Bill Hass on the ACC: It's Time to Get `Geeked Up' About the ACC Basketball Tournament
March 12, 2008
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. - North Carolina's Roy Williams calls it "the granddaddy" of all basketball tournaments. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski says it is "the best tournament and has been used as the standard of tournaments."
But perhaps Miami coach Frank Haith put the best perspective on the upcoming four days of the ACC men's basketball tournament. To Haith, a native of Alamance County, watching the event on TV was an exciting part of growing up. Even now, in the trappings of a head coach, he feels the same way.
"I'm like a little kid - I get `geeked up' about the ACC Tournament," Haith said Monday.
The tournament has evolved, expanded and changed through the years. It now encompasses 12 teams and is spread over four days. It's no longer the quest for a single available NCAA tournament berth, which still automatically goes to the champion, but its significance doesn't seem to have paled.
"I really believe the ACC Tournament is a special thing for the players," said Maryland coach Gary Williams, "one of those things that will probably mean more to them as they get older and gradually leave basketball."
To help get up `geeked up' for the tournament, which will run from Thursday through Sunday at Bobcats Arena in Charlotte, here's a glance at the pairings, starting with the first game.
Thursday, noon: No. 8 Wake Forest vs. No 9 Florida State
Wake won its final game to snap a four-game losing streak. The Deacons swept the Seminoles this season, but coach Dino Gaudio said the previous games have little bearing on this one.
"It's completely a new scenario, a new situation," Gaudio said. "We're looking at it as one game, 40 minutes, and let's see how it goes."
Florida State lost eight of 10 in a mid-season slump but won four of its last five. Coach Leonard Hamilton said the Deacons, and in particular freshman forward James Johnson, provide match-up problems that test his team's defense.
Both teams likely need to win the tournament to make the NCAA field.
"We need to really understand we need to be at our very, very best in the ACC Tournament to hopefully realize some post-season tournament opportunities," Hamilton said. "We're preparing with that in mind."
Hamilton is a native of Gastonia, just outside Charlotte, and still has family there. But, he said, "This will be a business trip for me."
Thursday, 2:30 p.m.: No. 5 Miami vs. No. 12 N.C. State
What a difference a year makes. This is the same time slot Miami played in last year, only the Hurricanes were the No. 12 seed. Now, with 21 wins, a .500 ACC record and strong ratings in the RPI and strength of schedule, the Canes are looking at a possible at-large NCAA bid.
"I've got to believe we're going to be in," Haith said. "But you don't know what's going to happen with some of the other conferences (like Gonzaga losing in its tournament championship), so we're not going to take anything for granted.
"We're going into the ACC tournament with the understanding that we want to continue to win as many games as we can. And if we are in, we're improving our seeding, and if we're not, then we're going to get ourselves in."
Haith cited a healthy team, better point guard play and the improvement of forward Dwayne Collins as reasons the Canes, picked last in the preseason poll, exceeded expectations.
NC State, which was picked third, lost its last eight ACC games. But the Pack beat Miami in the only meeting between the teams, and there's last year to remember. NC State was seeded 10th but made a run to the tournament final, where it lost to North Carolina.
"You go into that first game understanding that this is it, you survive or you go home," Lowe said. "You have to have that mentality and take each game as you go along. You can't save anything. You have to be tough mentally to endure that."
Thursday, 7 p.m.: No. 7 Georgia Tech vs. No. 10 Virginia
Both teams surged at the end of the season, the Yellow Jackets winning three of four and the Cavaliers winning four of six. And their two regular-season meetings don't provide any clues how this one will go - Georgia Tech won in overtime in Charlottesville and Virginia won by two in Atlanta.
"We know them really well by now," said Jackets coach Paul Hewitt. "If anything it makes it a little easier on our kids because it's not like we're playing a team that we haven't seen since the first or second league game of the year.
"At the same time, they'll be very familiar with us. Both games went down to the wire, an overtime (game) and a buzzer-beater, and I expect it will be a one-possession game again at the end this time."
Virginia's Dave Leitao expects a similar scenario, although he noted Georgia Tech is playing more up-tempo and extending its defensive pressure.
