An uncommon wealth of success in Virginia

UVa., Va. Tech unexpectedly near top of conference

ACC men's notebook

March 01, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

When Dave Leitao was hired at Virginia before the start of last season, one of his "chores and tasks," he said, was to change the way the men's basketball program was perceived by fans within the state.

Somehow he managed to quickly muster a little more respect for it throughout the entire Atlantic Coast Conference.

The league has a different look this season, and it's due in large part to the success of Virginia and Virginia Tech, which have shifted the power in the conference from the state of North Carolina, even if for a fleeting moment.

Few if any expected Virginia to be competing with intrastate rival Virginia Tech at 7 tonight in Charlottesville for a shot at first place in the ACC. The two programs entered the week in a three-way tie for first place with North Carolina with 10-4 records.

It is Virginia's first winning season in the conference since 2000-01, and the Cavaliers' first 10-win season in the ACC since 1994-95, when they finished 12-4 in the league and earned a share of the regular-season title.

For Virginia to have any shot at this season's title, it has to beat the Hokies tonight. Regardless, Virginia has already clinched a bye in the first round of the ACC tournament and holds tiebreakers over Maryland and Duke.

Leitao and Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg agreed that the game represents a turning point for both programs.

"It hopefully means we've done a lot to try to change that perception people may have had a few years ago, and Virginia Tech is doing the same thing," said Leitao, whose team was picked by the media to finish eighth in the league, two spots behind Virginia Tech. "I think it's kind of neat, and traditionally how other schools have kind of controlled the mind-set of people in the league, particularly at this time of year, it's a tribute to both schools and it should be a fun night."

Greenberg said his program would never be in this position had it not had the support of Virginia when the Hokies joined the ACC in the 2004-05 season.

"It's exciting for Virginia and it's exciting for Virginia Tech and anyone who follows basketball in the commonwealth," he said. "There's really good basketball being played in our state right now ... but this game will probably be one of the bigger ones that's been played in recent years."

Lowe values life

North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe said his recent trip to the hospital, coupled with the death of former NBA star Dennis Johnson, added perspective to his life, and Lowe vowed this week to take better care of himself.

According to The (Raleigh) News & Observer, Lowe felt faint at halftime during the Wolfpack's game at North Carolina last week and was transported by ambulance to UNC Hospitals, where he was treated for dehydration, kept overnight and released the next morning.

"It kind of reminded me how fragile this thing is," Lowe, 47, said. "You just have to make sure you take time out to take care of yourself. We coaches, you get in a rut sometimes where that's all you're doing, 24 hours a day, watching film, working, thinking about it, you don't take time out for yourself.

"It really put things in perspective. Certainly I'm going to have to make changes in the way I'm doing it right now. It doesn't mean I'm not going to continue to work as hard as I'm working, but take a little break in there."

Ga. Tech on bubble

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt knows his team is on the NCAA tournament bubble, but the Yellow Jackets (18-10, 6-8) are still in a position to do something about it, beginning with tonight's 9 o'clock game against North Carolina.

Ending the regular season with back-to-back wins against Carolina and Boston College - two teams with 10 wins each in the league - would put Georgia Tech at 8-8 in the league and make for a 20-win season.

"We're playing good ball," Hewitt said. "I don't know if we're going to make it to the tournament, but I feel about this team the way I felt about our team in '04. We lost a couple of tough games down the stretch, and I just kept telling people, `We're playing really good basketball and we're playing as well as anybody in the country.'

"I'm not ready to say this team is playing as well as anybody in the country, but I'm telling you right now this team is playing very well, and if we do enough to get into the tournament," he said, "I'm very confident we will be successful in that tournament."

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