North Carolina Tar Heels: Clemson Tigers

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For the third time since the ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, more teams have been added to the mix. The battle for conference supremacy started with just nine games deciding the outcome back when that was the extent of ACC membership.

The league has ballooned to 15 teams and now that the Big Ten expanded too, a slate of 14 games over three consecutive nights from Dec. 1-3 will determine bragging rights.

The ACC was 6-0 when just nine teams played in the Challenge. It was 4-2 after ACC expansion and 11 teams played. Since going to 12 teams the Big Ten won once and the Challenge has ended in consecutive ties.

The ACC still holds an advantage winning 10 of the 15 meetings overall, but it has not won the Challenge since 2008.

Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) will make their respective debuts in the Challenge this season. Clemson, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech did not participate last season for the ACC. Boston College will sit this one out this season.

As Maryland changes allegiances from ACC charter member to Big Ten expansion team, it becomes the Big Ten team with the most wins. The Terrapins have participated in every challenge and has a 10-5 record, and trails only Duke (13) for most Challenge wins. Five Big Ten teams (Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin) are tied with seven wins in the series.

From top to bottom, here are the best matchups of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge:

1. Duke at Wisconsin: It just might be an early Final Four preview. On paper, both have the rosters that could be playing the final weekend of the season. The Badgers, led by center Frank Kaminsky, return most of the rotation that got Bo Ryan to his first Final Four during his Wisconsin tenure. Duke restocks with the No. 1 recruiting class led by center Jahlil Okafor and guard Tyus Jones. The Blue Devils were 0-4 versus top 10 teams away from home last season in a year that ended with a NCAA second round flameout against Mercer. Wisconsin will be an early test to see if Duke will write a different narrative this season.

2. Iowa at North Carolina: Expect a high-scoring game because the Hawkeyes and Tar Heels both want to run early and often. Forward Jarrod Uthoff and center Gabriel Olaseni give Iowa a formidable frontcourt duo that will put up points in Fran McCaffery’s system despite their roster losses from last season. The Hawkeyes have never won on the road (0-5) in the Challenge. UNC will be a much more athletic team than it was last season with the addition of freshmen Joel Berry, Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson. The game could offer a small bit of redemption back home for guard Marcus Paige, who is a Marion, Iowa, native, after the Heels were bounced by Iowa State in the NCAA tournament.

3. Ohio State at Louisville: The last time Thad Matta squared off against Rick Pitino, Xavier upset the Cardinals in the 2004 NCAA tournament en route to the Elite Eight. It was the run that helped Matta land the Buckeyes job. Matta will learn what he’s working with in an early road test for a young, but talented team. The game will also serve as a homecoming for Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell, a Louisville native, who had an offer from Louisville. Ironically, next season, the Cards will rely heavily on sophomore guard Terry Rozier, a Cleveland native, who is expected to have a breakout year with the departure of Russ Smith. Montrezl Harrell’s decision to return to school was like a recruiting coup for the Cards.

4. Virginia at Maryland: A new twist to an old rivalry. The two foes have literally played the past 100 years, and as ACC rivals the game had the exalted status of the final regular season game for the better part of the last four decades. It could easily be the most intense game of the Challenge since both teams know each other so well. The backcourt battle pitting Virginia’s London Perrantes and Malcolm Brogdon against Maryland’s Seth Allen and Dez Wells could determine the outcome.

5. Michigan State at Notre Dame: From 1908 to 1979 the Spartans and Irish had a healthy basketball rivalry, meeting 94 times. It’s the first meeting between the schools since MSU beat the Irish in the Elite Eight en route to its 1979 national championship. The Spartans bring back Branden Dawson, who considered turning pro. The Irish welcome back Jerian Grant, who withdrew from school at the start of conference play due to an “academic matter.”

6. Syracuse at Michigan: Think of how great this game would have been with guard Tyler Ennis and forward Jerami Grant still suiting up for the Orange and guard Nik Stauskas, forward Glenn Robinson III and center Mitch McGary playing for the Wolverines. Instead, they form an all-star lineup of NBA early entries. In a rematch of the 2013 Final Four game, only a combined five players (Syracuse: Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney; Michigan: Spike Albrecht, Caris LeVert) remain who played in the game.

7. Nebraska at Florida State: If the Cornhuskers plan on improving on last season's NCAA appearance, they have to learn to win games like this. The Huskers were just 3-8 last season on the road and Tallahassee can be a tough place to play. The Seminoles missed the NCAA tournament last season due to several close nonconference losses, a trend they’ll need to reverse this season.

8. Pittsburgh at Indiana: The Panthers haven’t played the Hoosiers in Bloomington since 1941 and Pitt's experienced guards Cameron Wright and James Robinson won’t be intimidated by Assembly Hall. Noah Vonleh’s decision to turn pro possibly set IU back in its bid to rejoin the nation’s elite. But guard Yogi Ferrell and newcomer James Blackmon Jr. means the Hoosiers' cupboard isn’t bare.

9. Illinois at Miami: The Illini could be a darkhorse in league and an early road win could prove it. Guard Rayvonte Rice will be even harder to stop if he can improve his 3-point shooting from 29.5 percent last season. The Canes return just three players from last season, who accounted for just 15 percent of their scoring. Transfers Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State) and Sheldon McClellan (Texas) should make immediate impact for Miami.

10. Minnesota at Wake Forest: Guards Deandre Mathieu and Andre Hollins give Minnesota backcourt stability. The Deacons counter with their top duo of leading scorer Codi Miller-McIntyre and leading rebounder Devin Thomas, who should help Danny Manning make a smooth transition in his first season as coach.

