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Inside College Basketball | Robyn Norwood / ON COLLEGE
BASKETBALL

ACC Returns to Head of the Class

December 24, 2003|Robyn Norwood

Move over, Big 12: The Atlantic Coast Conference is back as the best conference in the country.

Georgia Tech already upset a No. 1 team when it defeated Connecticut. Duke crushed a highly regarded Texas team. And Wake Forest and North Carolina already might have played the game of the regular season in the Demon Deacons' 119-114, triple-overtime victory Saturday.

Early indications are that the ACC might have a chance to duplicate the Big 12's accomplishment last season of putting two teams in the Final Four.

For that matter, the Pacific 10 Conference has the same opportunity, but Stanford and Arizona appear to tower over an otherwise weak group of teams in the Pac-10 this season.

A look around selected leagues as conference play gets underway:

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Atlantic Coast

Top teams: Georgia Tech, Duke, Wake Forest and North Carolina. In a season when the Duke-Carolina rivalry is supposed to be recharged with Roy Williams back in Chapel Hill, there's a chance Paul Hewitt's Yellow Jackets or Skip Prosser's Deacons will steal the show. Any of the four teams has the talent to reach the Final Four.

Troubled team: The conference is so strong, even the team with the worst record, Clemson, is 6-4.

Intriguing team: Florida State, led by guard Tim Pickett -- who led the Seminoles in scoring, steals and rebounding last season -- looks to be improved and had a 10-0 start before losing to Pittsburgh.

Atlantic 10

Top teams: St. Joseph's, Dayton. The Atlantic 10 has two top 25 teams and one of the nation's most watchable players in St. Joseph's point guard Jameer Nelson.

Troubled team: Temple. Slow starts are nothing new for John Chaney, but a 25-point loss to Villanova was particularly galling.

Intriguing team: St. Bonaventure. After the ethics scandal that brought down a president and a coach, the Bonnies are led by 5-foot-7 star Marques Green, who scored 43 points in an overtime loss to Niagara.

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Big East

Top teams: Connecticut, Syracuse, Pittsburgh. Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon are a couple of future lottery picks, but there is concern about Okafor's durability because of a sore back. Don't count out Syracuse just because of its opening loss to Charlotte. And Pittsburgh should be strong, but it's sometimes hard to tell with the soft early-season schedule Ben Howland favored.

Troubled team: St. John's. Mike Jarvis was fired after six games. That's about the only NBA move this team looks capable of this season.

Intriguing team: Providence. Ryan Gomes averages almost 19 points and nine rebounds and doesn't get enough credit nationally playing for the Friars, who defeated Illinois.

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Big Ten

Top teams: Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State. The Badgers defeated Marquette, and their only loss was to Maryland in overtime. Illinois has been slowed by guard Deron Williams' broken jaw but should be better when he is. It's also too soon to dismiss the Spartans, who haven't fared well against a crushing schedule, but are often best late in the season.

Troubled team: Indiana. With a 33-point loss to Wake Forest and a 39-point loss to Kentucky, the Hoosiers appear headed for the sort of collapse UCLA and North Carolina have endured in recent years.

Intriguing team: Iowa. Steve Alford's Hawkeyes have a victory over Louisville and appear to be improved despite losses to Northern Iowa and Texas Tech.

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Big 12

Top teams: Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas. Nevada upset Kansas, and Texas was blown out by Duke, suggesting the Sooners and freshman point guard Drew Lavender might have the best team in the league.

Troubled team: Missouri. The Tigers have the best veteran talent in the league -- and an NCAA investigation into accusations by former player Ricky Clemons hanging over the heads of the players and Coach Quin Snyder.

Intriguing team: Kansas. The No. 1 ranking was a stretch for a team that lost not only Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison but its coach as well. Bill Self, Roy Williams' replacement, might have to endure a few rough patches before settling into the job.

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Big West

Top teams: Utah State, UC Santa Barbara. The Aggies are the favorite, but UCSB is the latest Southern California team to turn giant-killer and defeat UCLA.

Troubled team: Long Beach State. If things don't eventually work out for Larry Reynolds, maybe he can be as fortunate as former coach Wayne Morgan, who lucked into the job at Iowa State after Larry Eustachy was brought down by a drinking problem.

Intriguing team: Cal Poly. The Mustangs have defeated two Pac-10 teams -- California and USC -- but also have lost to Loyola Marymount, among others.

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Conference USA

Top teams: Cincinnati, Marquette, Louisville. The Bearcats cruised through an easy schedule and finally played a good team Tuesday, routing Dayton, 82-53. Marquette's Travis Diener is very good, but not good enough to get his team back to the Final Four without Dwyane Wade. Louisville's Francisco Garcia is a gifted player who is playing on as he mourns his brother's death.

Troubled team: Texas Christian. Too bad football season is over.

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