UNC 0-2? Miami, FSU 2-0? First week of ACC play showed anything’s possible

acarter@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2013 

THE WEEKEND IN 30 SECONDS

Duke tries for fourth 16-0 start in Mike Krzyzewski era. Duke has never reached 18-0, but Coach K has started 17-0 twice (2005-06 and 1991-92). ... N.C. State is going for sixth win vs. No. 1. Last victim? No. 1 Duke in Raleigh on Feb. 15, 2004. ... Tar Heels trying to avoid first 0-3 ACC start since 1997. Also trying to reach 60 points for first time in three ACC games. Won’t be easy. FSU held Maryland to 62 in road win Wednesday. ... If Wake Forest beats B.C. on Saturday, Deacs would be tied with Duke-State loser and ahead of UNC. ... Virginia at Clemson: First one to 45 wins. ... Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech: technically speaking, Yellow Jackets’ best chance to avoid possible 0-5 league start. Finally, Miami is 2-0. In basketball. Canes get Maryland at home on Sunday with chance for first 3-0 ACC start.

On the road to Greensboro …

The only thing that has become predictable about the ACC in recent seasons has been its unpredictability. And if the first week of conference play is any indication, that’s not likely to change this season.

Already the league has provided its share of surprises.

After two games, North Carolina is one of four winless teams in ACC play. Equally surprising: Neither Boston College nor Wake Forest are among those teams. And Florida State, with non-conference losses to the likes of South Alabama, Mercer and Auburn, is 2-0 with a pair of road victories in the ACC. Go figure.

So here’s where we appear to be early in our trek to the Greensboro Coliseum and the ACC tournament: There’s Duke, which has the best resume of any team in the nation but now must proceed without forward Ryan Kelly, who will be out indefinitely with a foot injury.

Then there’s N.C. State. No one denies the Wolfpack’s talent. Or their ability to frustrate their long-suffering supporters with an irritating ability to play down to the level of their competition. The Blue Devils and Wolfpack meet at noon Saturday in Raleigh, and the winner will emerge as the early frontrunner in a long season.

As for the ACC’s other 10 teams? Expect a lot of parity.

In the first week alone, North Carolina lost to Virginia, which lost to Wake Forest, which lost to Duke, which went scoreless through the first four minutes of an ugly victory against Clemson, which lost to Virginia Tech, which lost to Maryland, which lost to Florida State.

Duke and N.C. State are clearly the class of the ACC, but they didn’t exactly look unbeatable while winning their first two league games. The Blue Devils cruised to a relatively easy victory against Wake Forest before relying on defense to put away hapless Clemson.

The Wolfpack’s victory against Boston College, meanwhile, wasn’t decided until the final seconds. And N.C. State followed that with a somewhat uninspiring victory against Georgia Tech, which led the Pack at halftime in the RBC Center.

And what to make of the Florida schools? Miami and Florida State join Duke and N.C. State and 2-0. Keep in mind, though, that the Hurricanes suffered a loss to Florida Gulf Coast, and that was before Miami lost Reggie Johnson, its lumbering center, to a thumb injury.

And the Seminoles? Their conference start makes the least sense of all, given their abysmal play out of conference.

Fast break …

Virginia coach Tony Bennett might enter the second weekend as the most confused coach in the ACC, given the Cavaliers Jekyll and Hyde performance in their first two games. The Cavs put together the best stretch of their season during the final 18 minutes of a victory against UNC, and then gave away the momentum with a puzzling loss against Miami. … Is there a more difficult match-up in the ACC than Kenny Kadji, Miami’s 6-11 perimeter-oriented forward? He punished the Tar Heels on the interior and on the outside on Thursday night, and he also blocked two shots in the final minute that helped keep the Hurricanes in control. … Duke is 15-0 for the sixth time in school history, and just two victories away from tying its best start in school history. Who would have thought, given the loss of Austin Rivers and that daunting November and December schedule? … Might Wake Forest be in position to go on a little run? Next three for the Demon Deacons: Boston College and on the road at Clemson and Virginia Tech. …

•  A line to love: Quinn Cook went 0-for-11 and finished without a point (but with 14 assists) in Duke’s victory against Wake Forest. He followed that up with 27 points, five assists, five rebounds and five steals in the Blue Devils’ 68-40 victory against Clemson on Wednesday. …

•  And a line to loathe: UNC needs senior guard Dexter Strickland to produce, but he had perhaps the worst game of his career Thursday in the Heels’ 68-59 loss against Miami. In 26 minutes, Strickland finished with all zeroes – no points, assists, rebounds, steals or anything else. He missed his only field goal attempt. …

•  Power rankings: 1. Duke, 2. N.C. State, 3. Miami, 4. Florida State, 5. Maryland, 6. Wake Forest, 7. Virginia, 8. Boston College, 9. North Carolina, 10. Georgia Tech, 11. Virginia Tech, 12. Clemson.

