College Basketball Nation: NC State Wolfpack

Video: Northwestern-NC State preview

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
5:00
PM ET

Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg take a look at the matchup between Northwestern and NC State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Nonconference schedule analysis: ACC

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
10:15
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This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation's top leagues. Let's carry on with the ACC.

BOSTON COLLEGE

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 21-22), at Purdue (Dec. 4), vs. VCU (Dec. 28 in Brooklyn), at Harvard (Jan. 1)
Next-toughest: at Providence (Nov. 8), vs. UMass (Nov. 10 at TD Garden, Boston)
The rest: Toledo (Nov. 14), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 17), Sacred Heart (Nov. 26), at USC (Dec. 8), vs. Philadelphia (Dec. 15), at Auburn (Dec. 22)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 — The differences between Boston College's 2012-13 schedule and its slate in 2013-14 mirror the differences in the two squads' expectations. Last season's Eagles were young and still very much rebuilding; this year's group, led by Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan, has serious sleeper potential. We'll get to see just how much in late November, when Steve Donahue's team takes on UConn and then either Indiana or Washington in Madison Square Garden, followed by a trip to Purdue, a New Year's date at Harvard, and what should be a fascinating nonconference sojourn to New York City to play VCU.

CLEMSON

Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at Arkansas (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 17)
The rest: Stetson (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 13), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 29), South Carolina State (Dec. 3), Furman (Dec. 14), at Auburn (Dec. 19), VMI (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 2 — I'm not sure whether it's possible to hand out a zero in these nonconference rankings. I'm pretty sure it's never been done. And I haven't seen every schedule in the country yet, I admit. But still: Clemson's schedule is … not great. It is possessed of exactly one interesting event -- the Charleston Classic, aka "a bunch of so-so teams and New Mexico" -- and, save a trip to Arkansas (if that), nothing else. (This isn't actual criticism, by the way. Clemson looks as if it's in the process of a big rebuild, and you wouldn't expect it to schedule hard in advance of this loaded ACC. But still. Ick.)

DUKE

Toughest: vs. Kansas (Nov. 12 in Chicago), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 27-29), Michigan (Dec. 3), vs. UCLA (Dec. 19 in New York City)
Next-toughest: Davidson (Nov. 8)
The rest: Florida Atlantic (Nov. 15), UNC Asheville (Nov. 18), East Carolina/Norfolk State (Nov. 19), Vermont (Nov. 24), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 16), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 28), Elon (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 — The Blue Devils rarely overdo it with their schedules, but just as rarely make it to ACC season without at least a handful of solid results on their docket. So it is again in 2013-14, if slightly tougher than the norm. That's true for a few reasons: Duke drew high-powered Michigan in its ACC/Big Ten matchup; Duke plays Kansas, which landed uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins this summer, in the Champions Classic in November; the Blue Devils look likely to get Arizona in the NIT Season Tip-Off; and UCLA could be formidable if the leftover talent from Ben Howland's tenure jells under Steve Alford. But all of these games are safely within the Blue Devils' sphere of influence. Somehow, Coach K managed to get two of the West Coast's marquee programs without going any farther west than Chicago. Same as it ever was.

FLORIDA STATE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), at Florida (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: at Minnesota (Dec. 3)
The rest: Jacksonville (Nov. 8), at UCF (Nov. 13), UT-Martin (Nov. 17), Jacksonville State (Dec. 8), Charlotte (Dec. 17), vs. Massachusetts (Dec. 21 in Sunrise, Fla.), Charleston Southern (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 — Florida State's season would have looked much different if two freshmen -- Wiggins, who looked hard at his parents' alma mater before choosing to go to Kansas instead; and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a top-50 recruit who did not get through the NCAA clearinghouse this spring -- had joined up. Without them, star forward Okaro White has a daunting challenge ahead of him all season, beginning with a really good field in Puerto Rico (with first-round opponent VCU, plus Michigan, Georgetown, Kansas State in the mix), followed by road trips to Florida and Minnesota in close succession.

GEORGIA TECH

Toughest: Barclays Center Classic (Nov. 29-30), Illinois (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Georgia (Nov. 15), Dayton (Nov. 20) The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 11), North Carolina A&T (Nov. 24), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 26), East Tennessee State (Dec. 7), Kennesaw State (Dec. 16), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 21), at Charlotte (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 — The Yellow Jackets don't have a ton here, but what they do have is solid enough, given where the program is sitting (probably best described as "getting better, if slowly") under third-year coach Brian Gregory. The Barclays Center Classic is a better-than-you-think event, with Ole Miss (and Marshall Henderson, which should be fun) followed by Penn State or St. John's, both of which should be improved over 2012-13. Illinois is the other notable nonconference game, a rematch of last season's 75-62 loss in Champaign, Ill.

MARYLAND

Toughest: UConn (Nov. 8 in Brooklyn), at Ohio State (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: Oregon State (Nov. 17), Paradise Jam (Nov. 22-25)
The rest: Abilene Christian (Nov. 13), Morgan State (Nov. 29), at George Washington (Dec. 8), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 14), Boston University (Dec. 21), Tulsa (Dec. 29), North Carolina Central (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — The Terrapins won't get much in the way of RPI boost out of their early-season tournament; La Salle, Providence and maybe Northern Iowa appear to be the only reasonable challengers in the Virgin Islands. But the Terps do have a good opening night date with UConn in Brooklyn, similar to last year's near miss against Kentucky, and the Big Ten-ACC Challenge sends them to Ohio State, which is guaranteed to be a win on the RPI sheet no matter what happens on the floor.

MIAMI

Toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: La Salle (Dec. 22)
The rest: St. Francis (Nov. 8), Georgia Southern (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Nov. 14), at Charleston (Nov. 18), UCF (Nov. 21), Nebraska (Dec. 4), at Savannah State (Dec. 19), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — After a thoroughly euphoric 2012-13 season marked by an ACC regular-season and tournament title, a No. 2 tournament seed, and a first-round draft pick (point guard Shane Larkin), the Hurricanes are due for a serious hangover in 2013-14. Fortunately, their nonconference schedule shouldn't be too punishing. Other than the Wooden Legacy -- a quality field featuring Creighton, Marquette, San Diego State and Arizona State -- La Salle is the one real opponent of note, and the Explorers have to come to Coral Gables.

NORTH CAROLINA

Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff (Nov. 23-24), at Michigan State (Dec. 4), Kentucky (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: Texas (Dec. 18)
The rest: Oakland (Nov. 8), Holy Cross (Nov. 15), Belmont (Nov. 17), at UAB (Dec. 1), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 7), Davidson (Dec. 21), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 27), UNC Wilmington (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 9 — The usual North Carolina scheduling partners are all here. There's that trip to Michigan State (this time thanks to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge), the home-and-home with Texas, the huge mid-December date with Kentucky -- it's all there. This year, UNC even adds to that with the Hall of Fame Tipoff tournament, which, if expectations hold, will put the Tar Heels up against defending national champion Louisville in Uncasville, Conn. (after an opening game against Richmond). That means the Heels are likely to face the preseason No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country before the middle of December. Not too shabby.

NC STATE

Toughest: at Cincinnati (Nov. 12), at Tennessee (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Missouri (Dec. 28)
The rest: Appalachian State (Nov. 8), Campbell (Nov. 16), North Carolina Central (Nov. 20), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 26), Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 30), Northwestern (Dec. 4), Long Beach State (Dec. 7), Detroit (Dec. 14), East Carolina (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- NC State's young but promising batch of talent might surprise some people this season, particularly if the Wolfpack are ready for those key road dates at Cincinnati and Tennessee. It's hard to know what to expect from Missouri this season, but that could end up being a quality chance for a nonconference win in Raleigh. A two-loss nonconference run -- or better -- would have folks jumping aboard the T.J. Warren bandwagon just in time for ACC play.

