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Friday, November 30, 2012

Could Wake Forest be the biggest loser in new, expanded ACC?

Posted by on Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 9:19 AM

Wake Forest soccer player Julian Valentin, after the Demon Deacons won the 2007 College Cup in Carys WakeMed Soccer Park.
  • File photo by D.L. Anderson
  • Wake Forest soccer player Julian Valentin, after the Demon Deacons won the 2007 College Cup in Cary's WakeMed Soccer Park.
As expected, the ACC moved swiftly in the past week to replace Maryland. Louisville is in, and conference presidents almost certainly made the right choice in picking the Cardinals over UConn and Cincinnati.

But UConn and Cincy need not despair entirely. The league is now at 15 schools for basketball and 14 for football, and logic might dictate an eventual move to an even 16.

On the other hand, logic doesn’t seem to play much of a role in anything to do with conference realignment. Perhaps a 15-school league might actually work in basketball. There could be three divisions of five teams each; an eighteen-game league schedule would consist of a double round-robin within each division and then one game apiece against the 10 schools in the other divisions.

One could even replicate the old Big East/ACC rivalry by putting Notre Dame, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, and BC together in the same division. Then you could have the five Carolina schools altogether (the Big Four + Clemson) in another division, and Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, FSU and Miami in a third division. Not a perfect geographic division, but that approach would preserve and strengthen some of the traditional rivalries.

It might also, equally important, assure that some of the weaker programs in the existing league are not consigned to basketball oblivion. A point of pride of ACC basketball traditionally is that every school has the capacity to field strong, NCAA Tournament-quality terms on a periodic basis. Some schools manage it every year, and for others success is more cyclical, but traditionally each school was capable of attracting high quality talent and staff and periodically being in the mix for the league title.

The case I have primarily in mind is Wake Forest: a relatively small private school that has managed to win ACC championships, sign and develop great players like Tim Duncan and Chris Paul, and establish a regular presence in the NCAA Tournament.

Between 1991 and 2006, the Demon Deacons made sixteen consecutive postseason appearances, including four trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 or farther. In 2010, the school felt that it needed to fire coach Dino Gaudio even though he had taken the school to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, because the team had not performed well enough in late-season games.

Wake is 24-45 since the move to replace Gaudio with Jeff Bzdelik, a former NBA head coach who was coming off three straight losing seasons at Colorado. Things don’t look likely to get better this year for Wake, currently 3-3 and picked to finish 11th in the conference by league media.

A short down period is not abnormal for the likes of Wake, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Virginia. What is worrisome is whether Wake will ever be able to bounce back up in the new-look “ACC.”

Consider: the ACC traditionally boasted, year in and year out, two national Top Ten programs (Carolina and Duke), and often a third. The new ACC will have four schools with major basketball traditions who would be on most people’s list of top 10 national programs: Carolina, Duke, Louisville and Syracuse. And the other new additions, Pitt and Notre Dame, have basketball histories at least the equal of Wake’s.

So here’s the question: not whether Wake will ever return to winning ways—in time they will, under the current coach or a new one. The question is whether Wake will ever have a realistic shot at winning an ACC basketball championship in the new league. If not, what does that mean for that program’s fans, for its ability to recruit stars, and for overall interest top-to-bottom in the league?

ACC basketball may have gotten stronger at the top. The risk is that in doing so it has become top-heavy, to the detriment of the league’s balance and the ability of all schools to maintain a realistic hope and occasional realization of championships. It would be a shame—and yet another blow to the league’s tradition—if a permanent basketball underclass were to emerge in the years ahead.

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Wolfpack can't challenge Spartans in ACC/Big Ten

Posted by on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 10:49 PM

REYNOLDS COLISEUM/RALEIGH N.C. State will play its biggest home game so far this season as the Wolfpack hosts Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Wolfpack coach Kellie Harper
The standings in the current event are 4-4, with both Duke and UNC victorious in their games Wednesday night.

