North Carolina Tar Heels: Miami Hurricanes

If you’ve noticed a sudden rush of recruiting information for 2016 prospects in the last few days, it's no coincidence.

Sunday was the first day that college coaches were permitted to contact prospects in the rising junior class, and for some prospects that literally meant the phone rang when the clock struck midnight.

Often times, those conversations are followed by some sort of offer. Here’s a look at some of the latest news for the Class of 2016:

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.

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.

Miami Hurricanes quiet doubters

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Miami point guard Shane Larkin said he plans to sleep with his piece of the ACC Tournament net for at least two weeks.

The Hurricanes’ frenetic, fantastic, down-to-the-final-minutes championship win over North Carolina on Sunday was worth savoring -- in more ways than one.

Not only did the 87-77 victory secure UM’s first ACC tournament title, another accomplishment on an ever-growing list this season, it quieted any doubts that this team should be one to be reckoned with in the NCAA tournament.

“A lot of people were saying we peaked earlier in the year, when we won 14 in a row, and then we lost three of our last five," said Larkin, named the tournament MVP after his career-high 28-point performance. “A lot of people said ... we weren’t going to have any chance in the NCAA tournament. But we just stayed together as a group; we stayed together and believed in ourselves and got three wins in a row against three very good teams.”

Indeed, this didn’t look like a team that was petering out. Just the opposite, in fact.

[+] EnlargeShane Larkin
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsShane Larkin scored 28 points and had seven assists in Miami's win over North Carolina.
Pushed by a much-improved Tar Heels squad that also had plenty of doubters not too long ago, both teams put together a first half that was “as high a level of basketball as I’ve seen all year long,’’ Canes coach Jim Larranaga said. They combined for 15 3-pointers, only eight turnovers, 13 lead changes and six ties. And that was just in the first 20 minutes.

In one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flurry, UNC sophomore P.J. Hairston (28 points) buried three 3-pointers in a row -- interlaced with 3s from Larkin and teammate Trey McKinney Jones (career-high 20 points). It was a stretch of entertaining one-upsmanship, and although Miami led 44-41 at halftime, you knew -- you hoped -- there would be more.

And there was.

“It was anyone’s ballgame with five minutes to go," said Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, emotional about the loss and about how far his guard-led team has come since it lost to the Hurricanes by 26 points in early February.

Actually, UNC led Sunday 67-64 with 7:44 to go, until Hurricanes big man Julian Gamble scored five points in an 8-0 run. The Tar Heels, as they had all game, tried to shoot back, and point guard Marcus Paige cut it to a 74-71 with 3:37 to go.

But then Larkin drove by Strickland for a layup, and McKinney Jones (career-high 20 points) hit yet another 3 to make it 79-71 with 1:36 left.

It was the Hurricanes' largest lead to that point in the game, and finally the cushion was enough.

“Congratulations to Miami, it will continue to be a phenomenal year for them," said Williams, whose team is now 8-3 since it last lost to Miami. “They won the regular season, and then validated it by winning a conference tournament as well and it’s just a great, great year. ... They’re really a big-time basketball team.”

As the horn sounded and a multi-colored blizzard of confetti poured out of the rafters, Miami guard Durand Scott leapt into Gamble's arms, then embraced big man Reggie Johnson. It was an emotional moment for three seniors who had seen Tobacco Road teams dominate the ACC -- until Florida State won the tournament last season.

And until now.

“My first meeting at George Mason in 1997, I asked our players, ‘Who are the best programs in the country, and who should be our role model?’ and they mentioned Duke and Carolina," said Larranaga, who took the Patriots to the Final Four in 2006. “And when I got to Miami, I asked, ‘Who are the best teams and programs in the league?’ and they said Duke and North Carolina. So what we’ve tried to do is use them as a shining example of what can be done.”

And Saturday’s net-cutting was another step.

McKinney Jones said he would likely give his sliver of the twine to his mom. Larranaga said his would be on display in his office. Scott said he would add his cutting to an ever-growing collection of memorabilia.

Meanwhile, expect Larkin to leave some room under his pillow for another piece of net. That’s the goal entering the NCAA tournament.

