Toughest Places to Play in the ACC

Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session, and we have a full docket today. First, I will rule on the toughest home courts in the ACC. I define this as the atmosphere that gives the home team the largest advantage and causes the most problems for the visitors. Here are my rulings, from bottom to top (I like the suspense to build). Bailiff, drum roll if you please.

9-Florida State (Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center, 12,200 capacity): Empty seats generally don't intimidate anyone, and you won't find more anywhere in the ACC than a Seminoles' home game. Florida State never had the strongest fan base in the conference, but the drought of victories in recent years has dried up much of what it used to be. The Civic Center will never be one of the tougher places to play, but a winning team could generate enough excitement to at least make it feel like everyone is not attending a wake.

8-Virginia (University Hall, 8.864 capacity): Cavalier fans can hold their own with most of their ACC counterparts, but the size of the building (second smallest in the conference) and the design work against U-Hall being a disruptive environment. The arena was built with a circular design that puts mid-court seats the furthest away from the playing surface. This is a flaw that will be corrected when the new John Paul Jones arena opens in 2006 with nearly twice the current capacity.

7-Clemson (Littlejohn Coliseum, 10,980 capacity): Even in down years, the Tigers have a solid core of 7,000 fans that come out to support them and make a lot of noise. Their average attendance is usually only higher than Florida State, however, and size does matter when it comes to crowds and the affect they have on opponents.

6-Georgia Tech (Alexander Memorial Coliseum, 9,191 capacity): The "Thrillerdome" was a very tough place to play when Mark Price or "Lethal Weapon 3" wore the Yellow Jackets' home jerseys. It's still not easy and the fans do get cranked up for big games, but it is not currently one of the tougher arenas in the conference.

5-Wake Forest (Lawrence Joel Coliseum, 14,407 capacity): This building often features more empty seats than any ACC building outside of Tallahassee. Winston-Salem has never embraced Wake Forest sports as closely as Raleigh and Chapel Hill, making the Deacon's fan base softer than most in the conference. This has been changing recently, however, with the new energy Skip Prosser has brought to Deacons' basketball. Both the numbers and enthusiasm have risen sharply since Prosser came to town, and should continue to do so.

4-North Carolina (Dean E. Smith Center, capacity 21,750): If this were based strictly on crowd enthusiasm, Carolina would be ranked lower. The entire experience of coming to one of the largest basketball arenas in the nation with all the banners hanging from the roof adds to the intimidation level opponents have to deal with playing there. Ever since the snow game against Maryland in 2000, students have been a more vocal part of the Dean Dome crowd. This year, with Roy Williams return, we will certainly see a continued increase in the fans' vocal support of the Heels.

3-NC State (RBC Center, 19.700 capacity): This beautiful arena lacks the intimacy of old Reynolds Coliseum, but mostly makes up for it with the size of the crowd (7,000 more seats) and proximity of the students to the court. State made a very wise move by insuring students would circle the court, giving opponents no safe haven where someone is not screaming at them. This is a very, very loud arena.

2-Maryland (Comcast Center, 17,950 capacity): Though not quite up to the "pit" standards of Cole Field House in its inaugural season last year, this building did not miss by much. Just ask Duke players after the Terps whipped them last season. Comcast feels much more intimate than it's capacity would lead you to believe and, like NC State, Maryland located student seats circling the court. Unlike the RBC Center, there is one end of the court at a higher than normal incline that is packed with students who love to make life miserable for opposing free throw shooters.

1-Duke (Cameron Indoor Stadium, 9,314 capacity): There are those, including Coach K himself, who feel that the Cameron Crazies have lost some punch in recent years. It is still the best environment for basketball in the ACC and one of best in the nation. The layout of the building puts nearly everyone close to the court and the students, although not always spontaneous, still know how to rattle visiting players more effectively and creatively than any others in the conference.

Question for the jury

What is the toughest place for your favorite team to play? Let me know at thecourtmaster@aol.com. Most of the responses I received on my "Mystery Men" column agreed with my choices. Remember, folks, it is quite acceptable to contact me when you think I'm right.

