by Mike Potter
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/DURHAM If you look at the ACC women's basketball season as a whole, it's hard not to say Duke is a solid favorite to win the conference tournament that starts this morning at Greensboro Coliseum.
The No. 1 seed Blue Devils are ranked No. 6 nationally and finished three games ahead of anybody except Florida State, a team they destroyed 73-43 during the regular season.
But the problem for the Blue Devils is their bracket.
Joanne P. McCallie's club has a bye today, then will play on Friday at 3 against the winner of today's 3 p.m. first-round game between UNC and Maryland, the two teams that probably love to beat Duke the most and the two that have combined to win the last five tournaments in Greensboro.
In fact, whichever team that comes out of that group and into the semifinals will be the only team that has ever won the event during its 10-year run in the Gate City.
"That's OK," McCallie (pictured) said during a semi-regular press luncheon on Wednesday in the press room at Cameron. "It's a little bit strange to see both Maryland and North Carolina in an 8-9 game. If you look at the numbers it's weird. Why are they in an 8-9 game? Obviously they're very good teams. But from our standpoint it's anybody, anyplace, anywhere. So we just get ready to go, kind of thing.
"It's tournament time and you're going to run into them anyway. It doesn't matter if you play them the first game or the third game or the second. You're going to hit the best teams eventually. And I think it's good for us. This tournament is all about excitement and trying to get it done, and also prep for the next one."
UNC (18-10), which is fighting for an NCAA bid, showed how good it can be on Sunday, shocking the Blue Devils 64-54 in Carmichael Auditorium. Defending champion Maryland (18-11) lost to Duke by one point in their meeting in College Park on Jan. 24. The Tar Heels won their only meeting with Maryland this season, 75-64 on Jan. 17 in Chapel Hill.
"We're excited about going over," veteran UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell, whose teams have done that eight times, said during an ACC teleconference earlier this week. "The regular season is over and the ACC Tournament is a new season. We've had our struggles this year, but we've had some good things happen as well. Our young players are starting to settle in and play some really good basketball. ... We're looking forward to going in and playing an excellent Maryland team that's very similar to us with the youth and the ups and downs. Maryland's a great team and a great program.
"Of course (the Duke win) has helped us. We've won some and we've lost some. We keep working and some good things have started to happen. It's hard to be patient, but that (Duke) win was big for us, and we're looking forward to the tournament."
Hatchell said her Tar Heels would like to make a "Cinderella" run through the tournament. N.C. State has the same idea, but to do that will have to win tonight's 8 p.m. contest against Clemson. The Tigers beat the visiting Wolfpack 69-56 on Jan. 31 in what was probably State's worst game of the season.
"I think our team's in a completely different place (from that first game)," the Wolfpack's first-year coach Kellie Harper said during the teleconference. "Our team is comfortable with our game plans. As a coach going in, sometimes you're trying to figure out how you can best motivate your team. If you go in against a team that you have previously beaten, coaches worry about that and we do everything we can to get our team fired up.
"There's just something in the back of your mind, and I think it's human nature, that you've just beaten that team. I think our team will be pretty motivated going into this game. I don't think I'm going to have to do a lot of tactics there. Our team will understand what we need to do to get a win. I think they understand how hard we're going to have to play and how smart we're going to have to play to win.
The tournament tips off this morning with a brunch-time 11 a.m. game between No. 5 seed Wake Forest (17-12) and No. 12 seed Miami (17-12), with that winner advancing to Friday's 11 a.m. quarterfinal against No. 4 seed Georgia Tech (22-8).
Thursday's 6 p.m. contest will have No. 7 seed Boston College (15-14) taking on No. 10 seed Virginia Tech (15-14), with that winner taking on No. 2 seed Florida State (26-4) in the same time slot on Friday.
The winner between No. 6 seed N.C. State (17-12) and No. 11 seed Clemson (13-17) will advance to Friday's 8 p.m. nightcap against No. 3 seed Virginia (21-8).
Wake Forest vs. Miami
[Thursday, 11 a.m., Greensboro Coliseum]
Wake leads series 5-3.
Records: Wake 17-12, Miami 17-12.
Audio: WakeForestSports.cstv.com, WVUM.org, XM 190/Sirius 216.
Video: Fox Sports South.
Coaches' records - WFU: Mike Petersen 277-217, 89-90 at WFU; UM: Katie Meier 143-127, 67-82 at UM.
Leading scorers - WFU: Brittany Waters 13.6; UM: Riquna Williams 19.5.
Leading rebounders - WFU: Secily Ray 7.7; UM: Shenise Johnson 7.6.
Assist leaders - WFU: Brooke Thomas 4.0; UM: Shenise Johnson 4.4.
UNC vs. Maryland
[Thursday, 3 p.m., Greensboro Coliseum]
UNC leads series 36-30.
Records: UNC 18-10, Maryland 18-11.
Audio: WCHL-AM 1360, TarHeelBlue.com, UMTerps.com, XM 190/Sirius 216.
Video: Fox Sports South.
Coaches' records - UNC: Sylvia Hatchell 830-292, 558-212 at UNC; UM: Brenda Frese 251-101, 194-71 at UM.
Leading scorers - UNC: Italee Lucas 15.4; UM: Lynetta Kizer 12.6.
Leading rebounders - UNC: Laura Broomfield 7.6; UM: Lynetta Kizer 7.6.
Assist leaders - UNC: Cetera DeGraffenreid 5.2; UM: Dara Taylor 5.1.
Boston College vs. Virginia Tech
[Thursday, 6 p.m., Greensboro Coliseum]
Va. Tech leads series 9-5.
Records: BC 15-14, Va. Tech 15-14.
Audio: HokieSports.com, XM 190/Sirius 216.
Coaches' records - BC: Sylvia Crawley 76-51, 38-26 at BC; VT: Beth Dunkenberger 164-134, 99-84 at VT.
Leading scorers - BC: Carolyn Swords 14.4; VT: Utahya Drye and Lindsey Biggs 11.4.
Leading rebounders - BC: Carolyn Swords 9.3; VT: Utahya Drye 6.5.
Assist leaders - BC: Jaclyn Thoman 4.2; VT: Nikki Davis 4.3.
N.C. State vs. Clemson
[Thursday, 8 p.m., Greensboro Coliseum]
NCSU leads series 47-29.
Records: NCSU 17-12, Clemson 13-17.
Audio: WKNC-FM 88.1, GoPack.com, XM 190/Sirius 216.
Coaches' records - NCSU: Kellie Harper 114-77, 17-12 at NCSU; CU: Cristy McKinney 275-231, 59-92 at Clemson.
Leading scorers - NCSU: Bonae Holston 11.8; CU: Lele Hardy 14.5.
Leading rebounders - NCSU: Bonae Holston 6.2; CU: Lele Hardy 8.1.
Assist leaders - NCSU: Amber White 3.1; CU: Keyrra Gillespie 4.6.