Thursday, March 31, 2011

Harrison Barnes staying at UNC?

It may mean nothing (and probably does), but has removed North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes from its 2011 mock draft and placed him in the 2012 mock draft, where he's listed third behind Duke incoming freshman Austin Rivers and Kentucky incoming freshman Anthony Davis.

Maybe someone knows something. Or maybe not.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Iowa columnist: Barnes should stay with Heels

Des Moines Register columnist Sean Keeler, from back home in Iowa, says North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes should stay in college one more year, to cement his legacy.

An excerpt:

You know what? If I’m Harrison Barnes, I come back. One more Dance. One more run. One more chance to leave my mark, to cement my legacy on Tobacco Road.

North Carolina has the goods next year, on paper, to run through college basketball the way King Kong ran through Manhattan. Of the five starters that took the floor in Sunday’s 76-69 season-ending loss to Kentucky, four are underclassmen. None are seniors. From freshman point guard Kendall Marshall to big men John Henson and Tyler Zeller, it’s a beast in Nikes.

But Barnes is the key. Without him, the Tar Heels are pretty darned good. With him? They’re special.

What do you think? Should Barnes stay in Chapel Hill for his sophomore season, or go to the NBA to start building a legacy there? Post your thoughts in the comments.

Duke's Smith a first-team All-American

Duke guard Nolan Smith is one of three seniors who were announced Monday as first-team All-American selections by The Associated Press.

Smith was joined on the All-America team by seniors Jimmer Fredette of Brigham Young and JaJuan Johnson of Purdue. Connecticut junior Kemba Walker and Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger also earned All-America honors.

The ACC player of the year, Smith averaged 21.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game while leading Duke to the ACC tournament title and a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils finished 32-5 after being eliminated in the West Regional semifinals by Arizona on Thursday.

Smith is Duke's fifth All-American since 2000; two Blue Devils, Jason Williams and J.J. Redick, have beeen All-Americans twice in that time.

The All-America second team consisted of Marcus Morris of Kansas, Ben Hansbrough of Notre Dame, Jordan Taylor of Wisconsin, Derrick Williams of Arizona and Kawhi Leonard of San Diego State.

Ken Tysiac

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mascot's death a chance at life for teen

The New York Times has a story today about Jason Ray, the former North Carolina mascot from Concord who was killed while walking along a Newark, N.J., road the last time the Tar Heels played in an NCAA tournament regional there, and the boy who received Ray's kidneys through organ donation.

An excerpt:

NEWARK, N.J. -- No one from this host city for the East Regional of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament will be rooting harder for North Carolina when it plays Marquette on Friday night at Prudential Center than Antwan Hunter. His love for the Tar Heels is practically a matter of life and death.

“The Lakers are my pro team, but when it comes to college basketball, I have this connection to North Carolina,” he said. “I will for the rest of my life.”

The link is worth clicking.

Irving says there's no guarantee he'll return to Duke

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving said late Thursday night that he doesn’t know whether he will return to the Blue Devils next season.

Irving is projected as one of the top picks in the NBA draft after a season that was interrupted for 3 ½ months because of an injury to his right big toe.

“Right now, I’m thinking about next year,” he said shortly after the game. “I’m not definitely guaranteeing I’m coming back. I’ll sit down with the coaching staff after the NCAA tournament and go from there.”

Irving said the deciding factor will be what’s best for him and his family.

“I’m not really thinking about whether this was my last game or not,” he said. “I would love to wear the Duke uniform again. At this point, I don’t want to take it off. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski didn’t comment on Irving’s future when asked after the game.

“You think I just grabbed him and talked to him about that?” Krzyzewski said. “I just hugged him because he’s crying. I’m not talking to him about going pro. Those things will happen in due time.”

Irving led Duke with 28 points in its season-ending, 93-77 loss to Arizona late Thursday night. In three games after returning from the toe injury, he totaled 53 points.

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Krzyzewski: 'I'm good where I'm at'

ANAHEIM, Calif. - It’s an occurrence as certain as death, taxes and overzealous Duke students screaming so loud at Cameron Indoor Stadium that their spit lands on the back of the necks of reporters seated on press row.

Duke is deep in the NCAA tournament. And somebody in the media is trying to tie coach Mike Krzyzewski to an NBA job.

According to, Colin Cowherd discussed today on his show whether Krzyzewski should replace Phil Jackson as the Lakers’ coach. But Krzyzewski was asked about coaching in the NBA on Wednesday.

“I've never thought of ever leaving Duke for another school,” Krzyzewski said, “but there were three serious times where I almost left to go to the pros, one was when Dave Gavitt took over the Celtics, and another was with the Trail Blazers, but one that I took to a far level was the Lakers situation, and they were great with me. I could not give up what I've got, what I have at Duke. It just wasn't worth it.

“I didn't know that I would have the opportunity to coach internationally again until Jerry Colangelo asked me and I've loved that and it's made me a better coach. I love the NBA, but it made me love the NBA more.

“I'm good with where I'm at. I'm too old to do anything else.”

The question of Krzyzewski and the NBA came up last year at the Final Four, too. The Bergen Record, citing anonymous sources, reported that incoming New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov would offer Krzyzewski $12 million to $15 million per season.

Krzyzewski quickly issued a statement, saying he would not be interested.

Sure enough, he returned to coach at Cameron and its supportive students. On Wednesday, he sounded like that’s where he wants to stay.

Ken Tysiac

What if...Duke meets UNC in NCAA semis?

ANAHEIM, Calif. - A fan in my live chat this afternoon asked the question we already have asked ourselves in the sports departments at the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer.

What if Duke and North Carolina both get to the Final Four and meet in the NCAA semifinals?

My first response is this.

Hide the women and children! The end is near! Life as we know it will never be the same!

Of course, this is a gross overreaction, considering the more serious things going on in the world today.

But I do think the Duke-UNC rivalry would be irreversibly affected by a meeting in the NCAA semifinals. Bragging rights mean a great deal in this rivalry. And particularly if the semifinal winner goes on to capture the NCAA championship, its fans would have the ultimate bragging right trump card.

The loser would win a lot more games in the rivalry. But the winner would have come out on top when it mattered most.

That having been said, we are all getting way too far ahead of ourselves in considering this scenario. Duke is playing far from home in a West Regional that includes two teams from out West plus a Connecticut team that’s extremely hot and has a coach who’s thwarted the Blue Devils twice in huge NCAA tournament games.

North Carolina is playing in a regional with the tournament favorite, Ohio State, and must find a way for the Tar Heels’ defensively suspect guards to stop Marquette’s penetration in Friday’s regional semifinal.

At the newspaper we have to plan for what would be an incredibly high-stakes week for readers and subscribers. We’re already coming up with ideas and concepts that might make sense if Duke and UNC met in the biggest game in the history of college basketball’s biggest rivalry.

Fans, meanwhile, naturally are dreaming of what would happen if the teams met in Houston. Part of being a fan is dreaming about fantastic events that might never occur.

But with each team needing two wins, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to make this a reality.

Ken Tysiac

How will Duke defend the Wildcats?

ANAHEIM, Calif. - How will Duke defend Arizona senior forward Derrick Williams, who’s 6-foot-8 and the Pac-10 player of the year?

Here’s an educated guess. Coach Mike Krzyzewski can’t stand to give up 3-point shots, and Arizona is an extremely accurate (39.9 percent) team from 3-point range.

Part of the Wildcats’ success from 3-point range has come because opponents double team Williams (19.1 ppg) in the low post and he passes out to open teammates for easy shots on the perimeter.