The Wolfpack is coming off a 1-2 finish in its tournament in Las Vegas over the weekend, with losses to Florida and Northern Iowa sandwiched around a victory over Arizona State. Kellie Harper’s 5-2 club also has a victory over Auburn.

MSU is allowing only 37.4 points per game and is 5-0 against a weak schedule, with a 57-29 win over Virginia Tech the highlight so far.

But the Spartans’ schedule doesn’t matter, as they never trail in a 68-51 romp that is the Wolfpack’s worst home loss under Harper.

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Harsh comparisons pester Tar Heels after devastating losses

Posted by on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 8:45 AM

Three guards, three outcomes from  2010-11 season. Only Dexter Strickland, center, remains with the Tar Heels.
North Carolina’s 5-2 record looks okay on paper. The Tar Heels finished 2-1 at the Maui Invitational and, as expected, fell to No. 1 Indiana on the road. The squad returns to Chapel Hill for five of its next six games, enabling them to pad their record further in preparation for the ACC schedule.

But the two defeats left the fan base shaken. First was Butler, which restricted the Heels to just 18 points in the first half en route to an 11-point victory, and then there was Tuesday night.

UNC and Indiana played evenly for the game’s first 15 minutes, but the Heels suffered through a horrible second half in which they converted just one of their first 19 shots. The blowout ensued as IU massacred UNC 83-59, and Carolina’s lopsided defeat became the national takeaway from day one of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

You would expect a Hall of Fame coach to receive the benefit of the doubt. Roy Williams captured two national titles during his first nine seasons leading his alma mater, and his consistency at both UNC and Kansas suggests he knows how to win with diverse personnel.

But 2010 didn’t occur that long ago. Any defense one can make thus far about the Butler and Indiana losses could have been made when that woeful team began its slide. A question has surfaced and taken root: Can Williams coach a team effectively in his preferred, uptempo system when he lacks elite talent?

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How to beat the devil: Lessons from Duke's 73-68 gutsy win over Ohio State

Posted by on Thu, Nov 29, 2012 at 1:39 AM

CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/ DURHAM—The well-ballyhooed Duke-OSU game began with an excellent entry pass to Mason Plumlee, who scorched his man one-on-one for the first Duke basket of the game. Shortly thereafter, he was summarily evicted from the key by large red-clad men for the remainder of the half. Children were born, marriages failed, and fall turned into winter while Duke went 10 minutes without a field goal. The score at halftime was 31-23, visitors, and the Blue Devils’ fundamental weaknesses seemed clear.

Rebounding does not interest them. Quick fouls on Ryan Kelly expose their lack of depth inside. Seth Curry’s legs hurt. Quinn Cook’s otherwise large heart does not embrace the wing entry pass inside. Rasheed Sulaimon is 18-years old. They are subject to quick penetration, kick-outs for open threes, offensive boards akimbo. Their early season bench provides moral support and not yet too much else. A good team can beat them.

“Ohio State is really good,” explained Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ruffin-Pratt's big minute lifts Tar Heels over Buckeyes in Challenge

Posted by on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 10:23 PM

CARMICHAEL ARENA/CHAPEL HILL UNC plays its biggest game so far this season tonight.

UNC guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt
The No. 22 Tar Heels will put their undefeated mark on the line against No. 15 Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, an event which may have a little extra overall juice since the Big Ten poached ACC charter member Maryland last week.

UNC has already gotten one nice win over a Big Ten team this season, winning 77-64 at Iowa in the championship game of the Preseason WNIT. The Buckeyes’ only loss was in their opener, a 57-51 defeat to future ACC member Notre Dame in the Carrier Classic in Charleston, S.C.

This one looks like a blowout before turning into a nail-biter, as Tierra Ruffin-Pratt takes over the final 45 seconds as the Tar Heels win 57-54.

