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9 posts from January 2007

January 30, 2007

Around the ACC (Jan. 29)

For you basketball junkies, here's the fourth installment of ACC men's basketball notes. As usual, we are missing a few teams... Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Before I get to that, though, I want to include a few tidbits you should know about how tough the ACC is and why aside from injuries Miami is struggling this season. The ACC is the No. 1-ranked conference this season according to both the RPI and Sagarin polls with 9 teams in the top 55, 7 in the top 35 and 2 in the top 10.

This week's best games...
Thursday: Duke at Virginia, 9 p.m. ESPN
Saturday: Virginia Tech at Boston College, 1 p.m.
Sunday: Florida State Duke, 2 p.m. FSN

Now, the notes...

Boston College (14-5, 6-2): The Eagles continue to ride an emotional roller coaster in their last two games. BC went from the euphoric high of Sean Marshall's buzzer-beating 3-pointer in an 85-82 victory over Florida State last Tuesday night at Conte Forum to the abject low of getting physically beat down by Duke's suffocating team defense in Sunday night's 75-61 loss to 10th-ranked Blue Devils in the hostile environs of Cameron Indoor Stadium.

The loss to Duke knocked BC from its precarious first-place perch in the ACC standings, dropping the Eagles to third place behind Virginia Tech (6-1) and North Carolnia (5-1). BC now has to guard against a precipitous freefall in the league standings when they return home to resume conference play against the first-place Hokies next Saturday, but not before hosting Hartford of the America East in a nonconference tilt Wednesday night.

"To win this league, it doesn't end right now, in January and February," said senior forward Jared Dudley. "It's in March, so there's a lot of games left to be played. But [Duke] did what they did what they were supposed to do and that's to hold homecourt advantage."

With eight remaining conference games, the prevailing theory is that the Eagles will have to get to 10 wins in the league to have any realistic chance of making the NCAA Tournament, but to do so BC must find a way to win at least four more games. That might be a tall order for BC, given that it desperately needs to hold serve in its four remaining home games against the Hokies Saturday, Duke (Feb. 14) and North Carolina (Feb. 17) back-to-back, and vs. Clemson Feb. 24 in the home finale.

Realistically speaking, the Eagles could wind up going 1-3 in its last four home games, which means it will need to win at least three of its four remaining road games at Miami Feb. 7, at Florida State Feb. 11, at Virginia Tech Feb. 21, and at Georgia Tech March 4.

"The season's young and to be 6-2 right now is good, and we just have to get better," Dudley said, trying to put a positive spin on the loss at Duke. "We're just learning the longer we go."

With a short-handed seven-man rotation, Messrs. Dudley and Marshall, along with sophomore guard Tyrese Rice, are likely to have to long some heavy-duty minutes in the second half of conference play. Dudley, who last year ranked as the league's leader in minutes per game, played in all but 10 seconds of BC's last two games, and all but 27.9 seconds in BC's last seven games.

Asked if he was concerned about fatigue taking its toll on his 40-minute men, BC coach Al Skinner, a former UMass player who went on to play in the ABA and NBA in the '70s, replied: "These guys are playing for a guy who played every minute that was available to him. I played every minute I had a chance to play. I never wanted to come out. I understand a guy getting tired, but they've got to be prepared to play, and to be a player in this league -- a real player -- you've got to play 40 minutes. "As far as fatigue goes, I'm not the guy that understands that."

If their was one silver lining in the loss at Duke, it was the emergence of 6-10 junior center Tyrelle Blair, who contributed 9 points, 6 rebounds (both career highs) and 5 blocked shots. With the dismissal of junior center Sean Williams and junior forward Akida McLain, Blair has had to step up, but he hasn't inspired much confidence with his awkward, if not timid, presence in the paint.

But something clicked for Blair against Duke.

"Tyrelle gave us a nice lift, there's no question about it," Skinner said. "His interior defense was helpful and he had a presence inside. He's capable and as he gets more comfortable you're going to see a lot more success. In the first half, I didn't think he handled the ball as well as we would have liked. In the second half, I thought he did a much better job. As time goes on he's going to get more comfortable and help contribute to this team."

Clemson (18-4, 4-4): If it ends up in the National Invitation Tournament for a third straight year, Clemson’s basketball team will know exactly where to point the finger. Not at Thursday’s excruciating two-point defeat at Duke, but at Sunday’s inexplicable meltdown that assured a 64-63 loss to Virginia in front of a dazed and confused crowd at Littlejohn Coliseum.

If Clemson’s streak without an NCAA Tournament appearance extends to nine  years, blowing a 14-point lead to the Cavaliers in the final four minutes will be awfully hard to overlook.

   "The feeling we’ve got now seems like a Clemson team of the past," said junior forward James Mays.

This was indeed a haunting trip back in time for a team hoping to close the first half of its Atlantic Coast Conference slate with a 5-3 record. But the No. 19 Tigers allowed the Cavaliers to close the game on a 15-0 run, capped by Jason Cain’s game-winning put-back with 15.5 seconds left. Up 61-45 after a 3-pointer by Cliff Hammonds with 8:47 remaining, Clemson’s only
production the rest of the way consisted of two Trevor Booker free throws that created a
63-49 lead with 5:05 left.

Clemson, which at 17-0 was the only undefeated team remaining in college basketball just 16 days ago, has now lost four of five games. Virginia (13-6, 5-2) won its fourth straight game and secured a potentially crucial head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over the Tigers.Since the ACC schedule expanded to 16 games in 1991-92, Clemson has closed the first half with a winning record just once (6-2 in 1997).

The Tigers’ rebounding problems, so pronounced in the loss to Duke, reared themselves again as Virginia owned a 39-29 advantage while amassing 15 offensive boards. Cain’s game-winning basket was preceded by two offensive rebounds that kept the possession alive, including one that saw 6-foot guard Sean Singletary outleap 6-9 forward James Mays. The Tigers have been outrebounded in five straight games after it happened just twice over the 17-0 start.

The past two games have seen Duke and Virginia own a combined advantage of 79-53 on the boards. "I just don’t think we regard it as importantly as we should,” said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell. Purnell is probably referring to Booker, a freshman who has totaled seven rebounds in
58 minutes the past two games. Forward Sam Perry has totaled three in 36 minutes over the same stretch, including just one in 19 minutes against Virginia.

The controversy that marred Clemson’s 68-66 loss to Duke last Thursday overshadowed some problems that bubbled back to the surface against Virginia. The rebounding issue has already been discussed, but the Tigers also faltered late in the first half and late in the game against the Blue Devils. In Durham, Clemson took a one-point lead with 5:33 remaining in the first half. Duke responded with a 14-2 run from there until halftime, holding the Tigers without a field
goal before entering the locker room up 36-25.

In the second  half, Clemson used an 8-0 run to knot the score at 60 with 3:33 left. The Tigers didn’t muster another field goal until Hamilton scored off a drive with five seconds left.K.C. Rivers missed two 3-pointers; Vernon Hamilton missed another; and Hammonds missed two runners inside of 10 feet. Had Clemson managed to cash in, the gaffes by the officiating crew might have been immaterial.

It was the same story Sunday against Virginia in the final 8:47. Clemson missed open shots as Virginia quickly chipped away at the lead. The Tigers committed three turnovers, including a crucial one with 31 seconds left after Rivers stepped on the sideline while taking in a pass from Hamilton.

The free-throw problems also returned. Mays missed two that would have given Clemson a 10-point cushion with 2:28 left. Hamilton missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on the next trip down the floor. Three days after going 10-of-11 from the line at Duke, Clemson was 9-of-16 (56.3
percent). The Tigers are shooting 58.8 percent on the season, and Hamilton is 5-of-16 in
ACC play.

A good shooting night at Duke didn’t allow Rivers to snap out of his slump. The sophomore sixth man scored just six points against Virginia, the third time in the past four games he hasn’t scored in double figures. Rivers reached double figures in every game during the Tigers’ 17-1 start, a record for a Clemson reserve. He is 13-of-35 from the field in the past four games while
missing 14 of 17 shots from 3-point range.

Duke (18-3, 5-2): The Blue Devils have won five consecutive games since staggering to a 0-2 ACC start.  Greg Paulus, Duke's point guard, believes his team still has significant improvement
to make to contend for the ACC title but that it has made steady progress since losing to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.

"We're working harder. We're preparing harder. We are better, and that comes with experience and time and maturity," Paulus said. "We're still a young team. We're still trying to find our niche. The fact we lost a couple in a row early, we had to learn from them. We could have taken a step backward and not learned from them but the guys were so responsive and everybody wanted to get better. That's what we need."

Duke's 68-66 win Wednesday over Clemson showed the improvement. Most would think that Duke should have won easily, playing at home against the ACC's least successful program of all-time. Coach Mike Krzyzewski and Paulus and Jon Scheyer, a shooting guard, all said that Duke would not have beaten Clemson three weeks ago.

"The way the last 10 minutes went we probably would have lost by 12-15 points," Krzyzewski said. "In this league at this level you have to learn to play tired well. You have to fight through tired. You have to find something nd you can't really teach that in practice. It has to be taught with game experience. And we have more game experience and we're practicing really hard. (My players) were able to do that."

David McClure might never be the player that he once was, but he is firmly back in Duke's playing rotation and his help has given his team a five-game wining streak.McClure sped down the floor last Thursday to catch a pass from Jon Scheyer and stick in a layup at the buzzer to defeat Clemson 68-66. McClure said that he had never hit a game-winning shot in such dramatic fashion and not at all since biddy-ball.

McClure is back playing this season after missing all of last season because of a knee injury. He doesn't move as smoothly or as confidently as he did before the injury, but his confidence is back and his play is improving. He did wonder after injuring the knee and starting rehabilitation if he would play again and how effective he would be if he did come back.

"That's something, a fear, that was definitely going through my mind," McClure said. "It was such a foreign injury. It had happened but they didn't know too much about it. It wasn't like a typical ACL or MCL. It had something to do with the cartilage and bone.

"Once I was able to get back and start playing and didn't feel too much pain with it, it was one of the best feelings ever because basketball is my love."

McClure is not much of an offensive threat and has a funky release on his jump shots.Krzyzewski has praised McClure several times this season for the energy and effort that he puts into the lineup. Some games McClure starts and the others he plays off the bench, but Krzyzewski is always looking for his help, especially on defense.

"What Dave gives us a chance to do is switch," Krzyzewski said. "He can guard the perimeter guys. He's very stable. He doesn't get up or down. He's dependable. He makes simple, terrific plays. It's not just his defense but his rebounding."

Paulus knows a thing or two about passes, serving as Duke's point guard and having been an All-America quarterback in high school. AAnd the pass that Scheyer threw to McClure for the winning basket against Clemson will forever be one of the best Paulus has witnessed.

Scheyer caught the inbounds pass in the backcourt, not near midcourt as Krzyzewski planned. He sped down the right side of the floor, cut toward the middle, and just as he crossed midcourt lofted the ball ahead to McClure, who has slipped behind Clemson's defense. McClure caught the ball in stride in the lane, took a step and put in the winning shot as time expired.

"It was an unbelievable pass," Paulus said. "For him to have that kind of vision with the clock ticking -- you've got a timer in your head, guys are flying at you -- he made a terrific pass. Dave caught it in stride. Jon deserves all the credit and Dave obviously made a great play."

Florida State (15-6, 3-4): The Seminoles reach the halfway mark in the league schedule Tuesday against the Terrapins (16-5, 2-4 ACC), who have lost all three of their conference road games. The Seminoles will have only three of their final eight league games at home.

Leonard Hamilton has always set the bar high - and the magic number low - when it comes to defense. Miami was ranked nationally in field-goal defense in Hamilton's final four seasons, including No. 1 in 1997-98. His helping man-to-man defense was stout even before he was able to upgrade Florida State's talent and athleticism significantly. The Seminoles were able to get under the targeted 40-percent mark his first season in 2002-03.

But staying under 50 percent has been a challenge of late. Its offense revved up, FSU still has struggled in ACC play because of its defensive shortcomings. The Seminoles have allowed three of their last five opponents to shoot above 50 percent and rank 11th in the conference at 44.9 percent.

"We have not been nearly the type of defensive team our staff has been known for in the past," Hamilton said. "At this stage of our season, what we've got to do is just really, really make it a priority. We can't take any possessions off."

In its four league losses, FSU has allowed the opponent's starting point guard to average 18 points and shoot 64.3 percent from the field, 52.9 percent from 3-point range, all the while racking up 18 assists against only eight turnovers. Vernon Hamilton (Clemson), Ty Lawson (North Carolina), Javaris Crittenton (Georgia Tech) and Tyrece Rice (Boston College) were successful by driving into the paint.

"Stopping penetration is probably the most difficult thing to do in basketball, especially with the type of quickness and speed that you're playing against in the ACC," said Hamilton, whose team is allowing 68 points per game. Toney Douglas took the load off Al Thornton and the pressure off Florida State. Douglas scored 10 points in a span of less than three minutes late in the game and then handed off to Jason Rich as the Seminoles survived a scare from last-place Wake Forest on Saturday, pulling out a 74-66 triumph at the Civic Center.

"I knew my team needed me down the stretch to score," Douglas said. "Al can't do at all by himself. I had to help him out and help our team out most importantly."

With FSU clinging to a 64-62 lead, Rich sliced through the paint for a basket and then pulled in the rebound off a missed jumper by Douglas. Isaiah Swann took advantage by draining a 3-pointer off a setup from Douglas with 43.8 seconds remaining. Reaching the 20-point mark for the 10th time this season, Thornton finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds. He was relieved to receive so much support from Douglas, who ended up with 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

"I gave him a new name - Clutch," Thornton said. "He's a clutch player. That just shows you what he means to this team."

Changing up his starting lineup for the first time this season against Wake Forest, Leonard Hamilton inserted senior guard Jerel Allen in place of junior Isaiah Swann, who told reporters he was late to a team function. Swann still played 32 minutes and contributed 11 points, including a crucial 3-pointer with 43.8 seconds remaining.

"We had a slight hiccup that we had to bring attention to," Hamilton said. ‘‘Nothing serious. All is well."

Maryland (16-5, 2-4): Maryland coach Gary Williams said during his postgame interview on the team’s radio network (which is piped into Comcast Center) he was glad his team answered some of its critics by following a 1-4 start in conference play with an 80-65 victory over Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

He clearly brought his combativeness into his press  conference, as was in no mood to expound on his comment with any substance other than venom.

"I said it’s nice to be able throw it back at some people sometimes. That’s what I said," Williams said before cutting off the questioner several times. "What’s that mean? What’s that mean? You? That’s what I said."

