February 22, 2008

Maryland, Miami vie for NCAA berth

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

Boston College at Florida State
Maryland at Miami
Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
St. John's at Duke
NC State at Virginia
Wake Forest at North Carolina
Boston College at Virginia Tech
Florida State at NC State
Miami at Clemson
Georgia Tech at Duke
Maryland at Wake Forest

Best matchup: Maryland at Miami. No game has more at stake this week. The winner can feel confident at least for the moment about its chances of getting into the field of 65; the loser puts itself in danger of not getting an NCAA bid. Both also are fighting to finish in the top four in the league standings. The reason that is significant is because the top four teams earn first-round byes in the ACC Tournament. The Terps are tied for third with Clemson and the Hurricanes are sixth, but the teams are separated by just 1 games.

The pressure is on: Wake Forest. Coaches often refer to pressure as a privilege, and the Deacons earned that privilege by upsetting then-No. 2 Duke on Sunday. The victory put Wake Forest on the NCAA Tournament bubble. But staying on that bubble will be difficult. Wake plays two of the league's top four teams next, traveling to No. 3 North Carolina on Saturday, then playing host to Maryland five days later.

Upset alert: Virginia over N.C. State. The slumping Wolfpack have lost four in a row and gave a lackluster effort in their 84-70 loss to North Carolina on Wednesday. Last-place Virginia, on the other hand, is playing like a team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life. The Cavaliers nearly upset North Carolina at home two weeks ago, falling 75-74. Virginia then went on the road and beat Boston College 79-74. Expect the Cavs to outhustle and outwork the Wolfpack.

RPI watch: Despite losses at Wake Forest and Miami, Duke (No. 3) remains the highest-rated team in the league, one spot ahead of North Carolina. Clemson has steadily closed the gap and now stands at 25th. Miami, which jumped 12 spots after its win over Duke, is next at 28th. Maryland fell 11 spots to 62nd after its loss to Virginia Tech. NC State, once as high as 37th, has fallen to 68th. Virginia Tech is 59th, and Wake Forest is 62nd.

Key stat: Maryland has held 39 consecutive opponents to under 50 percent from the field.

Freshmen to watch: A front-runner has yet to emerge in the race for ACC Freshman of the Year, but it isn't because of a lack of candidates. Five players are in the mix: Duke's Kyle Singler, NC State's J.J. Hickson, Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen and Wake Forest's Jeff Teague and James Johnson. Hickson leads the league's freshmen in scoring (15.2 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg). Johnson ranks second in both categories (14.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg). Singler leads in scoring in ACC games only (15.9 ppg). Allen is second in the league among all players with 2.3 steals per game. Teague is third with 2.1 steals per game.

Who's hot: Boston College's Tyrese Rice is shooting 57 percent (33-of-58) and averaging 29.3 points over his past three games. North Carolina point guard Quentin Thomas has averaged 6.7 assists in the five games that starter Ty Lawson has missed with a sprained ankle. North Carolina's Wayne Ellington has made 14 of 26 3-pointers (53.8 percent) over his past four games. Wake's Teague averaged 22 points and hit four 3-pointers in the wins over Florida State and Duke.

Who's not: Duke's Gerald Henderson is shooting 26.3 percent (5-for-19) and averaging just 6.0 points (less than half of his season average of 12.2) over his past four games Clemson's K.C. Rivers was 1-for-10 from 3-point range in the Tigers' loss to Florida State. Virginia's Adrian Joseph is shooting 28.5 percent (6-for-21) over his past three games.

Worth noting: Maryland's Greivis Vasquez leads all ACC players in scoring improvement from a year ago, boosting his average from 9.8 to 17.6. Miami's Jack McClinton ranks third in career 3-point field-goal percentage (43.7 percent) in ACC history. Home teams are 40-29 (.580) in league games. Wake's Johnson and Teague are vying to become the fourth freshmen duo to rank first and second on their team in scoring; Georgia Tech's Mark Price and John Salley and Duke's Johnny Dawkins and Mark Alarie did it in 1982-83, and Georgia Tech's Javaris Crittenton and Thaddeus Young did it last season. Johnson leads the Deacs with 14.8 points, followed by Teague at 12.8. Clemson's 31-point win at Virginia was the Tigers' biggest margin of victory in an ACC game in school history.

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

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