So expect Krzyzewski to defend Williams with one low post player and encourage him not to foul in tonight's West Regional semifinal game (9:45 p.m., CBS). Krzyzewski has said Williams’ ability to get to the free throw line makes the entire Arizona team better because it puts the Wildcats in the bonus and double bonus quickly. So Duke probably won’t use the hack-a-Shaq game plan against Williams.

Guarding the 3-point arc first is a tried and true strategy for the Blue Devils and for other successful teams. Why did Duke have such good fortune against Herb Sendek and his Princeton-style offense? Because Krzyzewski was willing to give up an occasional backdoor layup and allow Cedric Simmons to go one-on-one in the post against Shelden Williams, as long as N.C. State didn’t make a bunch of threes.

How did Florida win back-to-back NCAA titles in 2006 and 2007? Because Billy Donovan’s teams attempted a lot of threes and guarded the 3-point arc ferociously. Ohio State center Greg Oden scored at will in the low post in the 2007 title game, but Florida didn’t double team him and instead prevented the Buckeyes from shooting threes.

Williams is a different player from Oden and Simmons in that he has 3-point shooting skills as well. Mason Plumlee and whoever else guards Williams will need help when Williams ventures out to the perimeter.

But in the low post, Plumlee probably will be on his own as Duke tries to prevent a 3-point barrage like the one Michigan used to keep Sunday’s game close in the first half in Charlotte.

Ken Tysiac

Monday, March 21, 2011

Duke gets late Sweet 16 tip; UNC will start early

Duke will get a late tipoff and North Carolina an early start in the Round of 16, according to the game schedule announced early this morning by the NCAA and CBS.

On Thursday night, Duke’s game against No. 5 seed Arizona will start at 9:45 p.m. Eastern Time.

North Carolina will play Friday night at 7:15 p.m. against Marquette in Newark, N.J.

Both games will be televised by CBS.

Here is the full schedule, as announced by CBS, including on-air TV talent:


7:15PM CBS Anaheim I San Diego St. vs. UCONN Lundquist/Raftery//Visser

7:27PM TBS New Orleans I Florida vs.
BYU Johnson/Elmore/Miller

9:45PM CBS ` Anaheim II Duke vs. Arizona Lundquist/Raftery//Visser

9:57PM TBS New Orleans II Wisconsin vs. Butler Johnson/Elmore/Miller//


7:15PM CBS Newark I UNC vs. Marquette Nantz/Kellogg//Wolfson

7:27PM TBS San Antonio I Kansas vs. Richmond Albert/Kerr//Sager

9:45PM CBS Newark II Ohio State vs. Kentucky Nantz/Kellogg//Wolfson

9:57PM TBS San Antonio II Florida State vs. VCU Albert/Kerr//Sager

Ken Tysiac

ACC proves its point with 3 Sweet 16 teams

Go ahead, John Swofford.

Puff out your chest a bit today.

No. 10 regional seed Florida State’s 71-57 dismantling of No. 2 seed Notre Dame on Sunday night gave the ACC three teams in the regional semifinal round of the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina, a No. 2 seed, was the first to advance to the Sweet 16 with a 86-83 defeat of Washington on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte. Later at Time Warner Cable Arena, No. 1 seed Duke escaped to the Sweet 16 with a 73-71 win when Michigan’s Darius Morris missed a runner with two seconds remaining.

So the ACC has been the biggest winner on the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament with the possible exception of the city of Richmond, Va., which has the Richmond Spiders and Virginia Commonwealth in the Sweet 16.

No other conference has more than two teams in the Sweet 16. The Big East, which had an outstanding regular season and put 11 teams in the tournament, has flopped. Nine Big East teams have been eliminated, including No. 1 seed Pittsburgh, which fell in a Saturday night stunner against Butler.

The ACC entered this NCAA tournament with something to prove. Late in the season, numerous ACC coaches said teams in the conference had improved after struggling to nonconference results that doomed the ACC to a No. 5 finish in the Ratings Percentage Index, behind even the Mountain West.

But there was no way for ACC teams to prove they had made progress late in the regular season because they played almost exclusively against one another beginning in January. Now they have proven their conference’s mettle.

Florida State is in its first Sweet 16 since 1993. The ACC is 7-1 overall in the NCAA tournament. The conference’s only loss, by Clemson against West Virginia, came after the Tigers were dealt the cruelest schedule in the tournament.

After defeating Alabama-Birmingham in Tuesday’s late “first four” game, Clemson was forced to play West Virginia just after noon Thursday. The Tigers lost, but nobody else in the ACC has.

Florida State punctuated a successful weekend with a thumping of Big East heavyweight Notre Dame when the Seminoles’ best player, Chris Singleton, still was limited to a minor role because he’s recovering from foot surgery.

Singleton should be ready to contribute more against Virginia Commonwealth in the Sweet 16.

And Swofford, the ACC commissioner, should be smiling today.

Ken Tysiac

Friday, March 18, 2011

UNC, Duke get afternoon games Sunday

CHARLOTTE - North Carolina and Duke will play afternoon games Sunday as they attempt to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

North Carolina will play Washington at 12:15 p.m. at Time Warner Cable Arena.

The Duke-Michigan game will follow, 30 minutes after the completion of the first game.

CBS will televise both games.

Ken Tysiac

NCAA's 'official' box score wrong on Duke-Hampton

Check for the “official” box score of the Duke-Hampton game, and you’ll see that Duke won 87-47.

Except the Blue Devils actually won 87-45, and the NCAA’s online version of the box score is riddled with errors.

Hampton’s Brandon Tunnell was credited with an extra field goal and Darrion Pellum with an extra missed field goal, as the Pirates were 19-for-55 from the field, not 20-for-57. The Pirates had 29 rebounds, not 22; and four assists, not three.

Duke, meanwhile, was 32-for-60 from the field, not 32-for-59 -- Kyle Singler was 4-for-9 from the field, not 4-for-8. Duke had 38 rebounds, not 35.

Luke DeCock

Instant analysis: Blackbirds give Tar Heels a positive push

Roy Williams thought Long Island deserved better. Long Island thought Long Island deserved better. Just about everyone but the NCAA seeding committee -- even the anonymous, emotionless, cold-blooded Mr. RPI -- thought Long Island was better than a No. 15 seed.

So the Blackbirds went out and played like it Friday.

Of course, that wasn't enough to beat North Carolina. Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller together almost outscored Long Island in the 102-87 win. (They fell three points short.) But it was enough to provide the Tar Heels with a stern test to open the tournament, giving them a chance to rebound from Sunday's ACC tournament loss and the less-than-perfect performances before that.

This was exactly what the Tar Heels needed, a push that would stagger, but not topple them. Whatever does not eliminate them will make them stronger -- for now. They'd just as soon find the going a little easier from here on out.

Long Island played plenty of zone against North Carolina. The Tar Heels are going to see a lot of that in the tournament.

Long Island was willing to take the ball to the rim despite the defensive presence of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, good practice for the big men.

Long Island was willing to go fast break for fast break, shot for shot, sprint for sprint with the Tar Heels. They may not see a lot of that from here on out, but that doesn't mean it isn't good practice.

What Long Island really had was a lot of what Williams likes to call 'want to.' They weren't merely talented. After falling behind early, they got a sniff when it was tied 33-33, and the Tar Heels had a game on their hands.

A bad turnover and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the first half kept the Blackbirds within 11, 53-42, and given their ability to score -- at one point in the first half, they ripped off a 12-0 run -- they were never out of the game.

