ACC hoops field is wide open approaching halfway mark

Maryland and upstart Virginia opened the week tied atop the ACC standings at 3-1. Duke and Wake Forest are next at 4-2 but only two wins separate them from the next six teams.

"Every win is important, every loss is important because you just don't know what's going to happen in the next game," said Boston College coach Al Skinner, whose Eagles are one of those six teams bunched at Nos. 5-10.

North Carolina, the team setting the standard by taking the last three first-place finishes in the regular season, has created the vacuum at the top.

The Tar Heels just dropped out of the Associated Press Top 25 after three straight losses, the longest such streak in Roy Williams' seven-year tenure at North Carolina. The defending national champions are feeling the brunt of losing Tyler Hansbrough and underclassmen Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington to the NBA's first round.

A Clemson fan put it succinctly on a sign at a recent game: "No Hansbrough, No Ellington, No Lawson, No Chance."

It's having a player like Hansbrough, who stays for four years, that creates a disparity in the first place, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski figures.

"A kid of that caliber would normally now not be there for four years," Krzyzewski said. "Unless something like that happens, I think from now on, pretty much everybody is going to have a shot. The landscape of college basketball has changed during this decade and we see it in our league because of good coaches, good commitment from the schools and the talent is spread out."

The Blue Devils have shown vulnerabilities at times too. Before winning at Clemson on Saturday night, they had lost their first two ACC road games at Georgia Tech and at N.C. State.

Duke looks a lot like everybody else – beatable on the road. Home teams are winning 71 percent of ACC games (22-9). Last year, that percentage was 64 (61-35).

To pick up the occasional road win, teams need that one play late in a game to make the difference. If you ask Tech coach Paul Hewitt, that comes from good guard play, especially at the point.

"Each possession becomes so magnified, especially as you go down the stretch in this league," Hewitt said. "You take care of the basketball and you'll get good shots."

The standings bear him out. The top four teams in the conference right now are getting good, experienced guard play: Maryland, led by senior Greivis Vasquez; Virginia, which plays a three and four-guard offense; Duke and senior Jon Scheyer; and Wake Forest with senior Ish Smith.

Tech, which has a young backcourt of sophomore Iman Shumpert and freshman Mfon Udofia, is getting inconsistent backcourt play and inconsistent results at 3-3 in the ACC.

Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton, whose Seminoles beat Tech on Sunday, still feels Duke is playing the most consistent basketball in the league right now but called it a "new day in the ACC."

He thinks teams are closing the gap on Duke and Carolina, by feeding off their successes.

"People have identified the ACC because of the success Maryland, North Carolina, Duke, even Wake Forest has had," Hamilton said. "Programs like Florida State, Clemson and now Virginia and Virginia Tech, Boston College, Miami, we're able to attract better players. A lot of players want to go and compete against these programs that are perennial powers."

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.