Eventually, he paused long enough for a follow-up about whether fans might have lost faith in the program after consecutive NIT berths and the realistic possibility of another in less than two months. That only led to a reference to two stats, the second which he crowed about at the end of his interview session with reporters a day earlier after hearing it on a broadcast of a Duke-Georgia tech game.

"Not in the program, but maybe in this team," Williams said. "Since we have the second-best winning percentage in the ACC for the last 10 years, I hope they don’t lose faith in the program. Since we’re the only team to have a better record at home than Duke does on the road in the ACC, I hope they don’t lose faith in this program. We haven’t had losing seasons yet."

Wednesday’s victory came over a team that hasn’t won a true road game since March 2005. Draw your own conclusions about how much the victory proves. Junior forward James Gist battled foul trouble all night against Georgia Tech. It didn’t stop him from scoring a career-high 26 points on an array of dunks, easy layups and even a 3-pointer.

"It’s been there, it just hasn’t been on like that," Gist said of his offense, though he might as well have been describing the Terps as well. Teammate Eric Hayes also posted a career-high, scoring 12 points to go along with a smooth seven-assist effort in 30 minutes.

The Terps also received steady contributions from Bambale Osby (10 points), Will Bowers (who despite an empty stat line is finally proving to be the defensive nuisance a 7-foot-1 guy should be) and sophomore Dave Neal (eight solid minutes, his most playing time ever against an ACC opponent and his longest stint since appearing for nine minutes against Winthrop in November).

For a night, anyway, the Terps looked very much like a dangerous team.

"We’re this close to being a great team," freshman guard Greivis Vasquez said. ‘‘We’re really close and we just have to hang in there."

One of the night’s most interesting developments was Vasquez’s defense against heralded Tech guard Javaris Crittenton.The 6-foot-5 Vasquez was draped over Crittenton for much of the night, and helped hold the Yellow Jackets freshman to a career-low five points.

"I wasn’t afraid of him," Vasquez said. "He’s OK. He’s not like an NBA player you have to be afraid of. I was just playing good defense and I was containing him, same as Eric [Hayes] did."

In a related development, reserve guard Parrish Brown didn’t play against Georgia Tech, snapping a 32-game streak of appearances dating back to a home loss to North Carolina last Feb. 2. The senior isn’t injured and wasn’t suspended. Rather, the 6-footer didn’t have the
size to match up against a team that started a 6-foot-5 point guard (Crittenton) and four forwards and Williams was reluctant to give Crittenton the opportunity to shoot over someone when he could have Vasquez glued to him for much of the game.

There was plenty going on off the field this week in College Park, and amazingly none of it has to do with any arrests (in an answer to my prayers in July and August, it has been a police blotter-free season for both football and basketball, knock on wood). However, three things of note that could be of some use. Athletic director Debbie Yow agreed to a contract extension through 2013 that will pay her a guaranteed $350,000 annually.

Yow, who took the Maryland job in August 1994, had een signed through 2013. The school has won 13 national championships (I don’t count their phony competitive cheer title, which accounts for the 14th title in official releases) under Yow, and the department has balanced the budget all 12 years after running deficits the 10 years before she arrived.

When asked by the Washington Times if the new deal all but ensures she will finish her career at Maryland, Yow said, "Absolutely, that is the idea." It is the fifth contract extension Yow has received since she arrived in 1994 and the first since November 2004. Yow’s two most notable hires have paid off well. She brought in football coach Ralph Friedgen and he’s delivered four bowl appearances in six years. Women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese quickly built her program and won a national title last spring.

She also oversaw the construction of Comcast Center, and is heavily involved in plans to expand Byrd Stadium. A design firm was hired in November and the department hopes to have the expansion -- which is mostly the addition of luxury suites and mezzanine seating -- done in time for the 2010 season.

If Yow completes the contract, she will have spent 19 years at Maryland. Her five immediate predecessors -- Carl James, Jim Kehoe (on an interim basis), Dick Dull, Lew Perkins and Andy Geiger -- were at Maryland a combined 15 years. "If leadership isn’t stable, how would you ever hope to get any of your issues [handled]?" Yow told the Washington Times. "That’s about half the battle -- that and sticking through the tough times to enjoy the good times."

Safety Antwine Perez, who was a Parade All-American in high school in 2005 and played last year at Southern California, has transferred to Maryland. The New Jersey native is the second high-profile transfer in as many years to land at Maryland. Quarterback Josh Portis, who began his career at Florida, will be eligible for the Terrapins after  sitting out last season.

North Carolina (19-2, 5-1): North Carolina's young reserves want more playing time, and on Saturday in a game at Arizona got their chances and delivered.

UNC took a 92-64 victory despite having two key players, forward Brandan Wright and guard Marcus Ginyard, out sick after falling ill after the team arrived in Arizona. Deon Thompson, a freshman forward, earned the first start of his UNC career in place of Wright and Alex Stepheson, a freshman forward, had one of his best games off the bench.

"It's a very young team," Williams said. "For Deon, Alex and Danny (Green, a sophomore forward), I challenged them in the locker room. I said, ‘Everybody wants to play more. Here's an opportunity to play more. Now you know what you have to do with it: you have to play well.’ ’’

Thompson scored 14 points, his season's high, and reached double figures for the first time this season. He played 23 minutes, also a season high. Williams started Thompson instead of Stephenson because Thompson's footwork in defending is better right now. Stepheson came off the bench to score 10 points, his season high, and hit five of seven shots. He had scored seven points total in UNC's previous six games. He played 15 minutes, his longest time in a game in 10 games.

Ty Lawson, a freshman point guard, scored 18 points, his career high. Freshmen scored 29 of UNC's first 32 points. UNC was in such control that it built a 43-25 halftime lead with Tyler Hansbrough, a 6-9 sophomore center, scoring only two points on free throws with 2:56 left before the break.

Hansbrough didn't score his first field goal until 18:06 remained.

"We were good at times," Williams said. "To hold them under 40-percent (shooting) in both halves, I'm very proud of that, but at the same time they missed a lot of shots that they're normally going to make. We had an edge today that perhaps they didn't have. Not having two of your very important players made everybody else get up on a little bit of an edge."

Williams has been asking Lawson for about three weeks to shoot more and pass the ball a little less. The message finally got through last week.

Lawson scored all 15 of his points after halftime in an 88-60 win at Wake Forest. He surged right after Ish Smith, Wake Forest's point guard, picked up a third foul and went to the bench with 18:29 left. Lawson quickly scored eight of UNC's next 10 points and hit two 3-point shots. UNC led 44-41 when Smith drew his third foul and was up 55-46 after Lawson hit his second 3-pointer.

Lawson actively sought his shot. Some shots were created when Wake Forest's defense didn't come out far enough to pressure Lawson, knowing his reluctance to shoot from the outside. Lawson made five of eight shots overall.

"Coach told me going into the second half, `Shoot more jumpers,’ ’’ Lawson said. "I was trying to drive too much and sometimes I was going too deep. When I'm open, I need to take shots. Everybody has been telling me I need to shoot more."

Williams considers Lawson a good outside shooter. Williams also knows that more outside shooting that just Wayne Ellington's 3-pointers should ease the defense inside on Hansbrough and Wright.

Lawson played only nine minutes in the first half against Wake Forest after drawing two quick fouls. "I did not sense a frustration level," Williams said. "I did tell him he should be well-rested. I told him we needed a good half out of him. I've talked to him more recently about not ignoring his shot because he can shoot the basketball. I think sometimes he looks past that, which is great when you have a point guard who's pass first, but you shouldn't ignore your open shots.

"I did tell him we needed a big half out of him. If that's what it took,  I'll tell him that every game."

UNC's game at Arizona Saturday started at 11 a.m. Rocky Mountain Time to accommodate national television.

At least one UNC player, Hansbrough, had no trouble getting up early to play. "I'm fine with that," Hansbrough said. "It's no problem with me. That means I don't have to get back at like 4 in the morning. I'll get back and get some sleep."

Williams would rather stay in ACC play and not take a break with a non-conference game so late in the season.

"You have mixed emotions," Williams said. "Sometimes I think it's good. If I had my druthers I would always not do it, but I also like playing nationally televised games against national opponents. So I think that's good for us, too."

The Arizona game was UNC's farthest trip west after Jan. 1 in the regular ever. UNC had played west of the Mississippi River after Jan. 1 only four other times in school history.

N.C. State (11-8, 1-5): Just in case Virginia's J.R. Reynolds hadn't made a strong enough statement last weekend against Wake Forest, he delivered an encore Wednesday night at N.C. State.

Three days after Reynolds scored 40 points to key the Cavaliers past the Deacons, Reynolds scored 29 to lead Virginia to a 71-58 win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh.

It wasn't just Reynolds' point total that was awe inspiring, it was the manner in which he delivered. With State fresh off an 11-0 run and within 42-41 with just under 12 minutes remaining, Reynolds scored 20 of Virginia's next 22 points to keep the Wolfpack at bay.

With Sean Singletary adding 27 points, the duo combined for all but 15 of the 71 points the Cavaliers scored in the game.

"We went man and we went zone," State coach Sidney Lowe said. "I told our wing guys in the zone to push out on their guys. Sometimes they would shoot in our face. If you have good guards, you’ll win in this conference, you’ll win college basketball games. And they have good guards."

"I was just like 'wow'," Gavin Grant said. “They made big shots when they needed to."

The Wolfpack had this past weekend off in preparation for two games against nationally-ranked teams this week - Wednesday at Virginia Tech and Saturday at home against North Carolina.

After missing 12 of State's previous 13 games, senior point guard Engin Atsur returned against Virginia. He finished with nine points on 3-of-7 shooting while playing 32 minutes.

"It was great to have Engin out there and allow the guys to play their natural positions," Lowe said. "He’s a little rusty and I didn’t want him to do too much, because when you do too much you end up making yourself look bad."

Gavin Grant missed his frist start of the season against Virginia. Lowe said the reasons with two-fold: Grant missed a tutoring session on Wednesday morning, and his defensive play in recent games had fallen below par.

"It was a decision I made," Lowe said.  "I wasn’t pleased with his defensive effort in previous games, and I wanted us to come out with a strong defense at first. When he came off the bench, he played good defense and proved he wanted to play."

Grant had eight points and five turnovers before fouling out late in the game.

Lowe endured a frustrating losing streak against UNC as a Wolfpack player, losing seven straight to the Tar Heels during one stretch. But State broke through in his final two games as a senior, defeating UNC at Raleigh late during the 1983 regular season, then again in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament at Atlanta.

Lowe will be looking to end another Wolfpack skid againt the Heels in his first game against the neighboring rivals as head coach this Saturday. UNC currently owns six straight wins in the series and three strraight at the RBC Center. State's last wins came in 2003.

Wake Forest (9-11, 1-7): Wake Forest concluded an 0-2 week with a 74-66 loss at Florida State. Even so, Demon Deacons coach Skip Prosser was grateful for small favors.

"It was nice to be coaching at the end of the game," said Prosser, whose team has been on the short end of some lopsided scores while enduring what is currently a six-game losing streak. Saturday saw Wake lead 59-57 in the fading minutes before the Seminoles scooted ahead to stay.

Wake hopes to get back on the winning track Tuesday night against visiting Georgia Tech. But the Deacons can't count on Joel Coliseum to be a particular homecourt advantage. Wake is 0-3 in home ACC games this season, with the losses coming by an average margin of 17.3 points.

Wake senior Kyle Visser failed to score in double figures for the first time this season when he mustered just eight points in the 88-76 loss at Virginia on Jan. 21. But Visser bounced back last week with 16 points against UNC and 17 agaisnt Florida State, giving him 10 or more points in 19 of the Deacons' 20 games.

After watching FSU's Al Thornton lead his team with 25 point and 11 rebounds on Saturday, Prosser paid the Seminole star what might be viewed as the ultimate compliment, considering the source.

"Thornton reminds me of Josh Howard (the former Wake star and 2003 ACC Player of the
Year)," Prosser said. "Josh Howard was a guy with a collection of young players who sort of willed Wake to an ACC championship. He had a courage that was contagious."

Sometimes there is nothing that can be done to prevent a full-fledged blowout. But sometimes there is, and Prosser felt last Wednesday night was one of those times.

Talented North Carolina finally threw its game into high gear after an uneven start and rolled to an 88-60 win at Joel Coliseum. But the Demon Deacons helped the visitors in no small measure by missing 11 of 16 free throws and shooting 32 percent from the floor.

"They weren't guarding us from the foul line, that I remember, and we shot worse there than we did from the field," lamented Prosser.

UNC led by just five points at halftime and saw Wake creep within three in the early stages of the second half. With 12:57 to play, the Deacons trailed 56-49 but held possession of the ball with designs on mounting a strong closing run.

Then the game evolved into a nightmarish blur for the home team. Tar Heel freshman Ty Lawson stole the ball and fed teammate Alex Stephenson for a dunk in transition. Lawson came up with another turnover and scored himself. UNC guard Danny Green connected on a 3-pointer.

Long (and agonizing for the Deacons) story short: The Tar Heels closed the game on a 32-11 tear, resulting in their most-lopsided road winever at Wake and their biggest win over the Deacons at any venue since 1986.

"They're like Jaws," Prosser said. "They smell blood, and it becomes a feeding frenzy. Even if you make a couple of free throws, you stop the bleeding. Even if you make one open three, you stop the bleeding. We didn't do either one of those things. It became a full-blown hemmorhage there after a while."

January 26, 2007

A deeper look at the baseball team

I've been busy covering basketball and preparing for next week's Super Bowl and recruiting run this week, I haven't had a chance to get back on here and share some thoughts or insight.

For those of you thirsty for baseball, here's the first blog of the season dedicated to breaking down what I learned yesterday from the nation's No. 2-ranked team according to Baseball America on media day. In a nutshell: they are freaking talented; yoaded; young and should be a lock to go back to Omaha and contend for the title. Of course, that is if they avoid the curse.

Apparently, according to my fellow writers, this team is infamous for being great when it isn't supposed to be and bad when it's supposed to be great. I don't buy any of that hogwash. I played baseball for 11 years growing up as a kid and when we were good its because we had talent on the team. And this Miami team does. Here's the breakdown of strengths and weakness and tid-bits on what to expect as the season progresses.

Pitching: Pitching coach J.D. Arteaga and I spoke for nearly 10 minutes yesterday at length at what he thinks his staff can do (HEAR THE AUDIO). Unlike last year, where it seemed the Hurricanes simply ran out of arms, this team has 14 pitchers on its roster -- that's not including freshman P.J. Fisher and Carlos Gutierrez who will miss the season after having Tommy John Surgery.

So, who is part of the rotation coach Jim Morris calls the strength of the team. Left-hander Scott Maine is the ace, followed by right-hander Danny Gil and left-hander Manny Miguelez. The trio basically closed out last season as UM's top 3.

