« What's new at The U in '07 | Main | The Hot Stove: GatorEnvy, Beason, recruiting and a lot of hoops »

Around the ACC (team notes)

In an attempt to provide you with complete ACC men's basketball coverage -- something I'm sure nobody south of Atlanta does -- I've decided to use this blog to fill you in on what's happening around the rest of the league.

As part of my induction into the ACC basketball writers circle of trust, I've been asked to provide weekly notes to the other papers that go hardcore on hoops. My previous entry was what I sent to my fellow basketball writers per the Hurricanes. The following is what the hardworking writers at some of the other papers with ACC teams sent my way. I condensed and edited in certain spots, but it's still pretty long.

As long as I get some positive feedback from you blog readers I'll continue to post on a weekly basis. But if you think it's a waste, I'll stop. This week, the only team I didn't receive any notes on was Virginia Tech. Anyway, if your deep into ACC men's hoops I hope you enjoy it.

BOSTON COLLEGE (10-4, 2-0): The New Year has been decidedly kinder to the Eagles than the end of the Old Year, which saw BC absorb a pair of difficult losses at then 11th-ranked Kansas (84-66) Dec. 23 followed by a ``bad'' overtime loss to unranked Duquesne (98-93) Dec. 28.

BC wound up limping into and out of Lawrence, Kansas, with a injury-riddled frontcourt whose casualty list grew from one to three after the Eagles entered the game without jBostoncollegeunior center John Oates, who sat out with a strained left arch. About 4-1/2 minutes into the game, junior forward Akida McLain, Oates's replacement, went down with a severely sprained right ankle in what had been his season debut after sitting out the first nine games due to a team suspension. Afterward, it was learned senior forward Jared Dudley, BC's scoring and rebounding leader, who went 40 minutes against the Jayhawks (tallying 14 points) would sit out BC's next three games against Duquesne, Northeastern and Yale to nurse a nagging left foot injury.

Since that ruinous loss to Duquesne, the Eagles have turned a new leaf with the turn of the New Year with three consecutive victories over Northeastern (87-82) Dec. 31, Yale (72-56) Jan. 3 and at N.C. State (74-58), which improved BC to 10-4 overall and 2-0 in ACC play headed into Tuesday night's conference road game at Wake Forest.

CLEMSON (16-0, 2-0): Last Wednesday, coach Oliver Purnell made the mistake of revealing all the intricacies of the game-winning play at Florida State. He wasn’t about to grab the chalk and dissect his latest gem for everyone to see Saturday.

Clemson"If I keep telling you about the plays, I’m going to run out of plays," the coach told reporters. At this rate, Purnell’s well might run dry. No. 23 Clemson won its second consecutive game with a length-of-the-court play inside of 6.5 seconds, defeating Georgia Tech 75-74 on James Mays’ left-handed layup with 2.2 seconds left. At Florida State, the Tigers won by two after Mays passed from his own baseline to Vernon Hamilton, who found Cliff Hammonds for a layup with 2.8 seconds remaining.

Clemson is willing itself to quite a fine season. Saturday’s victory improved the Tigers to 16-0, leaving them the only undefeated team in the nation after UCLA’s loss to Oregon. And by the way: Clemson is off to a 2-0 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time in 10 years. Said Mays: "A couple of years ago, I don’t think this team could have pulled it off."

More last-second dramatics overshadowed Clemson’s excellent showing from the free-throw line -- a place that has created plenty of heartburn the past few seasons. The Tigers finished 73.1 percent from the line, going 19-of-26 for the game and 15-of-20 in the second half. Mays, a career 49-percent foul shooter, was 6-of-8. Booker was 5-of-6. Clemson entered the game shooting 61.3 percent on free throws.

Win Tuesday at North Carolina State, and Clemson will match the 1986-87 team for the best start in school history (17-0). The Tigers and UCLA were the only undefeated teams in college basketball before the Bruins’ 68-66 loss at Oregon dropped their record to 13-1. In Purnell’s fourth season, Clemson has already bagged four game-winning shots in the final five seconds. Cheyenne Moore hit a 3-pointer to beat South Carolina in 2004-05; Sharrod Ford dunked at the buzzer to beat Virginia Tech the same season.

