephen Rossiter - have changed their games during the streak, and it has paid dividends.

Meno and Sander have shied away from 3-point shots, after starting the season struggling. They had combined to shoot 5-of-31 before the New Year, but have only taken three (all by Sander) since.

Rossiter and Lovedale have become better screeners to set up shots - Rossiter freed Stephen Curry for two 3-pointers in the first half Thursday - and are getting more aggressive with the ball.

But the best news for Davidson might be its improved free throw shooting. Last season, Davidson shot 75 percent as a team, but this year - even though its lineup remained intact - the Wildcats were in the low 60s most of the year. But Davidson has made 33 of its last 39 free throws as a team (85 percent) over its last three games.

That could be a pivotal development in the Southern Conference tournament and beyond, when Davidson will have to finish strong in close games.

- Kevin Cary

Thursday, January 24, 2008

ACC scheduling becoming an issue

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took up Virginia Tech’s cause Thursday night when he criticized the ACC’s scheduling.

After Duke won 81-64 in Blacksburg, Va., Krzyzewski said it’s not fair that Virginia Tech has to turn around and fly to Boston College for a Saturday afternoon game when the Eagles didn’t play a midweek game.

“That should never happen in our league,” Krzyzewski said. “That’s not a good thing.”

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg said he isn’t making the quick turnaround an issue for the Hokies. He said the team will take a 90-minute chartered flight, eat a catered meal and enjoy an ice cream bar Friday before playing at Boston College the next day.

He made it sound like a luxurious trip, even though his players’ legs will be weary. “We’re not going to use it as an excuse,” he said.

By taking the high road, Greenberg might prevent negative thinking from entering his players’ heads. The reality is that many coaches despise the quick turnarounds that become necessary because the ACC is contractually obligated to show so many games on television.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt has suggested that it might be a good idea to have certain days during the week when games can’t be scheduled. A more regular, less chaotic schedule might help players perform better in the classroom.

But athletics departments have become addicted to the money TV provides. That’s why athletics directors remain willing to let TV executives call the shots on scheduling. – Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Chattanooga suspends player for one game after flagrant foul against Davidson

Chattanooga coach John Shulman announced Tuesday morning that forward Matt Gwynne has been suspended by the school for Saturday's game against Appalachian State, after Gwynne hit Davidson's Thomas Sander with an elbow during Saturday's game.

"We just had a young man make an unfortunate decision on Saturday," Shulman said.

Video footage of the incident (see lower in the blog) had been sent to the Southern Conference office Monday. Gwynne, who played one high school season at Gaston Day School, was not ejected Saturday but was called for a flagrant foul.

- Kevin Cary

Monday, January 21, 2008

Videos charge up Davidson fans

Davidson forward Thomas Sander said he was fine after Saturday's 85-58 win against Chattanooga, but the senior has to feel a little sore after getting an elbow from Chattanooga's Matt Gwynne in the second half. Gwynne was called for a flagrant foul on the play but was not ejected. That has riled up some Davidson fans, especially after this video of the incident surfaced Sunday night:

Another video is more appealing for Davidson fans. Here's how Davidson guard Stephen Curry outscored the Chattanooga team in the first half Saturday:

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Grant leads Wolfpack by example

N.C. State forward Gavin Grant is building a reputation as one of the best clutch players in the ACC.
Grant made free throws in the closing seconds against Villanova and Davidson this season to give the Wolfpack two of its best nonconference wins. His steal of Anthony King’s inbounds pass for a winning layup during Saturday night’s 79-77 decision against No. 21 Miami provided one of the most stunning finishes in any game in the nation this season.
Seconds earlier, N.C. State’s J.J. Hickson had tipped in a tying basket in overtime. King, a senior from Durham, apparently didn’t see Grant and threw the ensuing inbounds pass directly to him.
During its struggles this season, N.C. State often has appeared rudderless because of its inexperience at point guard. Some have looked for Grant, a senior, to provide more leadership.
If you look at the important closing sequences, though, you see Grant making all the big plays that matter. That’s what a senior is supposed to do. -- KEN TYSIAC