"As much as we can say we're playing with more energy and intensity and those kinds of things, Georgia Tech can say the same thing, having the season come to an end off some quality wins," Leitao said. "From here on out the whole `must-win' situation comes into play because you're not guaranteed anything after one game."
Thursday, 9:30 p.m. No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Boston College
This is another difficult game to read since each team won on the other's home court. Both are coming into the tournament on sour notes, with Maryland having lost four of five and BC 12 of 13.
Maryland coach Gary Williams said the common thread recently for his team is not playing well with leads. He mentioned the Clemson game, when the Terps were up 20 in the second half but lost, as one which would have changed a lot of things for his team's NCAA hopes.
"It used to be if you were 8-8 in the ACC you were in (the NCAA field), but that doesn't necessarily hold true anymore with the number of teams that get in now," he said. "You have to play well (in the tournament), that's how you state your case."
Eagles coach Al Skinner said his team recently has played terrific in the first half and let games get away in the second half.
"You've got to focus in on yourself and hope you can go out and play 40 quality minutes," Skinner said, "so when you walk off the floor you feel like at least you've been competitive."
Friday, noon: No. 1 North Carolina vs. Wake-FSU winner
The defending champions will be en route to Charlotte while Wake and FSU and slugging it out Thursday. Naturally, a staff member will be scouting that game.
Coach Roy Williams said he doesn't plan to hold back point guard Ty Lawson, who recently returned to action after missing several games with a sprained ankle. Lawson and Quentin Thomas are splitting time during practice, and Williams said playing time will be dictated by circumstances in the games.
An Asheville native, Williams also grew up a big fan of the tournament. As a coach, he said he has "mixed emotions," but he left no doubt as to his team's mission.
"It's a wonderful thing and we have to play, so by golly we're going to try to do the best we possibly can to win it," he said. "And it was fun winning it last year."
Friday, 2:30 p.m.: No. 4 Virginia Tech vs. Miami-State winner
The Hokies, picked 10th in the preseason poll after they lost both starting guards to graduation, won four of their last five to finish what most people considered a surprising regular season.
"We do most everything by committee, whether it's rebounding the ball, handling the ball, or nights where people pick up the slack scoring," said coach Seth Greenberg. "We're a perfect example of a team where the whole is the sum of its parts.
"We've been pretty consistent defensively in terms of keeping the ball in front of us and contesting shots. Probably the most surprising thing to me is how consistently we've rebounded the ball."
In their last four games, in fact, the Hokies have out-rebounded opponents by an average of 16.3.
Virginia Tech hit some bumps in the road this season, but, according to Greenberg, "We've always seemed to rebound, kind of cleanse ourselves and move forward."
Friday, 7 p.m.: No. 2 Duke vs. Georgia Tech-Virginia winner
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team has safely locked up an NCAA spot, said the way he approaches a tournament, he never assumes his team will be in it past the round it's playing in.
"Whenever you're playing, it's important," he said. "To look beyond to a game or games that you might play sends the wrong message to your team. At this time of year, you don't want to lose what you've been doing all year if you've been doing it fairly well. I think you just need to approach it real hard.
"We've played well all year long. You don't win 26 games and 13 conference games in the schedule that we've played without playing well. Overall, we're good and we're going to try and get better this week."
Krzyzewski said center Brian Zoubek "is getting more and more comfortable" since his return to the lineup after an injury kept him out much of the season.
Friday, 9:30 p.m.: No. 3 Clemson vs. Maryland-BC winner
Coach Oliver Purnell's team will be the last one in action. The Tigers won five of their last seven games to capture the third seed and were the only team, besides UNC, not to lose consecutive league games.
Team captain Cliff Hammonds will play despite a broken right hand. Hammonds is left-handed, but Purnell said the injury hinders his ability to dribble with his right hand and make passes from that side.
But Hammonds will play through any problems, much like his teammates have all year.
"We've had a high ankle sprain, arthroscopic knee surgery - we've had two of those - we've had a sprained hip, two broken hand-wrist type deals, we even had a sty in the eye that had to be taped open," Purnell said.
"We've had our share, that's for sure, and my hat goes off to this group because we haven't allowed any of that stuff to be an excuse. We lose a guy for five or six games, they've just hitched up their belt, and that's why we're 10 deep."
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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