College Hoops Takes Center Stage

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Jim Feist - 2/12/2016 3:27 PM
by Jim Feist

With the Super Bowl in the rear view mirror, the next big event on the sports stage is college basketball's season-ending tournaments. Since 1997, college basketball's national champion has come from several different conferences: the Pac 10 (Arizona), SEC (Kentucky and Florida), Big 10 (Michigan State), the ACC (Duke, Maryland, North Carolina), Big 12 (Kansas) and the old Big East (UConn, Syracuse, Louisville). Over the next few weeks, let's examine some of the top hoop teams in each conference, starting this week with the mammoth ACC.

North Carolina: The Beasts in Blue! The Tar Heels have a powerhouse offensive team once again, slipping up early in the season only against Northern Iowa and Texas by a combined six points. They have a power frontcourt of 6-9 senior Brice Johnson (16 ppg, 10 rpg), 6-9 junior Kennedy Meeks (12 ppg) and 6-8 junior Isaih Hicks (10 ppg).
The sparkplug on offense is senior guard Marcus Paige (12 ppg), leading an attack that went on an 8-0 run over the total from December to January. Despite injuries this team has been impressive. UNC winds up a three-game road trip this weekend and has a pair against Duke on tap starting next weekend.

Duke: Coach Mike Krzyzewski's defending champs are young and have been dealing with growing pains, as well as a three-game losing skid as favorites of -8, -8 and -11. 6-5 sophomore Grayson Allen (20 ppg) and 6-9 freshman Brandon Ingram (17 ppg) lead the offense and the Blue Devils have no problem scoring and bombing away from long range.
But they've missed the inside presence of 6-9 senior Amile Jefferson (10 ppg, 9.3 rpg), out with a broken foot. The good news is he is expected back soon. That's a plus, though he was in the lineup against Kentucky earlier in the year, with 16 points and 15 rebounds...but Duke still lost, 74-63.

Louisville: The Cardinals are no pushovers in the low post behind 6-10 soph Chinanu Onuaku (10 ppg, 9 rpg) and 6-10 junior Mangok Mathiang, the latter recovering from a broken foot. The team plays three freshmen, two transfers and two sophomores but has been strong all around, losing to Kentucky and Michigan State by a combined 6 points.
Senior guards 6-6 Damion Lee (17 ppg) and Trey Lewis anchor the offense. This is a big week for the team, with games against Notre Dame, Syracuse and Duke on deck.

Clemson: The Tigers got off to a rough start in conference play when North Carolina smoked them, 80-69, but this group has bounced back nicely, beating Louisville, Duke and Miami in three straight as a dog each time. 6-7 junior Jaron Blossomgame (16 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6-8 sophomore Donte Grantham are a force at both ends of the court.
Senior guard Jordan Roper stabilizes the backcourt and is a fine playmaker on a defensive-first team. They beat Duke on the boards 36-24, winning after trailing at the half. "It was another big win for us," Tigers coach Brad Brownell said. They play six of their final 10 ACC games on the road, however.

Miami: The Hurricanes topped Utah, Butler and Florida in non-conference play, then crushed Duke, 80-69, in a statement game. Miami's backcourt runs the show behind senior guard Sheldon McClellan (16 ppg) and sophomore Ja'Quan Newton, while 7-foot senior Tonye Jekiri (10 rpg) is a frontcourt force. They have a pair of showdown road games on deck, at Florida State this weekend, then at North Carolina next week.

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