Heels prove Williams knows best

Now we know why Roy Williams complained about North Carolina’s defense for the whole month of December.
Williams wasn’t trying to be a Scrooge as the Tar Heels won their first 18 games and held onto the nation’s No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press’ poll for 11 weeks. Since ACC play began, it’s become more obvious than ever that poor defense could prevent North Carolina from its goal of reaching the Final Four.
The Tar Heels held a four-point lead against Maryland with 2 minutes, 20 seconds remaining Saturday and could have closed out the game with their defense. Instead, the Terrapins – the same team that lost at home to Ohio and American – scored on their final four possessions to edge North Carolina 82-80 at the Smith Center.
During the closing minutes, the Tar Heels failed to stop penetration by Greivis Vasquez and allowed an offensive rebound and a lob to Bambale Osby for a basket in the post. After the dust cleared, Maryland had shot 46.9 percent from the field.
Three times during the past four games, North Carolina’s opponents have shot 45 percent or better. Because of that shaky defense, three of the Tar Heels’ four ACC games were decided by two points or fewer.
This is a North Carolina team that received all 64 first-place votes in the ACC’s preseason media poll. The Tar Heels are supposed to be a lot better than their opponents in the conference.
Because of their defense, they’re not. That’s why Williams will continue to nag them during January, February and March, if necessary, about the same things that were frustrating him in December. -- KEN TYSIAC

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Davidson down to one freshman, with two likely to redshirt

Davidson's three freshmen players weren't projected to make a big impact this season, and now two of them aren't expected to play the rest of the year.

Walk-on forward Ben Allison hasn't played all season, and he's been expected to redshirt. But now, guard Aaron Bond - a top recruit for coach Bob McKillop - is also likely to redshirt because of a nagging shoulder injury that has bothered him all season. Bond did not dress out for Wednesday's 73-51 win against Furman, and McKillop said he expects him to have surgery on the shoulder.

Bond didn't play much this season - 14 minutes in six games - but he might have seen more time if healthy. Other than Will Archambault, Bond is the only reserve guard who can create his own shot off the dribble.

Davidson also played without reserve guard Can Civi because of a sore shoulder Wednesday night - McKillop said he hurt it in practice this week - but Civi is not expected to be sidelined for a significant time.

McKillop was encouraged by his son Brendan, now the only freshman playing with the team. Brendan McKillop gave Davidson quality play in nine minutes against Furman, and could help give starters Jason Richards and Stephen Curry more rest down the stretch.

- Kevin Cary

Monday, January 14, 2008

Six 'starters'? Only best have enough talent

One statement Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski both made over the last few days illustrates why North Carolina and Duke are the ACC’s only top-10 teams.

“I feel like I have six starters,” Williams said Saturday.

“We have six guys who really are deserving of starting,” Krzyzewski said Monday.

Duke’s sixth guy is wing Jon Scheyer, who is second on the team in minutes per game, averages 10.7 points and is shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. North Carolina’s No. 6 is Danny Green, whose 12.7 points per game rank fourth on the team and 24 3-pointers rank second.

Both were McDonald’s All-Americans as high school seniors. As you look around the ACC, there are a lot of coaches who would love to have somebody as talented as Scheyer or Green in their starting lineup.

N.C. State and Georgia Tech don’t appear to have effective options at point guard. Wake Forest doesn’t have a reliable wing shooter. Florida State played four guys at least 47 minutes in a double-overtime game Saturday at Clemson, and Virginia Tech doesn’t have a reliable big man.
Six starters? That’s a luxury only the teams at the top of the conference possess.

– Ken Tysiac

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hansbrough vs. Hickson matchup was irrelevant

The much anticipated Tyler Hansbrough-J.J. Hickson matchup at center didn’t exactly materialize as planned Saturday afternoon.

Hansbrough’s teammates were so much better than Hickson’s as North Carolina steamrolled N.C. State that the matchup in the post was irrelevant. Even if Hickson had dominated Hansbrough – which he didn’t – the Tar Heels would have won by 20.

The question a lot of people were asking before this game was which player would be selected ahead of the other if both enter the draft after this season. The best guess here is that Hickson has more athletic ability and probably a higher ceiling than Hansbrough, but doesn’t have the track record as a freshman that Hansbrough does.

Hansbrough is a proven commodity after three college seasons, and his toughness and tenacity are known entities that will make any NBA team better.

Particularly if you’re a mediocre team selecting in the middle or late stages of the lottery, you draft Hansbrough over Hickson.