First Looks

Here are some brief summaries of scrimmages and exhibitions around the ACC in the last week.

Shavlik Randolph posted impressive and very encouraging numbers in Duke's Blue/White scrimmage. Randolph scored 23 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Lee Melchionni added 21 points, Shelden Williams scored 16 and pulled down 13 rebounds, and Chris Duhon complimented his 10 assists with 12 points.

Levi Watkins was the leading scorer at NC State's Red/White scrimmage with 15 points. Freshmen Mike O'Donnell and Engin Astur drew some of the loudest cheers from the crowd by knocking down two three-pointers apiece.

Fans at North Carolina's Blue/White scrimmage held their breath when Sean May limped off the court with a leg injury. It appears to be a calf injury that, fortunately, was not serious. Before that, May had dominated with 13 points and 10 rebounds in only 17 minutes. Raymond Felton led scorers with 20 points and dished out 9 assists. Afterwards, Roy Williams told the Raleigh News & Observer that his team is still "a lot further behind than I'd like to be."

Jamar Smith was the high scorer at Maryland's Red/Black scrimmage with 24 points and also pulled down 8 rebounds. Chris McCray and DJ Strawberry worked as a backcourt tandem to control play for much of the scrimmage. Both were very active defensively and aggressive on the offensive end. John Gilchrist looked comfortable running the first team offense from his point guard position.

Majestic Mapp looked strong in Virginia's Orange/Blue game, raising hopes that he could be a major contributor at point guard for the Cavaliers this season. Elton Brown showed off his new trimmed-down physique with new height to his jumping but the same old fade-away jumpers.

Miami lost their first exhibition game to Nike Elite 88-86. Get used to this phrase; Darius Rice led the Hurricanes with (fill in the blank). In this game, he scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Rice, a senior, is one player ACC coaches will be glad they won't have to contend with next season. Miami's sophomore guard Robert Hite added 17 points and 6 rebounds.

Virginia Tech also lost their exhibition opener, dropping a 86-82 decision to EA Sports. The Hokies were done in by former Duke player Ricky Price, who led all scorers with 27 points. Bryant Matthews, a senior power forward, is another player ACC teams won't have to deal with next year. He led Tech with 20 points and 10 rebounds. The Hokies only turned the ball over 11 times but allowed EA Sports to shoot 58% for the game.

CourtMaster Briefs

As you just saw, I will be adding coverage of the future ACC members into my columns when appropriate to help us all get familiar with the programs at Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College.

Unfortunately, there is more injury news from around the conference to report:

Sophomore Rashad McCants did not participate in North Carolina's scrimmage, nursing an injured right quadriceps that caused him to miss several days of practice. The injury is not believed to be serious. Tar Heel sophomore center Damon Grant, still recovering from off-season knee surgery, had the knee flare up on him during practice and could be out several weeks.

Injuries have a way of striking a team's thinnest position, and that's exactly what happened to Georgia Tech when sophomore forward Theodis Tarver dislocated his kneecap during practice. The Yellow Jackets, already short on big men, will be without Tarver's services for at least a month. Mike Matthews, a senior big man at Florida State, has been held out of contact drills nursing a sore shoulder. Additionally, guard Andew Wilson has been slowed by an Achilles heel strain.

Julian Betko, a sophomore forward for Clemson, had his knee scoped and will be out until later this month.

NC State finally had some good news on the injury front after sophomore forward Ilian Evtimov took a hard spill during the Red/White scrimmage. Evtimov, to the relief of everyone present, bounced right up and continued playing, showing no indication of favoring his surgically repaired knee.

The exhibition schedule gets into full swing this week, with the start of the regular season only a few days away.

Let me know what you think at thecourtmaster@aol.com. My preview series will conclude with two more installments. Later this week, I'll present my wish list of events/trends I would like to see in the ACC this season. Early next week, I'll follow by making my predictions for the season. Expect surprises.

Until then, court is adjourned!


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