HOW WILL N.C. STATE HANDLE THE BURDEN OF EXPECTATIONS?
Luke: Teams that are put in this kind of situation without any experience rarely handle it well. That doesnt mean N.C. State is doomed to fail, just that anything but perfection will be considered falling short. While perfection is unlikely, all the ingredients are there for a really good season. Question is, will people accept really good given the expectations floating out there?
Tudor: The thing that worries me most about N.C. State is the tendency for C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell to get into deep foul trouble and often in unison. Its not just a concern, either. Its a valid opposing strategy that rival coaches have seen succeed too often to ignore.
If Im coaching against the Pack, my Plans A and B are to draw a foul on each big man before the first TV timeout and a second on each before the third TV break, thereby forcing Mark Gottfried to juggle or bench the two for the final eight minutes before intermission and probably into the second half.
But at the same time, Leslie and Howell need to be reasonably aggressive. Otherwise, they surrender the interior. The Pack will be a good team but keeping the two bigs on the court in tight games will determine how far this team will go.
Luke: Im curious to see how Jordan Vandenberg and Thomas de Thaey do, because if they perform well, it might defray some of that concern at forward. At the least, they can soak up some fouls. A bigger issue might be overall defense, where C.J. Williams, Alex Johnson and DeShawn Painter will all be missed and the freshmen will have an understandable learning curve.
WHICH ACC TEAM WILL BE THE BIGGEST SURPRISE?
Luke: I was surprised Maryland was picked so low (sixth) by the coaches and the media. The Terrapins play hard, theyre solid defensively and they get PeShon Howard and Alex Len for a whole season as well as two impact freshmen in the frontcourt. Sophomore guard Nick Faust is primed for a breakthrough season, and so are the Terps.
With so many variables affecting the other five teams in the consensus top six, Maryland is poised to challenge for a top-three spot if all goes right. And thats without Xavier transfer Dez Wells, whos still trying to get eligible this season.
Tudor: Georgia Tech will finish better than ninth. My guess is Brian Gregorys second team will wind up sixth or seventh.
Three reasons: 1. After playing last seasons home games in Philips Arena, the Jackets will be back in rebuilt Alexander Coliseum. 2. Mfon Udofia might never play a minute in the NBA, but the senior guard will provide leadership, experience, shoot better than 38 percent and improve his assist/turnover ratio. 3. Even if freshman forward Robert Carter takes a starting job over junior Kammeon Holsey, Gregory likely will start Udofia and three juniors. The group hasnt won a lot, but theyve played a lot of minutes.
WHOS BETTER: DUKE OR UNC?
Luke: Other than the bad taste left by the Lehigh game, Im not sure why everyone is so quick to dismiss Duke. The Blue Devils appear far more likely to challenge for the ACC title than the very-talented-but-very-young Tar Heels.
Tudor: Im picking Duke to win the regular season, too. But there is a way a quick way for the Tar Heels to be the better team. It goes directly to the point guards: Carolina freshman Marcus Paige and Duke sophomore Quinn Cook. If Paige pans out to be substantially better, the Heels almost certainly will have an edge throughout.
Luke: A healthy Cook is a big reason the Blue Devils appear to have solved their major issues last season: chemistry (not that it was entirely his fault, but Austin Rivers departure will take care of that), point guard (we never saw the real Cook last year) and the ability to guard big 3s (Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson should be able to handle that). Throw in a return to the kind of tenacious man-to-man defense and structured half-court offense thats the signature of Dukes program, and they stand out as the favorite to me.
Tudor: For all of UNCs inexperience, its easy to forget that Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald have played in more tight ACC games than some of the Duke players. Something else in UNCs favor could turn out to be the new 18-game ACC format. If Strickland and McDonald stay healthy, theyll join Paige, P.J. Hairston, Luke Davis and Reggie Bullock in the leagues deepest and most versatile perimeter.
CAN FRIDAY AT THE ACC TOURNAMENT BE SAVED?
Tudor: Its hardly a secret that Friday in the ACC tournament was losing steam long before this spring. With little fan enthusiasm and lots of empty seats in Atlantas Philips Arena, March 9, 2012 wound up rating as the most forgettable Friday in the tournaments history a radical departure from the many years when the event began on Friday with four routinely intriguing games. The lure of those games was such that the day equated to an unofficial regional holiday. Tickets were all but impossible to score and television ratings high.
Luke: Expansion killed Friday, because you cant sell every ticket before the tournament starts and expect four fan bases to show up for love of the game after their teams lose Thursday. Its only going to get worse with 14 and 15 teams, especially adding schools with no historic ties to the ACC.
Tudor: At least for this year, thanks to the 2013 locale in Greensboro and the likelihood that N.C. State will be in the hunt for its first league championship since 1987 (Landover, Md.), Frantic Friday can be saved on March 15, 2013. If so, it would be a delightful development for ACC purists particularly so if the three Triangle schools are seeded 1, 2, 3 and if Wake Forest somehow qualifies for a Friday appearance.
Luke: As nice as that would be, I think ticket tradition needs to change. Heres the solution: Sell the lower bowl by tournament books, the traditional way, but make the upper deck general admission, and sell tickets only to fans of the teams that are actually playing. With modern technology, you can print all the tickets, and only the correct ones would scan at the door. Or deal with a half-full building with zero atmosphere as the price paid to expand the league.
WHO TAKES OVER FOR K AND ROY WHEN THE TIME COMES?
Luke: Mike Krzyzewski has been more than open in his admiration for Brad Stevens since the 2010 Final Four, and Duke is exactly the kind of elite job Stevens is waiting to take. Id guess Krzyzewski cares more about securing Dukes status in the college basketball world than he does staying within his coaching family, especially since a slam-dunk candidate has yet to emerge. Stevens is a perfect fit.
Tudor: Stevens makes all the sense in the world, not just to follow Krzyzewski but just as easily at UNC when Roy Williams retires. But just for old times sake, Im going with Johnny Dawkins at Duke even though hes not been a world-beater at Stanford. In Dawkins favor are the obvious factors that he played and coached at Duke and is thoroughly familiar with the workings of the school and program. A breakout year at Stanford would enhance his standing.
At UNC, my guess is Matt Painter of Purdue. Yes, its completely out of deep right field, but Painter is one of the best and most complete coaches in the nation. At age 42, hes should have 25 good years ahead and hes not going to stay at Purdue for all of that time not with Indiana moving up again. Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh isnt completely off the radar, but hes fading fast. And, of course, keep an eye on Sean Miller of Arizona and former Williams aide Jarod Haase as he starts building at Alabama-Birmingham.
Luke: Depending on how many years Williams has left, Haase may or may not have time to burnish his resume, but hes definitely one to watch. The Dean Smith coaching tree isnt quite out of leaves yet, either: Theres still the newest addition to the UNC bench, first-year assistant coach Hubert Davis. There should be plenty of time to groom him for the role, and the current generation of players knows him well from TV, so he shouldnt have any trouble recruiting.
Tudor: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @CaultonTudor, (919) 829-8946 DeCock: email@example.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947