11. Rutgers at Clemson: The Mack and Jack show is back for Rutgers. Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack were the top two scorers from last season and a formidable duo. Clemson returned everyone of impact except leading scorer and rebounder K.J. McDaniels. Guard Rod Hall will likely expand his scoring role after leading the Tigers in assists.

12. NC State at Purdue: The Boilermakers are the hottest team in the Challenge with five straight wins. Junior 7-footer A.J. Hammons gives Purdue a solid centerpiece to build around. NCSU has the monumental task of replacing 2014 ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren. The Wolfpack's fortunes could rest with talented, yet erratic, point guard Anthony Barber.

13. Georgia Tech at Northwestern: Both teams hope to get a boost from guards lost to injury last season. Tech’s Travis Jorgenson played in just four games before tearing his ACL. Northwestern’s oft-injured guard JerShon Cobb, its leading scorer returning, missed the last five games with a foot injury. The Yellow Jackets have only won once on the road in the Challenge.

14. Virginia Tech at Penn State: The Nittany Lions return most of their rotation that lost eight games by five or fewer points. Senior guard D.J. Newbill, who led the team in scoring, is now the unequivocal leader with Tim Frazier gone. Buzz Williams begins Hokies rebuilding project with a good starting point -- guard Devin Wilson was on both the coaches and media all-ACC freshmen teams and ranked third in the league in assists.

Look back, look ahead: ACC

April, 16, 2014
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A basketball-related expansion -- an anomaly during the entire conference realignment shuffle -- was supposed to culminate by making the Atlantic Coast Conference rise above other conferences. The league was supposed to be the biggest and baddest of the major conferences thanks to its first season with Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame as league members.

However, the only thing that increased was disappointment in the league’s overall showing.

Expanding to 15 teams did little to affect the ACC’s reach in the NCAA tournament. Six teams received bids -- and that likely would have been just five until NC State’s late push (including its upset of Syracuse in the ACC tournament).

North Carolina and Duke both failed to advance into the NCAA tournament’s second weekend for the first time since 1979. The Blue Devils were upset by Mercer in the second round. The Tar Heels lost to Iowa State in the third round. The ACC has long depended on the bluebloods to carry the league’s baton, and this season did little to change that narrative.

Only Virginia, which earned a No. 1 seed by winning the league title, advanced to the Sweet 16. The Cavaliers were then eliminated by Michigan State.

The league should improve next postseason thanks in part to Carolina's and Duke's potential to have powerhouse squads.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesWith a stellar recruiting class, Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils may be the ACC's best in 2014-15.
What we saw this season: The Cavaliers returned to prominence by winning their first outright ACC regular-season title since 1981. Criticism followed since the Cavs, who only played Syracuse, Duke and North Carolina once each and two of those games were in Charlottesville. It took winning the ACC tournament for Virginia to erase those doubts.

Freshmen Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) and Jabari Parker (Duke) proved to be not only among the best players in the conference, but in the nation -- regardless of class.

Many ACC teams had outstanding individual talents -- NC State’s T.J. Warren (won the league’s player of the year award), Duke’s Rodney Hood, North Carolina’s Marcus Paige, Clemson’s K.J. McDaniels to name a few -- but those teams were heavily flawed. Opponents who stopped Lamar Patterson essentially stopped Pittsburgh. Syracuse had trouble scoring. Duke had a thin frontcourt. Carolina was limited by its shooting from the perimeter.

Syracuse started the season strong -- winning its first 25 games -- but faded down the stretch losing six of its last nine games, as its offense went on hiatus. The Orange did provide two classics sure to be talked about in ACC lore. Their first meeting with Duke was a thrilling 91-89 overtime win in the Carrier Dome and their 66-60 loss at Duke featured Jim Boeheim’s first ejection in a regular-season game.

As has long been a problem since the league expanded to 12 teams, the ACC failed to develop a strong second tier of added depth. The conference continued to be top-heavy as Florida State, Maryland, Clemson and Notre Dame never quite became teams to fear.

Three of the bottom four teams in the standings played poorly enough to end the season with their coaches being fired. Boston College arguably had the most disappointing seasons of them all relative to its talent level. The Eagles pulled it together long enough to hand Syracuse its first loss, which was the highlight of their season.

What we expect to see next season: More of the nation’s top freshmen. Duke’s recruiting class is considered tops in the land and is led by center Jahlil Okafor, who is ranked No. 1 overall in the ESPN 100, and Tyus Jones, the No. 1 point guard who is fourth overall. North Carolina also snagged two top-10 recruits in Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson and is ranked third as a class by ESPN.com.

Newcomers are great and all, but let’s also appreciate what we won’t see in the ACC for the first time in its existence. Maryland, a charter member of the conference started in 1953, will begin competing in the Big Ten. Let’s pause to remember the good times.

Long enough? OK.

Louisville obviously doesn’t compare to the tradition Maryland had within the league, but it could be considered an upgrade otherwise. With three national titles and a Hall of Fame coach currently on its sideline, the Cardinals fit the league’s basketball pedigree.

Their addition, plus Virginia’s returning most of its ACC title squad, should help the league become closer to the juggernaut many of its coaches expected this past season.

For all the hand-wringing over a change of guard in the ACC, the Blue Devils and Tar Heels look primed to re-establish their stranglehold on the top of the league standings. Regardless of how Parker’s NBA draft decision falls on Wednesday, Duke will have a good blend of experience (Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson) and young talent (Okafor, Jones, Justise Winslow, Grayson Allen) at Mike Krzyzewski’s disposal.

Carolina returns the likely front-runner for preseason player of the year in Paige. Forward Brice Johnson and center Kennedy Meeks give the Heels an inside offensive scoring punch that will be hard to contain.

