Carolina is king, but BC is surprising
Favorite: Gonna go out on a limb here and say North Carolina. The caveat? Going undefeated in this league, and consequently for the season, will be a herculean task, particularly if Duke continues to play at a high level.
Most surprising team: Picked to finish 11th in the conference, Boston College is 10-2 with decent wins over UAB and Providence. Always a good scorer, Tyrese Rice has become a better playmaker. He's averaging 6 assists per game.
Mystery team: Maryland. Welcome to the ACC cliffhanger. Will the Terps return to the NCAA tournament? Can Gary Williams keep his job? Yes. Maryland thumped Michigan State 80-62 in Orlando, Fla. No. The Terps needed overtime to beat Vermont. Maybe. That seems about right. Maryland is in hoops purgatory right now, a team that could play its way into the tournament or play its way back to irrelevance.
Best player: Tyler Hansbrough. OK, so he missed four games, but Hansbrough has made up for it, averaging 22.7 points and 7.1 rebounds since his return. With 10 ACC Player of the Week honors in his career, Hansbrough looks sure to add another record to his résumé before he graduates. Antawn Jamison owns the record with 12 ACC weekly honors.
Top performance: Hansbrough against Notre Dame. In his third game back from a stress reaction, Hansbrough went for 34 points, outmuscling Luke Harangody in a battle of top big men.
Strangest score: Northwestern 73, Florida State 59. How the Seminoles not only suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of the Wildcats but got trounced remains a mystery.
What you might not have realized: Duke is rated the No. 4 team in the country according to kenpom.com. The Blue Devils are the 13th most efficient team on offense (ranking points per 100 possessions) but -- here's the surprise -- eighth in defensive efficiency.
Reason to brag: The ACC, not the Big East, has put up the nonconference numbers to stake a claim as strongest league in the country. ACC teams are 104-22, with winning records against every other conference except the Big East, against which they are 6-6.
Reason to worry: Eliminate North Carolina, Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest (combined 9-1), and the rest of the league is 6-14 against teams ranked in the top 50 according to the Sagarin ratings.
Who's going dancing: North Carolina, Duke, Clemson and Wake Forest are on the right side of the bubble; Miami, Maryland, NC State are either on it or popped off.
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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