DUKE (13-2, 0-1): A season of slow starts and offensive struggles caught up with Duke Saturday in its ACC opener. Virginia Tech pulled a 69-67 upset in overtime in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke suffered its first loss in an ACC opener since Jan. 3, 1996.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows exactly why his team lost.Duke "We've got to be a hungrier basketball team," he said. "We've got to be a tougher basketball team. "I don't like to learn by losing. We try to do a lot in practice so we don't lose. Losing is not the way to become better. Practicing hard and having a realization of who you are and what you do is the reason you win."

Duke will go on the road for its next two games, starting on Wednesday at Georgia Tech. Duke has not started an ACC season 0-2 since the 1996 season when that team lost its first four ACC games in finishing 18-13. Krzyzewski returned that season from back surgery that knocked out of the last half of the 1995 season. Duke is young and started one freshman and threesophomores against Virginia Tech, but Krzyzewski said that he isn't buying inexperience as the cause of his team's woes.

Duke has fallen behind early in recent games at home (Temple raced to a 16-4 lead) and it often struggles to score points. "I'm not going to use that as an excuse; that's who we are," Krzyzewski said. "We all need to be hungrier again. This decade we've won about 85 percent of our games. A lot more than anybody. We are not that team or those teams. We are not that Duke. We're not that Cameron. Everything's got to be hungrier. I've been saying that all season."

Josh McRoberts is Duke's consistent weapon in its season of struggle. McRoberts, a 6-10 sophomore, has carried Duke for six games, the first five of them wins. He is helping Duke in almost every way possible. His versatility was shown in a 73-55 win over Temple when he threw a wrap-around pass behind his back and behind the back of Sergio Olmos, Temple's center, that bounced once and hit Nelson in stride for a layup.

"He's a great passer," Krzyzewski of Duke said. "He's not a great passing big man. He's a great passer. You can put him anywhere. Bill Walton was one of the great big-man passers, especially in Coach (John) Wooden's offense. I'm not saying he's Bill Walton because we would win very easily if he were. Josh wants to pass. It's almost like you have to make him score. He's trying to do that more. He sees things like a point guard, but he's like a point guard on stilts. He has a different vision so he sees mores."

In the last four games McRoberts has averaged 16.4 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 3.8 blocked shots. He is the only ACC player to rank in the top 10 statistically in rebounds, blocked shots, assists, assists-to-turnovers ratio and minutes played.

"He's just going to keep getting better," Krzyzewski said. "He's really a good player and he wants to be good. He's grown up so much in his desire to become a special player. He's been a joy to coach. He's come in every day as the first person here and the last to leave. His leadership in doing that has been spectacular for our basketball team/ He's playing well. He's going that kind of stuff like a senior, a really good senior."

FLORIDA STATE (12-4, 0-2): FSU's four losses have come against teams with a combined 59-4 record.

Floridastate The Seminoles have lost to North Carolina (14-1), Clemson (16-0), Pittsburgh (14-2) and Wisconsin (15-1). The ACC's unbalanced schedule kept FSU from visiting North Carolina last season. So Sunday was the first game at the Dean Dome for Uche Echefu, who surprised many by picking the Seminoles over the Tar Heels following his senior season at Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md.

Overpowered by Tyler Hansbrough, Echefu missed all four shots he attempted from the field in 22 minutes. He finished with one point. Hurting for big bodies and fresh off its national title in 2005, North Carolina pushed hard for Echefu following Sean May's decision to leave for the NBA but lost out to the strong relationship FSU had already established

"I think I made a great decision coming here," said Echefu, a 6-9 sophomore who has started all 16 games for the Seminoles. "I know I'm going to learn a lot from the coaching staff here."

The Seminoles had 21 turnovers and only 10 assists, entrenching their position in last place in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio. Point guards Toney Douglas and Ralph Mims combined to set up only one basket while committing nine turnovers. Center Uche Echefu had a team-high five turnovers in 19 minutes.

GEORGIA TECH (11-4, 0-2): It took a while, but Georgia Tech freshman Thaddeus Young finally seems to be getting it.

From before the time the former McDonald's All-American played his first game, GeorgiatechTech coach Paul Hewitt was preaching to the kid to be more aggressive on offense -- even in preseason practices. Young's clearly a gifted scorer, but at times is too selfless. Since a nine-day layoff following atrocious losses at Miami and Vanderbilt, Young's averaged 15.7 points, six rebounds and 2.5 assists in six games despite limited  playing time in four cupcake games in that stretch. In eight games before that, he averaged 13.3, 5.1 and 1.9.