Because of those teams at the top, a trio of new coaches could face a harsh inaugural season in the league. Buzz Williams shocked many by leaving Marquette to take the reins at Virginia Tech, replacing James Johnson. Jim Christian (after a stint at Ohio) takes over Boston College, replacing Steve Donahue. And Danny Manning returns home to Tobacco Road to rebuild Wake Forest, replacing Jeff Bzdelik.

It could all add up and help the ACC live up to its own expectations as the best basketball conference in the nation.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina knew it was capable of a performance like Sunday’s 80-61 beatdown of Clemson. The Tar Heels just needed a reminder.

So coach Roy Williams had a video spliced together of clips from wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky and showed it to his team on Saturday. Carolina’s problem all season has been trying to sustain the urgency and effort that it showed in those nonconference games. The Heels finally revisited it against Clemson.

Williams doesn't have a formula to ensure they continue to play with such urgency, but he knows they can’t win without it.

“We have no chance if we don’t do that,” Williams said. “I’ve had some teams that were gifted and could win without their best effort. This is a team that really needs to have that maximum effort.”

The win over Clemson had little to do with any technical changes Williams made. He didn’t all of a sudden press more or use zone or come up with a new offensive set that the Tigers weren’t prepared to face.

The Heels simply ran to recover defensively on picks a little faster and tried for rebounds a little harder and competed a little bit better than they have for any game since the new year began. That’s something the Heels can do no matter the opponent.

“They played with much more competitive spirit than I’ve seen on them in some other games,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

[+] EnlargeUNC Celebrates
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty ImagesJames Michael McAdoo, Kennedy Meeks and the rest of the Tar Heels were in a good mood Sunday given their effort against Clemson.
Williams said he didn’t mention Carolina’s absurd home winning streak against Clemson, which now stands at 57-0, while his team prepared for Sunday’s game.

Truthfully, the streak did have a little something to do with why the Heels played with an added bounce.

“We definitely didn’t want to be that team to let the streak go down,” forward James Michael McAdoo said. “Definitely just came down to playing with pride. We didn’t talk about it that much but in the back of our heads we knew that we weren’t going to be that team today.”

Since Carolina's loss to Virginia on Monday, Williams spent the week of practice preaching urgency. He had the team watch a montage from its three best wins that showed times where players dove to the floor for a loose ball; or crashed the boards for offensive rebounds; or did something as simple as making the proper rotation on defense.

“It’s almost like you forget about it, but you look back and we beat some really talented teams,” said sophomore guard Marcus Paige, who had 15 points and five assists. “We kind of just went back to remind us that we can be really good if we invest.”

The Heels showed they were all in early.

If there was ever a game to go through the motions it was this one. The Tigers have been coming to Chapel Hill to play Carolina since 1926 and have never left with a victory. No one would have questioned it had the Heels come out with little emotion given the opponent.

McAdoo, who scored a game-high 22 points with seven rebounds, proved early North Carolina’s effort would be different. On a Paige missed jumper, McAdoo dove on the floor to corral the long rebound and called timeout as Clemson players surrounded him. Coming out of the timeout, Nate Britt hit a 3-pointer to extend the Heels' lead to 15.

Hustle was contagious as J.P. Tokoto started a fast break by also diving to the floor for a loose ball. Although Leslie McDonald missed a 3-point attempt in transition, Kennedy Meeks was there for the offensive rebound and even grabbed his own miss before converting.

“You talk about winning basketball plays, when James Michael tonight dives on the floor and gets us an extra possession, when J.P. dives on the floor in the first half -- those are winning plays,” Paige said. “They showed us that when we make those, and we have a conscious effort to make those, everything goes a lot more smoothly.”

The Heels (12-7, 2-4 ACC) caught a break in their schedule too. Their next four games come against teams with losing records in the ACC, starting with Georgia Tech on Wednesday.

If Carolina needs another reminder moving forward, Williams can show clips from the Clemson game as a standard of effort.

McDonald, who started for just the third time this season, said the Clemson game should be the “primary example of what we should do every game.”

“We visually see what this high level of intensity and sense of urgency can do for our team,” said McDonald, who ended his slump with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting. “It can really help us so we just need to feed off it.”

McDonald aims to shoot out of slump

January, 24, 2014
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North Carolina senior guard Leslie McDonald shot nearly 50 percent from the field during the four nonconference games in which he participated. Since then, his percentages have plummeted to bona fide slump levels.

In five ACC games, he’s shooting just 26 percent from the floor and has made just 7-of-31 3-point attempts.

[+] EnlargeLeslie McDonald
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesLeslie McDonald is one of UNC's few 3-point threats, but he's mired in a slump in ACC play.
“I think he’s been rushing it a little bit in the games and teams know he’s a 3-point shooter so they close on him a lot harder,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “We can’t simulate that in practice.”

Carolina ranks first nationally in the percentage of its scoring (63.6) that comes from shots inside the arc. It ranks last in Division I with 14 percent of its points generated from 3-pointers.

McDonald, who averages 9.8 points per game, and Marcus Paige are the only proven perimeter shooters for the Tar Heels. They account for 79 percent of the teams’ 3-point attempts this season, but in conference play neither has been effective. Paige has matched McDonald in also shooting just 22 percent from 3-point range.

McDonald has had a bad combination of rushing his shots and forcing them, too. He’s tied with James Michael McAdoo for the second most shot attempts on the team during conference play at 53. That’s despite the fact McDonald plays eight fewer minutes per game and McAdoo is averaging about six more points per game at 13.6 in conference play.

Williams blames at least part of McDonald’s slump on missing the first nine games of the season while the NCAA weighed on his eligibility. He missed out on chances to get into a rhythm and build his confidence against lesser teams.

