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February 8, 2008

Maryland, N.C. State battle for position

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

Boston College at Duke
Miami at Virginia Tech
Virginia at Wake Forest
Georgia Tech at Connecticut
NC State at Maryland
Clemson at North Carolina
North Carolina at Virginia
Maryland at Duke
NC State at Boston College
Georgia Tech at Clemson
Wake Forest at Florida State

Best matchup: N.C. State at Maryland. Duke's rematch with Maryland on Wednesday may look like the obvious pick here, but the Wolfpack's road trip to College Park has plenty of intrigue and importance. The Terrapins are in sole possession of third place, and the Wolfpack are one game behind. No one would have predicted that three weeks ago. The Terps suffered embarrassing losses to Ohio and American at home during their non-conference schedule, then started 0-2 in ACC. The Wolfpack, who had an embarrassing loss of their own at East Carolina, lost three of their first four league games. But they've won three of their past four, including two by three or fewer points. The Terps, fueled by their shocking upset of North Carolina, have won five of their past six. As a result, both squads have moved into contention for NCAA Tournament bids.

The pressure is on: Boston College. The Eagles are riding a five-game losing streak and have the toughest game on their schedule coming up next a trip to Duke for a nationally televised game. Five days later, they get a visit from an improving NC State team. Lose both games and any hope the Eagles have of making the NCAA Tournament will be gone.

Upset alert: Clemson over North Carolina. Tar Heels coach Roy Williams has been saying for years that Clemson's infamous streak of never having won at North Carolina (the Tigers are 0-52 in Chapel Hill) eventually will end. There is reason to believe it will end Sunday. The Tigers have their best team since the Rick Barnes era, and UNC was lucky to escape from Littlejohn Coliseum with a 90-88 overtime win earlier this season. This time around, Clemson will not have point guard Demontez Stitt, who is recovering from knee surgery. However, UNC may not have point guard Ty Lawson, which would be a far bigger loss. A sprained ankle kept Lawson on the bench while Duke won at the Dean Dome on Wednesday. The Tar Heels lack a solid backup point guard, and their offense looked lost without Lawson. If he stays on the bench again, expect the Tigers to have a chance to win in the final minutes.

RPI watch: Duke moved up to No. 2 in the RPI with its win at North Carolina on Wednesday night, putting the Blue Devils in strong position to land the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina fell one spot to No. 4, keeping the Tar Heels in contention for a top seed. NC State has risen to 40th. Miami (46th) is in 11th place in the league standings, but has the fifth-highest RPI in the ACC. The Hurricanes have the 43rd toughest schedule in the nation. Maryland, which once was outside the top 100, has climbed to 60th.

Key stat: Teams leading at the half are 35-11 in league games. Virginia Tech has rallied to win three times after trailing at halftime, the most of any team.

Freshman to watch: NC State may have found its point guard of the future in freshman Javier Gonzalez. After a shaky start, Gonzalez a native of Puerto Rico who played his high school ball in Miami has gained the confidence of coach Sidney Lowe. Gonzalez has played 20-plus minutes in six consecutive games and posted a 1.7-1 assist-to-turnover ratio over that stretch.

Who's hot: Maryland has shot at least 50 percent from the field in four consecutive games. Georgia Tech has won four of its past five games, including three consecutive road games. Wake Forest's Jeff Teague is averaging 21 points in his past three games. Boston College's John Oates went 5-for-5 from 3-point range and scored 21 points in the Eagles' loss to Maryland. Duke's Kyle Singler is shooting 51.5 percent (17 of 33) from the field and averaging 15.7 points in the past three games.

Who's not: Virginia has lost five games in a row and eight of its last nine. The Cavaliers were held to a season-low 51 points in a loss to Clemson on Thursday night and shot 38.8 percent from the field. ... North Carolina's Wayne Ellington went 0-for-6 from 3-point range in the Tar Heels' loss to Duke, making him 23.3 percent (7-for-30) from beyond the arc over his past seven games. Virginia Tech's Malcolm Delaney is just 1-for-10 (10.0 percent) from 3-point range in his past three games.

Worth noting: Clemson's Stitt will be out at least one more week after having arthroscopic surgery Jan. 31 to repair torn knee cartilage. NC State's Brandon Costner did not play in the Wolfpack's win over Virginia Tech on Tuesday because of a rib injury suffered in practice. The ACC has the best won-loss record among the "Big Six" conferences, going 29-18 (61.7 percent) against opponents from the Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC. Virginia Tech freshman power forward Jeff Allen ranks third in the league with 2.2 steals a game. Georgia Tech's Anthony Morrow has made at least one 3-pointer in 30 consecutive games. North Carolina's Roy Williams has the highest winning percentage (80.4 percent) among active coaches with 10-plus years in Division I.

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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