– Ken Tysiac

It could be a long season if Lowe can't work some magic

When I saw that Saint Louis was held to 20 points in a game earlier this week, I wondered how that could happen.

After watching N.C. State in the first half against North Carolina, I’m not wondering anymore.

The Wolfpack trailed 43-13 at halftime despite having two McDonald’s All-Americans (Brandon Costner and J.J. Hickson) in the starting lineup.

When Hickson made a 10-foot baseline jumper with 11:32 remaining in the first half, N.C. State trailed just 16-11. The Wolfpack didn’t score again until 1:19 remained in the half.

By then, North Carolina had reeled off 25 consecutive points. N.C. State missed 18 consecutive field goal attempts. This N.C. State team has big problems. North Carolina will blow out some ACC teams at the Smith Center, but a 30-point halftime deficit is ridiculous. Three of N.C. State’s starters – Costner, Gavin Grant and freshman point guard Javi Gonzalez – didn’t score in the first half.

Gonzalez does not look like an ACC-caliber point guard. Costner clearly has regressed since last season, when he was marvelous in leading N.C. State to the ACC tournament final. And nobody can make a shot – the Wolfpack missed all six of its first-half 3-point attempts.

It’s going to be a long season unless coach Sidney Lowe can work some magic with this offense the way he did in last season’s ACC tournament.

– Ken Tysiac

Improved Tar Heels defense staggering Wolfpack

Midway through the first half of North Carolina’s ACC home opener, one obvious improvement over last season stands out.

The Tar Heels are so much better defensively that it’s almost ridiculous. Danny Green, Alex Stepheson and Deon Thompson all are doing an excellent job blocking shots, making up for the loss of Brandan Wright in that category.

And N.C. State had two shot-clock violations in the first 13 minutes.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams nagged the team repeatedly about its defense during nonconference play, and it’s certainly paid off.

Incidentally, you won’t see North Carolina backup shooting guard William Graves today. He’s sick and not dressed for the game. That means more playing time for Green, which isn’t a bad thing for the Tar Heels.

– Ken Tysiac

Tar Heels dominating boards against Wolfpack

With 12:30 remaining in the first half, the whistle finally blew to signal a foul against N.C. State after North Carolina had grabbed four consecutive offensive rebounds.

The most embarrassing thing about that for the Wolfpack was that Tyler Hansbrough, UNC’s strongest rebounder, was on the bench at that time.

But a discouraging sign for North Carolina is that Ty Lawson spent a bunch of time on the bench getting his right ankle examined for an apparent injury.

Having backup Quentin Thomas at point guard for the Tar Heels levels the playing field in this game.

– Ken Tysiac

UNC's Hansbrough takes blow to the head

Not long ago, North Carolina coach Roy Williams was complaining about the hard fouls with which opponents continue to hammer Tyler Hansbrough.

It took less than six minutes for N.C. State to deliver such a blow.

Gavin Grant got a piece of the ball, but followed through with a shot to Hansbrough’s head.

With Hansbrough’s reputation for physically overpowering opponents, he’s going to take a lot more of those in ACC play.

– Ken Tysiac

Hobbling Fells, Horner suited up for Wolfpack

The good news for N.C. State?

Guard Courtney Fells and forward Dennis Horner are dressed for Saturday’s game against North Carolina despite battling sprained ankles.

The bad news?

Fells didn’t look 100 percent healthy during warm-ups. He needs to be able to push off that ankle to effectively guard North Carolina’s Wayne Ellington.

On the home bench, Roy Williams isn’t wearing a cap to cover the five stitches on his scalp he received after hitting his head Friday afternoon in his office.

That’s a good thing.

The cap would have made him stand out even more than Sidney Lowe does in his red blazer.

- Ken Tysiac

Friday, January 11, 2008

Early commitments a troubling trend?

Michael Jordan didn’t even make the varsity as a sophomore at Laney High in Wilmington.

That’s the problem with the current trend toward early commitments in college basketball. North Carolina has commitments from sophomore guards Kendall Marshall of Arlington, Va., and Reggie Bullock of Kinston.

Ohio State has commitments from three sophomores, including Trae Golden and Jared Sullinger, who are rated among the top 10 in their class by along with Marshall. national recruiting analyst Dave Telep said there are positive aspects to the early commitment trend.