NOTRE DAME

Toughest: at Iowa (Dec. 3), vs. Ohio State (Dec. 21 in New York)
Next-toughest: vs. Indiana (Dec. 14 in Indianapolis, Ind.)
The rest: Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 8), Stetson (Nov. 10), Indiana State (Nov. 17), Santa Clara (Nov. 22), Army (Nov. 24), Cornell (Dec. 1), Delaware (Dec. 7), Bryant (Dec. 9), North Dakota State (Dec. 11), Canisius (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Notre Dame's official welcome to the ACC doesn't come in January but rather in the first week of December, when the Irish travel to Iowa for their first ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup. At any point in the past few years, that would have been a perfectly manageable game, but the ascending Hawkeyes are one of the best defensive teams in their league, and Carver-Hawkeye is close to full, rollicking buy-in once more. The Crossroads Classic draw against Indiana is interesting, if not as intimidating as last season, and the Gotham Classic will match Mike Brey's team with the stifling Ohio State defense in Madison Square Garden just before Christmas break.

PITTSBURGH

Toughest: vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 17 in New York)
Next-toughest: N/A
The rest: Savannah State (Nov. 8), Fresno State (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 17), Lehigh (Nov. 20), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn), Duquesne (Nov. 30), Penn State (Dec. 3), Loyola Marymount (Dec. 6), Youngstown State (Dec. 14), Cal Poly (Dec. 21), Albany (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 1. In recent seasons, few coaches have proved as good at gaming the Rating Percentage Index as Jamie Dixon. This is not a criticism; the NCAA's current system is made to be gamed, and, by this point, coaches who don't at least try to use the faulty system to their advantage are leaving potential seed-line improvements on the table. So I'm guessing that, by the end of the season, Pitt's RPI will be in solid shape. (And maybe the new-look ACC will take care of that on its own.) But that aside, this is a straight-up awful basketball schedule. Just … ugh. Cincinnati in Madison Square Garden is the only "marquee" game on the list, and that's a generous application of the term. The Legends Classic features an opening game against Texas Tech and a second-round matchup against either Stanford or Houston. None of those teams is truly awful -- same goes for Penn State on Dec. 3 -- but they're hardly inspiring opponents, either.

SYRACUSE

Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), Indiana (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: Villanova (Dec. 28), at St. John's (Dec. 15)
The rest: Cornell (Nov. 8), Fordham (Nov. 12), Colgate (Nov. 16, St. Francis-N.Y. (Nov. 18), Binghamton (Dec. 7), High Point (Dec. 20), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This score is awarded mostly for the Maui Invitational, which boasts a typically deep, if not vintage, field (Gonzaga, Baylor, Minnesota, Cal, Dayton, Arkansas, Chaminade). But it's worth noting that Indiana game at the Carrier Dome, which will be more of a test for the young Hoosiers, sure, but is nonetheless a big rematch of Syracuse's dominant Sweet 16 win in March. There are also two fixtures against former Big East foes Villanova and St. John's. The former is an improving, defensive group that took down the Orange in Philly last season; the latter is a road game against a talented but disjointed Red Storm.

VIRGINIA

Toughest: VCU (Nov. 12), Wisconsin (Dec. 4), at Tennessee (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Dec. 21)
The rest: James Madison (Nov. 8), vs. Davidson (Nov. 16 in Charlotte), Navy (Nov. 19), Liberty (Nov. 23), Hampton (Nov. 26), Corpus Christi Challenge (Nov. 29-30), at Green Bay (Dec. 7), Norfolk State (Dec. 23)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- VCU and Virginia don't have much of a historical basketball rivalry because why would they? But now that Shaka Smart's program has become the state's most notable, it makes sense for Tony Bennett to schedule the Rams, whose pressure defense will be a huge stylistic test for the slow-and-steady Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Wisconsin, which lost to Virginia in Madison last season, won't be that but will be a tough home date in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a road trip at Tennessee rounds out the slate. UVa missed the tournament last season mostly thanks to (a) a bad noncon schedule and (b) a bunch of really bad noncon losses. This slate should help nullify both concerns.

VIRGINIA TECH

Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23), vs. VCU (Dec. 21 at Richmond Coliseum)
Next-toughest: West Virginia (Nov. 12)
The rest: USC Upstate (Nov. 9), Western Carolina (Nov. 15), VMI (Nov. 18), Furman (Nov. 26), Radford (Nov. 29), Winthrop (Dec. 3), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 28), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 31)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn features a first-round game against Michigan State and a matchup against either Oklahoma or Seton Hall, and the home date against VCU at the Richmond Coliseum is really more like a road game. And honestly, that's probably good enough for the Hokies right now. Virginia Tech was a bit of a mess in James Johnson's first season, and that was with guard Erick Green, who submitted one of the best, most efficient all-around offensive seasons of the past half decade or so. Without him, it's going to get ugly.

WAKE FOREST

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30), at Xavier (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Dec. 7)
The rest: Colgate (Nov. 8), VMI (Nov. 12), Presbyterian (Nov. 15), Jacksonville (Nov. 18), The Citadel (Nov. 21), Tulane (Dec. 4), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 17), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 — Even if Xavier still isn't back to Top 25-level hoops by late December, the Cintas Center is a brutal place to play. But the main feature of this nonconference schedule is Wake's trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, where it will play Wiggins and Kansas in the first round (which, good luck with that), followed by USC or Villanova, with Iowa, Tennessee, UTEP and Xavier lurking on the other side of the bracket. This is a crucial year for maligned coach Jeff Bzdelik and his boss, athletic director Ron Wellman. The Deacs absolutely have to show some signs of progress early on.

Times/networks for Big Ten/ACC Challenge

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
11:00
AM ET
The times and networks have been finalized for the 15th annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, which will take place Dec. 3-4 on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.

All 12 Big Ten teams and 12 of the 15 ACC schools will participate in the 2013 Challenge, including the three newest ACC members (Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse). Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest will not play in this year's event.

The ACC and Big Ten split last year’s Challenge with six wins each. In the event of a tie, the Commissioner’s Cup remains with the conference that won the previous year, which was the Big Ten in 2011. The ACC holds a 10-3-1 Challenge record, winning the first 10 events (1999-2008) before the Big Ten won the next three (2009-2011).

For an analysis of this year's matchups, check out Eamonn Brennan's take from back in May. As for the times and networks, here they are ...

Tuesday, Dec. 3 (all times ET)
7:15 - Indiana at Syracuse (ESPN)
7:15 - Illinois at Georgia Tech (ESPN2)
7:30 - Penn State at Pittsburgh (ESPNU)
9:15 - Michigan at Duke (ESPN)
9:15 - Notre Dame at Iowa (ESPN2)
9:30 - Florida State at Minnesota (ESPNU)

Wednesday, Dec. 4 (all times ET)
7:00 - Maryland at Ohio State (ESPN or ESPN2)
7:00 - Wisconsin at Virginia (ESPN or ESPN2)
7:30 - Northwestern at NC State (ESPNU)
9:00 - North Carolina at Michigan State (ESPN)
9:00 - Boston College at Purdue (ESPN2)
9:30 - Miami at Nebraska (ESPNU)

A few notes on this year's matchups:
  • Seven of the 12 games will mark first-time Challenge matchups: Michigan-Duke, Maryland-Ohio State, Miami-Nebraska and Boston College-Purdue, plus the debut of the three new ACC members Syracuse (vs. Indiana), Notre Dame (at Iowa) and Pitt (vs. Penn State).
  • In addition to first-time Challenge games, several of the teams are infrequent opponents: Nebraska holds a 3-1 record against Miami; Purdue won both previous meetings against BC; Ohio State and Maryland last played in 1985 with OSU three out of the five all-time games; and Notre Dame will play Iowa for the first time since 1990 and holds a 8-5 series record.
  • Old Pennsylvania rivals Pitt and Penn State will meet for the first time since 2005. The Panthers have won the past five contests.
  • Illinois/Georgia Tech and Wisconsin/Virginia will follow their first-time Challenge meetings in 2012 with a rematch in the 2013 event. The Illini and Cavaliers won last year's matchups.
  • Best Three Out of Five: North Carolina/Michigan State and Minnesota/Florida State will meet in the Challenge for the fifth time. Both series are 2-2.
  • Rubber Match: Northwestern and NC State will square off in the Challenge for the third time. Northwestern won in 2009 and NC State in 2002.
  • Syracuse and Indiana have met five previous times in non-Challenge games, with the Orange winning the past four, including last season’s Sweet 16 matchup.


