We're heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, so our conference breakdowns are going to change up a bit this week.
We'll take a closer look at the teams still in the hunt for the regular-season conference title. We'll also take our regular look at the three best games in the league in the next week, hot and cold players, good wins and bad losses in the past week and an interesting statistic.
It's down to three
Duke: The Blue Devils' league losses have come to Florida-based schools, with both FSU and Miami winning in Durham. Duke visits Tallahassee on Thursday. An FSU season sweep would mean the Seminoles basically owned a two-game lead on the Blue Devils because the 'Noles would own the tiebreaker. Duke has two eminently winnable games following the matchup with FSU (vs. Virginia Tech and at Wake Forest), and, as usual, the Blue Devils close out the regular season with a meeting against archrival North Carolina. The Blue Devils mounted an epic last-minute rally to beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Feb. 8. Duke last swept the season series with the Heels in 2009-10; the last time before that was 2003-04.
Florida State: The Seminoles mounted a furious rally to avoid an embarrassing home loss Thursday night to Virginia Tech, then looked good throughout in winning by 14 at North Carolina State on Saturday. FSU has the toughest closing stretch among the three contenders. It plays host to Duke on Thursday, then has back-to-back road games against Miami (Feb. 26) and Virginia (March 1) before closing at home against Clemson on March 4. While Clemson is struggling this season, the Tigers hammered FSU by 20 on Jan. 7.
North Carolina: The Tar Heels play three of their final four games on the road, starting with Tuesday's game against what should be a desperate North Carolina State team. The Heels then travel to play Virginia on Saturday before finishing their home schedule Feb. 29 against Maryland. Then there's the regular-season finale at Duke on March 3. One thing to remember: Florida State owns the tiebreaker over UNC.
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The pick: Duke. The Blue Devils have the easiest closing stretch simply because they have just two tough games left. Still, Thursday's game at FSU basically is a must-win affair; getting swept by the Seminoles would make the Devils' title hopes remote.
Top three games this week
Miami at Maryland, Tuesday, 8 p.m., ACC syndication/ESPN FullCourt: This is a key game for Miami's tourney hopes. While beating the Terps won't necessarily enhance Miami's NCAA résumé, a loss would really hurt. UM beat the Terps by four in double-overtime at home on Feb. 1.
North Carolina at North Carolina State, Tuesday, 8 p.m., ACC syndication/YES network/ESPN FullCourt: The Wolfpack's NCAA hopes are on life-support, and it desperately needs a marquee victory. NCSU has just one RPI top-50 win. UNC, meanwhile, can't afford a loss if it wants to stay in the league title hunt. The Heels whipped the Wolfpack by 19 in Chapel Hill on Jan. 26.
Duke at Florida State, Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN: The Seminoles are 14-1 at home this season, and they know that they can basically eliminate Duke from the title chase with a victory.
Duke G Seth Curry: He is averaging 20.0 points over his past five games. In that span, he is shooting 50.0 percent from the field (32-of-64) and 51.5 percent (17-of-33) from 3-point range.
Virginia F Mike Scott: In his past six games, Scott is averaging 19.0 points and 7.8 rebounds, and shooting 63.2 percent from the field (48-of-76) and 89.5 percent from the line (17-of-19).
North Carolina F Harrison Barnes: Barnes is averaging 21.7 points and 6.8 rebounds in the past four games; he scored at least 23 in three of the four contests.
Miami C Reggie Johnson: Johnson has scored just 21 points in the past three games, going 8-of-18 in the process.
Wake Forest G C.J. Harris: Harris is averaging 16.8 points and shooting 48.1 percent from the field for the season. But in the past four games, he is averaging 12.5 points and shooting 36.8 percent from the field (14-of-38).
N.C. State F Richard Howell: Howell has scored just 20 points in the past three games and shot 31.6 percent from the field in those outings (6-of-19). He is averaging 11.0 points and shooting 49.8 percent from the field for the season.
Good win last week
North Carolina 73, Miami 64: UNC's most recent trip to the state of Florida had resulted in a 33-point loss at Florida State in January. But there was no loss this time, just a solid victory that gave UNC a season sweep of the Hurricanes.
Bad loss last week
Clemson 60, Virginia 48: The Cavs were in the running for a top-three finish in the league – well, before this game, anyway. It was the Cavs' third road loss in a row, but at least the first two had come against NCAA tourney-bound teams (Florida State and North Carolina).
North Carolina's victory over Clemson on Saturday should have come as absolutely no surprise. UNC now is 56-0 against the Tigers in Chapel Hill after the 74-52 rout. You read that right – zero losses. The Heels also are 126-20 all-time against the Tigers. The win also was the 666th of coach Roy Williams' career, which puts him 23rd on the NCAA Division I career list. Former Maryland coach Gary Williams is 22nd with 668.
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