“You can lock down your guys and focus on coaching your team,” Telep said.

But Telep worries what will happen down the road when sophomores accept scholarships. Suddenly, a late bloomer like Jordan will come along. A coach will fall in love with him when he’s a junior or senior, but won’t have a scholarship left because he already gave it to somebody else in the class a year or two earlier.

“I think we’re going to see the decommitment rate skyrocket in the next few years,” Telep said.
That’s not good for anybody.

– Ken Tysiac

Tar Heels loaded with far-flung talent

When you can recruit the top players in the nation regardless of where they are from, there’s no reason to limit your roster to guys who play in your home state.

North Carolina’s three best players are from Missouri, Pennsylvania and Maryland, all McDonald’s All-Americans, and it’s impossible to imagine what kind of team the Tar Heels would be without Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson.

It’s also nice to see an in-state player perform well enough to receive a scholarship offer from the top-ranked Tar Heels. Reggie Bullock, a sophomore wing from Kinston, N.C., committed to the Tar Heels on Wednesday.

“He’s got to be the No. 1 2010 prospect in North Carolina, and I think North Carolina certainly would like to keep some home-bred talent in their program,” said All-Star Sports recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons.

But North Carolina has only two scholarship players on its current roster – Greensboro’s Will Graves and Winston-Salem’s Mike Copeland – from North Carolina. Before Wednesday, none of the seven prospects who had committed to or signed with the Tar Heels were from North Carolina.

Bullock will bring some needed in-state flavor to the Tar Heels in the future.

– Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Injuries mounting for N.C. State

Junior guard Courtney Fells collapsed to the floor in obvious pain against N.C. Central on Wednesday night, shortening an already injury-riddled N.C. State roster.

Fells suffered a sprained right ankle and was on crutches after the game. If he can’t play Saturday at North Carolina, the Wolfpack could be without two players who began the season as starters plus a key reserve against the No. 1 team in the nation.

A torn knee ligament ended starting point guard Farnold Degand’s season on Dec. 23 against Cincinnati. Reserve forward Dennis Horner has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain and could miss several more games.

Facing fast-breaking North Carolina without two starting guards would be a tall task. The Tar Heels will pressure N.C. State’s guards and force the Wolfpack to get back quickly in transition.

“That’s a concern with the injuries we have right now,” said coach Sidney Lowe.

North Carolina has lost backup guard Bobby Frasor to a season-ending injury. But the Tar Heels aren’t nearly as battered as N.C. State entering Saturday’s meeting, and they almost certainly are the better team even when both teams are at full strength. – Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Duke running short of big bodies

A broken bone in 7-foot-1 Brian Zoubek’s foot leaves Duke without a true center on its roster.

Zoubek is out indefinitely, leaving the Blue Devils to rely on Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas and Taylor King in the post. The only thing coach Mike Krzyzewski can do to address Duke’s lack of muscle underneath in the short term is rely more on the fast break and 3-point shooting.

For the long term, Duke’s recruiting is reflecting that need for big bodies on the boards. Olek Czyz is a 6-foot-7, 235-pound banger who is a native of Poland and will join the Blue Devils next season as a freshman.

The real prize for Duke could be Greg Echenique, a 6-8, 240-pound junior center at St. Benedict Prep in New Jersey. All-Star Sports recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons spotted Mike Krzyzewski and his assistants watching Echenique at a tournament during the holidays.

Echenique is somewhat overshadowed on his own team by Louisville-bound senior big man Samardo Samuels, but could become a focal point of Duke’s recruiting nonetheless.

North Carolina already has commitments from 6-10 juniors John Henson of Round Rock, Texas, and David and Travis Wear of Santa Ana, Calif. Duke needs some big bodies, too, if it’s going to remain competitive with its rival.

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, January 7, 2008

Charlotte still producing big-time talent

Virginia Tech freshman Dorenzo Hudson’s 14 points at Richmond last week established him as another Charlotte native to watch closely as his ACC career unfolds.

The former Marshville Forest Hills player lists Charlotte as his place of birth, and his emergence further establishes Charlotte as one of the most prominent producers of high-quality guards in the ACC. Look at the results from Sunday alone:

- K.C. Rivers, who played his first two years of high school basketball at Independence High, scored a team-high 24 points as Clemson fell 90-88 in overtime to North Carolina.

