January 4, 2008

Clemson gets chance to answer doubters

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Upcoming ACC Games
Kansas at Boston College
Maryland at Charlotte
Presbyterian at NC State
La Salle at Florida State
Presbyterian at Georgia Tech
Cornell at Duke
North Carolina at Clemson
Robert Morris at Boston College
Charleston Southern at Virginia Tech
Brigham Young at Wake Forest
Holy Cross at Maryland
UNC-Asheville at North Carolina
North Carolina Central at NC State
Duke vs. Temple (at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia)
Charlotte at Clemson
Georgia Tech at Georgia

Best matchup: No. 1 North Carolina (14-0) at No. 19 Clemson (12-1). Clemson began last season 17-0 but went on to miss the NCAA Tournament. Is Clemson just off to another hot start, or have the Tigers really improved? A visit from top-ranked UNC, in what is the ACC opener for both teams, should give us an answer. No team may be playing better than the Tar Heels, who have won their last four games by an average of 33 points. The Tigers are coming off an impressive 87-61 triumph over Alabama on Tuesday, the Tide's worst non-conference home loss since 1970. Both the Tar Heels and the Tigers like to play fast offensively, making for what should be an entertaining affair.

The pressure is on: Maryland. The struggling Terps (8-6, 0-1 ACC), who fell to American on Dec. 22, face two more dangerous non-conference opponents with a road trip to Charlotte (8-4) and a visit from Holy Cross (8-3). The much-improved 49ers, who won 14 games last season, have beaten one ACC team (Wake Forest) and two teams that reached the 2007 NCAA Tournament (Davidson and Southern Illinois). The Crusaders nearly pulled off an upset at No. 20 Dayton, falling 55-53 to the Flyers.

Upset alert: Robert Morris (8-5) at Boston College (10-2, 1-0). The Eagles play host to No. 3 Kansas in a nationally televised game two days prior, which could mean BC may be overlooking Robert Morris out of the Northeastern Conference. The Colonials nearly knocked off Seton Hall earlier this season, falling 111-107 in overtime. With four players that average double figures in scoring, the Colonials boast a balanced and dangerous offense.

RPI watch: The conference RPI is tops in the nation. North Carolina leads the way at No. 3. Clemson is 20th, Duke is 24th and Florida State is 29th. Eleven of the 12 teams are inside the top 100, while Maryland has plummeted to 188th.

Key stat: The ACC is 29-16 (.644) against the top six conferences in the RPI. Four of the other top six conferences (Big East, Pac-10, Big Ten and SEC) have losing records against one another.

Freshmen to watch: Wake Forest's James Johnson and Jeff Teague. These top-100 prospects have quickly developed into consistent leaders. Johnson, a 6-8 forward, has scored in double figures in four consecutive games. He is leading the Deacons in scoring (13.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.7 rpg). Teague, a 6-2 combo guard, has scored in double figures in five consecutive games. Teague has raised his scoring average to 9.8 ppg.

Who's hot: N.C. State freshman power forward J.J. Hickson has made 15 of his last 16 shots and is shooting a league-high 71.4 percent for the season. In his last game, he scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the Wolfpack's 74-62 win over Western Carolina. North Carolina junior power forward Tyler Hansbrough has scored 20 or more points in seven consecutive games. Clemson freshman guard Terrence Oglesby is averaging 17 points per game off the bench in his last six games.

Who's not: Florida State guard Isaiah Swann is in the midst of a shooting slump, having made just two of his last 17 attempts (11.7 percent) from 3-point range. Swann was shooting 49.2 percent (33 of 67) from beyond the arc prior to falling in the slump. Miami guard James Dews has gone 6-for-20 from the field (30.0 percent) in the Hurricanes' last two games. That includes a 4-for-14 performance in the Hurricanes' first loss of the season - a 76-70 setback against Winthrop.

Worth noting: North Carolina will face the tallest player in college or professional basketball when it plays host to UNC-Asheville and its 7-foot-7 center Kenny George on Wednesday. George is averaging 12.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 5.6 blocks per game off the bench for the Bulldogs. A pair of recent injuries have left Florida State with just one post player with any experience, junior Uche Echefu. Freshman center Solomon Alabi will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery for a stress fracture in his leg. Freshman power forward Julian Vaughn is out indefinitely with a medical condition. Junior forward Casaan Breeden left the program in December seeking a transfer, and sophomore power forward Ryan Reid has been out for seven games due to a violation of team rules. The ACC has the best winning percentage against non-conference opponents of any league with a 118-31 record (79.2 percent). Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is two wins shy of reaching 300 career victories. Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt needs one win to reach the 200 mark.

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