With football officially over it's time to focus on college hoops as we head towards the Big Dance in March. First up is a look at the cream of the crop down in the ACC.
With the Super Bowl in the rearview mirror, the next big event on the sports stage is college basketball's season-ending tournaments. Since 1997, college basketball's national champion has come from several different conferences: Pac 10 (Arizona), SEC (Kentucky and Florida), Big 10 (Michigan State), ACC (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina), Big 12 (Kansas) and the Big East (UConn, Syracuse).
Over the next few weeks, let's examine some of the top hoop teams in each conference, starting this week with the ACC.
What an explosive offense fifth-year coach Roy Williams has. The Tar Heels average 92 points with a deep rotation that runs right at opponents. 6-9 senior Tyler Hansbrough (21.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg) leads in scoring and rebounding, while two junior guards have been outstanding in Wayne Ellington (14 ppg) and Ty Lawson (15 ppg).
There is strong depth up front with 6-5 senior Danny Green (13 ppg) and 6-8 junior Deon Thompson. But after a sizzling start, they stumbled in losses to BC and Wake during a 4-7 ATS run. Last week the Tar Heels shot 38.1 percent and committing a season-high 21 turnovers in an 80-77 win over Clemson as a double-digit favorite.
"How lucky we were," coach Williams said. "That's the bottom line." They have two home games this week, but next week play at Duke.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski has another talented team that is flexing its ACC muscles again. This is an athletic team behind junior wingman Gerald Henderson (14.8 ppg, 5 rpg) and 6-8 sophomore Kyle Singler (16.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg). This is not a great rebounding team, as Coach K is back to a more guard-oriented attack with Henderson and 6-5 junior Jon Scheyer.
While everyone thinks of Duke as a run-and-gun, three-point team, note that the defense has been outstanding allowing 60 ppg. Sharp bettors have taken notice, with the blue Devils on a 7-1 run under the total. That included a tough 70-68 last second loss at Wake Forest last week in a showdown for first place in the ACC. Duke shot 33%, Wake shot 40%. The rematch is February 22, at Duke.
Wake created a logjam for first place in the ACC with its thrilling win over Duke last week. Sophomore guard Jeff Teague is the second leading scorer in the ACC, averaging 21 points, 4 rebounds and 3.8 assists on the season.
The Demon Deacons (10-5 ATS) are loaded in the frontcourt behind 6-9 sophomore James Johnson (13.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg), 6-9 freshmna Al-Farouq Aminu (12.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg) and 7-foot junior Chas McFarland (9.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg). They held the Blue Devils to 28 percent in the first half and a season-low 33 percent for the game. Aminu didn't play like a freshman, getting 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cardiac Kids! Seth Greenberg's Hokies have been living on the edge, beating Wake by 7, BC by 8, Virginia by 3 and needing OT to win at Miami last week. They've played well in the ACC after several early-season close losses to Xavier, Seton Hall, Wisconsin and Georgia Tech.
They have a frontcourt that is more hard working than tall, led by 6-7 sophomore Jeff Allen, a transfer last season who has stepped in as the top rebounder (14 ppg, 8.7 rpg), and 6-6 senior A.D. Vassallo (18 ppg, 6.4 rpg). They shot 50% in an upset of then top-ranked Wake Forest (a team that was allowing oppnents to shoot just 36 percent), but also lost by 25 at Duke. They get to face Duke and North Carolina in back-to-back games last in the season.
The Tigers are about offense, averaging close to 80 ppg, with a strong one-two backcourt punch of 6-5 senior K.C. Rivers (13.8 ppg) and sophomore Terrence Oglesby (13 ppg). The Tigers are fourth in scoring and third in shooting in the conference.
The frontcourt is experienced behind 6-7, 240-pound junior center Trevor Booker (14 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and 6-9 senior Raymond Sykes. Clemson has been criticized in recent years for a weak schedule, and that's been the case again, starting 16-0 before losing consecutive ACC games to Wake and North Carolina by double digits. The previous two years Clemson started 17-0 and 10-0 before running into tougher competition.