To visualize the most valuable player in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament -- so far -- blot out all thoughts of basketballs dropping through hoops. Bruce Dalrymple might be the best player in America who can't shoot.

If you would like to imitate the Georgia Tech guard, watch Aunt Harriet as she is about to slide a spoonful of ice cream into her mouth, then dart over and flick it to the carpet.

Or slip into the living room, pull back the throw rug, hop atop a chair and do a bellywhomper onto the floor. Repeat this five or six times for 20 minutes. Then call the most abusive person you know, let him rant a while and slog back for another half-dozen body bombs.

"See, I was on the streets a lot growing up," Dalrymple said in explaining why he seems so comfortable crashing to floors for loose balls. "I'm used to falling. When I was riding my bicycle, I'd always be flying over the handlebar or something.

"Really stupid things."

In ACC hoops, extremism in defense of an iron circle 18 inches in diameter is the penultimate virtue. Dalrymple all but crawled inside opponents' uniforms during Tech's two triumphs.

Even mildly sophisticated fans often watch games but fail to see how they are truly won. A jerk from Jupiter could have dropped into The Omni, watched Dalrymple steal and pass, rebound, take charges and lead breaks and judge him special.

Yes, the 6-4 sophomore also has averaged 15.5 points in victories over Virginia and Duke. What this emphasizes is his ability to score, not necessarily shoot. Given their druthers, defenders will back off Dalrymple and beg him to fire from medium range.

Dalrymple has buried a few jumpers under pressure, gone 14 for 20 from the field in all, but many of his baskets have come off followups or after in-traffic maneuvering.

Nobody is more dangerous when the ball is in somebody else's hands. Sorry is the rebounder who foolishly brings the ball to chest level; Dalrymple frequently will flick it away, sometimes to a friend.

Sad is the guard who beats his man and drives confidently toward a seemingly sure layup; Dalrymple very likely has anticipated the move and positioned himself for a charge.

For him, beauty is a floor burn. A Dalrymple dimple.

He was happiest, or seemed to be, with just under seven minutes left against Duke in the semifinals this afternoon and Tech ahead by three points.

His back to the court, Dalrymple was in fist-flailing joy. Like a piston, his right arm beat the air three . . . four . . . five times. He had suckered a charge from freshman Kevin Strickland.

Soon the Tech lead was five.

Dalrymple and Tech struggled to a six-point halftime lead against the crippled Devils. After enduring a tirade by Coach Bobby Cremins, they pulled away and won by 11.

Mostly, the Dalrymples are the unrecognized soul of basketball. Gunners such as teammate Mark Price are more celebrated -- and properly so, because the idea still is to deposit the ball in the basket.

But after two days and six games, this tournament's theme might be: "Who woulda thunk it?" Two basketball dwarfs have provided the most stunning moments; the player who was 15th in the all-conference voting has been best.

The most wondrous pass of the show was the lob 5-3 Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues flipped to Wake Forest teammate Kenny Green against North Carolina Friday.

Bogues scurried around one or two Carolina defenders to midcourt and, in full flight, whistled a laser to the exact point that Green could leap and caress the ball into the net.

Against the Tar Heels today, 5-6 Spud Webb of N.C. State dared drift toward the tall timber from the base line. Webb was at about an 18-inch height disadvantage, a Piper Cub about to plow into a mountain.

Somehow, he dipped a wing, cut off the motor and fluttered a second, then -- still in the air -- regained his balance and banked the ball home.

With few exceptions, these have been guards' games. The tall fellows have been nice to have around, in case a bird tries to watch from the ceiling without a ticket. But it appears the real world will welcome lots of 7-footers in several years.

If Dalrymple is the exceptional guard in Small Ball here, his credo was uttered by a teammate, Craig Neal: "You gonna lay your heart on the line or be a wimp?"

Neal also spends considerable time on the floor, which is why he has spent every game after the fourth this season on the sideline. He took a charge in practice and a 280-pounder landed on his right wrist.

A scar that looks like track for a a tiny train winding around an S-curve is his badge of courage. His inspiration happens to be basketball's best player just now.

"Larry Bird grew up about 20 miles from where I'm from (in Indiana)," he said. "My father coached against him in high school. Once during a Celtics game, I saw Bird dive from the foul line and end up under the press table trying to save a loose ball."

If such a commanding presence also digs the drudgery, well . . . Dalrymple and the other fine guards here this week assimilated that lesson long ago.

"Right now," he said not long after game's end, "the emotion is taking over. I won't feel any of the pain until later."

The player who scarcely made third team all-ACC was led to a small room for a television interview. There he joined Price. For once, the centers were not the center of attention.

"I've never been scared," he said of his hard play on hard wood. "If I'd break my leg, then I'd be scared. I haven't."

Having broken lots of dreams, he smiled and walked a pleasant path to glory.