“You don’t need to play the Celtics, the Lakers, the Dukes, the Connecticuts, you need to have some other games to allow kids to get their confidence rolling,” Williams said. “This just confirmed that, but it has been tough for him.”

Clemson could be even tougher for McDonald to break out of his slump against. The Tigers are fourth in the nation in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 26.3 percent.

Williams, however, believes McDonald is getting close to having a breakout performance.

“He’s had some good practices and usually that comes first,” Williams said. “There’s no question about that. I’ve never had a guy to have bad practices then all of a sudden play great in games. Some guys are gamers. Usually the confidence comes from seeing the ball going in the basket.”

Weekend Homework: Clemson-UNC streak

January, 24, 2014
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It’s one of the most remarkable records in college basketball.

0-56.

Clemson has never ventured into Chapel Hill and left with a victory over North Carolina (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET on ESPNU/WatchESPN). Most games haven’t been close, either. The Tigers have come within single digits on just eight occasions.

It’s the longest streak of its kind. And every season, the thought becomes that surely it can’t continue forever. At some point, the Tar Heels have to get caught slipping and the bounces have to go Clemson’s way. That’s covered somewhere in the law of averages, right?

Apparently not. Until this point, Carolina has escaped every time the Tigers looked to have the upper hand.

It happened when Rick Barnes, now the coach at Texas, brought a No. 2-ranked Clemson squad to Chapel Hill to face the reeling and young Heels. UNC started off ACC play 0-3 in the 1996-97 season and Barnes seemed poised to make program history.

In what turned out to be coach Dean Smith’s last contribution to extending the streak, the Heels won 61-48 and would eventually end up in the Final Four.

Carolina probably felt the most anxiety about keeping the streak alive in its 8-20 season in 2001-02 -- the only losing season since Smith’s first at the helm in 1961-62. But even that Matt Doherty-coached team closed out Clemson 96-78 on senior day. That win seemed to signal that, even at its worst, UNC was still good enough to beat the Tigers when the Heels were at home.

The teams first met in 1926, and, in the modern era, the Tar Heels have rarely been as vulnerable as they are this season. They’ve already had three losses at the Dean Smith Center, including an 83-80 setback to Belmont.

The Tigers raised eyebrows by upsetting Duke at home, although that enthusiasm was tempered Tuesday after they lost by 33 at Pittsburgh.

Clemson does boast the nation’s top scoring defense, allowing just 53.5 points per game. If the Tigers can keep the game played at a slower pace in the half court, North Carolina has proved that it doesn’t fare well in those situations.

But can the Tigers, who have heard more than they want to hear about the streak, overcome their wretched history in Chapel Hill long enough to complete a victory?

“I’m sure I’ll allude to it,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell told The Charlotte Observer. “I don’t make a big deal out of it. It’s not the center point of your speech, of what you’re trying to do to win the game. ‘Let’s be the first team.’ You’re not doing that.”

Maybe he won’t. But chances are Carolina will. For a team whose effort has sometimes been questioned, the Tar Heels will try to summon a top performance to avoid becoming the first team in school history to lose to Clemson.

ACC team previews

October, 23, 2013
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From Sept. 30 through Oct. 25, Insider will be rolling out its college basketball preview, including breakdowns on every Division I team, projected order of finish for every conference and essays from Insider's hoops experts.

Here are previews for each team in the ACC:

Boston College Eagles Insider
Clemson Tigers (free)
Duke Blue Devils Insider
Florida State Seminoles Insider
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Insider
Maryland Terrapins Insider
Miami Hurricanes Insider
North Carolina Tar Heels Insider
North Carolina State Wolfpack Insider
Notre Dame Fighting Irish Insider
Pittsburgh Panthers Insider
Syracuse Orange Insider
Virginia Cavaliers Insider
Virginia Tech Hokies Insider
Wake Forest Demon Deacons Insider

Nonconference schedule analysis: ACC

September, 9, 2013
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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.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
7:30
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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.

A Closer Look: UNC 68, Clemson 59

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
9:37
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North Carolina’s smaller lineup continues to come up big.

The Tar Heels (20-8, 10-5 ACC) won their fourth consecutive game Thursday night, 68-59 at Clemson, and are now 4-1 since coach Roy Williams opted to insert 6-foot-5 P.J. Hairston into the lineup for 6-11 Desmond Hubert. And UNC continued to show signs that it’s all starting to come together -- and at the right time.

Senior guard Dexter Strickland, looking healthier and healthier as the season has progressed, led the Tar Heels with 16 points. Point guard Marcus Paige continued to show more confidence in his offense, finishing with 10 points and four assists. And Reggie Bullock did a little bit of everything yet again, recording 12 points, 6 assists and 9 rebounds.

A closer look at the Tar Heels’ victory at Littlejohn Coliseum:

Turning point: The score was knotted 18-18 with about 10 minutes to go in the first half when UNC broke away with a 12-2 run. Reserve Leslie McDonald jump-started it with back-to-back 3-pointers, Hairston added a 3, and forward James Michael McAdoo added a three-point play to give the Tar Heels a 30-20 lead.

The Tar Heels didn’t play a particularly pretty second half, as the Tigers outrebounded them and clawed to within seven points with a minute left in the game. But UNC’s cushion was plenty, especially against a foe that has struggled to score this season.

“Well, we’re happy to get an ACC win on the road,'' Williams said. "There’s no question about that. But boy, we finished the game about as ugly as you can finish it. We missed some free throws. They outrebounded us by 14 in the second half, and they ended up outrebounding us by nine for the game. You can’t have that and be very good. We got sloppy."

Players(s) of the game: Strickland made 7 of his 9 shot attempts and also added 3 rebounds and 4 assists.

Forwards Devin Booker (25 points, 11 rebounds) and Milton Jennings (12 points, 10 rebounds) both had double-doubles for the Tigers (13-14, 5-10).

