Bill Hass on the ACC: Be Ready or 'They Will Hand You Your Hat and Show You the Door'
March 10, 2009
GREENSBORO, N.C. - The ACC's regular season was filled with intense, down-to-the-wire, highly competitive games that tested coaches, pushed players to the limit and left fans in a state of near-exhaustion just watching.
Why should we expect anything different in the 11 games during the ACC Tournament in Atlanta? Play begins Thursday in the Georgia Dome and concludes with the crowning of a champion Sunday afternoon.
"There's such a fine line between winning and losing in this league," said Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg. "There's such a small margin between being 7-9 and being 9-7. It's one stop, it's one rebound, it's getting to the foul line maybe a little bit earlier in the half."
Greenberg should know. The Hokies finished 7-9 and lost games by one, two and four points.
No team can take anything for granted in the tournament. Those that finished with a winning league record - North Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke, Florida State, Clemson and Boston College - should continue their seasons in the NCAA Tournament.
Three teams at 7-9 - Virginia Tech, Maryland and Miami - are on the NCAA bubble, seeking to enhance their resumes. Those teams will truly play with a sense of urgency.
"Nobody wants to play those 7-9 teams, I don't care who you are," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose Tar Heels are ranked No. 1 in the country and the tournament's top seed.
And it would be a mistake for anyone to overlook NC State, Virginia and Georgia Tech, each of which must win the tournament to grab the league's automatic qualifying berth. Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, whose Seminoles earned a first-round bye for the first time ever, doesn't believe that where a team is seeded will matter after the opening tip.
"Every team that you play in the ACC tournament will be a great team," Hamilton said. "If you're not mentally, emotionally and physically ready to play, they will hand you your hat and show you the door."
SUBHEAD: Injury updates
Two first-team All-ACC players, Ty Lawson of North Carolina and Jack McClinton of Miami, were hampered by injuries at the end of the season.
Miami coach Frank Haith said McClinton's sprained right knee "is getting better every day" and should be OK when the Hurricanes take on Virginia Tech in the tournament's first game at noon Thursday.
Lawson's first game isn't until Friday at noon, and Williams is unsure of his star guard's status. Lawson injured his big toe in practice Friday but played against Duke Sunday. The Tar Heels did not practice Monday and Williams said Lawson would be held out from running and shooting drills today.
"They say it's something that takes quite awhile to go away," Williams said. "Hopefully those 72 hours will be really good for him. I don't know if we can speak in general terms because I don't think you can look at it like everybody reacts to it the same way."
Also uncertain is the status of Duke guard Nolan Smith, still suffering the effects of a concussion sustained Feb. 25 at Maryland. Smith has missed the last three games and coach Mike Krzyzewski said the player will be tested this week. A report on Smith's status will be issued sometime before the Blue Devils' first game, Friday at 9 p.m.
NC State coach Sidney Lowe said Courtney Fells, who missed the final game at Miami, will be ready for the Pack's opener against Maryland at 7 p.m. Thursday.
SUBHEAD Dome sweet Dome
No team, not even Georgia Tech, has played in the Georgia Dome, home of the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, this season. Opinions vary as to whether the more wide-open perspective bothers shooters.
"It will be interesting," said Wake coach Dino Gaudio. "It's a little bit of a different backdrop with the football stadium and the court out there. But I think once they get through warm-ups, we'll be fine. We can't shoot that well anyway, so I don't think the backdrop will matter."
Boston College coach Al Skinner echoed a similar theme.
"I never could shoot, so it never mattered to me," he said, "but it offers a different perspective for shooters."
Skinner was being a bit modest. In his six-year pro career, the 6-3 guard shot a respectable 45.2 percent.
Since Duke is the last team to play in the tournament, at 9 p.m. on Friday, the Blue Devils will not practice in the Dome Wednesday. Instead, they will practice in Cameron Indoor Stadium Thursday before departing for Atlanta.
"You try to shorten the day, get them up later, go for a shoot-around," Krzyzewski said of the late start. "Because we're not playing on Thursday (and we're) trying not to be there an extra day, we won't have a chance to shoot in the Dome. That's probably more of a concern than playing late."
Florida State doesn't play until 2 p.m. Friday, but Hamilton said he will probably take his team, which includes six first-year players, to the arena for a taste of the tournament Thursday.