No. 1 Duke

vs. N.C. State, noon, Saturday, ESPN

After establishing himself as the front-runner for national player of the year honors, Mason Plumlee has cooled off in Duke’s past three games. Against Davidson, Wake Forest and Clemson, Plumlee has had his three lowest scoring outputs (10, 13 and 8, respectively), and also set a new-season high with six turnovers against the Wildcats and Tigers.

Part of the slow down, in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s opinion, is due to the extra time opponents have had to game plan for Plumlee — Duke had eight days off for the holidays, and most other teams took a break from games, too. Also, Davidson and Wake Forest constantly double-teamed Plumlee in the post, a strategy teams didn’t use earlier in the year.

Krzyzewski isn’t overly concerned. Plumlee has maintained his rebounding production (an average of 10.7 per game over the past three games), and he also recorded five assists against Clemson, and four of those led to 3-pointers.

“Look, we’re not undefeated or where we’re at without Mason,” Krzyzewski said. “Mason is our best player. You want to look at every little thing he does, you can do that, but I’ll take Mason, any day. He’s my guy, and I’m a one-guy guy.”

– Laura Keeley

North Carolina

at Florida State, today, 2 p.m., ESPN

Following his team’s 68-59 loss against Miami on Thursday night, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said his players were feeling “a little bit of stress” amid the Tar Heels’ 0-2 start in ACC play. They weren’t the only ones.

“Oh, I’m stressed,” Williams said later, when asked if he was feeling pressure. “Hell, there’s no question about that. But I’m not a guy to panic.”

UNC has been 0-2 in the ACC only three other times. If the Heels lose today at Florida State, the 0-3 start in league play would equal the worst in school history, tying the dubious start of the 1996-97 Tar Heels.

They went on that year to win 16 consecutive games and reach the Final Four. The 2008-09 Heels, who also started 0-2 in the ACC, went on to win the national championship.

Williams said he expected to spend most of Thursday night awake, watching film.

“This is one of those no sleep nights, but my God I never sleep much, anyway,” he said. “But Charles Barkley said you can sleep when you die.”

-Andrew Carter

N.C. State

vs. Duke, noon, today, ESPN

While Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried welcomed the offseason attention to the program, he didn't feel like N.C. State had earned the right to be the ACC favorite or be ranked in the top 10 of the country.

After early losses to Oklahoma State and Michigan, N.C. State has dropped in the national rankings, from No. 6 in the preseason to No. 20 for today's game with Duke. While the Blue Devils have moved up seven spots since the preseason polls to No. 1.

With wins over Louisville, Kentucky, Ohio State, Minnesota and VCU, Duke has impressed Gottfried.

"They're 15-0 and it's not by accident," Gottfried said. "They've earned that because they've been really good."

N.C. State, by the way, is 1-7 against Duke when the Blue Devils are ranked No. 1, going back to 1992. The old rivals haven't met when both teams were ranked since No. 1 Duke handled No. 14 N.C. State, 81-68 in Durham on Jan. 18, 2006.

Joe Giglio

Wake Forest

vs. Boston College, today, 4 p.m., (INSERT TV INFO HERE, DEPENDS ON MARKET)

Wake Forest was one of the worst major-conference teams in the country a season ago. And if it wasn’t for Boston College, the Demon Deacons would have the worst team in the ACC.

But Wake defeated the Eagles both times the teams played last season. When the teams meet today, the winner will emerge with a 2-1 start in ACC play. Not bad considering both teams were picked to finish at the bottom of the league standings.

After an expected loss at Duke, the Demon Deacons earned an important victory against Virginia on Wednesday. Travis McKie, the sophomore forward, helped lead Wake Forest to victory with 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks. It was the latest in a string of solid games for McKie.

Jeff Bzdelik, the Demon Deacons’ coach, praised McKie’s versatility and his understanding of how to play both forward positions in Wake’s frontcourt.

“He’s much more of an instinctive player relying on his instincts now and scoring the ball at a much higher and better and more efficient rate,” Bzdelik said.

-Andrew Carter

**

PLAYER TO WATCH

Robert Carter, Jr., Freshman, Georgia Tech

The Yellow Jackets were one of the early-season surprises for the ACC, and Carter is one of the main reasons why. The newcomer averages 9.9 points per game, second-best on the team, and 6.6 rebounds, a team-high. In a loss at N.C. State Wednesday, Georgia Tech’s second in as many conference games, Carter scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds. This coming week he’ll match up against Duke’s Ryan Kelly-less frontcourt Thursday.

-Laura Keeley

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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