Last night’s 80-65 win for Coach K’s Blue Devils at Pittsburgh was their fifth straight after starting 1-2 in ACC play. Duke went into one of the more hostile atmospheres in all of college basketball and dominated the second half of play in front of a record setting crowd at the Peterson Events Center. Again Jabari Parker showcased his talents on national television with yet another double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Duke did their usual thing of making as many three point baskets as deuces finishing 13-25 from behind the arc. Up next for the surging Blue Devils is a tango with the best team in the conference on the road at Syracuse; the biggest game of the ACC season so far (see bottom for more).
Before last night’s big win Duke mopped up the two Florida based teams in the conference, but it was Pittsburgh that was having the best seven day stretch before last night’s loss. Pittsburgh absolutely dominated Clemson at the Pete on Tuesday and then held on to beat Maryland at Comcast Center in their one and only conference meeting ever in College Park, giving them a season sweep over the Terps.
Syracuse continued their dominance, winning their only game of the week on the road against an old Big East foe, Miami. But it is Virginia that week after week is showing that they can play with the big boys of the conference. The Cavaliers are 6-1 in the ACC with their only loss being a four point one at Duke. Each of their six wins have been by at least twelve points. This week they’ll play their first conference games ever at Notre Dame and Pittsburgh (see below).
It was a bad week for some of the teams that were in the top third of the conference, especially those that had to play Pittsburgh and Duke. Maryland’s atrocious loss at NC State, who was playing without TJ Warren, and with the Terps were up nine at halftime, might have been the knockout punch that signified their last three seasons in the ACC. Then they lost on their home court to Pittsburgh in a game that was a must win for Mark Turgeon’s squad to prove that they can beat an upper-tier opponent, which as of now they can not. As for Clemson, who was tied for second place going into last week, they had that bad loss at Pittsburgh, in which KJ McDaniels scored his second lowest point total of the season, and then got pummeled by North Carolina at the Dean Dome. That win for North Carolina was just their second ACC win of the season.
What a lot of people might not realize at this point is that Wake Forest has crept up into a tie at fourth place after winning three of the last four. They were projected to finish in third to last place, just one spot ahead of Clemson who they are currently tied with. But it might be fair to expect their short run to end with a meeting against Syracuse looming Wednesday night. As for Florida State, the other team tied with Wake and Clemson, they survived a close one at home against Notre Dame and then got blown out of the water at Duke. But still the Seminoles three losses have come at the hands of Virginia (twice) and Duke. If they continue their trend of winning games against the bottom two-thirds of the league and just losing to the top dogs, they have a great shot at dancing, but they’ll need to win at least one game against someone of note.
After Duke’s dominate win at Pittsburgh last night let’s look ahead to the most important games of the week:
1. Duke at Syracuse, Saturday at 6:30 (ESPN) – This game has absolutely everything you want if you are a college basketball fan. It has the matchup between CJ Fair and Jabari Parker, it has Duke coming into it playing their best basketball of the season, and it has the largest venue in college basketball in the Carrier Dome. Duke gets to rest up as they don’t have anymore games between now and Saturday, but as mentioned earlier Syracuse does have a game at Wake Forest. That game isn’t one that Cuse can just look past even though their game against Duke is already being advertised all over the ESPN family of networks. But if Cuse takes care of business with the Demon Deacons, they’ll get their shot at proving they are the best team in conference, in case they haven’t already. I am most excited to watch the battle between the veteran CJ Fair, who has been incredibly consistent and one of the great team leaders in the NCAA and the record setting Jabari Parker. If Duke wins this game it is time for the rest of the conference to start quivering because it would mean winning two road games against ranked opponents in the toughest places in the country to play. (Prediction: Duke 76-68 because of their three-point shooting which will make or break them).
2. Virginia at Pittsburgh, Sunday at 12:30 (ESPNU) – In a tasty Super Bowl and Puppy Bowl appetizer that sadly drew just an ESPNU broadcasting, this game is quietly almost as important as Duke-Cuse. Put it this way if Virginia wins this game and Duke knocks of Syracuse, Virginia is in first place and as of now they are still unranked. Joe Harris somehow continues to fly under the radar because of Lamar Patterson, Jabari Parker, and CJ Fair, but he is playing incredible basketball and shooting an outstanding 43 percent from three. But flying even further under the radar for Virginia is Malcolm Bogden who is averaging 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. But for them to knock off Pittsburgh on the road it is going to take Joe Harris shutting down Lamar Patterson just like Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood did. (Prediction: Virginia 65-63)