With the Super Bowl in the rear view mirror, the next big event on the sports stage is college basketball’s season-ending tournaments. Since 1997, college basketball’s national champion has come from several different conferences: the Pac 10 (Arizona), SEC (Kentucky and Florida), Big 10 (Michigan State), the ACC (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina), Nig 12 (Kansas) and the Big East (UConn, Syracuse). Over the next few weeks, let’s examine some of the top hoop teams in each conference, starting this week with the ACC.
Duke: Coach Mike Krzyzewski has another talented team that is just two years removed from a national title, one that is flexing its ACC muscles again. This is an athletic team behind the backcourt of freshman guard Austin Rivers (14 ppg) and a big frontcourt of 6-11 junior Ryan Kelly (12.7 ppg) and 6-10 junior Mason Plumlee (12 ppg, 9.8 rpg) and 6-10 senior Miles Plumlee. They like the uptempo game averaging 80 ppg. While everyone thinks of Duke as a run-and-gun, three-point team, note that the defense has been outstanding, allowing 64.7 ppg (5th in the ACC) and fourth in field goal shooting defense. Duke is tops in the ACC in points, field goals (47%) and free throws (75%), sound fundamentally all around. They have big showdowns this week with rivals North Carolina and Maryland.
Florida State: The Seminoles have been getting it done with defense, allowing 61 points and 36% shooting, both tops in the ACC, behind the backcourt of 6-5 junior guard Mike Snaer (13.8 ppg) and sophomore Ian Miller, with 6-10 senior Bernard James (8.9 rpg) and 6-11 senior Xavier Gibson up front. Defense keyed a 5-game ACC win streak the last two weeks, holding three opponents under 60 points. They already have beaten North Carolina (a 90-57 rout) and have a showdown with Duke on deck in two weeks at home.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels have a powerhouse offensive team that is tops in the nation in points and rebounds, third in assists. Yet, they have three losses, two of them thumpings, to UNLV (90-80) and Florida State by 33. They have a power frontcourt of 6-10 junior Josh Henson (14 ppg, 10 rpg), 7-foot, 250-lb Tyler Zeller (14.8 ppg, 9 rpg) and 6-8 sophomore Harrison Barnes (17.5 ppg, 5 rpg) up front. They are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the ACC and second worst from the charity stripe (67%). Keep in mind the Tar Heels are 8-20 ATS in their last 28 games after scoring more than 90 points in their previous game. Despite all that offense, the under is 30-13 in the Tar Heels last 43 in the ACC.
Virginia: The Cavaliers are getting it done with a terrific one-two punch of 6-8 senior Mike Scott (16.7 ppg, 8 rpg) and 6-6 sophomore Joe Harris (12.3 ppg). Virginia plays good defense, third in the ACC in points allowed, as well as tops in three-point shooting (.388%). Virginia lost just 61-58 at Duke, so they can slow it down with defense and three point shooting to keep it close. The Cavaliers are 17-8 ATS in their last 25 against the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition, the under is 22-5 in the Cavaliers last 27 games following a win and 20-6 under in their last 26 home games. Virginia has two games remaining with North Carolina, including one this weekend.
NC State: The Wolfpack is staying alive with a frontcourt that is one of the best at offensive rebounding the in ACC, led by 6-8, 250-pound junior Richard Howell (9.4 rpg) and 6-8 senior C.J. Leslie (12.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg). They are not strong in most other stats, however, and had a tough two-game run last week, getting beaten up by North Carolina (74-55) and losing at home to Virginia by a point. NC has losses to Indiana, Stanford and Virginia, with its best wins out of the league over Texas (70), St. Bonaventure (85) and Princeton (108) and wins inside the league over Miami (67) and Maryland (96). That’s not going to get it done on Selection Sunday, so, like many teams right now, they need a late season push.