The best thing about the college basketball offseason is that it ends. The second best thing about the college basketball offseason is that when it ends, it ends so quickly and so exhaustively that within a few days you have to remind yourself that there was ever an offseason in the first place. By mid-November, it's impossible to imagine life without basketball.

We have the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon to thank for that. Hey, it might still be warm outside and the campus dorms are mostly empty here in the dog days of August. But exactly three months from now, college hoops will be back in full force with the Marathon, which will include more than a dozen games in more than 24 consecutive hours of basketball in what has become a great annual excuse to call into work sick.

At 7 p.m. ET on Nov. 11, the Marathon begins with an ESPN2 women's doubleheader (Stanford-UConn; then Tennessee-North Carolina) and an ESPNU men's doubleheader (Kent State-Temple; then Colorado State-Gonzaga). At 7:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 12, the Marathon ends with a Champions Classic doubleheader that very well might match up four of the nation's top five teams (Kentucky-Michigan State; Kansas-Duke).

In between, starting at 11 p.m. ET on the 11th, there's a run of men's games that will keep the hardcore fans up all night and morning and begging for caffeine by lunchtime. Who will be participating in those games? Well, stick with us here in the Nation blog. We'll be revealing each of the Marathon matchups at the corresponding time they'll be taking place three months from now. Keep this page open and refresh every two hours and you'll get a new game, along with an early analysis of the matchup. Starting with ...

BYU at Stanford, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The Cougars and Cardinal will not only get the Marathon party started late on Nov. 11, they also provide a handy reminder that the earliest parts of the season mean just as much as what happens in February and March. In recent years, the NCAA tournament selection committee has de-emphasized recent results in its selection, instead emphasizing performance in the nonconference as much (or more) than any other single selection criterion. What happens on Nov. 11 matters, in other words, and that's especially true for both BYU and Stanford. The Cougars have quality players in Matt Carlino and Tyler Haws; Stanford is a quality defensive team with solid guard play from Chasson Randle. Neither team looks like a top-25 group, but they do look like they could be in the mix on Selection Sunday. So both will need as many quality nonconference wins as they can get to avoid languishing on the tournament bubble for months at a time. That process will begin immediately.

[+] EnlargeGregg Marshall
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsComing off a Final Four appearance in April, coach Gregg Marshall and the Wichita State Shockers are riding high entering this season.
Western Kentucky at Wichita State, 1 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Just two years ago, Western Kentucky, a proud, historically successful program, appeared to be in deep decline. In January 2012, a 5-10 team lost to six players (true, and long, story), then fired its coach. Since then, Ray Harper has managed to get WKU into the tournament twice, which is as much a testament to his coaching as it is to the wacky power of automatic bids and mid-major conference tournaments. But really, this fixture is about the Wichita State Shockers and their fans, who, in the wake of a surprise Final Four visit, are no doubt eager to showcase the strength of their program and their fan base to a national audience. Charles Koch Arena is always bumping. Imagine what they'll have cooking for a midnight local tip. Oh my.

Akron at Saint Mary’s, 3 a.m. ET, ESPN2: This midnight local tip -- you know, were it not for time zones, this whole Marathon thing would be a lot harder to pull off -- features two of the best mid-major programs of the past decade. You're likely already familiar with Saint Mary's, which has crept up on (and even briefly unseated) Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference in recent years. But Akron coach Keith Dambrot has taken the Zips to the tournament in three of the past five seasons, including as a 12-seed in 2012-13. Recovering from the loss of super-efficient center Zeke Marshall won't be easy (to say nothing of the Alex Abreu ordeal), but Akron has almost everyone else back and is ready to push toward another postseason berth, and then some.

New Mexico State at Hawaii, 5 a.m. ET, ESPN2: There are many, many benefits to being in Hawaii and its time zone is typically not high on that list. But the Warriors' unique geography also makes them a yearly inclusion in the Marathon. At this point, 5 a.m. ET might as well be called the "Hawaii Slot." This year's edition of the Hawaii Slot features one of the more consistently successful and frequently slept-on mid-majors in New Mexico State, where Marvin Menzies has won 50 games over the past two seasons (and has been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments). Expect to hear a lot about Sim Bhullar, who is not your average NMSU player: He's a 7-foot-5 Canadian-born son of Indian parents whose unique background (and sheer size) won him cross-cultural hype from the New York Times before he played a minute of college ball. The good news? Bhullar was good as a freshman, when he shot 62.1 percent from the field and grabbed 12.8 percent of available offensive rebounds. The dude can play, and you can see him do so live -- as long as you can get up early (or stay up that late).

Hartford at Florida Gulf Coast, 7 a.m. ET, ESPN2: There's something immensely fun about the early-morning Marathon entries. The schools involved are typically small enough that the very idea of being included in the event (and on ESPN) is enough to draw a raucous A.M. crowd, especially in the student section. Expect things to go up a notch or two in 2013. The folks at Florida Gulf Coast are riding as high as the sport allows these days. March's "Dunk City"-defined run to the Sweet 16 put the tiny 22-year-old school and its pristine beach dorms in front of every sports fan in the country. Merchandise flew off the shelves; enrollment (almost certainly, given precedent) spiked. It's safe to assume the party will be still be raging come November.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Garland
John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/MCT/Getty ImagesThe Explorers lost only one contributor from a team that won three NCAA tourney games in March.
Quinnipiac at La Salle, 9 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Are you sensing a theme? La Salle, like Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State above, are likewise coming off one of the best seasons in program history. The 1954 NCAA champs saw the last vestiges of ongoing relevance dry up by the mid-1990s, but their return to the tournament in 2013 -- which required a stopover at the "first round" in Dayton -- took them all the way to the Sweet 16 before they fell to Wichita State. The Explorers lose senior leader Ramon Galloway, but everyone else is back, including a great group of guards led by Tyrone "Southwest Philly Floater" Garland, who is entertaining and frustrating in equally perfect measure.

LSU at Massachusetts, 11 a.m. ET, ESPN2: Typically, LSU fans devote more time to the mechanics of Les Miles' grass-chew habit than they do basketball, and in recent seasons it's been hard to argue with that order of priorities. The Tigers simply have not been very good. That may be changing. Johnny Jones' team returns four starters from a better-than-you-remember 19-12, 2012-13 group. But the biggest piece of news is the arrival of Jarrell Martin, the No. 11-ranked overall player in a stacked incoming recruiting class. The Baton Rouge native took to basketball later than most, but he's already developed into an imposing (if somewhat raw) presence. If his development curve continues to do its best hockey stick impression throughout the rest of the summer, look out for the Tigers. Oh, and don't sleep on UMass -- one of the most stylistically entertaining teams in the country, with a solid returning core -- either. This could be one of those games that looks huge once bubble talk ramps up.

West Virginia at Virginia Tech, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN: Virginia Tech got off to a great start last season, its first under new coach James Johnson. But by the end of the year, about the only thing the Hokies had going for them was senior guard Erick Green, who managed to post a 120.0 offensive rating on 31.7 percent usage, which ranked him behind only Nate Wolters, Kelly Olynyk, Doug McDermott and Trey Burke on the list of players who managed to be efficient despite using so many of their team's possessions. Green was great, but now he's gone, which leaves Johnson facing a classic, long-haul rebuilding scenario. West Virginia isn't quite there, but Bob Huggins' team had a decidedly un-Huggins season in 2012-13, when they played some of the ugliest, most disjointed offense the college game had to offer (which, last season, was saying something). After essentially sending talented, but troubled, forward Aaric Murray away, Huggins will have to cull some semblance of a rotation from a smattering of pieces that never congealed last year. Incoming four-star power forwards Devin Williams and Elijah Mason should help.

