ACC Basketball: ACC Still Wide Open After North Carolina Downs Maryland

Doug BrodessCorrespondent IJanuary 19, 2013

AUSTIN, TX - DECEMBER 19:  Reggie Bullock #35 of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels is defended by Demarcus Holland #2 of the University of Texas Longhorns on December 19, 2012 at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

North Carolina isn't used to playing must-win games in the middle of January.

But when the Tar Heels beat Maryland (14-4; 2-3 ACC) Saturday, they stayed within striking distance with the rest of the ACC contenders.

UNC played one of their best halves of the season against the Terrapins, building a 42-20 lead at midpoint.

With Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo firing on all cylinders, could begin to erase their early season inconsistencies.

With their second conference win in a row, Carolina (12-4; 2-2) avoided dropping further behind league leader Miami (13-3; 4-0) and second place challengers Duke (16-1; 3-1) and North Carolina State (14-3; 3-1).

The ACC race is wide open. Depending on what happens in the other three conference games this weekend, we could be looking at no less than seven teams who are legitimately in the conversation.

From now until the end of next weekend, the ACC race will take further shape because of huge matchups with the top teams who are vying for the regular season title.

Jan. 19: Florida State at Virginia

Jan. 20: Clemson at NC State

Jan. 22: NC State at Wake Forest

Jan. 23: Duke at Miami

Jan. 24: Clemson at Florida State

Jan. 26: Maryland at Duke; North Carolina at North Carolina State

Jan. 27: Florida State at Miami

The top three teams in the conference are all taking care of business differently.

The fact that Miami is on top of the conference standings is surprising considering that the Hurricanes were picked in the preseason to finish fifth according to media members that cover the ACC.

The Canes are doing it with defense, holding their opponents to 37.5 percent shooting (No. 18 in the nation) and taking care of the ball, averaging on 10.8 turnovers per game (13th fewest in the nation).

Duke is riding the outstanding post play of senior PF Mason Plumlee (17.4 ppg; 11.5 rpg) and the sharp-shooting of senior SG Seth Curry (16.9 ppg; 45.7 percent from 3pt.)

NC State is the No. 2 shooting (51.2 percent FG) and the No. 11 scoring (79.6 ppg) team in the country, with five players averaging double figures.

With seven weeks left in the regular season, there's a lot of ACC basketball action left.

Any road wins will be valuable. Holding home court advantage is absolutely essential for whoever is going to win the conference. 

No one will make it through this gauntlet without a few more defeats.