The Blackbirds answered a North Carolina surge coming out of halftime and another midway through the second half and were as close as 10 with less than two minutes to go.

The Tar Heels were never able to cruise to the finish. They had to fight the whole way against a very good team -- to the Tar Heels' benefit down the road.

-- Luke DeCock

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Clemson's Road, Free Attedance and Buzzer Beaters

Quick observations on the first full day of the NCAA basketball tournament:

-- The tournament committee needs to fix what it did to Clemson this year so that it doesn't happen again in the future. The Tigers got sent to a Dayton, Ohio play-in game (okay, they called it a first-round game but why does a 12 seed get that?), won that game and were rewarded with a noon game barely 36 hours later in Tampa against West Virginia.

If the committee is going to make a handful of teams play one extra game, at least st it up so they don't have to play a noon game after a 9 p.m. game two days earlier. The Tigers were late getting out Dayton and probably didn't have a whole lot of fun getting ready for West Virginia.

It just seems silly to do it hte way the committee did it.

-- There were a few thousand fans in Time Warner Cable Arena to watch both Duke and North Carolina practice today but it was a smaller crowd than many expected.

Obviously some people were still at work and others didn't want to make the drive in to watch a couple of 40-minute workouts. There was a time, though, when Duke nearly filled the Greensboro Coliseum for a pre-tournament workout and the Tar Heels did the same thing.

Given the $200-plus price of tickets, it's less of a surprise the building isn't sold out yet.

-- The tournament has an uncanny ability to produce compelling finishes. Before dinner time Thursday, there were already a couple of buzzer-beater finishes and at least one significant upset (Louisville).

It's why the first weekend of the tournament is the best weekend in many ways.

-- Ron Green Jr.

Irving's shot still true after long layoff

CHARLOTTE – Shortly after announcing his return to Duke’s lineup, freshman guard Kyrie Irving stood on the wing firing up 3-pointers at Time Warner Cable Arena.

He was making them, so he backed up.

Irving hit two, three, four in a row. Soon his heels were out of bounds.


“Look out, Kyrie,” a fan shouted in amazement.

Then everything but Irving’s toes were out of bounds.


The scary thing for opponents is that Irving, who hasn’t played since injuring his right big toe on Dec. 4, said it will take a while to get his shot and ball skills up to snuff again. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Thursday that Irving will play a limited and undetermined amount of minutes off the bench as the top-seeded Blue Devils (30-4) play host to No. 16 seed Hampton (24-8) in their NCAA tournament opener at about 3:15 p.m.

“The NCAA tournament is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Irving said. “Nothing is guaranteed in this tournament, and that’s what I like about it. I want to play on the big stage. I’ve always loved playing on the biggest stage.”

Krzyzewski said Irving will guard the opposing point guard defensively and will share point guard duties with senior Nolan Smith on offense.

Irving’s stamina isn’t great because he didn’t start practicing with the team until Tuesday, but Krzyzewski expects a smooth transition.

“He’s a really smart player,” Krzyzewski said. “The game comes easier to great players than other players, and this kid will be a great player. He won’t be a great player [against Hampton], but he’s got great talent and he’s got great character.”

Irving averaged 17.4 points and 5.1 assists over Duke’s first eight games before bending his toe back on a drive during a Dec. 4 win over Butler that improved the Blue Devils’ record to 8-0.

The ligaments connecting the sesamoid bones leading up to his toe were torn and needed time to heal, Irving said. He said he has an extra sesamoid bone leading to the big toe on his right foot that necessitates his wearing a specially developed shoe to prevent him from bending back his toe again.

But he said he is not afraid of reinjuring the toe.

Duke was 22-4 without Irving, who said he learned a lot about the game while watching from the bench. Krzyzewski originally said Duke was playing as though Irving would not return this season, but Irving recovered more quickly than expected.

Even those who didn’t watch Irving’s shooting exhibition during Duke’s open practice Thursday realized the significance of his return.

“Kyrie is one of those guys I just think is phenomenal,” said North Carolina coach Roy Williams. “I think he’s the closest thing to Isiah Thomas – not the Isaiah Thomas from Washington, but the Isiah Thomas from Indiana – that I’ve ever seen.”

Ken Tysiac

Irving to return for Duke on Friday

CHARLOTTE - Freshman guard Kyrie Irving will return to Duke's lineup Friday in the Blue Devils' NCAA tournament opener against Hampton.

Irving, who has been out since injuring his right big toe on Dec. 4, will come off the bench and play limited minutes, said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"I don't have a set number of minutes," Krzyzewski said.

Irving was averaging 17.4 points and 5.1 assists per game when he was injured. When he bent his toe back during a win over Butler, he damaged the tissue between the sesamoid bones leading up to his big toe.

He had to wait for those bones to heal before playing again.

"It's a big step for me and my family to make one of the biggest decisions in my life to go out there and be integrated with the guys in practice and now return to the game," Irving said.

Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Irving may play for Duke on Friday

DURHAM - Freshman point guard Kyrie Irving might play Friday in Duke's NCAA tournament opener, coach Mike Krzyzewski said today.

"There is a chance that he would play, but the decision won't be made for a few days," Krzyzewski said during his on-campus news conference to preview Duke's NCAA tournament opener.

Irving, who is recovering from an injury to his right big toe, practiced some with the team today. No. 1 seed Duke (30-4) meets No. 16 seed Hampton at about 3:15 p.m. Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte.

Krzyzewski said Irving will not start and would only play a few minutes at a time if he gets on the court. The coach said Irving's toe is being re-evaluated after tonight's practice, and expects to know a lot more about Irving's status by the time Duke holds its open practice session Thursday afternoon in Charlotte.

Irving's return to the team would be a smooth transition, Krzyzewski said, because he has remained an enthusiastic member of the team even though he has missed the last 26 games because of the injury.

His teammates were enthusiastic about the prospect of Irving returning.

"Personally, I don't think he's missed a beat," senior forward Kyle Singler said after practice. "He's done a great job rehabbing. He's a little bit out of shape, but that's to be expected."

Irving injured his toe when it bent backward on Dec. 4 during a game against Butler. His foot was kept in a cast while damaged tissue between the sesamoid bones in his toe healed.

After Duke's win Sunday over North Carolina in the ACC tournament final, Irving told reporters for the first time that there was a chance he would return. Krzyzewski had repeatedly said he wasn't counting on getting Irving back.

"I'm going day by day," Krzyzewski said today, "because I never expected him to be back where he is today."

Monday, March 14, 2011

Swofford disappointed with snub of Hokies

Add ACC commissioner John Swofford to the list of those who were disappointed that Virginia Tech was not selected to the NCAA tournament field.

"I'm surprised that Virginia Tech was excluded from the NCAA Tournament," Swofford said in a statement he released this afternoon. "I believe they are a quality team that earned and deserved to be in the field of 68."

In decisions that have prompted much controversy and criticism nationally, the Division I men's basketball committee awarded at-large NCAA tournament bids to Alabama-Birmingham and Virginia Commonwealth while leaving Virginia Tech and Colorado out of the tournament.

During the 15 days leading up to Selection Sunday, Virginia Tech (21-11) won at home over No. 1 regional seed Duke and defeated No. 10 regional seed Florida State in the ACC tournament. Colorado (20-13) swept three games against No. 5 regional seed Kansas State and defeated No. 4 regional seed Texas and No. 11 regional seed Missouri.

Virginia Commonwealth (23-11) posted top-50 wins over UCLA and Old Dominion, but didn't play an opponent ranked in the top 15 of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), which rates teams based on won-loss records and strength of schedule.