South Carolina at Baylor, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN: Despite taking a massive L.J. Peak-induced recruiting gut-punch this summer, Frank Martin's Gamecocks have already made more progress in his one year at the school than in the 10 before it. Martin has a six-player class arriving this fall, led by No. 7-ranked shooting guard Sindarius Thornwell. A few years down the road, the talent level in Columbia is going to be unrecognizably high. Baylor fans could lend some experience on this front. Now entering his 11th season, Scott Drew has taken the Bears from the untouchable site of shocking scandal into one of the most consistently talented programs in the country. This season, the Bears are adding two top-100 talents (Ishmail Wainright, Allerik Freeman) to a group that already includes 7-footer Isaiah Austin and a score of rising youngsters and/or reliable veterans, including forwards Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers and guards Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin -- the list goes on and on. After an NIT title in March, Baylor should be after much more this season.

[+] EnlargeMick Cronin
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesSean Kilpatrick and Mick Cronin are looking to for a fourth straight NCAA tournament bid.
NC State at Cincinnati, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN: When everything was clicking, there were few sights in the college game as thrilling as NC State's offense last season -- Lorenzo Brown leading the break, T.J. Warren running to the block, Scott Wood spotting up on the wing. The problem, of course, was defense, or more precisely a lack of defense. Some of that had to do with personnel, but much of it was related to attitude. With Wood, Brown, guard Rodney Purvis (transfer to UConn) and forwards C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell all gone, coach Mark Gottfried won't have as much tantalizing talent on the court this time around. But he will have a pared-down group that actually wants to be in Raleigh, and he can build the additions of top-100 recruits Anthony Barber, BeeJay Anya and Kyle Washington around Warren, the Pack's most dynamic and promising player a season ago. A trip to Cincinnati will be a crucial early test of Gottfried's mini-rebuild, as a Sean Kilpatrick-led Bearcats group hopes the addition of power forward Jermaine Lawrence will push the program past the "solid NCAA tournament inclusion" hump into ever more rarefied air.

"College GameDay" from Chicago, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: I don't need to preview College Gameday for you, do I? You already know how awesome College Gameday is. Let's move on.

VCU at Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: It's almost unfair to pit the ESPN2 primetime games against the Champions Classic. They're bound to look pale by comparison. But on any other night of the season, VCU-Virginia (and its 9 p.m. ET follow-up, about which more below) would be must-see stuff. The basketball is good in and of itself. Under Shaka Smart, Virginia Commonwealth has morphed 2011's shock Final Four run into a burgeoning outfit that plays one of the most recognizable systems -- a constantly turnover-hawking pressing style -- in the country. UVa, meanwhile, has steadily improved under fifth-year coach Tony Bennett, who has adopted many of the pack-line defensive principles that his father Dick Bennett developed long ago at Wisconsin-Green Bay. The contrast of speed and style couldn't be more pronounced here, and if a hearty quasi-cultural, in-state rivalry doesn't exist between these two very different schools already, it shouldn't take long.

Michigan State vs. Kentucky in Chicago, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: And so we arrive at the jewel of the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon: The Champions Classic. In its first two years, the Champions Classic has done exactly what it set out to do -- provide mutually beneficial marquee college hoops scheduling at the start of the season -- and then some. It even offered an early national title preview (Kentucky vs. Kansas) in 2011-12.

This year's edition might be the best yet, and that starts with Michigan State-Kentucky. The Spartans are the prohibitive Big Ten favorite (or co-favorite with Michigan, your mileage may vary), and bring back about as solid and imposing a core -- senior guard Keith Appling, still-improving senior forward Adreian Payne, Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris -- and will begin the season in the top 5 because of it.

After the 2012 national title, Kentucky coach John Calipari probably didn't expect to be on the losing side of a first-round NIT game a year later (and in his hometown, no less), but even as Robert Morris fans stormed the court in March, Calipari could take solace knowing he assembled what is by all accounts the best recruiting class since the Fab Five, and maybe ever. With Julius Randle, Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson, James Young and Marcus Lee, Calipari landed five of the top nine players in the class and six of the top 25. Oh, and he'll have Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein -- clearly talented players who struggled as freshmen, but should be more effective with more experience and more minimized roles -- back, too. The whole prospect is terrifying: For as good as UK was in 2011-12, this team might be better. What better early test than a veteran, Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State?

Florida at Wisconsin, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: See? This is another really good college basketball game that most people probably won't watch live, because you're not going to miss the beginning of what I have already imagined will be a Bird-Magic-esque Wiggins-Parker rivalry in Duke-Kansas. But the doubleheader on ESPN2 isn't too far behind. No coach in the country is as consistent as Bo Ryan, and this year very little should change. The only exception is the star power offered by sophomore forward Sam Dekker, a rare top-20 recruit for the Badgers who shined in an introductory role as a freshman, and will be asked to do loads more as a sophomore. Speaking of consistency, Florida has participated in the last three Elite Eights, and the Gators appear to be as capable of that feat as ever in 2013-14. No. 2-ranked freshman point guard Kasey Hill should start and star immediately alongside forward Patric Young, and if the Gators can get equally touted freshman power forward Chris Walker academically eligible, they'll have plenty of firepower to bring to the Kohl Center.

Kansas vs. Duke, 10 p.m. ET, ESPN: Yes, UK-MSU is awfully good, and the teams are probably better overall. But for sheer intrigue, it's hard to top Duke versus Kansas. On one side is the No. 1 player in the class, Andrew Wiggins, who is not merely your average top-ranked recruit but considered by pretty much every scout you talk to as the best prospect since Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, if not LeBron James. Which is funny, considering that's the same thing Sports Illustrated once plastered on its cover next to a photo of four-time Illinois state champion, No. 2-ranked Jabari Parker. There is already a bit of a LeBron James-Carmelo Anthony thing going on here. Wiggins is the world-destroying athletic freak with the intuitive all-court game; Parker is the smooth, natural scorer. In 2003, Anthony and James entered their rookie seasons having only ever met on the AAU circuit. In 2013, Parker and Wiggins will meet each other on one of the first nights of the season, following Kentucky's Julius Randle, who is good enough to steal the eventual No. 1 overall pick out from under both.

In other words, the three reasons why you'll hear so much about NBA teams tanking in the next 12 months are all playing on the same United Center night in mid-November, and two of them are playing each other. Man, the Champions Classic is awesome. Did I mention that already? We covered that part, right?

So get your remote control handy; get your DVR game tight. That's good advice for the primetime doubleheader, but it works for the whole Marathon, too. By the time it's over, you won't even remember the offseason existed. I can't wait.
1. The NCAA men's basketball selection committee will make a formal announcement Thursday about the tweaking it did to the bracketing principles for the 2014 tournament during its meeting earlier this month in Park City, Utah. The committee is expected to produce a document that protects the "true seed" -- where a team stands according to the committee's 1-through-68 ranking -- and that doesn't jeopardize that seeding in order to avoid conference or non-conference repeat matchups. Seeding the tournament is probably more important than the final few bids that get the most attention on Selection Sunday, and the committee doesn't want to mess with the true seed. Meanwhile, there were a few other issues addressed. The new number of at-large berths is down to 36 with the split of the Big East and the American Athletic Conference, meaning that there are now 32 automatic qualifiers. But the committee was informed that, technically, the Big East's automatic bid went with the Big East, and the American must get its AQ bid formally approved by the Division I sports-management cabinet, according to a source. But that shouldn't be an issue. The committee also looked at maintaining the same standard for the Final Four of a minimum of 60,000 fans, due to the current demand for tickets (meaning only domes for the Final Four). But it continues to remain highly likely that regional final sites from 2016 and beyond will be basketball arenas only, save the one dome site that will host the Final Four the ensuing year. The committee also had an informal discussion on what it would look like if basketball were a one-semester sport. The calendar was so compressed that to make the season work and to finish in early April was impossible. The change would have been too dramatic. So the committee at least looked at the possibility. There was no movement to change March Madness or the pre-Masters dates of the Final Four.

2. Oregon is waiting for Houston transfer Joseph Young to file a waiver to play immediately for the Ducks. Oregon is somewhat confident Young would be approved -- which could give the Ducks a top-tier top seven, with UNLV transfer Mike Moser, returning guards Dominic Artis, Johnathan Loyd, Damyean Dotson, forward Ben Carter and junior college transfer Elgin Cook. Young averaged 18 points a game for Houston. So Oregon could have a much different look if Young can play immediately.

