A fan's guide


Down, not out

Nine reasons why ACC won't be as weak as people predict:

1. Tim Duncan. There may not be many established big men in the ACC, but the best one in the country plays at Wake Forest.

2. Mike Krzyzewski's return at Duke. The Blue Devils won't be back at Final Four form, but they'll be back at a very competitive level.

3. Virginia's backcourt tandem. Harold Deane and three-point sharpshooter Curtis Staples make up one of the nation's best backcourts.

4. Maryland's revival. Coming off two straight Sweet 16 seasons, the Terps are on the verge of becoming a perennial ACC power again.

5. New blood. Freshmen such as Stephon Marbury at Georgia Tech, Vince Carter at North Carolina, Andrius Jurkunas at Clemson, Terrell Stokes at Maryland and Randell Jackson at Florida State will create a new wave of stars.

6. Dean Smith. After 34 years, he doesn't rebuild at Carolina, he just reloads.

7. The Big East factor. Although there were complaints and one celebrated incident in the ACC tourney, Clemson coach Rick Barnes brought more of the physical style to the league.

8. Perimeter play. The ACC has quality guards galore. Almost every team has a very solid backcourt that will help negate the lack of dominant big men.

9. Upsets. The league's balance of power may be spread over more teams, but that will enhance the prospect of more upsets.

Diaper dandies

Five freshmen who'll make a difference:

Stephon Marbury, Georgia Tech: Another, and probably the best, in a long line of Marburys.

L Louis Bullock, Michigan: The one who got away from Maryland.

Ron Mercer, Kentucky: Consensus national high school player of year.

Vince Carter, North Carolina: An explosive player who arrives in the nick of time for a Tar Heels team lacking depth.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, California: At 6-10, he could dominate immediately.

Head of the class

Five Player of the Year candidates (aka the Joe Smith Award):

Tim Duncan, Wake Forest, Sr.: He'll be dunkin' in the NBA next season after carrying the ACC banner.

Marcus Camby, UMass, Jr.: With Lou Roe gone, the spotlight is on Camby.

Kerry Kittles, Villanova, Sr.: Maybe he had this in mind when he decided to forgo the NBA a year early.

Ray Allen, UConn, Jr.: Like UConn's previous stars, he's trying to get the Huskies over that Final Four hump.

Allen Iverson, Georgetown, Soph.: As the setup man, he will revive Hoya Paranoia in a big way this season.

Leagues on the rise

Big East: Haven't had a Final Four team since Seton Hall in 1989, but Connecticut, Georgetown or Villanova could end the drought.

SEC: Represented in the last three Final Fours, and Kentucky should make it four in a row.

Conference USA: What's not to like about having Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati, Tulane and Marquette in the same league?

Atlantic 10: Virginia Tech and Temple give the conference two more strong teams.

Get the remote

Six games to watch (if you only see six all season):

Dec. 6: Wake Forest at UMass, ESPN. Battle of the giants, Tim Duncan vs. Marcus Camby.

Dec. 9: Maryland vs. UCLA, Anaheim, NBC. Lefty Driesell wanted to make Maryland the UCLA of the East, but now it's Gary Williams' turn to seek parity.

Dec. 22: Georgia Tech vs. UMass at the Meadowlands, ESPN. Freshman phenom Stephon Marbury goes home to play in front of his family.

Jan. 14: Clemson at North Carolina, ESPN2. Rick Barnes vs. Dean Smith, The Sequel.

Feb. 11: Arkansas at Kentucky, CBS. Last year Kentucky unseated defending national champion Arkansas for the SEC title.

Feb. 25: UConn at Villanova, CBS. Watching Ray Allen and Kerry Kittles on the same floor is fun enough, but these are two of the Big East's best teams.

Name game

Four names to live by:

Scientific Mapp, Florida A&M: Will he need some traveling music?

Sunday Adebayo, Arkansas: He answers to Sunday, but he'll play any day.

God Shammgod, Providence: Does this open any doors to divine intervention?

Exree Hipp, Maryland: For the last two years, the "X" man has forecast the Terps' Sweet 16 future.

In the spotlight

Players who have to step up:

Charles O'Bannon, UCLA: Some think he'll be even better than his brother Ed.

Johnny Rhodes, Maryland: The 6-4 swingman will crash inside to get a lot of rebounds that would have gone to Joe Smith.

Harold Deane, Virginia: He and Curtis Staples give the Cavs a dynamic backcourt.

James Collins, Florida State: Averaged 18 points on a team that featured Bobby Sura.

John Wallace, Syracuse: The return of the 6-8 senior takes some of the sting out of the loss of Michael Lloyd.

Jeff McInnis, North Carolina: With Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace gone, the point guard becomes the go-to guy.

Samaki Walker, Louisville: He was a better shooter from the field than the foul line a year ago.

Like son, like father

Steve Alford, 30, the new coach at Southwest Missouri State, hired his father, Sam, as an assistant. Does Sam invoke parental rights in the huddle?

Top 25

1. Kentucky

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