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Conference Reset: North Carolina, Duke lead unproven bunch in ACC

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Mike Scott and Virginia could be only team outside of UNC and Duke with a chance to win the ACC. (US Presswire)  
Mike Scott and Virginia could be only team outside of UNC and Duke with a chance to win the ACC. (US Presswire)  

The ACC is going to be great soon with the additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh.

But is it great right now?

Not really. North Carolina remains a national title contender, Duke is Duke (despite Wednesday's loss at Temple) and Virginia is a surprise. But the league's other nine teams are either unproven or proven to be average or bad, and that's not a good look for a conference that prides itself on playing a high level of basketball.

ACC play starts Saturday.

Conference resets
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Here's a primer to get you ready.

Maximum Teams Capable of Making the NCAAs (And We're Very Serious About This): North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Florida State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Miami.

The League's Most Memorable Moment So Far: Mike Krzyzewski won his 903rd game at Duke in November to pass Bob Knight, moving into first place on the list of wins for Division I men's coaches. The victory came against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. Countless former Blue Devils were in attendance, as was Knight. He and Krzyzewski shared a nice moment immediately after the final buzzer.

The Storyline You Were Too Busy to Notice: Tony Bennett has Virginia off to a 13-1 start featuring wins over Michigan and Oregon, and the Cavaliers are only a two-point loss to TCU from being undefeated. It remains to be seen if they can keep it up; Virginia just lost two transfers at the semester. But so far, so good in Charlottesville.

Coach Feeling the Heat: The Jeff Bzdelik hire has been a mess on and off the court, and Wake Forest didn't do enough in the non-league part of its schedule to remove its coach from the hot seat. The Demon Deacons are just 9-5 after Monday's loss to Wofford. Barring a surprise, they'll finish something like 4-12 in the ACC, and will that be enough for Bzdelik to keep his job? I'm not sure.

Still Unproven: Virginia Tech enters Saturday with an 11-3 record, but the best win for the Hokies is over an Oklahoma State team that lost six of its first 14 games. The guess here is that Seth Greenberg's team will finish right around .500 in the ACC, and then guess who's on the bubble again?

Player of the Year and All-League Team: Harrison Barnes, North Carolina (POY); John Henson, North Carolina; Mike Scott, Virginia; Kendall Marshall, North Carolina; Austin Rivers, Duke.

What I Loved: The excitement Mark Gottfried has brought to North Carolina State fans. They're a funny bunch, those N.C. State diehards. But they care enough to deserve to have something to care about, and Gottfried has provided that through recruiting by already luring three elite prospects -- T.J. Warren, Rodney Purvis and Tyler Lewis -- from the Class of 2012. If Gottfried can somehow get the Wolfpack to the NCAA tournament this season and then enroll that class, watch out. Maybe, just maybe, N.C. State will regain national relevance.

What I Hated: Reading on Christmas Day that Milton Jennings was suspended after he first yelled at and then had to be separated from coach Brad Brownell during a win over Southern Illinois. I got to know Jennings while he was in high school and found him to be a thoughtful and interesting young man. I hate that his college career hasn't taken off the way some anticipated it would when he was named a McDonald's All-American. Here's hoping he learns from this episode and is somehow better for it.

1. North Carolina

What's Gone Quite Right: Harrison Barnes has long had a great mid-range game. Now he's added a reliable 3-point shot to his arsenal. The 6-foot-8 wing is shooting 48.7 percent from beyond the arc this season. He's also among the reasons UNC has a shot to win a national title.

New Year's Resolution: Make more free throws. The Tar Heels are only shooting 64 percent from the free throw line. That ranks 283rd nationally.

MVP: Barnes is averaging 17.1 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. He's the most talented player on a roster full of talented players.

Step Your Game Up: Dexter Strickland hasn't made or even attempted a 3-pointer all season. Obviously, UNC can get by without him making jumpers. But shouldn't a 6-3 guard be able to shoot from 20 feet every once in a while?

2. Duke

What's Gone Quite Right: The Blue Devils are still perfect at home. The loss at Temple was questionable. But 12-2 with so many new parts is still solid.

New Year's Resolution: Guard better. The Blue Devils have had one of the 10 most efficient defenses the past two seasons. They're currently ranked 32nd in that same category.

MVP: Austin Rivers is averaging 15.1 points per game as a freshman. He's scored at least 20 three different times.

Step Your Game Up: Andre Dawkins had a 26-point game early in the season, but he's tailed off lately. The junior guard has scored a total of eight points the past three games, shooting 3-of-16 from the field.

3. Virginia

What's Gone Quite Right: The Cavs are 13-1 with their only blemish being that two-point loss to TCU. They seem to be the third-best team in the ACC, and they might turn into the second.

New Year's Resolution: Don't lose any more players. The Cavs (as noted above) lost two transfers at the semester.

MVP: Mike Scott is averaging 16.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game while shooting 62 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3-point range.

Step Your Game Up: Jontel Evans' assists are down and turnovers are up from last season. He's averaging 3.4 assists and 2.3 turnovers per game.