3. NC State continues to respect its past as much as any other program. The Wolfpack went with alum Sidney Lowe after Herb Sendek, but Lowe wasn't able to a build a consistent winner, despite recruiting well. Third-year coach Mark Gottfried isn't afraid to reach back into NC State's past to help forge a future by bringing Wolfpack legend Dereck Whittenburg onto the staff. Whittenburg had been head coach at Fordham and Wagner and, most recently, an ESPN analyst and producer of a documentary, "Survive and Advance," in ESPN's "30 For 30" series. Whittenburg, who has the most famous shot/pass in NC State history, will bring energy to the Wolfpack staff as well as a direct link to the past that current players should and likely will appreciate.
One of the most fascinating side stories during this summer of UNC discontent -- from P.J. Hairston's rental car paper trail to the ongoing scrutiny over an academics scandal that was supposed to be long past the university by now -- is the intense involvement of opposing fans.

NC State die-hards, most notably those at the PackPride message board forums, have been all over it. They started a crowdsourced dig for incriminating evidence in the Hairston case long before receipts linking other rentals with the address of convicted felon Haydn "Fats" Thomas surfaced in the USA Today. Some of what they found was easily dismissed, but some of it genuinely deserved wider scrutiny, and now here we are.

Of course, North Carolina fans have been just as strident in their program's defense. Where Wolfpack fans see a massive conspiratorial cover-up that reaches the upper limits of state government (specifically as it pertains to the academic case, but I saw this argument made when charges against Hairston were dropped), North Carolina fans see a witchhunt conducted by "haters" and "little brothers" that at best exaggerates some otherwise very concerning issues, and at worst invents them from whole cloth, because "they're jealous."

On a personal level, I can't remember the last time I got as many emails about a team from fans who openly root for a rival. My inbox is not a perfect sample, and that is always true of the Internet in general. Many reasonable UNC fans are willing to acknowledge their embarrassment while pointing out what they see as flaws in some accusations. And many NC State fans who take pleasure in the furor would nonetheless prefer their investigatorial comrades didn't make the whole group look so crazy. Alas, the reasonable folks are always drowned out by the vocal minority, and so the inbox keeps filling up, the comment sections keep looking like political news sites, and the White House petitions keep going from silly ideas to genuine realities.

Wait ... White House petition? Huh? Oh yes, dear reader. That actually happened. Titled "Investigate the fraud and misuse of federal funds involving athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill," the petition asserts that because UNC has received federal funding for research while also battling an academics scandal in its Afro- and African-American studies department, that a "comprehensive investigation is required to ensure that federal funds are not being misused."

Thus far, the petition has 86 signatures. To receive an official response from the White House, it must accumulate at least 100,000 signees. Only 99,914 to go!

This is all quite hilarious and silly, of course, so silly that you don't need me to explain why. Sports fans never cease to amaze, though. We're always good for a laugh.

That said, I also find the context inspiring. When I visited the forum thread the petition initially grew out of, I expected to read a chorus of approval. Fight the power, go get 'em, all that.

Instead, most posters hated it. "This is a joke, right," asked one. "What the [heck] is wrong with you people? You've finally let [them] push you over the edge," said another. "This is either a very nice troll by the cheats or we have some delusional fans. Please delete. It's embarrassing," pleaded a third. Probably the best response came from a poster who merely left the words "You people" and a little animation of an adorable red-faced smiley banging its head against a tiny wall.

Hope for humanity lives on in these responses. Even among the small sliver of folks who might be most obviously supportive of something like this, there is widespread derision. No one wants to be painted as a bunch of crazies, and everyone recognizes there are limits. Likewise, some of the best comments I've read from North Carolina fans have admitted that the academic scandal was embarrassing, that the Hairston stuff is troubling, and that too-strenuous defenses of any of it risk making the whole fan base look dismissive and blinkered -- a pasting over of flaws with a giant sticker that reads "haters."

In this spirit, I'd like to submit a humble proposal: Everyone take a deep breath. We've now officially reached peak insanity with this White House petition. There's nowhere positive to go from here. Maybe some NC State fans can acknowledge that their relationship with UNC is not exactly the most healthy, even by the typically dissociated fandom standards. Maybe UNC fans can go beyond admitting the program's issues but also recognize that, after so imperiously dominating the local basketball culture in recent years, and so thoroughly scoffing at the Wolfpack at every turn, it is only natural that rival fans would seek to hasten their downfall. Maybe everyone can come together and, instead of arguing about old emails from a faculty report about a years-old academic scandal, agree that this whole pattern is insane. Maybe everyone needs to go to their rooms and count to 100.

Honestly, I'm worried about you guys. I just want to help.
1. Expect Michigan's Trey Burke to sweep through all the player of the year awards. If not, I will be shocked. After winning the AP player of the year award on Thursday, Burke added the Oscar Robertson trophy Friday morning. A few weeks ago it looked like the awards would be shared by players like Indiana's Victor Oladipo or Georgetown's Otto Porter. But Burke surged ahead with his play, including his performance in the NCAA tournament. And that should count. I know the Kemba Walker camp would have liked to have had his postseason play count against BYU's Jimmer Fredette. Even if it did, in that particular season, it would have been still close and Fredette may have still won. These awards should all wait until the Monday of Final Four week before accepting ballots.

2. NC State blocked Rodney Purvis from transferring to any ACC school or Missouri or Cincinnati, two schools on the Wolfpack's upcoming schedule. NC State athletic director Debbie Yow said she was OK with that because Purvis could be playing at NC State. I don't get this. It is being petty. It may not matter with Purvis likely headed to UConn. Still, blocking a player from transferring to a possible non-conference opponent, for one game a season, just looks small. I understand blocking teams from the conference; every league essentially looks to do that. But blocking transfers to a non-conference opponent is a weak response. Coaches have freedom of movement, even within a league, but players don't without having to give up a scholarship or fight for a waiver. UPDATE: Coach Mark Gottfried said the school is now reworking the release and has no problems releasing him to any school outside of the ACC.

3. Providence coach Ed Cooley will find out Tuesday if Ricky Ledo will return for his redshirt freshman season or declare for the NBA draft, he said Friday. Ledo was a big-time get for the Friars but was unlikely to ever get eligible this season. He sat out and was apparently an instrumental part of the team in practice. Now, Ledo may leave without ever playing a game for the Friars. Ledo and the school may have still benefited from his year in between high school and the NBA. If he became a better player, and more importantly more mature, then it would help him in the league. Having a year of college is better than none.
1. Minnesota coveted VCU’s Shaka Smart, but his former boss, current Golden Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague, couldn’t convince Smart to come to the Twin Cities (he should know Smart is loyal to VCU) for the head-coaching job from which Tubby Smith was just fired. According to sources, the Gophers have now turned their attention to Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg and Butler’s Brad Stevens. We’ll see, but I’ll be shocked if either were to go to Minnesota. Hoiberg is the Mayor in Ames (it's his alma mater) and has Iowa State in a good place after back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. If Hoiberg were to leave for Minnesota, the NBA's Timberwolves, not the Gophers, would make more sense. I can’t see Stevens bolting, either, with how much he loves the Butler way and working for AD Barry Collier. Stevens can have a lifetime contract at Butler, much like Mark Few has at Gonzaga. If they can't convince either of these two, the Gophers may make a play for Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin. But Cronin is from Cincinnati and loves his gig, too. The only reason he might listen is if he sees the need to go to a school in a more stable conference.

2. NC State has made it clear that coach Mark Gottfried hasn’t heard anything from UCLA. Athletic director Debbie Yow also is quick to remind everyone of the $3.75 million buyout in Gottfried’s contract, which she terms non-negotiable. Much as he got many in the Research Triangle to warm to NC State, Gottfried would fit at UCLA. But it would be too hard for UCLA to pry him out of Raleigh. Multiple sources continue to think the Bruins may have to go with an NBA coach. But there are other options out there -- Washington’s Lorenzo Romar, a former UCLA assistant, hasn’t been contacted; apparently neither has Colorado’s Tad Boyle, who has recruited Los Angeles well. USC, meanwhile, might end up going with a quality coach, albeit not a huge name. Remember, Oregon didn’t get its first choice, but did land a big-time talent in Dana Altman. It can be done.

3. Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway has made it clear he wants a current head coach for its vacancy, according to sources, making it seem more realistic he would lean toward coaches like Iona’s Tim Cluess and/or Tom Moore of Quinnipiac. Quality openings like Old Dominion and Siena remain. Meanwhile, sources close to former UCLA coach Ben Howland anticipate he’ll sit out next season rather than take a job.
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DAYTON, Ohio -- NC State was never the sixth-best team in the country. We should probably get that out of the way.

NC State's now-infamous preseason ranking was less the product of the team's quality and more of the hype that accompanies tournament wins and top recruiting classes, particularly when they arrive in tandem, as they did in Raleigh, N.C. Expectations ballooned. They were always unrealistic.

It would be unfair to grade NC State on that curve. It would also be unfair to overlook the brilliance of Temple guard Khalif Wyatt, who scored 31 points, including a 12-of-14 performance from the free throw line, in Temple's 76-72 win Friday -- or to ignore that this is now Temple's eighth win in its past nine games and the best Fran Dunphy’s team has played all season.

It would not be unfair, however, to say that even if the Wolfpack weren't a top-10 team, ultimately they still had a disappointing season; that a No. 8 seed was far less than a team with one of the best offensive arsenals in the country could have achieved, that Friday's first-round tournament exit was an ending far below their considerable talent and that, above all, their defense -- or lack thereof -- was to blame.

"At times we were really good defensively. At times we were not," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "This particular team never seemed to get to a point where we could sustain and maintain great defensive effort the entire game."

[+] Enlarge Temple and North Carolina State
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty Images NC State's defense could not contain Temple's Khalif Wyatt, who scored 31 points in the Owls' victory.
That was the case on Friday, particularly during the Wolfpack's nightmare of a first half. NC State began stagnant and sluggish, and as shots failed to fall (it shot 10-of-25 in the first half), whatever defensive energy NC State typically derives off its offensive potency waned. Shoulders slumped. Wyatt, one of the best scorers in the country, and forward Jake O'Brien (who went 5-of-7 in the first frame) took immediate advantage, as the Owls made 16 of their 30 field goal attempts and shot 5-of-11 from 3.

By halftime, NC State trailed, 38-22. When its offense went quiet -- and it happens to every team at least once in the tournament, though usually not in their very first minutes -- the Wolfpack couldn't get stops.

The second half was better. Lorenzo Brown came alive, T.J. Warren created a pair of turnovers and the Wolfpack started feasting on their typical combination of low-post looks to the tune of 50 points while going 19-of-27 from the field. If anything, the second-half spurt might be even more frustrating for NC State fans, not only because it highlighted their team's inability to stop a totally fearless Wyatt -- who made every big shot and got to the line 12 times (and made 11) in the second half -- but also because it presented such a striking contrast from the first half. Accusations that NC State had attitude issues, that the reason it didn't guard people was because it didn't try, rumbled off and on all year.

Forward Scott Wood testily dismissed that notion in the postgame news conference -- "You can come watch us in practice and tell us if you think the same," he said -- but Gottfried was more open.

"I think this team struggled with a lot of things," Gottfried said. "Number one, we had some immaturity at times. It just seemed hard at times to have everybody buy in all the way. And for us to get better in the future, everybody needs to. Our young guys need to learn that lesson.

"At times this year, that just seemed to be a struggle for our group," Gottfried said. "That was a hard thing for us to overcome basically all year long, from the way we started. Some of the young guys, some of the older guys, and building character every day and doing things right every day, putting the team first, and then personal success and glory comes later. It always does. But you have to trust that. We struggled with some of that this year."

Whatever the intangible root causes, the end result was a defense that ranked 192nd in the country in points allowed per possession (1.017) despite a lineup chock full of lanky, athletic, NBA-coveted talents. At times that talent was enough to get NC State by, but not Friday. Not against Wyatt, a quirky but dominant scoring guard, and not against a less-talented team that nonetheless trusts in him and each other.

On the penultimate possession of the game, before Wyatt iced the game with two free throws, and while NC State players reminded him of the importance of the shots ("they were talking a little bit," Wyatt said), he turned to his teammates assembled near the half-court line and said "I got this."

"They trusted me to to make two shots at the end," Wyatt said. And then he did.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Miami guard Durand Scott’s coaches had been reminding him to hold his follow-through after shots.

“On the ones I missed, I hadn’t been,” he explained.

So you couldn’t blame the senior for holding the pose an extra moment (or two) with about 11 minutes left in Saturday’s 81-71 win over NC State in the ACC tournament semifinals.
After the fifth-seeded Wolfpack put together a 13-4 rally to cut a once 19-point lead to 50-44, Scott buried a 3 from near the top of the arc to halt the rally. That marked his 25th, 26th and 27th points in what would be a career-high 32-point outing.

“I didn’t know how many points I had at that point,” Scott said of that key 3-pointer. “I just knew that shot felt good.”

[+] EnlargeDurand Scott
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesThe sharp shooting of Durand Scott helped deliver Miami to its first appearance in the ACC tournament title game.
Know what feels better? Securing top-seeded Miami’s first trip to the ACC tournament championship game at Greensboro Coliseum on Sunday.

“These are times you dream about -- and I feel like I’m living somebody else’s dream,” Scott said. “I feel happy.”

Scott set the tone early, scoring Miami’s first two buckets. He outscored the Wolfpack 11-5 at one point (when the Canes led 14-5), and gave his team as much as a 39-20 advantage near the end of the first half when he buried his 18th and 19th points on a pair of free throws.

“Today he had a jump shot going, so if you play off him and give him a one-arm-length gap, he would step up there and drill a 3 on you,” Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said.

And if the Wolfpack defended closer? “He beat us off the dribble,” Gottfried said. “He was tough today, very good.”

Scott’s offensive ability isn’t exactly surprising. The media-notes-described “junkyard dog” had posted games with 20 or more points twice this season. And then there was that performance in this building when he was a freshman, when he recorded 21 points in a 2010 semifinal loss at Duke.

But this year -- one that has seen Miami reach its best-ever national ranking (as high as No. 2) and win its first league regular-season title -- he’d been lauded more for his abilities on the other side of the ball and was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week.

It’s an award he is proud of (and it should be noted that NC State’s Scott Wood scored most of his team-high 21 points Saturday when Scott wasn’t guarding him), but he -- and his teammates -- were glad he was able to display so many facets of his game.

Especially with so much -- perhaps a number No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament? -- on the line.

“I don’t think Durand gets the media attention he should get,” said Hurricanes point guard Shane Larkin, who finished with 23 points. “He’s one of the best guards in the country, not just the ACC. He’s proven that over his four years here, with the amount of points he has, the steals, rebounds. He’s the leader, [the] heart and soul of the team, definitely.”

In the end, Scott made 12 of 18 shots, including five 3-pointers, before he fouled out, as Miami shot 45.6 percent for the game.

And he actually held his shooting pose twice, the second time coming with 7:41 left, when his 3-pointer gave his team a 61-48 cushion (and it gave him the first game with 30-plus points of his career).

Still, it’s likely that run-stopping 3 earlier in the second half is what will be his most memorable of this game.

“That’s probably the longest I’ve ever held my follow-through,” he said, smiling.

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Miami Hurricanes have secured a bunch of “firsts” this season: first defeat of a No. 1 team, first No. 2 national ranking (their highest ever), first ACC regular-season title.

Now they’ll try to add another to the list: first ACC tournament championship.

Paced by senior guard Durand Scott’s career-high 32 points -- remember, he was named the league’s defensive player of the year earlier this week -- the top-seeded (another first) Hurricanes beat No. 5 seed NC State 81-71 on Saturday to advance to Sunday’s title game at Greensboro Coliseum.

