Friday, March 21 2014 7:28 AM EDT2014-03-21 11:28:45 GMT
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(RNN) - Virginia will attempt to keep its trek headed upward by using a sliding Duke team as a stepping stone Monday. Each found itself on the other's path only 10 days ago.
The Blue Devils came charging into ACC play on five straight decisive wins, including two against Michigan and UCLA. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers finished an inauspicious non-conference slate with an atrocious 35-point loss at Tennessee.
Three games later, UVA holds a 3-0 record in the league, with two impressive victories on the road. Duke, at 1-2, can only lay claim to a win at home against a short-handed Georgia Tech.
Monday (all times Eastern): Virginia (12-4, 3-0) at Duke (12-4, 1-2), 7 p.m.
Joe Harris' head injury, which caused him to leave minutes into the Jan. 4 contest at Florida State, served as a call to action for the rest of the Cavaliers. Without the preseason All-ACC first teamer available, the lineup became more assertive on offense and on the glass - outrebounding the taller Seminoles.
Harris has returned since, but his teammates have not relented the momentum. Akil Mitchell has averaged nearly 11 rebounds and Malcolm Brogdon has scored 11 or more points against conference opponents. And the team's focus on defense - its most consistent strength - has not looked better than it did while suffocating Wake Forest on Wednesday and Saturday at NC State during victories of 20-plus points.
The Blue Devils entered the season as talented but more inexperienced than many previous years' incarnations. So it's not unheard of for a young team to come up short in its first two true road games. The stumble also corresponds with a trio of disappointing games from freshman Jabari Parker.
Parker has struggled to find the touch on his jump shot that helped him average more than 20 points per game much of the season. But coach Mike Krzyzewski has not gotten 969 wins by failing his players, so the first-year star could revert to form at any time. Clemson outrebounded Duke 48-30 in its 72-59 win Saturday, so Coach K could give some of his big men - Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee - one more opportunity to make an impact.
Also on deck:
No. 2 Syracuse (16-0, 3-0) at Boston College (5-11, 1-2), 9 p.m.
Coach Jamie Dixon has his team playing standout ball in its first ACC agenda, but it will have to finish without Durand Johnson, one of its top scorers off the bench. The Panthers can still fall back on the strength of their defense, which has been effective in man and zone coverage.
Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, the team's two seniors, are also the team's top scorers, and they led Pitt to an 80-65 win Saturday over Wake Forest. Zanna does most of his work around the basket, using solid footwork and a soft touch on his shot, while Patterson is an expert at exploiting what the defense gives him. He shoots effectively from long distance (44 percent on 3-pointers) and has a knack for finding seams to the basket.
The Yellow Jackets began to adjust to life without leading rebounder Robert Carter Jr. when they took down Notre Dame 74-69 at home Saturday. Coach Brian Gregory said it was unlikely the sophomore would return to play this season; Kammeon Holsey has taken his spot in the starting five and will need to provide consistency in the low post.
Senior Trae Golden figured to be the missing piece to a young team that could make a run for the NCAA tournament. The Tennessee transfer is looking increasingly comfortable in his new threads, leading the team in scoring, but has games where he is too indiscriminate with his shot selection. Marcus Georges-Hunt has the talent to be a go-to scorer, and his recent increase in shot attempts could lead to a breakout soon.
Wednesday: NC State (11-5, 1-2) at Wake Forest (11-5, 1-2), 9 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
Both teams were cautiously optimistic with ACC games on the horizon. Both also stand at 1-2 in conference, courtesy of Pitt and Virginia. They should be incentivized to step up and get back to even.
T.J. Warren, the conference's leading scorer, will want to make up for a season-worst outing Saturday in 76-45 drubbing given to NC State by Virginia - four points on 1-9 shooting. The 6'8" sophomore will be the opposition's focal point in every game, but he has shown an ability to score from anywhere within 25 feet of the basket.
Freshman Anthony Barber has been reliably inconsistent as he learns on the job, but the raw tools are elite level. His long arms and quick hands can cause fits for the other team's primary ball handler. He also may be the fastest player in the conference, leaving defenders in his wake as he glides to the hoop for layups.
The Demon Deacons kicked off the new year with a win over a ranked North Carolina team. Then they went on the road, a place that has not been kind to them in recent years. Coach Jeff Bzdelik's teams are a horrifying 1-25 away from Lawrence Joel Coliseum.
Devin Thomas was one of the few bright spots for the team in the 80-65 loss Saturday at Pitt. The sophomore big man scored 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting, dominating whatever defender had the misfortune of getting posted up. The backcourt duo of Madison Jones and Codi Miller-McIntyre have been successful at kickstarting the team by frustrating opposing guards, causing turnovers and getting fast break opportunities.
Also on deck:
Notre Dame (10-6, 1-2) at Maryland (10-7, 2-2), 7 p.m.
Clemson (11-4, 2-1) at Virginia Tech (8-7, 1-2), 7 p.m.
Florida State (11-4, 2-1) at Miami (9-6, 1-2), 9 p.m.
Copyright 2014 Raycom news Network. All rights reserved.
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