ACC weekend: Tar Heels, Wolfpack look to better tourney spot - - Columbia, South Carolina

ACC weekend: UNC, NC State battle for top-4 spot

Miami travels to Wake Forest on Saturday to take on the Demon Deacons. (Source: University of Miami Athletics) Miami travels to Wake Forest on Saturday to take on the Demon Deacons. (Source: University of Miami Athletics)

(RNN) – Each Atlantic Coast Conference team faces its own adversity during the season's final stretch.

For Wake Forest, Boston College and others, it is a chance for coaches to see if players will put forth the same effort with no hope of postseason play. The young teams near the bottom of the conference standings could build confidence with their coach and gain experience that pays off next year and beyond.

The teams in the upper half of the ACC battle for a coveted top-four spot, which would grant them a first-round bye in the conference tournament. Most, if not all, still have a shot at an at-large bid in the NCAA tourney too, and those already in wouldn't mind winning their way into a higher seed.

The weekend starts with a team on the "bubble" that risks not getting in to the field of 68.

Clemson Tigers at Maryland Terrapins, noon ET Saturday

Alex Len and the Terps (18-8, 6-7 ACC) looked like they had gotten past a midseason swoon when they beat Duke on Feb. 16, 83-81. Then they promptly squandered their momentum Tuesday, losing on the road to sub-.500 Boston College, 69-58.

Maryland got out-rebounded in the game, despite being the conference's top rebounding team and the Eagles being second-worst. They will need to regain that advantage moving ahead, as it helps make up for their 16 turnovers per game average.

Clemson (13-12, 5-8) is best in a slow, grinding pace. They are not a great shooting team, but K.J. McDaniels and Devin Booker are among the ACC's top 10 in offensive rebounds, so they get their share of second chances.

Freshman Jordan Roper has been a recent source of points for the Tigers after inconsistent minutes throughout the year; he had 19 against Miami on Sunday. They took the No. 2-ranked Hurricanes to the brink before losing in the last minute of the game, 45-43.

Miami Hurricanes at Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 1 p.m. Saturday

The Hurricanes (22-3, 13-0) needed late plays to gain the advantage in each of the last two games. On Tuesday, point guard Shane Larkin slipped a pass behind several defenders to Reggie Johnson for a layup with six seconds left, breaking the tie and helping them to a 54-50 win against Virginia.

They did not take the lead for good Sunday against Clemson until a Kenny Kadji 3-point make with 39 seconds remaining. Both contests saw Miami shoot less than 40 percent from the field, but that number should improve against a Wake team that does not emphasize defense.

At first glance, this matchup may look severely one-sided. But Wake (11-14, 4-9) is a far better team when playing before the Winston-Salem, NC, crowd. The Deacons beat Virginia, NC State and blew out Florida State on their home court, as well as giving Duke a serious run.

The familiar confines did not help Feb. 16 in a 57-56 loss to Georgia Tech though, and Wake needs to shoot way better than the 29 percent rate they had then to have a shot against Miami. Coach Jeff Bzdelik may give freshman Madison Jones more minutes than usual, he is a fast, pesky defender and could give Larkin some trouble.

North Carolina State Wolfpack at North Carolina Tar Heels, 4 p.m. Saturday

Wolfpack (19-7, 8-5) coach Mark Gottfried gave T.J. Warren the start Tuesday against Florida State, and the freshman had a breakout game. Warren finished with 31 points and 13 rebounds, eight on the offensive glass, and NC State dismantled FSU, 84-66.

The team is among the nation's leaders in shooting percentage but has struggled too often with turning the ball over, especially on the road. Richard Howell has averaged double-digit points and rebounds in ACC games; the Pack needs him to stay out of foul trouble to keep up with the Tar Heels.

UNC (18-8, 8-5) recovered from consecutive losses to Miami and Duke, and their potent offense has gotten even better as the season went on. They put up 93 points Feb. 16 against Virginia, a team that only allowed 52 points on average, and dominated Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Tuesday in a 70-58 win.

The Heels play fast-paced every chance they get, and James Michael McAdoo is arguably the most athletic big man in the ACC. P.J. Hairston helps the team with his defense, 3-point shooting and hustle plays on both ends of the court.

Boston College Eagles at Duke Blue Devils, 2 p.m. Sunday

The Blue Devils (22-3, 10-3), ranked No. 6, looked exhausted after four games in 10 days, and they dropped the final part of the stretch against Maryland. But after five days of rest, they looked exactly like a team befitting their place in the Top-10, opening a big lead early Thursday at Virginia Tech and winning 88-56.

Mason Plumlee played badly head-to-head against Len, only scoring four points with three rebounds. That game aside, he is a polished interior player who can get to his favorite spots and score. Seth Curry has been on fire in his last seven games, averaging nearly 21 points a game, and leads the ACC in 3-point field goals made.

It may be too much to hope for the young Eagles (12-14, 4-9) to hang with Duke on the road, but they have been playing good basketball and could be a serious contender as soon as next season.

Freshman Olivier Hanlan has delivered scoring from the point guard position, and sophomore Eddie Odio's production has earned him increased minutes in the last four weeks. In the win against Maryland, the two combined for 34 points and 18 rebounds, with Odio adding six blocked shots.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Virginia Cavaliers, 2 p.m. Sunday

On Feb. 16, Georgia Tech beat Wake in a game showcasing two teams with more talent than their records imply. However, the UNC game Tuesday showed how far the Yellow Jackets (14-11, 4-9) still need to go.

Robert Carter Jr., Marcus Georges-Hunt and the other underclassmen have not learned how to work together on a game-to-game basis. However, there are enough flashes of talent on the hardwood that fans of the Ramblin' Wreck should be excited about the future.

The Cavaliers (18-8, 8-5) would like to return the favor after losing to the Jackets on the road Feb. 3. Despite a strong record in the conference, they remain on the bubble for the tournament field and need to keep from slipping up in a game they are favored in.

On Tuesday, Akil Mitchell dealt with multiple big, strong defenders at Miami, and it showed in his 3 for 10 shooting night. His scoring should return without such a barrier. Point guard Jontel Evans has been going to the rim more often, and that creates better shots for everyone on the team.

Florida State Seminoles at Virginia Tech Hokies, 6 p.m. Sunday

A disappointing season for Florida State (14-12, 6-7) is winding down, and there will be no tourney run in its future without a big turnaround. The team has not found anyone who could defend or score from the painted area frequently enough to balance their perimeter players.

Freshmen 7-footers Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo looked green against other ACC big men, but the potential is there. Meanwhile, senior Michael Snaer earned a reputation this season as a cold-blooded shooter, hitting three game-winners for the Seminoles.

The Hokies (11-15, 2-11) also have an extremely talented senior guard in Erick Green. He leads the nation in scoring, averaging 25.2 per game.

Green has shown a sophisticated attack on offense – scoring from anywhere on the half-court – and a motor to go nonstop for nearly all 40 minutes of play. He and Snaer sparring should be more than worth the price of admission Sunday.

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