A quick look at the game:

Turning point: NC State, which trailed by as many as 19 points after a listless start, put together a 9-2 run to cut Miami’s advantage to 41-29 at halftime and then had a 13-4 rally early in the second half to cut the lead to 50-44. But Scott -- who else? -- halted the comeback with a 3-pointer.

With 8:28 left, another Scott drive gave Miami a 58-45 cushion (and tied the guard’s previous career high of 29 points). About 30 seconds later, yet another Scott 3-pointer pushed him past 30 points for the first time in his career.

Player(s) of the game: Um, I think I’ll choose Scott. He made 12 of his 18 shots, including five 3-pointers, before fouling out with about two minutes left. Shane Larkin added 23 points for Miami.

Scott Wood led NC State with 21 points.

Numbers(s) to know: Miami shot 51.7 percent in the first half. … NC State big man Richard Howell posted another double-digit rebounding game despite a deep thigh bruise sustained during Friday’s quarterfinal win.

Up next: Miami will play either third-seeded North Carolina or seventh-seeded Maryland in Sunday’s ACC tournament title game.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- NC State’s upperclassmen well remember the intestine-churning anxiety of entering the ACC tournament on the NCAA bubble, of knowing that each win or loss would impact their chances of making the field of 68.

Thus, they understood Virginia’s plight Friday.

And they showed absolutely no sympathy.

Wolfpack wing Scott Wood lit it up from the outside (23 points, seven 3-pointers), big man Richard Howell (12 rebounds, six points) dominated the boards despite a late first-half thigh injury, and forward C.J. Leslie recorded another double-double en route to a 75-56 blowout in the ACC quarterfinals.

[+] EnlargeScott Wood
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneNC State used an aggressive defense to hand Virginia a costly loss in the ACC tourney on Friday.
Fifth-seeded NC State (24-9), which has found its “groove” according to coach Mark Gottfried and appears to be in pretty safe territory for at least an at-large NCAA bid, will play top-seeded Miami in the semifinals on Saturday.

The Cavaliers (21-11), who shot only 38.9 percent, got outrebounded by 11 and saw their leading scorer, Joe Harris, make only 4 of his 13 shots, are left to wait and wonder about their bubble hopes. They now have lost three of their past four games.

“If we play like this, we don’t deserve to play in the NCAA tournament,” Virginia guard Jontel Evans said. “If we play the way we play like Duke and Maryland and North Carolina, we should deserve to play.”

And there’s the conundrum for the NCAA selection committee.

While the Cavs boast quality regular-season wins over Duke, NC State, UNC and Wisconsin, they also have seven losses to teams outside of the RPI top 100, including three CAA teams (George Mason, Delaware and Old Dominion) and four of the ACC's worst (Georgia Tech, Boston College, Wake Forest and Clemson).

At the beginning of Friday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi projected the Cavs as a No. 12 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, and this loss didn’t help.

“What will be, will be,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “We have some quality wins, we have some bad losses and who knows what will happen. I’m sure people won’t give us much of a chance. The committee will make their decision.

“[Winning] this would have helped and I thought we had the right mindset going in. We prepared hard and knew the keys.”

Even so, NC State dominated from the outset, beating the Cavs at what they are usually known for: defense. The Wolfpack held Virginia to 31.2 percent shooting and just a 1-for-10 tally on 3-pointers in the first half.

The Wolfpack led 30-21 at halftime, and a Wood-centric 11-4 run (he had three 3-pointers) to open the second half gave them a 41-25 cushion. The Cavs never cut to within single digits after that. Not with Howell -- who got kneed in the right thigh twice, but kept battling in the lane despite a limp -- continuing to pull down rebounds. And not with Leslie and Wood continuing to hit shots.

“It was a really good win for our team,” Gottfried said. “I think our team is beginning to find that groove; I think we’re getting in a good spot.”

And a slightly different spot than a season ago, when the Wolfpack knew they had to keep winning to secure an NCAA berth. Although they lost in the ACC semifinals last year, they were the last team announced on the selection show -- and ended up in the Sweet 16.

With even bigger goals in mind this time around, they’re aiming for even bigger wins -- and longer tournament runs.

Which means no sympathy for Virginia, or anyone else.

“No, definitely not,” Howell said, smiling. “We know how it felt, we were in their shoes last year … but our focus is on what we can do.”

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

March, 8, 2013
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So what was more surprising on Thursday night: Michael Snaer's fourth game winner this season (and sixth over the past two seasons), or another loss by Virginia, which continues to play slip-and-slide with the NCAA tournament bubble? With one more weekend left in the ACC’s regular season -- and it could be a doozy -- here’s another attempt at the league’s power rankings:

1. Duke. Ryan Kelly missed two months with a foot injury, but he sure hasn’t looked like it. The Blue Devils forward has averaged 27 points in the two games since his return, scoring 36 in Duke's down-to-the-wire nail-biter Saturday against then-No. 5 Miami, and then 18 on Tuesday's Senior Night against Virginia Tech. Duke is now 17-0 this season with Kelly in the lineup -- and will be trying for 18-0 in Saturday’s showdown at UNC.

2. North Carolina. One of the keys to the Tar Heels going small? Getting some big play out of wing Reggie Bullock. The junior has posted three double-doubles in UNC’s past four games, and is averaging 15.5 points and 9 rebounds during his team’s six-game winning streak. The Tar Heels have secured a first-day ACC tournament bye. And as for that NCAA tournament bubble -- what bubble?

3. Miami. Just two weeks ago, it looked as if the Hurricanes were going to win the ACC regular season in a runaway. But they’ve now dropped three of their past four -- including the down-to-the-wire classic at Duke last weekend and Wednesday's loss to Georgia Tech when they squandered a double-digit lead. Miami can still clinch the outright regular-season title versus Clemson on Saturday. But the Canes drop in these power rankings after an 0-2 week.

4. NC State. In his last game of the season at PNC Arena on Wednesday, forward C.J. Leslie played his most complete game of the season -- recording 19 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks against Wake Forest. The Wolfpack have now won six of their past seven games and this weekend still could earn the third seed in the league tournament.

5. Michael Snaer. Florida State could be lower in these rankings, but the senior guard deserves an upper-half slot all by himself. After all, if not for his four game winners this season -- the latest on a left-handed runner with 4 seconds left against Virginia on Thursday night -- the Seminoles would be 4-13 in ACC play, instead of 8-9. FSU has now won two of its past three games, with Snaer averaging 18.3 points during that stretch.

6. Virginia. Is there an odder team out there, NCAA projection-wise, than the Cavaliers? Thursday night’s last-second loss at Florida State means UVa now has lost four of its past six games -- and its past two, at Boston College and at FSU, have come against teams with sub-.500 ACC records. Entering the game, the Cavs already had won four games this season against teams with a top-50 RPI, but lost four games against teams with RPIs below 150. What would you do if you were on the selection committee?

7. Maryland. Too many turnovers; too much inconsistency. As a result, the Terps are now 2-3 since their Feb. 16 upset of Duke, and they’re probably going to need the league’s automatic bid (via winning the ACC tournament) to make the NCAA field. It has been a disappointing, frustrating few weeks for coach Mark Turgeon and Maryland fans, and for good reason.

8. Georgia Tech. Talk about a confidence boost: Marcus Georges-Hunt's tip-in at the buzzer against Miami secured the Yellow Jackets’ first victory over a top-25 team since March 2010. Chris Bolden's career-high 21 points were also key to Tech winning for the second time in three games.

9. Boston College. It was a positive week for the Eagles, who got a game-winning 3-pointer from Joe Rahon with 8.2 seconds left against Virginia, followed by a solid Olivier Hanlan-led victory at Clemson. It marked the first time Rahon has scored in double figures in back-to-back games in league play, and it was Hanlan’s fourth conference game with 20 or more points.

10. Wake Forest. The Deacs have now lost three straight since upsetting Miami -- including Wednesday at NC State, where they were missing point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre because of strep throat. Senior C.J. Harris has made only 9 of 31 shots over his past three games.

11. Clemson. The Tigers have now lost five straight, and eight of their past nine. Senior forward Devin Booker is finishing strong individually, however, averaging 17.6 points over the last quintet of losses. Clemson travels to Miami on Saturday for its regular-season finale.