What it means for UNC: Security. Beating a team with an RPI near the mid-100s might not exactly turbocharge the Tar Heels’ ever-strengthening NCAA résumé, but a loss likely would have hurt.

The victory kept the Tar Heels even with Virginia (which upset No. 3 Duke later Thursday night) for third place in the ACC standings; the top four seeds earn a first-day bye in the upcoming league tournament.

What it means for Clemson: More growing pains. Entering the game, the Tigers ranked last in the ACC in scoring (61.8 points per game) and 10th in field-goal percentage (42.6). And they were not helped by the fact that starter K.J. McDaniels, one of only two Tigers averaging double figures (10.7 ppg), sat out Thursday due to an ankle injury. The Tigers shot 39.7 percent for the game.

Etc.: The victory secured UNC’s 40th 20-win season in the last 43 years. … UNC reserve big man Joel James, who had missed four straight games because of a concussion, returned and played two minutes.

Up next: Clemson plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday; UNC hosts Florida State on Sunday.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 22, 2013
2/22/13
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With roughly two weeks left in the regular season, the race is on for a top-four seed (and first-day bye) in the ACC tournament. In the meantime, here are this week's rankings based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Miami. Clemson and Virginia both tested the Canes, but a late 3-pointer from Kenny Kadji at the Tigers and Reggie Johnson's tiebreaking layup versus the Cavs kept Miami undefeated in league play. The 13-0 record marks the hottest league start since Duke went 16-0 en route to the conference title in 1998-99.

2. Duke. The Devils bounced back from a close loss at Maryland with a blowout win at Virginia Tech as Mason Plumlee followed a four-point, three-rebound performance with a double-double Thursday night. Coach Mike Krzyzewski is now third on the career list for victories at one school (877), behind Dean Smith and Jim Boeheim.

3. NC State. The Wolfpack got a big boost by inserting 6-foot-8 T.J. Warren into the starting lineup this week. Not only did he turn in a 31-point, 13-rebound performance against FSU, but the team grabbed a season-best 45 boards. The Pack have won three straight, and it will be interesting to see whether they stay big against the Tar Heels this weekend.

4. North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams continues to start a smaller lineup with sophomore P.J. Hairston at the 4, and the Tar Heels continue to look faster and more aggressive with another scorer on the floor. Forward James Michael McAdoo's double-double at Georgia Tech, after he scored in single digits for three straight games, is a good sign, too.

5. Virginia. The Cavs are in the midst of a tough stretch. They lost at both UNC and No. 2 Miami in the past week, play a Georgia Tech team this weekend that beat them earlier this month, and then face another test in No. 6 Duke coming up next week. Junior Joe Harris, though, continues to be on a tear, averaging 22.4 points over his past five games.

6. Maryland. Another (way) up and (way) down week for the Terps, who upset the then-second-ranked Blue Devils at home, only to lose on the road to a focused Boston College team that had won just three previous ACC games. After posting an impressive 19-point, nine-rebound game against Mason Plumlee, Maryland big man Alex Len managed only four points against the Eagles.

7. Florida State. For all his last-second shots this season, Seminoles point guard Michael Snaer hadn’t managed 20 points against an ACC foe this year, until this week. He followed a 21-point game in a win against Boston College with 20 during a loss at NC State. Next up: a trip to Virginia Tech.

8. Clemson. Another week, another home heartbreaker for the Tigers, who lost to Miami on Kadji’s 3 after losing to NC State on a Scott Wood 3 on Feb. 10. At least they won a close one in the middle at Georgia Tech. Devin Booker posted his fifth double-double of the season in Clemson’s latest loss.

9. Georgia Tech. Freshman Robert Carter Jr. hit two free throws in the final 10 seconds to beat Wake Forest before Georgia Tech lost by double figures to the Tar Heels. The Yellow Jackets were an ouch-worthy 4-for-11 from the free throw line in their latest game and remain the worst foul-shooting team in the league (63.2 percent).

10. Boston College. And to build on the above note about the importance of free throws: The Eagles hit 16 straight down the stretch to protect the lead in their win over Maryland. Freshman Olivier Hanlan scored a career-high 26 points in that game, and BC has won two of its past three.

11. Wake Forest. A three-point loss at Boston College followed by a one-point loss to Georgia Tech? The bottom tier of the ACC likes to make things interesting, at least. The Deacs are second in the league in steals, sandwiched between UNC and Duke, and C.J. Harris continues to lead the team with 14.8 points per game.

12. Virginia Tech. Erick Green is still really good, adding a 22-point game against Duke to his nation-leading scoring average. His team still is struggling, though, losing nine in a row -- including two in overtime and Thursday's loss to the Blue Devils.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 1, 2013
2/01/13
7:30
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Miami keeps rolling while the rest of the league keeps shuffling. Here are this week’s ever-changing ACC Power Rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Miami. At a time when top teams are winning with youth, it’s refreshing to see the Hurricanes be so successful with a slew of upperclassmen. Monday, the Hurricanes rose 11 spots in the AP rankings, to No. 14. Wednesday, they remained undefeated in league play (7-0) with a win at Virginia Tech. Next up: a trip to No. 19 NC State, the preseason favorite to win the ACC.

2. Duke. It took a career-high 32 points from Mason Plumlee, plus a clutch 3-pointer from Seth Curry with less than three minutes left, but the fifth-ranked Blue Devils notched their first true road win of the season at Wake Forest on Wednesday. This, after freshmen Rasheed Sulaimon and Amile Jefferson posted big games in a blowout against Maryland.