UAB (22-8) did not defeat an opponent ranked in the top 50 of the RPI.

The ACC placed just four teams (Duke, North Carolina, Florida State and Clemson) in the NCAA tournament, its lowest total since four teams reached the 2008 tournament. Virginia Tech has come agonizingly close to an at-large bid in 2008, 2010 and 2011, but fell short each timie.

"After the season they had," Swofford said, "I’m disappointed that the players don’t have the opportunity to compete in this year’s NCAAs.”

Gene Smith, the Ohio State athletic director who chairs the Division I men's basketball committee, provided only a vague comment about Virginia Tech's lack of nonconference wins when discussing the Hokies' omission from the field.

Ken Tysiac

Davidson Hosts James Madison In CBI Tournament

The Davidson Wildcats aren't finished yet.

The Wildcats will host James Madison Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Belk Arena in a first-round game in the College Basketball Invitational. Should the Wildcats win, they will advance to a March 21 game against the Creighton-San Jose State winner, though the site has not been determined.

The CBI is a 16-team event played on college campuses with the finals being a best-of-three series.

Davidson brings a 17-14 record into the game after losing to UNC Greensboro in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference tournament. The Wildcats, however, have won nine of their last 11 games.

James Madison is 21-11 this season and led by 6-10 forward Denzel Bowles, who averages 17.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

Tickets are $14 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under. The game will be televised on HDNet television.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Breaking down the NCAA bracket


1. Virginia Tech: The NCAA tournament selection committee had so little respect for the ACC that it took more teams out of the SEC. It took a third team out of the CAA (Virginia Commonwealth) over a fifth team from the ACC (the Hokies) that beat Duke and Florida State.

2. St. Mary's: An annual fixture in this space, the Gaels just can't buy a break from the committee. Of course, they could take care of this themselves by winning the WCC tournament.

3. Colorado: The Buffaloes thought they locked down a bid with a win over Kansas State on Thursday. In a head-to-head comparison, their resume appeared substantially better than Southern California's.


1. Texas (West regional, No. 4): The Longhorns are 3-4 in their past seven games but get to start close to home in Tulsa and would potentially face Duke in Anaheim, Calif. after a cross-country trip for the Blue Devils. Don't count out Texas quite yet.

2. Purdue (Southwest regional, No. 3): Even without Robbie Hummel (again), the Boilermakers have two individual stars in JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. They score, they defend and their road starts close to home in Chicago.

3. Belmont (Southeast regional, No. 13): The Atlantic Sun champions lost to Vanderbilt once and to Tennessee twice, and their best nonconference win is over Middle Tennessee State. But stat wonks love their statistical profile, which is Final Four-caliber.


1. St. John's (Southwest regional 6): The Red Storm could win the NCAA tournament ... if all six games were played in Madison Square Garden and officiated by Big East referees. A great home-court team (including that win over Duke), but that's about it.

2. Butler (Southeast regional, No. 8): Don't pick a team a year late. Just don't do it. The Bulldogs have a great young coach and return a handful of key players, but they had to win the Horizon League tournament to get in and drew a tough opening opponent in Old Dominion.

3. Southern California (Southwest regional, No. 11 play-in game): A classic NIT team that somehow found its way into the field. The Trojans' RPI was worse than College of Charleston and Iona's. Was O.J. Mayo on the committee?


1. Kansas (Southwest regional, No. 1): The Jayhawks get cushy subregional and regional sites in Tulsa and San Antonio, with a bunch of underachieving big names. And the No. 2 seed, Notre Dame, faces a devilishly tough game against either Texas A&M or Florida State.

2. San Diego State (West regional, No. 2): After an opening against Northern Colorado, they could face a bunch of East Coast teams in Tucson, Ariz., and Anaheim, Calif. Only two other teams from the Pacific and Mountain time zones were placed in the entire West bracket.

3. Florida (Southeast regional, No. 2): I'm not sure what exactly the Gators did to earn this kind of treatment, but they play in Tampa and New Orleans and are paired with a No. 3 seed in BYU that would surely lose four more players to honor-code violations in the Big Easy.


1. Washington (East regional, No. 7): The Huskies on the Pac-10 tournament on an amazing shot, and the committee rewarded the Huskies with a cross-country flight to play North Carolina in a virtual road game.

2. Ohio State (East regional, No. 1): The tournament's top overall seed has to play, potentially, Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina. Those are three pretty good coaches on the other side of the court.

3. Temple (West regional, No. 7) and Penn State (West regional, No. 10): Two Pennsylvania teams have to fly to Arizona to play each other. Wasn't the pod system supposed to prevent this kind of needless travel?


1. Utah State (Southeast regional, No. 12): No one sees the Aggies, because the WAC is on late-night TV more often than infomercials for exercise gadgets. But they face an erratic Kansas State team that had two players quit in midseason.

2. Gonzaga (Southeast regional, No. 11): The Zags aren't the Zags that the Zags used to be, but they are relatively close to home (Denver) facing a No. 6 St. John's team that lost road games to Fordham and St. Mary's.

3. Michigan State (Southeast 10): The Spartans draw No. 7 UCLA after a cross-country trip, and Kalin Lucas is finally rounding into health, which changes the way Michigan State plays completely. No one prepares better during the tournament than Tom Izzo.


1. The Denver subregional has only two semi-local teams in it (Brigham Young and Gonzaga), along with six teams from the Eastern time zone. This could turn out like Tampa in 2008, when a bunch of out-of-area teams produced four first-round upsets.

2. In terms of geography, Kansas and Texas have the easiest runs to the title: Tulsa, San Antonio, Houston.

3. The Carolinas and Virginia provided 10 of the 68 teams: Duke, North
Carolina, George Mason, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth, Clemson, Richmond, Wofford, Hampton and UNC-Asheville. And that's without Virginia Tech.

-- Luke DeCock

Tar Heels back in, but tough road ahead

Even after the disappointment of losing in the ACC tournament title game on Sunday, North Carolina forward John Henson was looking forward to the NCAA Selection Show because "it's another season now. You have a chance. ... And we didn't have this chance last year."

Frankly, the road as the No. 2 seed in the East Region may be difficult - what with a potential match-up with No. 3 Syracuse in Newark , plus being placed in the same region as the overall No. 1 seed, Ohio State -- but anything beats last year for UNC, when it didn't make the NCAA tournament at all.

The Tar Heels (26-7), who had won nine in a row prior to falling to Duke in the tourney final, will open play Friday in Charlotte against Long Island University, which earned the No. 15 seed as the winner of the Northeast Conference.

Game times have not yet been announced.

Barring an upset, UNC would then play the winner of Washington-Georgia at Time Warner Cable Arenas, meaning a match-up with guard Isaiah Thomas., who helped the Huskies win the Pac 10 tournament with a game-winning fadeaway in overtime; or a showdown with No. 10 seed Georgia, which lost in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.

The Tar Heels' second weekend, should they advance, would mean a trip to Newark - where Syracuse would expect to have a home-court advantage, and UNC could expect to have some problems against the Orange's zone.

Kentucky is the No. 4 seed in the East region.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Tudor's Take: UNC draws a tough path, Duke rewarded

North Carolina's loss to Duke in the ACC championship game this afternoon turned out to be a big problem in the NCAA pairings.

As the No. 2 seed in the East, the Tar Heels do get to start in Charlotte.

But if the top four seeds advance to the regional semifinals in Newark, N.J. (March 25 and 27), the chalk pairings would be UNC vs. Syracuse (3) and Ohio State (1) against Kentucky (4).

