ACC vs Pac-10

Duke and Maryland are the class of the ACC, but North Carolina won't make the 2002 NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, the Pac-10 could very well put an unprecedented six teams into the Tounament. So, is the ACC still the dominant basketball conference?

While I will never doubt the excellence of the ACC, I simply happen to disagree with a few of his arguments on that league vs. the Pac-10.

One thing some says--and I understand where they're coming from--is that the Pac-10 doesn't have a "dominate" team like it has in the past few years. From USC to Cal, this year the Pac-10 is solid but not spectacular. But I think that means better things come March than in the past.

For example, in 2000, the Pac-10 had two #1 seeds (AZ and Stanford) who lost in the second round. Those two teams were absolutely dominant but when Loren Woods went out for the year before the NCAA's, that really hurt the Cats' chances. Stanford...has no excuse.

This year I see the ACC being just like the Pac-10 in 2000. Duke and Maryland are super teams. They will both get #1 or #2 seeds and be expected to contend for the Final Four. Hell, they both might even make it again like they did last year. But does that mean that the ACC is the best conference because two teams make it to the final weekend? I say no.

Virginia and Wake Forest, the ACC's other two top-tier teams, realistically have no chance at challenging for a Final Four berth. Even if either team gets hot. Each of those teams has glaring weaknesses that viewers can pick up on after watching them once or twice on TV. UVa's tallest player is 6-6 (Travis Watson) and they rely on their perimeter game far too much; although they have some really nice players like Roger Mason Jr and Chris Williams. Wake Forest's team speed is comparable to that of your average 1988 Hyundai Excel...blazing. Wake Forest is vastly (whoops, let me repeat myself: VASTLY!) overrated.

In the Pac-10, with all biases aside, I can make an argument for UCLA, USC, Arizona, Oregon AND Stanford making runs at the Final Four. Sure it won't happen. Of course it won't happen, but one could more easily argue, say Oregon's case than Wake Forest's. It's all about guard play in the Tournament and Oregon has the best on the Coast (West Coast, that is).

UCLA has more talent than anyone not named Duke, USC has the athletes and the experience (Elite 8 last year) to play with anyone, Arizona is just Arizona, Stanford has guys like Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt to lead the way and Oregon has the perimeter to match all others in America (or close to it).

With a team like Stanford, all it will take to make that run to the Final Four is Casey Jacobsen getting hot for two weeks. Borchardt is going to provide the rebounding and the defensive presence and the rest of the team is pretty steady from a mistake-free standpoint. Obviously, the All-American Jacobsen has proven to the nation that he is one of the best players in the land and if anyone can get hot for four games, it's him.

Arizona needs more time and more cohesion on defense for it to be able to make a serious push in March. And while next year is probably more likely for Arizona's run to the Final Four, having someone like Jason Gardner on your team means fans should expect greatness well before it's supposed to arrive.

UCLA could EASILY make it if the Bruins just play smart and inspired basketball for a few weeks during Tournament play. Find me a team with better athletes and more talent than what UCLA trots out onto the court each game and I'll show you that it's really an NBA team. The one problem for the Bruins is that Ced Slowzeman is not going to remind anyone of Carl Lewis anytime soon and will struggle against guards like Ball State's Petey Jackson and...wait, oh yeah. He already has proven that point.

USC has a guy that no one in America (other than maybe Duke's Carlos Boozer) can matchup with in Sam Clancy. Lute Olson said that USC is actually better off with freshman sensation Errick Craven at the shooting guard spot than it was a year ago with senior highlight reel Jeff Trepagnier. That's saying something because JT was pretty special in those early round wins over Oklahoma State and Boston College. However, it's the improved play of PG Brandon Granville that will be key to the Trojans' run at the Final Four this year. Win or lose Thursday night in McKale, you can count me among the believers in USC basketball in 2002. Most impressive team I've seen play this year--twice. Not spectacular in the frontcourt nor off the bench, but the Ducks have enough firepower on the perimeter to beat anyone in America. If Freddie Jones is consistent and if Oregon can get just a little bit of help from Robert Johnson and Chris Chistoffersen down low, the Ducks could be 2002's version of the '97 Wildcats.

Ridnour is like Bibby, Jackson is like Simon and Jones is like Dickerson. Then you have a less-talented Jason Terry coming off the bench in James Davis and another very solid all-around guard in Anthony Lever. Basically Johnson and Chistoffersen equal Bennett Davison and A.J. Bramlett. Ernie Kent is not quite up to the Lute Olson level yet from a coaching perspective, but few coaches are anyway.

As long as Oregon is playing well going into the Tournament (and oh yes, the Ducks will make it), it should make some serious noise on the Pac-10's behalf.

So, while Duke and Maryland may very well be in Atlanta for the Final Four, I'll take my five Pac-10 teams in the Sweet 16 and beyond over Wake, Virginia and NCState who will be sitting at home watching the Pac-10 once again prove itself as the nation's toughest conference.

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