Missteps likely in Friday's ACC cage debuts
Posted November 8, 2013
Fourteen of the ACC’s new-look 15 basketball teams begin play tonight, and if recent history holds, at least one or two are in store for baffling debuts.
Dating back to Hampton’s 77-69 win over UNC to initiate the 2001-02 season (Nov. 16 in Chapel Hill), ACC teams have made a habit of absorbing some fairly startling early-season losses.
Two teams to specifically keep an eye tonight are No. 21 Notre Dame, which hosts 18-point underdog Miami of Ohio, and Clemson, which hosts long-shot Stetson in its first game under new coach Corey Williams.
As an assistant to Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton for the last six seasons, Williams did much of the back-stage work on the Seminoles’ productive defense and inherits a Stetson program that has a reputation for giving ACC opponents trouble.
Miami of Ohio went 9-22 last season in John Cooper’s first year, but the Red Hawks retain four starters and have one of the best Mid-American Conference players in senior forward Will Felder.
All three Triangle teams should win with relative ease, although No. 4 Duke hardly scheduled a cupcake in Davidson.
No. 12 UNC will be without Leslie McDonald and P.J. Hairston against Oakland.
N.C. State virtually will be breaking in a new roster against Jason Capel’s fourth Appalachian State team, which will be without top scorer and all-star Jay Canty.
THE LONG-RANGE VIEW
As the season unfolds, here are five areas of interest to follow:
Hairston’s availability hasn’t been determined, but there’s no doubt the Tar Heels and Roy Williams will have to deal with a fluid personnel mix for a while.
Without Hairston, the perimeter offense will likely struggle although his absence could indirectly help the big men since they will become the first scoring options.
But when Hairston returns, the offensive blueprint will change, meaning it could take a while for the players to get a comfortable feel for each other.
With everyone in place – and in step – Carolina should be a top 10 team and very possibly the ACC’s best. But if or until that point is reached, it could be a see-saw advanture.
There hasn’t been much discussion about the traditional trademark of a Mike Krzyzewski championship team. When all else has failed Blue Devil teams for the past four decades, their relentless man-to-man has created ways to continue the winning.
But the emphasis – well, the primary conversation for sure – this season has been about a free-lancing NBA offensive system and the influx of talented scorers. In short, a new personality.
Behind the scenes, it’s a virtual lock that Krzyzewski is preaching defense, but is the choir paying attention? In three of the team’s final four losses last season, opponents scored at least 83 points, and that was with Mason Plumlee playing goaltender.
Wolfpack in the house
Against conference foes, N.C. State should have up to seven winnable games in Raleigh – Pitt, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest, Miami and Boston College.
That’s not to say State will have no chance against Virginia (Jan. 11) and/or Carolina (Feb. 26), but on paper a win in either of those games would have to be deemed a bonus.
In the other seven, the Pack needs to win six to have a realistic shot at an NCAA bid when it goes to Greensboro for the March 12-16 league tournament.
The in-league road schedule – which includes trips to Notre Dame (Jan. 7), Duke (Jan. 18), UNC (Feb. 1) and Syracuse (Feb. 15) – appears to be so difficult that there’ll simply be no room for error in PNC Arena.
If recent trends hold, at least five or six of the league’s best players will miss a substantial number of games as the result of injuries.
Already, State players Jordan Vandenberg and Cat Barber have been banged up in preseason. A year ago, the Pack’s Lorenzo Brown played in pain much of the season, as did Duke’s Ryan Kelly. In recent seasons, injuries to UNC guard Kendall Marshall and Duke guard Kyrie Irving totally uprooted the national power picture.
Injuries are the ultimate X-factors in sports and the ACC can expect to get its share as usual.
New rules aimed to stop hand-checking and much off-ball contact are certain to lead to hot controversies and fan frustration galore.
The rules are needed, of course. College basketball gradually has become much more physical than the NBA, and the pros get six personal fouls rather five. The hitch will be the degree of consistency we’re likely to see. It’s only natural to assume that some officials will be more lenient than others – an unavoidable byproduct of the new rules that the players and coaches will detect instantly.
Refereeing tendencies will be profiled more than ever, but it’s a lock that we’ll see a good many technical fouls whistled against outraged coaches.
In other words, stand by for some spirited indoor fireworks.