Photo: Chris Lykes
Virginia and ESPN’s College GameDay crew are at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday for an ACC first-place showdown. The unbeaten Cavaliers (16-0) are 4-0 in conference play and the Blue Devils 14-2 and 3-1.
But what about the other 3-1 teams in range of a first-place tie if Duke wins?
After all, there are four of them, led by original Tobacco Road OG North Carolina. Other Saturday games feature the Tar Heels (13-4, 3-1) at Miami (9-7, 1-3), Virginia Tech (14-2, 3-1) hosting Wake Forest (8-8, 1-3), Louisville (13-4, 3-1) is at Georgia Tech (10-7, 2-2) and Syracuse (12-5, 3-1) has a home game against Pitt (12-5, 2-2).
It’s way too early to pare down the ACC to a two-horse race, especially with North Carolina capable of blending its experience and youth into a potent combination.
Old-time ACC fans complain about the footprint expanded beyond the original Tobacco Road schools, but the conference race isn’t over until North Carolina and Duke meet twice on the most heavily trod Tobacco Road turf in the last month in the ESPN-orchestrated schedule.
North Carolina has eight conference games before the first of the two ACC tests with Duke, starting Saturday with Miami led by point guard Chris Lykes. He’s enjoying a breakout sophomore season despite his lack of size as a 5-foot-7, 157-pounder.
Williams isn’t underestimating Lykes, who has improved his numbers as a freshman last year from 9.6 points a game to 17.9 this year, from 2.3 assists to 3.6 and 0.8 steals to 1.4. He said Lykes quickness on the drive and ability to shoot make him tough to guard.
“You back off of him and he can shoot,” he said. “You get up on him and he goes by you. He’s small so he gets through the cracks; he can split ball screens.”
In fact, Lykes is a throwback player The Tar Heels’ 68-year-old coach was an assistant for the late Dean Smith, even though this is an era in basketball with an emphasis on perimeter players with length. Muggsy Bogues (5-3, 135) played at Wake Forest (1983-87) and Spud Webb (5-7, 133) played at N.C. State (1983-85); both went on to long NBA careers.
“Muggsy Bogues is one of the greatest players I ever seen. I was here when Spud Webb played. We had some little guys that were hard to handle, but it starts with Mugsh. I thought he was the best player of that size I’ve ever seen. Guys were afraid of him. Guys that were high school All-Americans were turning their heads wondering where he was instead of playing the game.”
North Carolina freshman guard Coby White (6-5, 185) and freshman forward Nassir Little (6-6, 220) are 5-star recruits the Tar Heels are counting on to continue to mature in time for the ACC stretch run against Duke and the post-season.
In Tuesday’s comeback win against Notre Dame, White and Little sparked a 12-1 during a 5:35 stretch in the second half that allow the Tar Heels to turn a 58-57 deficit into a 69-59 lead. Little and White both scored five points.
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