North Carolina Tar Heels: NC State Wolfpack

Nonconference schedule analysis: ACC

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
2:47
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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.
One of the most fascinating side stories during this summer of UNC discontent -- from P.J. Hairston's rental car paper trail to the ongoing scrutiny over an academics scandal that was supposed to be long past the university by now -- is the intense involvement of opposing fans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honestly, I'm worried about you guys. I just want to help.

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.

Paige's improved play propels UNC

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
9:07
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams didn’t have to tell point guard Marcus Paige that he needed to play a whole lot better Saturday than the previous time the Tar Heels faced NC State.

Paige knew.

And he did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And his team.

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

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

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

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

Rapid Reaction: UNC 76, NC State 65

February, 23, 2013
2/23/13
6:02
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Small lineup? Doesn’t mean you can’t play big. North Carolina withstood a couple of rally attempts by taller NC State to avenge last month’s loss to its in-state rival, avoid the Wolfpack’s attempt at a regular-season sweep for the first time since 2002-03 and push its record to 3-1 since it went to a four-guard starting lineup.

A quick look at the Tar Heels’ 76-65 victory at the Smith Center.

Turning point: The Tar Heels -- who led by as many as 10 points early in the second half -- trailed 55-52 with eight minutes left. They countered with an 18-2 run, which included eight points from Reggie Bullock and a 3-pointer, three-point play and two free throws from freshman point guard Marcus Paige, to take a 70-57 lead with under four minutes to go.

Player(s) of the game: Bullock finished with 22 points and tied his career high with 13 rebounds. Paige, who looked lost in UNC’s defeat at State last month, had 14 points and eight assists.

Scott Wood led the Wolfpack with 19 points, and Richard Howell finished with 17 rebounds.

Number(s) to know: UNC scored 24 points off turnovers. NC State had 16. ... The Wolfpack outrebounded the Tar Heels 39-32.

Next up: NC State faces Boston College on Wednesday; UNC plays at Clemson on Thursday.

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
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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.

Weekend Watch: UNC-NC State preview

January, 25, 2013
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Outlook: The painfully young Tar Heels started ACC play 0-2, and the world began to fall off its axis in Chapel Hill. NC State started ACC play 3-0, and parade routes were being planned. Fortunes turn quickly in conference play, and they can and will again before this is all done.

The Tar Heels have one of the youngest rosters in the country, ranking 308th in experience. North Carolina has a nontraditional team for baby blue, as it is primarily a perimeter team. Usually, the North Carolina attack starts and ends with big guys who run, get the ball in the post, wear you down and foul you out. The North Carolina primary break and secondary break were feared, and even though you knew they were coming, you couldn’t stop them.

This season, North Carolina’s big men are young and unpolished. Frankly, none of them are completely ready yet. James Michael McAdoo is having a normal progression for an outstanding player, but he is not where we expected him to be, whether those expectations were fair or not. McAdoo is productive but not efficient and has been up and down, as has North Carolina’s team. Carolina’s strength is still transition, but its running game is not as powerful as it was last season (how could it be, with four first-round picks gone?), and the Heels get to the offensive glass for second shots.

On the other bench, NC State has been excellent at times but has had a few slip-ups. This is an elite offensive team, with four players averaging 12 points per game or more. The Wolfpack are dynamic in transition and score off makes, misses, turnovers, free throws, you name it. This team is fast and runs. Rodney Purvis is a speed merchant, and Lorenzo Brown is as fast with the ball as most any point guard in the country. Scott Wood runs to the 3-point line, and Richard Howell and C.J. Leslie run to the rim and drag the defense with them, putting tremendous pressure on opposing big men to run the floor. T.J. Warren is also terrific in transition and really takes off the other way at conversion.

In the half court, NC State runs nine or 10 sets out of the UCLA high-post offense and keeps things very simple. With so many options to score, why complicate things? Mark Gottfried is smart not to.

The key for NC State to get to the next level is to defend and to do it consistently. Against Wake Forest, the Pack didn’t guard and just tried to outscore the Deacons. The most important player is Leslie, who, when he guards people, inspires everyone to defend better.

