Some things in the ACC basketball season you can count on. A conference race where teams beat up on each other. The state of North Carolina being the center of the hoop universe. And the unceasing hype of just about every North Carolina-Duke matchup.
This week’s game is no exception, and the hype may be justified. The two teams currently sit 1-2 in the ACC standings with the Blue Devils holding a half-game lead over the Tar Heels. For Duke, this was expected from the moment predictions were made for the season, particularly as they are the defending national champions. The Tar Heels were expected this high also, but the road hasn’t been smooth. Predicted to be a top-10 team at the start of the season, a few early losses bumped them completely out of the top 25. But a recent resurgence-winning their last five and ten of the last eleven-has brought them back into the poll and playing with a lot of confidence. However, in a strange twist, Larry Drew II left the team on Friday, with apparently little to no notice that he was going. Given the fact that he had recently been replaced in the starting lineup by Kendall Marshall, the easy leap would be that he left because his minutes were decreased. While it would seem to weaken the Heels by losing a capable backup point guard who was also a decent defender, it didn’t stop the team from rolling Florida State on Sunday by 20 points. It’s too early to tell if Drew’s absence will prove to be problematic, but it will be interesting to see if it has any effect Wednesday night against the Blue Devils.
As for the matchup, it promises to be a very good one. Both teams had two blowout victories last week-the Tar Heels over Boston College and the Seminoles, the Blue Devils over Maryland and North Carolina State. The Heels are the hottest team in the conference and the Blue Devils seem to have rebounded nicely from the loss to St. John’s. First place is on the line…in other words the hype will be almost unbearable close to gametime. Thankfully, where I live the ESPN telecast (which most assuredly will feature Dick Vitale) will certainly be blacked out, so I’ll watch on the ACC network affiliate, which will make the broadcast tolerable.
Elsewhere, the Terrapins, still in search of a signature win after the loss to Duke, may just have to settle for winning as many games as they can going forward. The Terps get what should be a breather against Longwood College on Wednesday before heading north to face Boston College in a game the Terps have to win. After losing to the Eagles at home, a win against BC on the road will give them a bit of a boost, something that beating the likes of Wake Forest and Longwood cannot do. And while it’s still a bit early to be bubble watching, you have to figure the Terps are either squarely on the bubble or on the outside looking in at an NCAA berth. The Eagles can ill afford to lose too many more games either; though their win over Virginia Tech on Saturday helps their cause. Right now, it is hard to figure what to make of the Hokies; the phrase “consistently inconsistent” comes to mind. They can hang with, and sometimes beat good teams, but then they take losses to teams that they shouldn’t. With that kind of pattern, it could come down to another anxious selection Sunday for Seth Greenberg’s guys unless they start stringing some wins together. Along with Clemson, the Hokies, Eagles and Terps all sit at 5-4 in conference, and all are in need of some good wins to help enhance their tournament resumes. Finally, a brief mention for the Miami Hurricanes, now winners of two straight after losing four conference games in a row by a combined eleven points. The ‘Canes beat Georgia Tech and Virginia (in overtime) by two points each. This after their only other conference win over Boston College was by a single point. If you learn how to win by being in close games, the last seven games should reinforce the lesson for the Hurricanes even as their record is a mediocre 3-4 during that stretch.