Originally created 02/18/99

Don't expect any area teams in Big Dance



Anyone who watched Georgia Tech's loss at Wake Forest on Tuesday understands that Bobby Cremins' rebuilding plan may take longer than Walton Way construction.

Anyone who has watched a talented Georgia team enter games lacking preparation, patience and persistence realizes how novice coach Ron Jirsa performs under any semblance of pressure.

Anyone who has cringed through this tumultuous Clemson season must wonder if Tommy West started coaching hoops.

And anyone masochistic enough to endure the remnants of the South Carolina program must question whether Eddie Fogler's irritating personality has caused his players to quit on him.

I'm not sure which school is more troubling.

There's the Tigers, who were a Sweet 16 team two years ago, losing to Minnesota in double overtime, and on the verge of challenging for ACC supremacy with virtually the same players as this year's last-place conference team.

There's the Bulldogs, with a corps of seniors who peaked as freshmen when they extended Syracuse to overtime in a Sweet 16 game in 1996. Now they're receding with each game, dazed and confused, a true reflection of how much of an anchor Jirsa has become.

There's the Gamecocks. They parlayed an SEC regular-season title two years ago and a berth in the conference tournament final one year ago into the worst record in Fogler's tenure, even with the most prolific scorer in school history.

There's the Yellow Jackets, changing directions with each Cremins thought, who will end the 1990s with a third consecutive conference losing season and without any hope of finding a suitable bench.

What happened to our area basketball teams? It didn't take long to return to 1995, when none of the four made the Big Dance, did it?

The recipe for mediocrity is part coaching, part recruiting, part performance. Georgia may have the most talent of the four but it lacks the most direction. Clemson hasn't squeezed consistency among its plodders. Tech all too often gets outplayed and outwitted. South Carolina carries one bayonet into battle against opposing automatic weapons.

Unlike Salt Lake City, these teams can't buy a win of consequence. To expect shock-the-world conference tournament runs is a stretch.

For Tech, with three 40-point losses and a defeat at Hofstra's hands, it needs wins over Maryland, Virginia and Clemson, plus one win in the ACC Tournament to even be considered.

For Clemson, its scant NIT berth is in jeopardy because the Tigers must travel to No. 1 Duke and No. 5 Maryland. A team must at least have a better than .500 record to play in the postseason. It seems that first-year coach Larry Shyatt is doing a rather remarkable impersonation of Jirsa.

Since the NCAAs expanded to 48 teams in 1980, the ACC has secured at least four spots every year. And four of the six teams with 7-9 conference records have received berths, not including Florida State and its 6-10 ACC record last year. But that trend should end this year. The ACC is no longer atop the coveted RPI rankings, and after the 2.5 powerhouses (North Carolina doesn't qualify this year), the other six are just glorified pretenders.

The SEC should reap five berths, with the Dogs destined for the NIT, the consolation prize for the underachieving. How long till spring football?

Rick Dorsey can be reached at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.