2002 NCAA Preview

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Once again, Duke leads the way

Jason Williams is the frontrunner for Player of the Year honors.
 Brian Bahr/Allsport
1   Duke
2   Maryland
3   Wake Forest
4   Virginia
5   North Carolina
6   Georgia Tech
7   N.C. State
8   Clemson
9   Florida State
Total number of games involving ACC teams that will be televised this season, an all-time high for the conference with the most lucrative TV package in the country. Nineteen of those games will be part of the league's new Sunday night package on Fox Sports Net.
"I don't care. It's tough being on top for so long. Everybody is waiting to see you fall. They better keep watching, because it is not going to happen this year. We have a good team, a lot of good players on the court, we have a lot of pride and a lot of heart. Heart comes before talent any day."

-- North Carolina senior Jason Capel, talking about the dire prognostications for the Tar Heels this year.

By Tim Peeler, Special to CNNSI.com

Duke fans may be worrying about whether point guard Jason Williams' broken left hand will be completely healed by the beginning of the season, but they really need not be concerned. Mike Krzyzewski has enough talent around to carry the team, even if Williams needs more time to heal.

All reports are that Williams, who broke the hand during a pickup game on Aug. 29, will be just fine by the time the Blue Devils open their season at the Maui Invitational in Hawaii on Nov. 19. He's been wearing a glove on the hand in the Blue Devils' exhibition games that does seem to affect his shooting.

So if Williams needs some time to ease into the season, Krzyzewski has plenty of other superstar options for his defending national champions. Forget the questions some people have about Duke's depth.

The Blue Devils have plenty to choose from, especially considering there are four Duke players, including 2001 NABC National Player of the Year Williams, on the 50-player John Wooden preseason All-America list. The same four Duke players are on the 30-player preseason list of candidates for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.

And this summer, while Williams was in school getting himself ready to graduate after three years of college so he can declare early for the NBA draft, three of his teammates were in Japan playing for the United States team that won the World Championship for Young Men with a perfect 8-0 record.

Sophomore Chris Duhon, last year's ACC Rookie of the Year, was named the Most Valuable Player in that tournament, while Carlos Boozer was the team's leading scorer (15.9) and top rebounder (8.0). Dahntay Jones, a transfer from Rutgers who will begin his Duke career this year, was also on the team.

Meanwhile, junior Mike Dunleavy, whose 3-point baskets in the second half helped the Blue Devils pull away in the national championship game against Arizona, has added some weight to his lean body, which won't affect his versatility but might keep him from getting banged around as much this season.

Krzyzewski will look for Williams, Boozer, Duhon and Dunleavy to fill the leadership void left by the graduation of Shane Battier, who Krzyzewski called "the most incredible leader ever."

"You don't replace him," Krzyzewski said. "All of these kids are capable of being a leader, some more than others. The leadership will be more like it usually is, and that is more plural than singular."

Maturity will help, and that may be the biggest thing Duhon and Boozer will take from their summer experiences in Japan. Duhon was outstanding, leading the team in 3-pointers, assists and steals against world-class competition. Twice he had 14 assists, setting the tournament record, including in the championship game against Croatia.

For Boozer, the summer experience helped him stay in shape for the fall.

"In the offseason, he kind of gets a little lazy and sits down and eats everything up," Duhon said of the 6-9, 280-pound center. "Carlos gains weight in his sleep.

"He's a different man now. He's more aggressive, he's more of a leader and he's more mature. I think he realized that it hurts the team when he takes off for a couple of weeks and he comes back out of shape and has to work hard to get back where he was."

In other words, the Blue Devils are well-stocked and confident, which could be bad news for the rest of college basketball.

N.C. State is pinning its resurrection hopes on a skinny guard from St. Raymonds High School in the Bronx.

Julius Hodge, a McDonald's All-America who led his team to back-to-back city championships, is the highest rated rookie coming into the ACC this year and is the centerpiece of a five-player recruiting class which hopes to invigorate a Wolfpack program that hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1991.

Hodge, 6-6, can shoot, pass and lead. He's one of the many versatile weapons that N.C. State coach Herb Sendek plans to use in a more up-tempo attack.

The question for Hodge will be whether he produces more than the Wolfpack's last two McDonald's All-Americas. Two years ago, Damien Wilkins was hailed as State's most important recruit since David Thompson. He is now at Georgia after two disappointing seasons in Raleigh. Last year, Wolfpack fans pinned their hopes on in-state product Scooter Sherrill, who was a little-used reserve as a freshman.

