Friday, December 6 2013 3:51 PM EST2013-12-06 20:51:27 GMT
(RNN) - A relatively quiet few days ahead have a pair of scheduling anomalies: Two games in conference play. Normally reserved for after the New Year, fans get their first chance to see ACC teams go headMore >>
Normally reserved for after the New Year, fans get their first chance to see ACC teams go head to head this week. More >>
Thursday, December 5 2013 5:27 PM EST2013-12-05 22:27:52 GMT
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North Carolina flashed its potential again, earning another impressive victory after a second shaky setback.More >>
(RNN) – Saturday's main event features two top-5 teams squaring off, with a No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, and maybe the NCAA's big dance, on the line.
The second-to-last weekend before postseason play includes the rematch of No. 5-ranked Miami (23-4, 14-1 ACC) and No. 3 Duke (24-4, 11-4). With a win, the Hurricanes claim their first ACC title since joining the conference in 2004.
Duke will try to even the season series after getting thumped 90-63 at Miami on Jan. 23. And after a loss Thursday, the Blue Devils need a win to secure at least the No. 2 seed in the ACC brackets.
The Blue Devils should be bolstered by one of the best home court advantages in the country at Cameron Indoor Coliseum, and they could get another boost in the form of forward Ryan Kelly. The 6'11" senior injured his foot Jan. 8 and has been out since, but he is getting close to returning.
Kelly's return would be an interesting parallel to the last contest, when Miami's Reggie Johnson gave the home team a spark in his first action back from a broken thumb.
Maryland Terrapins at Wake Forest Demon Deacons, noon ET Saturday
For the Terps (19-9, 7-8), a 78-68 loss Wednesday at Georgia Tech may have ended the hopes of an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament. For Wake (12-15, 5-10), a 76-62 defeat Tuesday at Florida State came only three days after its 80-65 upset of Miami.
The young Deacons' losing record comes from poor performances on the road. At home the team is 10-4, with freshmen starters Codi Miller-McIntyre, Arnaud William Adala Moto and Devin Thomas feeding off the energy of the crowd.
Maryland has played most of the season without a true point guard, which is part of the reason the team averages more turnovers per game than any other in the conference. In their victories, this has been offset by 7'1" Alex Len, 6'9" Shaquille Cleare and 6'8" Charles Mitchell helping them out-rebound the opposition.
Miami Hurricanes at Duke Blue Devils, 6 p.m. Saturday
The Hurricanes found their shooting stroke again in their 76-58 win versus Virginia Tech on Wednesday. In the loss to Wake Forest, they were 29 percent from the floor and 54 percent from the free throw line.
Even if Kelly returns Saturday, Miami will still retain an advantage in the low post. Seniors Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble and Johnson are all good rebounders, shot blockers and scoring threats.
Duke did not need more motivation going into the game, but they may have a little extra after losing Thursday at Virginia, 73-68. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team has shown it comes back strong following a rare loss.
All-American candidate Mason Plumlee got outplayed by UVA's Akil Mitchell, so expect him to get off the blocks quick to redeem himself. When he's covered down low, he will have a trio of 3-point shooters – Quinn Cook, Seth Curry and Rasheed Sulaimon – to pass to.
Clemson Tigers at Virginia Tech Hokies, 8 p.m. Saturday
The Tigers' Devin Booker and Virginia Tech's Erick Green are in the winter of their collegiate careers. Both are NBA-caliber players as well, with only a few more chances to improve their draft stock before the season runs out.
Clemson (13-14, 5-10) never had a real chance to take the lead Thursday against North Carolina without second-leading scorer K.J. McDaniel, and they fell 68-59. The team will have a much better shot on the road Saturday if he can return from a sprained ankle.
The Hokies' (12-16, 3-12) C.J. Barksdale got benched earlier in the season by his coach for not putting forth enough effort. Even after that, he often seemed lost on the court. His game has come on strong lately, though, and he has been the second option on offense behind Green. He finished with 12 points and seven rebounds Wednesday at Miami.
Florida State Seminoles at North Carolina Tar Heels, 2 p.m. Sunday
North Carolina (20-8, 10-5) has been successful when they can increase the number of possessions they get in a game. They do this by playing as fast as they can and constantly passing the ball to find an open shot. Since switching to a smaller, quicker starting five, they are running more than ever and on the verge of claiming a top-four slot and first-round bye in the ACC tourney.
P.J. Hairston has been guarding bigger players nearly every game since the team went to the new lineup. They have been successful because he has held his own on defense while still contributing on offense (11 points, five rebounds at Clemson).
Florida State's (15-13, 7-8) players looked like they had given up playing defense Sunday in a loss at Virginia Tech. But they gave the home crowd a good showing Tuesday when they took care of Wake Forest.
Senior Michael Snaer, the Seminoles' leading scorer, finished the game against Wake with 24 points. He has shown a flair for the dramatic, with five game-winning shots in the last two seasons, and UNC will have to keep him from finding his points early and carrying the team to an upset.
Virginia Cavaliers at Boston College Eagles, 4 p.m. Sunday
Virginia (20-8, 10-5) put any doubts to rest that it won't be part of the "madness" in March when they knocked off Duke at home. The win put the team in position to claim another of the ACC first-round byes, and they have a shot to do some damage once they reach tournament play.
Coach Tony Bennett's defense-first strategy carried the team through the early part of the ACC schedule, but the Cavaliers' offense has been leading the way lately. Joe Harris and Mitchell looked like the best players on the court all night Thursday, with the former scoring a career high 36 points.
Boston College (12-16, 4-11) is another young team toughing its way through the conference in 2013, and the lessons have piled up a lot higher than the win total – the team fell 82-64 Wednesday at NC State. However, it is evident the playing time has paid off as the performances have gotten better nearly every game.
Freshman Olivier Hanlan could emerge as an All-ACC player as soon as next year. He, sophomore Ryan Anderson and the rest of the Eagles have the raw ability to bring a team like Virginia crashing down to Earth if they get overlooked.
NC State Wolfpack at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 6 p.m. Sunday
The Wolfpack (20-8, 9-6) get another chance to prove they can play a solid 40 minutes away from the confines in Raleigh, NC. While they have gone a sterling 15-1 at PNC Arena, they are only 2-6 in road games (3-1 at neutral sites).
Senior Richard Howell has been a nightmare for teams all season, a physical 6'8" forward who plays hard every second and isn't afraid to dive for loose balls. His frontcourt partner, C.J. Leslie, can look like one of the nation's best players but can also force the play at times, which leads to too many turnovers.
Georgia Tech fits the mold of a young, talented team that hasn't discovered how to win outside its comfort zone. At home, though, the Jackets have played neck-and-neck with several teams in the conference.
Robert Carter Jr. and Marcus Georges-Hunt, both freshmen, had to take on leadership roles right away. The two lead the squad in scoring, and their on-court time together has been a down payment on a contender in a year or two.
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