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ACC weekend: Duke-UNC closes season

Marcus Paige (5), P.J. Hairston (15) and the rest of the North Carolina Tar Heels face their rival Duke Blue Devils on Saturday. (Source: UNC Athletic Communications) Marcus Paige (5), P.J. Hairston (15) and the rest of the North Carolina Tar Heels face their rival Duke Blue Devils on Saturday. (Source: UNC Athletic Communications)

(RNN) - The ACC's most-decorated programs face off Saturday, and both have more to play for than the usual spoils of their rivalry.

Duke (26-4, 13-4 ACC) can earn a share of the regular-season title with a win in Chapel Hill, NC, if Miami loses its season finale against Clemson. The Blue Devils have already clinched the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, earning a bye from Thursday's contests.

North Carolina (22-8, 12-5) already got a spot among the top-four teams and a first-round bye as well. A win would give the Tar Heels the No. 3 seed, while a loss and an NC State win at Florida State drops them to fourth.

None of that will matter once they step on the court. The pairing of Tobacco Road rivals rarely disappoints, and they each enter the weekend in top form.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Boston College Eagles, noon ET Saturday

The young Jackets (16-13, 6-11) have shown a lot of resilience in the 2012-2013 campaign and continued to do so Wednesday at Miami, despite being down double digits. A tip-in credited to Marcus Georges-Hunt in the final second completed the 71-69 comeback win over the ACC's top team.

Georgia Tech starts three freshmen - Chris Bolden, Robert Carter Jr. and Georges-Hunt. The talented trio has produced its share of moments during the season, but it has not fared well coming off conference wins (0-5).

The Eagles (14-16, 6-11) have their own youth movement going on in Chestnut Hill, MA, with only one junior and one senior on the roster. About 95 percent of the team's points have come from underclassmen.

Point guard Olivier Hanlan showed Tuesday why he is the likely choice for ACC Rookie of the Year, scoring 24 in the 68-61 win at Clemson. BC made significant progress after a 2-8 start in conference action, going 4-3 in its last seven.

North Carolina State Wolfpack at Florida State Seminoles, 2 p.m. Saturday

The Pack's (22-8, 11-6) recent resurgence can be tied to two things: Games against the bottom of the standings and C.J. Leslie's improved play. On Wednesday, the junior had 19 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and zero turnovers in the 81-66 win versus Wake Forest.

NC State's starting five and sixth man (either Rodney Purvis or T.J. Warren) are equal or greater in talent to any six on any other team. Their struggles have come when one of those guys has an off-night, and there is no one else ready to step up.

The Seminoles (16-14, 8-9) reminded everyone of how competent they can be defensively when they shut down Virginia in a 53-51 triumph Thursday. Michael Snaer had one more buzzer-beater in him (his fourth this season), as he drove into the lane in the final seconds to make the go-ahead bucket.

FSU, which won the ACC tournament last year, was viewed as one of the upper tier going into the season. But the ‘Noles lost focus in games when they got down early, and ended up on the wrong side of several blowouts. Still, they remain a tough out at home.

Clemson Tigers at Miami Hurricanes, 2:30 p.m. Saturday

The Hurricanes (23-6, 14-3) are ranked sixth this week in the AP Top 25, but they should drop out of the Top 10 after the defeat to Georgia Tech. That gave the team its first two-game losing streak since before conference games began.

In those last two, Miami allowed the other team to shoot 52 percent. Coach Jim Larranaga's players looked ready to make a run to the Final Four a few weeks ago, but they will need to find their edge on defense again if they hope to make it far in the postseason

The Tigers (13-16, 5-12) have given up the second-fewest points per game of any ACC team. Most of their struggles come on the other end of the court, as the team has the lowest-scoring average in the conference.

The offense has been weaker in the last three games with second-leading scorer K.J. McDaniels hurt. The sophomore may return Saturday, which would give Clemson a better chance of pulling off the upset.

Duke Blue Devils at North Carolina Tar Heels, 9 p.m. Saturday

The No. 3-ranked Blue Devils got back a key piece of their lineup when senior Ryan Kelly returned March 2 against Miami. The team may feel unbeatable with him in the starting five; the Blue Devils were 15-0 before he went down with a foot injury and 2-0 since he got back.

Duke followed up its 79-76 victory against the ‘Canes with an 85-57 win at home Tuesday over Virginia Tech. Seth Curry led his team with 20 points, including five 3-pointers, on senior night, closing out a perfect season at Cameron Indoor Coliseum.

Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston have benefited the most from the switch to a smaller UNC lineup. The two combined for 41 points in the 79-68 win at Maryland on Wednesday.

The Tar Heels have won six straight since they lost Feb. 13 at Duke, 73-68. The team has the ability to go on big scoring runs in a small period of time, and its opponent will need to avoid any type of offensive drought to keep up.

Virginia Tech Hokies at Wake Forest Demon Deacons, 2 p.m. Sunday

Erick Green averaged less than two points per game in his freshman season with the Hokies. In his senior year, he has led the country with a 25 points-per-game average.

He has handled his Virginia Tech (13-17, 4-13) teammates' struggles with the maturity of someone who has been in their shoes, even as they lost nine straight games. Those leadership abilities, and his other on-court skills, should translate well to the next level.

The Deacons' (12-17, 5-12) C.J. Harris is wrapping up his collegiate career soon, too, leaving behind several talented players to take the program forward. The team had two of the biggest upsets of the season on its court - wins over Miami and NC State - but could not bring a similar energy level in away games.

Since beating the Hurricanes, Wake has dropped three straight. But with one more contest in Winston-Salem, NC, and the tourney in nearby Greensboro, the Deacons have a shot at a little more home cooking before shutting it down for the year.

Maryland Terrapins at Virginia Cavaliers, 6 p.m. Sunday

The Terps (20-10, 8-9) missed an opportunity to add another big win to their resume when they fell to North Carolina, and the team may need to win the ACC tournament to make the NCAA field of 68. Maryland tried to adapt to the up-and-down style Wednesday, but that exposed its biggest weakness: turnovers.

Dez Wells has scored 15 or more in the last three games. The team needs to better utilize its biggest advantage - 7-footer Alex Len - to make a late run.

The consensus was Virginia (20-10, 10-7) had carved out a spot in the NCAA tourney by beating Duke on Feb. 28, 73-68. Then it lost to their next two, to Boston College and Florida State, and the team's place is no longer guaranteed.

The Cavaliers fell behind by as many as 11 points to FSU after over-relying on Joe Harris to create offense. Once Jontel Evans and Akil Mitchell got involved, they nearly came away with a victory. If they learned their lesson, they could get another solid conquest Sunday against a quality team.

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