Thursday, April 10 2014 2:43 PM EDT2014-04-10 18:43:26 GMT
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(RNN) – The Atlantic Coast Conference's resident overachiever faces a difficult stretch beginning Saturday.
Virginia's (18-6, 8-3) offense hit its stride at the right time, with three straight games of 73 or more points. Two of those efforts came against a pair of strong defensive teams in Clemson and Maryland.
The foundation of the Charlottesville squad's success is the "packline" defense, a scheme created by Dick Bennett and used by his son, coach Tony Bennett. The man-zone hybrid has kept opponents to a 52.2 average, best in the ACC and second in the country.
But the Cavaliers have dealt with a soft schedule, and they find themselves on the infamous NCAA tournament bubble with seven regular season contests left.
That will change this month, one way or the other. They go on the road Tuesday to play first-place Miami and face Duke at home Feb. 28. First up for UVA is a North Carolina team that will try to turn the game into a shootout.
Boston College Eagles at Florida State Seminoles, noon ET Saturday
More than 90 percent of BC's (11-13, 3-8 ACC) points this year have come from freshmen or sophomores. The team ended up on the wrong side of several close-scoring games as they learned on the fly but managed to secure a victory Wednesday against Wake Forest, 66-63.
In their first-season with the Eagles, Olivier Hanlan and Joe Rahon have been given the task of generating their team's perimeter offense. Both will play significant roles in the success of the team moving forward.
The Seminoles (13-11, 5-6) battled a powerhouse Hurricanes team into the final minutes of a 74-68 loss. It was a vast improvement from a lackluster performance at Wake four days prior, when they lost by 25.
FSU has several inexperienced big men getting minutes, so the production from them varies. Upperclassmen Michael Snaer and Okaro White need to perform well down the stretch if they want to keep their slim postseason chances alive.
Virginia Cavaliers at North Carolina Tar Heels, noon Saturday
The Cavaliers' two leaders on the floor - Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell - have been reliable enough to allow some of the young guys to come around without too much burden. The fans had plenty of reason to "Wahoowa" and "Hoorahey" during the 73-55 win Thursday over Virginia Tech.
UVA has won seven of its last eight games, but a road win in Chapel Hill, NC, would serve as a notice to everyone they firmly belong in the NCAA tournament.
UNC (16-8, 6-5) is not secured of a spot among 68 teams vying for a national title either. A win at No. 2 Duke would have helped their case, but they could not hold on to a second half lead and fell 73-68.
The Heels have not been able to hit a high number of their free throws this season; James Michael McAdoo's 57 percent rate from the charity stripe allows teams to minimize the damage he can do. An improvement there would remove the last gaping hole in the high-scoring offense.
Virginia Tech Hokies at North Carolina State Wolfpack, 2 p.m. Saturday
The Hokies (11-13, 2-9) were hopeful senior Erick Green would lead them on a surprise run in 2013. While Green has done everything they could have asked and then some, his teammates have not been able to carve out their own places to contribute.
With little help, Green's great performances have been enough only to keep Virginia Tech close in games. When he can't find his shots they get blown out, like they did Tuesday at Virginia.
NC State (17-7, 6-5) may have been seconds away from a full-on collapse of its season Sunday. Lucky for them, Scott Wood hit a last-second 3-pointer at Clemson to get the Wolfpack out of town with a 58-57 win.
Dealing with high expectations coming into the ACC schedule, they have played poor on the road and fallen to teams with less talent on the roster. C.J. Leslie's high rate of turnovers appears to come from him trying to do too much, too often.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 2 p.m. Saturday
The Jackets (13-10, 3-8), a team with two freshmen as its leading scorers, showed substantial improvement from January to February. A defense that had its share of lapses became one of the better in the conference.
Where the offense will come from game-to-game remains a mystery, though. A four-minute stretch without a basket in the middle of the second half against Clemson on Thursday proved to much to come back from, and they gave up the game 56-53.
Junior Travis McKie and senior C.J. Harris nearly carried the Deacons to a win Wednesday at BC but fell a little short. Wake (11-13, 4-8) is another team relying on its freshman to perform, and it has seen the same mixed results.
The team relies too much on the energy and comfort of its home crowd, and it suffers without it on the road. However, they can be dynamic on offense when they walk the line between playing loose and playing wild.
Duke Blue Devils at Maryland Terrapins, 6 p.m. Saturday
The No. 2-ranked Blue Devils (22-2, 9-2) showed Wednesday against UNC they have the resolve to come from behind and win a big game. They also showed how much they need another strong rebounder beside Mason Plumlee.
The lack of depth on the inside could be troublesome for Duke against big, athletic teams. They can and do offset that with some of the best perimeter shooters in college hoops, like Seth Curry and Quinn Cook.
The Terps (17-7, 5-6) may be the best rebounding team in the ACC; their problem is they turn the ball over more than any team in the conference, too. Their best performances have come when they could slow a game down and keep scores low.
Maryland plays well when 7-footer Alex Len has plenty of touches. His activity on the defensive end stays fairly consistent, but he has shown he is more engaged overall when he gets early scoring opportunities.
Miami Hurricanes at Clemson Tigers, 6 p.m. Sunday
The ‘Canes (20-3, 11-0), ranked No. 3 in the country, appear invincible on their home court lately. However, their travels have seen a fair share of close contests, most recently their victory at Florida State.
Shane Larkin's level of play has been skyrocketing in the last seven games. His averages of 16.3 points, 5.3 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals, 2.9 3-pointers and 56 percent overall shooting show how versatile his skills are.
Clemson (13-11, 5-7) recovered well from an ugly loss to Virginia Feb. 7. Since then, they battled NC State down to the wire, ultimately losing by one, and beat Georgia Tech in its own house Thursday.
Devin Booker is a tough, talented player in the low-post and gets defensive help from K.J. McDaniels, one of the best in the league at causing turnovers and blocking shots. Either team trying to score in the paint will find plenty of challenge there waiting for them.
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