Talk about a tough ticket to find.

By contrast, Duke got rewarded for the most part by winning the ACC.

The Blue Devils, as No. 1 in the West, will have to travel to Anaheim, Calif., for the regional semis. On the other hand, the Blue Devils get to open in Charlotte and drew the easiest regional field.

No. 2 San Diego State has virtually no NCAA experience, and No. 3 Connecticut is the most likely team in the entire field to suffer an early letdown after having won five Big East tournament games in five days.

The region with the biggest upset potential is the Southeast, where No. 1 Pittsburgh is certain to have a difficult second game against either Butler (8) or Old Dominion (9), which will have a lot of fans on hand in Washington, D.C.

In the Southwest, Kansas (1) faces a potential monster third game if No. 4 Louisville can make it to the regional semifinals in San Antonio.

ACC teams' concerns going into the NCAA tournament:

Duke: Free throws and Kyle Singler's perimeter shooting. But the Blue Devil defense, as usual, was near perfect in the three ACC Tournament games.

Duke could really catch a break if Texas and Arizona, the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively in their regional, fail to make the semifinals. That's a distinct possibility given the way both have played of late.

UNC: Tournament experience. It takes a special passion and mindset to go deep in the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels were overwhelmed by Duke's intensity this afternoon and were almost knocked out of the ACC tournament a day earlier by Clemson.

UNC should win two in Charlotte over Long Island in its opener and either Georgia or Washington in the next game. Then, the heavy lifting really gets underway, especially if Syracuse reaches Newark with its zone defense and fan base.

Clemson: The Tigers generally lack NCAA exposure, as well. Another issue will be early foul trouble for Jerai Grant and Devin Booker.

The selection committee had no respect whatsoever for the ACC, which is understandable. The Tigers have to survive a play-in game (vs. a decent Alabama-Birmingham team), and Virginia Tech was snubbed again. Should they win, the Tigs then would be a 12-seed in the tough East and would have to play No. 5 West Virginia.

Florida State: Without Chris Singleton, the Seminoles -- the 10th seed in the Southwest regional -- are leaderless. They will need a lot of luck to defeat No. 5 seed Texas A&M in their opener in Chicago whether the junior forward returns from his injury or not.

-- Caulton Tudor

Irving says there's a chance he'll return in NCAAs

GREENSBORO – Duke freshman guard Kyrie Irving said Sunday afternoon that there is a chance he will return from a toe injury to play at some point during the NCAA tournament.

“I can’t really put a percentage on it,” Irving said. “It all depends on how I feel, and if the medical staff feels good about it.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was more cautious, saying Irving’s enthusiasm might have been fueled by the emotion of missing out on the Blue Devils’ 75-58 ACC tournament defeat of North Carolina.

Irving worked out Friday and Sunday on the Greensboro Coliseum floor during pre-game, but was not in uniform.

“We’re far away from that decision,” Krzyzewski said. “But he’s doing well. He’s worked out here every day and we’re not trying to hide anything. We tried to show that first of all we do have a guy named Kyrie and secondly that he’s progressing well.”

Irving was made available to the media for the first time since he injured his right big toe on Dec. 4 against Butler. In the locker room after Duke’s win, Irving explained the details of his injury.

He said the sesamoid bones on his right big toe were injured when he bent the toe back too far during the Butler game. He said the tissue connecting the bones was damaged and needed time to heal.

“This is where I get all of my power from, and this is the way I move as fast as I can,” Irving said. “When it did happen, when I looked at the X-rays, it was a lot more complicated than I thought it was.”

Irving, who has worked out twice during pre-game at the Greensboro Coliseum this week, said he is cleared for 5-on-0 drills but is awaiting word from the medical staff on when he will be ready to scrimmage at full speed.

He said Nike has constructed a special shoe for him to prevent his toe from bending back in the future, so he is not afraid of re-injuring it. He said his conditioning is not where it needs to be yet, but said he has been running on a treadmill in the pool for about a month to build his stamina.

His conditioning might be lacking, but he said his understanding of the game will be better after watching from the bench for all but the first eight games.

“I think I had a high basketball IQ when I was playing,” Irving said, “but now it’s increased, tremendously.”

Ken Tysiac

Irving working out again, but won't play

GREENSBORO - Freshman guard Kyrie Irving is working out with Duke's basketball team again before the Blue Devils' ACC final game with North Carolina this afternoon, but will not play.

Irving suffered a toe injury Dec. 4 and has not played since. In addition to jogging and shooting, Irving performed some half-speed, one-on-one dribbling and defensive drills with walk-on Todd Zafirovski.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski has said there is no timetable for Irving's return and that the team is preparing as if Irving will not be available to the Blue Devils for the rest of the season.

Ken Tysiac

5 things to watch in the ACC final

GREENSBORO - For the first time since 2001, Duke and North Carolina are meeting in the ACC tournament final.

The teams split during the regular season, with each of them winning at home. The Tar Heels have needed a buzzer shot by Tyler Zeller against Miami and overtime against Clemson to reach the final.

Duke has won by an average of 15 points over Maryland and Virginia Tech.

Here are five things to watch in the 1 p.m. ACC title game:

1. Harrison Barnes vs. Kyle Singler. Barnes is coming off a brilliant, 40-point performance against Clemson and outplayed Singler badly in the Tar Heels' 81-67 win in the regular-season finale.

Barnes is the more talented player, and Singler has missed 33 of his last 39 3-point attempts. But Singler has come up big in championship games before. Don't count him out.

2. Duke's 3-point shooting. After North Carolina's win in Chapel Hill, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said the Blue Devils needed to make 3-pointers because the Tar Heels are so strong in the low post.

But the Blue Devils have shot less than 30 percent from 3-point range in each of their last three games. Singler, Nolan Smith, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins are capable of decimating the Tar Heels from 3-point land.

Recently, though, Duke has shown few signs that it can rely on its 3-point shooting.

3. Mason Plumlee. The Duke center has been held to two and zero points in the two games against the Tar Heels.

It's too much to expect Plumlee to match North Carolina counterparts Tyler Zeller and John Henson in the low post. But Plumlee needs to score some points and can't afford to be dominated by the Tar Heel big men.

4. Heels in transition. North Carolina is best on offense when its players are getting loose on the fast break.

The best way for Duke to keep that from happening is to make shots, but that won't be easy against one of the strongest defenses in the nation.

5. Fantastic finish? This has been one of the most outstanding tournaments in years.

The opening day had one of the greatest comebacks in history when Miami rallied from a 10-point deficit in the final 42 seconds to defeat Virginia. The quarterfinals had Zeller's buzzer beater to defeat Miami and Florida State's buzzer beater that was overturned against Virginia Tech.

In the semifinals, North Carolina used a second straight dramatic comeback to defeat Clemson in overtime.

It would be good for the conference to close out the tournament with one more spectacular game.

Ken Tysiac

Saturday, March 12, 2011

VIDEO: Tar Heels come back again

Highlights from North Carolina's overtime victory over Clemson, from WCNC:

Smith to start for Blue Devils

GREENSBORO - Duke senior guard Nolan Smith is listed in the starting lineup for the Blue Devils on the Greensboro Coliseum scoreboard one day after suffering an injury to the second toe on his left foot.

X-rays were negative, and a Duke spokesman said the team would wait until pre-game warmups to decide if Smith would start.

The Blue Devils meet Virginia Tech in an ACC semifinal game scheduled to start at about 4 p.m.

