To this point in the season it looks as if the ACC's hoops teams have taken a similar approach to determining who controls the title race that the football teams have in recent years. In other words, there's order in disorder as eight teams are within two games of each other atop the standings. Three games for the conference involve five of those eight teams with the other (North Carolina) desperately needing a win on the road in order to right the ship. The best matchup of those three: Duke hosting Georgia Tech, who won the first meeting in Atlanta 71-67 back on January 9th.
Two big games in the ACC and another in the Big Ten highlight Thursday's schedule. Wake Forest visits Atlanta in a homecoming game for Al-Farouq Aminu, but he and the rest of the Demon Deacon frontcourt will have their hands full. Derrick Favors, Gani Lawal and Zachary Peacock make up one of the more talented frontcourt trios in the nation and lead a Yellow Jacket squad that can expect multiple NBA scouts every night. But that has little bearing on whether or not Paul Hewitt's team wins games, with the backcourt being the key.
Led by future #1 NBA pick John Wall, this year's freshman class will be one to remember. What makes it particularly interesting is that not all of the top performers are at power conference schools. The WCC, CUSA, A10, MWC, WAC, and others have top-level rookies that can play with the best in the country. Here's a list of the Top 25 freshman in the country so far, with a bias on actual performance as opposed to potential. While players like UNC's John Henson may one day tear up NBA harcourts, this list focuses on the guys who are getting it done right now.
Tuesday lacks a marquee matchup the caliber of Monday's Texas/Kansas State game but there are some interesting games that could have an impact come Selection Sunday. Purdue hits the road with hopes of ending their three-game losing streak and they'll take on an Illinois squad that saw its' undefeated conference start come to a screeching halt. The big men will likely tell the tale of this contest; JaJuan Johnson's play of late has been well-documented and the Illini look to Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis for their interior baskets.
On a night that saw some of the nation's best teams go on the road and pick up victories it was appropriate that one of the less experienced teams fell in front of a raucous crowd. North Carolina started off slowly and paid dearly at Clemson, falling by the final score of 83-64. Trevor Booker led the way with 21 points while Demontez Stitt (20 points) and Tanner Smith (14 points, six rebounds, five steals) helped make life difficult for North Carolina. Dexter Strickland scored seventeen off the bench but he was the only player to score in double figures for the Tar Heels.
Watching the Connecticut/Georgetown game should have been enough of a clue that some interesting things were likely to happen on Saturday. In what was essentially two games for the price of one the Hoyas came back to win 72-69 at the Verizon Center, their fourth consecutive win over the Huskies. The first twenty minutes went about as well as the Huskies could have hoped, shooting 50% from both the field and from three (4-8) on their way to a seemingly commanding 40-25 lead. Georgetown shot just 29.6% from the field and had eight turnovers to just four assists.
It's the biggest Saturday of the season thus far in regards to games played with 135 games on the schedule. The afternoon delivers two of the many important contests, with Connecticut visiting Georgetown and Duke taking on Georgia Tech. The Huskies are ranked thirteenth in the polls right now but they lack a headline victory, something that can be attained at the Verizon Center. UConn's "big three" of Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson and Kemba Walker rank among the nation's best when they're on; they key for them is consistency.
The beginning of conference play can be quite an adjustment for teams, especially if you rely on players who haven't been through league play before. That may have been what happened to #14 New Mexico in San Diego, where they slowly lost control of the game in a 74-64 loss to San Diego State in the Mountain West opener for both. But the Aztecs suffered a loss during the game with Billy White going down late in the first half to a high (right) ankle sprain.
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- Bracketology: Saturday Night NCAA Tournament Projection
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