AJ's Monday Musings

Now that all sports from the just-completed scholastic sports year have ended, this week's Musings will be devoted to the 10 most intriguing Atlantic Coast Conference stories from the last year in sports.

10. Majestic Mapp's Injury – The Virginia point guard, who was expected to be a key component in the Cavaliers' expected ACC and NCAA title hopes, missed a second consecutive season because of a knee injury.

Mapp had surgery prior to the 2000-01 season, but was forced to have the same surgery this past fall because the initial operation was botched. The loss of the talented playmaker forced UVa to play either star wing guard Roger Mason Jr. (ballhandling troubles) and true freshman Keith Jenifer (too green) at the point.

A healthy Mapp would have meant an NCAA bid and possibly a nice run in March. Instead, UVa didn't make the Dance and was one of the big disappointments in the nation.

9. Baseball Rankings – Clemson spent most of the year ranked No. 1. Wake Forest surged to No. 2 for the first time ever and was around the top five all season. UNC, Florida State and Georgia Tech also spent most of the second half of the season in the top 15 or top 10, depending on the poll.

As exciting a season as it was for ACC baseball fans, the conference once again left Omaha without a national championship. The inability to win a national title continues to boggle the mind.

8. Bruce Perry – Perry came from out of nowhere to win the league's Offensive Player of the Year award.

After sitting out the 2000 season and running for just 176 yards in 1999, Perry exploded last fall, running for 1,242 yards (5.7 average per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 40 passes for 359 yards and a pair of scores.

The Terrapins improved from a 5-6 mark in 2000 that resulted in the firing of then head coach Ron Vanderlinden to a 10-2 mark last year that included an ACC title and trip to the Orange Bowl.

Ralph Friedgen's preference for a passing game that uses the entire field meant a quality and consistent ground attack was crucial if the approach was to work. Perry's performance made quarterback Shaun Hill's job easier and was a major reason why the Terps had such a shocking resurgence.

7. State Returns To The Dance – I witnessed in person the last time N.C. State played in an NCAA Tournament game when Oklahoma State knocked out Les Robinson's club in the second round in 1991. State's combination of "Fire & Ice" – Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe – led the Wolfpack and was one of the most exciting backcourts in the nation.

Since then, however, State hadn't been a factor on Selection Sunday until this past March. But Herb Sendek, in a literal do-or-die season, orchestrated an NCAA-bound club and nearly advanced to the Sweet 16. State ended Michigan State's three-year run of Final Fours, and almost knocked off Connecticut in the second round.

Any unbiased ACC fan will say the league is much better off when the Wolfpack are good. There is entirely too much tradition and interest in the program for it to go through such an ugly stretch again.

6. UNC 41, FSU 9 – At 0-3 with a new coach and on the heels of three consecutive underachieving seasons, Carolina football was as blasé a topic as one could find, save for grid talk in Durham. Even an appearance by Florida State Between the Pines at Kenan Stadium didn't generate tremendous interest.

Just 54,000 people (a generous estimate by the school) showed up to watch the Tar Heels battle the nation's premiere program. Granted, the game was less than two weeks after the sad tragedies of Sept. 11, but well under capacity is well under capacity.

UNC's defense was dominant throughout and gave the players and fans reason to believe something special may happen. Although the Seminoles led 9-7 at the half, it was clear Carolina had a legitimate chance at winning the game.

The Heels exploded in the second half, outscoring the Seminoles 34-0 and rolled to the easy win. UNC eventually won the Peach Bowl and has a bright future. The ACC needs Carolina to be a factor in football. The recognizable name, colors, alums in the NFL and potential of the school make it a sleeping giant.

5. Maryland's Hoops Title – "Gary can't win the big one."

Anyone who discussed basketball with a Maryland fan for more than a minute over the past five years undoubtedly heard their turtle-loving friends make such a remark.

They cited an inability to advance past the Sweet 16, and even after advancing to the 2001 Final Four, many of those same fans were more convinced that Gary Williams would never bring home the title these fans had coveted since the foot-stomping days of Lefty Driesel.

But Williams proved them wrong and captured the title this March, defeating Indiana for the school's first championship. And Maryland will forever be Garyland.