“This was a big weekend for us,’’ Larkin said. “This gives us a lot of momentum going forward.”

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- By the time you read this, Sunday’s ACC tournament championship game will be an afterthought, a fond March asterisk as you debate seeding and Cinderellas and start the post-Selection Show process of filling out a bracket.

And that’s a shame, because, wow, that was entertaining.

In the end, the top-seeded Miami Hurricanes enjoyed the confetti treatment and its first ACC tournament title, but it took 15 lead changes, 10 ties, and a gritty, sharpshooting effort against a vastly improved North Carolina Tar Heels team to prevail 87-77 at Greensboro Coliseum.

A quick look at the contest:

Turning point: UNC, which lost twice to Miami during the regular season before it switched to its current four-guard starting lineup, was leading 67-64 with about seven minutes left. That’s when Miami put together an 8-0 run, led by five points from forward Julian Gamble, to take a 72-67 lead.

UNC’s Dexter Strickland stopped the breakaway, briefly, with two free throws, but in a game that went back and forth for the first 36 minutes, it was enough of a cushion to build upon. And the final score does not show just how competitive this game was.

Players of the game: Miami point guard Shane Larkin finished with 28 points on 8-for-15 shooting, with seven assists and five rebounds. Teammate Trey McKinney Jones added 20 points. UNC sophomore P.J. Hairston also scored 28 points, including six 3-pointers, in front of his hometown crowd.

Numbers to know: The teams combined for 25 3-pointers. Miami shot 50.8 percent for the game, and UNC shot 45 percent.

What’s next: The Hurricanes earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament; the Tar Heels will get an at-large seed. Where will they go? Who will they play? The bracket will be revealed at 6 p.m. ET Sunday.

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.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 22, 2013
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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.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- A quick look at Miami’s 87-61 win over North Carolina on Saturday.

Overview: Any lingering doubters out there about the Hurricanes? Didn’t think so.

Miami ran its record to 10-0 in the ACC, dominating the Tar Heels in a game that was one in name only. Bigger, older and tougher, Miami ran roughshod over North Carolina at home, drilling the Heels on offense and frustrating them on defense.

In uproariously topsy-turvy and unpredictable season, Miami may be one of the nation's few reliable teams.

Turning point: Tipoff. Seriously. Kenny Kadji hit a 3-pointer, setting the tone for what was to come. The Hurricanes led 13-2 early and never looked back.

Key player: Shane Larkin. The Miami guard is the prototype for the new model point guard, a guy who can score (18 points) and create (nine assists). He is equal parts nimble and smart, a deft ball handler but a savvy distributor as well and the engine for a pretty well-oiled Hurricanes machine.

Key stat: The Hurricanes owned the box score but really made the difference beyond the arc. Miami, which had a season high of 11 3-pointers coming into the game, swished 10 in the first half and finished with 15.

Miscellaneous: Midway through the first half, the BankUnited Center crowd stood up collectively and whipped out camera phones. Why? LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were in the house. Yes, the Hurricanes have officially arrived. James didn’t want to talk. “Nah, it’s my day off," he told ESPN.com. This was Miami’s first win at home against North Carolina since Jan. 4, 2003.

Next game: From the "you’ve got be kidding me" annals of scheduling cruelty, the Tar Heels head to Duke on Wednesday for the first of its two annual tap dances with the Blue Devils. Miami has something of a rivalry game too, but not quite like UNC. The Hurricanes are next at Florida State on Wednesday.

Video: North Carolina-Miami preview

February, 8, 2013
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Dana O'Neil previews Saturday's matchup between North Carolina and No. 8 Miami.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

February, 1, 2013
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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
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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.

Top brother duos in college hoops history

January, 23, 2013
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On Wednesday at Miami (7 ET on ESPN), Seth Curry needs 12 points for the Curry brothers to pass Larry and Eddie Bird for the second-most by a pair of brothers in Division I history.

Barring injury, the Curry brothers should pass the Hansbroughs in February for the most ever.


Below is one man’s opinion on the top 10 pairs of brothers to play college basketball. Just missing the list? Tyler and Cody Zeller.