SmaineMaine, though, is the guy Morris consideres special. He came out of high school as the No. 7 prospect in the nation, but had Tommy John surgery (freshan) and a life-threatening car accident (the summer before his sophomore year) that has basically kept his career on hold. This year, he's 100 percent healthy, 25 pounds heavier and supposedly a lot more mature. Maine has developed a one-seam fastball, which he compares more to a sinker. It's now his best pitch and he said it helped force groundball outs with regularity when he played in the Cape Cod League this past summer. He told me his second best pitch is his change-up and he's still working on his slider, which can be effective since he throws from a three-quarters arm slot motion.

Arteaga on Maine: "The big thing with him is he's matured an awful lot since last year. And it really started showing, maybe as soon as he got into that JdarteagaFriday night role. He's not a kid, early on his career he just wanted to throw hard and overpower guys and strike people out. Now that new pitch he's throwing is a ground ball pitch. And he wasn't 100 percent behind it when he first started throwing because he wasn't missing bats. But he kind of realized, I'm getting quick easy outs and being very effecient. I told him he'd last longer, go longer in the games and last more innings and be more effective that way. He's sort of bought into that know, similar to Cesar [Carillo]. When Cesar was here that's the pitch that he learned when he was here, it made him very successful. His biggest thing is maturing mentally, more than physically even though he has made some big strides physically. Mentally, he's becoming a man."

Gil, a senior, is a tough, tough pitcher who Arteage credits as the reason as the team made it Omaha. Arteaga also expects Gil to make the jump to a higher level along with Miguelez, a junior. The fourth guy in the rotation is freshman left-hander Eric Erickson, a stud from Sarasota. I saw Erickson pitch at the high school level, where he wnt 12-1 with a 0.50 ERA, and I can tell you the guy is a legit stud. He is the future.

As for the bullpen, the No. 1 question coming into the season is closer -- a spot UM has always found a gem of a talent for. This year with Chris Perez gone, UM has sets its sights on 6-5 junio-college transfer Enrique Garcia. Morris said Garcia hits 95 on the radar gun and has a nasty splitter. At Potomac State Junior College, he went 14-4 in two seasons and led his team to fifth-place finishes at the JUCO World Series. Last year, he went 9-1 with a 3.75 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 85.2 innings. If he's as a good as advertised, don't expect Garcia to be around past this season.

His setup man right now is a freshman Arteaga and Morris both love, little Killian High grad Michael Rudman. I covered Rud plenty during his high school years and even though he's only 5-9, 165 pounds, he has as nasty a curveball as I've seen. The other names I heard bouncing around were right-handed freshman Alex Koronis, a stud from Monsignor Pace, and Broward's pitcher of the year Anthony Nalepa. Morris also mentioned freshman David Gutierrez, the younger brother of Carlos Gutierrez. Most of the arms in the bullpen are right-handed because of injuries. But if left-hander Teddy Kaufman comes back healthy from his Tommy John surgery a year ago, he can be effective along with St. Thomas High grad and sophomore Dennis Raben. But even Arteaga admitted it will be hard to get Raben, who is expected to start in the outfield, to pitch much.

Infield: The right side of the infield is locked. There are two tremendous studs at first base and second base in sophomores Yonder Alonso and Jemile Weeks. Both will be at the top of the lineup and key contributors all season long.

YalonsoBut the left side and is far from decided and Morris said the incoming talent is really pushing to get in. Morris said he likely will start the season with veterans, but don't be surprised if freshman Ryan Jackson eventually wrestles the starting spot away from senior Roger Tomas. Jackson is bigger, stronger and has a much better bat than Thomas. His senior year at Florida Christian, Baseball American tabbed him the best defensive shortstop in the country. But his bat at UM has apparently impressed the most. He led the team in hitting in fall ball, which surprised me a bit. Third base will likely end up going to senior Gus Menendez at first, but Sarasota freshman Mark Sobolewski could push him out. He's also been a stud in the preseason.

Here's what Morris had to say about his two star freshman: "Mark's going to DH for us even though he is a freshman. He's probably hitting the ball as hard as anyone right now. Jackson was considered the pro people the best defensive shorstop in the country coming out of high school. He's actually leading our team in hitting right now in the preseason. If you just look at our stats, Jackson ought to be in the lineup. He's playing very, very well. So, we do have some good young guys like that that are pushing guys."

The catcher is senior Richard O'Brien's job to lose. Freshman Jason Hagerty was the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year and is a switch-hitter who finds the gaps. "I think our defense, in our infield I think we got a chance to be as good defensively since I've been at Miami."

Outfield: This is the area that UM has its biggest holes to fill after losing 2nd-round pick John Jay to the draft and Tommy Gilees in right. Jay and Giles were the No. 1 and No. 3 hitters on the team.

BtekotteThe only returning starter is Blake Tekotte, who will move to center field. Morris said Raben, who hit .285 and started 50 games at DH, will start in right field. He said left field will likely belong to Nick Freitas, who has a lot to prove after hitting only .077 in 18 games. Freitas played well in the fall, but is still having strikeout issues.

So what are other possible options if Freitas can't hack it? Dave Dinatale, a sophomore transfer from Central Florida, who led the Knights two seasons ago with 18 doubles and just one error in the outfield where he earned All-Conference USA Freshman honors. Then, there is freshman Kevin Diego, who earned All-State First Team honors at Columbus High.

Overall outlook: This team has 23 freshmen and sophomores on it and lost some big bats from its lineup a year ago. But the fact the starting pitching returns intact and appears to be finally healthy and is also improved gives me a good feeling this team can do special things. The bullpen doesn't look like as big a question mark as one might see it to be from the outside. Garcia has pitched two years at the collegiate level and apparently has great stuff. And the freshman pitching class UM pulled is special. Rudman, Nalepa, Erickson and others are no joke.

The bats are the one area for concern because the guys who are expected to carry the weight are all sophomores. But if there is none, then the sky is the limit with this team. The fact they were able to make it Omaha last season with the pitching problems they had and the fact they are improved and loaded with more arms and more talent makes me feel like Omaha is a lock. And once you get there, it's just a matter of being hot.

January 23, 2007

Around the ACC (Jan. 22)

Here's the third installment of ACC basketball notes.

Again, this isn't complete. Missing: Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia Tech. But when those writers send those notes through I'll post them.

BOSTON COLLEGE (13-5, 5-1): The Eagles absorbed a pair of devastating hits last week. Last Wednesday, one day after BC's 82-63 homecourt victory over Miami, coach Al Skinner, his patience evidently worn thin, permanently dismissed the troubled frontcourt Bostoncollege_2duo of Sean Williams, a 6-10 shot-blocking junior center from Houston, Texas, and Akida McLain, a 6-8 reserve junior forward from Pittsburgh, Pa.

Four days later, the short-handed Eagles (13-5 overall) absorbed their first conference loss of the season in a sobering 74-54 setback at Clemson, but still remained atop the league standings at 5-1.

"It was just something I felt I needed to do," Skinner said of his decision. "We have rules and you have to abide by them, it's that simple. When you don't, this is what happens."

The troubled frontcourt duo, both of whom had been twice suspended before at the beginning of this season and last, reached their last straw when they were dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules. Both players began the season on suspension, with Williams, 20, of Houston, Texas, sitting out the first two games and McLain, 20, of ittsburgh, Pa., sitting out nine for another unspecified violation of team rules.

In Williams's case, however, it was believed his transgression was not of a serious nature when his mother, Audrey Garrett, said it was unrelated to the nine-game suspension her son served at the beginning of his sophomore season after his arrest by BC police May 20, 2005, for marijuana possession and underage drinking following his freshman campaign.

McLain was arrested about a week later in Pittsburgh when he and an accomplice were apprehended for passing counterfeit $20 bills at a local conveinence store. He served a seven-game suspension at the beginning of last season. Both players were eventually reinstated after complying with the conditions of their return to school and the team. Williams attended summer school classes at the University of Houston and completed a drug counseling program at the John Lucas Resource Center under the personal guidance of the former NBA coach and player who experienced his own substance abuse problems.

"I talked to Sean earlier today and, obviously, he's disappointed. Hopefully, this will be a learning experience for him," Lucas told the Boston Globe last Wednesday night by phone from Houston. "Hopefully this will be a learning experience for him and whatever happens, he'll just have to move on with life. Life is a bunch of startovers and he and Akida will have to start over again.

"I don't know all the facts, but when people run into trouble [repeatedly], they become the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf,' '' Lucas added. "It's unfortunate because Sean was having a very, very good year and BC was having a very, very good year."

Projected as the 16th overall pick in ESPN's mock 2007 NBA Draft, Williams averaged 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.00 blocked shots in 15 games this season and ranked as BC's career leader in blocked shots (with 193 in 69 career games) and was the Atlantic Coast Conference's leader (5.14 average). He record his first career triple double with 19 points, 10 rebounds and a
career-high 13 blocked shots in a 98-93 overtime loss against Duquesne Dec. 28. It came
five days on the heels of another otherworldly performance (19 points, career-high 15
rebounds, 7 blocked shots, 3 steals) in an 84-66 loss Dec. 23 against then 11th-ranked
Kansas in the famed confines of Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas.

"There's been a lot of special athletes play in this building," Kansas coach Bill Self said of Williams afterward. "But I don't know if we've played against many guys that can block or alter shots like him."

McLain, meanwhile, averaged 2 points in two games, severely spraining his right ankle just 4-1/2 minutes into in his season debut at Kansas Dec. 23. He returned to the lineup after missing six games to log two minutes of action in BC's 82-63 conference victory over Miami Tuesday night at Conte Forum.   While BC sorely missed William's shot-blocking presence in the lane at Clemson -- which would have mitigated dribble-drive penetrations by guard Vernon Hamilton (13 points) and 6-9 power forward James Mays (14 points, 6 rebounds) -- what the Eagles really lacked was depth, which will likely become a vulnerable point in their remaining 11 games.

That much was evident when the Eagles found themselves working with a short-handed (and undersized) seven-man rotation against a Clemson team that eight player substitutions before BC had its first (junior center Tyrelle Blair for starting center John Oates) with 11:37 left in the first half.

"You lose a great player, a great defensive player who means a lot to a great defensive team, it does make a difference," said Clemson coach Oliver Purnell. "I thought they would come here and put forth a valiant effort. If we don't make those shots in the first half, we very well could've been in trouble going into the locker room."

Cliff Hammonds, who led the Tigers with 17 points, buried BC with a barrage of first-half treys (4 of 5) to help Clemson rally from a 12-7 deficit to a 41-33 halftime lead. Hammonds (5 of 6 overall) helped Clemson hit 9 of 18 from the 3-point arc.

"First half, they had so many uncontested threes," said senior forward Jared Dudley. "I don't care what center you have. You could have Ben Wallace back there, but if you have a wide-open three, you're going to hit the shot."

Said Skinner: "I always feel that we'll beat most teams shooting two-pointers. But when a team is making threes like they were, we are going to have a hard time beating them."

When news of Williams' and McLain's dismissal spread, pundits were quick to bury the Eagles, proclaiming their season over and their chances for an ACC title and an NCAA Tournament berth shot.

"We're not going to lay down and die," said Blair, who was expected to start in place of Williams but wound up coming off the bench after freshman forward Shamari Spears (14 points, 6 rebounds) did a credible job in drawing his fourth career start. ‘‘To say that is a disservice to guys who play hard like Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall and Tyrese Rice."

The Eagles, however, only seemed to give the pundits more ammunition when they absorbed a 20-point setback in their first game without Williams.Asked if BC arrived Clemson with a chip on its shoulder and a point to prove the pundits wrong, Dudley said, "I really don't want to get into all that with the media -- what we are and what we're not -- because we're just trying to win ballgames. We were 5-0 in the ACC and it would've been nice to get another one to be 6-0, but you're not going to go undefeated in this league, as you've seen so far.

"We're just going to have to make adjustments with other players, get back to the drawing board and get ready for Florida State on Tuesday."

Floridastate_2FLORIDA STATE (14-5, 2-3): Boston College needs time to get over losing Sean Williams and will likely remain vulnerable Tuesday against FSU, which is eyeing a return to .500 in league play. It's a break for the Seminoles, who hope to exploit BC's situation. Al Thornton, though, feels for his friend Williams, who couldn't stop running into trouble.

"He was my homeboy," Thornton said. "We were very close friends in the camps that I went to this summer. I was sad for him. I tried calling him, but he changed his number."

Wearing throwback uniforms, Florida State delivered an old-fashioned beating to Miami on Saturday at the Civic Center. FSU led by as many as 33 points and coasted to an 86-67 triumph that featured a season-high 13 3-pointers and season-low eight turnovers.

"I'd say it's been a while since we saw that on the scoreboard in a conference game," said Jason Rich, who made 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions early and finished with 16 points. "That was a testament to how well we played as a team."

FSU honored former player and coach Hugh Durham's No. 25 jersey at halftime and wore throwback uniforms in honor of his 1972 team that played for the NCAA title. With just two seconds left on the shot clock and Jason Rich inbounding the ball from behind midcourt, Florida State was just about out of options.  Up stepped Al Thornton. Again.

Thornton caught the pass with his back to the basket and then spun, launching a high-arching shot from about 40 feet. Nothing but net. "I really thought I was going to shoot an air ball," Thornton said. "But it was an open look and it went in. I thought it was going to be off - way off."   It was the signature highlight in a half filled with them by Thornton, who scored all
27 of his points after the intermission and led the Seminoles to a crucial 82-73 victory
over No. 25 Virginia Tech on Wednesday at the Civic Center. It's the same routine day after day for the Florida State men's basketball team.

"Right after practice, we shoot a lot of free throws before we leave," FSU sophomore Toney Douglas said. "That's one of the little things that can get you over the hump in March."

It sure helped get the Seminoles finally into the ACC win column on Wednesday. They sank 31 of 34 free throws in their 82-73 victory over No. 25 Virginia Tech. Al Thornton's monster 27-point second half included plenty of work from the line, where he was 10 of 11. Douglas made nine of his 11 attempts. Forty years after a career-ending knee injury limited him to just one game at Florida State, Lenny Hall finally had his letterman's jacket.

Hall, FSU's first black basketball player, was presented with the jacket during an emotional ceremony before FSU's 86-67 victory over Miami on Saturday. Hugh Durham's No. 25 jersey was honored at halftime.

"I see a lot of people that I really, really love and appreciate like Hugh Durham and some of my teammates," Hall said before the game. Alongside Dave Cowens' famous No. 13, Durham's jersey was unveiled to the cheers of 10,821 at the Civic Center. He scored 1,381 points during three seasons from 1957-59 and served as head coach for 12 seasons at his alma mater.

