Before I get to this game, let's put it in perspective. Here is Matt's latest ACC Power Ranking. As you can see, team No. 6 is in team No. 7's house tonight.
1. Miami: 15-3, 6-0 (Up 1): There's a new number 1 and the Hurricanes have earned it. 6 straight conference wins by an average of over 13 points per game leave the Canes two games in front of Duke and UVA in the loss column. With Reggie Johnson back from a thumb injury, the biggest question now is how long can Miami sustain such a high level of play? They travel to Blacksburg tonight, where only a severe letdown would give them a loss, then head to Raleigh to face an up and down Wolfpack on Saturday.
2. Duke: 17-2, 4-2 (Down 1): The Dukies rebounded from their shellacking at Miami to drub Maryland by 20 at home, which is certainly a step in the right direction. Still, questions linger. Ryan Kelly has yet to be cleared and the Blue Devils have not won a true road game all season. They get another chance tonight against a Wake team who already beat NCSU at home, then follow that up with a trip to Tallahassee-which has been a bit of a house of horrors for Coach K over the years.
3. UVA: 15-5, 5-2 (Up 3): The Cavs have won 4 straight games, including last night's home win over NCSU, to get themselves in position to make a run at the Dance. However, their RPI is still way too low (91) due to a horrific OOC schedule and they only get one shot each against the two heavyweights in the league, so their margin for error is razor thin.
4. NCSU: 16-5, 5-3 (Down 1): Since their big win over Duke, State has alternated wins and losses, beating UNC and Clemson, while losing to Maryland, Wake, and UVA. Focus is clearly an issue. Star PG Lorenzo Brown missed the entire second half of last night's loss to UVA with an apparent ankle injury and his status going forward is unknown. They will likely need him back in the lineup in order to be successful against the Hurricanes on Saturday.
5. UNC: 14-6, 4-3 (Down 1): Won 4 of their last 5, but looked completely outclassed for most of the game against NCSU-their lone loss during that stretch. The Tar Heels are also monitoring an injury situation as P.J. Hairston was taken off on a stretcher last night after colliding with a teammate.
6. Maryland: 15-5, 3-4 (Down 1): This spot could really be occupied by FSU or Maryland-and after tonight we'll know for sure-but I went with Maryland due to FSU's injury woes. Outside of the last second home win against NCSU, Maryland has literally beaten no one noteworthy all season. But they don't have a bad loss either.
7. FSU: 11-8, 3-3 (Same): The Noles went 1-1 last week, winning the game they needed to and losing the game they were expected to. As mentioned above, injuries have made this team a shell of what it was in November, but there is still enough fire power to get to 9 or 10 wins in the conference...IF the team decides plays within itself and matures mentally.
8. Clemson: 12-8, 4-4 (same) To be honest, none of the rankings really matter from this point downward, as none of the teams have a remote chance of receiving an at-large bid for the NCAAT. But they are our conference brethren, so rank them we will! The Tigers got Snaer'd on the road by FSU, but then rebounded to beat the Techs at home. Beat BC this weekend and they will have a win over all of the lower-tier ACC teams.
9. Va Tech: 11-8, 2-4 (Up 1): This team is long on heart but terribly short on depth. After winning two straight to get their ACC record back to .500, the Hokies dropped consecutive games to Virginia and Clemson. Tonight brings a home date with the Hurricanes, with their only hope coming from Miami potentially looking ahead to their trip to Raleigh.
10. Wake Forest: 10-9, 3-4 (Down 1): The incredibly young Demon Deacons caught NCSU sleeping and scored a huge upset, then used all that momentum to get stomped by a Georgia Tech team that was previously winless in league play. They're like a less-talented FSU.
11. Georgia Tech: 11-8, 1-6 (Up 1): Finally got off the snide with a 20 point beat down of Wake and actually looked decent in a 3 point road loss to Clemson last night. That's enough to move them out of the cellar.
12. Boston College: 9-11, 1-6 (Down 1): The Eagles actually aren't as bad as their record indicates and have played several teams close. But 5 straight losses are still 5 straight losses. Here's a fun fact: BC and GT only play once this season, with the Yellow Jackets travelling to Chestnut Hill the last game of the year. So mark your calendars for March 9th, as that should be riveting action.
Now, on to the game at hand.
The last time these two met Maryland was on a 13-game winning streak, but they hadn't really played anyone since their season opener against Kentucky. And sure enough, FSU exposed them.
Now the Terps, losers of 4 of the past 6, are in a very different place then when they hosted FSU. As hot as they were then, they're that cold now.
Only - like the 13-game winning streak - this cold streak has been driven largely by the schedule. After losing to FSU they've dropped games at Miami, at UNC, and at Duke. Not exactly an easy slate. While at home they've beaten NC State and Boston College.
The reason FSU won at Maryland is that they were able to contain 7-1 sophomore Alex Len. As is typical, they fronted him the entire game in the post. What wasn't typical, at least for this season, is that the help defense was there throughout the game. With every lob entry the help arrived prior to the ball. This disrupted the flow and FSU was able to win a defensive game.
FSU also did a good job on the defensive glass in that game. They limited Maryland to 36% OR%, which is below their season average. On the year they're the 7th best nationally at grabbing their own misses. Of course, the guy who had seven defensive boards (Terrance Shannon) that night is out for FSU. Can someone fill that role? If not, this could be a repeat of the UNC game where solid defense was consistently voided by allowing the Heels to extend possessions on the offensive glass.
Shannon's injury, in conjunction with Ian Miller's, has received a lot of talk of late. It's that time of year. Teams who go unscathed are rare and have a tremendous advantage. Following Saturday's game at Duke, Maryland had survived the year without a single meaningful player missing a game. But they'll no longer be able to make that claim after tonight, as junior point guard Pe'Shon Howard didn't make the trip due to the flu. They'll miss Howard, but to be fair, he's been in an awful slump. He's made just 4-15 2s and 1-15 3s since ACC play began, and has 16 turnovers to 15 assists.
The game tips at 8pm and will be broadcast on ESPN3 and the ACC Network. The Noles are a 3 point favorite in Vegas and a 1 point underdog according to Ken Pomeroy. This is the 3rd straight game in which there has been a solid discrepancy, so Vegas is clearly more bullish on FSU than their numbers suggest.