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Carolina RailHawks exercise options on 12 players from 2012 roster

Posted by on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 6:52 PM

Today, the Carolina RailHawks announced that it was exercising club options on the contracts for 12 members of the 2012 roster for the 2013 NASL season. The players are defenders Austen King and Justin Willis; midfielders Austin da Luz, Floyd Franks, Breiner Ortiz, Tiyi Shipalane, Nick Zimmerman, Nick Millington and Jake Beckford; and forwards Brian Ackley, Brian Shriver, and Zack Schilawski. Nine of the returnees were frequent starters for last season’s RailHawks, including Zimmerman, whose 15 goals was the second-most in the NASL, and Shipalane, whose late-game heroics included at least five game-winning or tying goals in all competitions.

This wholesale roster replenishment stands in marked contrast to a year ago, when the RailHawks had only two players under contract when Colin Clarke was announced as the team’s new manager following the departure of Martin Rennie. Indeed, team president Curt Johnson said at the time that a new emphasis in player personnel going forward would be signing more players to contracts that include club options for additional seasons, in contrast to the closed, short-term contracts often employed during Rennie’s tenure at Carolina.

“Being able to bring back a core group of the players is an important piece for our plans in 2013,” Clarke said through a team statement. “With the new league format, having stability and consistency in the roster will give us the opportunity to get off to a fast start.”

Exercising club options does not preclude any player from exploring other options, including Zimmerman, Franks, Shipalane and da Luz, who have all previously spent time in MLS. However, the option does allow Carolina the right to seek some form of compensation in exchange for relinquishing a player’s 2013 contractual rights. Moreover, exercising a club option does not necessarily guarantee that the player will end up being on the 2013 roster: one of the two players on the RailHawks’ roster when Clarke was hired was defender Cory Miller, who was released during training camp.

Clarke also said that the team was still working to resign other key members of last year’s squad. Team officials would not disclose who they were still attempting to resign, nor which player options, if any, the club declined to exercise.

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Of mai tais and men: The battle 4 college home hoops

Posted by on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Atlantis might be rediscovered, but major non-conference home hoops is going extinct
  • Atlantis might be rediscovered, but major non-conference home hoops is going extinct
It’s the 28th of November, nearly three weeks since the tipoff of the 2012-13 NCAA basketball season, and North Carolina has played more game in Hawaii than Chapel Hill, N.C. State more in Puerto Rico than PNC Arena, and tonight’s game at Cameron Indoor Stadium will even up the times Duke has played in Durham with those at a casino resort in the Bahamas.

Welcome to the world of NCAA Bylaw, aka the Qualifying Regular-Season Multi-Team Event (MTE). While early-season and holiday tournaments are as venerable as college basketball itself, their present-day iteration was forged by a 2006 adjustment to the rule governing such so-called “exempt” tournaments, allowing up to four games played under the auspices of a single MTE to only count as one against the NCAA-prescribed maximum of 28 regular season games (teams not participating in an MTE can play a total of 29 regular season contests).

Formerly, schools were limited to no more than two exempt tournaments every four years. The 2006 rule change loosened those restrictions to permit schools to participate in an MTE every year if they like, as long as they don’t play in the same tournament twice per four-year period. So, with a larger supply of eligible schools every season together with a greater demand for tournaments to choose from per quadrennial, an explosion of MTEs has taken place over the ensuing six years.

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Heels strike familiar and unwelcome pose in embarrassing defeat to Indiana

Posted by on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 12:27 AM

For one of the few occasions in recent memory, North Carolina entered its game tonight as a double-digit underdog. Traveling to Indiana to face the top-ranked Hoosiers, the Heels actually proved the oddsmakers far too generous.

Carolina hung around early but performed disastrously in the second half, ultimately losing 83-59 and failing to compete effectively in any area of the contest. Just three seasons ago the Heels suffered through a shockingly poor campaign that resulted in their missing the NCAA Tournament; tonight's outing versus IU very much resembled some of that 2010 squad's various collapses.

