Nov. 18, 2003
Conference Previews: ACC | A-10 | Big East | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Pac-10 | SEC
I'll be identifying three key questions for each of the eight major conferences as a new college-basketball season begins. We'll go in alphabetical order, starting with the ACC...
1. How will Roy Williams do in his first season as North Carolina's head coach?
There's all kinds of excitement in Chapel Hill about the return of Roy Williams. He sat for 10 years on the North Carolina bench with one of the greatest staffs ever assembled -- assistants Williams, Bill Guthridge and Eddie Fogler all under the direction of Hall of Famer Dean Smith.
Williams came back home, and there couldn't be a better choice for the job. He will bring a wealth of winning experience and basketball knowledge. Williams will have credibility right out of the gate. For the prior coach, Matt Doherty, every game was like a final exam.
The Tar Heels will be dangerous this year, building off last year's experience. Barring any unforeseen injury to sophomore center Sean May, this club has top-10 potential. May will dominate in the three-second area. He understands how to play, has great hands and knows how to win.
Sophomore Raymond Felton is one of the premier point guards in America. Junior forward Jawad Williams is improved along the baseline. A key is the need for sophomore guard Rashad McCants to be consistent.
Nobody can ever doubt McCants' talent. The upside is unreal, but he must get it done every day. He has to earn the respect of his teammates and the entire Carolina family by working hard. If he follows Roy Williams' lead, he'll have a phenomenal year.
North Carolina is an athletic team, but the lack of depth may be a concern. Tar Heel fans are happy to see Williams back on the sidelines, this time in charge of the program.
2. Can Duke compete for another national championship?
When you look at the new personnel and the returning talent at Duke, it's evident that the Blue Devils figure to be in the national-title hunt all season long. Coach Mike Krzyzewski has already won three national titles at Duke (1991, 1992 and 2001).
Duke took a beating from Kansas' Nick Collison (33 points, 19 rebounds) in the NCAA Tournament. But Duke's kids hit the weight room and have come back stronger than ever. Wait until you see the physical presence of sophomore forward Shavlik Randolph. Coming off hip surgery, he has worked hard and he's ready to live up to his billing. I expect a super-soph season from him.
Another sophomore forward, Shelden Williams, will be more aggressive inside, making him even more dangerous this season.
Krzyzewski has bought in a blue-chip, multi-skilled freshman: Luol Deng. The 6-8 diaper dandy can play anywhere on the floor, a la Grant Hill and Shane Battier. Big things are expected from Deng.
The perimeter game is among the nation's best. The trio of senior Chris Duhon, junior Daniel Ewing and sophomore J.J. Redick is as good as it gets! Throw in sophomore Sean Dockery, and there's excitement in Coach K's voice when he talks about his backcourt players.
Only one thing makes people at Duke content. No, its not just making the NCAA Tournament or winning the ACC regular-season title or tourney. It's hanging a banner at Cameron Indoor Stadium that says "NATIONAL CHAMPION!"
Yes, this club will be in the hunt all season long!
3. Can Gary Williams rebuild Maryland quickly?
Coach Gary Williams will have a deep basketball team. The Terps are very talented but very young. They will be a bit up and down, but opponents have to take them seriously.
Williams has done a phenomenal coaching job since arriving on the campus where he was also a student-athlete years ago. The personnel has changed but the system hasn't.
There's no doubt he will be the stabilizing force on the sidelines. This club will cause problems as it gets better and better as the season progresses.
New names will be in the spotlight. Sophomores John Gilchrist, Chris McCray and Nick Caner-Medley will step up, as will senior Jamar Smith. A host of freshmen, led by Michael Jones and D.J. Strawberry, could become major factors. The recruiting class was ranked among the nation's top five by many experts.
The newcomers will back up the veterans, but they should still see a lot of playing time.
Williams can rebuild quickly, but it will be difficult to beat the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons added Chris Paul in the backcourt. Let's also not forget N.C. State, which returned Ilian Evtimov after he sat out last season due to injury.
It will be a big, big year in ACC country. There's quality basketball everywhere you look!
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