Ken Tysiac

Georgia Tech relievesPaul Hewitt of duties.

Four losing seasons in six years were more than coach Paul Hewitt could survive at Georgia Tech.

School athletic director Dan Radakovich announced today that Hewitt has been relieved of his duties as the Yellow Jackets' basketball coach after 11 seasons.

Hewitt directed Georgia Tech to an appearance in the 2004 NCAA championship game, where the Yellow Jackets lost to Connecticut.

But Georgia Tech has posted losing records in three of the past four seasons, including a 13-18 mark in 2010-11. Hewitt was 190-162 at Georgia Tech.

Hewitt was a candidate for the St. John's job at the end of last season, but withdrew from consideration.

"I am very appreciative of Paul Hewitt's dedication to Georgia Tech for the last 11 years," Radakovich said in a statement. "Paul is an outstanding person who has made a positive impact on so many of our student-athletes."

The school will immediately begin the search for Hewitt's successor.

Ken Tysiac

Duke's Smith questionable for today's game

GREENSBORO -- X-rays were negative on Duke guard Nolan Smith’s second left toe, a team spokesman said today, and the ACC Player of the Year is questionable to play in this afternoon’s league tournament semi-final game.

Duke’s Matt Plizga said the team wants to see how the foot responds during pre-game warm-ups before deciding whether the senior will play.

Smith hurt his toe with 6:48 left to play in Friday’s quarterfinal win over Maryland when he collided with Cliff Tucker’s foot, stubbing the toe. Smith did not return to the game.

A Reminder Of Why The Tournament Still Matters

I'm as guilty as anyone in saying that the ACC men's basketball tournament isn't what it was and it's not. I can't imagine school teachers turn the Thursday and Friday afternoon games on in classrooms like they did when I was a kid all those many years ago.

But then you get a day like this one -- North Carolina against Clemson and Duke against Virginia Tech in the semifinals -- and you remember why the tournament still matters.

Did you see the reaction Friday when North Carolina's Tyler Zeller scored at the last instant to beat Boston College?

Did you see the faces on both sides while the outcome of the Virginia Tech-Florida State game hung in the balance? Okay, it was late, you're excused if you missed that.

They were reminders of why the games still matter.

Walking into the Greensboro Coliseum today, fans were tailgating like it was a football weekend. Instead of falling leaves, spring flowers were blooming and there was literally music in the air from a band playing outside the arena.

By late afternoon Sunday, the attention will have shifted to the NCAA tournament but for this Saturday and part of Sunday, it's all about the ACC tournament. I still believe the league should play the championship game on Saturday night to give the winner a day to revel before the NCAA swirl takes over but that's not likely to change.

The ACC tournament isn't what it once was but days like this one serve as a reminder of why it still matters.
-- Ron Green Jr.

5 things to watch in ACC tournament Saturday

GREENSBORO - It's going to be difficult for the ACC to top what happened Friday.

The fans who just about packed the Greensboro Coliseum (and yes, the crowds were strong) for Friday's ACC quarterfinals got their money's worth.

There was a buzzer beater in the opener (Tyler Zeller of North Carolina), a near buzzer beater in the finale (Derwin Kitchen's shot was ruled to have occurred after the buzzer for Florida State) and a dramatic turn of events for Duke with Nolan Smith's toe injury.

But there will be plenty worth watching in the ACC semifinals today:

1. Nolan Smith's toe. Duke fans thought they had it bad when they lost freshman point guard standout Kyrie Irving to a toe injury after games.

It could get much, much worse. ACC player of the year Nolan Smith injured the second toe on his left foot during Friday night's 87-71 defeat of Maryland. Whether Smith plays again this weekend isn't Duke's largest concern.

The NCAA tournament starts next week, and the Blue Devils can't afford to be without Smith for more than a round or two.

2. Clemson's defense. Clemson guards Demontez Stitt and Andre Young helped hold Boston College first-team All-ACC player Reggie Jackson to a modest 11 points on 5-for-13 from the field in the quarterfinals.

Opposing coaches throughout the ACC have been praising the way ACC coach of the year runner-up Brad Brownell has gotten the Tigers to play tough, physical defense. Stitt and Young are particularly formidable defensively in the backcourt and will test North Carolina standout freshman point guard Kendall Marshall one day after Marshall made a game-winning drive-and-dish to Tyler Zeller against Miami.

3. Who's your daddy now? After Smith's injury, sophomore guard Seth Curry ran Duke's offense nearly flawlessly as the Blue Devils blew out Maryland late in the quarterfinals.

He made a three-point play, two free throws and drove for an assist on a Miles Plumlee layup for seven straight points as Duke closed out the Terrapins. But Curry had a miserable performance in a 64-60 loss at Virginia Tech two weeks ago, fouling out without scoring a point.

Fans at Virginia Tech, the alma mater of his father (former Charlotte Hornets guard Dell /Curry) shouted at Curry: "Who's your daddy?"
You would think Curry is eager for payback.

4. UNC's bigs vs. Jerai Grant. Grant, a senior, scored 12 points on 5-for-9 from the field and blocked four shots against Boston College but was helpless against North Carolina's John Henson and Tyler Zeller in two games this season.

Grant was a combined 1-for-15 with two points in 40 minutes against the Tar Heels. Devin Booker, Clemson's other starting forward, missed all six of his field goal attempts against North Carolina at Clemson.

If Henson and Zeller dominate in the low post again, Clemson doesn't have a chance.

5. Hokie high. After Virginia Tech's players came back to the locker room following their dramatic win over Florida State late Friday night, the walls almost shook.

The cathartic screams of a team that had probably sewn up an NCAA tournament at-large bid could be heard through the thick concrete walls that separate the media room at the coliseum from the locker room.

The Hokies spent a lot of emotion and energy in the 52-51 defeat of Florida State and spent more afterward. The rush should carry them early against Duke, but the Hokies have only seven healthy scholarship players.
Can they sustain their energy for 40 minutes against Duke's pressure?

It will be fascinating to watch.

Ken Tysiac

Friday, March 11, 2011

Irving working out at Coliseum, but won't play

GREENSBORO - Duke freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, who hasn’t played since injuring his right big toe on Dec. 4, is on the floor with the Duke basketball team this afternoon between sessions at the Greensboro Coliseum but will not be in uniform tonight.

Team spokesman Matt Plizga said Irving is not ready to play, but needed an opportunity to work out and is doing so at the coliseum because it’s convenient.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has repeatedly said he does not expect Irving to return this season. But Irving hasn’t yet been ruled out for the season. He has been making progress healing from the injury and had the boot removed from his foot last week.

Irving averaged 17.4 points and 5.1 assists per game in the eight games before he was injured.

Duke will play Maryland in a 7 p.m. quarterfinal game at the coliseum today.

Former UNC players Graves, Manuel OK in Japan

GREENSBORO -- A pair of former UNC basketball players in Japan contacted school officials that they are doing OK following today's earthquake.

Will Graves, who was dismissed from the team this fall and is now playing professionally in Japan, contacted UNC officials to let them know that while his home has lost power, he is doing fine.

Another former UNC player, Jackie Manuel, who also plays in Japan, contacted coaches and players soon after the earthquake with news that he is OK.

Graves would have been a senior forward and a contender for a starting position this season with the Tar Heels.

-Caulton Tudor

UNC's Stewart faces familiar foe

GREENSBORO -- North Carolina junior Stewart Cooper was surprised when coach Roy Williams told him, and four other walk-ons, to check into the game mid-way through Friday's first half.

He was even more surprised to be guarding a familiar foe.

