Opening Arguments

The courtmaster returns for a second coloumn at <i>TheDevilsDen.com</i>. This week he touches on the opening practices throughout the ACC, including Duke's AM Mayhem. Court is in session!

Hear ye, hear ye! Men's college basketball practices have begun, so that means court is back in session.

Around the ACC, schools approached their opening festivities in different ways this weekend. In Chapel Hill, before a packed Smith Center crowd approaching 22,000, Late Night with Roy proved it will not challenge David Letterman's version, but returning savior Roy Williams and his players did entertain with comedy skits and alleged dancing".

Maryland went with high-tech glitz (fog, laser show, music) followed by Coach Gary Williams riding slowly onto the court perched on a Harley motorcycle wearing a leather jacket.

There was little of this frivolity at Duke, however. Coach K, reminding everyone that he stands above the unwashed masses, told the Durham Herald-Sun, "I'm not going to ride a motorcycle in or put sideburns on and do an Elvis impersonation." Instead, the school began their "Morning Mayhem" by introducing injured former star Jason Williams, who stood at center court on his crutches while the crowd's affection rolled over him in waves.

Other schools like Wake Forest and NC State will wait to have their season opening celebration, tying it in with their first full scrimmage. Clemson's new coach Oliver Purnell decided to skip the public show entirely, preferring more serious closed practices.

Regardless of what did or did not happen in conjunction with "Midnight Madness" this is constant throughout the ACC schools this weekend—practice has started and it's time to get to work.

I'll open my coverage by addressing some of the issues I've recently been pondering (Often while I'm in the shower, where I do most of my best thinking. Sorry if that's too much information for you).

Like most ACC fans, I am glad to see Roy Williams back in the conference. If I have to hear him talk one more time about the agonizing process he went through in deciding to leave Kansas, however, I WILL SCREAM! Having to put a parent or loved one in a nursing home, ending a marriage, firing an employee—those are agonizing decisions. Choosing which multi-million dollar coaching position to take--that is an opportunity. I'm sure it was a difficult move to make, but let's keep some perspective here.

Have you noticed what's going on in Tallahassee? They are enjoying recruiting success that has nothing to do with Bobby Bowden. Leonard Hamilton is exceeding everyone's (except his own) expectations with the studs he has landed the last couple of seasons.

Signing Tim Pickett two years ago and Von Wafer and Alexander Johnson last year have built a strong foundation for Seminoles basketball. He has added to that by obtaining commitments from Jason Rich and Isaiah Swann, two top 50 national recruits, this fall. Visiting teams are going to have a rough time on their visits to Tallahassee from now on, and they will even have to be concerned when the ‘Noles come to play in their house.

Am I the only one who thinks NC State is overrated this season? I know they have some fine talent on the roster. Julius Hodge is probably the best all-around player in the conference, and the return of Ilian Evtimov will be a boost. Marcus Melvin and Scooter Sherrill give the Pack a core of players that can pass and knock down perimeter shots.

I have a tough time, however, seeing a team ranked nationally (as State is in several preseason previews) that lacks BOTH a proven center and a proven point guard. Sure, the Wolfpack can shoot the lights out, but if they can't rebound or bring the ball up against pressure defense, they're not going to get enough shots to win. If Hodge is forced to play point guard, Coach Sendek will have to make sure his players don't stand around on offense and wait for their star to do something.

This is a middle of the pack…sorry, bunch team at best this season. On the nights the shots are falling, they can beat most teams in the nation. When they are not shooting well, however, there are a LOT of teams out there that can and will knock off NC State.

The Sporting News has ranked Duke #1 in the nation. Has a #1 team ever had more questions to answer than this season's Blue Devils?

Will Duhon play up to the level of his ability this season, which he fell far short of last season? Will Sean Dockery have to step in and run the team if Duhon falters? Who will replace the toughness and fire that Dahntay Jones brought to the court last season? Maybe Shelden Williams, who will be a force inside for Coach K, maybe Daniel Ewing if he gets enough playing time.

Will Shavlik Randolph be a contributor after a disappointing, injury-marred season last year? Does the fact that Randolph is recovering from hip surgery while adding 20-30 pounds of bulk seem like an odd combination? Won't the extra bulk, even if most of it is muscle, put more strain on the hip? Will Sally tell Biff that the baby is really his? Oh, sorry, this was just sounding a plot line for a soap opera, ‘As the Blue Devil Turns."

Don't misunderstand me, I think Duke will be very good, but projecting them number one or even in the national top five is a stretch. If the same players wore Georgia Tech or Virginia jerseys, for example, they probably wouldn't even be in the top ten. Part of that is Coach K, part of that is reputation. We'll see if they live up to the latter.

I join those analysts that think expansion will water down ACC basketball. Looking ahead, Virginia Tech should replace Clemson at the bottom of the conference with Miami not far in front of either. Boston College could be in the middle with a strong recruiting class.

At least BC has recent success to build on. Miami misses Leonard Hamilton, and Virginia Tech has been bad for a while. It was one thing when the ACC added Florida State and the other football programs had to improve to catch them. It's another thing entirely for programs like Miami and Virginia Tech to come in and have to catch several schools just to be competitive. It will take some time, if it happens at all.

I'll be adding coverage of these future members to my columns this year as we all gain familiarity with their basketball programs.

Question for the Jury: I received an e-mail from a reader questioning my description of the ACC as a "southeastern" league. The reader felt the membership was as much mid-atlantic as it was southeastern. How do you view the geography of the pre-expansion ACC and how does the inclusion of Boston College change that? Does it even matter? Please share your thoughts at thecourtmaster@aol.com.

CourtMaster Briefs:

After dropping out of school last spring, NC State big man Jordan Collins will not be eligible to play until after the end of the fall semester in mid-December, but he is practicing with the team.

The same cannot be said for Virginia forward Devin Smith. Coach Pete Gillen announced last week that he would neither play nor practice for an undetermined period of time. No reason was given for this action. Gillen would not confirm reports that this would last through the end of the first semester. After last season's problems with Jermaine Harper and Keith Jennifer, Gillen did not need this kind of start to the new season.

Adam Simmons, a redshirt freshman center at NC State, is the stepson of Duke's women's basketball coach Gail Goestenkors. I wonder if he ever looks at a decision Coach Sendek makes and thinks, "That's not what my stepmother would have done."

Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at thecourtmaster@aol.com.

In my next column, I rank the coaches in the ACC from bottom to top. Until then, court is adjourned!

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