4. Mike Dunleavy Going Pro – For the second time in four years, Duke has lost three players to the NBA before their eligibility had run out.

Shane Battier's decision to remain at Duke for his senior year (2000-01) was the main reason Mike Krzyzewski won his third national title. It also restored Duke's image as being a program above all others, even when it came to players leaving early.

Mike Dunleavy's decision a few weeks ago to not return for his senior year has turned that perception completely around. Suddenly, pundits everywhere - from California to the Triangle - are saying Duke is like everyone else.

What school has had more players go pro early in the last four years? Duke with six. During that same stretch, UNC, the Blue Devils' rival known for turning out early entries, has had just one player leave before his time. In fact, only four players overall, including UNC's Joe Forte in 2001, have gone pro early from the league's other eight schools in the last four years.

Times have clearly changed in college basketball, and nowhere is that more evident than at Duke.

3. Hoops Recruiting – In the last five NBA drafts, not one player from Wake Forest, Virginia, Clemson, Florida State or N.C. State has been selected in the first round.

Duke (8), UNC (4), Maryland (3) and Georgia Tech (3) are responsible for the ACC's 18 first-round picks beginning with the 1998 draft. Tech, with just one NCAA tournament appearance during this stretch, is a surprise. And only in 1998 (Dion Glover and Matt Harpring) did any of them play together.

Duke, UNC and Maryland accounted for the league's only NCAA trips in the 1999 and 2000 seasons and totaled the league's six Final Four appearances during this period as well. So why has the league not excelled either in the regular season or in producing top-notch talents? Recruiting.

That's why this past recruiting season should have ACC fans optimistic that the league may return to its "rightful" perch atop the sport.

The league as a whole welcomes 10 McDonald's All-Americans this fall. That number would be 11 had Duke recruit Shelden Williams - a top-10 talent in the eyes of all recruiting experts - not been suspended from his team.

Duke and UNC each landed three, Georgia Tech two and Maryland and Wake Forest each signed one. There were more highly touted players that signed with conference schools that didn't quite make the McD's team, making this the best overall recruiting year – on paper – for the league in some time. Maybe the NBA draft will include more ACC players in a few years.

1. (tie)- Maryland Football – Mentioned earlier at No. 8, the Terrapins surprising conference title was perhaps the second least predicted event to actually occur.

The Terps gave the rest of the conference life by proving a league title can be won by a program like Maryland's and without beating FSU. UMd went from not playing in a bowl game since 1990 to the Orange Bowl. They made dreams in places like Charlottesville, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Death Valley and The Flats more realistic.

If championship dreams begin with hope, most of the ACC teams can at least now hope, thanks to the Terps.

1. (tie)- UNC's Basketball Collapse – There can't possibly be one person alive who predicted UNC basketball would win as many games as its football team this past year.

The Tar Heels went a shocking 8-20 (4-12 in the ACC) and ended every incredible streak the most consistent team in college sports had built over the past four decades with the exception of one (beating Clemson at home).

Carolina should bounce back over the next couple of years, and if Matt Doherty learns to coach as well as he can recruit, UNC will be a major force. But the reality of this past season is something that nobody ever saw happening and many are still trying to understand that it did indeed occur.

The overall impact of UNC's season may not be as great as Maryland's football title, but the shock value of it places it alongside the Terps as the most intriguing stories in the ACC over the last year.


Every week I pose a question for readers' response. I will choose one response to post in the following week's Musings. This week's question is, what was the most intriguing story in the ACC last year to you?

Last Week's Response

Last week's question: What is your thoughts on UNC's decision to not put up the new scoreboard, and do you think the school is justified in not using the privately raised money even though it was already in hand?

Skip from Wilmington responded:
When I first heard about UNC-CH canceling the jumbotron installation I immediately thought of our state motto, "To Be Rather Than To Seem" and how this turned it on it's head. The reality of the installation was that it was not taking any money away from the rest of the university in fact the money will probably just sit in an account until it's politically correct to spend it. I guess the motto of the UNC-CH Athletic dept. is now "To Seem Rather Than To Be"

Andrew Jones is entering his seventh year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a drive-time radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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