In a nod to his dual contribution, Durham's jersey has the words "Coach Durham'' emblazoned above the No. 25.

MARYLAND (15-5, 1-4): The Maryland basketball team is trying to say all the right things -- they really are. But after losing in trips to Virginia (103-91) and Virginia Tech (67-64) in the last
week, the Terrapins are 1-4 in the ACC, just a half-game ahead of last-place Wake
Forest.

Maryland_2History provides far more unfavorable comparisons than positive ones. Maryland is off to its worst conference start since 1992-93, the year between Walt Williams’ departure and Joe Smith’s arrival. That team went 2-14 in the league, the worst in coach Gary Williams’ first 17 seasons.   Of course, that was just one year before the Terps (15-5 overall) began a stretch of 11 straight NCAA tournament appearances. However, Maryland has missed the tournament the last two years, and its recent struggles have prompted legitimate concern it could become three seasons -- while also making Williams as testy as he has been all season.

"I’m not worried about that at all," Williams said Sunday. "That’s just for you to write about negative if you want. We’re getting ready for Georgia Tech. That’s our only concern. If we play like we did tonight, we’ll be OK in the league."

Williams was referring to Maryland’s effort, particularly at the defensive end, against the Hokies. But effort will only do so much to fix the hemorrhaging of three losses in four games. Only six teams in ACC history have recovered from a 1-4 start in league play to make
the NCAA tournament. None have done it since 1998, when Florida State went 6-10 but
played a brutal nonconference schedule and earned an at-large berth.

"It’s a concern, but it’s something you can come back from," guard D.J. Strawberry said. "We played hard on the road and it’s tough to get road wins. We could have got one here and now we have to move on and get ready for Wednesday. If we win Wednesday, I think we’ll be OK going into Florida State [Jan. 30]."

N.C. STATE (11-7, 1-4): The RBC Center events staff could credit 14th-ranked Duke with an assist on Saturday.With N.C. State’s home basketball game against the Blue Devils set for a
mid-afternoon start and a Carolina Hurricanes’ NHL game scheduled for the evening, clearing the building and handling parking loomed as major concerns.

Ncstate_2Duke helped out by taking control early, dismantling the Wolfpack by a 79-56 score and sending most of the 19,700 in attendance to the exits early. "They played Duke basketball, and we didn’t match their competitiveness,’’ State guard Gavin Grant said. "We didn’t play as hard as they did, and we didn’t execute our offense the way we should have.’’

The issue was all but settled in the first 20 minutes, when the Blue Devils (16-3 overall, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) forced 16 Wolfpack turnovers en route to a 41-25 halftime lead. Offensively, the Blue Devils picked up at least eight first-half buckets off dribble penetration and held an 18-4 edge in points in the paint.

While the Blue Devils look to feed off Saturday's success, the Wolfpack (11-7, 1-4) regressed following last Saturday's impressive win at Wake Forest. In addition to being befuddled by Duke's defensive pressure and ball movement, State had trouble executing the most basic of plays. Things started to unravel in the opening minutes, when Courtney Fells took a backdoor pass for an uncontested dunk and blew the attempt.

By the time Fells missed another dunk early in the second half -- and compounded matters by grabbing the rim and picking up a technical foul -- the Wolfpack knew it faced an all-but-hopeless task.

"That was a bad game," said State coach Sidney Lowe. "I think we hurt ourselves sometimes by trying to make big plays and be fancy instead of just being solid."

With Engin Atsur again sidelined by a pulled hamstring, Fells handled most of the point guard duties for the Wolfpack with Grant occasionally pitching in. Grant turned the ball over just twice, but struggled through a 1-of-6 shooting day against Duke junior DeMarcus Nelson's tough defensive effort.

"I wanted to keep pressure on him and try to disrupt his rhythm," Nelson said. ‘‘He's one of the great players in the leauge, and I just wanted to go out there and try to make him take tough shots."

Grant refused to take those shots for the most part, and he offered no apologies.

"He was playing good defense, but I could have gotten the ball and drove and taken all types of bad shots," Grant said. "I wasn't going to do that. We were already taking enough bad shots as it was."

The Wolfpack managed to establish little in the way of an iinside game against the Blue Devils. Sophomore Ben McCauley, who came in averaging close to 17 points per game, scored nine on 2-of-8 shooting from the floor as Duke's Josh McRoberts applied the defensive clamps.

"They were very aggressive," Lowe said of the Blue Devil defenders. "They were doing whatever they had to do -- push, grab hold, whatever. They did it. We didn't step into them and hold them off."

Lest that sound like sour grapes on Lowe's part, he hastened to set the record straight. "They didn't just bump the first guy, they bumped the second, third and fourth guy as they were making their cuts -- just the way you're supposed to do it. Just the way we talk about doing it," Lowe said.

"By no means am I saying anything negative about officials. I know what it's like in this league, and they will adjust to your play. We kept telling our guys, ‘Don't worry. You might get a foul called once in a while, but you've got to keep going, and going.' When I say (Duke) pushed and pulled, I don't mean anything illegal. I mean just playing hard. A couple of times we did it, but then we backed off a little bit because we were afraid we'd get a foul or something."

Saturday's loss was State's fifth straight at home in ACC play dating to last season. The Wolfpack lost to North Carolina and Boston College in its final two home games of 2006 and has lost to Boston College, Clemson and Duke this year. State gets another crack at it Wednesday night, when it plays host to Virginia. The Cavaliers handed the Wolfpack a 67-62 loss at Charlottesville on Dec. 3.

VIRGINIA (11-6, 3-2): When senior shooting guard J.R. Reynolds put up 40 points against Wake Forest on Sunday, he became on the ninth player in UVa history to do so (although Buzzy Wilkinson scored 40 or more 10 times during his Cavalier career).

Virginia_1Reynolds' 40 points are the most by an ACC player this season, which gives Virginia the top two scoring performances of any team in the league. Reynolds' 40 topped teammate Sean Singletary's 37 points against Gonzaga a few weeks back, giving the Cavaliers' backcourt the two highest scoring games so far this season.

Reynolds hit 12 of 18 field goal tries, was 6 of 8 from 3-point range, and hit all 10 free throw attempts.

"40 points ... I mean how much more impressive do you want to get?" said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. "I'm impressed. Obviously we had no answer for him."He became only the fifth player in history to score 40 or more points against Wake Forest and the first since 1977. Ironically, former Duke star J.J. Redick scored in the 30s on four occassions against the Deacs, and both Reynolds and Redick hail from the same hometown of Roanoke, Va.

While Virginia coach Dave Leitao said it was by far the best game he had seen Reynolds play, the Cavalier senior wasn't ready to go that far. He prefered his record-setting performance at Oak Hill Academy his senior year when he hit 14 three-pointers in one game, still an Oak Hill record.

Leitao and Reynolds had talked earlier in the week that the senior needed to start thinking about shooting first and making plays later. Reynolds, who hasn't even made or attempted enough 3-pointers this season to qualify in that department of the ACC standings, obviously took the chat to heart.

"Once you get into a rhythm it's hard to get out," Reynolds said. "You're zoned in and basically every shot you take is going in for you. That's what scoach and I were talking about the other day. That I'm a shooter and shooting opens up everything else."

Leitao said that he would have been satisfied with 38 or 39 by his shooting guard, but "40 sounds better and looks better in the next day's newspaper."

Virginia hopes to end its horrible road record this week with two games on the ACC trail, at N.C. State and Clemson. The Cavs are 0-3 on the road this season with losses at Purdue, North Carolina and Boston College. They have lost 21 of their last 23 road contests, not counting neutral site games.

There was a Jerome Meyinsse sighting in Virginia's win over Wake Forest on Sunday. The freshman post player, who had not appeared in the previous four games, played three minutes against the Demon Deacons.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pounder did not compile any statistics, except for one foul.

During his teleconference on Monday, Virginia coach Dave Leitao said he had no regrets about not redshirting Meyinsse this season, thus preserving a year of his eligibility.

"I thought he could contribute to us, and early in the season he was," Leitao said. ‘‘As the games have gone on - particularly in conference play - [circumstances] haven't allowed him to, but I don't think it's unique to Jerome. I think there are a number of guys on our team, first-years trying to find their way. He's similar in that way -- in that's he's trying to figure out a way to continue to earn minutes and play well in those minutes."

One would have thought that the injury to Ryan Pettinella, coupled with the ineffectiveness of Tunji Soroye, might have opened the door for Meyinsse to receive some more playing time. However, that hasn't happened. Meyinsse's minutes have actually decreased since Pettinella went down. The Louisiana native has seven DNPs this season.

"It's been a learning experience for him, trying to get him more and more accustomed to college basketball at this level - the pace and the strength and conditioning, and all those kinds of things," Leitao said. "I don't think any of us as coaches - or even he - is discouraged by his inability to get on the court as much as he would like or we would like, but I think he understands that it's learning. A lot of this is new to him, so his success will probably be more in the long term."

J.R. Reynolds, who scored a career-high 40 on Sunday, wasn't the only guy draining 3-pointers from other zip codes. In the first half, Sean Singletary nailed three straight 3-pointers - all of which were from several feet behind the line. The last one was taken near the Wachovia logo on the court - from some 10 to 12 feet beyond the arc. Singletary was almost closer to the half-court line than the 3-point line. Singletary, who finished the game with 19 points and seven assists, said he didn't realize that he was quite that deep.

"I'll have to look at that on film," he said, laughing.

Lars Mikalauskas appears to be all the way back to form following nagging ankle injuries. After averaging less than 10 minutes per game in his first 11 games, the sophomore has averaged 22.5 minutes in his last six contests.

On Sunday, he grabbed a season-high seven rebounds and was one of the players responsible for holding Wake Forest's Kyle Visser to just eight points - nine below his season average.

The Cavaliers are now 10-1 at John Paul Jones Arena. ...Moments after Sunday's game, UVA AD Craig Littlepage presented Leitao with a basketball to commemorate the coach's 100th career win, which actually came against N.C. State on Dec. 3 (nice timing, huh?). ...After beating Wake, Leitao now has 106 career wins.

Wakeforest_2WAKE FOREST (9-9, 1-5): The comments of Wake Forest freshman point guard Ishamel Smith proved telling. The Demon Deacons trailed 40-38 at halftime of Sunday's game at Virginia. And to hear Smith tell it, Wake wasn't just mildly satisfied. The Deacs seemed all most giddy. "(There was) very high energy in the locker room," Smith said.  "Usually we're down 15 of 20. We had grat momentum."

Wake couldn't sustain that emotion as Virginia shook off the Deacons for an 88-76 win behind guard J.R. Reynolds' career-high 40 points. The loss was the fourth straigth for Wake, which slipped to 1-5 in the ACC and occupies solie position of the cellar heading into Wednesday night's home game against North Carolina.

Reynolds' assault on the Deacons included six 3-pointers, some of which defied distance logic. "Some of those threes were like fours," Wake coach Skip Prosser said. Added forward Michael Drum: "He was pulling up from everywhere. Even with hands in his face, it didn't matter."

Reynolds became the first opposing player to score 40 against Wake since Davidson's John Gerdy in Feburary of 1977, and Reynolds did it despite sitting out seven minutes of the first half due to  foul trouble.

After Reynolds and backcourt mate Sean Singletary combined for 37 of Virginia's 40 first-half points, Prosser opted to open the second half in a triangle-and-two defense. "We had to try something," Prosser said. "What we were doing with those two kids in the first half wasn't working. The theory was to make somebody else beat us."

Mamadi Diane quickly obliged by hitting two 3-pointers, and center Jason Cain added a short jumper and a breakaway dunk. The Cavaliers quickly pushed the lead to double digits and coasted home.

Wake's long weekend began in dismal fashion with a 62-40 loss at Duke on Thursday night. Only a last-second bucket prevented the Deacons from amassing their lowest point total since 1959.

Prosser felt the tone was set in the opening half,  when Wake turned the ball over 12 times and went 0-for-4 from the foul line. "It’s not that cryptic," Prosser said. "This is a game you can’t cheat. If you don’t give yourselves a shot, even a bad shot, on the offensive end, then you’re not going to win. When you get free opportunities against a team like Duke, if you don’t cash in your share... Again I think it’s not that cryptic."

Hounded by Duke's student section most of the night, Smith turned the ball over eight times in 26 minutes and did not have an assist. Prosser blamed inexperience more than Cameron Indoor jitters.

"I don’t think the aura of the building--legendary as it is--was the main culprit tonight," Prosser said. The Deacons' problems as a whole, Prosser feels, are due more to mechanics and fundamentals than frayed confidence. That probably leaves Wake facing much more of a dilemma, particulary with Wednesday night's home game against fourth-ranked North Carolina on the immediate horizon.

"I can go in there and start a little campfire and (roast) marshmallows and we can all sing ‘Kumbaya,' '' Prosser said. "But the reality is the way we’re giving the ball to the other team and shooting free throws."

January 19, 2007

The Hot Stove: The Nix Effect, Weekend at Randy's, & Ham on Haith

TALLAHASSEE -- Since I'm sitting up in my hotel room here in downtown Tally bored, I've spent the past few hours reading up on new Hurricanes offensive coordinator Patrick Nix. Not the ideal way to spend a Friday night. But I'm in Tallahassee. What else is there to do? Anyway, since I know football is what makes Eye on The U go round, what better topic to rattle Canes brains than Nix? Before you give me your perspective on the hiring, here's my opine in a nutshell: Nix?!?

PatricknixFirst off, let me start off by saying this is not an attempt to put coach Nix down. Just an observation I'm making after doing some reading on his background and how I think he fits into The U. I don't know Nix from Adam. And neither do most of you. But when you study the history of who this coaching search included, how long it took to find an offensive coordinator and who UM ended up with, I get the sense this could have been a bit of a panic hire on coach Randy Shannon with talented QB recruit Robert Marve coming to town this weekend. Miami wants Marve and Marve wants a warm body to speak with about Miami's future offense. Nix does that. We will get to the big recruiting weekend in a bit, but let's stay with Nix first.

According to research, the 34-year old and former Auburn quarterback has been a coach at the I-A level for five seasons. He's moved his way up from running backs coach to offensive coordinator in only three seasons. Yet, despite the move, he only began calling plays for the first time this past season when Chan Gailey gave him the duties. Let me repeat that. Nix was offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach for three years at GT, but didn't call the plays until this past season. Shouldn't that be a big deal? One year of actual play-calling experience.

