Freshmen make their point

Greg Paulus of Duke leads the Atlantic Coast Conference in assists. Bobby Frasor is two or three feeds over his average from being second in that category.

Much of their success stems from the opportunities that are created within their systems, and who's doing the finishing. Paulus has the pleasure of getting the ball to J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. Frasor is a beneficiary of the precision that is a North Carolina trademark, whether the coach is Dean Smith or Roy Williams.


Would the rookie seasons of Frasor and Paulus have gone as smoothly as they have, however, if the ACC hadn't been devastated at the point guard position last offseason?

Chris Paul, who's headed to NBA Rookie of the Year honors, did not lead the ACC in assists last season. That distinction went to Raymond Felton, who had more options at North Carolina. John Gilchrist had been the MVP of an ACC tournament champion. Georgia Tech's Jarrett Jack was a challenge for anyone. Julius Hodge was essentially a point forward for North Carolina State.


That cast was the indoctrination into college basketball for Virginia's Sean Singletary. Similarly, Baltimore's Todd Galloway has gone from being overmatched in some Florida State games to having a steadier hand. The Cavaliers and Seminoles shared the ACC cellar with four-win seasons a year ago. Now both teams are making surprising bids at NCAA berths.

Without a strong rudder, conversely, teams sputter.

Minus Paul, Wake Forest has gone from a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament to a question mark for the NIT. Jack steered Georgia Tech to the NCAA final two years ago. Now he's a reserve for the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Yellow Jackets just ended their worst losing streak in 25 years. For all of Gilchrist's faults, there are nights when Maryland could use him.

"There's a lot of pressure and attention on the point guard," Roy Williams said. "There always has been, there always will be."

At the start of conference play, Duke was the only team that could win on the road. Heading into last night's games, the visitor had won half of the previous 54 ACC games. That may be attributable to the lack of experienced point guards who know how to put away an opponent.

North Carolina's ACC record is better on the road than it is at the Smith Center, but visits from Duke and Boston College are a factor there. The Tar Heels aren't just getting decent play from Frasor, as sophomore Quentin Thomas is also starting to fulfill his potential.

Don't discount Duke's chances of winning the NCAA title with a freshman at the point. Mike Bibby steered Arizona to the 1997 title, and two others did the trick, albeit with asterisks. Chris Duhon wasn't a primary ball-handler in 2001, but could get the Blue Devils into their offense. Gerry McNamara was the de facto starting point guard for Syracuse in 2003, when all things Orange ran through another freshman, Carmelo Anthony.



Through Monday, 16 of the previous 26 ACC games had been decided by four points or fewer, or in overtime. The coaches, fighting a public relations war for six or seven teams in the NCAA tournament, will say that's parity, but some middle-of-the-road teams are mediocre by ACC standards.

Could the ACC get only four teams in the NCAAs? Miami still has to go to Boston College, Duke and Maryland. Virginia lacks a significant road win. Florida State can get one tonight at N.C. State. The NCAA considers changes to a team's roster, so it could distinguish between Maryland's record with, and without, Chris McCray.

The Big East is talking about sending three teams to the Final Four, as it did in 1985. The ACC could also have three teams go that far - only if you're talking Boston, site of the women's Final Four.

Grieving Hokies

An unsettling season for Virginia Tech continued when junior center Coleman Collins lost his father to a long fight with lung cancer. The leading rebounder and scorer for the Hokies, Collins has missed four games this season. In an era in which too many prospects require prep school to straighten out their academics, Collins has always been on a fast track in the classroom. He played his entire freshman season as a 17-year-old.