10. Dominique and Gerald Wilkins
Both Wilkins brothers were more successful NBA players, but that shouldn’t diminish what they accomplished in the college ranks. Dominique is arguably the best player in Georgia history, and its only player to win SEC Player of the Year. Younger brother Gerald helped guide Chattanooga to the NCAA Tournament in his first season, and his 21.0 points per game as a senior is the highest in school history.

9. Tom and Dick Van Arsdale
The most accomplished twins to ever play basketball, it wasn’t just looks that made the two difficult to distinguish. Tom averaged 17.4 points and 10.0 rebounds in his three seasons at Indiana, while Dick averaged 17.2 points and 10.0 rebounds.

8. Chuck and Wesley Person
Only three players in Auburn history have scored 2,000 points. Two of them were brothers. Chuck is the school’s all-time leader with 2,311 points, while Wesley is third at 2,066. While both were elite at Auburn, it’s worth noting that neither won SEC Player of the Year.

7. Mark and Brent Price
At a school famous for producing guards, no one had a better career at Georgia Tech than Mark Price. He was the first freshman to lead the ACC in scoring, and was the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer in all four seasons. Brent Price split his college career between South Carolina and Oklahoma. He was an All-Big Eight selection as senior, once scoring 56 points in a game.

6. George and Ed Mikan
Named of ESPN’s 25 greatest college basketball players in 2008, George Mikan helped revolutionize the game with his height. A two-time national player of the year, he led DePaul to the NIT title in 1945, averaging 40.0 PPG in that tournament. A year younger, Ed was also a member of that championship team. He also went on to become a member of DePaul’s Hall of Fame and play in the NBA.

5. Ed and Charles O’Bannon
The O’Bannon brothers combined to bring UCLA a national title in 1995. Ed won the Wooden Award that year, as well as the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. Charles was an All-Pac-10 selection in each of the two years after Ed left, making it five consecutive years than an O’Bannon was so honored.

4. Larry and Eddie Bird
No two brothers have scored more points at the same school. Larry Bird requires no introduction. Over three seasons at Indiana State, he averaged 30.3 PPG and 13.3 RPG. In 2008, ESPN’s panel of experts named him the ninth-greatest college player of all-time. But did you know he had a brother? Eddie Bird came to Indiana State a decade later and averaged double figures in all four seasons with the Sycamores. He’s still sixth on their all-time scoring list.

3. Stephen and Seth Curry
Barring injury, the Curry brothers will be the highest-scoring duo of brothers in Division I history. Older brother Stephen led Davidson to the Elite Eight as a sophomore and finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer despite playing for only three years. In fact, only five players have scored more total points in a three-year college career. Seth’s career at Duke isn’t nearly as prolific, but the senior captain could help lead the Blue Devils to a national title.

2. Bernard and Albert King
The best player in Tennessee history, Bernard King won SEC Player of the Year in all three seasons in Knoxville. He averaged more than 25 PPG in all three seasons. Overshadowed by his older brother, Albert was certainly no slouch. He averaged in double figures in all four seasons at Maryland and is the fourth-leading scorer in school history. Albert garnered ACC Player of the Year honors as a junior.

1. Tyler and Ben Hansbrough
No pair of brothers has scored more combined points than the 4,485 from the Hansbroughs. Tyler Hansbrough finished his North Carolina career as the ACC’s all-time leading scorer (2,872 points) and eighth all-time with 1,219 rebounds. One of only five players with 2,800 points and 1,200 rebounds, it’s no stretch to call him one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. But younger brother Ben was no slouch. In 2011, he averaged 18.4 PPG at Notre Dame and was named Big East Player of the Year.

Honorable Mention
George and Derrick Gervin, Horace and Harvey Grant, Blake and Taylor Griffin, Brook and Robin Lopez, Jay and Sam Vincent, Gus and Ray Williams, Cody and Tyler Zeller.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 18, 2013
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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.

Can UNC rally from an 0-2 ACC start?

