Originally created 11/10/99

ACC preview: Blue Devils extremely young, talented



RALEIGH, N.C. -- Duke feeling sorry for itself? Not a chance with Mike Krzyzewski around.

The Blue Devils spent about a month in the dumps after Connecticut upset them in the national championship game. Then they watched helplessly as Elton Brand, William Avery and Corey Maggette left for the NBA.

But the three-time defending Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champions have reloaded with a group of talented freshman and still have Shane Battier, Chris Carrawell and Nate James back from last year's 37-2 team.

"I don't think the expectations at Duke are ever low. I don't see anybody picking us last," said Krzyzewski, who is 69-6 in the last two seasons. "In some respects it can be more difficult because these guys are supposed to sustain excellence and six of them have never played a college game."

Krzyzewski begins his 20th season at Duke in good health after limping through last season. Offseason hip replacement surgery was a success and the coach is back on the court for practices.

"You can tell the fire is a little bit stronger this year because he's able to get out on the court and be more hands-on," Battier said. "It will be better for the young guys to learn."

Duke's 16-0 run through the ACC regular season and then 3-0 sweep in the league tournament was unprecedented. The way the Blue Devils beat opponents was equally impressive, winning their ACC games by an average of 24.3 points.

Don't expect the same type of dominance this season, at least not early on with an extremely young team and a tough schedule.

Duke, ranked No. 10 in The Associated Press preseason poll, opens with Stanford on Nov. 11 and also faces Illinois, DePaul and Michigan before the ACC slate begins in early January.

Krzyzewski said the most noticeable change will be on defense, where new players usually develop more slowly.

"What we have to do is be more tolerant of individual mistakes that are made early on and not get bogged down," he said.

Sixth-ranked North Carolina looked like this season's clear favorite to win the ACC a few months ago, but that was before 6-foot-10 Vasco Evtimov turned pro in Europe, versatile guard Ronald Curry ruptured an Achilles' tendon playing football and talented freshman Jason Parker didn't qualify academically.

That's not all.

Point guard Ed Cota missed valuable practice time after being arrested on assault charges after a Halloween fight near campus, Kris Lang was hospitalized with a virus and Brian Bersticker broke his foot. The Tar Heels still could succeed, but a rough schedule awaits.

North Carolina begins in the Maui Invitational before taking on Michigan State, College of Charleston, Cincinnati, Miami, Indiana and Louisville. The Tar Heels also mix in UCLA on Jan. 15, three days after playing Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.

The team and coach Bill Guthridge will be looking for redemption after losing to unheralded Weber State in the NCAA tournament last March -- the program's first loss in the first round since 1980.

"I hope the expectations stay there," Guthridge said. "If we lose it that means I haven't been doing a very good job."

Wake Forest has missed the NCAAs two straight seasons after a streak of seven straight trips under coach Dave Odom. But the Demon Deacons are one of six ACC teams that return at least four starters.

"I don't want (the NCAAs) to be the only goal for our players," Odom said. "Our team should have other goals than that, higher goals than that. We're good enough to make the tournament, but also good enough to do more than that, like win championships."

The Demon Deacons have a nice mix of outside players and strong frontcourt talent. Former starter Niki Arinze returns after a shoulder injury at a bulked up 6-5, 230 pounds.

"Look at some of the reasons why Wake Forest struggled last year -- defense on the perimeter, no defensive stopper, no really good third rebounder," Odom said. "We didn't have those problems when Arinze played as a freshman."

Maryland was a top five team most of last season and returns ACC preseason player of the year Terence Morris.

N.C. State, Georgia Tech and Virginia have all improved and could move into the league's upper half.

Meanwhile, Florida State and Clemson appear to be the league's two weakest clubs. Expect the Tigers once again to play a physically and scrappy with an emphasis on defense and rebounding.

"Strength can negate talent. Intellect can negate talent," Clemson coach Larry Shyatt said.

The ACC had quite a run in the 1990s, sending at least one team to the Final Four every year except '96. The decade also produced three national titles for the league and two runner-ups.

"I assume that this is going to be a great league every year," Krzyzewski said, "and I haven't been wrong on my assumption for 19 years."



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