Hodge is a more dynamic player than either of those two. Sendek calls him "magical," both on the court and off the court.

HOT: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski

OK, so how much hotter can the Blue Devils' coach be, after winning or sharing consecutive regular-season titled, three consecutive ACC Tournament titles and the third national title of his career? But now he's in the Hall of Fame.

NOT: North Carolina's prospects

The Tar Heels' impressive streaks -- 27 consecutive NCAA appearances, 31 consecutive 20-win seasons and 37 consecutive top-three ACC finishes -- appear to be in jeopardy for a team that enters the season without a go-to player.

HOT: Wake Forest swingman Craig Dawson

In the Demon Deacons' first public outing, Dawson hit 11 consecutive field goals, including all nine of his 3-point attempts.

NOT: Virginia G Majestic Mapp

Lingering difficulties with the reconstructive surgery he had last year forced another knee surgery last month, jeopardizing not only Mapp's playing career but also his ability to walk without pain. He will miss this entire season and attempt to return next year.

Over the summer, N.C. State's Sendek made a bold, but potentially costly move when he told forward Damien Wilkins not to return to the Wolfpack after entering the NBA Draft following his sophomore season.

After turning his ankle in the Chicago camp and going through several private workouts with NBA, Wilkins began to believe what everybody had told him all along: he was not ready for the NBA. So the player decided to return to school. Sendek, however, told him he could not come back. Why wouldn't a coach coming off a 13-16 season with his job clearly on the line want his second-leading scorer and a former McDonald's All-America back on the team?

Good question. Sendek says the Wilkins family, which had openly criticized how he used Damien, had become a distraction that he no longer cared to deal with. Wilkins transferred to Georgia, where he'll sit out this year.

Duhon and Boozer, Duke

Helped the U.S. win the World Championship for Young Men (21 and under) in Saitama, Japan, with a perfect 8-0 record. Duhon was the tournament's MVP, while Boozer was the team's leading scorer and rebounder.

Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon, Maryland

The Maryland duo were the top two scorers on the U.S. World University Games team that won a bronze medal in Beijing, China over the summer.

Florida State point guard Delvon Arrington

The first partial qualifier taken by an ACC basketball program graduated from the school in four years, earning a fourth year of eligibility under NCAA guidelines.

With the ACC's oldest arena, Maryland's Cole Field House, in its final season of use, most of the league is set for quality places to play. The Terps' new home, the 17,100-seat Comcast Center, is on schedule to open next season and will be totally state-of-the-art, comparable to N.C. State's Entertainment and Sports Arena with the added benefit of being on campus.

The league's other schools, with the exception of Virginia, seem to be happy with their basketball venues. But in late October, the Cavaliers' chase for a new facility to replace badly aged University Hall got a big boost from Connecticut businessman Paul Tudor Jones II, a Virginia alumnus who pledged $20 million to the building project.

That pledge matched an anonymous donation of $20 million back in June that kicked off the fundraising efforts for the project, which will cost between $125 to $150 million. Former Cavalier basketball coach Terry Holland stepped down as the school's athletics director over the summer to oversee the fundraising effort for the new basketball arena.

The school hopes to be playing in the arena by 2006. It will have somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 seats, nearly two dozen luxury boxes and a parking garage.

Virginia head coach Pete Gillen signed his long-rumored contract extension on Oct. 12. The 10-year deal will pay the coach an estimated $9 million. ... After fainting near the end of an individual workout in early October, Clemson sophomore Dwon Clifton was originally diagnosed with a heart abnormality that team doctors thought might end the 6-foot-5 swingman's career. Instead, doctors at Atlanta's Emory Hospital said that Clifton was suffering from Vaso-Valga, a condition caused by extreme dehydration and exhaustion. Clifton has been cleared to play. ...The news was a little different for Georgia Tech forward Michael Isenhour , who was diagnosed in late October with acute lymphatic leukemia. Yellow Jacket coach Paul Hewitt says that Isenhour's illness is the most treatable form of the disease and recovery prospects are good. ... Apparently, Big Jelly no longer has a big belly. Florida State's Nigel Dixon , whose been listed in the media guide as 350++ pounds, has lost more than 100 pounds, or the average size of an ACC female cheerleader.

Tim Peeler covers the ACC for the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record. His "This Week in the ACC" column will appear weekly during the season.


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