While much of the attention in the sports world this weekend will be on the Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, college basketball fans up and down the East Coast will be shining their spotlight on a different kind of super weekend in the ACC. This weekend sees the conference’s top four teams — Syracuse (7-0 ACC), Virginia (7-1), Duke (6-2) and Pittsburgh (6-2) — match up against each other in a pair of games that should further illuminate how the conference title race is going to turn out.
For ACC fans, the fun begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday (ESPN), when the Blue Devils take on the Orange in what was already going to be one of the most anticipated games of the conference season. In their first year as a member of the ACC, Syracuse is yet to lose, moving to 20-0 overall with a hard-fought victory at Wake Forest on Wednesday night. The Orange struggled mightily early, but as they have so often done this season, they pulled away late for a 67-57 win. The victory was notable in that prior to Wednesday, Wake Forest hadn’t lost a home game this season. Freshman Tyler Ennis led Syracuse with 18 points.
Duke comes into Saturday’s clash off an 80-65 victory at Pittsburgh Monday night, a win that may have confirmed fears over whether the Panthers are for real, while also shifting momentum in the ACC Player of the Year race back to Blue Devils’ freshman Jabari Parker (21 points, 11 rebounds) at the expense of Pitt senior forward Lamar Patterson (14 points, five rebounds). Duke guard Andre Dawkins also had 20 points, including six three-pointers, as the Blue Devils embarrassed Pitt’s vaunted defense in the second half. Such shooting would be key to a Duke victory Saturday, as it’s one of the few ways teams can beat Syracuse’s storied 2-3 zone.
At 12:30 p.m. (ESPNU) on Super Bowl Sunday, the Cavaliers and Panthers take center stage in Pittsburgh. An interesting factor here is that this may be a bad time for Virginia to be catching Pittsburgh. The Cavaliers are coming off a relatively easy 68-53 victory at Notre Dame on Tuesday night, one that lifted UVA into second place in the ACC and continued the Cavaliers’ trend of having all their ACC wins this season be by double digits. Pitt is likely to be in an angry mood after the Duke loss, while Virginia has been getting run from national college basketball experts about how good they may be. It’s a classic situation for Virginia to fall back to Earth and for Pittsburgh to win back some of their conference and national respect.
While Virginia’s first team All-ACC standout from last season Joe Harris gets much of the attention when talking about the Cavaliers, Malcolm Brogdon (16 points, seven rebounds, six assists, five steals) and freshman point guard London Perrantes (nine assists vs. North Carolina on Jan. 20) have been critical to Virginia’s tremendous ACC play. Patterson will be tested by the Cavaliers’ always tough defense if he hopes to regain the top form he was displaying prior to Pitt’s meltdown against Duke on Monday.
All four teams have something to prove and all four teams have a legitimate chance to win the ACC regular season title. Just who has the best chance at crossing the finish line in first will be determined in large part by what happens on this super weekend in the ACC.