Carolina’s best: Reggie Bullock. The junior guard has been the Heels’ best and most consistent player. Bullock is averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.6 made 3-point field goals per game. He has shot 46 percent from 3-point range and has been Carolina’s most efficient player. Bullock is the key voice and leader of the team. Over the past two games, Bullock is averaging 20.5 points and is shooting better than 50 percent.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina State
AP Photo/Evan PikeC.J. Leslie has been doing it all for the Wolfpack this season, averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds.
State’s best: Leslie. The 6-foot-9 skilled forward is great in isolations on the elbow and the baseline. He is averaging 15.3 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the floor. Leslie can explode for a big night or can settle for less. He had only six points against Clemson and played just 18 minutes against Wake Forest due to fouls. But against Duke, Leslie was magnificent, scoring 25 points on just 16 shots and saving a fan from court-storming peril after the game.

Carolina’s X factor: McAdoo. The sophomore is talented and working hard to figure it out, and he will. When he does, this will be one truly outstanding player. McAdoo is averaging 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds -- you must be good when those numbers are criticized. McAdoo needs space to operate, shooting only 45 percent from the field, and does not do as well when crowded and played with physicality. North Carolina needs McAdoo to have a good game to win in a tough environment.

State’s X factor: Brown. The junior point guard is dynamic and tough to stay in front of in the open floor. Brown averages 12.8 points and 6.9 assists per game along with 2.1 steals. Brown will be a difficult matchup for Marcus Paige and Dexter Strickland. Strickland would do the best job on him, but he is not fully himself after his knee surgery last year.

Carolina’s toughest: Roy Williams. The Naismith Hall of Famer has had to inject a lot of energy into this young team, and he has stayed patient and coached his tail off. Williams went through this same thing in 2010, and the rewards were pretty darn good. One thing is for sure: Williams will not quit on this group. His dancing in the locker room with the team after UNLV and Florida State may look funny to some, but it’s not. It’s great to see a guy who has done it all enjoying the small steps and victories of those who haven’t been there before. That’s pretty darn cool.

State’s toughest: Howell. Simply put, Howell is a man among boys, and North Carolina doesn’t have anyone who can match up with him. Howell is averaging 12.6 points on 59 percent shooting and 10.9 rebounds a game. Over the past five games, Howell is averaging 14.2 rebounds per game, including 18 against Duke and 16 against Wake Forest. Howell cleans the glass and allows his teammates to leak out and get in transition.

Key stats: Offensive rebounding and transition points. Carolina thrives off second shots, averaging 15.5 offensive rebounds per game that lead to 15.1 points, and NC State needs to hit the glass to finish defensive possessions before taking off to the other end. Both teams like to run and get easy baskets, but to keep NC State out of transition, North Carolina has to run good half-court offense and take good shots. A quick shot or a turnover will be a dunk on the other end.

Who wins: North Carolina is making strides and getting better, but winning on NC State’s home floor, especially after the Wolfpack lost at Wake Forest, may be asking too much of this young group. NC State should win this one, 79-70.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

January, 25, 2013
1/25/13
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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
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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.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
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Anyone else more than ready for the beginning of league play? 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. It’s been a pretty good week for the 11-0 Blue Devils. After moving to No. 1 in The Associated Press rankings thanks to Indiana’s loss to Butler, they easily topped Cornell and Elon on consecutive nights. On Thursday, they got a commitment from Jabari Parker, the second-ranked senior in the ESPN 100.

2. NC State. When Scott Wood is hitting 3s, Lorenzo Brown is being aggressive, C.J. Leslie is scoring, and Richard Howell is pulling down double-doubles -- as they did against Stanford on Tuesday -- the Wolfpack are hard to beat. State continues to top the nation in field goal percentage (53.0).

3. Maryland. The Terps, winners of nine straight, haven’t played since their Dec. 12 hammering of Monmouth. They face Stony Brook on Friday before getting another week between games.

4. Miami. The Hurricanes made quick work of then-undefeated Charlotte last weekend before blowing out UCF on the road, and guard Durand Scott continues to prove his importance. The Canes have won six straight, including five since Scott returned from suspension, and the senior guard leads the team in scoring (15.6 per game).

