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 >>
Chants take the floor for a practice in Raleigh before taking on top-seeded Virginia Friday night.More >>
(RNN) - You know what they say about assuming, don't you?
It's a cute little phrase that has to do with a posterior (or a donkey, whatever) and opening your mouth before a result is delivered or reasonably guaranteed.
A lot of people assumed Duke would have reached the top spot in the polls at some point before conference play began.
Myself, I assumed I would look at this week's top 25 rankings and see Pittsburgh in at least one of them.
But those things didn't happen, and neither did a lot of other things that were floated around before the season started.
One-and-done Andrew Wiggins taking college basketball by the horns and leading Kansas to a title before bolting to the NBA? Right now he looks like any other talented freshman trying to figure things out.
Kentucky better than the Fab Five? Time will tell, but at this point, don't bet on it.
So what can we be assured of? Well, conference play is in full swing, and it's about to separate the men from the boys.
Saturday games (all times eastern)
Wake Forest at Pitt, noon
This could be one of the most physical games in the ACC or in any league all season. Wake Forest and Pitt only see each other once, so they might as well do all the slugging they can.
You're not going to see many more teams do a better job of using effective defense to transition into offense than the Panthers (14-1, 2-0).
Lamar Patterson doesn't get nearly enough credit for what he brings to Pitt. He's almost a guarantee for 17 points, five rebounds and four assists a game, and he's shooting 42 percent from behind the arc. He has only failed to score in double digits once this season - a blowout win against Fresno State in the second game.
Pitt has the rare distinction of being a great scoring and defensive team - something not even Syracuse can claim - and if there is one team other than Duke that can challenge the Orange for the league crown, it's the Panthers.
The Deacons (11-4, 1-1) aren't anything to mess with, either. People talk about how well they rebound and defend the paint, but they also guard the perimeter very well. Wake is ninth in the nation in 3-point percentage allowed, putting them in company with defensive monsters like Ohio State, San Diego State and UMass.
But they can be dreadfully inconsistent, as one might expect from a lineup full of sophomores. Not a single starter scored more than eight in Wednesday's 23-point loss to Virginia, and second-leading scorer Devin Thomas had more turnovers (four) than points (two).
As a team, Wake had 15 turnovers and 17 field goals.
When they're not beating themselves, however, the Deacons can be dangerous.
North Carolina at No. 2 Syracuse, noon
North Carolina is now 0-2 in ACC play, and when was the last time that happened?
Actually, umm, that was last year. So much for the neat trivia question and what not.
Embarrassing losses to Wake Forest and Miami make the Tar Heels (10-5) look like a stalled car on the tracks with a train approaching.
Now we're beginning to see how much the loss of PJ Hairston hurts North Carolina. You can't put it all on him - unless he was also the team's free throw coach - but dynamic scoring covers some flaws, at least for a little while.
Syracuse (15-0, 2-0 ACC) seems to have rehabbed nicely from the injury suffered to its pride in a near loss to Miami last Saturday. The Orange beat Virginia Tech this week in a game that wasn't nearly as close.
They keep giving us reasons to believe they will win the ACC outright. Their 2-3 zone could suffocate a whale, they have a pick-your-poison rotation of big men, including leading scorer C.J. Fair, and their coach is Jim Boeheim.
That alone is a recipe for a 25-win season, but you need guards to win championships, especially in this league.
I was so busy throwing love at Tyler Ennis a few weeks ago I completely ignored Trevor Cooney.
Cooney, a little-known reserve freshman last season, combines with Fair to make Syracuse one of a handful of teams with multiple players in the top 20 of the ACC scoring ranks.
He is fourth in the league with 2.1 steals per game (Ennis is first) and also fourth in 3-point shooting at 45 percent.
With such a talented backcourt duo playing well beyond their years, Syracuse is set up to do a lot of damage.
No. 16 Duke at Clemson, 2 p.m.
When giving this game the eyeball test, I wanted to say it had the potential to be a good matchup. I was making a list of reasons why Duke should be on upset alert.
And then I did something I should have printed on a T-shirt - keep calm and watch the Florida State game.
Sure, I could have expressed optimism that one of the losses for Clemson (10-4, 1-1) was a close tussle with UMass.
