Atop ACC, big men elevate best teams

N. Carolina, Duke, Wake rule inside

conference may send only 3 to tourney


College Basketball

February 25, 2005|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

For all of the preseason hype surrounding the elite crop of guards in the Atlantic Coast Conference, what separates North Carolina, Wake Forest and Duke from the rest of the league is their inside presence.

J.J. Redick's group of admirers - among purists, not fans - grows daily, but how much help does his defender get when Duke opponents also have to monitor a force like Shelden Williams?

Williams is the nation's third-best shot-blocker and one of two players in the conference averaging a double double. The other is North Carolina's Sean May. N.C. State fans can make posters deriding his weight, but May is no longer the chubby kid who landed in Chapel Hill in 2002.

Wake Forest's Eric Williams matches Shelden's scoring average of 16.1, and while a national television audience was oohing and aahing over Redick and Chris Paul on Sunday, the big guys engaged in a territorial battle that resembled a sumo match. In an age when 6-foot-9 players hone their outside games in anticipation of taking it to the NBA, NCAA contenders need a player willing to widen his stance and use his backside.

Remember Lonny Baxter?

Sharrod Ford doesn't get enough help to make Clemson a contender, but the Tigers swept the split personality that is Maryland, which could limit the ACC to only three NCAA tournament teams. With the NCAA placing greater emphasis on road wins, a home loss to a basement-dweller like Clemson could doom the Terps.

The ACC will elicit a collective howl if it has only three NCAA teams, but other power conferences are staring at a similar situation. Arizona and Washington, who play tomorrow in Seattle, could be the only Pac-10 teams in the tournament. For all its seeming depth, the Big East could get only four berths, as Pittsburgh remains firmly on the bubble, despite sweeping Syracuse.

Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby, the chairman of the NCAA men's basketball committee that will select at-large teams and seed the field, reiterated that conferences aren't judged, teams are. Let's hope the committee sticks to that criterion.

A year after going to the Final Four, what has Georgia Tech done to merit selection? Other than home wins over Wake Forest and Arkansas-Little Rock, one of the Sun Belt favorites, the Yellow Jackets haven't beaten a team headed to the tournament.

Don't forget, Miami lost at home to South Carolina State. Virginia Tech lost to VMI.

The NCAA gives greater weight to a team's last 10 games than its first 10, and the ramifications of those early-season setbacks won't be clear until March 13. Given the madness that occurs near the Ides of March, watch Bowlsby and the rest of the men on the selection committee have to deal with a late entry, in the form of an upset winner outside the big three in the ACC tournament final earlier that day at MCI Center.

C-USA's makeover

Strange days in Conference USA.

Louisville at Memphis is the setting for ESPN's College GameDay tomorrow, as Rick Pitino goes against John Calipari in the kind of high-profile matchup that was supposed to distinguish the league when it was founded as a made-for-basketball entity a decade ago.

To mark the anniversary, the conference is about to name an all-decade team, and the honorees figure to include Kenyon Martin and Dwyane Wade. Martin was a national Player of the Year for Cincinnati. Wade was the star of the first - and presumably last - Conference USA team to get to the Final Four.

Two years after Wade took Marquette to New Orleans, where it got embarrassed by Kansas, Conference USA is getting ready for maybe the most drastic league makeover ever seen outside the dissolution of the old Southwest Conference. Commissioner Britton Banowski insists, however, that next month's Conference USA tournament in Memphis won't be bittersweet.

"Our people who are moving to the Big East are happy, the people who are staying are happy and the people moving in are happy," Banowski said.

Cincinnati, Charlotte and Louisville appear to be NCAA locks, and DePaul is right next to Maryland in the Rating Percentage Index, but none will remain in Conference USA next year. Charlotte and St. Louis are shifting to the Atlantic 10. Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida are going to the Big East, filling the void left by the ACC expansion.

While the Big East hasn't dropped litigation against the ACC, Conference USA isn't suing the Big East. All 12 teams in the new Conference USA will have I-A football.

Boston College will boost the ACC, but look for the Big East to get seven or eight bids on Selection Sunday out of its 2005-06 lineup.

Et cetera

Marquette's chances at a run in the Conference USA tournament were deflated when a broken left hand ended Travis Diener's career, 83 points shy of the school scoring record. ... Maryland won't be the only desperate home team inside the Capital Beltway on Sunday. Surging Villanova goes to MCI Center to face Georgetown, which has had a week to think about the loss at St. John's that probably relegated it to the NIT. ... The Terps and Florida State are the only ACC teams without a 1,000-point scorer, but John Gilchrist has 994.

Planting seeds

Paul McMullen's weekly prediction for the top four seeds in each regional of the NCAA tournament:

Syracuse Austin

North Carolina Wake Forest

Boston College Washington

Alabama Oklahoma State

Michigan State Connecticut

Chicago Albuquerque

Illinois Kentucky

Kansas Duke

Gonzaga Arizona

Louisville Oklahoma

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