ACC full of talent and intrigue, too

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

December 03, 1993|By DON MARCUS

The Atlantic Coast Conference is widely considered the best college basketball league in the country, but the first two weeks of the season have produced some interesting developments among the teams predicted to finish at the top.

* Either North Carolina isn't as invincible as everyone believed going into the season or Tar Heels coach Dean Smith is more shrewd than even his most loyal fans give him credit for being. Did you see Smith keep Eric Montross on the floor with four fouls with his team ahead of Massachusetts late in the second half of their Preseason NIT semifinal? While ESPN's Dick Vitale questioned whether the Tar Heels assistants had lost track of the fouls, Montross picked up his fifth and North Carolina lost in overtime.

"The man's a genius," said one prominent Division I coach who watched the game and whose team will play the Tar Heels this season. "By losing early, he took pressure off his team. Everyone won't be asking, 'Can this team lose?'

"He also sent a message to the young guys on his team that they need Montross to win down the stretch, and that they're going to have to play harder. You would never have seen him do that in March."

* Virginia will certainly miss Cory Alexander, but the 12th-ranked (and soon-to-be unranked) Cavaliers might have been in trouble before their junior point guard broke his leg in Monday's season-opening, 41-point debacle at home to Connecticut. Don't laugh, but Virginia is having problems replacing Ted Jeffries.

The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Jeffries certainly didn't bring a lot of style during his two years as Virginia's starting center, but he did have a lot of substance in the way he played defense and the fact he was more fundamentally sound than any of the team's other frontcourt players.

"The most noticeable thing about Ted was his defense," Virginia coach Jeff Jones said the day after the most one-sided defeat in the history of University Hall. "He was such a good position defender, he made everyone else look good. He also had a solid understanding of the game offensively. Given that he had never been a star, he sort of held everyone together."

* Duke could wind up using a point-guard-by-committee this season, or at least until conference play begins next month. The Blue Devils have struggled in each of their first two games, against Northeastern and The Citadel, in no small measure because of their uncertainty at finding a successor to Bobby Hurley.

Grant Hill, who was rumored all summer to be this season's point guard, has been moved back to forward for the time being, with Kenny Blakeney taking over at the point. The Blue Devils had only eight assists in a 78-63 win Wednesday night over The Citadel, and three were by freshman center Greg Newton.

"I feel comfortable with my role," Hill said of moving back and forth from forward to guard. "It's not a matter of us feeling comfortable. It's a matter of not getting the job done. We just haven't carried it over into the games yet."

This strength-in-numbers approach might work against the have-nots, but it certainly won't work against the country's best teams. Duke has until next Saturday to get things sorted out. That's when the Blue Devils visit Michigan.

Centers of attention

The matchup of big men in the featured game of tonight's Diet Pepsi Tournament of Champions double header at the Charlotte Coliseum doesn't evoke images of Chamberlain and Russell. Or Ewing and Sampson. Or even Shaq and Alonzo.

In fact, George Washington coach Mike Jarvis doesn't think you can mention his 7-1, 265-pound sophomore, Yinka Dare, in the same breath with the 7-0, 270-pound Montross. At least not yet.

"My guy's just learning the game, and the other guy could be the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft next year," Jarvis said recently. "It's like comparing a horse that's starting to run with a thoroughbred."

That might be the first time Montross has been described that way, but the point Jarvis makes is well-taken. Dare doesn't quite have the experience, and he certainly doesn't have the same kind of help that Montross does in backups Kevin Salvadori and freshman Rasheed Wallace.

"There are some NBA teams that don't have that kind of depth at center," said one pro scout who plans to be in Charlotte.

Said Jarvis: "It's a tremendous opportunity for Yinka. He's getting to play three great centers for the price of one."

Stat of the Week

If Indiana loses to top-ranked Kentucky tomorrow at the Hoosier Dome, it will mark the first time the Hoosiers started a season 0-2 since 1979-80.

Suggestion of the Week

With a search committee appointed to find a new nickname for St. John's, which dropped Redmen after 71 years, how about naming them after the committee's chairman and the school's former coach? The St. John's Looies. (It comes with a built-in fight song.)

Quote of the Week

"The only thing that will keep him at Maryland for four years is the salary cap."

-- An NBA executive after watching Terrapins freshman Joe Smith score 26 points with nine rebounds against Georgetown.

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