Nix of course didn't do too bad when he was given his chance, which is the upside of this deal. Georgia Tech's offense improved, despite quarterback Reggie Ball, scoring 24.2 points per game in 2006 (up from 18.5 in 2005) and scored 30 or more points in six games, one fewer than the previous three seasons combined. And in eight Atlantic Coast Conference games, Georgia Tech's offense led the league in scoring at 26.6 points per game and ranked among the top-three ACC offenses in rushing (second at 151 yards per game), passing efficiency (third), total yards (third at 328.5 yards) and turnover margin (third with 12 giveaways vs. 19 takeaways). Of course, we all know how explosive the ACC was on offense this past year (that's sarcasm).

CalvinjohnsonOK, those numbers are all fine and dandy. But what could Georgia Tech's offense really do? What were they good at? Everyone knows the Yellow Jackets were known for one player -- receiver Calvin Johnson, who is likely to be the first non-QB taken in April's Draft. Johnson made Ball good and made Georgia Tech's offense flow. But according to research, when Ball wasn't getting the ball to Johnson and the Yellow Jackets weren't hitting on big plays, they weren't scoring or moving the football. Here's a stat from an Augusta Chronicle Story that might open up your eyes: The Yellow Jackets scored 22 of their 40 offensive touchdowns through the air, with 13 of those 22 of those scoring passes measuring 15 yards or more. "If we don't hit big plays like that, our chances of winning are slim," Johnson told the paper.

Miami obviously has lacked big plays and playmakers for several seasons now. The last time UM had such a talented receiver was Andre Johnson (2002). Which raises the question: Was the only reason Nix's offense successful because of Johnson and the big play? And if so, does UM have the personnel right now to make that philosophy work at The U right now? I'm sure you can answer that one yourself.

I'm not going to say Nix can't come to UM, grow as a coach and make UM better (anything better than 7 points at Virginia is an improvement). Many young coaches have made themselves at The U. Nix is young, bright and obviously did enough to impress Chan Gailey, one of the brighter offensive minds in football, to take him under his wing. But how much confidence do you put into a coach who spent one year calling plays at Georgia Tech and whose only success really came when the top offensive player in the country could get open?

Which brings this discussion back full circle to Shannon. It's obvious Nix wasn't his first, second or even third choice. The Jacksonville Jaguars nabbed his first choice, Dirk Koetter. Kevin Rogers couldn't get away from the Vikings and Oklahoma wasn't going to let Kevin Sumlin get away. And Shannon deserves credit for trying. But the one thing in common with all three of those other guys is experience -- and they all had far more than Nix. So, did Randy simply go with the best and quick available solution? Only time will tell. But it sure smells like it.
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WEEKEND AT RANDY'S

Marve_1Speaking of smell, this weekend has the odor of the biggest recruiting weekend at UM and for Shannon yet. Why? Because the quarterback of the future -- the real quarterback Miami wants -- Robert Marve will be in town along with UM's best receiver commitment, Jermaine McKenzie, their No. 1 linebacker of choice Allen Bailey, No. 2 linebacker target Brandon Hicks (who is likely headed to Florida) and Homestead safety Joseph Nicholas (Rutgers commit). Not that I want to add pressure to the situation, but the truth is this is going to be the last chance Miami and will Shannon get to make those guys fall in love. And it won't be easy. Marve (Alabama), Bailey (his last trip is to hometown Georgia), Hicks (Florida) and Nicholas (Rutgers) are all basically engaged to other schools right now. If Shannon can somehow pull it off, it will be the best magic trick pulled off this side of David Copperfield in quite sometime.

If they get all the guys I mentioned above -- and they won't -- UM can go from having an average recruiting class back to the type it used to draw when it was a perennial BCS team. Marve is paramount because he's better than current QB commit Nick Fanuzzi, who my hunch tells me could end up defecting to Kentucky (the school his father went). Who will UM ultimately get? I think Marve, McKenzie and Nicholas turn out to be Canes while Hicks and Bailey head to the SEC. Just a prediction.

For the immediate future, re: the current quarterback situation, I'd like to see which quarterback -- Kirby Freeman or Kyle Wright -- Nix likes most for the 2007 offense. If you look at what Nix ran at Georgia Tech, the selection should be Freeman, who is obviously a better runner and passer on the run. Either way, it will be interesting to see what Nix says about how he envisions the offense in the coming weeks.

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HAM ON HAITH

Now to hoops.

Leonard_hamiltonLeonard Hamilton is in his fifth year at Florida State. And with the former Canes coach taking on his former team this weekend, I took advantage of my interview request to rehash the old days a bit, what it took to make Miami a power and to get his thoughts on the job he thinks Frank Haith has done in his three seasons as coach at UM and the path he thinks the program can take with the way Haith is running things. In a lot of ways, coach Ham is still considered the best coach Miami has ever had. Under Hamilton's leadership, UM advanced to postseason play five times in his final six seasons including three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances from 1998-2000 that included a Sweet 16 appearance. Then, he left when Michael Jordan called him to take on the head coaching duties with the Washington Wizards, a stint that lasted one painful 19-63 season before getting the Seminoles job in 2002.

Coach Ham was successful at Miami, but it took him time to get the program going. He went through a winless season in the Big East and it took him six seasons to get UM to the postseason and that was the NIT. With that in mind, I conducted my interview to pick Ham's brain and where he sees UM going with Haith at the helm.

When I asked him to talk about the job Haith has done in his three years, he was a bit taken aback -- as if I wanted him to say something negative. But I wasn't fishing for dirt. I wanted an honest assessment. After all, Haith is 3-1 against him and took UM to the postseason (NIT) faster than Hamilton did. Here's some of what Coach Ham had to say:

Q: In the eyes of a lot of fans, UM has taken a step back this season and many are disappointed in Coach Haith even though he led UM to the NIT twice in his first two seasons. How do you think the program has done?

"I think he's done an amazing job. A superb job. Developing a program is not as easy as people think it is. It took me a long time time when I was there to get the players in, to bring the depth in needed to win. We didn't get Tim James and Mario Bland and those guys overnight. The nature of the process is to establish a foundation. I think he's done a great job keeping the best players in South Florida to stay at UM. A much better job than we did when we were there. I don't have any doubt in my mind Haith will get that program where he wants it to be."

Q: Even still, there are some that say he has not taken  the program to the next level. They say the NIT isn't good enough and he still has yet to sign that big McDonald's All-American recruit. Are expectations at UM too high?

"Getting a McDonald's All-American recruit isn't going to make Miami or Florida State better from one day to the next. Duke and North Carolina and other great programs have tradition. The big time recruits only come with time, tradition. When I was at Miami, we never got a McDonald's All-American. We won because we had depth. We got quality kids, who worked hard, who played defense hard. And when we played the McDonald's All-Americans we went at them hard all game with a lot of different quality guys and you hoped that at the end of the game you had a chance to win. The one thing he has going for him down there now that I didn't was an on-campus facility. That's going to help. But building tradition takes time."

Q: Do you think the program underachieved when it had Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite and yet still failed to make the NCAA tournament. Now they are 9-10, albeit with injuries. Do you think they are a disappointment now?

A: "Are you kidding me? What do you want me to say? It was his first two years there man. Diaz was a junior when he left right? If King is healthy and Diaz is there, Miami is a totally different team this season. We lost two big players -- Alexander Johnson and Jon Kreft. I sympothize with coach Haith. When you start the season, you have a team you intend to play with and then you lose what four players in the post? But it's an unforgiving league. Every night you are expected to go out and play and go against quality teams, and no matter what the circumstances go out and get victories."

January 16, 2007

Canes hoops: 'It is what it is'

Frank Haith joked last week about having his son, Corey, skip his high school years to provide immediate help for the Hurricanes' injury-plagued basketball team. Truth is, the U needs help bad -- wherever it can find it -- and Haith knows it. It's just not going to happen this season, beyond what walk-on Keaton Copeland is already delivering.

CollinsblockTonight, when the Hurricanes visit ACC-leading Boston College (12-4, 4-0), they'll be severly outsized. The Eagles start 6-7 Jared Dudley at small forward and have a pair of 6-10 players in the paint in John Oates and Sean Williams.

Miami has 6-8 freshman Dwayne Collins, 6-5 walk-on Keaton Copeland, 6-7 struggling Ray Hicks, 6-11 too thin Fabio Nass and 6-7 freshman Lawrence Gilbert. And the truth is the first three are probably the only one fit and ready to battle inside on a nightly basis. "It is what it is," Haith has said at least three times in the past week.

What The U is now is a team that simply has run out of enough horses to compete on a nightly basis in the ACC. So, whose fault is that? A close friend of mine and die-hard Canes fan called me yesterday before I boarded my flight to Boston to tackle the issue on the minds of many Canes fans: Should the injuries to the basketball team give Haith a free pass for what likely will be a bad season?

My friend doesn't think so. He says Haith, now in his third season at The U, has been given plenty of time to make this team better and points to the fact the team has yet to recruit a McDonald's All-American and to the lack of growth at least a few of the players Haith has recruited (Jimmy Graham, Ray Hicks) have shown. He says the losses UM had early in the season to Cleveland State, Buffalo and Northwestern -- before center Anthony King went down with a season-ending wrist injury -- prove why he says Haith isn't a great coach.

To me, some of the points are valid. But my friend's perspective is more of a look from the glass half-empty point of view, a popular one unfortunately for most fans in South Florida. Truth is, I think many fans have forgotten where most experts had this team before the season -- no higher than 10th in the conference after losing two pro players in Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite. Throw in the fact King and point guard Anthony Harris were the only two players with significant minutes on their resume coming in and it should bring back the memories of how this season was supposed to be a learning experience for the rest of the squad while King and Harris carried the load. Instead, it's been learn on the go for guys that quite frankly weren't ready.

Yes, Graham and Hicks haven't taken the next step yet. Haith has said it himself. But Brian Asbury, Denis Clemente and Collins have improved substantially. Collins may be the class of the latest crop of freshman, but guard James Dews and Lawrence Gilbert have shown flashes of a promising future.

Asbury_2One example of growth: Joe Zagacki, the radio voice of the Hurricanes, was on the same flight with me to Boston. He's been with the team a long time and as I've made my way through my first season with the Canes, we've shared thoughts and stories at times. He told me a great one about Asbury yesterday about how on Miami's trip to Duke last year, Asbury was so intimidated by the Cameron Crazies, he refused to participate in shootaround when they waved their hands at him in a makebelieve way to hex him. "How far has he come along?," Zagacki pointed out.

On paper, it's easy to understand why UM fans are frustrated. The results of Miami's 9-9 season simply don't add up. Miami has beaten teams it probably shouldn't have and certainly lost to others it shouldn't have. Here's a stat that breathes that sentiment: Of the 18 teams Miami has player thus far, the Hurricanes are 3-1 against their top four RPI opponents (with wins at 25-Maryland, vs. 39-Georgia Tech, and at 73-UMass and the loss vs. 9-Duke). Yet three unexplainable losses have come to low RIP-ranked Buffalo (194), Cleveland State (265) and Binghamton (286). When you take a step back and see how young this team is, its easy to see why the season has been so up and down.

Honestly, I don't expect a lot from this year's team the rest of this season -- especially with it being so limited due to the injuries in the frontcourt and Jack McClinton struggling. But don't be surprised if somewhere down the line, another night like Maryland happens. The talent is there. Like Haith says, this team is what it is. And right now, it's a team riddled with injuries, with very little size or talent in the frontcourt and young talented players learning on the go.

BIGGER PROBLEMS
Assuming Asbury, Collins and Clemente continue to improve, Graham and Adrian Thomas come back healthy and the 2007 additions (Freddy Asprilla, Edwin Rios and Julian Gamble) turn out to be as good as this year's freshman class has, then I think Miami has a serious shot at contending for the NCAA tournament again next season. Haith has told me he'd be disappointed if it wasn't.

While the team should take a step forward next season, I hope the rest of the basketball program does too. Last week, when I boarded my plane home from Baltimore, much to my surprise I was joined in line for my Southwest Airlines flight by the team. Sad, but true, UM rarely charters flights for basketball. When I got the plane, Nass and the rest of UM's giants had their legs crushed up against the back seat of other passengers.

So, I asked Anthony Harris when the last time was UM chartered a flight for a game. "Last year's NIT," Harris said. "It's just something you got to get used to." It's something not many teams in the ACC have to, though. In talking with several people this week around the ACC, I learned Miami is one of the few teams that does not charter flights for road games. Do you have any idea what kind of obstacles that must cause Haith when he is trying to wrestle a recruit away from Wake Forest or N.C. State? Think Skip Prosser or Sidney Lowe won't play that 'Hey why go to Miami where you got to fly on Southwest' card?"

But it's more than travel with the Hurricanes. It's the atmosphere around the BankUnited Center that needs to change, too. Sunday's home game versus Duke was not sold-out and Zagacki pointed out to me that more than 15 Duke fans were somehow able to buy tickets behind the Hurricanes bench. "Nowhere else in the ACC does that happen," Zagacki told me. There was of course, some reason. UM decided to package the Duke remaining tickets with two other games for $81. That's a bit pricy for a place like South Florida where it's cool to go to events and not just go to see your favorite team play.

But in all honesty, I can't put the blame all on UM fans. The students are part of the problem too. Miami's student section was finally filled for the first time all season Sunday. It was filled to capacity (1,000) an hour before tip-off. But as Duke pulled away in its 85-63 victory, it was half empty by the middle of the second half. UM senior Paul Burkhart, who wears an orange 'fro to every game, is one of the die-hards who passed out thousands of flyers before the game for fans to wear orange. He was one of the few still standing and cheering at the end.

Last week at Maryland, more than 17,000 strong were in the stands -- dressed all in red -- to see their beloved Terrapins play on a Wednesday night at 9 p.m. no less. The entire bottom bowl of the arena was filled with students, excited about basketball. As Miami players and coaches were introduced, they pulled out newspapers to cover their faces. And after each player and coach was introduced, the entire arena yelled out: "SUCKS!" It was funny. It was fun if you were a Maryland fan.

Miami's student section finally got creative Sunday for Duke, turning their backs along with the school band and flashing a U with their hands toward the sky as Blue Devils players were introduced. Unfortunately, the rest of the crowd had no idea what was going on. If Miami wants to compete on and off the court in the ACC one day with the Marylands, Dukes and North Carolinas of the world, it's going to need to step up its game. Chartered flights and packed arenas are only the beginning.

Anthonyking_1KING'S REDSHIRT CHANCES: For those of you wondering about Anthony King's chances of returning next season, here's an update: Don't expect it to happen. King played in eight games -- two more than the maximum (20 percent) allowed to receive a medical redshirt. Haith has said there is a movement to change the NCAA rule to 8 games, but from what I hear it's a longshot. And you've got to feel bad for the kid. Anthony has always been a nice person to talk to and player who gives a lot of effort. Giving him his senior season is really the only fair thing the NCAA can do.

