The students will still camp out for days to get tickets, the
coaches will still watch countless hours of videotape, and Dick
Vitale will still proclaim that "the Cameron Crazies are
awesome, babeeeee!" But by the time Duke and North Carolina meet
in Durham on March 3, the last day of the regular season,
chances are the two teams will be playing for no more than
neighborhood bragging rights. No ACC title. No NCAA tournament
No. 1 seed. No top national ranking. Just bragging rights.
For the first time ever, neither Duke nor North Carolina is
picked to finish in the top three in the ACC--the favorites are
instead Wake Forest (page 80), Maryland (page 102) and Virginia
(page 103). It's an astonishing turn of events in a league that
has been dominated by the Blue Devils and Tar Heels since it
began in 1953.
"If it were to turn out that Duke and North Carolina did not
finish in the top three, it would give the other seven teams in
the conference a measure of confidence that they have never
had," says Wake Forest coach Dave Odom. "And I think it might
shake the confidence that those two teams have had throughout
the years. That doesn't mean those teams are going to go away
and die; they're not."
In fact, North Carolina would be very much alive if it weren't
for the lure of wealth from the NBA. All-America swingman Jerry
Stackhouse and All-ACC center Rasheed Wallace, who would have
been juniors, defected to the pros and were selected third and
fourth in the draft, respectively. (They are two of eight ACC
players who were picked in the first round.) That leaves the Tar
Heels with just two returning starters from last season's 28-6
team, which tied for first in the ACC and lost to Arkansas,
75-68, in the national semifinals. Stackhouse and Wallace,
together with departed guard Donald Williams, were responsible
for 51.3 points and 19.3 rebounds per game, and their intensity
and leadership will be sorely missed. "We're happy for Jerry and
Rasheed," coach Dean Smith says. "But now is the time I start to
think about what they would have meant to this team. We
certainly won't have the luxury of having any margin for error
It's not as if Smith's cupboard is completely bare. Senior guard
Dante Calabria was fourth in the nation from behind the
three-point arc, hitting 49.6%, though he went cold against
Arkansas, scoring just two points, 8.5 below his season average.
Jeff McInnis, a junior guard, led the ACC in assist-to-turnover
ratio (2.5:1) while averaging 12.4 points per game. Freshmen
Vince Carter, a 6'5" guard from Ormond Beach, Fla., and Antawn
Jamison, a 6'7" forward from Charlotte, have the impossible
tasks of picking up where Stackhouse and Wallace left off.
While many of the stars of the ACC left early, one is coming
back. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski (page 10) is returning to the
bench after missing the final 19 games of the season recovering
from back surgery and fatigue. During Krzyzewski's absence, the
Blue Devils were 4-15 under interim coach Pete Gaudet, finishing
in the league cellar for the first time since 1976 with a 2-14
record. "We're not here to be last in the league like last
year," says Krzyzewski. "We'll challenge even though we don't
have the base of talent and experience we've had."
Duke does have three returning starters, including two of its
top three scorers from last season in junior guard Jeff Capel
(12.5 ppg) and sophomore guard Trajan Langdon (11.3). But after
10 years with a reliable big man (remember Danny Ferry,
Christian Laettner and Cherokee Parks?), there is a hole in the
middle. The Blue Devils hope to fill it with their two 6'10"
freshmen, Taymon Domzalski and Matt Christensen.
With the signing of 6'11" center Randell Jackson and the return
of 6'4" junior guard James Collins, Florida State will have the
inside-outside attack that Seminole coach Pat Kennedy says has
been missing in Tallahassee. "Jackson is a human tongue
depressor," says Kennedy of the lanky, 215-pound freshman from
Boston. "He's real quick for a big man, in the mold of a Wallace
or a Joe Smith." Kennedy is counting on Jackson to put up
Smith-sized numbers to make up for the loss of Bob Sura (another
NBA first-rounder), Florida State's alltime leading scorer.
Georgia Tech, snubbed by the NCAA tournament selection committee
last season despite its 18-12 record, welcomes a player who will
probably become coach Bobby Cremins's eighth ACC Rookie of the
Year since 1983. A 6'1" guard from Brooklyn, Stephon Marbury
possesses the shooting range of Mark Price (ACC Rookie of the
Year, 1983) and the explosiveness of Kenny Anderson (ACC Rookie
of the Year, 1990). Marbury and the Yellow Jackets will be
tested early with games against Kentucky, Louisville and
Massachusetts in December.
Second-year Clemson coach Rick Barnes has brought in his largest
recruiting class: seven freshmen, including five who are really
large--over 6'7". They join guard Merl Code and forwards Iker
Iturbe and Greg Buckner, all of whom started last season on a
team that ended up sixth in the ACC, the Tigers' best finish in
five years. "I'll have to be patient," says Barnes. "We're
young, but we'll be bigger and stronger and more aggressive than
last year. By February, we'll be a very good basketball team."
Barnes could learn something about patience from North Carolina
State coach Les Robinson. Even the return of leading scorer Todd
Fuller (16.4 ppg) won't help the Wolfpack improve much on last
season's 4-12 conference record. Prospects didn't brighten any
when sophomore guard Ishua Benjamin, who started every game in
'94-95 and averaged 14.0 points and 4.2 assists, was suspended
for the fall semester because of poor class attendance. N.C.
State has finished in the bottom half of the ACC in each of the
past five seasons, and the Wolfpack isn't likely to get near the
upper strata this year either.
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Langdon can fly, but Duke lacks a big guy. [Trajan Langdon]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO McInnis's Heels are down now that their two stars have made tracks to the NBA. [Jeff McInnis]
1 Wake Forest (10)
2 Maryland (21)
3 Virginia (22)
4 North Carolina
6 Florida State
7 Georgia Tech
9 N.C. State