- Charlotte Latin product Anthony Morrow led Georgia Tech with 16 points in its defeat of Presbyterian.

- Freshman point guard Demontez Stitt of Butler High scored 11 points, including go-ahead free throws with 13 seconds remaining, for Clemson against North Carolina.

The Charlotte area hasn’t produced as many high-impact post players in recent years. Wake Forest’s Jamie Skeen might be the best big guy from the area in the ACC. But if you include players from throughout the state, you could put together a team capable of winning the ACC.

Clemson’s James Mays (Garner), Miami’s Anthony King (Durham) and Jimmy Graham (Goldsboro) and Boston College’s Shamari Spears (Salisbury) would give an N.C.-based team plenty of muscle. Concord’s Ish Smith and Yadkinville’s L.D. Williams would add quickness and athletic ability to the backcourt.

North Carolina high school talent has gotten a bad reputation recently because the state hasn’t produced a McDonald’s All-American since Chris Paul in 2003. But that doesn’t mean the state – or the Charlotte area – isn’t producing good players. – Ken Tysiac

Clemson misses free shot at Heels

Clemson demonstrated on Sunday night that it’s possible to neutralize North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough if you surround him with large, physical bodies and lean on him.

North Carolina demonstrated that it can win even when Hansbrough has a quiet night. That was the most important revelation in a memorable ACC opener for both teams as the Tar Heels won 90-88 in overtime.

Hansbrough was held to 12 points on 3-for-7 from the field, but guard Wayne Ellington scored 36, including the game-winning 3-pointer with four tenths of a second remaining in overtime.
“He just kind of does it all night long,” Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said of Ellington on Monday. “He can really run the floor and finish a layup or a little bank shot.”

Last season, North Carolina lacked a dependable, consistent perimeter scorer to punish the few opponents who could stop the Tar Heels in the post. Ellington’s emergence gives the team an added dimension that could get the team to the Final Four.

As for Clemson, North Carolina coach Roy Williams expressed it best Monday.

“The only way we were able to win the game last night was really Clemson’s inability to make free throws,” Williams said.

It’s the same problem that plagued Clemson last season, when the Tigers won their first 17 games but lost enough close ones to miss the NCAA tournament. And whether it’s in basketball or football, Clemson teams have subjected their fans to an agonizing time over the last eight weeks.

With a trip to the ACC football championship game on the line, wide receiver Aaron Kelly dropped what should have been a winning touchdown pass as Clemson lost to Boston College.
In the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Clemson lost in overtime to Auburn. And then the Tigers shot 14-for-27 from the foul line, blowing a late lead and losing to the nation’s No. 1 team in basketball.

Those are some harrowing results for fans who yearn for an ACC football title, hate losing to SEC teams and relish opportunities to trump the vaunted Tar Heels in basketball.

– Ken Tysiac

Friday, January 4, 2008

Davidson shows signs of improvement

Davidson won't have much of a break after its 92-67 win against Georgia Southern - Davidson hosts Western Carolina on Saturday - but the Wildcats might not want it. Davidson had a lot of encouraging signs in its win against Georgia Southern.
Forward Max Paulhus Gosselin appears recovered from a sore back, and he might be ready to help Davidson's outside shooting. Gosselin has only made 2-of-21 3-pointers this season, but his shot had a lot more lift Thursday night - instead of the flat trajectory it has had all season.

While Gosselin might shoot more, Davidson's inside players might not. Thomas Sander and Boris Meno had made 5-of-33 attempts before the game, but only took one Thursday, passing up 3-pointers to later get the ball inside. Davidson also played much better on offense. The Wildcats had 16 turnovers, but 10 of those came in the second half after the game had been decided. Point guard Jason Richards led the way, with one turnover and 11 assists.
Those trends could create a winning stretch for Davidson. The Wildcats will be favored to win at least their next eight games, and might not be an underdog until the ESPN Bracketbuster game in February.

Kevin Cary

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Guarding Lawson a tough test for Stitt

At first glance, it seems unusual for Clemson coach Oliver Purnell to go into ACC play and Sunday’s conference opener against top-ranked North Carolina counting so heavily on freshman guards.

