Around the ACC: Key remaining conference games

The stretch run to the finish of the college basketball regular season is upon us.  While there will be plenty of exciting ACC games between now and March 10, here are some games that stand out due to the ramifications they could have on postseason play.

Tuesday, February 19 – Virginia at Miami: This week, the Cavaliers will try to erase the memory of Saturday’s loss against North Carolina, when they allowed more than 70 (and 80 … and 90) points for the first time this season.  However, they will have to do so against the Hurricanes, undefeated in ACC play.

With that said, Miami didn’t look like world-beaters against Florida State and Clemson this week.  A lot must be said for Miami’s ability to win those games even when they can’t bury their opponent by halftime, but it should be a glimmer of hope for Virginia.  Somebody will probably find a way to beat Miami before the end of the regular season. Why not be that somebody?

Saturday, February 23 – NC State at North Carolina: In Raleigh, NC State jumped out to a massive lead against the Tar Heels, but the game was too close for comfort in the final minutes.  With a hotter start at home, North Carolina could pick up a win against their in-state rivals.

NC State’s best games have been against big-time opponents, though.  The Wolfpack’s reliability may be questionable, but there is little doubt what they will look like in Chapel Hill Sunday.  This should be an entertaining game, with a lot on the line for both teams in terms of bragging rights and ACC/NCAA positioning.

Thursday, February 28 – Duke at Virginia: This likely will be Virginia’s last chance before the ACC Tournament to pick up a resume-boosting win.  Yes, they have wins against NC State and North Carolina, but they also have losses to Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Old Dominion.  The Cavaliers desperately need some makeup to cover up those blemishes.

Of course, both the NC State and North Carolina wins came in Charlottesville. Virginia has proven they can win tough games at home. Can Duke prevent a Triangle trifecta for the Hoos at home?

Saturday, March 2 – Miami at Duke: This date has been circled on both teams’ calendars after Miami dismantled Duke in Coral Gables.  The Hurricanes have won time and again on the road, but the reception they will face at Cameron Indoor Stadium will be unlike anything they have seen this season.

Something to watch will be the progress of Ryan Kelly.  Coach Krzyzewski would love to have Kelly back before the NCAA Tournament, as the Blue Devils were a different team with him on the floor. However, whenever he returns, there will inevitably be an adjustment period.  When that occurs could play a role in how Duke fares in these two games.

Wednesday, March 6 – North Carolina at Maryland: Maryland didn’t really have any bad losses before last weekend, but they didn’t have any signature wins, either. That changed Saturday with their upset of Duke.  A win against North Carolina to back up the Duke victory could be exactly what the Terrapins need to prove they deserve NCAA consideration.

Of course, the Tar Heels are trying to make their own case, too.  They have struggled on the road (like many teams in the conference), so it’s entirely possible that they will be carrying the burden of a loss to Georgia Tech or Clemson – not to mention NC State – into this contest.  If that’s the case, UNC will need this win just as much as Maryland.

Saturday, March 9 – Duke at North Carolina: Yes, everything about this rivalry that can be said has already been said.  The first game between the two this season was hard-fought, if not always well-played.

It will also be senior night for Dexter Strickland at the Dean Smith Center.  Strickland may not be a top-three player for the Tar Heels, but he is playing one year removed from a torn ACL.  And Duke’s seniors (Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Andre Dawkins) would love nothing more than to spoil a feel-good story that evening with a sweep of the Tar Heels in 2013.

Sunday, March 10 – Maryland at Virginia: If Maryland does indeed pick up a home win against North Carolina in the days leading up to this contest, this could effectively be an NCAA play-in game.

There’s also the chance, depending on how games play out, that Virginia (or, by some strange occurrence, Maryland) will be playing for a first-round ACC Tournament bye.  Finishing in the top four of the conference not only offers a team the chance to say they were a top-tier team in the conference, but also allows a team to dodge an ugly Thursday loss in Greensboro that can cripple postseason aspirations.

This week’s ACC Power Rankings

1) Miami – It wasn’t pretty (especially not last night), but the Hurricanes picked up two road wins this weekend.  Proud Miami keeps on rolling.

2) Duke – Fouling out with four points and three rebounds in a loss to Maryland, Mason Plumlee? That’s not a good look, partner.  But, hey, Duke beat North Carolina on Wednesday!

3) North Carolina – North Carolina’s win against Virginia was critical for NCAA-resume building purposes.  It was also impressive in the way the Tar Heels scored at will against a typically-stingy Cavaliers defense.  

4) NC State – If it took overtime to dispatch Virginia Tech at home, how much will the Wolfpack struggle hosting Florida State on Tuesday? And how will they fare in Chapel Hill over the weekend?

5) Virginia –
As you just read, Virginia needs some big wins..  Last Saturday was a missed opportunity, but I think it can be overcome.

6) Maryland – Maryland may have won their last home ACC game against Duke. As outlined, this sparks hopes for an NCAA Tournament appearance for the Terrapins. Now its up to them to make it reality.

7) Clemson – Clemson will have a week to think about their close loss against Miami. When they do finally take the court Saturday, it will be in College Park.  It will be interesting to see whether the affair boosts Clemson’s hopes or crushes them.

8) Florida State – Clemson and Florida State are basically interchangeable this week. Both had close home losses to Miami.  Both won against bottom-third ACC teams.  Clemson gets the bump for beating Georgia Tech on the road, rather than Boston College at home.  

9) Georgia Tech – It’s not all bad news for Yellow Jackets fans, though.  They also had a road win this week, against Wake Forest.  If they can win against North Carolina or Virginia this week, the team that started 0-5 in ACC play will have to move out of the bottom third of the power rankings.

10) Boston College – The Eagles finally picked up that close win against Wake Forest!  Then they dropped a nail biter against Florida State.  Boston College: Often dramatic, rarely successful. Still, they deserve some props for what they’ve accomplished with a young team and a short bench this year.

11) Wake Forest – Wake Forest’s bizarrely strong home-court advantage apparently took the day off against Georgia Tech Saturday.  Maybe the mulligan is out of the way for Miami’s trip to Winston this week. (Doubtful).

12) Virginia Tech – Presented without comment: In 90 minutes of ACC basketball in North Carolina, Virginia Tech attempted 19 free throws, while their opponents attempted 70.  


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