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The ACC looks strong again with great depth

We are only a month into the men’s college basketball season, and the Atlantic Coast Conference is beckoning again as the best in the country. The Duke Blue Devils are the class of the ACC with a heralded freshman crop and a Hall of Fame head coach in Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils are unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in both the AP and USA Today Coaches Poll, behind only the powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats.

While Duke is the top dog of the ACC, the conference is strong behind it. The Louisville Cardinals are ranked fourth in the AP Poll, with the Virginia Cavaliers (6th), Maryland Terrapins (17th), Miami Hurricanes (18th), Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21st) and North Carolina Tar Heels (24th) rounding out the ACC’s ranked teams. Judging from talent and history, it would also figure that the Syracuse Orange will join the party at some point, perhaps along with the North Carolina State Wolfpack.

Over at Vegas Insider, five of the top 16 bets on teams to win the National Championship belong to ACC schools, including Duke, Louisville, Virginia, North Carolina and Miami (FL) in that order.

Looking at the teams behind the big three, Maryland is a team to be reckoned with. The Terrapins are 10-1 and already have quality wins over Iowa State and Arizona State. Their only loss came to Virginia in a non-conference matchup on Dec. 3, falling 76-65. Maryland is anchored by the trio of senior Dez Wells, Melo Trimble and Jake Layman, who combine to average 47.4 points per game. A freshman, Trimble is the most exciting for the Terrapins fans, coming to the school as a Maryland native.

Miami (FL) has a pair of wins over previously-ranked opponents under its belt, beating Florida and Illinois on its way to a 9-1 mark. The Hurricanes are paced by junior guard Sheldon McClellan who is leading the team with 16.2 points/game. McClellan has scored at least 14 points in each of the past five games including 50 combined in a home-and-home against the Charlotte 49ers. Head coach Jim Larranaga is an experienced hand to guide this group, having gotten Miami to the Sweet 16 of the 2012-13 NCAA Tournament. At George Mason, Larranaga led the school to five March Madness appearances, including one Final Four run.

Notre Dame is 10-1 with its signature win coming in overtime over the No. 25 Michigan State Spartans on Dec. 3. The Irish have a terrific offense, which ranks seventh in the nation with 84.9 points per game and is tops in field goal percentage at 55.7. Notre Dame poses a problem with its balance, with four players averaging double-figures in scoring. Zach Auguste is a handful inside, with the junior notching 15.2 points and 6.8 rebounds/game. Senior swingman Pat Connaughton is also a threat with 12.7 points and 7.6 rebounds/game, helping to space the floor. None of this speaks of Jerian Grant, Notre Dame’s leading scorer with 18.9 points/game, ranking him sixth of all players in power conferences.

On the surface, North Carolina has struggled out of the gate with a 6-3 mark. However, the Tar Heels have played a brutal schedule. North Carolina has already beaten UCLA and Florida, both whom dropped from the rankings since. All three losses for the Tar Heels have been to ranked teams in Butler, Iowa and Kentucky. The schedule eases up over the next five games with four lesser opponents on the docket, although a showdown with No. 12 Ohio State looms on Dec. 20.

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