In Challenge, keep eye on N.C. State-Iowa

Tonight's game could be best matchup in event, which ACC has dominated

Acc Notebook

November 30, 2005|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

Is your remote ready for the third and final night of the seventh annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge?

Last night, the made-for-ESPN event lined up a replay of last April's NCAA championship game, No. 12 Illinois at North Carolina. Tonight's 9 o'clock featured slot has top-ranked Duke at No. 17 Indiana, but the finale, on ESPN2, could be the best game of this year's event.

No. 24 N.C. State plays No. 14 Iowa in Iowa City tonight, and the Wolfpack was comfortable in the heartland last Saturday, when it ran its record to 5-0 with a 13-point point win over Notre Dame in Indianapolis.

Coach Herb Sendek and the Princeton offense put everyone to sleep, but his high-flying roster returns most of the parts that produced N.C. State's first Sweet 16 team since 1989, one that beat Connecticut to get there.

Sophomore Gavin Grant, who followed Julius Hodge from St. Raymond's in the Bronx to Raleigh, has replaced some of his numbers. Grant might not talk like Hodge, although he has an equally good story.

Grant, who moved from Jamaica to New York when he was 9, was informed by federal immigration officials the week that practice began that he was in the country illegally. Grant's worst-case scenario is that he could be deported, but he has said that he expects to be with the Wolfpack all season.

Sophomore center Cedric Simmons gives N.C. State a low-post presence. Ilian Evtimov and Engin Atsur, two tough eastern Europeans, typify a team tired of playing in the shadow of Duke and North Carolina in the Research Triangle.

Iowa coach Steve Alford has all five starters back from the team that ended a three-season NCAA drought. In the Guardian Classic, the Hawkeyes beat then-No. 7 Kentucky and gave No. 2 Texas a tough game. Jeff Horner is a point guard who doesn't get noticed outside the Big Ten, Adam Haluska is a versatile wing and 6-foot-7, 245-pound Greg Bruner can bang.

Duke vs. Indiana

Duke, the only team with a perfect 6-0 record in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, goes to Indiana, where senior guard Marshall Strickland thinks the Hoosiers have the deeper team.

"I think that gives us one up on Duke. We are just deeper than they are," said Strickland, a 2002 All-Metro player while at South Carroll High. "We have every guy contributing for us."

Actually, the Hoosiers will be without 6-9 D.J. White, their top returning rebounder, for another month as his broken foot heals. Marco Killingsworth could have used his help keeping Shelden Williams and Josh McRoberts off the bench.

Indiana is expecting the return of A.J. Ratliff, who backs up Strickland at shooting guard. He's coming off thumb surgery.

Mike Davis is trying to become the second-fastest coach in Hoosiers history to 100 wins, after the subdued guy who now works at Texas Tech. Duke and Indiana, two of the five programs with three national championships, previously met in the 2002 NCAA tournament, where the Hoosiers pulled off a Sweet 16 upset and didn't lose until they ran into Maryland in the final.

Duke's freshmen are getting around. They saw No. 9 Memphis at Madison Square Garden, where Williams got the benefit of the doubt on a decisive tip-in. They meet Texas at the Meadowlands on Dec. 10 and have a Jan. 21 date with Georgetown at MCI Center, one of the NCAA's four regional sites. Mike Krzyzewski's idea is to get them back to Indiana one more time, since the Final Four will be in Indianapolis.

Seven straight?

Minnesota plays Maryland at Comcast Center, and Northwestern goes to Virginia, two games the ACC might need to sweep to win the Challenge a seventh straight time.

The most puzzling matchup comes at Michigan State, which should have no trouble dispatching Georgia Tech. Nineteen months after the Yellow Jackets played in the 2004 NCAA final, they lost by 22 to Illinois-Chicago, which was coming off its own loss to NAIA St. Xavier.

Too bad for the ACC that it couldn't replace Tech with No. 10 Boston College, the newest member of the conference but the odd man out this year.

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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