3. Virginia. The Cavaliers extended what had been a fairly quiet winning streak with an exclamation point when it upset No. 19 NC State on Tuesday. Joe Harris scored 22 points in that win and has averaged 15.8 points over UVa’s past four victories. Meanwhile, the Cavs' defense has held foes to an average of 50 points per game during the streak.

4. NC State. Point guard Lorenzo Brown has proven to be a fast healer in the past, returning from offseason knee surgery more quickly than expected. The No. 19 Wolfpack is hoping for the same thing now, after he sprained his left ankle in the first half of Tuesday’s loss at Virginia. The junior, who was in a walking boot Wednesday, leads the league with 6.9 assists per game.

5. North Carolina. Sophomore reserve P.J. Hairston, who was averaging about a point a minute over his past three games, will be sidelined this weekend after suffering a concussion. But at least the Tar Heels get junior guard Leslie McDonald back after an academics-related suspension. Coach Roy Williams hated his team’s lack of aggressiveness in the first half of its loss at rival NC State but was pleased with the way it overcame the adversity of losing Hairston at Boston College.

6. Florida State. Lose big or win on a Michael Snaer last-second shot? For the past two weeks, it’s been one or the other for FSU. Wednesday, Snaer -- who buried two game winners in ACC play last season -- hit his second in seven days, this time a 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds left to top Maryland. But that followed a 24-point loss at Miami.

7. Maryland. It was a tough week for the Terps, who saw the best out of freshman foe Rasheed Sulaimon (25 points) during a blowout loss at Duke, then classic Michael Snaer (game winner) at Florida State. Ouch. Maryland has now lost five of its past seven.

8. Clemson. Forward Milton Jennings again showed his capability with his 28-point, 14-rebound effort against Virginia Tech last weekend. But he followed that with nine points in a win against Georgia Tech. “He can be a very good player in this league, and he's shown it at times," said coach Brad Brownell. But the senior has had trouble with consistency, something the Tigers could use.

9. Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have run the gamut over the past week and a half, following the best win of the Jeff Bzdelik era (over 18th-ranked NC State), with a 20-point thud at Georgia Tech, and then with a down-to-the-final-minutes loss against No. 5 Duke. Freshman Devin Thomas is averaging 14.2 points over his past five games, but Wake has now lost four of them.

10. Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ only two ACC wins of the season have come in overtime (at Georgia Tech) and by a point (to Wake Forest), but senior Erick Green makes this team worth watching. He continues to lead the nation in scoring at 25.5 ppg and has been averaging 30 points over his team’s past three losses. Next up: UNC.

11. Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets finally won an ACC game, clobbering Wake Forest by 20 points last weekend. But they followed that with a three-point defeat at Clemson. Tech remains last in the league in field goal percentage, at 42.2 percent.

12. Boston College. Make that five straight losses for the Eagles, who continue to be led by sophomore Ryan Anderson (16.4 ppg) and Olivier Hanlan (14.1 ppg) but are allowing ACC foes to make .483 percent of their shots.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
7:30
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Last week, I went back and forth (and back, again) on who should be No. 1 in the ACC. This time, after another week of upsets, three teams could make a case for No. 2. Agree or disagree -- and feel free to, below -- here are this week’s ACC Power Rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced.

1. Miami: In case you missed it, the Hurricanes on Wednesday handed Duke the third-worst loss ever for a No. 1 ranked team (27 points), and the Devils’ most lopsided regular-season loss in five seasons. It marked Miami’s first victory over a top-rated team in the basketball program’s history -- and it got big man Reggie Johnson back from a broken thumb earlier than expected. Not a bad week for the final undefeated team in ACC play, eh?

2. NC State: What’s worse, losing on the road by two points at Wake Forest, as the Wolfpack did on Tuesday night, or getting blown out on the road at Miami, like Duke the following day? Both these teams are struggling, having lost two of their past three, and NCSU has got to find a way to shore up its defense. But State gets the edge, for now, because it accounted for one of those two Duke losses.

3. Duke: It’s clear that the Blue Devils are not the same team without senior forward Ryan Kelly, who has now missed three games and is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Not just because of his ability to hit 3-pointers, but his ability, at 6-foot-11, to pull defenders away from the bucket and open things up for his teammates. They must adjust, and quickly, considering Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Quinn Cook were a combined 6-for-37 at Miami.

4. North Carolina: Like the Hurricanes last week, an argument could be made that UNC should be higher in these rankings, based on the fact that it has won three straight, and two of the teams above them have not. No doubt this team, which has garnered two straight double-doubles from James Michael McAdoo and some big buckets from Reggie Bullock, is getting better. How much better will be tested on the road against the Wolfpack on Saturday.

5. Virginia: After holding Florida State to 36 points in a 20-point blowout, freshman Evan Nolte scored a career-high 18 points in a win over Virginia Tech to push the Cavs’ ACC record to 3-2. Next up: match-ups with Boston College and NC State at home.

6. Maryland: Coach Mark Turgeon has started eight different lineups this season in a quest to find the right combination. But what he hasn’t found yet is consistent offense. While the Terps, who followed a loss at UNC with a win over Boston College, lead the league in field goal percentage defense, they have made only 39.4 percent of their shots in six ACC games.

7. Florida State: There you are, Michael Snaer. After burying two buzzer beaters during ACC play last season, the guard did it again Thursday night against Clemson. It was a good way to recover from the Seminoles’ horrendous (i.e., 36-point) offensive effort in a loss to Virginia.

8. Wake Forest: "There were a lot of moments," Deacons coach Jeff Bzdelik told The Associated Press after his team upset NC State on Tuesday, "but we finished with a beautiful moment." Led by freshman Devin Thomas' career-high 25 points, Wake marked its first victory over a team ranked in the AP Top 25 since February, 2010, when Dino Gaudio was still coach.

