Julius Hodge, NC State
Easily one of the conference's most dynamic players, Hodge is the catalyst for the Wolfpack offense. When the ball is in his hands, defenders have to pay attention. He led the team in scoring (17.7 ppg) and was second in assists (3.5 apg). He handles the ball well enough to play point guard and has a very deceptive first step. His wiry frame also makes it difficult for opposing defenders to body-up on him, as he tends to slip free quite often. He is also an excellent rebounder for his size, as evidenced by his team-leading 5.9 boards per game. But most of all, he's a pure playmaker. In fact, there are few in the ACC, or the nation for that matter, that can match him in creative scoring ability.
Raymond Felton, UNC
Originally touted the best incoming freshman point guard last year, Felton had to carry his team almost single-handedly at times. He was among the ACC leaders in assists (6.7 apg) and was the third scoring option (12.9 ppg) behind Rashad McCants and Jawad Williams. And in case anyone needs to be reminded, he is also one of the fastest guards in the country. He has a deadly crossover dribble, which (if officials continue to ignore palming violations) can be devastating to opposing defenders. If you back off of him, he can make you pay with his outside shot. And when he gets hot from behind the arc, he can put up points in a hurry. With Roy Williams at the helm and a healthy Sean May back in the middle, you can bet that Felton will have a chance to be more creative in running the offense this year.
J.J. Redick, Duke
If there were any player in the ACC that could kill an opponent without even driving to the basket, it would be Redick. He was second on the Blue Devils' roster in scoring (14.5 ppg) and, even though he took 228 three-pointers (second only to FSU's Tim Pickett), he made nearly 40% of his shots from beyond the arc. He is hands-down one of the best jump shooters to enter the conference in years. Because his release is so quick, opposing teams have had difficulty locking onto him. Of course, he uses his screens well (whether they be moving or not), and once he gets his feet squared, it's as good as in. His range also extends so far beyond the three-point line (maybe even to half-court) that opponents can rarely afford to play zone against the Devils when he is on the floor. As long as Coach K can develop the talent he has down low, expect Redick's scoring average to continue to increase.
Wake Forest's frontcourt
Even without ACC Player of the Year Josh Howard, the Demon Deacons still return one of the most experienced frontcourts in the conference. Last year, the Deacs led the ACC in rebounding (39 per game, 0.6 margin) and were a menace to opposing post players night-in, night-out. This season, keeping the likes of Vytas Danelius (7.5 rpg), Jamaal Levy (6.8 rpg) and Eric Williams (4.1 rpg) off the boards will be a daunting task for any ACC opponent. Danelius and Levy both have above-average ball-handling and shooting skills for players their size. At 6-9, 270 lbs., Williams will be difficult to push around under the boards, and without Howard in the lineup, you can expect his numbers to increase. Now that Skip Prosser has recruited a talented backcourt to balance his aggressive frontcourt, ACC teams will have to take extra precautions when matching up with the Deacs.
Tim Pickett, Florida State
Pickett joined the Seminoles last year with a reputation as one of the best shooters in the junior college ranks, and it didn't take him long to make his presence known in the ACC. He led Florida State in scoring (17.1 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg), and was basically the only consistent weapon in Leonard Hamilton's lineup. He has a quick release on his shot and is strong enough to finish consistently inside. But what will make him more difficult to guard this year is the presence of highly touted scorers like Von Wafer and Alexander Johnson. These freshmen, along with the continued development of forward Anthony Richardson, will force opposing teams to spread their defenses and keep them from doubling up on Pickett. Even if you aren't a believer in Hamilton's resurrection job in Tallahassee, you have to respect his ability to recognize and develop a scorer like Pickett.
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NCAA Should Stop Messing with Tournament
It's happening again. For the second time in three years, the NCAA Tournament could be headed for more changes, thanks to a recommendation from the tournament's selection committee. If approved by the NCAA next month, a new rule will allow the committee to re-seed teams when they reach the Final Four, thus eliminating the scheduling rotation that paired regional winners in the past. This would mean that if two #1 seeds reach the Final Four along with two lower-seeded teams, the top seeds would not have to play each other in the semifinals no matter what side of the bracket they occupy.
On the surface, it would seem like a good idea guaranteeing that the top seeds would only play each other in the championship final. But in reality, it's just another bogus change that the tournament doesn't need.
In 2002, the NCAA instituted a "pod system" that would group tournament teams into groups of four and play their games nearest the highest-seeded school. The NCAA still claims that the change was done to reduce travel for as many teams as possible (or rather, as many "big name" teams as possible). But the real reason for the change was money. It's true. Just check out the numbers the tourney brought in the past two years.
The implementation of the pod system has lessened the probabilities for early round upsets by giving more home court advantage to the higher seeded teams. Now, the NCAA is playing the ratings game again with this new proposal. But this time, they're making it even more difficult for a lower seeded team to advance from the Final Four to the championship.
What's next? A re-seeding of the entire tournament field after the first two rounds? Why don't they just take away all neutral courts and have all the higher seeds host the games? Better yet, why don't they just do away with the tournament format and have a four-team playoff, or a one-game championship like the BCS?
The NCAA Tournament has been and continues to be one of greatest sporting events ever created. It has been a symbol of all that is fair and competitive about college sports. But little by little, the NCAA is trying to change it – all for the sake of bringing in more money.
There's a popular phrase that should apply here: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Frankly, I'm amazed the NCAA hasn't broken the thing already.
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Roy's First Class: Boom or Bust?
Despite the blockbuster recruiting classes that Indiana and Texas are hauling in this year (to be eligible to play in 2004-05), several experts are predicting North Carolina to bring in the nation's best class when the signing period starts in November. Head coach Roy Williams already has commitments from 6-3 guard JamesOn (how do you pronounce that?) Curry of Burlington, NC, and 6-8 forward Marvin Williams from Bremerton, WA. The other two scholarships he has to offer could go to any combination of 6-9 center Brian Johnson of Arlington, VA; 6-6 forward J.R. Smith of Newark, NJ; and/or 6-6 guard Shaun Livingston of Peoria, IL – all rated among the top 15 prospects in the nation.
But UNC fans may want to hold off the parade until the kids actually arrive a year from now. Johnson, a long-time Tar Heel fan, has been rumored to be slightly miffed that the Carolina staff waited so long to offer him a scholarship, and may now be looking at other schools, like Duke or Louisville. Smith, also a long time fan of Carolina, may have trouble qualifying for eligibility. And there is more likelihood that Livingston will end up at either Duke (his current leader) or Illinois.
The one to watch, however, may be Marvin Williams. Even though he has been emphatic about joining the Tar Heels in 2004, rumors have been running rampant that he may throw his name into the next NBA draft. It should be noted that the Seattle Supersonics have two first-round picks in the 2004 draft, and since Williams already has the skills that most NBA teams are looking for in a high school prospect, the team's front office may want use one of those picks to keep the youngster in the Washington area.
If you add all this to the speculation that point guard Raymond Felton may leave for the NBA after this season, Carolina fans have a lot of off-the-court concerns to discuss throughout the season. One thing is for sure though: if UNC is to get back among the nation's elite and stay there, Roy Williams' first recruiting class at Carolina is going to have to be at least close to what the experts are predicting. There's nothing like a little pressure to start your tenure, eh, Roy?