ACC Quick Hits

Inside Carolina takes a look around the league before conference play begins.

Biggest Surprise: Miami. The Hurricanes enter conference play with a 13-1 mark, with their only loss coming to mid-major powerhouse Winthrop on Dec. 29. Head coach Frank Haith's squad was picked to finish in the ACC cellar to begin the season, but the Hurricanes have emerged from the shadows after a difficult 2006-07 season in which Miami lost four frontcourt players throughout the campaign.

McClinton, Haith
Center Anthony King (8.8 points, 7.9 rebounds per game) has returned for a fifth season, and sophomore James Dews (11.4 ppg) has stepped up at guard to compliment Jack McClinton, who leads Miami with 15.5 points per game. Oddly enough, the junior guard ranks fourth in the ACC with a 49.2 field goal percentage. Why is that odd? Because McClinton does a good portion of his damage from long range, leading the league with 2.75 three-pointers made per contest and a 50.8 shooting percentage from behind the arc.

Biggest Disappointment: N.C. State. Sure, the Wolfpack have posted a 9-3 record heading into the conference slate, but a higher level of play was expected in head coach Sidney Lowe's second season at the helm in Raleigh. State was picked to finish third in the preseason ACC Media Poll on the belief that four returning starters, a McDonald's All-American freshman and more depth would allow the Pack to compete with North Carolina and Duke for conference supremacy.

That may still happen, but Lowe has to find a way to develop a more consistent effort after his squad went through the motions in embarrassing losses to New Orleans and East Carolina and narrow victories over Rider and Western Carolina. Even in a national spotlight game against Michigan State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Pack appeared sluggish as the Spartans built a 25-point first-half lead and coasted to victory. Finding a replacement for departed point guard Engin Atsur has been no easy task, but State has the talent to make a run in the ACC – the intensity level just has to dramatically increase.

Best Win: UVa 75, No. 17 Arizona 72. Preseason All-America Sean Singletary was a known commodity heading into head coach Dave Leitao's third season, but his supporting cast presented a huge question mark for the defending ACC regular season co-champions. Junior forward Mamadi Diane, freshman guard Jeff Jones and sophomore forward Jamil Tucker combined to compliment Singletary's 24 points with 36 points on 11-of-15 shooting, answering their critics in an important early-season road game.

The Cavaliers shot 51 percent (25-of-49) from the floor, including a lights-out effort from long range (12-of-21 for 57.1 percent), in their first-ever win on a Pac-10 opponents' home floor. This contest was only one of four ACC victories against nationally-ranked opponents in the first-half of the season. The other three? Florida State's 65-51 victory over No. 24 Florida, Duke's 77-73 win over No. 13 Marquette and N.C. State's 69-68 defeat of No. 19 Villanova.

Worst Loss: Take your pick. Georgia Tech's season-opening 83-74 home loss to UNC-Greensboro, Maryland's 61-55 home loss to Ohio, and N.C. State's 65-63 home defeat to New Orleans are all viable options. IC's pick? Gary Williams' Terrapins following the Ohio defeat with a crushing 67-59 home loss to in-state rival American University. The Eagles missed 17 of their first 20 shots and still managed to pull out their first win over the Terrapins in 80 years.

Top Player to Date: Tyler Hansbrough, UNC. The preseason ACC Player of the Year has lived up to the billing through 14 games for the Tar Heels, averaging 22.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game despite having to battle through an endless barrage of double and triple teams. The frontrunner for National Player of the Year honors leads the conference with 4.14 offensive rebounds per game, and the junior forward is shooting 58.5 percent from the floor and a staggering 81.9 percent from the free throw line (113-of-138).

Top Rookie to Date: J.J. Hickson, N.C. State. The Marietta, Ga. native has quickly become the Wolfpack's go-to player in the post, despite the squad's lack of consistency at the point guard position. Hickson has also provided the two best statistical performances of the season – a combined 64 points on 22-of-23 shooting (20-of-26 from the free-throw line) and 20 rebounds in wins over William & Mary and Western Carolina. The forward leads the league in field goal percentage (71.4 percent) and ranks fourth in scoring (17.8 ppg).

Best Stat(s): Boston college senior center Tyrelle Blair recorded a career-high 11 blocked shots in the Eagles' Dec. 9 victory over Maryland (81-78) – just five days after blocking eight shots in a 61-39 win over St. Louis.

Road Weary? Neither Duke nor Maryland will have played a true road game on an opponents' home court when their conference schedules begin next week, making those two programs the only ones in the ACC to have not endured a hostile crowd. The Terrapins only ventured away from their home floor to battle UCLA and Missouri at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Classic in Kansas City in November before meeting Virginia Commonwealth at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C on Dec. 2. Duke participated in the Maui Invitational in November before playing Davidson at the Charlotte Bobcats Arena on Dec. 1 and facing Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Dec. 20. Maryland will square off against the Charlotte 49ers at the Charlotte Bobcats Arena on Saturday, and the Blue Devils will travel to Philadelphia to face Temple at the Wachovia Center on Jan. 9.

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