9. Clemson: Forward Devin Booker averaged 21 points in the last week during two oh-so-close losses at NC State and FSU. The senior is averaging 13 points and 8 rebounds for the season.

10. Virginia Tech: The up-and-down season continues to go up and down for the Hokies. After Robert Brown made a short jumper to beat Wake Forest by a point, Va. Tech lost by double figures to Virginia -- despite Erick Green adding a career-high 35 points to his nation-leading scoring average.

11. Boston College: Freshman Olivier Hanlan has earned back-to-back ACC Rookie of the Week honors, and is averaging 17.5 points over his past four games. But his team has lost three straight during that stretch, all by five or fewer points.

12. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets -- despite playing NC State close, taking Virginia Tech to overtime and leading Duke at halftime -- remain the final winless (0-5) team in league play. Kammeon Holsey continues to impress as a sixth man, though; he had 18 points and nine rebounds during Wednesday’s loss at UNC.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 18, 2013
1/18/13
7:30
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Who deserves the top slot in the ACC? Miami, alone atop the league standings at 4-0, has a strong case. So does Duke, still the highest-ranked among the conference teams. And so does NC State, which handed Duke its first loss of the season last weekend and knocked the Blue Devils out of first place in the national ratings.

Let the debate commence, but here are my ACC Power Rankings for this week, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. NC State. After toppling top-ranked Duke at home on Saturday, Maryland center Alex Len's game winner with 0.9 seconds left kept the Wolfpack from staying perfect in conference play. The loss snapped No. 14 NC State’s 10-game winning streak, but will it erode the Pack’s confidence or momentum? Somehow, I don’t think so.

2. Duke. Seth Curry scored 20-plus points for the third time in four games, and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon broke out of his shooting slump (15 points, 5-for-8) as the third-ranked Blue Devils bounced back from their first loss of the season with a win over Georgia Tech on Thursday night. Duke is now 1-1 without starter Ryan Kelly, who is sidelined with a foot injury.

3. Miami. I hear you, Miami fans: You want the Hurricanes to be ranked higher, considering they’re the only undefeated team in the ACC and are off to their best conference start since going 5-0 to open their Big East season in 1997-98. Next Wednesday’s game vs. Duke will certainly give them the chance to move up in these ratings -- and others.

4. Maryland. After losing at Miami last weekend, Terps fans stormed the court Wednesday night to celebrate their team’s first win over a ranked foe since March 3, 2010. The victory over NC State was an important step for coach Mark Turgeon’s team, which will try to take another one at UNC on Saturday. "I came here to do great things,’’ Turgeon said after the game, according to the AP. “We haven't done many great things since I've been here. This is a great thing."

5. North Carolina. Credit reserve P.J. Hairston's career-high 23 points and little-used backup Jackson Simmons' eight-point, four-rebound afternoon at FSU for keeping the Tar Heels from falling to 0-3 in the ACC last Saturday. But the Tar Heels need more from their starters, particularly their big guys, if they want to continue an upward trajectory in the conference.

6. Florida State. The Tar Heels outrebounded the Seminoles by 22 last Saturday, and despite a 2-1 league start, FSU has now been outrebounded in four straight games. They’ll need to hit the boards hard this weekend against a Virginia team that likes to frustrate offenses with a deliberate pace and defense.

7. Virginia. How do you beat UNC, only to lose at Wake Forest and Clemson? At least the Cavaliers have had an open week to try to figure that out before hosting Florida State on Saturday. Joe Harris continues to lead UVa in scoring, but has shot 10-for-27 in his team’s past two losses.

8. Clemson. It was a good week for the Tigers, who held Virginia and Wake Forest to 44 points apiece in victories. Milton Jennings scored a season-high 21 points against the Cavs, while K.J. McDaniels posted career-highs in rebounds (nine) and blocks (seven) against the Deacons.

9. Boston College. It was a tough week for the Eagles, who lost two down-to-the wire games at Wake Forest and against Miami. Lonnie Jackson has come on strong as of late; he’s averaging just over 20 points in his past three outings. All three of BC’s conference losses have been by five or fewer points.

10. Wake Forest. C.J. Harris scored a career-high 29 points to help topple Boston College, only to have his team score just 44 points total (the Deacons' lowest output of the season) in a loss to Clemson. Next up: Virginia Tech.

11. Virginia Tech. It took overtime, but the Hokies finally halted their four-game losing streak with a win at Georgia Tech. Erick Green -- who else? -- led Virginia Tech’s rally; he has now scored in double figures in 19 straight games dating back to last season -- the ACC's longest active streak.

12. Georgia Tech. After a 10-2 start, the Jackets have now lost four straight to open ACC play. One positive from Thursday night’s loss at Duke: With three freshmen in the starting lineup, Tech led by as many as seven points in the first half. One negative: 21 turnovers for the game.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 11, 2013
1/11/13
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Can we just call places 3 through 6 a tie? After the first week of ACC play, it’s harder than ever to judge the middle of the league pack. But here are this week’s ACC Power Rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Duke. Still undefeated, still No. 1 after victories over Wake Forest and Clemson. But the Blue Devils will be tested Saturday not only by an NC State team that has won nine in a row, but by playing without senior forward Ryan Kelly, who is out indefinitely with an injured right foot.

2. NC State. The Wolfpack was picked to win the ACC during the preseason by both media and coaches, and Saturday’s home game against the Blue Devils will show if it has what it takes to make that push. Lorenzo Brown, with 21 points against Georgia Tech, was the latest to lead his team in scoring. Who’s next?

3. Miami. The Hurricanes have never started 2-0 in the ACC -- until now. Senior forward Kenny Kadji had 18 points to help break his team’s 10-game losing streak to UNC on Thursday night, and sixth-year senior Julian Gamble (14 points against the Tar Heels) has been filling in admirably for the injured Reggie Johnson.

