Friday, March 21 2014 7:28 AM EDT2014-03-21 11:28:45 GMT
RALEIGH, NC (WMBF) - This week, Coastal Carolina joins Duke, Virginia, Tennessee and several other big name schools at PNC Arena for a weekend of games as the NCAA Tournament is off and running. TomorrowMore >>
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(RNN) - The dearth of ACC games this week ends Saturday when NC State and Pittsburgh tip off to begin a day chock full of intraleague contests.
Both teams have done exactly what they were supposed to do the past few weeks - bounce back from losses against strong opponents by winning winnable games.
NC State's four-point win against UNC Greensboro wasn't nearly as convincing as the Panthers' average 14.5 margin of victory against Cal Poly and Albany, but at least they head into the conference schedule on a positive note.
With the exception of its top three scorers - T.J. Warren, Anthony Barber and Desmond Lee - consistent scoring contributions for NC State (10-3) have slipped in the past month. They will want the ball in the hands of their best players, but ball distribution is a necessity to beat a team as good as Pitt.
The Panthers (12-1) play on-ball defense as well as any team. Their unselfish, shot clock-draining offense means trouble for any team facing a deficit, especially late in the game.
Pitt is occasionally prone to spastic shooting stretches, so NC State should hope for a dry spell and prepare to crash the boards. But that's a huge gamble, considering the Wolfpack's rebounding is near the bottom of the conference.
Saturday games, all times eastern
Miami at No. 2 Syracuse, 2 p.m.
Talk about teams going in opposite directions. Syracuse (13-0) hasn't had many hiccups since ending last season in the Final Four (though there was that mini debacle in the first half last weekend against Villanova).
The Hurricanes' 8-5 record entering conference play isn't much different from the 9-3 mark at the same point last season, but they don't have nearly as much talent. Two of their early losses in 2012 were to Arizona and Florida Gulf Coast. This year, they fell to the slightly less impressive St. Francis (NY) and Central Florida.
That's what happens when a team unloads a heap of experience. That's not the major concern in this game, though. Any team has a chance against the Syracuse zone if they're smart passers.
Miami does a decent job in controlling turnovers, but the team is last in the ACC in assists.
No. 7 Duke at Notre Dame, 4 p.m.
Notre Dame (9-4) needed overtime to beat Canisius, a team who has precious few wins. Irish fans will be mourning the dismissal of leading scorer Jerian Grant for a good while.
We at least know Eric Atkins is willing to step up and strap on those empty big-boy shoes. He played all 45 minutes last game and scored a career-high 30 points, more than double his season average.
Not that Duke (11-2) can afford to lose anyone, but it's safe to say they don't have that problem. This team has rarely ridden on the success of any one player, and they don't now, despite the lovefest the media is having with Jabari Parker.
Case in point - Rasheed Sulaimon. He averaged 29 minutes and almost 12 points last season for the Blue Devils. That's down to 20 and seven this season, and he doesn't even play Parker's position.
Can you say deep?
The Blue Devils don't do everything well, as evidence by their paltry 25 defensive rebounds per game. Then again, when they're not giving opponents many chances to shoot, they are also not giving them many chances to miss.
Virginia at Florida State, 5 p.m.
Virginia (9-4) has not won a game that mattered all season, which is scary considering nothing truly matters until the conference slate rolls around.
There is only one eyeball test the Cavaliers come close to passing - defense. Their most recent loss to Tennessee was the only game this season an opponent has scored more than 75.
Otherwise, they don't shoot well, they don't pass well and they don't shoot well. It's worth mentioning twice.
Joe Harris is their leading scorer with 11 points per game. There have to be at least a dozen bench players in America that score more.
The Seminoles (9-3) have proven they are more substance than style with some of their impressive wins (VCU, UMass). This isn't quite as good a defensive team as Virginia, but it's not far behind.
I love the frontcourt-backcourt tandem of Okaro White and Ian Miller because they both help their team from the floor, and more importantly, from the free throw line.
The 'Noles haven't played many close games, but they will. That consistency at the line will go a long way in helping them stay afloat.
Also on deck:
Georgia Tech at Maryland, 2 p.m.
Clemson at Boston College, 4 p.m.
No. 19 North Carolina at Wake Forest
It just isn't basketball season until a meaningful game is played on Tobacco Road.
Wake Forest (10-3) isn't the most talked-about team in the country, but it has more than a decent shot to win this game because of one thing - rebounding.
Devin Thomas is a monster on the boards, and everyone else around him does their fair share to make this one of the best rebounding teams in the country.
The one drawback, though, is they also give up a lot of rebounds, a direct product of their inconsistent shooting.
Normally, that's a problem against North Carolina (10-3). But this is a team spread a little thin by attrition. They have taken care of business the past few weeks, but let's see how they do against a team this physical.
The good news is the Tar Heels have been getting more from James Michael McAdoo. With the increase in minutes J.P. Tokoto and Brice Johnson have gotten, at least one of them has to be more than a streaky firecracker to help this team absorb hits to their lineup.
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