Beyond the Scoreboard: ACC’s best meet to highlight college basketball weekend

FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017, file photo, Cincinnati's Gary Clark (11) shoots against Xavier's Kaiser Gates, left, in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Cincinnati. Xavier and Cincinnati are as close as could be when it comes to geography and basketball. Only 2 1/2 miles apart on the map, they're separated by only one spot in the Top 10. It's quite a season for hoops in the Queen City. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

The ACC’s two best teams square off Saturday as the league reaches the halfway mark of its regular-season schedule, which is also a battle of two of the top four ranked teams in the country.

No. 2 Virginia (18-1, 8-0) plays at No. 4 Duke (18-2, 6-2) in a 2 p.m. start on CBS.

It is a match-up of the league’s best offensive team against the conference’s (and the country’s) best defense, and conversely teams that have struggled on the other side of the ball.

The Cavaliers’ offense manages just 69 points a game (13th in the league) as it tries to control pace, something coach Tony Bennett is very good at pulling off.

The Blue Devils (72.7 points allowed) are one point away from being the worst defense in the ACC and often appear to not have the desire needed to play tough D.

A win in Durham and at home next Wednesday vs. third-place Louisville would put the Wahoos in great shape to win the ACC for the third time in five years.

Rather surprisingly, Duke hasn’t claimed a regular-season championship title since 2010, and a win here puts them square into the race. Duke by 1.

N.C. State (13-7, 3-4) at No. 10 North Carolina (16-5, 5-3), noon on CBS – Wolfpack fans insist this is by far their biggest rivalry – Carolina fans may respond with a yawn.

The Tar Heels lead the all-time series 155-77 and have won 21 of the last 23 meetings. UNC is 75-23 vs. the Pack in Chapel Hill, including the massive blowout 51-point win in the Dean Dome last season.

If there is any hope for UNC to win the regular season, things have to get better on the road. The Tar Heels have lost three of their last four away from home (and were fortunate to escape Notre Dame with a one-point win), and in the second half of league play have trips to Clemson, N.C. State, Louisville and Duke.

The up-and-down Wolfpack won their first ACC road game Wednesday night but it wasn’t pretty – surviving 72-68 at last-place Pitt after rallying from a 9-point deficit in the final six minutes. North Carolina by 14.

Wake Forest (8-12, 1-7) at Louisville (15-5, 5-2), 8 p.m. on MY 40 - Losers of six straight in league play, the Demon Deacons are on track to continue a trend of poor efforts in the ACC.

The program has averaged 12 conference defeats per season over the last seven years, a stretch in which Wake has finished ninth or worse every season.

Sad to see a once-proud program sink to such depths.

After Rick Pitino was fired amid great controversy and scandal, the Cardinals have been surprisingly good under first-year coach David Padgett. Louisville by 9.

High Point (10-10, 5-4) at UNC Asheville (13-9, 6-3), 4:30 p.m. on ESPN3 – As usual, the Big South Conference standings are clustered at the top, and the Bulldogs – also as usual – are in the middle of it.

Radford leads the way at 7-2 at the halfway mark, with the Bulldogs sharing second place one game back along with Winthrop and Campbell.

High Point, which beat Asheville by 10 points at home earlier this month, is another game back at 5-4 with Gardner-Webb. Asheville by 5.

Western Carolina (9-11, 4-3) at Furman (14-7, 5-3), 4 p.m. on ESPN3 – Forward Mike Amius has emerged as the Catamounts’ go-to player, averaging 1.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a game.

This is a tough stretch for WCU against the Southern Conference’s top teams, with a game at Wofford on Monday night before coming home for a pair of games against league foes.

Furman is ranked 12th in the Mid-Major Top 25, one of four SoCon schools in the rankings. The Paladins have won 20 of their last 22 games at home vs. conference teams, the league’s best mark in that span. Furman by 12.

Last week 5-2 overall, 4-3 against the spread. For the season 20-4 overall, 15-9 against the spread.

Care to comment? Contact at