Balance is buzzword with March looming

No team looks dominant at conference midseason

February 03, 2000|By NEWSDAY

Midway through the conference seasons and what do we have?

A muddle? Maybe. Confusion? Could be. A free-for-all? Finally.

What a difference a year makes. No heavyweight contender inspiring bracket-ducking (though look how things turned out for Duke). Cincinnati has dominated the rankings, sure, but the pessimism of coach Bob Huggins (who faults the Bearcats for inconsistency on defense and inexperience in the backcourt) finds its reflection in the widely held notion that Cincy can be had. By whom is another question.

"I don't think there's a sensational team out there, but I think there's a lot of good ballclubs," Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton said. "A lot of those teams from six to 25, or even to 45, might have that ability that if things break right, they might end up in the Final Four."

Matchups loom even more important in a year when the buzzword is balance and anyone near the top seems capable of losing to, or beating, anyone. Consider:

LSU lost to Florida, which lost to Tennessee, which lost to Vanderbilt, which lost to Kentucky, which lost to Maryland, which lost to Duke, which lost to Stanford, which lost to Arizona, which lost to USC, Cal, which lost to North Carolina, which lost to Louisville, which lost to Cincinnati, which lost to Xavier, which lost to Kansas, which lost to Iowa State, which lost to Oklahoma, which lost to Texas, which lost to Connecticut, which lost to St. John's, which lost to DePaul, which lost to UCLA, which lost to Gonzaga, which lost to Temple, which lost to Indiana, which lost to Michigan State , which lost to Ohio State, which lost to Notre Dame, which lost to Syracuse, which lost to, well

Get the picture?

Now we hit college basketball's wall, when teams with short rotations and/or freshmen in key roles (e.g., Arizona, USC, St. John's, Iowa State, Duke, Michigan) typically begin to feel the effects of the long season.

"It is a concern," admitted Michigan coach Brian Ellerbe, whose team relies on freshmen Lavell Blanchard, Kevin Gaines and Jamal Crawford. "We try to be very, very calculated with the days off we give and the time we give days off to make sure our guys have fresh minds and fresh legs."

With that in mind, a brief recap:

Surging: Ohio State (and Michael Redd is still MIA); Duke (this is rebuilding?); Iowa State (good Kansas win plus benevolent schedule); Oregon (could Ducks be in Pac-10 tie with Stanford, Arizona and USC?); Temple (Owls integrated Pepe Sanchez faster than Michigan State did Mateen Cleaves); Virginia (Pete Gillen has young Cavs in second in ACC); Kentucky (11-1 in last 12).

Slipping: UCLA, DePaul, Valparaiso, St. John's, Louisville.

Steady: Cincinnati, Syracuse, Stanford, Tulsa.

Surprising: Indiana, Tennessee, NCAA (how was replay review on buzzer-beaters approved so quickly?), Vanderbilt.

ACC standings

Conference Overall

W-L Pct. W-L Pct.

School

Duke 7-0 1.000 16-2 .889

Virginia 5-3 .625 15-6 .714

N.C. State 5-3 .625 15-4 .789

N. Carolina 4-3 .571 13-8 .619

Maryland 4-4 .500 15-6 .714

Fla. State 3-5 .375 8-11 .421

Wake Forest 3-5 .375 12-9 .571

Ga. Tech 2-6 .250 9-11 .450

Clemson 2-6 .250 8-13 .381

Last night's results

Maryland 91, Virginia 79

Clemson 70, Georgia Tech 58

N.C. State 68, Florida State 58

Davidson 54, Wake Forest 49, OT

Tonight's game

Duke at North Carolina, 9

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