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March 7, 2008

UNC, Duke have plenty on the line

MORE BREAKDOWNS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Upcoming games
Miami at Florida State
NC State at Wake Forest
Georgia Tech at Boston College
North Carolina at Duke
Virginia Tech at Clemson
Maryland at Virginia

Best game: North Carolina at Duke. There usually is plenty at stake when these two Tobacco Road powers meet, and this is no different. The winner takes home the ACC regular-season title and becomes a virtual lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Duke won the last meeting 89-78 on Feb. 6 in Chapel Hill, but the Tar Heels (28-2, 13-2 ACC) were without point guard Ty Lawson, who returned two games ago from an ankle injury. The Tar Heels have won seven in a row including five without Lawson. Star big man Tyler Hansbrough has scored 20-plus points in nine consecutive games, including a 28-point, 18-rebound performance against Duke. The Blue Devils (26-3, 13-2) haven't looked sharp recently, falling to Miami and Wake Forest in back-to-back games in February. Duke also needed a late rally to escape from N.C. State with an 87-86 win last week. Look for the Blue Devils to use their four-guard lineup and spread the court as much as possible. Carolina had trouble matching up on the perimeter in the last meeting. As usual, the Tar Heels will get Hansbrough as many touches as possible, but the big key could be whether shooting guard Wayne Ellington can knock down open jumpers. He was 3-for-14 (21.4 percent) from the floor in the first meeting.

The pressure is on: Maryland. The Terps (18-12, 8-7) face a Virginia (14-14, 4-11) team in a three-way tie for last in their final regular-season game. But that's the only good news for the Terps, whose NCAA Tournament hopes would be heavily damaged by a loss. The Cavaliers have made significant strides recently, winning three of their past six. The Cavs nearly knocked off North Carolina at home Feb. 12, falling 75-74. This will be "Senior Night" for Virginia and the last home game for star guard Sean Singletary, who will want to end his career in Charlottesville with a big performance.

Upset alert: Virginia Tech over Clemson. Virginia Tech should be the hungrier of the two. The Hokies need at least one more win to lock up an NCAA bid. On the other hand, the Tigers are in the field of 65 regardless of the outcome. The Hokies also come in with plenty of momentum, having won four in a row. A strong start is the key. The Hokies have won their past 25 games when they have led at halftime.

RPI watch: The ACC has been the top-ranked league in the conference ratings nearly all season long, which should help Virginia Tech and Maryland when the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee compares them to other bubble teams. The Hokies have climbed to 56th and the Terps are 64th. North Carolina (second) and Duke (four) remain near the top, which puts each in the running for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Clemson has climbed to 20th. Miami remains well inside the top 50 at 26th. Florida State sits at 67th. Three teams are in the 80s: Georgia Tech (82), NC State (86) and Wake Forest (88). The ACC is the only league where every team is ranked in the top 115.

Key stat: UNC has outrebounded its opponent in 26 consecutive games. The Tar Heels lead the nation in rebounding margin (plus-11.7), a full two rebounds more than the next-highest total.

Freshman to watch: It looks as if the preseason favorite has taken the lead in the race for ACC Rookie of the Year. While Wake Forest's James Johnson and NC State's J.J. Hickson have seen their production slip recently, Duke's Kyle Singler continues to turn in one solid performance after another. Singler has scored in double figures in 11 consecutive games and ranks third among league freshmen in scoring (14.4 ppg) and fourth in rebounding (6.1 rpg) while shooting 77.6 percent from the free-throw line. Singler's main competition may be Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen, who ranks fifth among league freshmen in scoring (12.4 ppg) and third in rebounding (7.6 rpg). Allen also is second in the league in steals (2.2 spg).

Who's hot: Maryland's James Gist is averaging 23 points and 9.5 rebounds in his past two games. Virginia center Laurynas Mikalauskas has come off the bench to average 13.6 points and 8.0 rebounds over his past three games. Virginia Tech has outrebounded its past three opponents by 16.7 rebounds a game. Wake Forest freshman Chas McFarland is averaging 15 points and 7.5 rebounds over his past four games. North Carolina's Danny Green is shooting 60 percent (15-of-25) from the floor in his past three games.

Who's not: Georgia Tech's Lewis Clinch has made one of his past 17 three-point attempts over his past seven games. Wake Forest's Johnson has shot 2-for-14 (14.2 percent) from the field and averaged just 3.5 points in his past two games.

Worth noting: Clemson guard Cliff Hammonds is playing with a cast on his non-shooting hand but still managed to score 15 points and grab eight rebounds in Clemson's 80-75 loss to Georgia Tech on Thursday. Hammonds broke his right hand in the Tigers' win over the Terps on Sunday. Home teams are 53-36 (59.5 percent) in league games. North Carolina has scored at least 90 points in 18 games this season. UNC's Hansbrough leads the league with 10.7 free throws attempted a game. The next-highest total is Virginia's Singletary, at 6.9 per game. Clemson has put together back-to-back 20-win seasons for just the second time in school history. Georgia Tech's Anthony Morrow has made at least one 3-pointer in 37 consecutive games. The ACC will release its all-conference, all-freshman and all-defensive teams Monday at 4 p.m. ET. The league's coach, defensive, rookie and player of the year awards will be unveiled Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.

MORE BREAKDOWNS: Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC

Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at askwara@rivals.com.

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