Week in ACC: Virginia, VCU battle in Top 25 contest - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Week in ACC: Top 5 Duke-Kansas battle showcases talented freshmen

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Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski leads his team into a matchup of Top-5 teams when they face the Kansas Jayhawks on Tuesday. (Source: Duke Athletics) Duke Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski leads his team into a matchup of Top-5 teams when they face the Kansas Jayhawks on Tuesday. (Source: Duke Athletics)

(RNN) - The ACC basketball season opens Friday with 14 of the 15 teams slated for action.

The first week of play offers several compelling matchups, including competition from the other major conferences and a pair of Top 25 clashes.

Friday: Maryland Terrapins vs. No. 18 Connecticut Huskies, 6:30 p.m. ET

The Terrapins jump right into action when they meet the UConn Huskies in Brooklyn, NY, for one of college basketball's biggest opening night matchups. Maryland has a clear-cut offensive centerpiece in Dez Wells, and the senior will have the ball in his hands plenty with injuries forcing him to play the point guard role.

Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell have the unenviable job of trying to replace NBA Lottery pick Alex Len, one of the better inside defenders and rebounders in the country last season. Expect Jake Layman to have a good night shooting from 3-point range if the Terps are to hang with the Huskies.

UConn, now of the American Athletic Conference, returned all five starters from its 20-10 team a year ago. Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright form one of the more dangerous backcourt duos, both on offense (32.5 points per game combined average) and defense (3.5 steals per game combined). Junior DeAndre Daniels could be a disruptive presence on the interior by blocking or altering shots.

Friday: Oakland Golden Grizzlies at No. 12 North Carolina Tar Heels, 9 p.m.

Fans may get tired just watching this contest of two fast-paced, high-scoring squads. North Carolina comes in to the night short its full team, as P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald will miss because of off-court issues.

However, the team still has plenty of firepower, most notably James Michael McAdoo. The 6'9" junior overpowers defenders with size and speed driving to the basket and on the offensive glass. Point guard Marcus Paige will lead the aggressive attack on offense and use his length to defend the Golden Grizzlies' primary ball-handlers.

Oakland enters its first season in the Horizon League led by senior Travis Bader. The guard shoots an impressive percentage on an equally impressive number of 3-pointers (39 percent on 360 attempts in 2012-13) and is on his way to breaking J.J. Redick's NCAA record. The Grizzlies have plenty of experience in their projected starting five, with three seniors and two juniors.

Tuesday: No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth Rams at No. 24 Virginia Cavaliers, 7 p.m.

It will be "Havoc" versus "Packline" in a battle of two extremely different yet equally effective defensive strategies. For the Cavaliers, Tony Bennett preaches falling back to just within the 3-point line, sliding help defenders back and forth with the ball, jumping the passing lanes to create turnovers and collapsing on the ball if it gets into the painted area.

Virginia held opponents to fewer than 56 points per game last season, and return nearly their full rotation of players. Joe Harris became one of the conference's best scorers, bolstered by a 42 percent average form behind the arc. Akil Mitchell is a dangerous two-way player, with the skills to defend the paint, score and run the fast break.

VCU is coming off its third straight run in the NCAA tournament, losing to eventual runner-up Michigan in the third round. The Rams have four of their five starters back, including lead scorer Treveon Graham. Their defense wears opponents down and forces turnovers by defending all 94 feet of the court for 40 minutes. Coach Shaka Smart uses a deep rotation off the bench to make sure his guys don't get tired first.

Tuesday: No. 5 Kansas Jayhawks vs. No. 4 Duke Blue Devils, 9:30 p.m.

Two top five teams featuring two of the top freshmen in the country square off in Chicago. The Blue Devils lost three starters from last year's Elite Eight squad but reloaded with transfer Rodney Hood and first-year forward Jabari Parker.

The newcomers figure to be the focal point of the offense, as both have diverse talents for getting the ball in the hoop. Running the show for head coach Mike Krzyzewski is returning starter Quinn Cook. The junior has the tools to establish himself as one of the country's premier point guards. He and sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon will fire at will from 3-point range.

The Jayhawks went from a rebuilding effort to a title contender when Andrew Wiggins signed his commitment to play for them. The freshman phenom's elite athleticism and all-around ability on the court made him one of the most sought-after recruits in years. After losing all five of its starters from a year ago, Kansas relies on freshmen Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden Jr. to grow up fast.

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