12. Virginia Tech. Guard Erick Green enters his final regular-season ACC game (at Wake Forest on Sunday) as the nation’s leading scorer (25 points per game). How many ACC Player of the Year votes will he get?

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

March, 1, 2013
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski often has said he doesn’t believe in revenge games. But after losing at Miami by 27 points in January, and getting beaten at Virginia on Thursday night, is there much doubt there will be some extra, er, motivation for the Blue Devils when they host the Hurricanes on Saturday? In the meantime, here's an attempt at this week’s ACC power rankings:

1. Miami: The now-No.-5 Hurricanes bounced back from their first ACC loss of the season (by 15 points at Wake Forest) by beating up on Virginia Tech. Since then, they’ve been able to focus on the game everyone’s been talking about: Saturday’s rematch with Duke: "It's going to be a blast," guard Trey McKinney Jones said, according to The Associated Press. "We beat them here this year, and we beat them there last year, so they're going to be gunning for our heads."

2. Duke: Plus, the No. 3 Blue Devils should be especially fired up after shooting worse than 40 percent and never leading during the 73-68 loss at Virginia on Thursday. Forward Ryan Kelly, sidelined since January with a foot injury, returned to practice this week, but isn’t expected back until after Saturday’s game.

3. Virginia: Nothing like beating the No. 3 team in the nation to bolster your NCAA tournament hopes. Joe Harris scored a career-high 36 points and teammate Akil Mitchell added a double-double Thursday night as the Cavs toppled the Blue Devils and remained tied for third place in the ACC standings.

4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels are now 4-1 since they went to a four-guard starting lineup, and as their momentum grows, so does their NCAA tournament résumé. UNC secured another 20-win season with Thursday night’s victory at Clemson, and junior Reggie Bullock has averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds the past two games.

5. NC State: The Wolfpack bounced back from their loss at UNC by blasting Boston College, securing back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since Herb Sendek was coach. Next up: a trip to Georgia Tech, with an eye on trying to work back into the top four of the conference standings. State now stands in fifth place, a game behind the Cavs and Tar Heels.

6. Maryland: The Terps are 1-6 on the road in conference play after losing at Georgia Tech, with their only ACC road win coming at last-place Virginia Tech. They still travel to Wake Forest and Virginia, and play UNC at home, during the regular season, but Maryland’s at-large NCAA tournament bid hopes are diminishing.

7. Florida State: The Seminoles remain the worst rebounding team in the league (31.3 per game) but could get a boost when 6-foot-8 Terrance Shannon -- who suffered a neck injury on Jan. 19 but has been cleared to play -- returns. FSU beat Wake Forest earlier this week, but has still lost four of its past six games.

8. Wake Forest: After scoring 23 points en route to a court-storming win over then-No. 2 Miami, Demon Deacon C.J. Harris made only one field goal, and finished with nine points, in a loss at Florida State. So continue Wake Forest’s road woes. As some consolation, two of its final three games are at home.

9. Georgia Tech: Yellow Jackets coach Brian Gregory called his team’s win over Maryland earlier this week the most consistent 40 minutes of basketball it has played this season. Freshman forward Robert Carter Jr. posted his fourth double-double; and at 15-12 with three games left, Tech is guaranteed at least a .500 regular-season finish.

10. Clemson: Even with double-doubles from big men Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, the Tigers couldn’t outmatch the Tar Heels’ smaller starting lineup. Thursday’s defeat marked Clemson’s third consecutive loss and sixth in its last seven games, as the Tigers continue to struggle to score.

11. Boston College: It was a tough week on Tobacco Road for the Eagles, who followed a 21-point loss at Duke with an 18-point loss at NC State. Ryan Anderson averaged 17.5 points in the two defeats.

12. Virginia Tech: The Hokies snapped a nine-game losing streak by besting FSU, only to lose at Miami. The Canes held senior guard/nation's-leading-scorer Erick Green to 16 points, only the second time during the conference season that he’s failed to score at least 22.

Paige's improved play propels UNC

February, 23, 2013
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t have to tell point guard Marcus Paige that he needed to play a whole lot better Saturday than the previous time the Tar Heels faced NC State.

Paige knew.

And he did.

The freshman, who looked lost and performed like it when the Tar Heels got whipped by the Wolfpack last month in Raleigh, rallied his team with an inspired, confident, 14-point, eight-assist effort during UNC’s 76-65 victory at the Smith Center.

NC State coach Mark Gottfried called Paige’s shots down the stretch Saturday “timely.”

And they were. But not just for that game -- also for the future of a Tar Heels team that finally seems to be putting its pieces together cohesively after switching to a smaller lineup four games ago.

“It’s just confidence and experience -- he has those now," senior guard Dexter Strickland said. “For [Paige] to be able to step up and hit those shots now, that’s huge for us, and where we are as a team.”

Where they are now, at 19-8 overall and 9-5 in the ACC, is third place in the league standings -- a half-game ahead of Virginia (which plays Sunday) and a full game ahead of the Wolfpack (19-8, 8-6). That’s important because only the top four teams earn a first-day bye in the ACC tournament.

And where they are now is looking calmer and more capable, going 3-1 since 6-foot-5 wing P.J. Hairston was inserted into the starting lineup, in place of 6-9 forward Desmond Hubert. The switch has made the Tar Heels faster, put another scorer on the floor, and opened more lanes for both Paige and Strickland to get to the basket.

“I think we’re starting to click more a little bit," Paige said.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bullock
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesNorth Carolina's Reggie Bullock impressed with his shooting ability Thursday.
A big part of that click is Paige, who went 2-for-11 with four assists and three turnovers during the Tar Heels' 91-83 loss last month at NC State. During that game, the freshman got outclassed by Wolfpack point guard Lorenzo Brown, who pushed a strong transition game -- and pushed past Paige on a regular basis. And the Tar Heels, Paige said, "got a little bit embarrassed," falling behind by as many as 28 points.

“That was the first time I played against a really big-time player, and he got the best of me in that matchup," Paige said. “[But] I couldn’t let him have a big night this time, because he kind of makes their whole offense go. I just wanted to try to contain him and make things as difficult for him as I could. And it ended up working out.”

Brown, still not quite 100 percent after an ankle sprain that sidelined him for two games earlier this month, finished with 12 points and 12 assists Saturday. But this time around, Paige was the aggressor -- especially when it mattered most.

After NC State used a 13-2 run early in the second half to turn a 10-point deficit into a 43-42 lead, Williams used his pull-'em-all approach, and inserted Paige, Luke Davis, J.P. Tokoto, Jackson Simmons and Hubert to give his more-used players a few minutes to ponder their lack of focus. Paige hit a 3-pointer -- a key shot considering Wolfpack wing Scott Wood countered with back-to-back 3s to extend his team’s run to 19-5.

But it was a few minutes later, with State still leading 55-52, when Paige really made his presence felt.

During what would become an 18-2 breakaway, and with the regulars back on the floor, he buried a 3-pointer to give the Tar Heels a 57-55 lead. After two Leslie McDonald free throws and a Reggie Bullock 3, he drove past Wood for a three-point play. And after another Bullock 3-pointer, Paige buried two free throws to give his team a comfy 70-57 cushion with less than four minutes left.

“I just think you’ve got to be able to step up and make big shots in times like that," Paige said. “And if defenses are going to leave you open, they’re challenging you to make shots like that. So to step up and make shots like that, that was big for me.”

And his team.

Bullock, who finished with a game-high 22 points and a career-high-tying 13 rebounds, also was big for UNC. As was the fact that NC State star forward C.J. Leslie finished with as many turnovers as points (6), and that the Tar Heels scored 24 points off turnovers (the Wolfpack had 16 for the game).

But Paige’s obvious growth since the previous time he faced NC State on Jan. 26 pulled it all together. It kept the rival Wolfpack from sweeping the Tar Heels for the first time since 2002-03. And it propelled the Tar Heels to their third consecutive victory.

He needed to improve. He knew it. And he did.

“My freshman is a tough little nut," Williams said. “And he’s getting better and better.”

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