January, 11, 2013
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Only on three other occasions has North Carolina started the season 0-2 in the ACC:

  • In 1979-80, the Al-Wood-Mike-O’Koren-James-Worthy led Tar Heels lost at Virginia and Clemson before tying for second in the league (9-5), making the NCAA tournament and losing in the first game.
  • In 1996-97, the crew led by Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison actually fell to 0-3 in league play before tying for second in the regular season, winning the ACC tournament and making the Final Four.
  • And in 2008-09, Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green dropped their first two before winning the conference -- and the NCAA title.

No one is suggesting that this year's Tar Heels, who lost four starters to the NBA last summer but were still ranked in the top 15 to begin the season, are headed for the final weekend of March Madness. At this point, they barely look like an NCAA tournament team at all. But there is precedent for UNC (now 10-5, 0-2 ACC) turning things around.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY Sports "If I knew what it was I would have already changed it," Roy Williams said regarding his team's recent struggles.
The question is, after watching the team collapse down the stretch for the second straight game on Thursday night, do the Tar Heels have what it takes to rally?

“Everybody’s upset, everybody’s stressed, trying to figure out how we’re going to win games,’’ junior Reggie Bullock said. “But some way, somehow, real real soon, we’ll turn it around and get back on the right track.”

It’s the “some way” and “somehow” that are both concerning and disconcerting, because the Tar Heels keep making the same mistakes.

UNC trailed at Virginia 51-50 with 3:11 left on Sunday before the Cavaliers went on a game-securing 10-0 run. Against Miami on Thursday, the Tar Heels trailed 56-55 with five minutes to go before the Hurricanes clinched the game with an 8-0 breakaway.

Both collapses were defined by defensive lapses, communication breakdowns, rushed shots and a lack of poise.

Even after a players-only meeting following the Virginia loss, the same mistakes resurfaced against the Hurricanes.

“If I knew what it was I would have already changed it,’’ coach Roy Williams said when asked about the reason for the two meltdowns. “It's a smart aleck response, but it is also a true response.”

Indeed, when Williams asked his assistants, then his players, for the team’s main problem last Monday, everyone gave a different answer. And that grab bag continues.

Miami coach Jim Larranaga pointed to the Tar Heels’ lack of size: “In all the years that I coached against North Carolina, they were always bigger than us,’’ he said. “When I was at Virginia, even when we had Ralph Sampson, they had a ton of big guys. Last year when we came in here it was [Tyler] Zeller and [John] Henson, and they were huge. This year, they’re a little different.”

But as much as perimeter-oriented UNC has failed to display a consistent post presence -- what with the timeshare at center involving Desmond Hubert, Joel James and Brice Johnson -- there are plenty of other problems, too.

Like in the backcourt, where senior Dexter Strickland’s only stat in 26 minutes Thursday was a perplexing missed shot. Not what you want out of your starting shooting guard/backup point guard, especially when your starting ballhandler (Marcus Paige) is a freshman and still adjusting to pace and playing style.

Like on defense, where too much reticence is becoming the norm.

Strong leadership would help, too. Bullock, who called that team meeting, is trying to take over the emotional go-t0-guy role, and probably deserves it. But when games have gotten tight down the stretch, this still looks like a rudderless crew, panicking instead of looking for guidance.

And although sophomore James Michael McAdoo led the team in scoring against Miami with 14 points, they need more out the forward who would have been a first-round draft pick last summer. Over UNC’s past five games, three of which were losses, he’s made only 39.6 percent of his shots.

“I hate to lose,’’ McAdoo said. “And I really don’t know what to do but come every day ready to work and get better. And don’t leave the results up to the other team, but just impose my will and our will as a team.”

But can he? Can they?

Williams has seen, and experienced, turnarounds in years past, and remains positive that this team can follow that path. With only a short turnaround before facing Florida State in Tallahassee on Saturday, however, conference play doesn’t get any easier.

He said his team was stressed in the postgame locker room.

But he remains hopeful.

“Life's going to throw you some curve balls and adversity and if you're always worried, you're never going to get that changed,” he said. “I told them we're going to come back tomorrow and we're going to work our butts off and then we go to Florida State. And they're pretty doggone good. … We've got to go down there and regardless of our stress, regardless of our confidence, we've got to go play and we've got to do the best we can in practice tomorrow to see if we can get better."

Or else they might become only the second Tar Heels team to start league play 0-3.

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.

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