Upsets have been a common occurrence during the 2013 college basketball season, and they haven't avoided the ACC by any means.
Duke, Miami and the rest of the conference fall right in line with the entire college basketball landscape this season—the prevailing reality that no team is safe, and won't be safe until the final buzzer sounds to conclude the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
But before we can get to March Madness, tournament seeding has to commence. With respect to the ACC, it will commence in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the 2013 ACC Tournament will pit these conference foes against each other one final time this season.
Lucky for fans everywhere, there's a great chance that Saturday's Duke-Miami showdown in Cameron Indoor Stadium will be a preview of the ACC tournament final.
After all but two weeks of regular season play, it's clear that No. 3 Duke and No. 5 Miami are the two top teams in the ACC. Duke has struggled to win games that are set up for a letdown (see Thursday night against Virginia), and Miami, too, has dropped a game to a conference opponent it should not have.
In any event, these two are clearly best teams that the ACC has to offer, and barring a huge letdown in Greensboro, both will be vying for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament on March 17.
Here's how the conference sits right now (as of Friday, March 1):
|TEAM||ACC W-L||TOTAL W-L||RPI (via ESPN)|
|No. 5 Miami||14-1||23-4||.6818|
|No. 3 Duke||11-4||24-4||.6659|
|North Carolina State||9-6||20-8||.6099|
Miami has already clinched the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and a share of the regular season title. Duke is right on its heels, but four conference losses have left the Blue Devils in need of an undefeated mark the rest of the way to ensure the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
They can take steps toward that end on Saturday.
Miami will hit the road and head to Duke with plenty of motivation after a loss to Wake Forest last week and a season-series sweep of the Blue Devils still in sight. Although the Hurricanes have locked up their place in ACC history, that won't stop Jim Larranaga's boys from turning this game into a slugfest.
Led by standout guard Shane Larkin, Durand Scott and Kenny Kadji, the Canes have been one of the most dangerous teams in college basketball this season.
Their efforts have caught the eye of national pundits and even NBA stars, as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were spotted at the blowout win over North Carolina giving the 'Canes a standing ovation (via the Sun-Sentinel).
However, when Miami loses, it loses bad. Losses to Florida Gulf Coast, Wake Forest and Arizona have all been by at least 12 points, and an overtime loss to Indiana State also proves that Miami is very talented, but unfocused at times.
It can't play that way against Duke and expect to make a deep tournament run.
For the Blue Devils, senior Ryan Kelly is inching closer to a return (via Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports). Although he isn't expected to play on Saturday, senior night against Virginia Tech might mark his first game since January 8.
Although Kelly likely won't play on Saturday, his return at full strength is huge for Duke. He's still the team's third leader scorer, brings a three-point element to the offense that it has largely lacked since and has a chance to be a real catalyst for a tournament run.
That in itself makes Duke a dangerous team to reach the ACC final.
Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee are still in the lineup, too, as is Quinn Cook. Duke has more than enough talent to make a deep tournament run, but inconsistent play and poor road showings have clouded that end game.
Which team will have a better 2013 NCAA tournament finish?
Either way, Saturday should be an ACC Tournament final preview.
Although the ACC has produced several upsets, the firepower from North Carolina, North Carolina State and Maryland has dropped off significantly after their starts to the season. Virginia is certainly a dark-horse candidate, but at a neutral-site game in North Carolina the Cavaliers don't have the same edge as they did on Thursday night.
Get ready for a great start to the tournament season. Miami and Duke will get it going on Saturday afternoon, and we're all interested to see how both of these teams respond. The game means more to Duke from a seeding standpoint, but Miami isn't going to roll over or save anything for postseason play.
If you're a big-time college basketball fan, make sure and DVR Saturday's marquee matchup. There's a good chance you'll see it again on March 17, and you'll be a step ahead of the national media in breaking down keys to victory for both teams.