Cooper, who played at Forsyth Country Day in Winston-Salem, went up against Miami big man Reggie Johnson for an 87-second span.

“It was cool – I thought about saying something to him, but I didn’t think he’d remember me from high school,” Steward said. “But it was fun playing against him agai

Cooper, 6-feet-5 and 205 pounds, remembers playing against the now 6-10, 202-pound Johnson in high school, and “ he was a big body – which he still is. And he’s gotten stronger.”

Strong enough that Johnson finished with 12 points – and UNC out-scored Miami 17-7 when the big man was out of the game with four fouls. His absence helped the Tar Heels rally from 19 points to win.

Meanwhile, play of walk-ons Cooper, guard Patrick Crouch, forward Van Hatchell, guard Daniel Bolick, and forward D.J. Johnston – who were out-scored 2-0 – helped spark UNC as well, mostly because it allowed Williams to yell at the starters.

“It worked to the extent that it challenged our guys and told them that I wasn’t going to sit there,’’ Williams said. “I love those guys.”

VIDEO: Watch UNC's 27-6 run, in 1:05

Carolina wins after a 27-6 run over the last 10 minutes of the game.

5 things to watch in ACC tournament Friday

GREENSBORO - Finally, the big names will roll into the Greensboro Coliseum today.

After the bottom of the ACC duked it out Thursday on the opening day of the tournament, No. 1 seed North Carolina, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Clemson will show off the best basketball the ACC has to offer in the quarterfinals today.

Here are five things to watch in the quarterfinal round:

1. Kyle Singler. By now, every college basketball fan who hasn't been locked away in a closet somewhere knows Singler is in a shooting slump.

The 2010 Final Four most outstanding player has missed 27 of his last 33 3-point attempts. Singler has bounced back before. After a 0-for-10 performance against Baylor in last season's regional final win, he totaled 40 points at the Final Four.

But this slump has been prolonged. Duke may be good enough to defeat Maryland today at 7 p.m. even if Singler doesn't shoot well, but the Blue Devils won't make much noise in March unless he regains his accuracy and confidence.

2. Clemson vs. Boston College. A lot of experts are regarding this as a play-in game of sorts for the NCAA tournament in the 2:30 p.m. game.

The Eagles have a high-quality win over Texas A&M on a neutral court and a road win over Virginia Tech and might still sneak into the tournament if they lose today. But Clemson doesn't have many impressive wins away from Littlejohn Coliseum and desperately needs one today.

ACC all-defensive team member Demontez Stitt's work for the Tigers against first-team All-ACC guard Reggie Jackson will be the key.

3. Harrison Barnes vs. Miami. Hurricanes guard Malcolm Grant vowed to find Barnes before he even gets into the arena for today's noon game.

North Carolina freshman forward Barnes scored five points in the final 69 seconds, including a game-winning 3-pointer, at Miami earlier this season. The Hurricanes must locate Barnes and get back in transition against the Tar Heels' formidable fast break to have a chance.

4. Chris Singleton vs. Virginia Tech. Will he play?

Florida State forward Singleton, a third-team All-ACC selection who is one of the conference's best defenders, is capable of taking high-scoring Virginia Tech forward Jeff Allen out of the final game of the day, which begins at about 9:30 p.m. But Singleton is listed as questionable after missing five games because of foot surgery.

Because Florida State has secured an NCAA tournament at-large bid, Singleton might be better off resting and saving his strength for next week.

5. Higher seeds holding serve. On the opening day of the tournament, the only lower seed that advanced was No. 9 seed Miami in overtime against No. 8 seed Virginia.

Can one of the lower seeds pull off an upset today? Virginia Tech seems to have the best shot. The Hokies defeated Florida State during the regular season, and even if Singleton plays there are no guarantees about his stamina or effectiveness.

And Virginia Tech, which needs one more big win to solidify its NCAA tournament resume, desperately needs a win while Florida State can afford to lose.

Ken Tysiac

Hewitt has little to say about future

GREENSBORO - Coach Paul Hewitt had little to say about his future at Georgia Tech following a 59-43, season-ending loss to Virginia Tech in the first round of the ACC tournament late Thursday night.

It's the third time in four seasons that the Yellow Jackets have finished with a losing record. Georgia Tech is seven years removed from its trip to the NCAA championship game, which was the high point of Hewitt's tenure.

Hewitt was asked after Thursday's loss if he anticipates being back.

"Yes I do," Hewitt said. "But - you know."

Hewitt, who withdrew from consideration for the St. John's job after last season, was asked about the fickle nature of the coaching business.

"Last year was last year," Hewitt said. "This year we didn’t accomplish the things we were capable of accomplishing. And that’s it."

Ken Tysiac

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Duke's Smith, UNC's Williams headline USBWA district awards

Duke guard Nolan Smith was named the District III Player of the Year, and UNC's Roy Williams was named the District III Coach of the Year, in awards announced by the United States Basketball Writers' Association today.

The full list:

Nolan Smith, Duke

Roy Williams, North Carolina

Jeff Allen, Virginia Tech
Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech
Andrew Goudelock, Charleston
John Henson, North Carolina
Cam Long, George Mason
Kyle Singler, Duke
Nolan Smith, Duke
Jordan Williams, Maryland
Tyler Zeller, North Carolina

-Robbi Pickeral

VIDEO: Wolfpack remains focused for ACC

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

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lowe uncertain of future with Wolfpack

GREENSBORO – With speculation swirling that he is about to coach in his last ACC tournament, N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said this afternoon that he doesn’t know whether he will be back for a sixth season.

“That’s not in my hands,” Lowe told a three-deep throng of reporters after practice today at the Greensboro Coliseum. “That’s in other people’s hands. We’re going to see what we do here. Right now the focus is to come into this tournament and try to win.”

Lowe is 86-77 at N.C. State without a trip to the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack (15-15) is the No. 10 seed for the ACC tournament and will face No. 7 seed Maryland at 7 p.m. Thursday in an opening round game.

The coach has reminded his team of his success in past tournaments. In 1983, Lowe was the point guard on an N.C. State team that won the ACC tournament as a No. 7 seed and went on to capture the NCAA title.

In Lowe’s first season as the Wolfpack’s coach in 2007, N.C. State won three games to reach the ACC final as a No. 10 seed before falling to North Carolina.

“It’s not often that you get a chance to win four games and win a championship,” Lowe said. “And that’s something we have in front of us right now. It’s a great opportunity for our team to write another chapter and to show that we learned and have gotten better and are growing.”

Lowe said miracles can happen in the ACC tournament, and said he has put thoughts of his job security out of his mind. He was asked point blank if he expects to be back.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t expect not to be. If I did, then I would be thinking negative. I’d rather think about this future and the program and the team and the players we have signed already. We have a very good recruiting class this year. We’ve got a nice class coming in next year. Still waiting to see if one other guy is going to commit, and if he is, it’s a very good class. I’m still preparing for the future.”

Ken Tysiac

Haith fond of Greensboro, tournament

GREENSBORO - A reporter who apparently was unaware of the one-game-at-a-time coaching code of ethics asked Miami coach Frank Haith this afternoon to talk about the Hurricanes’ potential ACC quarterfinal game against No. 1 North Carolina.

Problem is, Miami plays Virginia first in an opening round game at noon Friday.

Haith played along for a moment.

“Harrison Barnes is going to shoot the last shot,” said Haith, whose team lost on a pair of late baskets by Tar Heel freshman Barnes on Jan. 26 at Miami.

Then Haith stopped and smiled.

