Fans fed up with the arrogant Octet will be dismayed to hear this, but last season's struggles were an aberration, a blip on the ACC's cardiogram. Time was when the conference was so balanced that its membership couldn't conceive of going a pathetic 0-14 against regular-season champ North Carolina; when the conference was so preeminent that a 5-6 record in NCAA tournament play would have been unfathomable.
But the good times are back. Now Maryland might make the NCAAs after going winless in the ACC last season. And the elite four—Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and North Carolina State—might easily split 12 regular-season games among them and then end up playing rubber matches in the NCAA regionals.
Duke will remain true to coach Mike Krzyzewski's credo that "good programs attain, great ones sustain." Danny Ferry will start up front alongside 6'7" John Smith, who, to improve his rebounding, has been watching videotapes of Pitt's Jerome Lane. Billy King, Kevin Strickland and Phil Henderson (see box page 72) are splendid defenders, while young post man Alaa Abdelnaby from, yes, it's true, Bloomfield, N.J., should come on by March.
If you're a thirsty Tar Heel at a North Carolina practice, you can't get a drink until coach Dean Smith calls your class. These days the underclassmen don't have to wait long after Smith yells out, "Ranzino!" Ranzino Smith is Carolina's only senior, and that's why Carolina won't match last year's perfect league record. While J.R. Reid mulls over simple assault charges and his suspension from the Heels' opener with Syracuse, he might also ponder last season's 97 turnovers and the 62.7% that he and forward Scott Williams shot between them from the foul line. King Rice, a guard, and Rick Fox, a 6'1" forward, are first-year phenoms who will get playing time.
Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins blames his Irish stubbornness for the Yellow Jackets' debilitating 1986-87 schedule, which had them playing halfway around the world and just about everywhere except Atlanta during one six-week stretch. By comparison Tech will be a veritable stay-at-home this season. Dennis Scott, a 6'7" freshman ("the body of a blacksmith, the touch of a surgeon," says one scout) will play guard if he can lose some weight. After tipping the scales at 250 pounds recently, he blamed his "shoes and socks." Forwards Duane Ferrell, who's 6'7", and Tom Hammonds, 6'9", both ACC Rookies of the Year, anchor the front line.
There's the usual talk of an up-tempo offense at N.C. State. "In the fall I always say we're going to play faster. I even drive my car faster and eat faster," says coach Jim Valvano. "Then by the end of the year we're playing half court." The Wolfpack can run longer this year because last season's backcourt uncertainty has been resolved. Quentin Jackson and Vinny Del Negro are Valvano's guards, period. Rebounders Charles Shackleford and Chucky Brown (an animal on the boards during the Pack's improbable run to the ACC tourney title) can get a break going.
Word is that 6'9" freshman Cedric Lewis got a car for coming to Maryland. That word is from his brother, Derrick, the Terps' 6'7" senior and the nation's leading returning shot-blocker, who promised to share his car with his younger (not little) brother if he signed on at College Park. Even if Derrick is sidelined this season by his high blood pressure, one Lewis will still be in the lineup. Juco guard Rudy Archer, the first player from Baltimore to play for Maryland in a decade, is the other key newcomer.
Clemson will play another shameful early season schedule, including two games against Taiwanese teams, and then see whether the loss of ACC Player of the Year Horace Grant leaves it absolutely defenseless (in one game last season the Tigers surrendered 70 points in a half). With distributor Grayson Marshall and shooter Jerry Pryor, Clemson can score, but how often can it outscore?
Virginia counted on the return of half of its forward tandem of Drew and Mel (No Relation) Kennedy, but Drew is gone, and Mel cut one too many classes for coach Terry Holland's taste and won't play until at least January. That leaves the Cavs with a wonderful back-court in John Johnson and Richard Morgan, but Holland, who's always letting integrity get in the way of winning, will have find a new front line.
Wake Forest was 0-5 in overtime conference games even with Muggsy Bogues around to handle the ball; Bogues went to the NBA, and youngsters like Sam Ivy, Robert Siler and Daric Keys don't figure to change that just yet. The Demon Deacons have been stuck on the bottom largely because 15 players in the past six seasons left prematurely.
One reason for the ACC's middling performance last season: a large number of nonleague road games to accommodate television. That has changed. Georgia Tech will leave town once before January, State plays in Raleigh 18 times, and Maryland's only trip west of the Mississippi is to Missouri. This year the conference will Accommodate itself.
The young Tar Heels will need every inch of Reid's talent to reach the top of the ACC.