The biggest difference between Tech (11-4, 0-2 ACC) now and last year, when they were 11-17 and had almost no heart, is the way freshman point guard Javaris Crittenton has practically imposed his nature on the Jackets. He scored 22 points with six assists in a 75-74 loss Saturday at Clemson, his running jumper with six seconds left giving Tech a one-point lead.

Crittenton, also a McDonald's All-American last year, has 33 assists and four turnovers in the past four games. Still, Hewitt knows he needs more out of his upperclassmen (juniors Ra'Sean Dickey, Jeremis Smith and Anthony Morrow, chiefly) if the Jackets are going to do anything
substantial this season.

"The thing that we talked about coming in was re-establishing how Georgia Tech has played over the years. We haven't done that in the last year-and-a-half, and it's been very disappointing," Hewitt said. "If we're depending on our freshmen to carry us, we'll be an NIT team, plain and simple. Our senior and our juniors have to set the tone . . . in everything we do.  "We have this little free-throw game we do on game days. Our young guys have won the game three games in a row. That's the first time in my years as a head coach that freshmen have ever won two in a row, much less three in a row. It has nothing to do with talent. It has everything to do with concentration and commitment."

It's unclear what sophomore shooting guard Lewis Clinch did to become ineligible, but he did not flunk out. Don't know if he cheated, shared homework, or what, but Hewitt found out right after finals, and started decreasing his minutes, suggesting defense was a problem. Actually, he was planning for the future while awaiting appeals. They didn't work out, and Clinch can't play this semester. He'll learn early this week if he's even allowed to stay in school. Hewitt offered him a chance to transfer, and he declined. At Tech right now, there is NO academic leeway whatsoever being granted right now for student-athletes (see football players Reggie Ball and Kenny Scott last month) as probation hangs like a cloud over Atlanta.

Clinch, a very good scorer but not much more, averaged 17.1 points per game over the first 11 games before his minutes got whacked. He played his final two games off the bench.

With 13:12 left at Clemson, freshman reserve center Zach Peacock, who started the first nine games while Hewitt tried to light a fire under Dickey, elbowed Clemson freshman TrevorBooker. Peacock was ejected, and virtually certain to miss Wednesday's game against Duke.

MARYLAND (14-2, 0-1): No one has been more responsible for Maryland’s 14-2 start than
D.J. Strawberry, the son of former Mets star outfielder Darryl Strawberry.

The senior guard is averaging 16.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists as the Terrapins have Marylandjumped to their best start since opening the 1998-99 season at 19-2. Strawberry, who played point guard last year despite limited experience at the position, has shifted back to the wing this season. The move permits him to be an even more effective defensive presence, while last year’s trials at the point gave him greater understanding of the game.He also averages 2.75 steals, and has scored at least 20 points in four of Maryland’s last five games.

“I’m just trying to stay on my game as much as I can,” Strawberry said. “This is probably the year that I’ve put the most into it, and I’m getting the most out of it. Hopefully, I can continue to put out these performances during ACC play.”

Added coach Gary Williams: “In my mind, he’s as good as any guard in the ACC. I don’t mind saying that.”

The Terps made a brief appearance in the top 25 earlier this season, but fell out after losses to Notre Dame and at Boston College.

With both Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist in foul trouble against Iona, junior forward Bambale Osby’s re-emergence was a welcome sign for the Terps.

Osby, a junior college transfer, played well in the first month of the season before stumbling after a strong game in a loss at Boston College. He delivered eight points and seven rebounds against the Gaels, muscling his way to four easy layups in the first half.

“He played junior college ball last year. This all different,” Williams said. “Every level you move up is a little bigger, little quicker, little stronger. He got lost for a little while, but he’s working his way back.”

It isn’t Osby’s first Division I season. The Richmond, Va., native started his career at New Mexico before transferring to Paris Junior College in Texas. He then landed at Maryland, where his quirky personality, rugged play and large ‘Fro have made him a fan favorite."

One of Osby’s interests is antique cars. He owns four classic Cadillacs, including a rusty though roomy 1962 DeVille he keeps on campus. It was stationed in Comcast Center’s loading dock for more than a month, but has since been fixed. None of his teammates, though, have agreed to take a ride just yet.

