January 11, 2008

Duke faces key road test at Florida State

MORE BREAKDOWNS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

N.C. State at Clemson
Wake Forest at Maryland
Miami at Boston College
Duke at Florida State
Virginia Tech at Virginia
North Carolina at Georgia Tech

Best matchup: Wake Forest (11-3, 1-0 ACC) at Maryland (10-6, 0-1). If you like guard play, this is the game for you. The Demon Deacons and Terps boast some of the league's top young guards. Maryland's fiery sophomore Greivis Vasquez is a terrific playmaker who leads the team in scoring (16.9 points per game) and ranks second in the league at 6.1 assists per game. Classmate Eric Hayes is an excellent passer, ranking fourth in the league in assists (5.4). Wake sophomore Ishmael Smith and freshman Jeff Teague are among the league's fastest players. Teague is emerging as a dangerous scoring threat, having scored in double figures in six consecutive games, including a 26-point outburst in Wake's convincing 79-62 win over BYU on Tuesday. Slowing down Smith and Teague will be pivotal for the Terps, who need a win after struggling through their non-conference schedule and losing their ACC opener to Boston College.

The pressure is on: N.C. State. The Wolfpack (10-3, 0-0) begins ACC play with road trips to No. 1 North Carolina (15-0, 1-0) and No. 18 Clemson (12-2, 0-1), putting them in danger of starting out 0-2 in the league. The Wolfpack, picked to finish third by the league media, have been wildly inconsistent, beating Villanova, Davidson, Cincinnati and Seton Hall, but suffering shocking losses to New Orleans and East Carolina. Most recently, the Wolfpack trailed Presbyterian (1-18) in the second half before pulling out an ugly 50-43 win. The key is getting steady play from star freshman J.J. Hickson, who followed up a 33-point, 13-rebound performance in a win over Western Carolina with just four points and one board against Presbyterian.

Upset alert: No. 9 Duke (11-1, 0-0) at Florida State (12-4, 1-0). For whatever reason, the Blue Devils have had a tough time in the Donald L. Tucker Center, going 2-3 in their past five trips to Tallahassee, including a 79-74 loss in their most recent trip in 2006. The Blue Devils will enter as the heavy favorite, but expect the matchup to come down to the final minute. Florida State may be the only team in the league that can match the Blue Devils' depth on the perimeter the Seminoles have three senior guards, and junior point guard Toney Douglas is a three-year starter and with both teams hurting badly for bodies on the inside their weaknesses should neutralize each other.

RPI watch: The ACC continues to remain atop the conference RPI ratings. North Carolina has moved up to No. 2, thanks in part to a strength of schedule that ranks No. 21 in the nation. Duke moved up to No. 16, and Clemson slipped to No. 44 after its overtime loss to the Tar Heels last week. Boston College's shocking loss to Robert Morris proved costly as the Eagles fell to 102nd.

Key stat: North Carolina ranks first in the league in scoring at 92.1 points per game but ranks 11th in scoring defense, giving up 69.9 points per game. Only Georgia Tech, which is giving up 72.3 points, is worse. Florida State leads the nation in free-throw percentage, shooting a remarkable 80 percent (260-of-325).

Freshman to watch: Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen hasn't gotten nearly as much publicity as many of the league's freshmen, but the blue-collar big man has been one of the most productive, averaging 12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.0 steals. Allen (6 feet 7, 250 pounds) already has put together six double-doubles.

Who's hot: Duke senior wing DeMarcus Nelson is 18-of-29 from the field (62.1 percent) over his past three games and has made 11 of his past 20 3-pointers (55 percent). Maryland senior power forward James Gist is averaging 19.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocks over his past four games. Florida State reserve guard Ralph Mims has scored in double figures in five consecutive games.

Who's not: Boston College guard Tyrese Rice has shot 10-of-27 (37.0 percent) and is averaging 5.0 turnovers and 2.0 assists during the Eagles' two-game skid. Wake's Ishmael Smith is shooting 32 percent (8-of-25) from the free throw line for the season. That is lower than his average (34.3 percent) from 3-point range. Florida State senior guard Isaiah Swann continues to be mired in a shooting slump, going 10-of-32 (31.2 percent) from the field in his past four games. He has made just four of his past 25 3-pointers (12 percent).

Worth noting: Three of Boston College's first four league games are at home, where they are 12-4 in the past two seasons. Wake has won six games in a row for the first time since 2004-05 and has the longest home-winning streak in the league at 14 in a row. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is tied with former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell for sixth place on the NCAA career wins list with 786. Florida State's Leonard Hamilton needs one win to reach 300 career victories.

MORE BREAKDOWNS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.


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