January 15, 2007

Around the ACC (Jan. 15)

As I told you guys last week, I've decided to use this blog once a week to fill you in on what's happening around the rest of the ACC in men's basketball with the info provided from the other teams' beat writers.

This week, the only teams I didn't receive any notes from were Virginia and Virginia Tech. Anyway, if you are deep into ACC men's hoops I hope you enjoy it. As a favor, I only ask for some feedback.

Here's some topics to chew on:
1. Which ACC team has surprised you the most the season?
2. Which ACC team has disappointed you the most?
3. And who really is the top team team in the conference this season?

Before we get to the notes... here are my picks for the games of the week:
Wednesday: UNC at Clemson, 7 p.m. ESPN
Saturday: Boston College at Clemson, Noon,
Sunday: Maryland at Virginia Tech, 7:30 p.m.

BOSTON COLLEGE (12-4, 4-0): A year removed from an 0-3 start in its inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the unranked Eagles find themselves perched atop the league standings -- as one of two remaining unbeatens in conference play -- after they followed a pair Bostoncollege_1 of back-to-back Tobacco Road wins at N.C. State (74-58) and Wake Forest (95-85) with a 78-73 victory over visiting Virginia last Saturday afternoon at Conte Forum. And to think, this was the same BC team that suffered a hideous non-conference home loss to Duquesne Dec. 28 (98-93, in overtime) in which the Eagles wasted career-high scoring performances from senior guard Sean Marshall (30 points), sophomore guard Tyrese Rice (29 points) and the first career triple-double of junior center Sean Williams (19 points, 10 rebounds, a career-high 13 blocked shots).

Come to think of it, BC was not the same team. In that devastating Duquesne setback, the Eagles were without senior forward Jared Dudley (who was nursing a stress fracture in his left foot), junior center John Oates (left arch), and junior forward Akida McLain (who severely sprained his right ankle 4-1/2 minutes into his season debut at Kansas Dec. 23 after sitting out the first nine games of the season due to a team suspension).

Ever since the Duquesne loss, the Eagles have slowly generated momentum and, coupled with the return of Dudley and Oates to the lineup in time for the start of ACC action, have strung together five consecutive wins, marking BC's second-longest winning streak of the season after back-to-back losses to Vermont Dec. 13 (77-63) and at Providence Dec. 22 (73-64).

‘‘There's no denying that," BC coach Al Skinner said after his team recorded its first ever victory over the Cavaliers in five all-time meetings. "I mean, you can't be 4-0 in his league and deny the fact that you're gaining momentum. But, in saying that, we're still a work in  progress."

Skinner was of the belief Saturday's victory over the Cavaliers "was a little more of a balanced game'' in which the Eagles "had some perimeter people score and the interior people did a nice job of scoring," he said. While Dudley and Williams combined for 41 points (25 of 31 from the foul line), 18 rebounds and 4 blocked shots to do the work in the interior, senior guard Sean Marshall, who averaged 23.8 points and 8.0 rebounds in BC's five previous games, tallied 15 points on 4-for-12 shooting (3 of 6 from the 3-point arc) while sophomore guard Tyrese Rice had
8 points, 3 assists, 2 turnovers.

But if there ever was a telling statistic in BC's triumph it was foul shooting. The Eagles converted 35 of 45 attempts, which was 26 more than what Virginia attempted (10 of 19). In fact, in its last two games, BC has made a staggering 70 of 91 foul shots, hitting 35 out of a season-high 46 attempts at Wake Forest. Dudley, meanwhile, converted on 16 of 19 foul shots against Virginia to lead the Eagles with a game-high 22 points to go along with 11 rebounds, marking his 21st career double-double.

‘‘We wanted to take it to 'em and get into the bonus real quick," Dudley said after the Virginia game. "Anytime I can get a bump, get a flop, and get to the free throw line as much as I did today, it can takepeople out and really mess up their rhythm."

Dudley's 22 points and 11 rebounds not only marked his 21st career double-double, but also marked the 22d straight game in double figures, which leads the ACC. Dudley now ranks as the ACC's scoring leader (19.4 ppg).

CLEMSON (17-1, 3-1): Clemson allowed North Carolina State and Georgia Tech to shoot well
but escaped unscathed. The Tigers weren’t going to get away with it Saturday in College Park, Md. Their opponent, a Maryland team coming off a putrid performance three days earlier, was far too inspired and far too good to let it happen.

Clemson_1No. 17 Clemson saw its undefeated record -- the only unblemished start in Division I -- vanish in a 92-87 defeat that was easy to explain. The Terrapins shot 62.7 percent, the second-best clip against the Tigers in coach Oliver Purnell’s four years, to send Clemson (17-1, 3-1) to its first loss of the season. ‘‘We will look at this loss honestly and look ourselves in the mirror," Purnell said. ‘‘We’ll look at the tape and say we got away from who we are, which is a team that really values defending and rebounding."

The Tigers were particularly deficient in the first category before an estimated 17,950 fans at Comcast Center. Maryland’s guards repeatedly beat defenders off the dribble and made the extra pass for easy baskets.The Terps were 32-of-51 from the field, and 21 of those baskets came courtesy of assists -- six from senior guard D.J. Strawberry, who also had 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting. ‘‘We didn’t come out there very intensified tonight," said Clemson guard K.C. Rivers.

Rivers isn’t known for his defense, but Vernon Hamilton and Cliff Hammonds are. The two guards seem to have regressed on the defensive end of the floor after earning a reputation as one of the ACC’s best defensive tandems last season. Purnell said the defensive breakdowns were collective and not pinned on the backcourt, but that’s certainly where the problems began. A week earlier, Georgia Tech’s Javaris Crittenton had his way with Hamilton and Hammonds on the way to a 22-point night. On Tuesday, N.C. State point guard Gavin Grant put up 22 on 9-of-12 shooting. Georgia Tech shot 59.2 percent and N.C. State 54.7, but Clemson managed to win those games because it protected the basketball. The Tigers committed 13 turnovers against Maryland, including nine when the Terps were setting the tone in the first half.

Clemson was also outrebounded for just the third time this season (35-29), with Ekene Ibekwe snaring 10. But defense is what cost the Tigers a chance to surpass the 1986-87 team for the longest winning streak in school history. Clemson now ranks ninth in the ACC in field-goal percentage defense (42.8). The Tigers’ four ACC opponents have combined to shoot 55.6 percent. Maryland was fresh off a 22-percent shooting effort three days earlier in a home loss to Miami. "We really didn’t guard in the halfcourt,” Purnell said. "You do that, you’re going to have a tough night. They beat us on the boards, and they beat us in every facet of the game, really."

The loss sucked much of the anticipation out of Wednesday’s visit from No. 1 North Carolina. The Tar Heels also didn’t hold up their end of the bargain; they’ll likely fall from the top spot after Saturday’s loss at Virginia Tech. ‘‘It’s not a great feeling, but we do have to regroup," said freshman center Trevor Booker (14 points). “Some people might think we’re overrated now, but we can’t let it get in our head."

The atmosphere at Littlejohn Coliseum figures to be intense for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game (ESPN), but not nearly as raucous as the setting that would have greeted the teams had they taken care of business Saturday.

Speaking before North Carolina fell in Blacksburg, Va., Purnell was in awe of the young but supremely talented Tar Heels. ‘‘I haven’t seen a better team," he said. “They’re the best team in our league, probably the best in the country. I think coaches will agree that they’re the most talented team. They’re deep, they’ve won a bunch of games this year, they’re well coached and they expect to win. It’s a supreme challenge. You can’t get one bigger."

Rivers said the Tigers had to work quickly to expel the Maryland loss from their memory.‘‘We’ve got to focus on Carolina, and we can’t think about nobody else but them, and
getting prepared for them."

Rivers scorched the nets in the first half and scored 11 straight points by himself at one point, but the sophomore sixth man virtually disappeared thereafter thanks to back spasms.Rivers said he tweaked his back early in the game after falling to the floor. The injury was fine in the first half, when he scored 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting and drained all four of his 3-point attempts. But after he sat down for an extended period at halftime, it tightened up.

Guarded closely by Strawberry for most the time, Rivers had two second half points on
1-of-3 shooting. He didn’t attempt another 3-pointer. ‘‘It was hard for me to pick up speed and run through screens," he said.

Had they fared better than 5-of-13 from the free-throw line -- including 1-of-7 in the second half -- the Tigers might have been much closer than eight points with a minute remaining. Clemson has nailed its free throws in clutch situations at times this season, but overall the charity stripe has been an adventure once again. In the past two games, the Tigers are 12-of-28 (42.8 percent). Over the same stretch, Clemson is 18-of-36 on 3-pointers (50 percent). The Tigers are shooting 60.6 on free throws this season, good for last in the league. Clemson shot 61.7 percent last season, 60.1 percent in 2004-05 and 63.1 percent in Purnell's first season.

Hamilton and Hammonds were 0-of-4 against Maryland, Mays 3-of-6. "That’s one of the areas we really need to work on," Mays said. "In a game like this, if we’d have made our free throws, the outcome could have been different."

DUKE (14-3, 1-2): Duke was all business Sunday in its trip to Miami and earned its first
ACC victory of the season in three games. Coach Mike Krzyzewski had his team sharp after three days of hard practice and focus on only basketball. The players were not available to media before going to Miami, although they usually are before a game. The product was one of Duke's best games of the season.

Duke_1‘‘We hate to lose. We're good sports but we hate to lose," DeMarcus Nelson, a junior guard, said. "Losing is not acceptable for these players and for this program so when we lose we take losses hard. We had a business approach and the only thing on our mind was to win."

Duke shot 81 percent from the field in the first half, a school record, in making 17 of 21 shots. Duke's 49 first-half points were its most of the season. Duke has struggled to run its offense smoothly and score points almost all season, but its players made seven of their first nine shots after halftime also.

‘‘Isn't that ironic? We've been probably the worst offensive team that I've had for a while so far and we do that in the first half," Krzyzewski said. Still, Krzyzewski added, the season hasn't been saved.

‘‘Everything is not calm and beautiful," Krzyzewski said. "You have to fight to get your experiences and these first three games our kids have fought. We're 1-2 and we have to continue to fight to get better."

FLORIDA STATE (12-5, 0-3): It was with his future - and the NBA - in mind that Toney Douglas decided to leave Auburn following his freshman season.

Floridastate_1Douglas established himself as one of the top scorers in the SEC but wanted the chance to become a point guard, which is where he knows he will have to succeed in order to land a job in the NBA. The tape measure tells him so. ‘‘Everybody has personal goals," Douglas said. "You want to get to the next level. You're not going to be a (shooting guard) at 6-2 in the NBA unless you're Allen Iverson or something. I'm a guard. I see myself doing both. ‘‘The only problem was I just never did it."

And so Douglas packed his bags and wound up at Florida State, where he's attempting to run the offense and yet still display his natural scoring ability. The transition hasn't been seamless. His 22-point performance at Georgia Tech on Saturday was the first time he reached double figures since Dec. 21. He's averaging 13.6 points with 46 assists and 45 turnovers.

Dave Cowens' jersey will soon have company in the rafters at the Civic Center.  Florida State will honor Hugh Durham's No. 25 jersey against Miami on Saturday. Durham averaged 18.9 points in three seasons from 1957-59 and had an even bigger impact as the head coach at FSU for 12 seasons. He led the Seminoles to the NCAA title game in 1972 and won 633 games during his 37-year coaching career.

‘‘At first it came as a surprise," Durham said. "They're retiring the number, and I guess it's a combination of being a player and coach at Florida State. I'm in the position now that I can reflect on some of those things because I'm not coaching anymore."

The honors won't stop with Durham, who ranks 14th on FSU's all-time scoring list with 1,381 points. Bob Sura and Sam Cassell will also have their jerseys raised to the rafters this season, according to FSU spokesman Chuck Walsh. Sidelined for almost two years, Sura's NBA career might be finished because of chronic knee problems. He set the FSU scoring record with 2,130 points and helped revitalize the Seminoles in the 1990s. Cassell, still going strong with the Los Angeles Clippers, made his mark in only two seasons at FSU. He averaged 18.3 points as FSU came a win away from the Final Four in 1993.

Sura's No. 3 jersey will be honored on Feb. 24 as the Seminoles take on North Carolina State. A date hasn't been announced to honor Cassell's No. 10 jersey. Walsh said the basketball program doesn't retire jersey numbers but honors them instead. Jason Rich will continue to wear No. 25 and Isaiah Swann won't have to give up No. 3. Ralph Mims wears No. 10.

GEORGIA TECH (13-4, 2-2): As Georgia Tech gave itself a chance to make real noise after
an ACC 0-2 start by beating Duke and Florida State last week, the Yellow Jackets did it with equal doses of what coach Paul Hewitt knew his team had - offense - and the defense he's said Georgiatech_1 all along will be most important in determining his team's fate.While committing 16.7 turnovers per game, the Jackets have been one of the worst teams in the conference all season in this category, and that problem nearly got in the way against Duke, as Tech had a season-high 28 turnovers. But Tech shot 56.4 percent and held the Blue Devils to 43.9, although Duke helped by
missing some pretty good looks, especially in going 4 of 20 on 3-pointers.

Against Florida State, Tech's second-half defense was as ineffective as it had been in a long while, basically since a dreadful four-game (1-3) streak right before a nine-day holiday break during which Hewitt drilled defense, defense, and more defense. Tech leads the ACC with a 51.3 percent mark from the field, and it helps to hit 39.9 percent of their 3-pointers. This is a better-than average rebounding team that has been much better from the free throw line than expected, and if the Jackets' defense stays intact, they can win more than they lose in conference.

In back-to-back games against Clemson (a one-point loss) and Duke, Tech was minus 21 in
turnovers, and minus-38 in shots attempted.

Surely, the book on defending Tech is more about keeping the ball out of scoring position rather than trying to defend shooters, about turning it over before the Jackets can get into scoring position.

Wing man Anthony Morrow, who led Tech in scoring last season with a 16-point average and led the ACC in 3-point shooting (43 percent), hasn't started a game all season. He was awful most of the first nine games after coming back from a stress fracture in his back. He hit just 14 of 50 shots, 8 of 30 (26.7 percent) on 3-pointers.Add the fact Morrow's a poor defender, sometimes very, very poor, and he wasn't playing much.

Hewitt had no choice but to start playing him more when he realized the second-semester suspension of Lewis Clinch for violating Tech's honor code was pending, but Morrow at the same time was earning more PT by shooting, and, most amazingly, busting his tail on defense.

