The ACC season has been all over the place as expected this year as the majority of the teams are either 3-4 or 4-3 in conference play. Got a chance to watch Maryland fend off Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Saturday and was impressed with the way the Terps' starters handled themselves in that environment. They easily handled Georgia Tech's press and basically kept the Yellow Jackets in check until the closing seconds. I've come to realize that most ACC games come down to the last one or two possessions when the host team is behind. Unfortunately for Tech their flurry of points down the stretch came to late as Bambale Osby and James Gist combined for 32 points and 20 rebounds. Another nice development for the Terps is the emergence of sophomore small forward Landon Milbourne. Landon is starting to come around as he's averaged about 15 points per game in his last two games. He had a great baseline drive and finish against Tech on Saturday and in the last two games he's had a huge offensive rebound and put back that seemed to give his team a jolt. On the flip side coach Williams and his Terps have several concerns it needs to address before tournament time. The two most glaring issues with Maryland right now are that they have no bench and Vasquez turns the ball over like it's his job. Greivis is a fantastic player and while he's putting up incredible numbers for a sophomore combo guard he has to take care of the ball a little better for the Terrapins to make a push in March.
The best play in the ACC came this past week as Deron Washington dunked (sadly) Virginia Tech's way into overtime against Virginia. While it wasn't as climactic as his last second, game clinching, overtime dunk a few weeks ago in Charlottesville,
in my opinion it changed the outcome and the momentum of the game. Basically Virginia Tech had been down all game but had somehow tied the game at 52 with 20 seconds left in regulation. Virginia's Sean Singletary missed a three point attempt at one end which was rebounded by Washington. Washington passed the ball off to a teammate, sprinted down the court, waited for teammate A.D. Vassallo to miss a layup, and then emphatically (it was really loud and I was only watching it on TV) dunked home the rebound. Clearly this sent the crowd into a frenzy. Somehow Singletary was able to draw contact on a drive to the basket even with everyone in the stadium knowing he was going to shoot. The Cavalier senior would then knock down two free throws to send the game into OT tied at 54. Unfortunately for the Hoos' that wasn't enough as Virginia Tech came out and absolutely dominated in the extra period. Tech's freshman big man Jeff Allen scored four points of Tech's 18 points in the extra period as the Hokies outlasted Virginia 72-65.
......On to the Game of the Week. At this point Duke and UNC have clearly seperated themselves from the pack. Duke handled Miami easily at home. The first half didn't go so well for the Blue Devils so the students decided to chuck the green environmental awareness shirts on the court at halftime. With normalcy restored Duke went out and crushed Miami in the second half. Seemed like every 60 seconds DeMarcus Nelson was on a fast break by himself. While Miami played much better at Cameron than many could have expected they just don't have the ability to execute like they needed to beat a team like Duke. Although the final score was 88 - 73 Duke Hurricane fans can find solace in knowing that 5 of their players scored in double figures. Like any game you always want to win on the road at Durham but unless you're a fan of a top 25 team you're really only hoping that your team plays well and doesn't lose by 50.....The UNC game ended about an hour or so ago and they finished up the week without a loss as well. While they handled BC by 22 they got a scare from FSU today. They ended up winning in overtime by 11 but they also lost point guard Tywon Lawson. At this point we don't know if he'll miss any games but he didn't return after he got hurt 4 mintues in to the game today. This doesn't bode well for them going into Wednesday night's matchup with the Blue Devils.
Backcourt - This is the area of the game that the Blue Devils have to dominate for an entire game. Paulus, Henderson, Scheyer, and Nelson have to play well and if Lawson is playing they have to do it for 40 minutes, not just the second half. These four all average between 10 and 15 points per game and have the ball in their hands the majority of the time in Coach K's up and down style. This tempo should definitely favor Duke as well if Lawson is out. UNC's backup point guard, the much maligned Quentin Thomas, will only be serviceable at best for Roy Williams and the Tar Heels. Luckily for Thomas he'll be running with big time sophomore two guard Wayne Ellington. Ellington is averaging a hair under 17 a night and is shooting 40% from behind the three point arc. Regardless of whether UNC goes with a hobbled Ty Lawson or Thomas they still have Ellington to shoot them back in the game if and when Duke goes on there patented runs. To go along with Ellington the Tar Heels have the extremely athletic Danny Green on the wing as well. Green is averaging 12 points per game as a reserve and is good for at least one WOW play a game. Lastly, but certainly not least is the matchup between DeMarcus Nelson and UNC guard Marcus Ginyard. Ginyard always D's up the opponents best guard and usually shuts them down. He really gets after it on D and is certainly Carolina's best on ball defender. If you haven't seen much of him think of a slightly shorter Jackie Manuel with slightly less athleticism but more tenacity on D. Ginyard is decent on offense but he is rarely called upon to shoot. On the other hand Nelson, a defensive star himself, is Duke's leading scorer and will have to do his best to score whenever he can. Taking Nelson out of the game offensively would severely reduce Duke's chance to win. On the flip side, it's also not out of the question that Gerald Henderson Jr. will be too physical for his former high school and McDonald's All America teammate Wayne Ellington to handle, forcing Coach Williams to put Ginyard on him. Clearly this is going to be the matchup to watch as their is ton of backcourt talent on both teams. While both backcourts' will throw punches I think Duke's experience and depth should win out here. Advantage Duke.
Frontcourt - This is where UNC, and any other top 25 team, should have an advantage against Duke. Basically UNC has about 3 or 4 guys who are bigger than anyone on Duke's roster. The Blue Devils clear lack of size should hamper them against Tyler Hansbrough, who right now might be the front runner in the National Player of the Year race. Hansbrough has basically dominated his opposition this year by averaging 21 points, 10 boards, and a little under 2 blocks a game. The guy also gets to the foul line enough to shoot 10 free throws a game. Along with the man dubbed 'Pyscho T' the Heels have 6'8, 240lbs Deon Thompson and 6'9, 235lbs Alex Stephenson for the Dukies to try and match up with. This will probably be a struggle all night as Duke's two starting front court players, sophomore Lance Thomas and freshman Kyle Singler, each go about 6'8 and 220lbs. While Singler and Thomas are more mobile that Carolina's front court they are definitely going to have trouble on the glass. Hansbrough brings down everything and Thompson and Stevenson can dominate games inside once they going. Most impressive game I saw of Thompson came last year as a freshmen when he went 7-8 with 14 points at Arizona. He would be getting a lot more recognition if arguably the best player in college basketball wasn't on his team. This is a no brainer as the Heels' clearly have the advantage.
Prediction - My guess here is that the Heels' get off to a hot start being at home. With Lawson they jump out early and lead by maybe 8 or 10 going into half time and without him they are up maybe 2 or 3. Duke will come back in the second half and basically have the game tied, or even a slight lead, by the 8 or 9 minute mark. Ol Roy will probably call a timeout to remind his team to keep feeding Hansbrough, which they will do, and Carolina will win by 2 as a last second shot by Scheyer front rims.
....ACC Ballers Dunk of the Week
BC Freshman guard Rakim Sanders gettin' up on Kansas.