A look at the upcoming week around the Atlantic Coast Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 14 Virginia at No. 10 North Carolina. The schedule gets noticeably tougher for the first-place Tar Heels (22-5, 10-3), who first must face the Cavaliers (18-7, 8-5) in the ACC’s only matchup of ranked teams this weekend. Then, North Carolina plays host to No. 8 Louisville (21-5, 9-4) on Wednesday night in the second game of a two-game stretch that will impact the league standings. The Tar Heels, who had an easy time against North Carolina State on Wednesday night, enter the weekend with a one-game lead on three teams — Florida State, Duke and Louisville. The Cavaliers figure to be desperate after losing to Virginia Tech and Duke earlier this week.
LOOKING AHEAD: No. 12 Duke at Syracuse. The Orange (16-11, 8-6) have been tough to beat in the Carrier Dome — their only ACC loss there came in overtime against Louisville on Monday night — and they’ve moved onto the NCAA Tournament bubble. They’re catching the Blue Devils (21-5, 9-4) just as they seem to have caught their stride. With everybody — players and coach Mike Krzyzewski — healthy, Duke has won six in a row to move within striking distance of first-place UNC.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The growth shown by Duke freshman Jayson Tatum is a big reason why the Blue Devils have turned their season around. He’s come a long way from the end-of-game turnover that sealed a home loss to North Carolina State. Tatum scored all 19 of his points in the second half of the victory over North Carolina, then scored 21 of his season-high 28 in the second half of a key road victory at Virginia that elevated the Blue Devils into that cluster of teams behind UNC. Krzyzewski said Tatum’s second-half showing at Virginia was “why we won, for crying out loud.”
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: The ACC’s strength is reflected in the advanced metrics that have become more popular in evaluating teams and conferences. As of Thursday, six ACC teams rank in the top 21 in adjusted offensive efficiency — points per 100 possessions — as calculated by Ken Pomeroy. That’s by far the most of any conference. Third-ranked North Carolina leads the way with 122.2, with Duke, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Virginia and Florida State also appearing in the rankings.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE: With less than two weeks left in the regular season, the league’s best teams are starting to separate themselves from the pack, with No. 4 Florida State having won 10 straight ACC games and No. 7 Notre Dame (seven), No. 13 Duke (five) and No. 15 N.C. State (three) all brought notable winning streaks into Thursday night’s games. Those four teams are in position to claim the double byes in the league tournament, which begins March 1 in Conway, South Carolina.
Compiled by AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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