In ACC, teams dive into tourney looking for a springboard

With 5 NCAA bids likely, gaining momentum is key

March 09, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Some teams will be looking to re-energize themselves heading into the postseason. Others will be trying to reinvent themselves after a disappointing regular season. And one - Maryland - will be hoping to remain one of the hottest teams in the country.

There are several agendas going into the 48th Atlantic Coast Conference tournament beginning today at the Georgia Dome, but each team has the same goal: win three games in three days and emerge Sunday with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Though at least five teams seem to have secured at-large bids and a sixth, Georgia Tech, would likely earn its invitation with a victory in this afternoon's quarterfinal game against Virginia, there is still a lot at stake here.

Momentum can be maintained, regained or simply lost in the course of a single basketball game.

"You can have nine games left to your season, or you can have two," North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said yesterday.

The Tar Heels might be the top seed, but they seem to be teetering. Three weeks ago, they suffered their first ACC defeat this season, losing by 10 at Clemson. Two weeks ago, they were pounded at Virginia by 20 points. And, last Sunday, they lost to Duke at home by 14.

"I'm not worried about it," said sophomore guard Joseph Forte, who moved away from here to go to high school at DeMatha. "We're not going to dwell on the things we didn't do. We're going to dwell on the things that we accomplished and what we can accomplish down here."

The only time the ACC tournament was played in this city, and the last time it was held outside the state of North Carolina, the Tar Heels won as the fourth seed at the Omni. But it was also the only time in tournament history that the top seed lost to the bottom seed.

Maryland fans will remember the 1989 tournament well, since the Terrapins beat top-seeded North Carolina State in what turned out to be Bob Wade's last game as a college coach. Wade collapsed in the team's dressing room after the game, was hospitalized for exhaustion, and was forced to resign a month later.

Doherty made history of sorts yesterday. He brought his team to practice at the tournament site, breaking a long-standing tradition established by legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith and carried on the past three years by successor Bill Guthridge.

"It's a great way for the players to get in the ACC [tournament] mood," said Doherty, a former Tar Heels player whose teams won the tournament his first two years in Chapel Hill. "We just have to get excited again. We've got to get our energy back."

It shouldn't be too difficult, given the crowd of more than 40,000 expected to see today's games. North Carolina will open up at noon against ninth-seeded Clemson, which defeated No. 8 seed Florida State, 66-64, in last night's play-in game.

The Tar Heels will be looking for a little revenge.

The other quarterfinals have a similar theme: Second-seeded Duke swept No. 7 seed N.C. State, third-seeded Maryland beat sixth-seeded Wake Forest twice, and No. 5 seed Georgia Tech won two close games over fourth-seeded Virginia.

Unlike recent years, when the Blue Devils were clearly the dominant team in the ACC during the regular season, this seems to be more of a wide-open tournament. "Last year we kind of ran the table," said Duke sophomore guard Jason Williams. "This year every game is a dogfight."

How else do you explain Clemson beating North Carolina in Death Valley or, better yet, Florida State knocking off Maryland at Cole Field House? Consider this: Had Duke guard Chris Duhon not hit a buzzer-beating jumper at Wake Forest a couple of weeks ago, the Blue Devils would have lost two of three coming in.

"No matter who you're going to play you're going to have a challenge," said Virginia coach Pete Gillen, whose team will try to come back from the 35-point crushing it experienced on Saturday at Maryland. "Hopefully you can get through the nightmare."

Wake Forest coach Dave Odom looks at what his team has to do to get to the championship game and sees the most daunting of tasks - beating the top three seeds in succession. It has been done only twice, by Virginia at the Capital Centre in Landover in 1976, and by Duke in Greensboro, N.C., in 1980.

"If there is a tougher road - if the seedings hold up - I don't know one," said Odom.

NOTES: For those wondering whether Duke center Carlos Boozer might return from his stress fracture during the ACC tournament, the answer is no.

"We X-rayed Carlos Boozer and it looks good," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "But he's not going to play. He's off crutches and has been fitted for an orthotic [support device]. But there has been no bone growth yet."

Krzyzewski predicted Boozer would return in time to play in the NCAAs, though not necessarily for the first weekend. ...

Former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins was the guest speaker for the ACC's Legends Luncheon. Cremins picked Maryland to win the tournament. "I usually pick Duke, but with Carlos Boozer hurt, Maryland is the hottest team coming in." ...

Virginia senior guard Donald Hand has a touch of the flu and worked out at less than full speed yesterday, but he is expected to play against Georgia Tech today.

Wire services contributed to this article.

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