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FACE-OFF!
Curry Kirkpatrick
December 18, 1989
In the ACC-Big East Challenge, the conferences vied for—and ended up sharing—bragging rights
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December 18, 1989

Face-off!

In the ACC-Big East Challenge, the conferences vied for—and ended up sharing—bragging rights

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So now it's back to games against St. Leo, Radford, Drexel, Campbell and the "directional schools," as North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano calls them. You know, all those Southmidcentrals that flit like gnats across the early-season schedules of our favorite overhyped basketball cartel, uh, conference, sometimes known as the A BigCCEast.

"Back to reality" is how the return to easy wins was described by Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, who, like many of his coaching peers, had to be dragged kicking and screaming into last week's four-night merry-go-round ACC-Big East Challenge—thank goodness, there was no title sponsor (yet) to unload more money on the competing schools and waste more valuable space on this page.

Boeheim should know from reality. His Orangemen, No. 1-ranked nationally at week's end, would close out the month with those veritable juggernauts, Canisius, Marathon Oil, Towson State, C.W. Post and Lafayette. And isn't that far more wonderful than having to coax your young men into battling dynamic Duke, as Boeheim had to do in Syracuse's Challenge appearance, at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum? And it's certainly a lot easier than having to make two free throws with three seconds left to win one of the true games-of-the-decade 78-76 and save your ranking. Naturally, Boeheim hated it. But the players? "This is the kind of game you work for and dream about," said Billy Owens of Syracuse, maybe the best player of them all.

If the inaugural Challenge proved anything besides the maxim that coaches should never be granted even the slightest credibility—"We can't learn nothin' from this kind of damn game," Georgetown's John Thompson said after learning, in the series's other showcase game, a 93-81 dismantling of North Carolina at the Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., that his Hoyas have a backcourt to go along with their usual panic-inducing inside attack—it was this:

•The ACC can't hold a lead. The conference from the South won the first game in three of the four doubleheaders only to stumble in the nightcaps. The Big East is weak in the middle; its top two seeds—Georgetown and Syracuse—and its bottom two seeds grabbed W's, but it lost the "tweener" games. (The seeding in the two leagues was decided before the season began by a vote of their respective coaches. In the Challenge the ACC's No. 1 played the Big East's No. 1, and so on.) So the Challenge resulted in nothing more than a 4-4 tie. Sort of like kissing your brother. Or P.J. Carlesimo.

•You can't believe what you read in the newspapers. Seton Hall's bachelor coach Carlesimo will not—repeat not—shave off his whiskers "to help my dating," as was reported by the Associated Press. Carlesimo sarcastically confirmed the rumor during a conference call that included Newsday's Sandy Keenan. Vengeance was hers, however, when Carlesimo playfully attempted to snuggle Keenan following the Hall's 76-74 overtime win over Wake Forest in Greensboro. "I don't kiss guys with beards," she said, dropping P.J. for a 10-count.

•Kids say the most confounded, if not the humblest, things. "Adjustment? What adjustment?" snapped Georgia Tech's precocious freshman point guard Kenny (Chibs) Anderson, upon being asked what he'd had to do to acclimate himself and his game to college ball. Anderson, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists before fouling out in Tech's thrilling 93-92 victory over Pittsburgh in the Challenge opener at the Hartford Civic Center, added, "Now, I'm just changing my role. Even Michael Jordan has room for improvement."

•Valvano is cracking funny as ever—even while awaiting sanctions from an NCAA investigation that revealed improprieties at N.C. State. And he's coaching a lot harder. The V-man rarely quit barking during his team's laborious 67-58 victory over St. John's in Greensboro, in which three Italian-American Wolfpackers were among his starters. "I got more Italians on my team than Danny Ferry does," said Valvano.

•Stereotypes die hard. Duke, though it's from the allegedly fragile ACC, plays as tough and physical as any macho-monger could hope for. And from the supposed tower-of-power Big East, Villanova's 7'3", 240-pound center Tom Greis brings new meaning to the word finesse. "There's not much difference in the two conferences," says Gary Williams, the first-year Maryland coach. "Styles develop because of coaches, not schools or leagues. We all get our players from the same talent pool."

Well, Maryland better get back into the pool. Connecticut swamped the Terps 87-65 in Hartford in the Challenge's only blowout.

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