As poorly as the ACC has been this season, there a few teams gaining a lot of ground in the ACC standings. Maryland just fell to Duke for the second time this season and the Terrapins are now 4-4 in conference play. Maryland is a solid basketball team, but does not have a signature win this year that they can count on to get the Big Dance. Going through the rest of the ACC, only North Carolina and Florida State are within reach of Duke at the top. Florida State has two big wins versus Duke and Baylor, which will become important on Selection Sunday, while UNC has its victory over Kentucky to lean on. This next week and a half will be a tell tale sign if Duke and Florida State are legitimate contenders in the ACC.
North Carolina has won 13 of 15 games since a loss to Illinois back on November 30th, which has helped them put together a 16-5 record and a 6-1 record in conference. Their sole loss in the ACC was to Georgia Tech, which could come back to haunt them in their quest for a tournament bid. Despite that loss, the team has put together a great two weeks, capping it all of with a 32 point win vs. Boston College last night.
Tyler Zeller has taken over the leadership role of this team, contributing heavily and shooting efficiently. He averages 14 points, while Preseason All-American and Freshman Harrison Barnes has become more and more comfortable with UNCN. Barnes came in with a lot of hype and was pressured at the beginning of this season, but through his initial struggles, he has become a better basketball player. He has become more at ease with the ball and is not hesitating when he gets the ball either. In his past two games he has shot a combined 19-31 from the field, for a total of 51 points. These are his first two career games over 20 points, and I assure you they won't be his last. Additionally, John Henson is having a solid season, averaging double digits and grabbing about 8.5 rebounds a game.
This week, UNC has the ability to make some noise as they play Florida State on Sunday at the Dean Smith Center, making it a must-win game for UNC if they want to be tourney bound. If they can separate themselves from the Seminoles, then they can compete with Duke for a possible ACC title. Duke is still the best team in the ACC by far, but with recent struggles and a hot UNC team, the Tar Heels can knock them off. UNC travels to face Duke next Wednesday, that could shape the ACC for the rest of the year. This will be an interesting year for the ACC, typically one of the usual powerhouses in college basketball, but having a down year.