The Tar Heels lost to an Indiana-based team for the second time this season, after performing just as disastrously for one half against Butler last week in Maui. I'll analyze Carolina's immediate and longer-term prospects in my column later this week. For now, bask in the shock and awe of the UNC/Indiana box score.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NASL tabs sport exec and former NFL Europe chief Bill Peterson as new commissioner

Posted by on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 6:15 PM

New NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson
  • New NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson
During an afternoon media teleconference, the North American Soccer League (NASL) introduced Bill Peterson as the league’s second commissioner, replacing the outgoing David Downs, who announced his resignation in early October. Peterson, who was born in Smithfield, N.C. and currently resides in Florida, is a career sports executive who comes to the NASL following a two-year stint as president of the board of directors for USA Cycling. He is also managing director of Solve4, a sports advisory firm he founded last November.

Peterson worked for NFL Europe from 1991-2000 in various capacities, including general manager of the Amsterdam Admirals, before eventually becoming league president. While with NFL Europe, Peterson also worked with future Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, who left the NFL to take the reins at MLS in 1999. Peterson then spent six years as special vice president for AEG in Los Angeles, where he developed the bulk of his background with American soccer.

While at AEG, he served as managing director for the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., home of the AEG-owned LA Galaxy, and he served on the MLS Board of Governors. And for those David Beckham-to-NY Cosmos conspiracists out there, Peterson helped oversee many of AEG’s sport properties during his time with the company, including the David Beckham Academy.

Less auspiciously, Peterson served as chief operating officer for the ill-fated United Football League from January 2010 through October 2011. As the league tottered on the brink of eventual insolvency, Peterson filed a lawsuit against the league seeking more than $110,000 in unpaid wages, an action that remains pending in Duval County, Fla.

Peterson’s ties to MLS and Garber should provide some insight and, indeed, solace for those anxiously looking at this hiring as a harbinger of the NASL’s posture regarding future relations with MLS. The NASL is in a key phase of its development, with three expansion franchises—the Cosmos and startup clubs in Loudon County, Va. and Ottawa, Ontario—poised to join the eight-member league over the next months. Meanwhile, Peterson says he intends to hit the ground running by visiting each of the member clubs, including the Carolina RailHawks.

Click here to read the NASL's official announcement.

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Monday, November 26, 2012

The greatness of Quinn Cook's face

Posted by on Mon, Nov 26, 2012 at 12:01 AM

Quinn Cook drives during a game earlier this season against Florida Gulf Coast University.
  • Photo by D.L. Anderson
  • Quinn Cook drives during a game earlier this season against Florida Gulf Coast University.

“The main thing that Quinn has done is that he hasn’t shown any weakness. He has a great face, a great demeanor and he’s in incredible shape.” — Coach K on Duke point guard and Battle4Atlantis MVP Quinn Cook

Over the extended Thanksgiving weekend, Duke beat three defensive-minded teams in three days to win the dumb-sounding Battle4Atlantis tournament, held in a converted ballroom of a Bahamas’ resort. Minnesota fell first and looked kind of terrible, especially on offense. Then came Virginia Commonwealth University, who couldn’t shoot either.

But by Saturday night, when Duke beat Louisville, another team that seemed unable to hit the broadside of a ballroom except for layups and putbacks, the story wasn’t about opponents’ poor shooting, missed free throws, or early season jitters and kinks. It was about Duke's ability to cause those misfortunes, and the early signs of this team’s true transformation since its ignominious loss to Lehigh in March, as follows:

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Gaffe-r is right...he f8cks up all the time. "A lot of success over the last 3 years"....less smoke blows out …

by DonGarbageBlows on Colin Clarke returns as head coach of Carolina RailHawks (Sports)

OMG HAHAHA GREAT hire HAHAHAHA such a record of success :D

by DonGarbageBlows on Colin Clarke returns as head coach of Carolina RailHawks (Sports)

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