Dude's been sick since over the past eight games, hitting 36 of 67 shots (53.7 percent), and 23 of 45 of his 3-pointers (51.1 percent). Morrow, a junior from Charlotte Latin, has long has a reputation for needing a screen to shoot, and he's still no great creator, but he's been putting the ball on the floor a lot more recently, getting to the line for 13 free throws combined against Duke and FSU, and hitting 12. He went eight straight games before that without a trip to the charity stripe. On the season, he's hit 23 of 36 free throws (88.5 percent). He's still not Tech's first or second option (Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittenton), and sometimes center Ra'Sean Dickey (season-high 21 against Duke) gets more looks depending on game-plan, but Morrow's making a difference. Dickey's made 20 of 23 shots (87 percent) in four ACC games, including 7 of 7 at Miami, 5 of 5 at Clemson, and 6 of 8 against Duke. So he should get the ball more, right? His teammates don't seem to realize that, and he had just three attempts against FSU, hitting two. Part of that was Dickey's fault. The junior from Clio, S.C., had six turnovers, five in the first half.

MARYLAND (15-3, 1-2): Maryland guard D.J. Strawberry and forward James Gist watched the
last two seasons spiral into miserable finishes and NIT berths. After a ghastly 63-58
Maryland_1 loss to Miami on Wednesday when nothing -- shooting, rebounding, passing, patience -- was working, the pair called a players-only meeting after Thursday’s practice to clear the air. The Terrapins were revitalized in Saturday’s 92-87 victory over No. 17 Clemson as they averted their first 0-3 start in conference play since 2000. More importantly, they showed far greater resilience against a solid opponent than their two immediate predecessors, who often let one performance linger for an extra game or three.

‘‘That’s how we’ve done it the past two years," Strawberry said. "We just let it go on and go on. We’d lose one and it was ‘OK, it’ll be all right, we’ll get the next one.’ No, it has to stop. We can’t continue to play like that and it has to stop right here. We can’t afford to keep losing."

Gist was particularly vocal during the 15-minute meeting, at one point delineating each player’s role and emphasizing how important it was for everyone to do their part. Two days later, each starter reached double figures and the bench contributed 26 points as Maryland felled the nation’s final unbeaten team.

‘‘We can’t go on like this. It’s ACC season and this is when it counts," Gist recalled telling his teammates. "We’re trying to get to the tournament and have our fun. We have to have this meeting and talk about it and put it all out there and if anybody has any problem with anybody, it needs to be known now and not later in the  season."

It would have been easy to point fingers after Wednesday’s loss, especially since just about everyone who played was culpable in the debacle. Yet after constant admonitions about offensive impatience and shaky rebounding from coach Gary Williams, the message sunk in from this session.

‘‘That was a really good meeting," freshman guard Greivis Vasquez said. "Sometimes when you hear something from coach all over again, it’s not very good. We just have to talk and see each other."

While the rebounding improved, the most obvious change from Wednesday’s loss was the crispness of the interior passing. Maryland zipped the ball around better than at any point since its 8-0 start, and only attempted four 3-pointers in the up-and-down game. As a result, the Terps received a jolt before what could prove to be a telling stretch of four of five games on the road, including Tuesday’s visit to Virginia.

‘‘This game basically could have made or broke our season ...," Strawberry said. "It just got the point across. We had to win. We can’t keep losing on our home floor. We have to win. I just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page and everybody had the same mindset about how important this game was. We went out and played like it."

Few referees are as fun to watch (or present the possibility of even greater entertainment through their willingness to engage coaches and players) than Ted Valentine. So it’s little surprise he’s already Vasquez gets some advice had a cordial discussion with emotional freshman Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez encountered foul trouble early in the second half against Clemson and sat for an extended period. Valentine provided some counsel after Vasquez was a bit too exuberant, though the two soon shook hands.

‘‘He told me I’m a tough guy, and he’s a tough referee," Vasquez said. "I know him. He’s pretty cooland he’s a nice referee. It was a close game and I was too excited. Sometimes I have to calm down."It was a solid bounce-back game for Vasquez despite the foul troubles. He had 10 points on 3-for-5 shooting after an abysmal 1-for-11 night against Miami.

The figures from Maryland’s loss were rather heinous, though there is no truth to the rumor Maryland officials were rummaging around closets looking for peach baskets. However, these stats are all correct:

* Maryland made only 13 field goals, and had a drought of 7:55 with a basket to finish the first half.
* The Terps then outdid themselves and went 9:33 without a basket toward the end of the second half. A D.J. Strawberry layup with less than three seconds left -- one met with
perisive cheers by the remnant ofthe crowd remaining in the arena -- snapped the skid.
* Maryland’s 22.4 percent was the lowest in the span I can look up easily (1998-99 season to precent). In that time, Maryland had shot below 30 percent only once ( last year’s 27.9 percent at North Carolina).
* Here’s something more definitive: The 58 points was the fewest Maryland scored at home
in coach Gary Williams’ 18 seasons.
* Maryland had a wretched rebounding night, far worse than the 55-41 final deficit indicated. The Terps trailed 17-5 at the under-12 timeout and never recovered.

While passing, shooting and rebounding all improved against Clemson, the Terps also received significant lifts from reserves Parrish Brown and Will Bowers. Brown, a diminutive though steady guard, delivered eight points in another quietly effective performance. The senior, who frequently delivers a 3-pointer or a slick pass or takes a charge in his limited time, played 11 minutes against the Tigers. Bowers’ production was also significant. The senior 7-footer scored six points and also improved his rebounding in 12 strong minutes while helping to spell Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist. If both can consistently provide 10 solid minutes, it would be a boost to a team that hopes to go at least nine players deep. Maryland’s starters all seemed fresh deep in the second half, in part because of contributions from Brown and Bowes.

‘‘Clemson has their eight or nine guys they play consistently, and coach said we did a good job of coming out with our eight or nine guys and matching their intensity," Brown said.

NORTH CAROLINA (15-2, 2-1): Bobby Frasor can't get his right foot healed. He hurt it again on Northcarolina_1Saturday in North Carolina's 94-88 loss to Virginia Tech. X-rays Sunday in Chapel Hill revealed no break, but his status for Wednesday's game at Clemson is unknown. ‘‘We have no set timetable whatsoever," Coach Roy Williams said. "We'll just have to back off a little bit and see what happens."

Frasor, a sophomore point guard, hurt his foot in the first half on a drive to the basket with 28.1 seconds left. He was fouled, made the second of two free throws, and limped off the court to the UNC bench. He did not return. "It's sore; I made that drive on the baseline and cut off my right foot and I could tell something happened to it," Frasor said. "I don't think it's broken. I definitely did something to it."

Team trainers and Williams have repeatedly said that Frasor's problem is a sore foot, nothing more. He missed six games while resting the foot and was in his fourth game back when hurt again.Frasor bumped into Tyler Hansbrough after making the second free throw and hurt the foot a second time.

‘‘It's pain on the outside of my foot," Frasor said. "I stepped on Tyler's foot and put more pressure on it. There was a lot of pain there but it's kind of calmed down a little so I'm hoping it's a stinger or something." UNC will head to Clemson on Wednesday and try to regain the touch that led to 12 consecutive victories and the No. 1 national ranking before losing at VirginiaTech.

Frasor's injury has created uncertainty at point guard. UNC's defense allowed Virginia Tech to shoot better than 50 percent from the field in both halves. UNC had 17 turnovers and 14 were steals by quick Virginia Tech defenders.UNC surrendered a 17-0 scoring run that wiped out its 21-13 lead and put Virginia Tech ahead for good.

‘‘We just can't come out not ready to play like that and then let the other team outplay us," Marcus Ginyard, a UNC reserve guard, said. "The biggest disappointment for this whole team is they outplayed us. That's not North Carolina basketball. North Carolina should never get outplayed."

UNC will need two of its starters to regain productivity against Clemson. Reyshawn Terry, a forward, has scored nine points in UNC's three ACC games. He did not make a field goal in the first two games. He got a dunk and a 3-point basket in the first 3:36 at Virginia Tech and did not score again. Ellington has made only four of his last 18 3-point shots. He was so accurate in the
first 14 games that Williams constantly said he thinks the ball is going into the basket each time Ellington shoots. Lately the ball has been bouncing off the rim for Ellington. Wes Miller, a reserve guard, believes that UNC learned how not to play an ACC road game at Virginia Tech and won't make the same mistake at Clemson.

Miller was encouraged when UNC cut a 23-point lead to 91-88 with 16.9 seconds left before Virginia Tech sealed the decision with three free throws.‘‘If we play with that kind of intensity and that kind of effort and play together like that for 40 minutes, then we don't put ourselves in those kind of situations," Miller said. "We're a good basketball team. We can come together. We're never out of it. Those are the things you take from it. But you've got to do it for 40 minutes. You can't wait until the end of the game."

N.C. STATE (11-6, 1-3): Sidney Lowe played point guard on one of NC State's greatest basketball teams. Now, as the Wolfpack's first-year head coach, he's appealiing to his young players' sense Ncstate_1 of history. With State mired in an 0-3 start in ACC play, Lowe summoned the ghosts of past glory years. He had former All-American David Thompson in attendance for Saturday's road game at Wake Forest. Perhaps inspired, the Wolfpack delivered one of their most solid efforts of the season in dismantling the Demon Deacons, 88-74. Thompson, who starred on State's first NCAA
championship team in 1974 (Lowe played on the second one nine years later) addressed
State's team in the locker room at game's end.

‘‘I told the guys a couple of days ago that they weren't playing for themselves anymore," Lowe said. "They're playing for everybody that has ever worn an N.C. State jersey. ‘‘We talked about the tradition of the guys that have come before them and come before me. We represent those people. I wanted David to come in so they could see who I was talking about."

State entered Saturday's game against Wake as the ACC's worst shooting team. The Wolfpack departed from form by going 9-of-20 from beyond the arc (45 percent). Courtney Fells led the assault with a 4-of-9 showing from 3-point range, and freshman Dennis Horner made both his tries. Overall, State shot a blistering 68 percent from the floor in the second half and checked out at 61 percent for the day. ‘‘The reason things were so crisp and so open for us is that we did a great job -- finally -- of getting the ball to the open man and of not holding the ball and letting
them trap us," said Fells, who finished with a career-high 20 points.

Senior point guard Engin Atsur's injury woes, meanwhile, continue. After missing nine games due to a pulled hamstring, Atsur returned to play 31 minutes in the Jan. 6 homecourt loss to Boston College. But the injury flared up again following practice on Sunday. Atsur sat out last Tuesday's homecourt loss to Clemson and again against Wake on Saturday. The Wolfpack doesn't play again until hosting Duke this Saturday, so Lowe remains hopeful Atsur can benefit from the weeklong break. Gavin Grant has resumed the point guard duties during Atsur's absence. Grant had four assists and seven turnovers against Wake Forest, but at least he didn't find scoring as difficult as he has while playing the point in the past. Grant led State with 24 points while going 9-of-14 from the floor.

Lowe has jokingly labeled his team the "Six Pack'' because of his thin bench. But even with Atsur sidelined, seven players played at least 12 minutes against the Deacons. Another -- walk-on Darrell Davis from the football team -- played six minutes.‘‘I saw Coach Lowe in the dining hall a few weeks before the season started and wished them luck," the 6-foot-5 Davis said. "And I told them that if they needed any help to give me a call. A little while later, they did."

Davis, a true freshman, redshirted during the football season but hopes to play his way into the wide receiver mix next fall. Davis, who hails from Dade City, Fla., did not attempt a shot from the floor. He had one rebound, one assist and committed three fouls.

WAKE FOREST (9-7, 1-3): Not much way to put a silver lining on last week's going-ons at
Wake Forest. The outlook for this week, at least on paper, doesn't look so good either.

The Demon Deacons (9-7, 1-3) yielded a total of 183 points in homecourt losses Wakeforest_1to Boston College and N.C. State last week. Wake allowed State to light up Joel Coliseum for a 61 percent showing on Saturday. Wake trailed 50-32 at halftime, and things only got worse as the Wolfpack shot nearly 70 percent in the second half. That's far from encouraging, particularly since the schedule now shows road trips at Duke (Thursday) and Virginia (Sunday), followed by a home game against North Carolina (Jan. 24) on the immediate horizon.

The Deacons continue to start three freshmen and play an 11-man rotation that includes only two seniors (and no juniors). Now that Wake is 16 games into its season, head coach Skip Prosser isn't sure that is as much of a factor as some might think. At the same time, Prosser -- who took over prior to the 2001-02 season --  seems to be beating himself up a little for letting the program get into this position. ‘‘I'm not one to use youth as an excuse," Prosser said. "But I would not have foreseen us being this young six years in."

Predictably, message boards and talk shows are beginning to register a fair amount of grumbling from alumni and fans who saw the Deacons stumble through a 3-13 showing in ACC
play last year and fear their team might be heading in that directiron again. Kevin Swinton, who scored a team-high 16 points in 21 minutes against N.C. State, agreed that Wake's youth is not a blank check for continued dismal showings, particulary defensively.

‘‘We're all ballplayers," said Swinton, playing his way back into form after missing three games with a knee injury. "When we step out there on the court, we have to overlook our youth and just play. ‘‘I played with confidence (against State), and that's something I have to keep doing.
That's what we all have to do."

Prosser would certainly welcome more showings like the one turned in by Swinton, who went 7-of-9 from the floor against the Wolfpack and grabbed seven rebounds. ‘‘Inspired and inspiring," Prosser said. But now here comes Duke. ‘‘We're not giving ourselves much of a chance (with the way Wake's played recently)," Prosser said. "But we're at the point now where there's a lot of basketball still to be played. I'm not going to give up on them, and they can't give up on one another."

The loss to State was so decisive, it might be ludicrous to suggest one play made a substantial difference. But Wake center Kyle Visser's second foul midway through the first half of Saturday's game didn't help. Visser was whistled for his second foul as he tried to deflect a pass. Visser went to the bench for 3 1/2 minutes, during which time the Wolfpack scored a couple of buckets inside to take the lead for keeps. When Visser returned to the game, the Deacons were forced to play zone, and State took advantage with its good shooting. ‘‘You try not to pick up your third foul, and you want to stay as aggressive as you can," Visser said. "But there's thin line there."

Visser, the ACC's third leading scorer, did manage to keep his streak of double-digit scoring games alive with 11 points. He has scored at least 10 in every game this season.

January 09, 2007

The Hot Stove: GatorEnvy, Beason, recruiting and a lot of hoops

I'm going to start off this blog with a disclaimer: In the next few months as the basketball season progresses, expect to see a lot more on basketball. My plan is still to come in and provide what I can on recruiting, football news and baseball season once we get closer to that.

Before we get to hoops, though, a couple topics for you to digest for feedback:
Gatorswin1. As a Canes fan how sick were you to see the Gators win the National Title with ease over Ohio State and become the first champion at the same time in two sports?
2. Do you think Jon Beason made the right decision to leave early?