5. Virginia. The Cavs looked a little rusty at first during their 18-point win over Morgan State, but they hadn’t played since Dec. 8. Junior forward Akil Mitchell has posted five double-doubles this season, and UVa has won eight in a row.

6. North Carolina. Coach Roy Williams was talking about the need for the players to buy in after a close win against East Carolina followed by an ugly loss at struggling Texas. Not a good sign 11 games into the season. Up next: McNeese State.

7. Virginia Tech. After an impressive 7-0 start, the Hokies have lost two of their last three, including a surprising drop to sub-.500 Georgia Southern. Erick Green continued his scoring tear, however; he has scored at least 20 points in 10 straight games.

8. Georgia Tech. Freshman Solomon Poole, a midseason high school graduate, made his college debut against Alabama State, playing six minutes in the victory. His older brother Stacey, a midseason transfer from Kentucky, will be eligible to make his Yellow Jackets debut Saturday. Tech has won three in a row.

9. Florida State. Although Michael Snaer was serving a one-game suspension for what coach Leonard Hamilton called a “discipline issue” against Louisiana-Monroe, the Seminoles won their second straight. The guard is expected to be back on the court for Saturday’s test against 11-1 Charlotte.

10. Clemson. The Tigers were blown out by a Coastal Carolina team that had beaten only one other Division I squad this season. Enough said.

11. Boston College. The Eagles shot 2-for-22 from 3-point land against New Hampshire. Good thing the two they made were in overtime. Ryan Anderson pulled down a career-high 19 rebounds in the win, which pushed BC back to .500.

12. Wake Forest. It’s gotten so bad in Winston-Salem that coach Jeff Bzdelik has stopped taking live questions on his call-in show. At least the Deacons beat Furman to push their record to 5-5.

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

December, 14, 2012
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Final exams made for a fairly light week for most of the league’s teams. But here are this week’s ACC power rankings, based on myriad factors, including how teams have played lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Duke: Guard Seth Curry injured his left ankle during the Blue Devils’ win over Ohio State, and he continues to deal with a right shin injury that will likely bother him all season. But neither kept him from scoring 23 points against Temple in East Rutherford, N.J. Duke is now 9-0.

2. NC State: The Wolfpack returned to their old home, Reynolds Coliseum, to beat Cleveland State. Forward C.J. Leslie scored a season-high 19 points in that win, and State remains one of the best shooting teams in the nation (52.1 percent).

3. Virginia Tech: Erick Green failed to bury the game-winner at West Virginia last weekend, but the senior continued to show his mettle by recording 23 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds and zero turnovers -- while dealing with flu-like symptoms -- in the Hokies’ first loss of the season. He also scored 23 against Mississippi Valley State on Monday.

4. Maryland: Wednesday’s win over Monmouth marked the Terps’ ninth straight win since opening the season with a loss to then-top-5 Kentucky. They allowed the fewest points (38) in a game since 2004, and continue to be led by Alex Len’s 13.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game.

5. North Carolina: The Tar Heels couldn’t have learned a whole lot about themselves during Saturday’s blowout of undermanned East Tennessee State, but it had to serve as a good workout during exams. Point guard Marcus Paige returned after shoulder surgery, but the revolving door at center continues.

6. Miami: The Hurricanes haven’t played since their Dec. 1 victory at UMass, but their game Friday against undefeated Charlotte should serve as a good test. Shane Larkin leads the team in points (16.3 per game) and Reggie Johnson is averaging a double-double (12.8 ppg, 10.8 rpg).

7. Virginia: The Cavaliers held their past two opponents, Tennessee and Mississippi Valley State, to 38 and 39 points, respectively. Joe Harris (14.8 ppg) and Akil Mitchell (13.4) lead the team in scoring.

8. Georgia Tech: The Jackets, off to a 6-2 start after beating UNC-Wilmington, could get another boost with the addition of 6-foot Solomon Poole, who graduated high school early. He began practicing with Tech on Saturday and is waiting to be cleared by the NCAA Eligibility Center. His older brother, Stacey, a transfer from Kentucky, also becomes eligible next week.

9. Florida State: After losing three straight, the Seminoles got back in the win column against Maine with a more balanced attack and defensive focus. They have four more games to work out their inconsistencies before ACC play begins.

