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Sizing Up the ACC Race

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What Duke-FSU means for UNC and no I am not about to suggest anyone pull for Duke.

And down the stretch they come!

With UNC's win over NC State, the Tar Heels maintain their position sharing the top of the ACC in the loss column with both Florida State and Duke. Since UNC played FSU only once(curse you imbalanced schedule!) the Heels need help to win the ACC regular season outright. That help could come from an unlikely source in Tallahassee this evening with Duke taking on FSU. If Duke wins, UNC assumes control of its own destiny only needing to win the final three games vs Virginia, Maryland and Duke to secure sole possession of first place in the ACC. If FSU wins, Duke will drop a game back of both UNC and FSU with the Heels needing Virginia, Miami or Clemson to hand the Seminoles a loss in addition to  winning out.

Obviously the first order of business for UNC is to take care of the games on its schedule. UNC cannot do anything about FSU at this point and in reality already missed a major opportunity to be in control of the ACC by failing to close Duke out two weeks ago. The good news is it appears the Tar Heels are steadily raising the level of play to hit their collective stride at the right time of year. This is and has been the modus operandi under Roy Williams at UNC. There may be stretches in the early and middle parts of the season where the road can be bumpy but his teams have been top notch when it counts most. This season, like 2011 has seen Harrison Barnes' individual play follow a similar trajectory. Now that the three point shooting looks to be getting on track the Heels look like a very balanced team heading into to some very important games. In short, the Heels are perfectly position to take care of their business. The question is from where will they get help?

While Duke beating FSU presents the simplest path for the Heels, it may not yield the best overall result for UNC. Here is why: If FSU wins, Duke drops to three losses in ACC play with the potential for UNC to hand them a fourth next weekend. A Duke team finishing third in the ACC with a 12-4 record would all but be eliminated from getting a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Granted, UNC beating Duke in Durham likely knocks the Devils out of #1 seed contention but Duke could then win the ACC Tournament reviving those hopes. Besides the standings/postseason implications we are all about maximum suffering for Duke right? So screw 'em. I would much rather see FSU win then bank on help from the Seminoles' final three opponents simply because there should be at least one loss for FSU in that mix.

FSU's final three games are at Miami, at Virginia then home vs Clemson. Conventional wisdom says either Miami or UVa gets a win vs FSU. It is entirely possible both of them could win since the Hurricanes and Cavaliers can ill afford the loss. Miami dropped a game to Maryland on Tuesday damaging its NCAA hopes.The best way to try and mitigate that loss is scoring a win over a good FSU team in Coral Gables. Virginia doesn't need NCAA help but could put itself in a risky position down the stretch. UVa is presently 8-5 in ACC play. If the Cavs lose to UNC and FSU that puts them in College Park vs Maryland with an 8-7 ACC record. Maryland has its issues but that would be a tough game for the Cavs whose style of plays allows teams to hang around. If UVa loses to UNC then they would be highly motivated against FSU. If those two fail to beat FSU, it is possible Clemson goes to Tallahassee and wins considering the Tigers beat FSU by 20 earlier in the season.

In the end, if FSU wins out and gets the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament over UNC then they would have earned it. A 14-2 record is generally good enough to win the ACC regular season outright so if FSU matches it, then it is what it is. All you can do at that point is tip your cap to the the Noles and hope for a shot at revenge in the ACC Championship. Of course being the #2 seed means a potential ACC Semifinal game vs Duke who would be the #3 seed. That would make for a very interesting three days in Atlanta. Regardless of how this all plays out, UNC's goal is clear. Play like a Final Four contender and take care of your business hoping the rest of the pieces fall into place as you need them.