“No,” he said. “Let’s stick with Virginia right now.”

There will be a lot of talk this week about how the ACC tournament isn’t what it used to be, and much of it is true. The economy, the emergence of the NCAA tournament as the sport’s can’t-miss event and the introduction of teams without a historical connection to the event all hurt the ACC tournament.

But when Haith talks, it’s clear that this event means a lot to him. He grew up in Burlington and has spoken fondly in the past about growing up with teachers in school following the tournament while class was going on.

In his seventh season as Miami’s coach, Haith said he’s “living a dream.”

“I have a lot of positive vibes being here in North Carolina, and particularly in Greensboro,” Haith said.

A year ago, after being seeded No. 12 for the tournament, Haith’s Hurricanes surprised No. 5 seed Wake Forest and No. 4 seed Virginia Tech to reach the semifinals. Haith said that team overcame a key injury to forward Dwayne Collins and rode the enthusiasm of young players with suddenly larger roles to score the upsets.

With an 18-13 record and the No. 9 seed in the tournament, the Hurricanes are looking to duplicate last season’s success.

“Hopefully we can take some momentum into this year,” said Miami center Reggie Johnson.

No one would enjoy it more than Haith if they did.  

Ken Tysiac

Kendall Marshall hyped -- as a fifth grader

Someone sent us an e-mail today, with a column by Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated from December of 2002, about the player ranked as the nation's top fifth grader: North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall.

This was back when Marshall was still a 5-1 kid who liked macaroni and cheese but not yet girls, but he was already a national champion in AAU play and faced monumental expectations.

Turns out, Clark Francis of Hoop Scoop was right about his potential -- he's pretty good, even if he's no longer No. 1. But it still feels a little wrong to us.

Still, an interesting read.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why Singler deserves his All-ACC honor

Duke senior forward Kyle Singler is in the worst slump of his career.

In ACC games, he shot 39 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from 3-point range.

He was outplayed by North Carolina freshman Harrison Barnes in the regular-season finale with the ACC championship on the line, and scored slightly fewer points than Barnes (15.9 ppg to 15.8 ppg) in ACC games.

So how did Singler earn first-team All-ACC honors?

First, a confession. I don’t vote for the All-ACC teams and haven’t for several years. When the season ends I’m so overburdened doing my job that I don’t have enough time to give the All-ACC teams the careful consideration they deserve, particularly when it comes to offensive linemen in football who I might never see play.

But having seen Singler constantly as a Duke beat writer this season, I feel qualified to break down his credentials.

First of all, you can’t consider just ACC statistics when evaluating a player’s season. To do that would ignore more than half the games that were played, and you can make the argument that nonconference results are at least as important to a team and a league as in-conference results when it comes to NCAA tournament selection time.

The ACC’s official statistics list four players with enough attempts in all categories who shot at least 42 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line while scoring at least 17 points per game for the entire season.

Duke’s Nolan Smith, Boston College’s Reggie Jackson and Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney are three of them. They are all first-team All-ACC selections.

Singler is the other.

Even if you want to consider ACC statistics only, there is a significant factor working in Singler’s favor. Yes, his shooting numbers dropped substantially in ACC play, and he was the No. 7 ACC scorer in conference games. But he also grabbed 7.8 rebounds per game against ACC opponents (ranking seventh in the league) despite playing primarily a wing position.

That’s more than North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller (6.6 rpg in ACC play), a 7-foot center who is one of the players who’s considered to have been snubbed in the All-ACC balloting.

There is a valid argument for keeping Singler off the All-ACC team because of his shooting slump and struggles in the big games against rival North Carolina. There also is understandable angst that the ACC regular season champion Tar Heels didn’t have a first-team All-ACC player.

But there also are plenty of arguments, using just statistics, for putting Singler on a first-team All-ACC ballot. Those statistics don’t even consider Singler’s strong defensive skills and leadership.

Bottom line, it’s difficult to look at the full package Singler has brought to the floor for the entire season and say he hasn’t been one of the five best players in the conference.

Ken Tysiac

Larry Drew II raps about his situation

While North Carolina is preparing for the ACC tournament, its former point guard, Larry Drew II, is apparently practicing for a rap career.

This twitvid of Drew rapping at his 21st birthday party has surfaced, and although all of the lyrics are difficult to make out, his rap seems to deal partially with his decision to leave UNC. "They tried to tell me just to play my role ... but who wants to stick with a script full of typos?" he raps at one point.

Also, he raps: "The media, they talk but they'll never confront you."

Drew, a junior who began the season as UNC's starting point guard, announced he was transferring in February, four games after he was replaced in the starting lineup by freshman Kendall Marshall. The Tar Heels, now ranked No. 6 in the nation, went on to win the regular-season ACC title without him, and are the top seed in this week's league tourney.

Drew, the son of Atlanta Hawks head coach Larry Drew, has not announced where he will transfer.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Krzyzewski touts Duke, UNC for Charlotte

DURHAM – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Monday that he thinks the Blue Devils and rival North Carolina deserve to open their NCAA tournament play in Charlotte this season.

Charlotte’s Time Warner Cable Arena will play host to NCAA tournament games on Friday, March 18 and Sunday, March 20.

Duke (27-4) was ranked No. 5 and North Carolina (24-6) was No. 6 in The Associated Press’ poll on Monday, two days after the Tar Heels’ 81-67 win over Duke.

When possible, the committee that selects the NCAA tournament tries to keep teams with regional seeds of No. 1 through No. 4 close to home. Duke and North Carolina both seem certain to secure seeds of No. 4 or higher.

If the Tar Heels and Blue Devils both play in Charlotte, they will be in separate “pods” or brackets, and wouldn’t face each other there.

“We probably should be there, and I’d rather be there,” Krzyzewski said of Charlotte during a news conference Monday, “because it’s closer, and. . .it’s Friday-Sunday, too. So if you do go to Sunday in the ACC championship game, it’s really a lot better for both of the two teams that play Sunday to be given a Friday-Sunday thing.”

During the ACC coaches’ teleconference Monday, North Carolina coach Roy Williams also sounded receptive to playing in Charlotte.

"I'm sure that we would all love it, but you've heard me say before -- it's not just where you play, but how you play when you get there,” he said. “But there's no question it would be a lot easier for everybody, just to travel and the accessibility for our parents and fans and everyone."

Williams said he doesn’t pay attention to seeding, but laughed and said he prefers to play some place where there is warm weather.

Ohio State (No. 1 in The AP and coaches’ rankings), Kansas (No. 2) and Pittsburgh (No. 3) are favorites to secure three of the No. 1 regional seeds. But there’s a chance Duke or North Carolina could secure a No. 1 seed, too.

Krzyzewski said he expects Duke to be rewarded for its strong regular season with a high seed.

“I would think it’s at least a 2, no matter what happens [in the ACC tournament],” Krzyzewski said. “And it could be a 1.”

Duke held its pre-ACC tournament news conference Monday afternoon, and its players still were frustrated with their performance Saturday with the conference regular season title on the line.

The Blue Devils broke down defensively against the Tar Heels and gave up 51 first-half points.

“We feel like we could have won that game if we had the right mind set and effort to stop them,” said Duke senior guard Nolan Smith. “. . .I think everybody’s mad. They know we messed up.”

With spring break taking place this week, players will have extra time to improve and catch up on their rest as they prepare to meet the N.C. State-Maryland winner at 7 p.m. Friday in the ACC quarterfinals in Greensboro.

“We haven’t had just a week to get better and practice in a while,” said junior center Mason Plumlee.

Ken Tysiac