10. Clemson: The Tigers led unbeaten Arizona in the second half before the Wildcats pulled away. Senior forward Milton Jennings scored 15 points in his return after a two-game suspension; he ranks second on the team in points, rebounds and assists.

11. Boston College: The Eagles have now won two of their past three after beating St. Francis. Ryan Anderson continues to lead his team in scoring (14.3 ppg), but has posted single-digit points in four of his past five games.

12. Wake Forest: The Deacons have lost three of their past four games after last weekend’s home defeat to Seton Hall. C.J. Harris scored a season-high 28 points in that game, but Wake is last in the ACC in rebound margin (minus-3.4) and scoring defense (70.9 ppg).

Conference Power Rankings: ACC

November, 30, 2012
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With Duke’s schedule and Virginia Tech’s new coach, who would have guessed that the Blue Devils and Hokies would be the two remaining undefeated teams in the league right now? Here’s this season’s first set of ACC power rankings, based on a myriad of factors including how teams have played lately and the foes they've faced:

1. Duke. The Blue Devils aren’t just tops in the ACC; they have a strong argument for being No. 1 in the nation after knocking off three top-5 teams in November (plus VCU and Minnesota). Forward Mason Plumlee has played his way into the early conversations on national player of the year.

2. Maryland. The only blemish on the schedule for the Terps so far: a three-point loss to then-third-ranked Kentucky. Transfer Dez Wells (12.0 points per game) has been a boost, while sophomore big man Alex Len has been a beast (15.2 ppg, 9.0 rebounds per game).

3. Miami. Durand Scott is back, and the Hurricanes finally seem to be getting it back together. After sitting out three games (including a perplexing loss to Florida Gulf Coast) due to suspension, the guard returned for his second contest of the season to help the Canes upset No. 13 Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Shane Larkin is averaging 16.8 ppg.

4. NC State. The Wolfpack showed some life with their late rally at No. 3 Michigan earlier this week -- but they aren't exactly looking like the team everyone expected to win the league. Still, NC State gets a chance to prove that it’s learned something from that loss, as well as its blowout defeat to Oklahoma State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, when it plays UConn on Dec. 4.

5. North Carolina. The Tar Heels have trailed by 20-plus points on two occasions already this season -- losses to Butler in the Maui Invitational and at top-ranked Indiana. Coach Roy Williams wants them to be tougher. They are a work in progress.

6. Virginia Tech. The Hokies get a huge test when 15th-ranked Oklahoma State travels to Cassell Coliseum this weekend. But right now, Erick Green (24.3 ppg) and Jarell Eddie (17.5 ppg) have them on a 6-0 roll under new coach James Johnson.

7. Virginia. The Cavs have won four straight, including an impressive victory at Wisconsin earlier this week, after starting the season 1-2. Joe Harris leads the team with 16.0 ppg, and guard Jontel Evans played 16 minutes against the Badgers in his return from a foot injury.

8. Florida State. Coach Leonard Hamilton expected more fire out of his team against No. 21 Minnesota. He didn’t get it during the loss, which was sort of surprising after the Seminoles won the Coaches Vs. Cancer tournament championship. FSU, which also lost to South Alabama in the season opener, needs to be more consistent in order to move up.

9. Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have nine players contributing at least nine minutes per game as they stress a balanced rebuilding approach. Junior forward Kammeon Holsey is the leading scorer (11.2 ppg) on a 4-2 team that finished in third place at the DirecTV Classic before falling to No. 22 Illinois.

10. Clemson. It will be curious to see whether forward Milton Jennings, suspended for the third time in two seasons, gets another chance. If not, Clemson loses one of its leading scorers, and one of only two seniors on the team.

11. Wake Forest. Travis McKie is averaging 14.3 ppg for the Demon Deacons, but things don’t really seem to be getting much better in Winston-Salem. They are 3-3, with a 16-point loss to Nebraska in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

12. Boston College. The sophomores continue experiencing the ups and downs of rebuilding, with an early slate that includes a loss to Bryant followed by a win over Penn State. Ryan Anderson is averaging 14.2 ppg.

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