Go back to the beginning of the ACC hoop season, and all the talk about the conference race focused on North Carolina and Duke. This is not uncommon; seemingly every year one or the other is the favorite in the conference. Then North Carolina suffered a beatdown from Florida State, which was followed by Michael Snaer’s shot heard ’round Tobacco Road as the Seminoles beat Duke. For awhile, the Seminoles looked to break the stranglehold the Tar Heels and Blue Devils had on the regular season conference title.
Then Florida State ran into some problems. Namely, one bad week of basketball featuring losses to Duke at home and to Miami on the road. Because of those losses, Florida State went from having the inside track to the regular season conference title, to third place in the conference race. Which leaves our old friends, North Carolina and Duke, battling it out for the regular season title. Again.
Redundant though it may be, it has to be stated that those two have been without a doubt the two best teams in the conference. And with their performance over the course of the season, they both are in play to receive top seeds in the NCAA tournament, depending on who does what in the next few days. Which means that Saturday’s showdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium (with Duke defeating Wake Forest last night and assuming the Tar Heels defeat Maryland tonight) looms large not just for the conference championship and the ACC tournament top seed, but nationally as well.
As for the Seminoles, they have done enough to warrant a spot in the NCAA tournament, even though they have lost their last two games, and need a bit of momentum to finish the season strong. A tough road game against Virginia is next, followed by a home game against a Clemson team that beat the Seminoles by 20 points at the beginning of the conference season. Both games are winnable, but the Seminoles need to put two good halves together in both of them to get victories.
Miami, now with two wins over the two of the top three teams in the conference, now has a chance to build on its resume. With Reggie Johnson now reinstated after missing the win against Florida State, the full lineup is available to see if they can win the last two games of the regular season. Tonight the Hurricanes will face an N.C. State team that may have played itself out of tournament consideration, unless it can start winning some games. A date with last-place Boston College follows on Saturday. Winning those two and even adding one game in the ACC tournament will go a long way in getting Miami at least some favorable looks by the selection committee.
But as far as this week goes, all anyone will be talking about is North Carolina and Duke, once again proving that in the ACC, what’s new really is old.