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ACC weekend: Looking for a dark horse

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Joe Harris (12) and the Virginia Cavaliers hope to re-ignite their offense against Florida State on Saturday. (Source: ACC Digital Network) Joe Harris (12) and the Virginia Cavaliers hope to re-ignite their offense against Florida State on Saturday. (Source: ACC Digital Network)

(RNN) – Injuries and inconsistent play have opened the door for a surprise team to sneak into the Atlantic Coast Conference title race. 

This weekend's games could provide insight into who might take advantage. Eight teams are scheduled for in-conference play Saturday and Sunday.

The four excluded – Miami, Duke, Georgia Tech and Boston College – are the top two and bottom two in the current standings.

A win for those in action could serve as the momentum builder a team needs to break out of the middle of the pack. Meanwhile, the loser would be dropped toward the bottom of the ranks with a lot of ground to recover.

Maryland at North Carolina, noon ET Saturday:

Maryland (14-3, 2-2 ACC) got its biggest win of the season Wednesday, beating 14th-ranked NC State, 51-50. But the Terrapins' struggles to score continued, as they missed several shots from point-blank range.

At halftime, coach Mark Turgeon made his thoughts clear when he said, "We're not good on offense."

North Carolina (11-5, 1-2) has not played since it secured its first conference victory against Florida State on Saturday. The Tar Heels can get points in bunches, but two defensive-minded teams (Virginia, Miami) successfully shut down their fast break offense.

Both the Terps and Tar Heels are among the nation's leaders in rebounding, so the interior battle should be interesting to watch. The two team's up-and-down-the-court style of play may allow the Heels and the Terps to get out of their scoring funks.

Wake Forest at Virginia Tech, 2 p.m. Saturday:

These two teams rely on one guy for baskets more than any other in the ACC. For Wake (9-7, 2-2), it's C.J. Harris; for the Hokies (10-6, 1-2), it's Erick Green.

Green leads the nation in scoring (24.8 points per game), which is a rarity for a player from a major conference. One reason for that is his ability. Another is the illnesses, injuries and benchings his squad has dealt with.

More Virginia Tech players may miss the game Saturday with the flu.

The Demon Deacons have nine players averaging 12 minutes or more per game – six of them freshmen. Harris and Travis McKie account for nearly 47 percent of the team's scoring.

Both teams play better in an up-tempo game with the ball in the hands of their leaders. Expect the respective stars to see plenty of touches and shots in a high scoring affair.

Florida State at Virginia, 4 p.m. Saturday:

The Cavaliers (11-5, 1-2) have become one of the best defensive teams in the country this season, allowing 55.3 points per game in three ACC matchups. However, the UVA offense only averages 52.3 during the same stretch.

The Seminoles (10-6, 2-1) have seen a vast improvement in Okaro White's overall play. The athletic, 6'8" junior has scored at least 15 points in FSU's last three and improved upon his rebounding effort earlier in the season.

If he can maintain that level of play, a once-struggling team could find itself back in the NCAA tourney.

Virginia's defense will almost certainly show up, but they will have to shoot a high percentage from 3-point range to outscore the more athletic ‘Noles.

Clemson at NC State, 6 p.m. Sunday:

A hyper-athletic, fast-paced team hosts a band of grind-it-out players who specialize in stealing the ball and deflecting shots.

The Wolfpack (14-3, 3-1) looked great in their win against Duke. They looked equally bad losing at Maryland. Sloppy passing and bad shot selection throughout the game prevented a comeback after failing to score for six-plus minutes to open the contest.

NC State may have the most talent in the conference; this game may show how much resolve they possess.

Clemson (10-6, 2-2) won their last two games by holding its opponents to 44 points each. Part of the Tigers' success has come from their ability to block shots, led by K.J. McDaniels at 2.3 per game.

The Tigers have the size to cause trouble on both ends of the floor for the Wolfpack, and they may catch a team struggling to rebound from a bad performance. NC State should look to press the ball on offense early and often, to find easy shots for C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and the rest of the playmakers.

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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