College basketball’s conference play is in full swing and races are taking shape as the stretch run approaches. Last week we looked at how the best teams of the Big East are fairing, and this week it’s the rugged ACC.
DUKE: Remember how young Duke was last season? Coach Mike Krzyzewski experienced a lot of growing pains with a talented but young Blue Devils squad a year ago, and they went 5-7 SU, 4-7 ATS on the road. The kids have come a long way and notice that Duke started 6-0 both SU and ATS on the road this season.
There is a ton of depth, with 6-foot-4 J.J. Redick, who leads the team in scoring, 6-3 junior Daniel Ewing and senior Chris Duhon anchoring a solid backcourt. A big plus has been highly touted 6-8 freshman Luol Deng, who teams with 6-9, 255-lb Shelden Williams and 6-10 sophomore Shavlik Randolph to anchor a tall front line.
Most impressive is that Duke is scoring 78 ppg both home and on the road. ACC rival Georgia Tech started 12-0 at home, before Duke came to town and won 82-74. Duke is No. 1 in scoring defense in the ACC, allowing 59 ppg.
NC STATE: The Wolfpack has a nice one-two punch in 6-6 junior Julius Hodge and 6-8 senior Marcus Melvin. The talented duo leads the team in scoring and rebounding. Hodge also is first in assists and can put on a show most nights. In a big 81-69 win at Maryland, Hodge had 28 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and was 10-of-10 from the line.
This is not a deep team, however, nor are they strong on the road. State has lost five of seven road games. A year ago, the Wolfpack were 14-4 in home games and just 4-9 SU on the road. Offense can be a problem away from Raleigh, as State often relies too much on Hodge. The Pack started 4-1 "over" the total at home averaging 79 ppg. On the road, however, the "under" is 5-1 with State averaging 63 ppg. This is a big week for NC State, hosting Florida State on Tuesday and Duke this Sunday.
WAKE FOREST: A young Wake Forest bunch is scoring 84 ppg, second in the ACC behind run-and-gun North Carolina. Jamaal Levy, a 6-8 junior, and 6-9 Eric Williams (13 ppg) lead the Demon Deacons in rebounding, while a slew of guards push the ball up the floor. The "over" was 8-2 in Wake’s first 10 starts.
The backcourt is deep with 6-2 sophomore Justin Gray (14 ppg), freshman Chris Paul and junior Taron Downey, who is a skilled passer. The next week provides a tough test. Wake plays at Clemson this Thursday and, hosts Cincinnati on Sunday as the ACC meets Conference USA. The Deacs then must prepare for Duke the week of Feb. 18.
GA TECH: The Yellow Jackets have enough depth to overcome the loss of Chris Bosh, who left for the NBA’s Toronto Raptors after his freshman season. Georgia Tech is second in the ACC in rebounding because of 7-1 junior Luke Schenscher and 6-6 Isma’il Muhammad.
The backcourt has a terrific player in guard B.J. Elder (15 ppg), one of the top scorers in the ACC. Jarrett Jack and junior Will Bynum provide backcourt depth. Georgia Tech is fourth in the ACC in field goal percentage and third in three-point shooting (36 percent). The Jackets allow just 58 ppg at home, but 74 away from Atlanta.
N.CAROLINA: These are good times for the Tar Heels. They have a talented young team that is leading the ACC in scoring under first-year coach Roy Williams. UNC still needs to play some defense, but Williams has these guys running like his Kansas teams. North Carolina is 10-2 "over" the total this season.
Sean May, a 6-9 sophomore, is having a fine season (second in the ACC in rebounding) while sophomore guard Ray Felton leads the ACC in assists. Throw in sophomore Rashad McCants and 6-8 junior Jawad Williams, and the Tar Heels have a talented group that will be together for a while.
UNC fits the profile of many young teams — strong at home (11-1 SU, 8-3 ATS), weak on the road (2-4 SU, 1-4 ATS). The Heels were able to top preseason No. 1 UConn in Chapel Hill last month, 86-83, nailing 8-of-19 three-pointers.