Friday, March 7 2014 1:43 AM EST2014-03-07 06:43:07 GMT
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(RNN) - A loss of star power and some soft scheduling leave nearly as many questions as answers going into ACC play Saturday.
Teams like Clemson, NC State and Wake Forest look like possible contenders, but it is hard to measure where the young teams are at based on few quality matchups. Also, the familiarity of the conference could be medicine to teams who have disappointed - Boston College, Maryland and Virginia among them.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame's Jerian Grant and North Carolina's P.J. Hairston will not be leading their teams into the New Year because of off-court issues. But while UNC has learned to live without last year's leading scorer, the sudden loss of the Irish's top point and assist man could be a death knell to the once high hopes for their season.
The days leading up to the weekend feature several teams getting a final tune-up.
Virginia (9-3) at Tennessee (7-4), 7 p.m. ET Monday
The Cavaliers get a chance to pick up a win over a power conference team after a disappointing open to their 2013 campaign. Tennessee looks to move their mark to 2-1 against the ACC - beating Wake and losing to NC State.
Coach Tony Bennett still looks unsure how he will divide the minutes among his players - or, perhaps, there will not be any set rotation. The questionable court time may be part of the issue for senior forward Akil Mitchell, who averages far below his output from a year ago with 6.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Leading scorer Joe Harris is also struggling to find shot opportunities, averaging 11.4 points compared to 16.3 a season ago.
The Volunteers rely on senior Jordan McRae for a good portion of their scoring; he puts up nearly 19 points and six 3-point attempts a game. Sophomore Derek Reese took advantage of his first chance on the floor last game against Morehead State, finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in 19 minutes played.
No. 9 Duke (10-2) vs. Elon (7-6), 1 p.m. Tuesday
The Blue Devils is one of the worst rebounding teams in the land, ranked 220th. Their solution to the problem is to make shots at a higher percentage than nearly anyone else.
Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood combine to average nearly 40 points per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor. The duo of 6'8" underclassmen is effective getting to the basket and hitting from long range, which has kept any defense from figuring out how to slow them down.
Sophomore Rasheed Sulaimon appears to be coming around; had been getting limited minutes as he and coach Mike Krzyzewski figured out his role on the team. He adds yet another outside shooting threat to an already loaded offense.
Elon is also an efficient team, hitting nearly 50 percent of its shots. Lucas Troutman, at 6'10, could give Duke trouble in the paint - he leads the Phoenix in scoring (15.5) and rebounding (5.6).
The Orange are coming off an impressive performance against a top-10 team in Villanova. Eastern Michigan completes its two-game nightmare after getting clobbered Saturday by Duke.
Syracuse was threatened early on against its former Big East rival, falling behind by 18. But its 2-3 zone eventually won out, as the Wildcats could not sustain their hot shooting from the 3-point line. Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair showed they could still find their way into the lane against an upgrade in competition, as the two combined for 37 points.
Baye Moussa Keita and Rakeem Christmas play outstanding defense around the basket, using their height and footwork to stifle attempts around the rim.
The Eagles have a pair of scorers who average double figures, Karrington Ward (15.0) and Ray Lee (11.7). Junior guard Mike Talley had some success against the Blue Devils, finishing with 20 points and getting to the free throw line eight times.
UNC Wilmington (6-8) at No. 19 North Carolina (9-3), 5 p.m. Tuesday
The third game of the New Year's Eve tripleheader features the Tar Heels hosting their in-state foes from the Colonial Athletic Association. UNC has been unpredictable at times, with a tendency to play up or down to the level of its opponent.
The Seahawks are led in scoring and rebounding by 6'9" junior Cedrick Williams. He gets little help from his teammates though, as they have one of the worst shooting percentages in the nation at only 41 percent.
Coach Roy Williams deploys several talented big men who have been playing well. Brice Johnson is a pure scorer who works well with his back to the basket, and freshman Kennedy Meeks can use his big body to occupy space in the paint.
Leslie McDonald's return after a nine-game absence gives the team a second 3-point shooter behind leading scorer Marcus Paige.
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