It was tempting to say they could build on the potential of having statistically one of the best defenses in the country. But if you strictly adhere to the "numbers never lie" theory, you can often look like a fool.
The reality is Clemson has beaten up on a bunch of teams you may never have heard of. Its nonconference strength of schedule is ranked 252, the worst in the ACC. Florida State was the first real test this season, and Clemson failed it badly. And by real test I mean a game against a quality opponent it could actually win.
And then you have Duke. The Blue Devils (12-3, 1-1) have done Duke-like things so far this season except for one: have a signature nonconference win.
It's troubling that Duke lost to Kansas and Arizona, beat a Michigan team that was probably overrated and lost its conference opener to Notre Dame, a team short its best scorer.
This game will prove both teams' mettle. Duke has to dominate, not just win. On the other hand, if the Tigers lose by anything less than 12 points or - gasp! - wins, we'll know they didn't just get fat on early season cupcakes.
Virginia at NC State, 5 p.m.
There are three teams standing 2-0 in early ACC play, and the Cavaliers are one of them. Consider that unblemished record officially in jeopardy.
It says a lot that Virginia (11-4) beat Florida State by 12 without leading scorer Joe Harris, who left with an undisclosed injury less than three minutes into the game and did not return. His scoring average now stands at a hearty 10 points per game.
The Cavs rely on their defense more than the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. It's too bad Trent Dilfer's son doesn't play point guard for the Wahoos. Hopefully, you got that reference, and even if you didn't I had a belly laugh.
They're not a scoring machine, but at least they're balanced. Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon each score 9.9 points per game. Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell are at 6.5. London Perrantes and Darion Atkins are at 4.4 and 4.2, respectively.
What that means is - heck, I dunno what it means, but it was cool noticing it on the stat sheet.
T.J. Warren and his beastly offensive growl will give Virginia all it wants. Warren is averaging 24 points in his last five games - the same number as his jersey and just a tick above his season average.
Hopefully, Warren's performance resembles the last time he played Virginia when he dropped 18 points in the ACC Tournament. When these teams met last year in the regular season, NC State was without two of its best players - C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown - and Warren had more fouls (four) than points (three) on 1-for-7 shooting.
But he's not alone. True freshman point guard Anthony "Cat" Barber lifted his assist-turnover ratio from about 1.6 a month ago to 2.2 now, one of the best in the conference. One day he'll be so good that Cat will be his official first name.
Keep an eye on Ralston Turner, an LSU transfer who has turned it up the last couple of games. If Warren struggles, Turner is the Wolfpack's most dangerous long-range threat, and the Wahoos' perimeter defense has holes.
Also on deck:
Boston College at Virginia Tech, noon
Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, noon
Maryland at Florida State, 8 p.m.
Watch out for Florida State. They can put a huge lineup on the floor with 7'3" center Boris Bojanovsky and 6'7" guard/forward Montay Brandon, sophomores who are making the most of increased minutes from last year.
That kind of length can bother people, and it's a major reason the Seminoles (10-4. 1-1) hold opponents to around 37 percent field goal shooting, one of the lowest in the country.
That awful loss to Virginia, however, was a reminder that FSU is young and can be its own worst enemy.
Long story short, senior point guard Ian Miller has to be better. In the last five games, his assist-turnover ratio is -1. He had five turnovers and two assists against Charleston Southern. Unacceptable.
Maryland (10-6, 2-1), on the other hand, continued to prove just how wide a gap exists between expectations and results with a woeful loss to Pittsburgh on Monday. There is no doubt Pitt is a better team, just not 20 points better.
Apparently, there is some new outbreak of disease that causes talented teams to underachieve, but it has been restricted to the Mid-Atlantic region - first the Nationals and Orioles, then the Redskins, Virginia Tech football and now Maryland basketball. Sadly, I could go on, but thank goodness for the Ravens, right?
Maybe they will repeat as… oh, really? Nevermind then. My bad.
Back to my original point, which is Maryland is waaaay too talented to have lost six games at this point, and everybody knows it. I assume they know it, too, but now would be a lovely time to prove it.
A win would help them save face, and with Notre Dame, NC State, Pitt (again!) and Miami next up, it may help them save the season.
Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.
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Need something to help you get through two weeks of March Madness? Try playing Basketball Cliche Bingo. Mark off the words or phrases that are overused during each game of the tourney.More >>
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