Elite creates hoop king

Feb 6, 2007 2:07 AM

With the Super Bowl now in the rearview mirror, the next big event on the sports stage is college basketball’s season-ending tournaments.

Since 1997, college basketball’s national champion has come from several different conferences: the Pac 10 (Arizona), SEC (Kentucky and Florida), Big 10 (Michigan State), the ACC (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina), and the Big East (UConn, Syracuse). Over the next few weeks, we will examine the top teams in each conference.

ATLANTIC COAST

Duke: Coach Mike Krzyzewski has another talented team that is again flexing its ACC muscles. This is not the usual explosive offense we’re used to. The Blue Devils are playing strong defense, allowing 56 points per game. That explains the 12-8 start under the total. There are no senior starters, leaving 6-10 sophomore Josh McRoberts (13 ppg, 8 rpg) as the leading rebounder. Guards DeMarcus Nelson (14.5 ppg), Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus run the break.

The Blue Devils lack the depth and experience of recent years. Marquette whipped them on a neutral court. Duke lost at home to Virginia Tech and was just 1-2 SU/ATS as a dog entering February. Last week’s knee injury to sophomore forward David McClure was a blow. McClure was a strong defender, ranking second in steals (31) and blocked shots (15).

UNC: What an explosive team fourth-year coach Roy Williams has! The Tar Heels average 89 points with a 12-deep rotation that runs right at opponents. Tyler Hansbrough, a 6-9 sophomore, leads in scoring (18.8) and rebounding (8.8). Three freshmen have been outstanding, led by 6-9 Brandan Wright along with guards Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson.

In ACC play, Carolina has nine players averaging double-figure minutes. Two others (Wes Miller and Alex Stepheson) have been consistent parts of the rotation. The Heels shot 51.3 percent from the field in waxing Arizona at Tucson, 92-64. UNC then defeated No. 1 Ohio State, 98-89. Incredibly, their 5-of-22 performance from three-point land against Arizona was their worst of the season and still won by 28! This Wednesday, the Heels invade Cameron to face archrival Duke.

Va Tech: Coach Seth Greenberg has a senior-laden team that is making some waves in the league. Senior guards Zabian Dowdell (18 ppg) and Jamon Gordon lead the Hokies in scoring, while 6-9 senior Coleman Collins along with 6-7 junior Deron Washington lead in rebounds.

Tech is 3-1 SU/ATS as a dog, including a stunning 69-67 overtime win at Duke and a 94-88 home victory as a +5 dog over UNC. The Hokies just finished a stretch of five games in 13 days and looked out of gas giving 13 points in a 70-59 home loss to NC State. Tech does play strong defense (allowing 63 ppg), evidenced by an 11-6 under mark for the first 17 games that made the Vegas board.

Clemson: The Tigers have a strong 1-2 punch of 6-5 soph K.C. Rivers and 6-9 junior James Mays that spark a 17-0 start. However, the schedule wasn’t that difficult and the Tigers have recently dropped 4-of-5 in ACC play. The defeat having the most impact was a 77-55 home loss to North Carolina.

Rebounding has been the problem. When the Tigers were 17-0, only Monmouth and Georgia Tech had a rebounding edge. In ACC play, Clemson was out-rebounded in five straight games, losing four. Clemson out-shot Duke and Virginia from the field, but lost both contests. Clemson was also out-rebounded 79-53 in those two games combined, including 32-16 on the offensive glass.

Boston Col: Workhorse Craig Smith has graduated, but the Eagles still have a strong frontcourt behind 6-7 senior Jared Dudley (19 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-10 junior Sean Williams. Throw in rotund 6-6 freshman Shamari Spears (6 rpg) and BC has plenty of frontcourt muscle.

One concern for the Eagles has been poor road performances. After barely losing 78-76 to Duke in last year’s ACC title game, BC dropped the rematch last week by 14 and were out-boarded by 11. Note: BC was 7-0 ATS as an underdog last year, but just 1-3 SU/ATS so far this season.