ACC Basketball Conference Play Preview: Any Challengers for Duke Blue Devils?

Gary SuggContributor IIJanuary 12, 2011

ACC Basketball Conference Play Preview: Any Challengers for Duke Blue Devils?

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    Outside of Duke’s success and North Carolina’s disappointments, the rest of the ACC hasn’t seen any spotlight so far this season.

    Rumor has it that aside from Duke, the ACC is not nearly as strong as its past years. While I agree that this may be the best Blue Devil team in team history, the ACC is far from lacking other impressive teams.

    Here are five teams that will be ever-present adversaries for the Blue Devils in this year's conference play.

Miami Hurricanes

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    Reggie Johnson is without a doubt the anchor of this team. The presence in the paint is critical, and having the 6’10" Johnson inside gives them a great accent to Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott on the perimeter.

    Johnson has already proved himself as a shot-blocking machine and comes up big when the stakes are high.

    With the Canes' last-place finish in the ACC last season, they simply need to close games against conference foes this season. With the addition of freshmen Eric Swoope and Raphael Akpejiori, I see enough aggression in this team to be successful in the clutch against big teams this year.

    Sure, Duke has already proved itself against the Miami Hurricanes with a 74-63 win in its conference opener, but let's not forget that this is the ACC we're talking about. Miami will have Duke at home February 13th, so mark your calendar.

North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Roy Williams’ Tar Heels started off with a seemingly undeserved No. 8 preseason ranking. The No. 1 recruit in the nation, Harrison Barnes, has yet to find a consistent shooting motion, John Henson has been less than stellar at the free throw line and Larry Drew has yet to come out as a solid point guard.

    However, the Heels do have some things going for them. Tyler Zeller is stepping up in the post, providing a reliable big man with a consistent jumper, Barnes is starting to look more comfortable playing on a big stage and most importantly the young team is beginning to find the essential aspect of a college basketball team: chemistry. 

    We all know the history between Duke and North Carolina. Don’t be too quick to count the Heels out in the regular season finale in the Smith Center. The Heels will be looking to avenge a disappointing season, as well as their 32-point loss to the Devils in their last meeting.

Maryland Terrapins

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    With all three losses from the non-conference schedule being against respected teams, the Terrapins are deep under the radar. Look for them to pull a few upsets this conference season.

    The loss of Greivis Vasquez and Eric Hayes presents a definite setback, but sophomore Jordan Williams, who is averaging over 17 points and 11 rebounds per game, is having an outstanding year. Williams himself is one of the underrated players of the ACC and is proving himself the leader of his team.

    Also, Cliff Tucker proves to be a utility player, posing a threat from the arc as well as inside.

    Despite the loss of their three top scorers last season, the Terrapins are looking to be one of the better ACC contenders this season. I don’t see them settling for just an NCAA Tournament bid.

Clemson Tigers

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    The Clemson basketball program is without a doubt reaching its peak. With head coach Brad Brownell’s installation, I think the Tigers are slowly gaining more respect for their program.

    The middle of this conference is only separated by a couple key games, and I simply think that Clemson will come out on top in its ACC matchups against equally deserving teams.

    The loss of Trevor Booker is huge. Or is it? Aside from his skill and athleticism, he wasn’t a consistent player. He often lacked motivation unless his team was winning or the home crowd was cheering him on

    It will be good for Clemson to find some consistent, less egocentric leaders on the team. Senior Demontez Stitt would fit that role nicely.

Boston College Eagles

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    Surprised? Boston College has stunned the basketball nation with unexpected early success. After handing Texas A&M its first loss, the Eagles earned victories over Maryland, Georgia Tech and NC State to start off with a 3-0 ACC record.

    Junior Reggie Jackson has been outstanding. Averaging nearly 20 points per game, Jackson continues to prove himself as a complete guard with speed, agility and good decision-making.

    To complement Jackson, Joe Trapani, Corey Raji and Biko Paris all average over 10 points per game to round off a solid team that will be a tough team on the hardwood.

    Highlight Boston College on your ACC schedule, and look for them to come up big at the big dance in March.