"They said it would be a snowy day in Greensboro when Bill Foster got a team to the ACC Tournament finals," said Duke Coach Bill Foster. "I apologize for the weather."
The unexpected snow here had just begun to melt yesterday when two coaches who have never been to the final before talked about today's game between Duke and Wake Forest (4:30 WJLA-TV-7). The winner advances to the first round of the NCAA tournament in Charlotte March 12.
Both Foster and Wake Forest Coach Carl Tacy lost in the ACC's first round last year. Duke hasn't played in a final since 1969. Wake goes back even farther, to 1964.
"Usually, said Foster, "we've had three days of recruiting by now."
However, Duke's appearance in the final is no surprise after the Blue Devils, now 22-6, fell one game short of the regular-season title. Rookie forward Gene Banks added the right touch to an up-and-coming team that features the ACC's best center in 6-foot-11 Mike Gminski and a virtually unguardable guard in 6-5 Jim Spanarkel.
The supporting cast is solid and the thing that glues it all together, Spanarkel said, is that, "We go out and play with our heads."
Certainly, the 19-9 Wake Forest Deacons are the bigger gate-crashers, earning their final berth with a gutty 82-77 victory over regular-season champion North Carolina Thursday night.
Actually, the turn of events makes for a more meaningful game. Had Carolina made the final, the NCAA both ready would not have been expected an at-large bid to the NCAA Mideast or West regional.
But when the bids go out tomorrow, North Carolina is expected to receive one by virtue of being the regular-season champion and last year's NCAA runner-up. In all probability, only the winner today will receive an NCAA berth; the losed can expect a trip to the NIT.
Wake Forest is a team built around Rod Griffin, last seasons, ACC player of the year and a versatile and emotional power forward.
"This team has been through so much adversity," said Griffin. "We've fought. We've wrestled with not playing well, with players complaining about playing time. We were trying as individuals. Now, we're so close, I want to win so bad, I can't imageine or explain how big it is."
Wake center Larry Harrison, Griffin's roommate, said yesterday, "Until now, I've never realized how much he wants to win. The desire he has right now is amazing. I wake up in the morning, and I look at him, and I can feel it. The team is heading toward a peak, like when we peaked earlier this year and beat North Carolina, Duke and Virginia in 10 days."
Peaking is of ultimate importance to Wake, a team that has received alternately superiative and awful play from Harrison, guard Frank Johnson and forward Leroy McDonald during the year.
Today's most interesting matchup is between Wake's 6-11, 225-pound Harrison and Duke's 6-11, 245-pound Gminski.
"Definitely, Duke has an advantage at the center spot. It's obvious," said Harrison. "Gminski has this nice inside jump hook that is virtually unstoppable. I overplayed him to his right and he missed one. Then, next time, he faked right, went left and almost dunked the whole crowd through the hoop."
Griffin was optimistic about the matchup.
"You never know," said Griffin, "Gminski might get hurt tonight."
Harrison noted that Wake's advantage was at big foreard, with Griffin, "and I think we're a lot quicker."
Foster feels that Duke's 83-72 first-round win over Clemson and 81-69 victory over Maryland wele not examples of the best the Devils can play. "I think we have a better one aheadof us," he said.