4. Florida State

What's Gone Quite Right: The Seminoles have established themselves as one of the nation's elite defensive teams, ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. If they were a fraction of that offensively, they'd be something nice.

New Year's Resolution: Take care of the ball. The Seminoles turn it over on roughly 25 percent of their offensive possessions. That's one of the reasons -- but far from the only -- why they're mediocre to bad offensively.

MVP: Michael Snaer is averaging 13.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and shooting 88 percent from the free throw line.

Step Your Game Up: Everybody with two hands and the ability to pass the ball. Five of FSU's top six scorers are averaging less than one assist per game. As a team, the Seminoles are averaging 12 assists and 18 turnovers per game.

5. Virginia Tech

What's Gone Quite Right: The Hokies have 11 wins and just one loss to an unranked team in part because they're holding opponents to 24 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

New Year's Resolution: Stay off the bubble for the first time in 137 years. Good luck with that.

MVP: Erick Green is averaging 15.5 points per game and shooting 43 percent from 3-point range. He only shot 25 percent from beyond the arc last season.

Step Your Game Up: Dorenzo Hudson has played serious minutes in five seasons, but he's never in any season shot better than 33 percent from 3-point range. He's shooting 27 percent this season. Still, he takes more than three 3-pointers per game.

6. North Carolina State

What's Gone Quite Right: The Wolfpack only have one decent win (Texas), but they haven't lost any bad games. They're 11-4 and in position to chase an NCAA tournament berth.

New Year's Resolution: Beat Duke or North Carolina at least once. N.C. State fans have an obsession with the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, which is understandable. Mark Gottfried would earn a lot of points by upsetting one of his rivals in his first season.

MVP: C.J. Leslie missed some games early but he's averaging 13.0 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. He's reached double-figures in 11 of his 12 appearances.

Step Your Game Up: Lorenzo Brown's 6.6 assists per game is second only to Kendall Marshall's 10.0 in the ACC, but Brown is still turning it over 3.0 times per game. That's a little too much.

7. Miami

What's Gone Quite Right: The Hurricanes have a win over Rutgers, which upset Florida. They have no bad losses.

New Year's Resolution: Avoid off-the-court issues and get through the NCAA mess with as little sanctions as possible. Remember, the NCAA is still finalizing its investigation into Miami athletics.

MVP: Durand Scott is averaging 13.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Those numbers are basically the same as last season.

Step Your Game Up: Reggie Johnson doesn't need to "step up," exactly; he's been injured. But he needs to get going for Miami to get into the top half of the ACC.

8. Maryland

What's Gone Quite Right: The Terps are short on quality wins, but they're also short on losses. Alabama, Illinois and Iona are the only schools to beat Maryland so far this season, and all three could be NCAA tournament teams.

New Year's Resolution: Force a turnover. Maryland is among the nation's very worst at doing that.

MVP: Terrell Stoglin is averaging 21.2 points and 2.3 assists per game. He's already scored more than 30 twice this season.

Step Your Game Up: Pe'Shon Howard is still trying to get comfortable after missing the start of the season with a broken bone in his foot, playing around 30 minutes per game. But 4.0 turnovers per game is too much. He had six against Albany.

9. Clemson

What's Gone Quite Right: The Tigers own a win over the Iowa team that subsequently won at Wisconsin.

New Year's Resolution: Improve offensively. The Tigers aren't terrible on the defensive end of the court, but they're outside the top 190 in offensive efficiency rankings.

MVP: Devin Booker is averaging 11.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. Both of those numbers are up from last season.

Step Your Game Up: Milton Jennings was a McDonald's All-American. Now he's a junior who has never averaged more than 8.3 points per game.

10. Georgia Tech

What's Gone Quite Right: The Yellow Jackets have a win over in-state rival Georgia. Without it, they'd be under .500.

New Year's Resolution: Make a jumper. Georgia Tech is only shooting 29 percent from 3-point range.

MVP: Glen Rice Jr. is averaging 12.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He's not as good as his father, but he's not bad, either.

Step Your Game Up: Kammeon Holsey has taken 30 free throws and missed 20 of them. That means he's shooting 33 percent from the line.

11. Wake Forest

What's Gone Quite Right: Wake Forest has wins over a Big 12 (Texas Tech) and a Big Ten school (Nebraska). The Demon Deacons have nearly won twice as many games as they've lost -- albeit against a below-average schedule.

New Year's Resolution: Grab some offensive rebounds. Wake Forest ranks 326th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.

MVP: C.J. Harris is averaging 18.7 points per game and shooting 53 percent from 3-point range.

Step Your Game Up: Tony Chennault doesn't shoot many 3-pointers, but he's awful when he does. He shot 14 percent from beyond the arc last season and 23 percent this season.

12. Boston College

What's Gone Quite Right: Almost nothing, honestly.

New Year's Resolution: Win an ACC game. I realize this seems simple, but the Eagles won't be favored in a single league game.

MVP: Patrick Heckmann is averaging 11.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game while making 80 percent of his free throws.

Step Your Game Up: Jordan Daniels is shooting 30 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3-point range. He turns it over on average per game about the same amount of times he makes a field goal per game.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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