"I think we'll go over and get a little feel for the tournament, at least spend a half or so watching some of the other teams play," he said. "Because we have so many first-year players we don't want them to walk into that atmosphere for the first time when they get ready to play."
Each school receives an equal allotment of tickets, but Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt believes the Georgia Dome could turn into a home-court advantage if the Jackets upset Clemson Thursday.
"Certainly the tournament being here in Atlanta works for us because there's no travel," he said. "If we're able to build some momentum by winning a game... you don't know what can happen as the weekend unfolds... My guess is if we win and keep moving, (fans of the losing teams) will sell their tickets and local people will pick them up."
SUBHEAD: Down memory lane
Maryland coach Gary Williams has a special affection for the ACC Tournament because he experienced it as a Terps player from 1965-67.
"I think the ACC Tournament is always special," he said. "Back when I played it was an amazing thing because the only team that went to the NCAA was the winner of the ACC Tournament. With no shot clock, a lot of funny things would happen in those games in terms of teams holding the ball."
In 1966, for instance, North Carolina held the ball against Duke in the semifinals. The Blue Devils led 7-5 at halftime and won 21-20. Two years later in the semifinals, NC State edged Duke 12-10.
Maryland went 1-3 in the tournament in Williams' career, but it got off to a good start in an era when freshmen were ineligible.
"My sophomore year we beat Clemson in the first round," he said, "and to get a win in your first ACC Tournament game, that was a big thrill for me. I contributed my four points and two assists."
According to the box score in the ACC Tournament Record Book, Williams actually scored two points, on 1-for-3 shooting, and had three rebounds in the 61-50 win. Assists weren't part of boxes back then.
The Terps lost in the semifinals to NC State, 76-67, with Williams scoring seven points (shooting 3-for-4) and getting a rebound. In his junior year they lost to North Carolina in the opening round 77-70. Williams came off the bench to score two points and get a rebound.
His senior year was a painful one for Williams, with the Terps losing to South Carolina 57-54. He went scoreless in the game.
"I was the starting guard for all but one of the regular season games in my senior year," he recalled. "My coach, Bud Milliken, wanted to go big, so he sat me down. I played two minutes in that game and we lost by two or whatever, and that really hurt, I remember it took me a very long time to get over that.
"I think that's what the tournament means to you, especially as you get older. You realize that this is probably it, unless you're good enough to play professionally. This has been something that's been important your whole life."
SUBHEAD: Bits and pieces
Clemson coach Oliver Purnell on a third game against Georgia Tech, a team the Tigers have beaten twice: "You've done some things well to get that done. I guess I don't subscribe to that theory that it's really, really difficult to beat a team a third time. In this league it's tough to beat them any time."
Miami coach Frank Haith, on growing up in North Carolina and being a fan of the tournament: "I can recall on that Friday in high school, when it was just eight teams, when noon rolled around school stopped, people turned their TVs on. Our champion is who wins the tournament. It is a special deal; I think it's a big, special deal."
And Haith on the so-called "bracketology" experts: "A lot of the comments you see on TV, those guys really don't know who's on the bubble, who's not on the bubble, who's in, who's not in. If we do what we need to do, none of that really matters. When you look at a whole resume, if's pretty good if we just get a couple more wins."
Virginia coach Dave Leitao on senior Mamadi Diane, who broke out of a season-long slump to score 23 points in the Cavaliers' win over Maryland: "As opposed to trying to figure that out at the end of the regular season, we're just going to go with it. It's my hope that something, whether it's psychological or physical, has helped him perform as he did (last) weekend and will continue to have that go throughout the tournament."
Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg on rooting for his brother and former assistant coach Brad Greenberg, whose Radford team earned an NCAA berth by winning the Big South tournament: "We talk about once a day. He's calling me more than I'm calling him now. It's his turn to pick me up as opposed to me picking him up."
NC State coach Sidney Lowe was a senior when the Wolfpack won the ACC Tournament to start its improbable run to the NCAA championship in 1983 under Jim Valvano. His take on the "new season": "It's a great opportunity for teams on the bubble or fighting for something, to salvage the season and really finish on a good note. You just never know what might happen. It's a funny game. If you're making your shots and the other team isn't, if your defense is solid and things are working for you, you just never know. It's a one-game elimination and you get that opportunity to advance."