League's NCAA number might be 3

Maryland, Duke, Wake sure tournament shots

N.C. State on the bubble

ACC notebook

February 28, 2003|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The 65-team NCAA tournament field will be announced two weeks from Sunday, and unless some teams jockeying for position in the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference make a move in the coming days, the ACC could be left with only three schools in the national tournament.

If that occurs, it would mark the third time in the past five seasons that the ACC has produced three NCAA qualifiers.

Defending national and regular-season ACC champion Maryland, Wake Forest and Duke, in a three-way race for the regular-season crown, will make the NCAAs. Virginia and Georgia Tech are fading badly down the stretch - only a conference tournament title upset would rescue them by virtue of an automatic qualifier - and North Carolina State also is on the verge of being left out in the cold.

The Wolfpack (15-9, 8-5), alone in fourth place in the league, has the best chance to get in, although it desperately needs to beat Maryland on Sunday or Wake Forest on March 8 to bolster its case. Both games are in Raleigh.

"I'm not claiming to be omnipotent, but I'm not sure that some teams with a losing record [in the ACC] aren't one of the best 65 teams in the country," Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser said. "It would be hard for some mid-major conference [champion] to go 7-9 in our league. Look at Virginia. They've beaten Kentucky, Maryland and Wake Forest."

The Cavaliers (14-12, 5-8) also have lost at Ohio, at Virginia Tech by 18 points, at North Carolina by 14, at Georgia Tech by 20 and to Clemson twice. That's why Virginia's Rating Percentage Index ranking had slid to 58 this week.

Two weeks ago, Georgia Tech still had hope. But after losing four straight, their longest slide of the year, the Yellow Jackets (65 RPI) are 12-12, 5-8.

N.C. State needs to win one more regular-season game to guarantee a 9-7 finish entering the conference tournament as the fourth seed. Usually, that is enough to get into the tournament, but the Wolfpack (67 RPI) played a soft nonconference schedule and has some serious blights on its record -a 12-point loss at Massachusetts (180 RPI) and a 22-point loss at Temple (120 RPI).

Gilchrist shows his stuff

Backup freshman point guard John Gilchrist has emerged as the first-year player making the most impact among Maryland's five new faces. With his explosive drives to the basket, his creative passing and rebounding ability and his exuberant body language, Gilchrist has become a fan favorite in College Park.

To watch Gilchrist is to witness pure enthusiasm. Typically during the national anthem, he will sway from side to side with a constant smile on his face. On the floor, you might see him wag his tongue or make faces at an opponent, or talk to himself or a counterpart in the heat of battle.

"He's very animated. It's pretty fun to watch him. He's got antics," senior point guard Steve Blake said of his heir apparent. "In practice, when he loses the ball, he'll look at his hands [in disbelief], like they've done something. If someone hits him in his shoulder, he'll just stare at his shoulder. You get a lot of moments out of him."

The moments have come to be expected lately of Gilchrist, who had his coming-out party with a 10-point, four-rebound, four-assist performance in a losing effort against Florida on Dec. 14. His back-to-back drives for baskets at North Carolina blunted a second-half surge by the Tar Heels in Maryland's 81-66 win last month.

He recently played his best back-to-back games of the season. First, he contributed 11 points and nine rebounds, both career highs, to push Maryland toward a 40-point rout of North Carolina on Saturday. He came back to produce eight points and four assists in 16 minutes in Tuesday's home finale, a 91-52 rout over Clemson.

Overall, Gilchrist is averaging 13.2 minutes, 4.3 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists and is shooting a team-high 56.4 percent.

"John is a tremendous penetrator and he's very confident. If he thinks he can get to the basket, he's going to the basket," said Maryland senior forward Tahj Holden. "He gets excited, and he gets us excited. You really don't know what to expect from him at times, and that's good. If his teammates don't know, then the [opposing] defense doesn't know."

Not a numbers guy

After the victory over Clemson that gave him 499 wins over a 25-year run as a head coach, Maryland's Gary Williams downplayed another milestone he is about to reach.

"I never got into numbers. I respect coaches. I respect the guys that know the game and coach the game," Williams said. "There's two out there that have never been to the Final Four that I'll put up against anybody - Gene Keady [Purdue] and John Chaney [Temple]. Those guys are as good as there is.

"It's great to get to 500, don't get me wrong. At the same time, I won't coach to get to a certain number. I'll guarantee you that."

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