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Fourth and Long

March has arrived again and for this sports fan that means that basketball season is about to get mighty interesting.

Many experts across the country have proclaimed all season that this is a “down” year for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Most of these so called “experts” didn’t make such statements until UNC lost back-to-back games in November to Minnesota and Vanderbilt.

These same “experts” have backed off these comments recently as North Carolina has continued to improve and win more games.

It’s funny how as long as UNC and Duke are good, the entire conference seems to be ok. If even one of these teams struggles then the national media sees it as reflection upon the ACC as a whole.

The truth is usually somewhere in between.

The ACC is often billed as a powerhouse conference in regards to basketball and usually the reputation is well deserved. Still, even top programs such as UNC and Duke are rarely as good as the hype would have you believe.

At the same time teams such as Florida State, Clemson, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Boston College tend to escape the national spotlight and seldom get the kind of attention and credit they deserve.

Most ACC fans know how good these teams can be and, even if they don’t, I assure you that guys like Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski recognize how dangerous they are.

Each of those teams currently holds a .500 or above winning percentage in conference and all ACC squads, but Georgia Tech and Wake Forest currently have a .500 or above overall winning percentage. Any of these teams is good enough to knock off the best team in the country. Virginia Tech’s victory last weekend over Duke should prove that.

That loss opened the door for UNC to play Duke at home for the ACC regular season championship this Saturday. That is, of course, if Carolina can beat Florida State. By the time you read this you will know if the Tar Heels escaped Tallahassee with a win, as I write this they are still hours from tipoff.

Others may call it a weak conference, but you can believe that I and every other Carolina fan are worried about every conference game, with the exception of maybe Wake Forrest.

My apologies to Mr. Cooke from Aulander (the biggest Wake Forest fan I know) but I don’t think anyone is worried about the Demon Deacons. Their struggles deserve a column of its own and just may get one soon.

The ACC Tournament begins March 10 and, if you’re an ACC fan that doesn’t wear black and gold, then you should tune in. It ought to be exciting and as far as I can tell it’s anyone’s to win.

Before I end this week’s column I want to mention the impending NFL lockout. It would seem that the owners hold all the cards in this negotiation given their prearranged deal with ESPN and Direct TV for guaranteed payment for broadcast rights. Having said that I still think it would behoove the owners to get a deal signed as quickly as possible.

To most of us it just looks bad that people may lose their jobs because the owners were in cahoots with the networks and didn’t want to share their portion of the billion dollar pie. We, the fans don’t always forgive.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to Roanoke-Chowan Publications. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at dave@gate811.net.