It’s finally that time of year again.
All the turkey’s been eaten, college football’s regular season is winding down and shoppers are frantically searching for this season’s newest toys. Yes, it’s Christmas time. And just as importantly for sports fans, it’s the beginning of the college basketball season. Without further ado, here are a few Christmas wishes I have for ACC and Duke basketball during the next year:
• More four-year players — Often temperamental on the court and in interview rooms, Julius Hodge wasn’t everyone’s favorite. Yet this season he will provide N.C. State with the stability and experience that only a senior like Hodge, who has starred for the Wolfpack since his freshman year, could offer. By forgoing NBA riches for a fourth year in Raleigh, Hodge gets another shot at an ACC championship and, more importantly, a degree.
In a league as talent-rich as the ACC, some early defections are inevitable. But as athletic as these youngsters are, it’s no fun to watch players take the league by storm and leave after one or two years. They become a liability to the league and the programs that must cope with the instability left by their departure.
Here’s to hoping that players like Chris Paul, Shelden Williams, Raymond Felton and Rashad McCants stay in school and give ACC fans four full years of great memories.
• At least one ACC win for newcomers — We all know that the primary purpose of ACC expansion was to bolster the conference’s football talent. Expansion did just that; Virginia Tech is close to winning the ACC title, and Miami is in the top three. Nonetheless, old ACC schools responded to the challenge with upsets. Clemson and North Carolina each beat Miami, and N.C. State edged out Virginia Tech.
Any wins in basketball the Hurricanes and Hokies get against the original nine will be just that: upsets. Miami’s basketball team is as weak as its football program is strong—the Hurricanes’ hoopsters lost to South Carolina State and only barely beat Wofford for their lone win.
The Hokies aren’t much better. Though undefeated, Virginia Tech has yet to play an opponent more difficult than William & Mary. Suffice it to say that neither newcomer is near ACC-caliber, especially considering that a record-tying seven ACC teams are ranked in the top 25.
Nonetheless, it would be nice to see the newcomers begin to close that gap with upset wins over some of the toast of the ACC. The Hokies, for example, could start Dec. 19 with their ACC opener against North Carolina.
• Stardom from Shavlik Randolph — Okay, maybe I’m getting a little overanxious here. The season’s barely started, and Randolph’s numbers and minutes have improved somewhat. But even in a pair of blowout wins and a close call against Davidson, Randolph still couldn’t escape foul trouble, and he has failed to hit a majority of his shots in any game. Even more troubling, the Davidson defense handled Randolph easily, which makes me wonder how he will fare against more talented frontcourt players, such as Michigan State’s Paul Davis, Oklahoma’s bruising duo of Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout, or the athletic big men of Virginia, Maryland or North Carolina.
Randolph isn’t a bad player. His strength and conditioning have paid off in the form of more assertive rebounding, and his turnover totals are down from last season. But three games into his junior year, Randolph is a far cry from the player who broke Pete Maravich’s high school single-game scoring mark.
• Greg Paulus in a Duke uniform — Paulus did not sign a basketball letter of intent for the Blue Devils in November, fueling rumors that the two-sport star may opt to play either football only or both sports at a school other than Duke. I’m optimistic he’ll be on campus next fall—after all, his parents have reiterated that he is still committed to Duke, and it doesn’t appear that head coach Mike Krzyzewski has made any major moves in point guard recruiting. But Paulus and power forward Josh McRoberts could form a one-two punch reminiscent of former Blue Devil greats Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner.
Besides, if Paulus ever gets the gridiron itch at Duke, the football team did just get a new practice field....
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