3. How long do you think it will take the Hurricanes to get back to the national title game in football? And more importantly, how long are you willing to wait?
4. Did any of you get a chance to see any All-Star games -- namely the U.S. Army All-American Bowl? I've been told recruit Harland Gunn looked great opening holes for the West. I saw Nick Fanuzzi interception -- a badly underthrown ball. But I also was told he also made a few other nice passes between defenders. Your thoughts on recruiting are welcome.

OK, that's it. 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. The story below is what I sent to my fellow basketball writers regarding the Canes. In the other blog entry (Around the ACC) is what other writers sent me. I separated them for easy reading.

---------------------------------------------------------
The idea of Lethal Weapon 3 was supposed to go into retirement at the University of Miami when Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite left for the pros this past summer.

Coach Frank Haith's goal entering this season was to go big and eliminate the idea the Hurricanes couldn't survive without in the ACC without a three-guard lineup. But after 6-9 senior center Anthony King went down last month with what has turned out to be a season-ending wrist injury, those plans have had to be scrapped.

Anthonyharris2UM (8-8, 1-1) debuted its first three-guard starting lineup of the season against the Wake Forest Saturday when senior Anthony Harris and sophomores Jack McClinton and Denis Clemente lined up for the tipoff.

"I didn't want our team to be that way, but injuries have made us evolve back into that," said Haith, whose team blew a 17-point second half lead and lost to the Demon Deacons 59-58 Saturday night.

"I thought our post guys were going to be the strength of this team, but obviously it's been the other way. So, the perimeter guys are our strength. A lot of that has to do with no King and inconsistencies with Ray Hicks and Jimmy Graham. But it is what it is and that's how it's played out."

Going big was going well for the Hurricanes early on. UM was scoring points in the paint with regularity and was beating teams for the first time under Haith from the inside-out. UM made it to 6-3 on Dec. 3 when it beat Georgia Tech with King in the lineup. But after his injury, the Hurricanes have fallen on hard times with freshman 6-8 Dwayne Collins roaming the paint and a cast of others struggling to help.

With his team struggling, Haith eventually had no choice but to go small again. He played his newest backcourt trio for the first time this season in Miami's 79-78 win at UMass, a game in which Harris exploded for a career-high 33 points and the trio combined for 59 points in the win.

Early on Saturday, it looked like the new lineup was going to deliver another victory. UM jumped out to a 21-5 lead and held a 17-point lead midway through the second half.

Clemente_1But after Clemente went down with a thigh contusion at the 13-minute mark, the game began slipping away. McClinton, who is averaging 18.1 points a game, assumed the point guard duties from Clemente and UM began turning the ball over as Wake turned up its defensive pressure. The Canes committed a season-high 12 turnovers in the loss. McClinton, though, wasn't making excuses. He didn't blame it on his sprained left knee, which could have a bulky brace on it for the remainder of the season.

Clemente, who replaced Harris at the starting point guard nine games into the season, told me Monday he will start when UM visits Maryland Wednesday night and assured me it didn't hurt.

But if his bruised thigh becomes a problem, Harris, who has made 60 of his 61 career starts at point guard, will return to his point guard duties. Haith said Friday he is hoping to use Harris on the wing for the rest of the season.

Keatoncopeland-- GETTING HIS CHANCE: Senior walk-on Keaton Copeland, meanwhile, became Miami's fifth different starter at power forward this season when he made his first career start at UMass. Copeland, who joined the team prior to the 2004-05 season, is small for the spot at 6-5, 245 pounds.

But Haith said he gave Copeland a shot because he provides the type of effort and gritty work he's been looking for from the spot all season.

"I've been wanting to give Keaton a chance at it for awhile," Haith said. "I just finally said, 'We're going to do it.' He battles at practice every single day. He's not as talented as those other guys, but he plays so hard. My goal is to have our other guys see how hard he plays and see that's what they need to bring if they want minutes. He's good enough where he can make plays."

Copeland had two points, one rebound, two assists, one block and a team-leading three steals in 17 minutes Saturday.

Sophomore Jimmy Graham began the season at power forward and made 10 starts, but has struggled and is averaging 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds. Junior Ray Hicks, who made two starts at the spot, is a player Haith said "needs to come off the bench to be effective.

The other starters have included 6-11 Junior College transfer Fabio Nass, who now appears to have fallen out of the nine-man rotation. Haith said 6-7 freshman Lawrence Gilbert, who made his only start against Nebraska, "is the most talented of the group," but "is still too green."

Jamesdews-- CHEST PAINS: Freshman guard James Dews had a good scare the day before UM's trip to UMass last week. Dews left practice and began complaining of chest pains. He was rushed to the emergency room and kept overnight. Haith said the doctors determined it was not his heart, but chest muscles that were overworked. He flew up to UMass and played sparingly.

Haith told me he expects Dews, who sunk the meaningless three against Wake Forest, to play a more significant role as the season progresses.

-- A FULL HOUSE: Haith said Monday he would like to have his team living on campus next season so they eat better.

Monday, as Clemente was leaving practice with a box full of food, Haith shook his head and said "that boy needs to eat." Clemente is listed a 6-0, 178-pounds. But he's likely lighter than that.

As of now, only freshman are required to live on campus. With new apartments already opened across the street from the Hecht Center, the athletic department is apparently interested in holding several rooms for athletes. The basketball team would be an easy fit with it being such a small roster.

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.

January 03, 2007

What's new at The U in '07

I was going to start this first blog entry of the new year with a look forward to what UM football fans should be looking forward to in the next month. Then, Ant Harris got stuck in my eye. 33 points? What in the world got into him?

So last night, while watching the Orange Bore first hand, I text messaged coach Frank Haith exactly that question when I heard Harris had resurrected UM's fading season with the game of his life in a stunning -- yes stunning -- win at UMass.

"We just need him to be himself," Haith responded. What a refreshing idea: Be Yourself. I think The U as a whole has stopped being itself, especially on the offensive side of the in football. In Harris' case, being himself is having the ball in his hands and creating, something the team has obviously needed to fuel its two biggest wins of the season (Georgia Tech and now UMass).

I'll get back to the basketball later, but the concept of "being themselves," is paramount to what I believe once made the University of Miami football program great and will once again. What does that mean for football: Being aggressive, maximizing the talent and being fun to watch on offense. Which is why I believe getting the right offensive coordinator in the next few days for new coach Randy Shannon is the biggest decision he'll make as coach.

GregolsenUM has stopped being aggressive, maximizing its talent and being fun to watch (which is huge with recruiting) the last three seasons. Some can point to a lack of talent. But I don't buy that as an excuse. UM obviously hasn't had the same number of offensive weapons it has had in the past, but to claim that the cupboard was bare for Dan Werner and Rich Olson the past three seasons during UM's descent is flat out stupid. Devin Hester and Sinorice Moss have already proven to be special players who were underutilized. Greg Olsen, who announced his departure a few days ago, will be the next. With the lack of talented tight ends in football, Olsen's size, speed and skill will be gobbled up by someone in the first or second round of the April draft. And by next year, we'll all be saying yet again... why didn't he do that at The U?

The answer is simple and very much like Hester and Moss's: His coaches weren't creative enough in getting him the football. Yes, Olsen had some drops. But how many of them were on five-yard outs when Kyle Wright or Kirby Freeman was throwing them a rocket? And how many big plays did Olsen make when he had space? When UM was great, it never had that problem. Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Kellen Winslow, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis, Andre Johnson, Jeremy Shockey, Edgerrin James all got the ball enough times and in open spaces -- on screens, reverses, deep balls -- to create excitement, yards and points. While the 2006 Canes had far less talent, I never got the feeling the ones that did have talent -- Javarris James, Sam Shields and Olsen -- were given the ball in circumstances to create big plays. Everytime James was given the ball, he was told to run straight ahead against a defense that knew what was coming. Most times when Shields or Olsen caught the ball they were only 8, 9 yards down the field with safeties and corners closing in.

For all the talk Rich Olson created about wanting to get the ball in his playmaker's hands downfield, on swing passes or backs out of the backfield it rarely happened. And it seemed the few times UM did decide to go down field, UM's biggest plays usually happened (look up the end to the Virginia and Georgia Tech game and the bowl win). Part of the problem obviously was quarterback, and the impending battle between Kirby Freeman and Kyle Wright figures to be a story to follow through the spring and into the fall. But Problemo Numero Uno was the man calling the plays. In my eyes, the job of the offensive coordinator is to figure a way to create points and excitement. One look at UM's struggling offenses the past three years tells you the guys calling the shots haven't gotten it done.

DirkkoetterDirk Koetter has been rumored for weeks to be the guy Shannon wants calling plays. But is he really the right choice? In a lot of ways, I think Koetter might be the perfect fit, ala a Larry Coker who appears to be a far better coordinator than coach. For all the hoopla Koetter created over his offensive prowess, he wasn't exactly a great head coach. His last six years at Arizona State proved that and the three before at Boise State weren't as good as the one the Broncos just finished with that spectacular Hook 'N Ladder and Statue of Liberty plays in their Fiesta Bowl win versus Oklahoma.

T1_0101_fiesta_ap For the record, UM fans should get those crazy plays out of their minds. Despite his connection to Boise, Koetter doesn't run those wacky plays. His history as an offensive coordinator began in 1985 as the offensive coordinator at San Francisco State, then UTEP (1986-88), Missouri (1989-93), Boston College (1994-95) and finally Oregon (1996-97). I don't know about you, but when I think of those programs offense isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But his reputation, much like Rich Olsen's was, was his thirst for downfield passing and an attacking, creative offense. And if Shannon likes him (he did go to Arizona State to hang out with Koetter last summer), then it might be the perfect marriage between an offensive mastermind and defensive mastermind UM fans have been looking for.

Graigcooper_1Assuming Koetter ends up with the job soon (I don't see why he wouldn't take it), it's obvious he's already going to have a pretty good assortment of young weapons waiting for him. In addition to James and Shields, UM has grabbed a few pretty good offensive recruits. The latest, running back Graig Cooper, is the best of the bunch. Rated the No. 1-prep school player in the country by Rivals.com, Super Coop told me he will not have a problem sharing the spotlight with Javarris James (LISTEN TO THE AUDIO). And I think he will end up being the perfect compliment to James' tough inside running for at least two future Cane seasons. Super Coop has great hands out of the backfield and is also apparently studly on returns, an obvious need for the Canes. Check out his YouTube highlight video here. There's are also a slew of talented incoming receivers who I suspect starting with Kayne Farquharson will be immediate impact players like Shields was this past season.

The biggest recruiting targets, though, to watch in the coming weeks are arguably the two most prized possessions in South Florida -- Belle Glade Glades Central receiver Deonte Thompson and St. Thomas Aquinas safety Major Wright. For all the headway Shannon has made since Coker got fired, those two players are future NFL stars and would make UM's class special instead of pretty good. Stay tuned for updates. Both by the way will be playing against two UM recruits -- QB Nick Fanuzzi and OL Harland Gunn -- when the East takes on the West Saturday afternoon in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The other big-time possible UM recruit is LB Allen Bailey, a 6-3, 260-pound future defensive end from Georgia who has maintained UM in his top four for most of the season. The game will be televised on NBC at 1 p.m.

OK, now back to basketball. The UM bandwagon obviously lost quite a few riders with its recent run of losses -- including one to Binghamton no less. But the road win at UMass in my opinion is a sign this UM team is much better than what it has shown of late. While many online message boards have already begun a fire Frank Haith campaign, I've got to say Tuesday night's road win is a reason why people should still have Faith in Haith.

Frankhaith_1 Yes, he has been stubborn to get out of the zone defense, which has been exposed by opponent's 3-point shooting this season on a regular basis. But he finally reportedly did against UMass and it paid off. UM was only 6 of 18 from 3-point range and my guess is because UM finally began contesting some of those shots. Despite the losses of Guillermo Diaz and Rob Hite, this UM team has talent. Just young talent. And until a Tuesday night, a senior leader in Harris who looked more like a bewildered follower. Miami probably won't make the post-season this year unless Harris plays like he did Tuesday at least 70 percent of the time for the rest of this season.

For the past few years, even with Diaz and Hite, Haith would always say the team goes as far as Harris takes them. There's a reason. He's a scorer who makes the players around him better when he's making shots. Through the first 13 games of the season, I got the sense he was deferring too much, scared almost to take the reigns and "be himself." When he did briefly earlier this season, UM beat Georgia Tech. Haith needs Harris to be the No. 1 option on this team especially know with King likely out for the rest of the season. He needs Harris to make Jack McClinton the best No. 2 option in the league and Brian Asbury the best No. 3 option, and so forth.

Ultimately, the real building blocks of the future success of this team are guys like Asbury, Dwayne Collins, Denis Clemente, James Dews and McClinton. None of those guys are honestly ready to be The Man. And while this team can be competitive in the ACC -- we're talking middle of the pack -- with Harris playing the way he did Tuesday, the best case scenario realistically for this team is for Harris to help nurture its future five along and get into a tournament like the NIT where the team can go into next season with some positivity and a realistic shot of being an ACC contender next year.

Haith doesn't want to throw the towel in for 2006-07 and he won't publicly do so. But behind the scenes, he knows this season is really about next year. He knows his best shot at making this program a winner and taking a step forward lies with what this young nucleus does over the next few years. With national champion Florida in town for the OB Classic last week, I asked Haith point blank if he thought UM would ever ascend to be a national title contender. His response: "Yes. I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't so."

Haith is certainly making a push on the recruiting front. Miami High's Edwin Rios is the player Haith is already plenty excited about. In fact, Rios, who is averaging more than 30 points a game at The High, could end up being his first McDonald's All-American. There are whispers his strong season have gotten the attention of the selection committee, who think the once No. 5 recruit in the Class of 2007, might be worthy of one of the 15 East invitation.

Then, there's the Class of 2008. Haith is reportedly hot and heavy not only on the best local talent, Pace forward Ray Shipman, but also the nation's No. 1 swing man according to Scout.com, 6-7 Devin Ebanks of Connecticut. Ebanks said UM has recruited him the hardest of any program in the country and ranks them in his preliminary top five with St. John's, Louisville and Georgetown. And down the road, Haith already has his eyes on perhaps the best South Florida product yet, Ely High sophomore Kenny Boynton, rated in the Top 10 nationally of the 2009 class.

OK, I'm done with my rant -- it was a long one. Hopefully it was enough to fuel some thoughts of your own. I'll start with this... What would you like to see UM do in the next month leading up to National Signing Day? What would you like to see out of the basketball team as it resumes ACC play Saturday against Wake Forest? What is your New Year's resolution?