Coaches try to explain state of the conference

League slips to fifth place in Rating Percentage Index

ACC notebook

January 19, 2000|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski tried to joke about it. Clemson's Larry Shyatt offered his team as the scapegoat. And Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins attempted to rationalize it.

Although selection day for the NCAA tournament is still 53 days away, the coaches of the Atlantic Coast Conference were in full damage control yesterday, when asked about the league dipping to No. 5 in the Rating Percentage Index.

And they have a right to worry. Last year, the ACC was second behind the Big Ten, and only Duke, Maryland and North Carolina received NCAA tournament bids.

So Tobacco Road turned into Spin City yesterday, as coaches were forced to explain the state of the ACC, which was the top-rated league from 1996 to 1998.

"Last year, we got three teams in. So if we're ranked fifth, that means we're not going to get anyone in?" Krzyzewski said. "No, we'll probably get eight in then. So I don't know how much significance that means. If you have a couple of power teams, that increases your RPI. It's not necessarily how you're looked upon by the selection committee.

"I think our conference is very competitive up and down, and as a result, maybe it's a lower RPI. But I think we probably should have more teams in the NCAA as a result of that competitiveness."

Actually, the low RPI probably stems from the ACC's mark against other power conferences.

The ACC has losing records against the Atlantic 10 (1-4), Big 12 (0-1), Conference USA (2-4), Southeastern Conference (5-7) and Pacific-10 (4-5). The league has lost six of its past seven nonconference games against ranked opponents, with its only win coming from Maryland's victory over Kentucky.

Clemson has weighted down the ACC from the start, falling to Wofford, Wisconsin-Green Bay and South Carolina State.

"I feel bad because I would never want to lower the conference in terms of the disappointing year that we're having," Shyatt said. "We may be responsible for some of that."

Cremins, however, said that the NCAA selection committee should concentrate at the other end of the ACC and not penalize league teams for having to play Duke twice. The Blue Devils are the only ACC team in the RPI's top 21.

"What has really surprised me is how the strength of Duke's program has hurt the rest of the ACC," Cremins said. "I thought when you have a team that is so powerful in your conference that it would help your conference rating.

"I think all of us [coaches] are a little surprised by everyone saying that they had three good teams last year and the rest of the teams are garbage. If Duke was in any other conference, they would be doing the same thing to the other teams."

Record hype

How many teams would want to play Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium with the ACC regular-season win streak record on the line?

The North Carolina State players don't mind and some have welcomed that challenge tonight. The Blue Devils have won 26 league games in a row, one away from tying the ACC mark that was set by N.C. State (1972-75).

That's why the Wolfpack view tonight's game at Duke as a prime opportunity to defend its tradition. Still, the Blue Devils have a current tradition of their own: They haven't lost to an ACC opponent in Cameron since Jan. 11, 1997, against Wake Forest.

"Duke's beatable," N.C. State guard Anthony Grundy said. "If we work, we have a chance -- even there."

One-man gang

If Clemson's Will Solomon appears to be a one-man gang, it's because he is.

The sophomore guard scored 43 points -- the most by a Tigers player in 30 years -- in a 98-91 loss to Virginia on Saturday. He connected on eight of 12 three-pointers and scored 26 in the last 12: 35 of the game, accounting for 12 of Clemson's final 14 points.

Solomon raised his ACC-leading scoring average to 20.9.

"Will's performance was one of the best individual performances I have ever seen," Shyatt said.

Said Virginia coach Pete Gillen: "We couldn't stop Will Solomon. We recruited him, so we know how he plays. We should not have allowed him to score that many points, but he did."

It's not like Clemson had that many options. The Tigers, who have yet to have their full roster of scholarship players available for one practice all year, dressed only eight for the Virginia game. Altogether, five Tigers have missed 19 games because of injury.

Et cetera

Duke has won an ACC-record 43 consecutive times at Cameron and by an average margin of 28.4 points. Since being outplayed by Maryland's Steve Blake, Duke freshman point guard Jason Williams has 30 points and 10 assists while committing just four turnovers in 62 minutes against Georgia Tech and Florida State. Wake Forest has allowed three players this season to score at least 30 points.

Conference RPI

(Through Sunday's games)

Conference W-L* RPI

Big Ten 86-38 .5880

Pac-10 76-31 .5860

Big 12 98-39 .5778

Conference USA 94-44 .5758

ACC 74-33 .5748

* -- Nonconference record

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