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ACC is at the top of the heap

It's a slam-dunk in this conference

The Atlantic Coast Conference's decision to add Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech indicated a desire to increase its profile as a football conference. But after a month of the basketball season, it would be hard to deny the ACC's status as the premier conference in hoops.

 

Now, we understand the "marathon, not a sprint" approach to the college basketball season, and we know that rankings in December don't mean a thing when March arrives. We also understand that records through the first month of the season can be deceiving when you factor in Cupcake U. scheduling.

But the ACC's current status is amazing. It has the No. 3 (Duke), No. 4 (North Carolina), and No. 5 teams (Georgia Tech) in the country. Add Wake Forest (No. 14) and Maryland (No. 25), and one-fifth of the Associated Press poll is from the conference. The Big 12 has four teams among the top 11 -- Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas -- but the crunch at the top with ACC teams is impressive.

Even more impressive is that 17 times in past polls, one conference has had three of the top five teams. The ACC has been the conference each time.

The combined records of the top seven teams in the ACC is an astounding 47-2 going into the weekend's games.

Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, and Maryland are at home in the upscale neighborhood. But Georgia Tech is a surprise guest. The Yellow Jackets, under coach Paul Hewitt, are off to their best start since 1989-90, and flirting with the best start in their history. They won their first 11 games at the start of the 1962-63 season.

Included in those victories was a rout of No. 1 Connecticut in the Preseason NIT. The Yellow Jackets are winning by an average of almost 25 points per game.

Hewitt is taking the success in stride. "We've got to just take whatever we get and appreciate it," said Hewitt. "People will still wait and see how we do in the ACC. We still have to prove ourselves every game. And we still have to keep getting better every game as we go through our nonconference schedule."

Tech should be even stronger now that guard Will Bynum is eligible. Bynum transferred last season from Arizona.

Chances are things will even out, especially as the ACC teams start to play each other. But the early signs, as winter approaches, are of a pleasant spring in ACC land, where basketball rules until told otherwise.

Team players

Sometimes the relationship between the media and college basketball coaches is tenuous. But you will have a difficult time finding more media-friendly coaches than Penn's Fran Dunphy and Michigan State's Tom Izzo. Here's the latest example. Members of the Philadelphia media play a weekly basketball game at the Palestra in Philadelphia. One of those games was under way when Penn, which uses the Palestra as its home court, showed up for a practice. Normally, the media players would head for the stands. Not this time. Dunphy told the media to complete their game and told his players to head for another court. The day before the Michigan State-Kentucky game at Ford Field in Detroit last week -- in front of an NCAA record crowd of 79,129 -- Izzo was checking the facilities and was informed that members of the media were to be seated in the football press box -- and not at courtside -- several levels up in the massive stadium. That wasn't acceptable to Izzo. He had the Michigan State sports information office work with stadium officials to create more than 20 courtside seats for the media.

Exit strategy

Here's the latest on BC's ongoing attempt to leave the Big East for the ACC next season rather than in 2005 or 2006. The drop-dead date for any movement by next year is in early January at the NCAA convention in Nashville. "There's a chance it could happen," said Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, "but I'm telling everyone [in the Big East] to go about their plans with BC as a member of the league." The holdup is apparently in Conference USA, which wants compensation for losing Marquette, South Florida, Cincinnati, and Louisville to the Big East. Until those teams come, the Big East will not budge on its stance of making BC wait unless it pays a $5 million early exit fee. Everything is negotiable, obviously. But the clock is ticking, and unless some arrangement is made by early January, count on BC being part of the Big East next season . . . UCLA will rename its basketball court the John Wooden Court at Pauley Pavilion in a ceremony before the Bruins play Michigan State tomorrow. It's a nice touch in honor of the coach who put UCLA on the college basketball map with 10 national championships. But what took so long? Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Arizona's Lute Olson, and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim have already received similar honors. Wooden has been retired for 20 years, and his accomplishments might never be matched . . . Saint Joseph's is climbing steadily in the polls largely because of talented senior point guard Jameer Nelson. But junior guard Delonte West is also emerging as a force. West, who scored 27 points in the Hawks' victory over BC last week, was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Week . . . Rhode Island is another team that has surprised with its early-season play, particularly in a victory over Providence. Jim Baron has done a nice job of rebuilding the Rams into a solid program. One of URI's best traits is an ability to win close games. During Baron's tenure, the Rams have been in 24 games decided by 6 points or fewer. They have won 17 of those games . . . Kentucky is No. 1 in the coaches poll this week after its 5-0 start. Usually a 5-0 start for a program of Kentucky's caliber would not merit much attention. But the Wildcats have not started 5-0 since 1992.

Charges foul

Things are getting uglier at Missouri each day as the charges and countercharges involving former guard Ricky Clemons become public. Clemons spent time in jail last summer for assaulting a former girlfriend and was dismissed from the team. But tape recordings of Clemons's conversations reveal charges that he received cash, checks, and other extra benefits that have the NCAA investigators on campus. Also involved in the charges are current Tiger players Arthur Johnson and Ricky Paulding, who have denied the allegations. The case also includes calls made to Carmento Floyd, wife of Missouri president Eric Floyd, and Amy Stewart, wife of associate athletic director Ed Stewart, in what is being perceived as an embarrassing split within the athletic department. None of this smells right, and it has put Tigers coach Quinn Snyder under a spotlight that seems certain to lead to serious consequences for the Missouri athletic department. Snyder, a former Duke player and a protege of Krzyzewski, is trying to deflect the glare and focus away from his team, but that seems impossible right now. All of this could explode in the next few months.

Material from wire service reports was used in compiling this report.

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