Butler High graduate Demontez Stitt has started all 13 games for the Tigers at point guard. Terrence Oglesby is Clemson’s second-leading scorer at 12.5 points per game and is averaging 17 minutes off the bench.

Their free throw percentages are a big reason they are playing. Last season, Clemson shot 57.8 percent from the foul line, an all-time low for an ACC team. The Tigers might have been just one win short of the NCAA tournament, and lost eight games by five or fewer points, including four by two points or fewer.

So if Clemson could have improved its free throw shooting by a few percentage points, the Tigers might have been an NCAA tournament team rather than an NIT finalist.

This season, Stitt (88.4 percent) and Oglesby (84.4 percent) have helped Clemson improve to 65.8 percent from the foul line.

“We’re a better free throw shooting team,” Purnell said.

Top-ranked North Carolina (14-0) presents the most serious challenge yet to 19th-ranked Clemson (12-1) and its freshman guards. Purnell said Tar Heel point guard Ty Lawson gets the ball up the court so quickly after opponents score that it will be difficult for Clemson to press North Carolina.

While watching film, Clemson assistant Ron Bradley has timed Lawson getting the ball from one end to the other in 2 ½ seconds. Stitt’s job as a freshman will be to slow Lawson down.

“He’s gone against ACC caliber players and teams in our nonconference schedule,” Purnell said. “That’s really helped him as well as our entire team. Am I confident he will hold up (in ACC play)? Absolutely.” – Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Heels will face more pressure from Clemson

On Wednesday morning, North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson watched part of the replay of Clemson’s 87-61 New Year’s Day thrashing of Alabama on ESPN-U.

One thing that stood out was the defensive intensity Lawson will face when the Tar Heels visit Clemson on Sunday for both teams’ ACC opener.

“They pressure all the time, trap,” Lawson said. “They’re a tough team. (Senior forward) James Mays is playing great right now.”

It will be the first marquee game on the conference schedule as No. 19 Clemson (12-1) tries to show it’s a legitimate NCAA tournament contender. The Tigers have strong enough post play with Mays and Trevor Booker to be one of the few teams in the region that can challenge North Carolina center Tyler Hansbrough.

Ordinarily, pressuring the Tar Heels wouldn’t be a good idea because North Carolina has been deeper and more talented than most of its opponents during most of coach Roy Williams’ tenure.

But if Clemson coach Oliver Purnell wants to pressure, he is facing top-ranked North Carolina (14-0) at a good time. Williams has a solid group of six players with Lawson, Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green and Deon Thompson.

After that, the team’s depth is questionable. Backup guard Bobby Frasor is out for the season with a torn knee ligament. Quentin Thomas, who is next in line behind Lawson at point guard, missed the last two games with a sprained ankle.

Williams expects Thomas to play Sunday, but isn’t sure when sophomore forward Alex Stepheson will return from his home in Los Angeles. Stepheson is there because his father, Art Stepheson, is ill.

“It’s a fact that we’re not going to have Bobby (for the rest of the season),” Williams said. “But we need those other guys to be the kind of team we’re going to be.”

Whether Thomas and Stepheson play or not, Clemson is likely to pressure the Tar Heels like no opponent has this season. And it could be quite a show. – Ken Tysiac

Tracking UNC, NC State recruits

John Wall enhanced his reputation as one of the nation’s top junior point guards when he led Raleigh Word of God to a win in the GlaxoSmithKline holiday tournament in Raleigh.

Wall, a recruiting target of N.C. State and many other schools, helped Word of God defeat Taft High of Woodland Hills, Calif., in the semifinals. Wall fared well against Taft senior point guard Larry Drew, a North Carolina signee.

All-Star Sports recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said Drew is a solid player but isn’t showing the explosive athletic ability of current North Carolina sophomore Ty Lawson.

If Lawson leaves for the NBA after this season, North Carolina might struggle to keep its current pace because its point guards will be Drew and senior Bobby Frasor, who will be returning from knee surgery.

On a positive note for North Carolina, Gibbons said Tyler Zeller, a 6-foot-11 signee from Washington, Ind., is having an outstanding senior season. And 6-8 Tar Heels signee Ed Davis helped Richmond Benedictine stun powerhouse Oak Hill Academy in mid-December.
-- Ken Tysiac