Williams said freshman forward Jerome Burney will almost certainly redshirt this season after injuries hampered the start of his season. Burney fractured a bone in his left foot about two weeks before practice started and was not cleared to  play until Nov. 12. Williams said Burney has practiced well, but added the prospect of Burney improving his strength and taking advantage of the five-year window of use four years of eligibility are appealing.

NORTH CAROLINA (14-1, 1-0): North Carolina ascended into the top spot in the national
polls this week after beating Florida State 84-58 Sunday night in its ACC opener. And Coach Roy Williams couldn't care less. "Really, it's, `Frankly, my dear..' It's one of those," Williams said. "It says until this point of the year we're doing all right. I've been No. 1 before and if you don't finish that way at the end of the year it means you had a good little stretch. It doesn't mean people will remember you."

Any game plan for stopping UNC will have to start on the inside again. Tyler NorthcarolinaHansbrough and Brandan Wright combined for 45 points against FSU. Hansbrough scored 20 points of his 25 after halftime. Of UNC's 19 baskets in the second half, 16 were layups or dunks. The only shots that weren't from point-blank range were a 3-pointer by Danny Green, a six-footer by Hansbrough and a 3-pointer by Wayne Ellington.

Bobby Frasor is back at point guard at North Carolina, but he thought several times that he might not recover from a foot injury and that his season might be over. Frasor, a sophomore, played for the first time in six games on Jan. 3 in a 102-64 win over Penn. He played again against FSU and had no problems. Both he and Coach Roy Williams described the injury as a sore foot.

For Reyshawn Terry, there's no worse sight than looking at the scorer's table and seeing five UNC reserves waiting to come into a game. It only one thing: Williams is mad, and the five players on the floor are going to be chewed out but good once they get to the bench.

"Just to know those guys are coming in, it's basically bad," Terry, a senior forward, said. "But at the same time, it's time for us to get our thoughts and our heads together and realize we can't take things for granted when we're out there."

Williams doesn't pull a five-for-five switch often, and he's usually only a few degrees short of thermonuclear when he does. He has made the switch at least twice this season, the most recent time Jan. 3 in a home game against Penn.

N.C. STATE (10-5, 0-2): N.C. State's worst fears materialized in Saturday's 74-58 homecourt loss to Boston College.  The Wolfpack knew it faced a problem matching the Eagles' overall bulk and size, and BC used those assets to full advantage.

Ncstate Despite shooting just 39 percent from the floor, BC pounded the glass for 23 offensive rebounds and 19 second-chance points. Overall, the Eagles outrebounded the Wolfpack 50-30."They just beat us up today," State first-year coach Sidney Lowe said.

State, which overcame early-game deficits in nonconference wins over Michigan, East Carolina and UNC Greensboro, found the going much different against the Eagles. The game was basically over early, when BC led 24-11 with six minutes remaining in the first half.

"It seemed like they hit us and we weren't ready for that type of play," the Wolfpack's Gavin Grant said. "They were so aggressive."   BC led by as many as 23 points in the second half.

An 0-2 start in Atlantic Coast Conference play isn't what Lowe hoped for or envisioned. On the whole, however, perhaps the Wolfpack (10-5 overall) got through the months of November and December making the most of what it had.  Senior point guard Engin Atsur missed nine games after suffering a pulled hamstring in State's win over Michigan on Nov. 27. He did not return until Saturday, when he failed to score in 31 minutes of action but registered 10 assists. Grant assumed most of the point guard chores during Atsur's absence. There were times the 6-foot-7 Grant filled the role admirably. Other times, most notably during an 80-71 loss at Cincinnati just before Christmas that was marred by 32 Wolfpack turnovers, the lack of a true point guard showed. For the season, Grant has 76 assists and has turned the ball over 72 times.

Saturday, with Atsur back at the point, Grant played the full 40 minutes and led the Wolfpack with 22 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He did not have a turnover. "Having (Atsur) out there just gives us a calmness that we need," Lowe said. "And it frees up Gavin to get out on the wing and play his natural position."

