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2008
22
Jan

And now, Basketball

The time has come. The suitcase has finally been unpacked from the Miami trip. The coolers have been relegated to their off-season basement location for another year. The used tickets, programs and assorted other detritus from a season that tends to collect on my kitchen table from September to early January has been stashed into the drawer that holds all the used tickets, programs and assorted other detritus from seasons past. With the calendar and Raycom informing me that it is now well into January, it becomes time to start paying attention to basketball.

December basketball is, for the most part, lost on me. So are all of those November games now proliferating like ACC bowl losses. While it might be a minority view among large segments of the ACC population, I still consider those months to be football season. From my perspective, basketball season begins with the onset of ACC conference play. That would be now.

We are roughly one quarter into the 2008 season. What can be gleaned so far is that not much can be gleaned so far. Virginia Tech has beaten Maryland which has [gasp!] beaten North Carolina which has beaten Clemson which has beaten NC State which has beaten Miami which has beaten Georgia Tech which has beaten Virginia Tech which has beaten the Hoos who have beaten Fredo who has beaten Miami, not to mention Wake Forest which has beaten Florida State which has beaten Georgia Tech which has beaten, well, you get the idea.

As often happens in the ACC, there sure seems to be a lot of parity. Every team seems to have definable strengths and weaknesses. That includes Duke, which so far has managed to avoid conference defeat, a condition which will certainly be altered down the road.

The decision by Devils’ center Josh McRoberts to quit his constant bickering with Greg Paulus and forego Methodist Flats for the glamour of the CBA left Coach K with no serviceable big men on his roster. The injury to Zoubek has left him with none whatsoever. Coach K has responded by remaking his team into a perimeter one that maximizes the five quality guards he does have on hand. It has worked pretty well, except for the one time Duke has gone up against a physical team with solid inside play, when it did not. That would be the Pitt game. Duke has not seen the last team this year that has the inside muscle to give the Devils lots of problems.

The best team in the ACC, or at least the best talent, belongs to North Carolina. They just aren’t playing like it. Despite the good old N&O assuring its dwindling subscriber base that these Tar Heels were the best assemblage of basketball talent ever, coached by the second-best coach in the history of the game and utterly incapable of losing ever again, they did. Oops! Given the good old N&O’s blatant cheerleading for the Heels, one does wonder whether those many television shots of weeping Heels in the Dean Dome following the loss to Maryland included any staffers from the good old N&O.

ACC coaches for the most part are a pretty bright bunch and they seem to be noticing that if you can somehow beat the withering backcourt pressure Ol’ Roy can throw at you with Lawson and Ellington, inside boy wonder Tyler the Good will give up points by the bushel, in some cases almost as many as he scores. There are reasons Tyler the Good is still in Blue Heaven rather than the NBA. A lot of things can be taught and few teach them better than Ol’ Roy, but speed and quickness is not among them.

This reads suspiciously like 20-30 years ago, when the book on beating Dean’s Heels, if they could indeed be beaten, was attack the low post along the baseline. What was old seems to be new again. Carolina remains the best team in the ACC, but study their NCAA bracket for quality big men.

The league’s darkhorse is Clemson. Oliver Purnell is quietly building a solid program at what before expansion was the ACC’s toughest place to win, and after expansion still ranks among the toughest. If Oliver could ever figure out how to beat Duke and/or Carolina, the Tigers could be really good.

Gary Williams looks to be putting together a down-the-road contender again at Maryland. The Terps are only an Eric Hayes injury from this weekend’s game against Duke being for a share of first place in the standings. Keeping his backcourt healthy is critical for GWilliams and most everybody else named Williams in the league, but the Terps are very young and very good.

Among the rest of the teams, most everybody has a solid strength and some glaring weaknesses. Both Fredo and the Hoos are one-man teams, conditions that do not lend themselves to extended tournament runs. At NC State, El Syd was hailed a coaching genius last year when he had very good point guard Engin Atsur running the show. Without Antsur or any other point guard, for that matter, El Syd seems to be, like most coaches, merely mortal. Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt continues to deal with that irksome desire of top recruits to pursue NBA riches rather than GT engineering degrees.

Among the Florida teams down in football country, Frank Haith’s Canes started strong before again finding out that the ACC schedule makers force them to play a conference schedule. Despite what I am sure was shrill bitching by the Dwarf Dyke of Miami, Little Johnny has made no exceptions for the Canes.

Injuries and what seems to be a growing dissatisfaction with Leonard Hamilton have caused problems in Tallahassee, this at a time when Hamilton and Bobby Bowden seem to have been working together to turn FSU into a basketball school.

Wake Forest is still very young and is having to deal with the aftershocks of the death of Skip Prosser. Dino Gaudio is finding out there is a difference between being the right-hand man and sitting in the big chair. There is a monster recruiting class still coming to Wake next year, however. How Gaudio handles them will define his Wake career.

At Virginia Tech, the Hokies are very young and very inexperienced, as might be expected after three four-year starters leave. All of the youth will cause the usual age-related problems, although Tech will not be quite so young in its next two games, or nearly as talented.

There are some pretty good young players at Tech, but a couple of problems, too. One is the absence of a credible inside game to complement all-ACC freshman Jeff Allen, provided he can keep his head about him and remain on the floor. With little help on the immediate horizon and Lewis Witcher looking, at least so far, very much like the latest in Seth’s long history of not developing big men, finding ways to keep defenses from collapsing on Allen is going to be a challenge.

The other is Tech’s seemingly endless quest for a top-notch point guard. The diminutive Hank Thorns seems to be mostly heart, but the ACC is a tough place to attempt to compensate for a lack of size by being a step slow. When even journeymen guards can light Thorns up for career games, it would seem that he is overmatched in the ACC. Zabien Dowdell and Jamon Gordon eventually gave Tech solid point play between them. Seth is crossing his fingers that the same will in time happen with Delaney and Hudson.

Basketball season is upon us. The games will be coming a rapid-fire pace for the next six weeks. It is a satisfying way to bide the time until March. The recliner beckons.

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