The College Basketball Notebook

February 4, 2011 6:22 AM

The Race Is On In The ACC

UNCBC.JPGThe message from Chapel Hill is coming loud and clear--don't' concede the ACC championship to Duke just yet. North Carolina is still tied with the Blue Devils in the loss column and delivered a huge 106-74 win on the road at Boston College this week. The Tar Heels got the win by relying on their frontline foundation. Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and John Henson combined for 57 points and 19 rebounds. While this was more impressive than usual, Roy Williams is used to getting production down low. What made this game different is how well the guards distributed the ball. Kendall Marshall, Dexter Strickland and Larry Drew combined for 19 assists. What's just as impressive is the defense North Carolina played on the perimeter. They've had problems all year defending opposing guards and BC's Reggie Jackson is as good as anyone else who's lit up Carolina. But Jackson only had six points. The Eagles were still able to hit threes, but only by bringing forwards Joe Trapani and Cory Raji outside.

Boston College isn't a great team, so I don't want to get carried away on this game. But they are a decent one and beating them by thirty-plus on the road is something only outstanding basketball teams do. Even if North Carolina hasn't played like an outstanding team since the 2009 Final Four, they have the talent to be one, especially if the backcourt creates offensive flow and defends the perimeter. The fact they did this suggests maybe Roy Williams finally has his team moving back to the top level of college basketball.

Duke delivered a solid win of its own, going to Maryland and beating the Terps 80-62. The Blue Devils were doubled up in free-throw scoring, something that undoubtedly leaves conspiracy theorists a little quiet, and they made up for it by hitting threes and stopping Maryland from doing the same. The Terps' Jordan Williams was his usual outstanding self, with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but no one else produced. Duke got 22 from Kyle Singler, 21 from Nolan Smith and just as important is that Mason Plumlee crashed the boards for 11 rebounds. Duke needs that from Plumlee and they can't have the kind of disappearing act that Ryan Kelly pulled in College Park if they're going to match up with Carolina's front line.

Before we concede this race to North Carolina-Duke, Florida State is ready to remind us that they're still just a game back in the loss column. The Seminoles coasted past lowly Wake Forest 85-61 and showed their depth in the process. They put five players in double figures, including two off the bench. Forward Chris Singleton only had five points, but it didn't' stop FSU from piling up the points. The 'Noles won't get away with this against their fellow contenders, but the fact they can get away with it against anybody speaks well to their depth.

It's hard to believe a potential North Carolina-Duke race could slip under the national radar. It seems about as likely as a Red Sox-Yankees race being overlooked by the mainstream media. But that's the case right now. Although by next week, with the Super Bowl over, the nation's eyes focusing on college hoops and UNC-Duke set to play in Durham, I'm sure Dick Vitale will make sure we're all aware of the stakes. In the meantime, don't overlook Carolina-Florida State on Sunday, just prior to kickoff in Dallas. 

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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