4. Maryland. Dez Wells had a bad shooting night, Alex Len at times got pushed around, and the Terps saw their 13-game winning streak snapped via a 12-point comeback by Florida State. Whether they bounce back at Miami this weekend could be a good indication of whether they’re a top-tier ACC team.

5. Florida State. Junior forward Okaro White has come up big during the Seminoles’ 2-0 ACC start, averaging 17.5 points and 8 rebounds. And so has his team. "We sat down, the juniors and seniors, with the young guys and told them we have to stop talking, and we have to show them how hard you have to play,’’ White told Tallahassee.com.

6. Virginia. Beat North Carolina, only to lose to Wake Forest? It might be that sort of topsy-turvy season for the Cavs, who should get more and more of a boost as senior guard Jontel Evans, who returned from injury last weekend, gets more and more back in sync with the offense.

7. North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams said his team was stressed in the locker room after losing to Miami on Thursday night. And for good reason: This marks only the fourth time UNC has ever started 0-2 in the ACC, and things won’t get any easier at Florida State on Saturday.

8. Boston College. The Eagles have now won six of their past seven games, and gave NC State a scare in their only loss since Dec. 4. Sophomore Lonnie Jackson has posted double digit points for three consecutive games, including a season-high 22 at Virginia Tech.

9. Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets had a six-game winning streak broken by the start of ACC play. Tech is shooting just 35.2 percent during its 0-2 conference start.

10. Wake Forest. Despite shooting just 26 percent after halftime and failing to score a field goal for the final 10 minutes, the Deacs survived Virginia’s comeback attempt. “We stayed with it,” Wake Forest forward Travis McKie told The Times-News. “I think early in the season we would’ve put our head down and had a pity party. But we stayed with it and continued to fight hard.” Wake has now won five of seven games.

11. Clemson. The Tigers scored only 10 points, on just 12 percent shooting, in the first half at Duke on Wednesday. Yikes. Devin Booker has posted two double-doubles in Clemson’s 0-2 ACC start.

12. Virginia Tech. Already-undermanned Tech was down to six scholarship players during its midweek loss to BC, thanks to illness and injury. Erick Green continues to lead the nation in scoring, but the Hokies have now lost four in a row, and are 0-2 in ACC play.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
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Only one more week of tune-ups before Atlantic Coast Conference play begins. Here are this week’s ACC Power Rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have performed lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Duke: The 11-0 Blue Devils took the week off, but they remain the top team in the ACC, and nation. Mason Plumlee continues to lead the league in rebounding (11.5 per game), although his team ranks 11th in the league in rebounding margin (minus-0.3). Duke returns to the court Saturday versus Santa Clara.

2. NC State: Forward C.J. Leslie scored a career-high 33 points en route to the Wolfpack’s fifth straight win, over St. Bonaventure, last weekend. It marked the first time he has scored 20 or more points this season, as five NC State players are averaging double figures.

3. Maryland: The Terps allowed a 20-point lead to dwindle to three before beating Stony Brook last Friday. Maryland is fourth in the nation in both assists (18.6) and rebounds (44.4) per game.

4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels didn’t get much of a test during a blowout victory against McNeese State, but they will get one Saturday against No. 20 UNLV. Coach Roy Williams still wants a more balanced attack inside, but three different players have started at center over the past three games.

5. Virginia: Old Dominion had lost nine in a row before using a 21-4 second-half run to stun the Cavaliers -- and maybe serve up a wake-up call?. “I hope they weren’t feeling [good about] themselves: ‘Hey, we won [eight] in a row,’” coach Tony Bennett said after the loss, according to The Washington Post. “I would hope that’s not the case, but if it was, this will certainly bring you back to reality.”

6. Miami: Without big man Reggie Johnson (jammed thumb), the Hurricanes skidded to a 1-2 finish in the Diamond Head Classic, beating Hawaii before losing to No. 4 Arizona, then Indiana State. Wednesday’s game against La Salle will mark their final test before ACC play.

7. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have now won four straight, and six in a row at home at new McCamish Pavilion. Midseason Kentucky transfer Stacey Poole made his Tech debut last weekend, scoring seven points in the second half of his team’s win over The Citadel. But the Jackets still rank last in the league in field goal percentage (43.0).

8. Florida State: After sitting out the previous game because of disciplinary reasons, senior Michael Snaer returned with a 30-point game to help top Charlotte. That three-point win means FSU has now won three in a row since losing three straight.

9. Virginia Tech: Erick Green notched a career-high 31 points to edge Bradley by a point, but his 26 points the following day weren’t nearly enough during a blowout loss to Colorado State in the Las Vegas Classic. The Hokies have now lost three of their past five since their 7-0 start.

10. Clemson: BYU transfer Damarcus Harrison showed his potential by notching 15 points, 4 rebounds and 6 assists off the bench in a win over South Carolina State. And the Tigers could use some more of that, as they rank 250th in the nation in points (64.4 per game), 195th in rebounds (34.8) and 220th in assists(12.3).

11. Boston College: BC halted Providence’s six-game winning streak, and now the Eagles have won three straight. Ryan Anderson continues to pace his team with 16.1 points (third-best in the ACC) and 9.7 rebounds (second-best in the ACC) per game.

12. Wake Forest: After beating UNC Greensboro earlier this week, coach Jeff Bzdelik said his team is starting to come together and find their roles at the right time. We’ll see. The Deacons have one more nonconference game, against Xavier, before opening their conference slate at Duke. They’re still getting outrebounded by an average of 1.9 per game, and allowing foes to shoot 43.6 percent.

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