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ACC Tourney Preview

   by Al McMordie - 03/07/2004

This week, let’s take a closer look at the top teams in arguably the best conference in college hoops - the ACC. They will be “Dukingâ€쳌 it out for the ACC title this next weekend.

What’s impressive about the Blue Devils is how much they improved from a year ago. That may sound hard to believe, as Duke was 26-7 last year and 25-4 this season. But Duke was very young a year ago and had a losing record, both straight up and against the spread, on the road. This year’s Duke team is more seasoned. And what stands out to me is their sensational defense – 63.4 ppg allowed, which is the number-one scoring defense in the ACC. They also allow just 40% shooting by their opponents. Duke is also a strong road team (8-2 straight up, 6-4 against the number), which says a lot about how far they’ve come since last spring. Coach Mike Krzyzewski knows how to teach team play and defense, and he has a ton of talent to work with in J.J. Redick, Chris Duhon and freshman Luol Deng. In addition to the improved defense, Duke is No. 3 in scoring offense (79 ppg) in the ACC. and No. 2 in free throws (74%). The Blue Devils had too many weaknesses a year ago to make a run at the NCAA title, but that’s definitely not the case this year, as they're my favorite to win the title.

NC State:
The Wolfpack know how to play defense, too, which will help over the next few weeks with the games having so much importance. NC State is second to Duke in scoring defense in the ACC, allowing 64 ppg. Two talented players lead the way in junior Julius Hodge (18 ppg) and senior Marcus Melvin. If the game is close, NC State has an edge at the free throw line, where they are No. 1 in the ACC (79% from the charity stripe). However, this team lacks depth and scoring options other than Hodge and Melvin, which could be a problem if one of them gets double-teamed or goes cold shooting. Also, NC State is 7-3 “underâ€쳌 the total on the road where they went 5-6 straight up, scoring 67 ppg. And the last time they played Duke, they won 78-74 (at home). That will help their confidence, of course, but could also provide motivation for Duke if the teams meet this weekend.

Georgia Tech:
Talk about a team playing with great confidence! The Yellow Jackets (22-8) roar into the tournament on a 3-game win streak, where they won at Clemson 79-60 and at Duke, 76-68 as a +12 dog! That win ended Duke’s remarkable home winning streak. This team is tough! They're the No. 2 shooting team in the ACC (47%) and the No. 1 defensive team allowing just 38% shooting by opponents. Georgia Tech has depth and balance with 7-foot-1 junior Luke Schenscher, senior Clarence Moore, guard B.J. Elder (16 ppg), and sophomore Jarrett Jack. Jack had 15 points and 8 rebounds in the upset at Duke as the team shot 51%. Most impressive is that Georgia Tech is 8-5 straight up and against the spread on the road.

Wake Forest:
The Demon Deacons have the No. 1 offense in the ACC, scoring 84 points per game while shooting .473%. They are second in three-point shooting (38%) and third in free throws (71%). This is a young team and their leading scorers are sophomore Justin Gray (17 ppg) and freshman Chris Paul (13 ppg). It will be interesting to see how the kids respond now that the games mean even more. Wake also has good depth up front with 6-8 Jamaal Levy and 6-9 Eric Williams. If you like to play totals, this is an up-tempo team and Wake Forest is 15-4 “overâ€쳌 the total this season. They average an impressive 82 ppg on the road, but come into the tourney on a down note, losing two in a row to Virginia and NC State. And both losses were as a home favorite, so that could be a red flag.

North Carolina:
The Tar Heels certainly are the Wild Card out of this talented ACC batch of teams. This team is young, but "first-year" coach Roy Williams has gotten a lot out of them. The big guns are sophomore big man Sean May, sophomore guard Ray Felton and sophomore Rashad McCants. The immediate future is bright and North Carolina could make some waves over the next few weeks. If you watched Sunday’s game at Duke, the Tar Heels were in the game from start to finish and easily got the cover as a 9-point underdog. UNC likes to run, with the second best offense in the ACC (83 ppg). But their defense has been absent much of the year (75 ppg allowed), and they are 4-7 straight up and 4-6 against the spread on the road, which is never a good sign for post-season success. Their inexperience and weak defense will hurt, but they’re also a very talented team that no one wants to play, either.

Al McMordie is the nation's #1 March Madness handicapper, as documented by The Sports Monitor of Oklahoma, as he's ranked in the Top 10 every single year since 1998, while no other handicapper has been in the Top 10 for the past two years. Last season, Big Al was 38-22 on his March Madness selections, so don't miss any of the winners here

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