The Wolfpack, which sometimes had four players going close to the full 40 minutes in some of its early games, did manage to build depth to some degree. Walk-on  Bryan Nieman averaged 21.3 minutes per game during Atsur's absence and started five contests. Pittsburgh transfer Trevor Ferguson became eligible after 10 games and has averaged a shade over 22 minutes per contest. Freshman Dennis Horner has also played in the neighborhood of that amount. He had a key steal during last Tuesday night's 95-93 overtime win over UNC Greensboro. But the lack of overall size and a truly deep bench showed against BC.

Despite being hit hard by graduation losses, Cedric Simmons' early departure to the NBA and Andrew Brackman's decision to play baseball only, points were not as hard for the Wolfpack to come by in nonconference games as some had envisioned. Redshirt freshman Brandon Costner's 16.7 points per game were tops among ACC rookies heading into the Boston College contest, and he added 18 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday. Costner ranked seventh overall in conference scoring, a shade behind teammate McCauley's 17.1 ppg. Grant was averaging 14.6 points per game. But again, much of the above could be changing now that State has plunged head first into ACC play.

VIRGINIA (9-4, 1-0): While the Cavaliers have scored a couple of impressive wins this season against then-10th ranked Arizona and last week against Gonzaga (108-87), their best work has been at home. The Cavaliers haven’t ventured away from Charlottesville but a couple of times and the results have been less than spectacular. Virginia lost in the final minute at Purdue in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and dropped two out of three in Puerto Rico to less superior teams on a neutral floor.
Virginia Meanwhile, UVa junior point guard Sean Singletary has been red hot. The ACC scoring leader has averaged 31.3 points over his last three outings against Stanford, Gonzaga and American. His 37 points against the Zags were a career high and came in only 25 minutes. Virginia blew Gonzaga away with a 60-point first half that even left Leitao speechless at halftime.

“I didn’t have any 34-point lead speeches planned,” second-year Wahoo coach Dave Leitao quipped.

Together with senior shooting guard J.R. Reynolds, the Cavs backcourt is averaging 35.3 points, 8.7 assists, and 8.0 rebounds for the season. As strong as the tandem has been, the lack of depth at the position has caused the Cavaliers some worries, though. Reynolds is the only backup for Singletary at the point guard spot after reserve T.J. Bannister transferred in the offseason. With that in mind, Leitao has attempted to limit his starting backcourts’ minutes as
much as can be allowed and has been unable to apply as much defensive pressure outside
of halfcourt sets than he would prefer. As a result of the strain on the two starters,
Virginia has played much more zone defense in order to preserve the two guards’ energy.

WAKE FOREST (9-5, 1-1): It wasn't a season maker, but it wasn't a breaker either. For the latter, Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser was most grateful. Down 13 points at the break at Miami on Saturday, the Demon Deacons rallied to claim a 59-58 win and perhaps steady their shaky confidence. "I think we were very fearful of getting blown out," said Prosser, who has seen
Wake 9-5 overall, 1-1 ACC) suffer that fate a couple of times already. "If we didn't
step it up a bit, this was going to be ugly."

The win snapped a four-game losing streak on the road for Wake, and it gave the WakeforestDeacons their first ACC regular-season win outside of Joel Coliseum since the 2005 season. Wake was 0-8 in ACC road games last year. Inconsistent play by then-junior center Kyle Visser played a big part in the Deacons' mediocre 2006 season. Visser entered his senior year fully aware he needed to improve his game, particularly on a team that features seven freshmen and four sophomores.

"I need to come out of the gates playing well, and I need to play well during the ACC season," Visser acknowledged. ``It is a long season, and at times I have struggled through that. As a senior on this team, I think my leadership will come from me playing well and being consistent."

Mission accomplished, at least thus far. The 6-foot-11 Visser finished the Miami game with 15 points and 14 rebounds, giving him five double-doubles for the season. He has scored at least 12 points in every game this season, and he currently ranks second in the ACC in both scoring (a shade under 19 points per game) and rebounding (8.6). "For Kyle, the only person who usually stops him is himself," Prosser said. "He is big enough and athletic enough. He has a good enough touch.  But sometimes his confidence wanes. It is the old adage of when he plays better he will have confidence, and when he has confidence he will play better."

Visser and Michael Drum are the only senior on Wake's team. The Deacons have no scholarship juniors. "I've told Kyle he's going to feel like Mr. Rogers all season," Prosser said.