Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Expect Drama in Tight League; the Competitive ACC Has Traditional Powers but Also Surprise Teams

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Expect Drama in Tight League; the Competitive ACC Has Traditional Powers but Also Surprise Teams

Article excerpt

Byline: BOB THOMAS

If the first four Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball games foreshadow the weeks ahead, rising blood pressure and sleepless nights might be the norm for the league's 12 coaches - again.

All four games were decided by three points or less, including No. 1 North Carolina's 90-88 overtime victory at Clemson on Sunday.

"I think we're going to have problems putting teams away in our league because they're good," said coach Oliver Purnell, whose Tigers fell on Wayne Ellington's 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds remaining. "The bottom line is we've got to get a game like that done - or a share of them - because I think, just as last year, you're going to have a whole bunch of close games in this league."

A year ago, nearly one-third of all ACC regular-season games (31 of 96) were decided by five points or less. That was an accurate barometer for a 12-team league that counted 10 teams with 20-win campaigns, a record seven NCAA Tournament berths and three National Invitation Tournament spots.

And with 10 teams returning at least three starters - five of them returning four - there's every reason to expect the overall competitiveness in league play to remain the same.

It won't take long to apply that theory. League play begins in earnest this weekend with all 12 teams in action.

"We're in the thick of it now, so there's no rest for the weary," said coach Roy Williams, whose defending champion Tar Heels will put their unbeaten mark on the line Saturday at home against rival N.C. State.

However, Williams was extolling the benefits of winning the opener at Clemson in nail-biting fashion.

"There were at least two different times during the game when I told the guys, 'This is great for us. We've got an opportunity to come back. We've got an opportunity to be tough in front of a road crowd. We've got an opportunity to do things that will help us out later on,'" he said.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski hopes an arduous preseason schedule will benefit his Blue Devils, who have just one senior - guard DeMarcus Nelson - and remain a work in progress.

"We're going to play multiple people, so we've got to see if starting a certain group will help us over another," Krzyzewski said. "We're trying to figure out what's best for this team."

While the usual suspects - North Carolina and Duke - are expected to finish among the top tier of teams, there generally are a few surprises. A year ago, Virginia tied for first in the regular season, and Virginia Tech was one game back.

This season's early surprise is 25th-ranked Miami, which endured an injury-marred 4-12 ACC finish in 2007.

"I thought this was a team that could finish in the upper half," Hurricanes coach Frank Haith said. "I felt like once we got all of our parts together, this team had a chance."

The return of Anthony King and Jimmy Graham up front has transformed Miami into a formidable inside-out attack. …

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